Envisioning a Nuclear Weapons-Free World
On April 5, North Korea launched a missile it claimed was designed for satellite (not weapons) delivery. Though Chairman Kim Jong Il said the missile successfully entered earth's orbit while broadcasting the praises of his regime, Japan and the US announced the missile had simply fallen into the Pacific Ocean and sunk to its floor. However, the missile was more successful than the last one North Korea launched in 2006, which demonstrates that the country now has more capability to launch a missile with a weapons payload. (http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-north-korea-missile6-2009apr06,0,4471509.story)
President Obama's response was swift and severe. In Prague, during his successful European tour, he condemned the launch as a clear violation of UN Resolution 1718 (a resolution prohibiting North Korea from testing ballistic missile technology) saying, "Now is the time for a strong international response…North Korea must know that the path to security and respect will never come through threats and illegal weapons." He punctuated his condemnation asserting, "Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something."
In the same speech, ( http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/7984353.stm) however, Obama also put the moral responsibility on the US as the only nuclear weapons power that has used them. He told the world that he would commit the US to reducing its stockpiles of nuclear weapons to initiate and lead the effort to "seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons." This, of course, means a major shift in US nuclear weapons policy. Although the US has ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which contains in Article VI a promise to work toward "complete disarmament," no US administration has ever seriously sought this goal. Indeed, the US signed but in 1999 rejected ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, ( http://www.ctbto.org/) widely considered to be critical to creating a concerted effort to prevent non-nuclear states from being able to deploy nuclear weapons. As a presidential candidate, Obama promised to work with the Senate to persuade it to ratify the treaty. Even such prominent foreign policy hawks such as Henry Kissinger and George Schultz (http://www.hoover.org/publications/digest/6731276.html) have publicly called for the ratification of the CTBT as part of a larger effort of freeing the world of nuclear weapons.
Monday, the Security Council passed a resolution sanctioning North Korea. This is a critical sign of an incipient but growing multilateral movement to put the brakes on nuclear proliferation, especially on nuclear weapons programs in North Korea and Iran. Obama's rhetorical unilateral commitment to take the lead in reducing US nuclear weapons (even as he restated US commitment to nuclear deterrence until the day when it is unnecessary) has the potential of giving this multilateral effort more traction and effect.
We should consider joining this movement to rid the world of these instruments of fear and mass destruction. To start, we could investigate our Senators' intentions relative to the CTBT and write them to support its ratification.
Bret Kincaid is associate professor of political science at Eastern University in St. Davids, PA.