People seemed surprised by Barack Obama's speech in Prague, which proposed ending nuclear weapons everywhere. He promised to ratify the comprehensive test ban treaty and to host a global summit to end the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons.
No one should have been surprised. Obama had worked on proliferation problems as a senator. Nor was he unique among statesmen. The big surprise had occurred in 2007 when four Americans who had led in the nuclear arms race made a complete about-face. Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, William Perry, and Sam Nunn published an essay in the Wall Street Journal in January 2007, warning of a catastrophe if the world fails to get rid of nuclear weapons. They were soon being called "the four horsemen of the Apocalypse" because of their sustained effort to arouse the population.
Other statemen quickly endorsed their exhortations: Mikhail Gorbachev in the same month, and the British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett in June 2007. Four other British leaders, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Lord Douglas Hurd, Lord David Owen, and Lord George Robertson quickly followed, issuing their own proclamation in The Times. As Rebecca Johnson remarked,
"Considering that Hurd, Rifkind, Robertson, and Owen were some of the country's staunchest believers in a British nuclear deterrent, their recognition that today nuclear weapons are a security problem--not a solution--is significant."
Soon a steady stream of political figures were coming out. A year after their first Wall Street Journal piece, the American "four horsemen" published once more. By October 2008 Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon followed suit and in December 2008 a group of 100 international political, military, business, and civic leaders formed an organization called Global Zero. They released a poll of 21 countries showing that 76% of the population supports such a plan. Pakistan and China explicitly supported the Global Zero proposals.
Now the movement was speeding up. In January 2009 four eminent German statesmen published an essay of their own. They were a former chancellor, (Helmut Schmidt), a former president, (Richard von Weizsacker), a former minister in the Social Democratic government (Egon Bahr), and a former foreign minister (Hans-Dietrich Genscher), and they proposed negotiations begin,
"... initially between the United States and Russia, the countries with the largest number of warheads, in order to win over the other countries possessing such weapons."
This spring others followed. On April 3, two former presidents of Poland and a former prime minister came out in favor of disarmament. Five days later there were six Australian statesmen declaring the same opinion.
On June 4 it was Norway's turn. Four former prime ministers spoke out.
Also in June, the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh agreed, adding, "The only efficient form of nuclear disarmament and elimination of nuclear weapons consists of a disarmament on a global scale."
Then on July 4, four Italian statesmen announced that they now oppose nuclear weapons. And as we go to press Japan's parliament has just urged their government to commit to nuclear abolition.
Is something new going on here?
Metta Spencer is editor of Peace.