With George W. Bush back in Texas and President Barack Obama–an advocatefor a nuclear-free world–in the White House, there is reason for hope that the frayed andshredded arms control regime will be rebuilt. But President Obama alsofaces a looming, high noon showdown over such a move towards real security and peace–in the form of Bush holdover, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Gates is a relentless supporter of building the next generation ofnuclear weapons–the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program. Hepraises the RRW as “a more reliable deterrent.” At this moment–when we needthe Obama Administration to push for Senate ratification of theComprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and negotiations to get theUS and Russia’s nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert while alsoreducing the countries’ stockpiles–a Gates-led policy would be a realdefeat for arms control and a sane security and foreign policy.

Joseph Cirincione, president of Ploughshares Fund and author of Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons, told me this about Gates’ views: “Secretary Gates has to decide whether he will support the President’s considered policy that the United States will not develop any new nuclear weapons or whether he will continue to align himself with the small band of nuclear neanderthals clinging to obsolete cold war policies. All scientificstudies show our existing stockpile of over 5,000 weapons are certifiablesafe and reliable with minimum care for another 80-100 years. Even if wereduce to 1000, as many experts advocate, we will have enough hydrogenbombs to reliably destroy the world–or any nation therein–manytimes over…. There is a general consensus across party and ideologicallines that the US and Russia can safely and quickly reduce to hundredsof warheads.”

Indeed a recent New York Times editorialsuggests that the US and Russia could “easily go to 1,000 weapons eachin this next round,” and that “if the United States is going to have anycredibility in arguing that others must restrain their nuclearambitions, it must restrain its own.” In contrast, adopting Gates’position and producing new weapons “will be read by other nations as aUS push for nuclear supremacy, even as Washington urges the rest ofthe world… to do without the weapons.”

The abolition of nukes–once marginalized as idealistic andunrealistic when The Nation‘s peace and disarmament correspondent,Jonathan Schell, helped launch the idea in our special issue calling for abolition–is now part of the new political center with advocates such as the soonto be US Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder and former Assistant Secretaryof Defense Jan Lodal. (See “The Logic of Zero” and their detailed planhere.) Global Zero–a coalition of more than 100 prominent military, political, faithand business leaders working for the elimination of nuclear weapons–was recently written up in Parade magazine (you can’t get more mainstream than that!). And, of course,there are the authors of the high-profile, Wall Street Journal op-ed endorsing abolition–former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, formerSecretary of State George Shultz, former Defense Secretary William Perryand former Senator Sam Nunn.

A story in the London Times yesterday reports that the Obama administration will establish a non-proliferation office and is moving to convene talks with Russia aimed at reducing nuclear warheads to 1,000 each. According to Politico, the administration says the “story has unspecified flaws.” Let’s hope those flaws aren’t around a renewed arms control effort, and that President Obama is making it clear to Secretary Gates that he has a new boss and a new policy heneeds to support.