A total of 189 countries have signed the treaty, five of which have nuclear weapons and are the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. The NPT, while imperfect in its follow-through by its signatory nations, has been a cornerstone of nuclear arms control ever since. A grim future was averted through this diplomatic breakthrough, but for how long?
President Kennedy had predicted that by 1975 as many as 25 nations could have nuclear weapons. Without the treaty, we might now be facing several times that many nuclear-weapons states with every crisis point around the world threatening millions of lives. Polls indicate that an overwhelming majority of Americans favor the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. Amazingly, after all these years, this political season provides perhaps the greatest opportunity to realize this vision. The next U.S. president will have the opportunity to lead by example and abide by the will of the people.
The scope of the problem is that the world's nuclear arsenals hold some 330,000 times the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima and killed 100,000 people. These weapons are on ready alert for use within minutes. We have many times that amount in reserve. That said, many, including the CIA, feel that the greatest threat we face as a nation is that of a rogue or terrorist group getting their hands on "loose" nuclear materials and delivering a crude bomb to one of our cities or ports. We must not allow these realities to overwhelm us, becoming paralyzed by the belief that we are unable to do anything about it. We must secure all "loose" nuclear materials worldwide. We have the means through the Nunn, Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Act and international cooperation if we make the commitment of will and funding. We must also take the leadership role to begin the necessary steps to eliminate these weapons entirely.
The process of realizing this vision is beginning to take hold in this country. A remarkable project called the Nuclear Security Project (http://www.nuclearsecurityproject.org), headed by a bipartisan group of elders, has been working for the past two years on this process. This group includes Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, Sam Nunn and Bill Perry. They are working to build international support for their work toward a nuclear-free world. This year's American presidential campaign finds both candidates endorsing this effort. In October, Sen. Barack Obama said, "America seeks a world in which there are no nuclear weapons." In June, Sen. John McCain gave a policy address on nonproliferation, committing the country to the same goal.
With the support of the American people, this vision, at long last, has the potential to become a reality. Citizens can and must demand no less of our elected officials. This is critical as the candidates formulate and finalize their policy. It has long been said that when the people lead, the leaders will follow. Individuals and groups can also lend their support by endorsing the coalition work of the Campaign for a Nuclear Weapons Free World at http://www.nuclearweaponsfree.org. These steps will speak volumes to America's willingness to lead and will help restore our global credibility. As countries of the world, regardless economic status, seek to fulfill their own nuclear ambitions, we must lead by example. Now is the time to support and revitalize the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
Our future and indeed that of the planet depend on it.
"" Robert Dodge, M.D., of Ventura is president of Physicians for Social Responsibility Ventura County, on the board of Beyond War (http://www.beyondwar.org), and co-chairman of Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions (http://www.c-p-r.net).