German statesmen, US policy and opinion shapers declare support for world without nuclear weapons

During the past week, four prominent German statesmen, the new Chair of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a Secretary-designate for the US Department of Energy, and a former lead researcher from one of the US national labs have all made strong public statements in support of the eventual goal of a world without nuclear weapons.

German statesmen Helmut Schmidt (Social Democrat), Chancellor 1974-1982; Richard von Weizsdecker (Christian Democrat), President 1984-1994; Egon Bahr, Minister in Social Democratic governments and an architect of ‘ostpolitik’; and Hans-Dietrich Genscher (Free Democrats), Foreign Minister 1974-1992, are advocating for the removal of US tactical nuclear weapons from Germany as part of a long-term vision of a nuclear weapon-free world. Their article was published in English in the International Herald Tribune, and in German in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Senator John Kerry, the new Chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, set out his recommendations for New Directions for Foreign Relations. In the Boston Globe op-ed, he calls on the United States to lead the way toward a world free of nuclear weapons and to take near-term steps toward this goal by ratifying the CTBT and reinvigorating negotiations with Russian leaders to produce a follow-up agreement to START.

In the Wall Street Journal, Stephen M Younger, who formerly led nuclear research and development at Los Alamos National Laboratory, warns that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty could unravel. As a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition to save the regime, Younger argues that the United States and other nuclear weapons powers must live up to what he views as their commitment to work toward nuclear disarmament under the NPT, just as non-nuclear weapons states have agreed to refrain from pursuing their own nuclear weapons programs.

Secretary-designate for the US Department of Energy, Steven Chu, made a point of saying during his confirmation hearing that he is prepared to implement policies that would support President-elect Obama’s long-term vision of a world without nuclear weapons. This is no small remark given that the Department of Energy spends about 67 percent of its budget on nuclear weapons-related programs, according to a new research report by the Carnegie Endowment.

All of these statements came within the past week, just ahead of the Presidential Inauguration. But the true test of the movement will lie in how much enthusiasm remains after President Obama has been in office for a while and whether he, his Secretary-designate for the Department of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton (if confirmed), and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, will implement Obama’s oft-stated goal of working toward a world free of nuclear weapons. Previous indications are that it will be difficult, but this growing support from a wide range of international policy and expert circles should help.

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