Presidents Kennedy, Reagan, and now, Obama all envisioned a world
free of nuclear weapons. The US-Russian START accord, announced
Friday, is a next step in that direction, experts say.
US-Russia agreement on a new treaty to reduce nuclear weapons is
being hailed as President Obama's first real foreign-policy victory
and a personal triumph for a leader who envisions a nuclear-weapons-
But that vision stretches back at least as far as President John
Kennedy, and actually came tantalizingly close to fruition under
President Ronald Reagan.
Indeed, many nuclear disarmament advocates share a sense that the
treaty Mr. Obama announced Friday is the first step of many toward a
nuclear-free world, given the long-standing and "centrist" support
behind nuclear-weapons reduction and elimination.
"This vision of a world without the Damocles sword of nuclear
weapons hanging over it, as John Kennedy said, is one whose time has
come," says Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, a
Washington organization that supports initiatives designed to
prevent the spread and use of nuclear, biological, and chemical
weapons. "It's the fact that the idea of moving in this direction is
one shared by conservatives and moderates as well as liberals that
is giving it such strength."
START's broader importance
The weapons reductions called for in the follow-on START
(Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) accord, to be signed April 8 in
Prague, Czech Republic, are themselves not that revolutionary, most
disarmament experts say. Russia and the US were already both headed
in the direction outlined by the treaty's warheads and delivery-
systems reductions, they say.
The treaty's broader importance lies in its tone and the
direction it sets at a time of rising interest in nuclear-arms
reduction and of international steps to advance the vision of a
nuclear-weapons-free world. Obama hosts a summit of 44 heads of
state in Washington in April to focus on nuclear-materials security.
Then, in May, the United Nations holds a five-year review meeting of
the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).
The last NPT review conference occurred under an unenthusiastic
Bush administration. But the new START should give a boost to the
NPT's underlying quid pro quo: weapons reductions by nuclear powers
(the US and Russia have more than 90 percent of the world's nuclear
warheads) in exchange for nonnuclear powers verifiably foregoing
nuclear weapons in exchange for civilian nuclear energy uses.
First Kennedy, then Reagan, now Obama
It was before the United Nations, in the depths of the cold war,
that Kennedy ventured to envision a world free of the nuclear
threat. Then, Ronald Reagan -the same president who had been
vilified by nuclear-freeze advocates because of his arms buildup -
stunned the world by coming close to an accord with Soviet President
Mikhail Gorbachev to destroy all nuclear weapons within 10 years. …