This decade began with shock and madness. The tragedy of 9/11 was followed by the declaration of war without end.
We called it the War on Terror, but in reality, it was a war against no one in particular -- and therefore against anyone.
The Iraq War continued the madness -- launched as it was to counter a threat that proved nonexistent. So many people killed. So many displaced. All for nuclear weapons that never existed. And all the while, the United States itself held thousands of the weapons of mass destruction and wanted to make more.
Yet, lately, so much seems to have changed.
Now we have a US President who sees the threat latent in the nuclear weapons that really do exist. Imagine that.
President Barack Obama wants a world without nuclear weapons. He bluntly points out the flaws in our Cold War thinking about nuclear weapons.
Once upon a time, our leaders said that we would be vulnerable without nuclear weapons. In other words: Weapons of mass destruction made us safe.
Now, of course, we know that holding on to nuclear weapons has triggered unprecedented and incredibly dangerous proliferation. North Korea and Iran are only the current manifestations of an ongoing trend. There are nine nuclear-armed nations today, not counting Iran but including Israel. By 2020, we could have 35 nations with nuclear weapons. And who knows how many terrorist groups might have them.
It's a nightmare scenario -- one that can only be stopped by a multi-lateral, phased and verifiable international agreement to eliminate nuclear weapons while clamping down on nuclear security.
As Huffpost blogger Joseph Cirincione pointed out this week, President Obama is calling for just such an internationalist approach. Obama had this to say in Moscow:
"The notion that prestige comes from holding these weapons, or that we can protect ourselves by picking and choosing which nations can have these weapons, is an illusion. In the short period since the end of the Cold War, we've already seen India, Pakistan, and North Korea conduct nuclear tests. Without a fundamental change, do any of us truly believe that the next two decades will not bring about the further spread of these nuclear weapons?"
My goodness. That's awfully rational talk coming from a US President. Pragmatic, too. Some people thought President Obama was an idealist. Perhaps at some level he is. But he does his daily work with balance, compromise and practicality. And how can you blame him? Survival is a very pragmatic goal.
Also, a sane goal. I, for example, am extremely interested in passing on the legacy of a livable planet earth to my children.
Now, check out these surprisingly heartening international news items all from the first half of this month:
- Presidents Obama and Dmitri Medvedev agree in principle to renewing the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) by its deadline of December this year - setting aside some disagreements (such as missile defence) to arrive at modest cuts in the arsenals of both countries.
- The G8 Summit commits to supporting Obama's "three-part strategy to curb international nuclear threats: find ways to reduce and eventually eliminate existing nuclear arsenals; strengthen the non-proliferation treaty to halt the spread of nuclear weapons to more countries; and to prevent terrorists from getting their hands on nuclear weapons or materials."
- The G8 endorses President Obama's call for a Nuclear Security Summit in March 2010. "The Summit would allow discussion on the nature of the threat and develop steps that can be taken together to secure vulnerable materials, combat nuclear smuggling and deter, detect, and disrupt attempts at nuclear terrorism," according to the White House.
- British Prime Minister Gordon Brown says Britain is also willing to reduce its arsenal. "What we need is collective action by the nuclear weapons powers to say that we are prepared to reduce our nuclear weapons, but we need assurances also that other countries will not proliferate them," he said.
To me, there is no doubt that the time is right for our President to assert the importance of working through global cooperation to achieve the mutally-desirable goal of planetary survival.
The same lesson is evident when it comes to global warming or the global economy or hunger. International cooperation, as difficult as it will be, is not a fantasy solution. It is the only solution.
Nuclear weapons present a stark example of what's at stake if we can't find a way to cooperate, if we can't find a way to let common sense hold sway. The truth is, nuclear weapons are designed to destroy cities and kill civilians. Families. Like mine and yours.
The truth is, these weapons can't be managed or controlled. The story of the nuclear age emphasizes this truth.
When one nation has nuclear weapons, other nations will seek them. They will seek them from the same motivation that spurred us into the wasteful war in Iraq -- the motivation of fear. Reason and compassion both tell us to take the difficult option, the road as yet not taken, and seek international cooperation to eliminate these weapons.
The truth is, these weapons do not just destroy those people who are targeted. Eventually, they destroy the countries that wield them.
I am thankful the world seems a bit saner this week. Long may this trend continue.
Follow Steven Crandell on Twitter: www.twitter.com/stevencrandell