Realizing a Vision
by Bret Kincaid
Lately, I've been reading Walter Isaacson's biography of Albert Einstein. (http://www.amazon.com/Einstein-Life-Universe-Walter-Isaacson/dp/0743264746/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1248105850&sr=1-1) Since I was a teenager I've been interested in physics and the mysteries of the universe, but my math (in)ability has never permitted me more than an hobby-like exploration of the history and theories of the field. Isaacson does a good job of demonstrating how Einstein's thinking evolved, not just in physics but in ethics as well. He was a staunch pacifist until he discovered that Adolph Hitler might be able to split the atom and win WWII. Consequently, the Nobel Laureate who said, "I'm not only a pacifist. I'm a militant pacifist," became a cardinal impetus behind the Manhattan Project that unleashed nuclear weapons into human history.
And getting the genie back into the bottle seems virtually impossible. Yet, President Obama's public envisioning of a world rid of nuclear weapons back in April in Prague seems to be precisely the goal his policies and diplomatic moves are designed to achieve.
Earlier this month Obama met with Russian President Dmitri A. Medvedev for the first time to hammer out, among other things, a preliminary agreement on how to proceed toward a nuclear arms reduction treaty to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty set to expire at the end of this year. The resulting "joint understanding" (http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/FACT-SHEET-The-Joint-Understanding-for-the-START-Follow-on-Treaty/) was predictably praised and criticized and otherwise called a "mixed bag." (http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2009/07/13/obamas_trip_to_russia_a_mixed_bag_97428.html) Admittedly not an expert on the issue of strategic nuclear weapons, I still think Obama's instincts supporting a nuclear weapons-free world are worthy of support. They are consistent with the mission of the two young faith-based communities—Faithful Security (http://www.faithfulsecurity.org/) and Two Futures Project (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Two-Futures-Project/71520112595#/posted.php?id=71520112595&share_id=104788854652#s104788854652) (see also Mark Tooley's comments at American Spectator). (http://spectator.org/archives/2009/07/17/george-shultzs-new-evangelical)
Nonetheless, the political challenges of pursuing this vision are immense, as Philip Taubman points out. (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/09/opinion/09taubman.html) The security interests of each of the other eight nuclear weapons states, along with Iran and North Korea, pose potential risks, opportunities, and conflict as Obama moves forward. US domestic politics relative to security interests will complicate the diplomatic challenges as well. For instance, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty—a treaty rejected by the Senate in 1999 and but which is critical to paving the way to a world free of nuclear weapons—faces an uncertain future. Fortunately, Obama has promised to resubmit it this year. And US missile defense policy complicates the politics even further. "Without vision, the people perish"—but without prudent politics, public visions perish.
Stay prayerfully tuned to this increasingly important and complicated issue!
Bret Kincaid is associate professor of political science at Eastern University in St. Davids, PA.