Leaders of the struggle for nuclear disarmament hailed President Obama’s speech April 5 in Prague, committing the United States to work for the total abolition of nuclear weapons, the first American president ever to make that pledge.
David Culp, a spokesperson for the Washington-based Friends Committee on National Legislation told the World, “It is the best speech an American president has ever given on the subject of nuclear disarmament.”
Speaking to a crowd in Hradcany Castle Square on Palm Sunday, Obama said the threat of a nuclear war has receded but the danger of a nuclear attack has increased. Nuclear weapons continue to proliferate with a thriving black market in nuclear secrets and materials. Nuclear testing also continues, he said. The threat of terrorists obtaining a nuclear weapon grows.
“The existence of thousands of nuclear weapons is the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War,” he continued. “Generations lived with the knowledge that their world could be erased in a single flash of light…Cities like Prague…would have ceased to exist.”
The United States, “the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon” has a “moral responsibility to act,” he added. “We cannot succeed in this alone, but we can lead it.” He promised to “seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons…We must insist: Yes we can!”
Culp said “You have to go back to John F. Kennedy’s speech” at American University in 1963 calling for a halt to atmospheric testing for a comparison. “Barack Obama became the first U.S. President in the nuclear age to declare the U.S. commitment to seek peace and security in a ‘world without nuclear weapons.’”
Culp said the Quaker group views the speech as so important it launched a petition campaign the next day addressed to the U.S. Senate urging every Senator to give full support to the nuclear weapons curbs outlined in Obama’s speech.
Culp said the speech signaled that “nuclear disarmament is going to be one of the focuses of the administration’s foreign policy.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “is also committed to getting it done,” Culp said. He predicted that Obama will fly to Moscow in July for a summit where the new treaty is signed. “When Obama was in the Senate, he focused on nuclear weapons issues. He is very knowledgeable.”
Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said “Obama is right. U.S. nuclear weapons policy can and must change and the United States must lead by example or else the global effort to reduce the risk of nuclear war, curb proliferation and prevent catastrophic terrrorism will falter.”
Kevin Martin, executive director of Peace Action said, “President Obama’s Prague speech was important in terms of re-asserting U.S. leadership on nuclear disarmament issues.”
Former Senator Gary Hart, chairman of the Council for a Livable World, did not comment on the Prague speech but earlier he hailed Obama’s meeting during the G-20 summit in London with Russian President Dmitriy Medvedev.
“It is very welcome that Presidents Obama and Medvedev have pledged to pursue new and verifiable reductions in strategic nuclear weapons by the end of the year,” Hart said. “It is also important that they looked beyond this year and committed to the long term goal of a nuclear weapons-free world.”
In his far-ranging speech, Obama outlined a detailed agenda. “To put an end to Cold War thinking, we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy and urge others to do the same,” he said.
As long as nuclear weapons exist, the U.S. will “maintain a safe, secure, and effective arsenal.” At the same time, his administration will negotiate treaties to reduce and ultimately abolish those arsenals starting, he said, with a replacement of the START agreement with Russia.
“To achieve a global ban on nuclear testing, my administration will immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty,” he said.
In the speech Obama proposed a new treaty banning production of fissile nuclear bomb-making material. “If we are serious about stopping the spread of these weapons, then we should put an end to the dedicated production of weapons-grade material that create them,” he said.
He criticized North Korea for going forward with testing of a missile and vowed to seek “engagement with Iran based upon mutual interests and mutual respect” with the aim of persuading them not to develop nuclear weapons.
Iran’s ballistic missile activity “poses a real threat,” he added, praising Poland and the Czech Republic for “agreeing to host a defense against these missiles.”
Yet even here, Obama held out an olive branch. If the missile threat is removed through peaceful engagement, “the driving force for missile construction in Europe at this time will be removed,” he said.
The FCNL cites another incident that reveals the dramatic shift on nuclear weapons issues since Obama took office. When the economic stimulus package was being considered, warhawks attempted to slip in a $1 billion earmark for the so-called “Reliable Replacement Warhead.”
FCNL acted as a whistleblower and exposed it. It was stripped from the package. The White House released a statement, “Development work on the Reliable Replacement Warhead will cease.”