Today, in the aftermath of the cold war, the old threat has greatly diminished. The two countries maintain smaller but still potent nuclear stockpiles. Yet other threats now loom: the expansion of the nuclear club to include rivals like India and Pakistan as well as mercurial North Korea; the quest to join by new states like Iran and Syria; the possibility of nukes finding their way to terror groups that could use them – in Moscow, the Middle East, Beijing, or Washington.
"Why is it so hard for us to solve a problem that is obvious?" Schultz asked with an edge of exasperation in an interview at his home in California.
Skeptics of a nuclear-free world might answer that such a goal is politically impossible and practically dangerous: They believe it could lead to an even greater possibility of a nuke being used.
As Obama prepares to host more than 40 world leaders April 12 in Washington to discuss the spread of nuclear materials, this will be the fundamental question underlying it all: Is a nuclear-free world actually attainable? Is it just a gauzy notion, or the grand imperative of our time?
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Whatever the different views, the issue is once again being discussed somewhere other than in the cubicles of a few think tanks. It is, at least rhetorically, a stated US goal.