Obama’s Peace Prize brings hope for a world without nukes

Posted Dec. 09, 2009, at 6:09 p.m.

Today, President Barack Obama, one of the most respected men of our age, will receive the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Committee has been very clear that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize is awarded “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a World without nuclear weapons.”

As president, Obama said boldly in a historic speech in Prague on April 5 that the U.S. has a moral responsibility to lead the world in eliminating the ever more looming threat from these weapons of mass catastrophe. He astutely recognized that our national security demands a dramatic break from worldwide nuclear weapons policies of “mutually assured destruction,” where a computer glitch and “launch on warning” could destroy civilization and most or even all life on Earth.

We came within a few minutes of Armageddon back in the ‘60s when NORAD interpreted multiple radar blips reflected off the rising moon as hundreds of warheads coming at us. Fortunately, a smart technician a thousand feet under the Rockies made the connection. Years later, a scientific experimental rocket launch near Finland was interpreted by Russian commanders as a nuclear launch. Retrospective analysis of the situation indicates that a few Russians somewhere in the frozen tundra violated their sworn orders to “launch on warning,” risking their own deaths rather than ours.

The president said we will now take concrete steps toward a nuclear weapons-free world. To end Cold War thinking, we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy. We will negotiate a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the Russians and seek to extend this worldwide. This particular Nobel Peace Prize underscores our duty to ensure the new START is a real start toward reducing every nation’s nuclear stockpile to under a thousand.

We will aggressively pursue our ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, after five decades of stalling tactics. Signed by President Clinton in 1996, the CTBT bans all nuclear test explosions, establishes a network of monitoring stations, and creates a protocol for on-site inspections. In October 1999 the Senate briefly considered it and voted no. Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe did not vote for it at that time, citing concerns about verifiability and questioning whether the U.S. nuclear arsenal would remain reliable without further testing. Former Secretary of State George Shultz just said some senators “might have been right voting against the treaty some years ago, but they would be right voting for it now based on new facts.”

Worldwide support for CTBT has grown in the past decade. It has been signed by 182 nations, including 151 with nuclear capability. Russia, China, Great Britain, France and all of the United States’ NATO allies have ratified it. Full international legality awaits ratification by nine more countries, including the United States, through Congressional action.

These are indeed challenging goals. It was the United States that led the world to a global ban on the testing, use and production of chemical and biological weapons. We can do the same for nuclear weapons.

As a career emergency physician for over 30 years, I take my membership in the Maine Physicians for Social Responsibility seriously. As a citizen member of a nine member Legislative Joint Task Force to Examine Maine’s Homeland Security Needs after 9/11, and former Maine EMS Region 4 Medical Director, I know of no conceivable medical system that could handle more than a tiny fraction of the people exposed even peripherally to one nuclear attack. The only way to prevent any use of nuclear weapons is to work as long and as hard as it takes, while protecting our homeland above all else.

As the Nobel ceremony happens, it is important to remember that the real prize is the health and well-being of all humanity. Now is the occasion for U.S. senators, including our powerful and respected Sens. Collins and Snowe, to support START and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty as the president moves these important international pacts forward. Voting for these instruments is clearly the honorable and patriotic thing to do.

Paul Averill Liebow of Bucksport is a member of Maine Physicians for Social Responsibility.

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