Story highlights

Philip Lederer: Nuclear weapons ban needed, but public should pressure nuclear powers

Trump should reverse decades of US foreign policy by backing a ban, Lederer says

Editor’s Note: Dr. Philip Lederer is a member of the Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

CNN —  

President Donald Trump argued this week that he wants America’s nuclear stockpile in “tiptop shape,” while denying a report that he planned to increase the US arsenal tenfold. 

Last month at the United Nations, Trump said that if forced to defend itself, the United States “will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” with its 25 million citizens. A week ago, he summoned reporters to the State Dining Room, where he was holding a dinner for military commanders and their spouses. To the guests, he stated that this could be “the calm before the storm.” And when asked, “What’s the storm?” he responded ominously, “You’ll see.”

The North Korean foreign minister jabbed back, describing his nation’s nuclear weapons as a “sword of justice.”

The exchange of threats with North Korea is helping no one.

Trump has established himself as a proponent of nuclear weapons. However, anyone can change, and he could become the unconventional leader he promised during the presidential campaign. As unlikely as it seems today, Trump could reinvent himself by reversing decades of American policy. By providing leadership in the campaign for a nuclear ban treaty, Trump would catapult himself into the record books as one of the greatest presidents in US history.

Trump should take a cue from the Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded on October 6, to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, or ICAN, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations in more than 100 countries.

The organization received the award for its heroic work to “draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its groundbreaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition on such weapons,” to quote Berit-Reiss-Andersen, the chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

The anti-nuclear group helped organize the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, adopted by 122 UN member states and signed by 53 countries. The treaty argues for the abolition of the 15,000 nuclear weapons that already exist, nearly 7,000 of which are in the US nuclear arsenal.

Trump ought to initiate a series of meetings rotating between the nuclear weapons states. Diplomats should assemble regularly in Washington, Moscow, Beijing, Pyongyang, Paris, London, New Delhi, Karachi and Jerusalem to develop plans to draw down nuclear arsenals.

But nuclear weapons states won’t change course and support the nuclear ban treaty unless enormous public pressure is raised. The public needs to understand how dangerous nuclear weapons are, that they are the greatest threat to our survival.

Americans need to be calling the White House and our congressmen and congresswomen. We need to be withdrawing money from banks that support nuclear weapons producers. Sustained global attention to the issue and support for joining the ban treaty is desperately needed. To help bring this about, we need cultural change – for example, through grass-roots organizing and the arts.

Get our free weekly newsletter

  • Sign up for CNN Opinion’s newsletter.
  • Join us on Twitter and Facebook

    My 2-year-old son loves music. Recently, before saying goodnight, he sang an appropriate song, “You are my sunshine/my only sunshine/you make me happy/ when skies are gray.”

    All children deserve a peaceful world free of nuclear weapons. A world of sunshine.