Charting the path to a nuke-free world

Just days after Barack Obama pledged, during his first international trip as president, that the U.S. will “seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” six U.S. environmental and nuclear policy organizations issued far-reaching and detailed recommendations to carry out that promise.

“President Barack Obama has declared that a nuclear weapons-free world is a long-term national goal. Our report outlines how that vision can begin to be concretely carried out in the near term, including numerous recommendations for the administration’s pending Nuclear Posture Review,” the organizations said in a statement.

The document, “Transforming the U.S. Strategic Posture and Weapons Complex for Transition to a Nuclear Weapons-Free World,” was prepared by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Project on Government Oversight, Nuclear Watch New Mexico, Tri-Valley CAREs, Greater Kansas City Physicians for Social Responsibility and Just Peace of Texas. The first two are national organizations, the others focus on specific nuclear weapons sites.

At an April 8 telephone press conference, representatives of the organizations expressed their appreciation for Obama’s remarks April 5 in the Czech Republic.

“I believe we have a historic game-changer,” Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch NM told reporters. “We have a different declared direction coming from the commander-in-chief. It makes our recommendations a whole lot more possible than they ever were before.”

Among many detailed recommendations, the report proposes that on the road to complete nuclear disarmament, the U.S. should:

• Lead the world in halting and reversing nuclear weapons proliferation, drastically cutting its own stockpile to 500 warheads, lowering nuclear weapons’ role in national security and ending threats to use them in response to other nations’ chemical or biological weapons;

“We believe nuclear weapons should be for one purpose only: to deter the use of nuclear weapons by others,” said the report’s lead author, Dr. Robert Civiak, a physicist and former Office of Management and Budget examiner for nuclear weapons programs.

• Stop upgrading military capabilities of existing weapons, and slash research and development work. The report calls for “curatorship” to keep remaining weapons in their current condition pending total elimination, and for cutting the nuclear weapons complex from eight sites to three.

• Work for “verified and enduring elimination of nuclear weapons throughout the world as quickly as possible.” The president and Congress “should declare without qualification that the United States will not be the first nation to use nuclear weapons in any future conflict.” The organizations called the administration’s announced goal to limit U.S. and Russian deployed warheads to 1,000 in a new START treaty “a good first step” and stressed that the goal should be no more than 500 active and reserve warheads for each nation.

In Prague, the president said he and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had already begun work for a new START treaty. He also pledged to “immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty,” which failed to gain the needed two-thirds majority in 1999, under the Clinton administration.

“As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the U.S. has a moral responsibility to act,” Obama said. Pledging “concrete actions,” the president said the U.S. “will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy and urge others to do the same,” and will work with other nations to strengthen the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Press conference participants said current nuclear weapons sites can find a new mission in alternative energy and global climate research. As an example, said Marylia Kelley of Tri-Valley CAREs, California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory “would focus on basic science, energy and environmental research, including global climate modeling.” The lab currently has small, underfunded but well-regarded programs in these areas that could quickly be expanded, she said, preserving jobs for the scientists and other workers there while contributing to the administration’s stated energy and climate goals.