On Friday President Obama will become the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima, Japan-- the site of the world's first use of a nuclear weapon. Having visited Hiroshima in 2005 during a trip to Japan when I was in graduate school, I am very happy that the president chose to make his visit. The president will stop short of offering an apology for the US using the atomic bomb against Japan during his visit. But, he will call for us to move closer to the nuclear-free world that he called for during his first term in office.
Another hopeful speech about nuclear disarmament is a nice gesture from the president, but I hope he will go beyond platitudes and offer concrete steps the world can take to disarm. Five months into his first term, Obama called nuclear weapons "the most immediate and extreme threat to global security" and called for a worldwide effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material by the end of that term. In 2009 the president offered what he called a "comprehensive agenda" toward nuclear disarmament. In 2010 he signed with Russia the New START treaty--a strategic disarmament treaty that called for both nations to reduce the number of deployed strategic warheads. And, although the deal has many critics, with the Iran deal the president hoped to disarm a major threat to world security. And, there's more. There have been regular international summits and billions of dollars invested in nuclear security.
But, recent actions have called into question Obama's commitment to disarmament. Indeed, in 2014 he put into motion plans to upgrade the US' nuclear arsenal, spending $1 trillion over the course of the next thirty years. When faced with the choice of investing in nuclear security versus building our arsenal, the president chose to build--setting off an international arms race. Russia is rejuvenating its nuclear arsenal and China, Russia, India and the United States are all developing new missiles that travel faster than the speed of sound. Critics say no country should have that type of weapon.
On my trip to Hiroshima I toured the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, saw the A-bomb Dome and heard from a survivor of the nuclear attack. It was a very moving experience. The museum has photos, videos, panorama models, victims' belongings (including a burnt lunch box and a boy's tricycle) exhibiting Hiroshima before and after the attack. The survivor described the horror and carnage she saw that day to me and my schoolmates. Some of us were overcome with emotion. That experience reinforced my commitment to nuclear disarmament. No country should keep or use nuclear weapons and we must do everything in our power to secure loose nuclear material.
While the president will not hear from a survivor, he will tour the Peace Memorial and lay a wreath with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. I hope he uses his time in Hiroshima to reflect on the idea of a nuclear-free world. There is so much power in Hiroshima. One can not leave there without feeling some sort of connection to the events that took place there seven decades ago. So, I hope the president will return to the United States with a new determination to move us closer to disarmament and nuclear security. And, I hope that he will call for concrete steps in his last year in office that move us closer to that goal.
President Obama is not one to shy away from historic moments. His Hiroshima trip is further evidence of that. But, again, nice words in Hiroshima are not enough. With his $1 trillion upgrade to our nuclear arsenal the president has moved us backwards, away from the goals he set early in his presidency. And, now we need a renewed commitment to those goals. The US should lead the world again in setting the pace for nuclear disarmament. And, It is up to the president to put us back on that path.