A month earlier, Obama had journeyed to Hradcany Square in Prague, Czech Republic, and boldly declared plans for a nuclear-free world. "I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons," Obama said. Gasps ricocheted through some world capitals. The announcement, coming after several days of Obamamania in Europe, including back pats between the first lady and the Queen of England, was unexpected, even jarring. Realists immediately argued that banishing nukes seemed naive or flaky, premature, an overdose of American-style idealism.
Yet since the halcyon words in Prague, in a world of protracted wars and tragic trivial pursuits, some of the most arch realists in the US foreign-policy establishment are buttressing the concept of a nuclear-free world.
A senior generation of "wise persons," who are not surfing peaceniks living in vans but who spent their lives as high-ranking cold warriors, have quietly advocated a world of zero nukes since 2007. They include figures like Colin Powell, John McCain, and Madeleine Albright, and 17 of the past 22 secretaries of Defense, as well as former national security advisers. Most prominent is the "gang of four" – Messrs. Schultz, Kissinger, Nunn, and Perry – who met that day with the president in the Oval Office.
Behind the push is the sobering realization of how dangerous the world has become. During the last great public debate over nuclear weapons – in the 1980s – the world had good reason to be wary: Two adversaries with huge nuclear-tipped arsenals, the US and the Soviet Union, were confronting each other around the world in a fraught game of geopolitics.