What matters are the consequences
That’s what President Barack Obama could have said in Berlin, were he not still looking over his shoulder at an obstructionist Congress, rather than ahead to a not-too-distant future when a world that had banned and eliminated nuclear weapons would credit him with having led the way.
It’s not as if he doesn’t get it. “So long as nuclear weapons exist,” said the man who holds the launch codes for one of the two largest arsenals in the world, “we are not truly safe.” That sentence is actually an improvement over the formulation that the Obama administration has repeated ad nauseam since it first began to backpedal from the Prague speech of 2009: “So long as nuclear weapons exist, we will maintain a safe, secure and effective deterrent.” The problem is, the latter sentence, with all its circular and defeatist logic, defines the nuclear posture of the US and guarantees that the road to a nuclear-weapons-free world will be needlessly slow and cumbersome.
To his credit—even if it comes well past the halfway point of an eight-year presidency—Obama made “peace with justice” the overarching theme of his speech at the Brandenburg Gate. “Peace with justice,” he said, among other things, “means pursuing the security of a world without nuclear weapons”—again, though, with the glance over the shoulder—”no matter how distant that dream may be.”
A growing number of countries—80 of them at the recent NPT PrepCom—have come to the conclusion that the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons are so severe and so urgent—the antithesis of peace with justice, as it were—that the world can’t settle for abolition as a “distant dream.”
The path proposed by ICAN—a global treaty banning nuclear weapons to establish the framework for their prompt elimination—is far more direct and can be achieved without preconditions or tedious, incremental starts and stops. It doesn’t matter who owns the weapons, or how many they own, or what reasons they give for needing them. What matters are their consequences.
Obama’s speech, said ICAN co-chair Akira Kawasaki, “should encourage action from all states, not only nuclear armed states and those with extended nuclear deterrence arrangements, but all non-nuclear weapon states as well. It is now time to take bold and tangible steps towards the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons by negotiating a ban.”
“Wir abgeschafft Atomwaffen!” That would be an applause line at the Brandenburg Gate or anywhere else, for that matter.