Last week Illinois Sen. Barack Obama announced that as president he would set a goal of ridding the world of nuclear weapons. In doing so, he joined another Democratic presidential candidate, John Edwards, who called earlier this year for a nuclear-weapons-free world.

“Here’s what I’ll say as president: ‘America seeks a world in which there are no nuclear weapons,’” Obama told an audience at Chicago’s DePaul University.

New thinking is needed about U.S. nuclear policies that are mired in a Cold War mode, he said. Obama said he would not call for unilateral disarmament but would work with Russia to take the two countries’ missiles off hair-trigger alert. He pledged to work for global bans on producing nuclear material for weapons, and on intermediate range missiles.

Obama and Edwards are in sync with the views of 70 percent of Americans who say these weapons should be eliminated.

Like Edwards before him, Obama has now joined a growing debate among U.S. ruling circles.

In January, former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Schultz, former Defense Secretary William Perry and former Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Sam Nunn wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed calling for a major U.S. effort to ban all nuclear weapons. These four are no progressives, to say the least. Two of them served under Republican presidents during the Cold War. That they chose to publish this op-ed shows the deep disquiet at the highest levels over the current administration’s reckless nuclear policy.

Warning that the world “is now on the precipice of a new and dangerous nuclear era,” the four urged support for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, reducing nuclear weapons around the world, eliminating short-range nukes, and phasing out highly enriched uranium in commerce and research.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration refuses to honor the U.S. obligation to pursue nuclear disarmament under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, seeks to develop new types of nuclear arms, and hints it could use nuclear weapons against Iran.

As the top nuclear power, the U.S. is morally responsible to lead the disarmament process. This issue should be front and center in the ’08 presidential debate.