02/24/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

An Early Victory for Obama Leadership

Every era creates its own legacy. The least worthwhile legacy of the Cold War is nuclear arsenals. They provide no meaningful deterrence to terrorists. No war plans envision their use. They serve no military or diplomatic purpose.

Very soon, against the backdrop of international banking crises and restructuring of soaring social safety net obligations, the new Obama administration must look for meaningful victories that are affordable and that increase security. Of the achievable goals, none could come closer to making the world safer than the reduction and possible eventual elimination of nuclear arsenals.

Arms reduction negotiations were not vigorously pursued during recent years. Strangely, the end of the Cold War made getting rid of nuclear weapons less, rather than more, important. To the skeptics who question whether elimination of the worst weapons of mass destruction can be accomplished, the question has to be asked: Why not?

Within the first Obama term, the U.S. and Russia could readily agree to overall ceilings of 1000 nuclear weapons each. Military commanders on both sides clearly understand this is more than enough to obliterate each other and still have plenty left over to destroy most of the rest of the world. As verification of the destruction of excessive weapons takes place, both sides then have political and moral authority to call upon the Chinese, the French, and the British, and other nuclear states, to begin dismantling their arsenals, and negotiations can continue to reduce overall numbers, step by step, even more drastically.

This is not a military problem. Even the most hard-line strategist admits we don't have any use for our current nuclear arsenals. It is a problem of political will and determination, and leaders who wake up one day and say: Let's do it.