Comment: Speech by President Obama shares aspiration of Hiroshima

by Akira Tashiro, Executive Director of the Hiroshima Peace Media Center

On April 5, both good news and bad news came to Japan and its A-bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The good news involved U.S. President Barack Obama, leader of a nuclear superpower, pledging to the world in a speech from Prague that he will act with conviction to move toward the elimination of nuclear weapons. The bad news, though, was that North Korea launched a projectile suspected to be a long-range ballistic missile.

In his speech, Mr. Obama referred to the far-reaching nuclear policy of his administration, including a substantial reduction in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed to match in their meeting on April 1. His forceful words to the citizens of the Czech Republic, in saying that “As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act,” surely won the hearts of many around the world.

Mr. Obama promised to pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), take up negotiations on nuclear disarmament that will include other nations in addition to the U.S. and Russia, strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and swiftly begin negotiations for the Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty, which is vital to prevent terrorists from acquiring nuclear materials.

These steps that Mr. Obama noted have been long demanded by many people in the world, including those of the A-bombed cities. Though the past eight years under the Bush administration proved a great disappointment, these appeals were finally heard with the arrival of the Obama presidency.

Behind this shift, too, is the recognition that a dangerous stage looms in which nuclear proliferation and terrorism may be unpreventable.

Mr. Obama conceded that differences of opinion are inevitable among nations, adding in respect to nuclear weapons: “There are some who will question whether we can act on such a broad agenda.” Then he continued, declaring, “To denounce or shrug off a call for cooperation is an easy and cowardly thing. That is how wars begin. That is where human progress ends.”

And as he did when he stood before Americans in his presidential campaign, he proclaimed to the Czech people and to the international community through satellite broadcasting: “Yes, we can.”

To me, the words “some…will question whether we can act on such a broad agenda” seemed an implicit reference to the U.S. military-industrial complex, which prefers to maintain the status quo on nuclear issues, and American citizens, who find it difficult to move away from the Cold War mindset. By underscoring his vision of a nuclear-free world with the phrase “Yes, we can,” Mr. Obama conveyed his strong will for change to people throughout the world.

The upsurge of anti-nuclear sentiment in world public opinion, which Mr. Obama has helped empower, will likewise provide support to his efforts to overcome the many obstacles he will face, including resistance in the U.S. Congress.

Regarding North Korea’s missile launch, Mr. Obama rebuked the nation, saying, “North Korea broke the rules.”

One cannot help but feel exasperated by North Korea’s never-ending brinksmanship involving nuclear issues and missile development. At the same time, a calm response, seeking the denuclearization of Northeast Asia by focusing on the six-party talks, is required. Such an approach will support the aim of eliminating nuclear weapons from the world.

In his speech, Mr. Obama allowed that “This goal will not be reached quickly.” We hope the president will visit Hiroshima at the earliest possible date to reinforce his determination to abolish nuclear weapons from the earth.

(Originally published on April 6, 2009)

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Obama lays out vision for nuclear-free world (April 7, 2009)