The Common Good

Daring to Disarm: McNamara and the Moscow Summit

At around 9:30 a.m. on Monday, two headlines were dueling for the coveted center space of the New York Times Web site. The first referred to the groundbreaking Moscow Summit between President Obama and Russian President Medvedev. The second announced the passing of former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara.

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I think he would have wanted it that way.

While McNamara will be forever associated with his actions during the Vietnam War, I had the distinct pleasure of encountering him while he was devoting his life to a very different cause. A few years ago, I sat across from a 90-year-old McNamara as he pounded the table with his fist, quivering with rage about the fact the U.S. political establishment did not share his urgent conviction that for humanity to survive, nuclear weapons must be eliminated.

As the eye-opening documentary The Fog of War demonstrates, McNamara was a truly rare breed of statesman-someone who dedicated his latter years to the serious, public reflection of the choices he made earlier in his life. As a result, his twilight years were marked by outspoken attention to issues such as nuclear disarmament.

And so it seems fitting that July 6, 2009, is not only the date of McNamara's death, but also the beginning of a renewed commitment between Russia and the United States on nuclear weapons reductions. Just a few hours after the announcement of McNamara's passing, Presidents Obama and Medvedev announced a formal agreement to reduce their strategic nuclear warheads in preparation for a new arms control treaty.

Good news? Definitely. The mere fact that the Moscow Summit took place at all is extremely gratifying--it's the first summit meeting between the U.S. and Russia in decades, and testifies to Obama's desire to "press the reset button" in U.S.-Russian relations.

But as encouraging as this agreement is, it's not yet going far enough. The reductions are relatively modest, and the announcement lacks an articulation of the real danger we face from continuing to rely on nuclear weapons as a means of security. The world deserves more from the U.S. and Russia, which currently hold 95 percent of the world's arsenal of nuclear weapons.

That's where you come in. There are two important things that you can do right now to help push our leaders toward the moral imperative of nuclear disarmament.

First, pray for Presidents Obama and Medvedev. An urgent conviction from these two men, matched with concrete actions, can turn the tide toward nuclear disarmament. Remember that at the 1986 Reykjavik summit Gorbachev and Reagan came within a few breaths of an agreement to eliminate all nuclear weapons. Presidents Obama and Medvedev are perfectly placed to break through partisan confines and issue a broad appeal to prioritize nuclear disarmament. Ask God to stir their hearts, and pray that the critical first step of the nuclear arms reductions through today's Moscow Summit will bloom into an appropriately urgent commitment to nuclear disarmament led by the U.S. and Russia.

Second, let your elected leaders know that you are tracking these matters carefully. Members of Congress have told us that they only hear from a small handful of constituents on issues related to nuclear weapons and disarmament. That needs to change. Let your Representative know that you want to see greater urgency for nuclear disarmament-and that the first way they can signal their support is by signing on as a Cosponsor to the Global Security Priorities Resolution (H. Res. 278), which will make significant cuts of nuclear stockpiles and direct much-needed funds toward child survival. You can send a message to your Representative here.

Several years ago, at the Louisville Festival of Faiths, Robert McNamara gave a fiery appeal to religious people for the elimination of nuclear weapons, saying, "I can't think of anything more demanding of Christians than to rid the human race of this risk."

At the Two Futures Project, a new movement of Christians committed to abolishing nuclear weapons, we share that conviction, as well as McNamara's feeling that without fervent action, the combination of human fallibility and nuclear weapons could lead to the destruction of nations. Please join us in choosing an alternative future-one in which the shadow of nuclear weapons lifts from our world once and for all.

Jessica Wilbanks is the Campaign Manager for the Two Futures Project (2FP), a new movement of Christians working for the elimination of nuclear weapons. Join 2FP at www.twofuturesproject.org, as well as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter.

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