Editorial Board – New York Times
What Secretary of State John Kerry called his “gut wrenching” visit to the Hiroshima war memorial on Monday served several purposes. As the highest-ranking official in an American administration ever to visit the site, he paid respects to the victims of one of the most devastating acts of World War II and reflected on how Japan and the United States have forged a strong alliance over the past 70 years. He also emphasized that “war must never be the first resort” and urged a continued push for a world free from nuclear weapons.
For years, top American officials did not visit the memorial because of sensitivities over the nuclear attacks by the United States on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that killed 200,000 people, mostly civilians. Now that Mr. Kerry has paved the way, there should be nothing keeping President Obama from becoming the first American president to stop at Hiroshima when he travels to Japan next month for a meeting of the Group of 7 leaders. But he should be prepared to offer some tangible new initiative to keep alive his flagging vision of a nuclear-free world.
Mr. Obama created big expectations in his first term when he endorsed the ambitious goal of a world without nuclear weapons. It is necessary to “ignore the voices who tell us that the world cannot change,” he said in a speech in Prague in 2009. He has achieved some important measures, most notably the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which has significantly curbed Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon, and the 2010 New Start treaty mandating cuts in the number of strategic nuclear warheads deployed by the United States and Russia to 1,550 warheads each.
More progress, however, has been stymied in part because Russia, led by an increasingly aggressive Vladimir Putin, has thwarted talks on further nuclear arms reductions. The Republican-led Senate has refused to consider ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. And Pakistan has blocked international negotiations on a treaty banning fissile material production.
But Mr. Obama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 largely because of his nuclear agenda, has failed to take advantage of opportunities for bolder action. He has not gotten China, India and Pakistan into talks aimed at halting the growth of their nuclear arsenals, or taken American nuclear weapons off alert. His support for a $1 trillion program to replace America’s aging nuclear weapons severely undercuts his lofty words about a “world without nuclear weapons.”
Mr. Obama still has time to promote his antinuclear legacy with small but doable advances. He should cancel the new air-launched, nuclear-armed cruise missile. He should work to persuade the United Nations Security Council to endorse the nuclear test moratorium that all countries but North Korea observe, even though the test ban treaty has never formally taken effect, and push to have the United Nations organization that monitors testing be made permanent. If President Obama does visit Hiroshima, he needs to make it count.