On Barack Obama’s re-election

By Richard Falk

We share with your editorial (Nov. 11, 2012) the view that one of President Obama’s “singular contributions has been his vision of a world without nuclear weapons.” We would go further, and suggest that realizing this vision would ensure Mr. Obama a legacy of honor, not only for American, but for the world. Your editorial adds a caveat that nuclear disarmament “is a lofty goal that would not be achieved in his second term, or maybe for years after this.”

We dissent from this bit of conventional wisdom that almost always accompanies the affirmation of the goal, almost taking back what was so grandly proposed. In our view there has rarely been a better time to initiate a negotiated process of phased nuclear disarmament, and there is no reason that such a process should be stretched out over a long period.

We are at one of those few times in international history where no acute conflict exists between major states, but also in a period where the failure to disarm could lead to a proliferation surge that would make the world more prone to the catastrophic risk of war waged with nuclear weaponry.

In our view, the United States should prepare proposals for nuclear disarmament, and convene an international conference of the nine nuclear weapons states. There is every reason to move with all due dispatch, and lend prestige of the United States to an allout effort to achieve success. Nothing could do more to restore America’s claim to world leadership, and this would be true even if no agreement is forthcoming. At the very least, President Obama would belatedly have shown that the Nobel Prize was not wrongly awarded.

There are also some latent opportunities that will come as surprises if acted upon. Perhaps, the reelected Barack Obama might surprise us by being willing to take steps to convince the world that he deserved the Nobel Peace Price that had been prematurely, and somewhat perversely, awarded to him in 2009. One sure way to do this would be to revive his Prague vision of a world without nuclear weapons. There will never be a better time in world politics to convene the nine governments whose states possess nuclear weapons. There is no raging geopolitical conflict, a mounting risk of a dangerous surge in the proliferation, and the many countries beset by financial crisis would welcome uplifting moves toward denuclearization.

Such a bold initiative, if more than words, would help restore America’s greatly diminished reputation as a benevolent force in the world. A credible effort calls for tabling a detailed proposal for phased and verified nuclear disarmament to be implemented within a decade. It is commonplace to applaud this vision but then immediately announce that its realization will be deferred until the distant future, which is to take back with one hand what was given with the other, raising expectations of those who are dedicated to abolishing the weaponry, and then reassuring nuclearists that they have nothing to worry about as nothing will actually happen. There is no justification for assuming a long period to achieve implementation.

If denuclearization makes sense, as it certainly does, then it can be achieved comfortably within ten years of reaching agreement among the paretics. Now is an ideal time for a genuine presidential initiative that is launched in Washington but negotiated under UN auspices to rid the world of the menace of nuclear weaponry, and to belatedly clear the conscience of humanity for its reliance on ‘security’ ever since 1945 that rests on a genocidal doctrine of deterrence. Of course, the main responsibility for this reliance is not that of humanity, but of the governments that possess the weaponry and their supportive bureaucratic and economic militarized infrastructures. Even if this initiative fails for a variety of reasons, if the effort is honestly made, it will ensure a memorable legacy for the Obama presidency.

The other global challenge that presents an extraordinary opportunity for action is climate change. The world, including the United States, has ignored a multitude of wake-up calls, most recently super storm Sandy. It has also refused to take seriously the scientific consensus warning the world of the dire consequences of failing to curtail carbon emissions.

Further delay is not neutral, causing a variety of effects that cumulatively disrupt the ecological balances that moderate weather, rainfall, and ocean levels to accommodate humans, plants, and animals. Inaction and denial is lavishly funded by the fossil fuel industries that have made climate skepticism so influential in the United States, and elsewhere. Nothing could do more to build the legacy of Obama’s second term than to tear down the high wall of silence that has been built to keep the dangers of global warming out of sight.

It is in this spirit of concern, struggle, hope, and love that I commit myself to carry on with this journey of a still aspiring citizen pilgrim journeying ever so slowly toward that unseen yet real promise.

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