Commentary: Obama must show prompt leadership toward creating a nuclear-free world

by Yumi Kanazaki, Staff Writer (dispatched from Washington, D.C.)

Barack Obama, newly sworn in as the 44th president of the United States, has pledged to “set a goal of a world without nuclear weapons, and pursue it.” The people of the world, including those of the A-bombed nation of Japan, are closely watching his leadership on nuclear disarmament. With President Obama facing a host of pressing domestic problems, topped by the economic crisis, how soon can his administration address nuclear issues and urge other nuclear powers to also take action?

Long before dawn on January 20, people began to gather at the site of the inauguration ceremony in Washington, D.C. to claim a spot from which to view history. The nation has been gripped with excitement, anticipating the “change” embodied by Barack Obama’s election by the American public.

Demonstrating a clear departure from the nuclear policies of the Bush administration, President Obama has declared that he will work for an early ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which the U.S. House of Representatives opposed, as well as a dramatic reduction in the number of nuclear weapons stockpiled by the U.S. and Russia. His agenda also includes plans to strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

At the same time, he has stated that the U.S. must “always maintain a strong deterrent as long as nuclear weapons exist.” Thus, his nuclear policy is also constrained by certain conditions.

Still, signs of change are in the air. Spurred by opinion pieces from four former high-ranking U.S. officials, including Henry Kissinger, which call for “a world free of nuclear weapons,” a national discussion on exploring the path toward the abolition of nuclear weapons has begun.

The city of Hiroshima must now raise its voice even more strongly to sway this conversation. The elimination of nuclear weapons is essential not only because they have been rendered obsolete for the post-Cold War era, but because these weapons wreak such monstrous ruin. It is vital that President Obama grasp the truly horrific nature of nuclear weapons in order to pursue abolition without yielding to domestic pressure from the military and nuclear weapons industry.

In Hiroshima, a movement calling for President Obama to visit the city has spread. By taking in the dreadful reality of the atomic bombing and strengthening his resolve to realize a nuclear-free world, Mr. Obama would be empowered to reach this goal, a vision long held by the citizens of Hiroshima.

(Originally published on January 21, 2009)

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