THE BLOG

What Obama Should Tell the UN

09/21/2012 05:55 am ET | Updated Nov 21, 2012
  • Joe Cirincione President, Ploughshares Fund; Author, 'Nuclear Nightmares: Securing the World Before It Is Too Late'
AP

The President of the United States sends me a lot of email. Mostly he asks for money. But if the President were to ask me for advice, here is what I would recommend he say when he goes to the United Nations on Tuesday.

You have got to remind these leaders, Mr. President, of the progress you have made on the shared goal of eliminating the only weapons that can destroy human life on this planet. They believed you in 2009 when you told them that the United States sought the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. They applauded you for your leadership. They still look to you to continue to lead the world on this issue -- despite all the difficulties you have faced with your hostile domestic opposition, entrenched nuclear bureaucracy and tough opponents on the other side of the negotiating table. You can show them your resolve.

In the few paragraphs about nuclear weapons that you will put in your speech, you can reassure your allies and warn your adversaries by quickly and powerfully laying out your integrated, three-part agenda:

Reduce Arsenals. When you signed the New START treaty in Prague in April 2010, you promised the world, "This treaty will set the stage for further cuts... We hope to pursue discussions with Russia on reducing both our strategic and tactical weapons." But there have been no further cuts.

I know your political opponents dragged out ratification and forced you to pile on the nuclear pork just to win approval of a modest treaty endorsed by the top brass and almost every past senior national security official from both parties. I know Russia has resisted. And I know some of your own bureaucracy gave up on your agenda. But you have not. Tell that to the world. Remind them that you and your top military agree that we do not need any more nuclear tests and, as you said this January at the Pentagon, "We can ensure the security of the United States and our allies, maintain a strong deterrent against any threat, and still pursue further reductions in our nuclear arsenal."

Secure Materials. In Seoul this May, you gathered over 50 world leaders and forged agreements to lock up and reduce the hundreds of tons of enriched uranium and plutonium around the world. Terrorists would need just tens of pounds of this stuff to blow up a major city. This nuclear summit would have been unprecedented, except that it was the second time you organized it, with the first event pulling together the largest gathering of international leaders in Washington since the end of World War II.

You promised to lock down this material in four years and you are on your way to doing it. Remind the leaders at the UN of this vital, shared agenda. And tell them that while these efforts are good, they are not enough. We must do the job faster, and combine it with the reduction and lock up of deadly radioactive materials that could be used in dirty bombs. Remind them that, as former Sen. Sam Nunn says, we are in a race between catastrophe and cooperation. There are crazy people out there who want to kill us. We can't let them get the material to do it on a mass scale.

Prevent Proliferation. You know we cannot let Iran and North Korea continue programs for nuclear bombs. If either or both consolidate as nuclear-weapon states (North Korea has a few bombs, Iran has not yet decided whether to build one), it would vastly increase the pressure on neighboring states to build their own nuclear arsenals. Nuclear war would become more likely. You have forged greater world cooperation, implemented stronger global sanctions and isolated these two nations more than any previous U.S. president. But the programs have not stopped.

You must convince the leaders at the UN that the sanctions are working -- and that you have no illusions that sanctions or threats of force alone can stop the programs. No nation has ever been coerced into compliance or capitulation on nuclear programs. But many have been convinced to abandon their efforts through negotiations. Tell the leaders at the UN that if they keep the pressure on, you can reach agreements that will satisfy the security, prestige and domestic political imperatives of all sides.

That, Mr. President, is a winning program. It is your program. It is the program of a broad consensus of U.S. and global security leaders. These former officials and military officers joined by experts from many disciplines believe, as you do, that the only way to make progress in any of these areas is to do them all together.

Tell them that, Mr. President. It is true. It is America's program. And they will be with you.