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Last published at August 5, 2009 at 3:28 PM

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Guest columnist

Time for United States to keep promise on nuclear disarmament

More than 50 years after the United States dropped nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the United States has a golden opportunity to salvage the promise it made in an international 1968 nuclear non-proliferation treaty, writes guest columnist Cherie Eichholz.

Special to The Times

Today many will remember the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 64 years ago, the world's first and only actual use of nuclear weapons. A reverent few will gather at Greenlake and other areas around Seattle to memorialize those killed, and tomorrow we will resume our lives, ignoring the lethal threat that lurks all around us.

Today, the United States still possesses more than 9,000 nuclear warheads, approximately 2,000 of them on hair-trigger alert, ready to deploy and explode within 30 minutes of launch. Over one-quarter of those weapons are maintained at Bangor Naval Base, scarcely 30 minutes from Seattle, which is one of only two bases in the nation that houses Trident nuclear submarines, arguably the world's deadliest weapon.

Modern nuclear weapons are many times more powerful than those that killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese in 1945 and are thus significantly more dangerous and devastating. They are hardly in the category of an adequate and reasonable security measure. Today's nuclear weapons are weapons of mass destruction and the longer they lay in waiting, the greater the risk that either they will be used for their stated purpose of extraordinary destruction, possibly by rogue nations or individuals, or that an accident will occur and unintentionally kill thousands if not more.

For the first time in many years we have a president committed to disarming the U.S. nuclear arsenal and seeking a world free from nuclear weapons. But in past weeks, President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have pledged to help India in their efforts to increase the size of their military and nuclear capabilities. These actions and the president's oft-stated commitment to disarmament seem at odds. Indeed, while it is apparent there is some measure of sincerity in Obama's repeated proclamations, it is also apparent the commencement of global disarmament remains a goal waiting for concrete actions by the U.S. and others.

U.S. citizens want to feel safe and be safe, but when it comes right down to it, we are not engaged in pursuing what would above all else ensure our safety, regardless of our long-standing pledge to do so.

The international Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons we signed in 1968 states: "Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament."

It would be difficult to argue that in the past 40 years we have honored this commitment — but we have a golden opportunity to salvage that promise.

In the coming months, the U.S. will face a number of critical decisions concerning nuclear weapons as several treaties and agreements are to be re-evaluated. The question remains: Will the U.S. take the necessary steps to move toward a world free from nuclear weapons? The answer seems clear: If we hope to ensure a safe future, free from the kind of devastation wrought in 1945, we must demand the U.S. set an example and begin disarming.

Cherie Eichholz is executive director of the Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Copyright © The Seattle Times Company

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