Prospects for Arms Control in the Obama Administration: An Interview with John Isaacs

Dec 11, 2009

John Isaacs, Executive Director of the Council for a Livable World, discusses nuclear weapons treaties and their relevance for U.S. foreign policy, domestic politics, and the global arms control agenda.

DAVID SPEEDIE: I'm David Speedie, Director of the program on U.S. Global Engagement here at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York. Today I'm delighted to welcome to the Council, for our regular interview series with opinion experts and leaders around the country, John Isaacs. John is Executive Director of the Council for a Livable World in Washington, D.C., and also Executive Director of the Council's sister organization, Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

There are other various organizations affiliated, John. You obviously have about four or five jobs. But we'll focus on the purpose of the Council for a Livable World, which is opposition to new nuclear weapons and national missiles defense, support for deep reductions in nuclear stockpiles and an expansion of non-proliferation programs, and anti-U.S. involvement in the Iraq War and promotion of diplomatic solutions to the nuclear aspirations of Iran and North Korea.

There are some real easy issues. But then again, you've been doing this at the Council, I think, for over 30 years.


DAVID SPEEDIE: The obvious question, it seems to me, is, 20 years after the end of the Cold War, and therefore something of a receding of immediate concern on the nuclear weapons questions, how do you and the Council keep the pressure on? How do you keep the eye on the ball when it comes to making sure these issues are not lost on the public and among the policy community?

JOHN ISAACS: It's certainly a challenge. A lot depends on who is president and what the direction of the executive branch is. Under President George W. Bush, there was little interest in nuclear-weapons issues, and certainly little interest in treaties. That's why, in some ways, the organization changed some of its focus to the Iraq War, which, in many ways, was the predominant national-security issue at the time.

But at this point we have a president, Barack Obama, who is very interested in nuclear weapons. He said so during the campaign, he was in the U.S. Senate, and particularly in the kinds of things he has done this year. A president can use his bully pulpit, as we say from Teddy Roosevelt days, to educate the American public, to make an issue in the U.S. Congress, within his own executive branch, and across the globe.

I think President Obama has done that, first with his major speech on nuclear-weapons issues, in which he called for a world free of nuclear weapons, back in April in 2009, a speech in Prague. Then he got one Security Council endorsement of a world free of nuclear weapons. There is a whole series of events and negotiations and other steps that he has called for that will keep the issue front and center, at least in the executive branch.

If you're talking about public opinion, people certainly aren't as worried about nuclear weapons as they were when I was growing up, when there were a lot of nuclear test explosions, when people were concerned about a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union, and when kids ducked under their desks to hide from nuclear-blast effects. That's still a challenge for groups like ours.

But there is executive-branch interest, some interest in Congress, and some in the public.

That was a long answer, I'm sorry.

DAVID SPEEDIE: No, no. It's a good one. Of course, good answers always lead to other questions. The question of the bully pulpit and the goodwill from the executive branch—we'll get into some of the specific challenges that come under this broad rubric of arms control in a moment. Obviously, the ongoing situation in Afghanistan, the perhaps less-than-perfect denouement in Iraq, the concerns about Pakistan—this, by the way, on the foreign-policy agenda; let's leave alone simple matters like health care and other domestic issues—how do you see the administration really keeping the pressure on here? Obviously, one of your activities is as a lobbying organization in Congress and so on. It's back to this question of really keeping feet to the fire behind big pronouncements made, with Medvedev in London and so on and so forth.

JOHN ISAACS: In fact, we're in an unusual situation. We are frequently trying to keep a president's feet to the fire or Congress' feet to the fire. But in the Obama Administration, it's the president who is leading. He gave this terrific speech in Prague in April. He has led the other efforts at the United Nations Security Council, going to Japan in November of 2009. He is organizing a nuclear summit in Washington, D.C. in April of 2010, and other steps. So in some ways, for the first time in my 30 years at the Council for a Livable World and the Center for Arms Control, we're following the president; we are not trying to lead him. We're not trying to keep his feet to the fire.

The other thing I would say is that the president (and the executive branch) has been unusually able to keep track and work on many critical and large issues at a time. As you say, they're working on health care, which is a huge reform effort that has been under way for 50 years, global climate change, which is a more recent challenge, the whole economic recession. Even as he is dealing with these problems, as you point out, there are all the other issues. The president manages to keep up with all these issues and keeps moving forward specifically on nuclear-weapons issues. I have no complaints about the president not paying attention to nuclear-weapons issues, or making a grand speech and then sort of fading into the background. That's not a problem.

Now, with the Congress and the American public having trouble keeping up with all these issues, that's a little bit more of a problem. In fact, the Congress has been so focused on these issues, both domestic and some foreign policy, that there has been very little reaction to the president's speeches and actions on the nuclear-weapons issues thus far in his first year in office.

DAVID SPEEDIE: When Henry Kissinger makes the comment about the president, like a great chess master, having several spectacular opening gambits in big matches, but never bringing one to a close—it's very much a wait-and-see, with good indications, for you?

JOHN ISAACS: Yes. And certainly, as Henry Kissinger should know, these major issues take time. Think of one of the major things that Kissinger and President Nixon were noted for, the opening to China. That didn't happen in six months. That took four or five or six years before it led to the president going to China and the opening to that country.

Or dealing with the Vietnam War. President Nixon and Kissinger took office in 1969 and it took another six or eight years before the United States extricated itself.

These issues take time. It's awfully hard to judge the total progress of the president in this first year in office on these issues. I know we're going to talk about this, but the negotiations that are under way now between the United States and Russia on the agreement to reduce nuclear weapons—in some ways, that's the simplest agreement of all the agreements that he is trying to negotiate. It's something the United States and Russia, formerly the Soviets, have done many times. But even that agreement is taking a good part of the year. We're getting to the end of 2009 and the agreement still is not concluded.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Let's get to that. That was going to be next on the list, actually. The START [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] deadline is imminent, early December. I don't want to answer the question for you, but you seem to be fairly sanguine about long-term prospects for ratification, that not only something be signed, which, of course, is the easy part, but then in terms of coming into force. Elaborate on your thinking on that.

JOHN ISAACS: Sure. A lot of my thinking on the new nuclear-reduction treaty, which I think is going to be called New START, is reflected by my visits to about 20 Senate Republican offices. A lot of those offices have concerns over the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty, another treaty that was defeated by the Senate in 1999, and have expressed opposition. But there is no U.S. senator, Republican or Democrat, who has expressed opposition to the START nuclear-reductions treaties.

There has been, as I pointed out, a series of agreements going back to Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon—a whole series of agreements. Most of these agreements have been approved overwhelmingly. Even under the George W. Bush Administration, there was a treaty in Moscow that was signed, and I think it was approved unanimously.

So nuclear reductions are still pretty popular. The past history combined with my knowledge of Republican offices suggests that this agreement will be approved by the Senate.

As you know, we face this constitutional hurdle. With all the issues like health care, there need to be 60 votes to get anything done. On treaties, we need 67 votes. That means, even with 58 Democrats and two independents in the United States Senate, there are still at least seven Republicans needed. On the START follow-on treaty, the New START agreement, I'm pretty confident we'll get those votes, sometime, I hope, in the spring in 2010.

DAVID SPEEDIE: So there's not a concern in your mind—to be, perhaps, a little cynical about this—that a poisonous health-care environment might spill over into things that really ought not to be affected, but might be, in terms of getting seven Republican votes?

JOHN ISAACS: I'm concerned about that. Certainly the two parties have been diametrically opposed on virtually every issue in Washington today. But I think this will be the exception. When we get to the vote on the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty, then we may see that return to all Republicans opposed. But I'm hopeful even there that—nuclear issues are separate from some of these other issues. It's not as if politics stops at the water's edge. That's an old line that people used to talk about, in terms of U.S. foreign policy. I don't believe that. But with nuclear-weapons issues, I think there's some exception.

I also point out that nuclear weapons aren't exactly popular, even with the American public or even with the Republican Party. The George W. Bush Administration tried several times to win approval for funding of a new generation of nuclear weapons, and it was a Republican-led Congress, and a Republican from Ohio in particular, that blocked those plans.

So all these reasons suggest to me that on the START follow-on agreement, we'll be okay. There could be some fights on so-called reservations and understandings and declarations. There is some posturing going on where I think some Republicans are looking for more money to be spent on nuclear weapons or the nuclear-weapons complex. But again, 67 votes—I'm pretty confident we'll get that.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Here's hoping that that's indeed the outcome.

Let's quickly look at some of the other important—you mentioned CTBT, the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty, which, I think, faces a somewhat more complicated and difficult series of hurdles. Let's begin with CTBT.

JOHN ISAACS: The hurdle, of course, is, first, the treaty was defeated in 1999. We weren't even close to 67 votes, in fact. I think it was something like 51 to 48. A number of the Republicans who opposed the treaty back in 1999 are still in the United States Senate. It's hard to get them to reverse.

Moreover, while, as I have already pointed out, no Republicans have said they would vote against this new nuclear-reductions treaty, a number of Republicans have said, "I'm as opposed to the Test-Ban Treaty today as I was ten years ago." It's going to be a lot more difficult fight for the administration.

Basically, I think the Obama Administration is going to have to negotiate with Republicans and pay a price—hopefully, not too high a price—to get the Test-Ban Treaty approved.

An end to nuclear testing has been one of the longest-sought goals of the nuclear era. I think it was Dwight Eisenhower who first proposed some ideas in that direction. All presidents have been unsuccessful, except for a limited test-ban treaty that went into effect in the 1960s, when President Kennedy was in office.

At this point, the United States has not tested any nuclear weapons, exploded any nuclear bombs, since 1992. And I don't think the United States ever will again. So I think it's in our interest to get this treaty ratified, to convince Republicans that if we want to try to work against other countries developing nuclear weapons and improving their nuclear weapons, we have to get this treaty ratified in the United States, but also approved by eight other countries, and we'll want the treaty to enter into force.

But it's going to be a long slog.

DAVID SPEEDIE: When you say the administration may have to pay a price, what are you thinking of?

JOHN ISAACS: A lot of the price seems to be around spending on the nuclear-weapons complex—the nuclear-weapons labs, some of the new buildings that they have put up, perhaps agreeing to new nuclear weapons. Again, President George W. Bush tried to win approval of a reliable replacement warhead and a robust nuclear earth penetrator, and Congress said no. It may be that some new nuclear weapons would have to be produced in order to sway Republican votes. Depending on what those weapons are and what their military capabilities are, we'll see how high the price is. That's the area.

But I go back also to the Chemical Weapons Convention signed by the first President Bush, the ratification vote when President Clinton was in office. There had to be a series of negotiations with Senator Jesse Helms, then either chairman or ranking Republican of the Foreign Relations Committee. The Clinton Administration paid a price, and, unfortunately, paid a price in ways that I didn't like. But on the other hand, the treaty went into effect and now is an international treaty.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Perhaps a quick review of other pending weighty matters—fissile-material control regime, of course the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (NPT)Treaty Review Conference coming up in 2010. There is a certain linkage here, isn't there? Obviously, it's part of a major global arms-control agenda, as it were, that you are very interested in.

JOHN ISAACS: They're all linked, in some ways, going back to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, signed when President Johnson was in office. There was an international bargain. The nuclear-weapons states—at that point, the United States, the Soviet Union, France, Britain, and China; I don't know if other countries were nuclear powers at that point—agreed to various steps, including an end to nuclear testing, a Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty, and steps toward disarmament. In return, the countries without nuclear weapons agreed that they would not build nuclear weapons at all. Part of the bargain was that peaceful uses of nuclear energy could go forward.

That treaty has been jeopardized by a number of events in recent years, in part because there has been very little progress since, really, the end of the Cold War. The first President Bush signed a whole series of agreements and made some major progress at the end of his term in the early 1990s, but not that much progress since then.

There is a fear that the Non-Proliferation Treaty will unravel if the Test-Ban Treaty is not approved, if the United States and the Russians can't significantly reduce nuclear weapons, if there can't be a ban on fissile materials that could be used for nuclear explosions. They are all, in effect, linked to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

There's a review conference on that coming up in May 2010. If some of these other preliminary steps are not taken or not successful, that whole nuclear bargaining, dating back to 1968, could be in jeopardy. Of course, the problems of the nuclear aspirations of North Korea and the problems of the nuclear aspirations of Iran also complicate the whole situation.

So there are a lot of moving parts here. But I think you can sort of put them all back together in the nuclear non-proliferation regime.

DAVID SPEEDIE: This gets us a little bit into the politics of things. One thing that occurs is to step back in time for a moment. You mentioned some of the measures by the first President Bush. But it seems that certainly, for those of who have looked a lot at U.S.-Russia relations since the end of the Cold War, there have been some missed opportunities.

JOHN ISAACS: Absolutely.

DAVID SPEEDIE: In terms of arms control, this would seem to me to be front and center. What do you think went wrong? Bill Clinton, a very smart guy, clearly saw a moment in history, a moment in time, the first president with a full term, as it were, at the end of the Cold War.

It may be a difficult question to answer in a few words -

JOHN ISAACS: No. I think it's an easy problem. For President Clinton, it was "the economy, stupid." That was the slogan, and his focus really was on domestic issues. He, of course, had to get involved in international issues from time to time. But on nuclear-weapons issues, the fight for reductions has to be led by the president of the United States. He can have a very good secretary of state, secretary of defense, and national security adviser, but the president has to be engaged. President Clinton really was not engaged in these issues very much—episodically, to some extent.

But the whole history of the Test-Ban Treaty in the Clinton Administration—the president negotiated the treaty but sort of left behind the idea of, "Well, I'm going to have to see what I can do to get the treaty ratified," and it sat around for a long time.

So I think for President Bill Clinton, it was a sin of omission. He wasn't paying much attention to these issues. He had other priorities. So things languished.

Then under President George W. Bush, there was not that much interest in treaties in general, and specifically a nuclear-weapons treaty. There was one treaty that they bragged about in the administration, and it was three pages long. And that was about it.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Getting back to—

JOHN ISAACS: If I could add one thing, I'm sorry. A number of other things happened to poison U.S.-Russia relations, particularly, I think, NATO expansion. We don't need to get into that in great detail, but the Russians thought they had an agreement where they would allow Germany to unite if NATO didn't expand to include the former Soviet satellites. And that agreement seems to have been busted, shall we say.

DAVID SPEEDIE: We have dealt elsewhere with other lost opportunities in U.S.-Russia relations. So thank you for focusing on the arms-control side.

Back to the present day, or indeed thinking ahead, it would seem to me there are perhaps two—well, let's put it in a more positive way. Clearly this is not just a question of the U.S. or indeed U.S.-Russia, although some of the important treaties like START are keystone elements of an arms-control regime. But, of course, NPT is multilateral, is global, and so on.

I know you have written about the essential element here, U.S. leadership. Of course, our program, U.S. Global Engagement, came into being in the attempt to sort of parse out what this commitment to restoring U.S. leadership and global responsibility was all about. So it's something we are very interested in.

How do you see this playing out? For example, although we kind of agreed that we wouldn't get into Afghanistan—up to our knees in that—but with this ongoing dilemma here, how do you see U.S. leadership in the world generally playing, at this point, a positive or a negative role in getting the other nations behind us in this move toward the president's long-term ambition of getting to zero, or moving toward getting to zero?

JOHN ISAACS: There's no doubt that President Obama has improved the U.S. image abroad by a series of steps showing that he is interested in engaging with other countries, interested in listening to their opinions. There was a certain feeling among many in the Bush Administration that, to use the expression, "it's my way or the highway." There are even some stories recently about the British, who joined with us in the Iraq War, but really felt that they were very much a junior partner, because the Bush Administration was moving forward and doing whatever it wanted. This administration clearly is more willing to consult. The president has gone and delivered major addresses, including in Cairo and appeals to Muslim nations. He recently went to Japan and talked about nuclear-weapons issues.

I think the president, as was referred to in an article I saw recently, is still considered something of a rock star abroad, even if less so at home. I think his leadership is important and his views are being listened to abroad. And the president has said in his speeches, going back to the Prague speech and other speeches, that this can't be a United States venture only. It has to be the international community.

The best example thus far is the United Nations Security Council endorsement of a world free of nuclear weapons, where the president didn't just submit a resolution but went up to New York, chaired the session, won the endorsement of the Russians, the Japanese, the French, the British, and all the other countries that were part of the Security Council.

Again, he brings up the issue over and over again of nuclear weapons and the need for global engagement. Dealing with the specific problems of North Korea, you have the six-party talks. You have the U.S., the Russians, the South Koreans, the Japanese, the North Koreans, and China involved. In the negotiations with Iran, it's a number of countries working together. Again, it's not the U.S. being the Lone Ranger abroad, but a much more multilateral effort.

Occasionally, the Bush Administration did engage in multilateral efforts, but not that often.

I think that attitude for the administration—willing to work with other countries, willing to listen to other countries, recognizing that the United States can't decide these issues alone—I think that is appreciated abroad, and I think that's helping promote the president's agenda.

Now, goodwill doesn't mean facts on the ground and agreements signed and acceptance by other countries of, let's say, additional inspections of nuclear-weapons plants. But it's still a good start.

DAVID SPEEDIE: And it's true, going back to something you said in the beginning about the new START, that this is perhaps one of the simpler cards in the pack of the global arms-control agenda.


DAVID SPEEDIE: At the other end, I would assume, are some of the areas that are not so much governed by treaties as just simply getting on board—countries—in terms of command-and-control issues and nuclear facilities, securing nuclear facilities against possible loss of either weapons or sensitive technologies to sub-state actors and so on and so forth. This is still the long haul, heavy lifting, isn't it?

JOHN ISAACS: Absolutely, although the president committed during the campaign and—again, I go back to the Prague speech as sort of the foundation speech—a four-year effort to secure all nuclear weapons and nuclear materials across the globe. We have been disappointed that in the first year there hasn't been much follow-through. But we hope and expect that the new budget presented in 2010 will reflect this president's commitment in a great increase in resources. And that would mean the United States going to all these countries with nuclear reactors—not just Russia, obviously, but a lot of other countries—and getting them to agree to either, as you say, secure their nuclear materials or ship out the nuclear materials that could be used in nuclear weapons.

Four years is optimistic. Under the previous agenda, I think it was going to take 12 to 14 years. But if we speed up that effort, it's still going to be a long haul, as you point out. All these issues are long-haul. Going to a world free of nuclear weapons, the president says it probably is not going to happen in his lifetime. If you add another 40 years to his lifetime, you can start counting from that.

DAVID SPEEDIE: I remember a prominent Harvard academic once stood up at a conference, where another round of funding had been given for Harvard's work on nuclear weapons, and he raised a glass and said, "Here's to nuclear weapons. Long may they need further study."

I think you're probably—as long as you wish to be at the Council for a Livable World—

JOHN ISAACS: I don't expect to work myself out of a job.


I know you have a Japan trip coming up. Japan is an interesting country. Of course, it's the one country that was the object of a nuclear attack. Japan is also, in some ways, a critical country in this potential global coalition or what have you. I know—at least I think I know—that Japan is one of the very few countries that actually extracts sensitive nuclear material from its waste, and there is some hedging of bets in the fissile material-control regime in terms of having Japan sign on. Clearly Japan lives in a very dangerous neighborhood. North Korea occasionally sort of lobs missiles over Japanese territory.

Say a little bit about Japan, both in terms of your visit and where you think the contribution of Japan will come out.

JOHN ISAACS: I would say two major areas for Japan. First, Japan is a natural partner on nuclear-weapons issues. As you point out, it's the one country that suffered direct nuclear attacks twice. Japan has a long commitment to nuclear disarmament. Having Japan as a partner of the United States in pushing other countries—India and Pakistan, for example, or North Korea—I think is very important.

The other area—and I'm going to focus on this—is that the previous government of Japan, which was replaced, after more or less 50 years in power, in the summer of 2009, played a little curious double game. They didn't want nuclear weapons. They believed in nuclear disarmament. But on the other hand, they lobbied the U.S. government, in quiet ways, first of all, against the United States adopting a no-first-use-of-nuclear-weapons policy. The Japanese government, at least quietly, was saying that if Japan were attacked with conventional forces, they wanted the United States prepared to respond with nuclear weapons.

It's our argument today—and it has been for a while—that nuclear weapons should be used only for one purpose, and that purpose is to deter a nuclear attack and perhaps respond to a nuclear attack. The Japanese seem to be blocking that effort.

Also the United States has been trying to—the Navy wants to retire some nuclear weapons, and Japanese officials quietly told a congressional commission, "Please don't retire these weapons. They're important to Japanese security."

The United States has more than 4,000 nuclear weapons, and many more in reserve. Our nuclear deterrent is as strong as ever. It may not be as numerous as it was during the height of the Cold War. Moreover, we're the strongest deterrent conventional-force power in the world. For the Japanese to say, "Oh, we don't want you to reduce nuclear weapons too much and we don't want you to adopt a no-first-use policy and we don't want you to retire certain kinds of nuclear weapons"—that really was, to put it bluntly, a little hypocritical.

The new government has come in and given different signals. We are hopeful that some of those signals, therefore, change out of Tokyo. But that's one of the things I'm going to talk about, because there is some ambiguity in the new government's position.

DAVID SPEEDIE: We look forward to your firsthand report.

Two final questions, John, one political, one back to the broad public and the question of where arms control sits in the public consciousness.

In terms of the politics of this, with all the president's formidable political, interpersonal, and intellectual skills in addressing this problem, which he clearly intends to address, bureaucratic inertia is not unknown in Washington. At least this is what we hear from New York.

JOHN ISAACS: Not since Casablanca have I heard this.

DAVID SPEEDIE: You're the Washingtonian. I take all my political wisdom from Casablanca.

Seriously, how do you see this? Are we in a different paradigm now? Is it too early to tell? Or is it still very much an obstacle?

JOHN ISAACS: I think we'll know that particularly with the results released in early 2010 of what's called a nuclear-posture review, a complete review of U.S. nuclear-weapons policy. We hope this nuclear-posture review, which is conducted primarily by the Pentagon—but other agencies are also involved—reflects what the president is talking about in terms of new nuclear-weapons policies and leading to a world free of nuclear weapons.

But we are very nervous about the bureaucrats who are preparing the report, who are resistant to change. Obviously, there will be some change from the previous two administrations, but how much we don't know.

So, yes, bureaucratic politics still is an important factor in Washington. But we'll see. The president, again, has made nuclear-weapons advancement such an important issue. We hope that the bureaucrats listen. Or the other way may happen, that those drafting the nuclear-posture review present a series of options to the president and he makes those choices of the option that he would like to see—apparently, what went on as the administration was deciding its policy on Afghanistan.

We'll know in about February of 2010 how much the bureaucrats win or how much the president wins.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Finally, back to the question of the public consciousness, going back almost three years now, the "Big Four" of Nunn, Perry, Schultz, and Kissinger did the famous op-ed in The Wall Street Journal and then, a year later, on essentially getting to zero, which was really something of a quantum breakthrough. The president himself spoke about this at the United Nations, as you said, although adding the important cautionary note, "perhaps not in my lifetime."

JOHN ISAACS: Which is also the kind of thing that the four leaders have said. They can't see a specific end date, but they want to start us on the path.

DAVID SPEEDIE: Yes, exactly. One might hope, for those of us who have been in this—you have a much more intensive, sort of expert point of view, but for those of us who have been somewhat involved in arms-control issues over the years—that this would be something of building a groundswell, and yet it seems that the days of SANE/FREEZE seem a long time ago. If anything now, although we can't get into this at this point, climate change would seem to be the new galvanizing public mass movement, as it were.

Does one sort of disqualify the other from capturing the public's imagination, interest, and commitment?

JOHN ISAACS: I don't think the nuclear-weapons issues will capture the public's imagination, unless something dramatic and awful happens—nuclear war between India and Pakistan, for example. As you point out, climate change and other issues have grabbed public attention.

But that's both a plus and minus. Obviously, it was helpful to have a broad popular movement in this country pushing the Eisenhower Administration and the Kennedy Administration on nuclear-weapons issues. We don't have that, and I don't think we will have that.

On the other hand, it means that there may be less resistance. In other words, if nuclear weapons aren't as hot an issue as, let's say, missile defense is or health care is or some of the economic issues or global climate change is, it means we won't have a mass movement for it, but on the other hand, there might be less resistance from the political establishment in both parties.

So it's a plus and minus. But we just have to work within the realities. The realities are, people simply are not as concerned about nuclear-weapons issues as they used to be. I suppose that's a positive also in the sense that Americans and Soviets lived for decades under the sword of a nuclear Damocles thinking that a nuclear war could break out at any time—and, at the time of the Cuban missile crisis, in fact, coming very close to that. So it's a very mixed blessing, shall we say, that there is much less public interest and concern about nuclear weapons.

But if anyone can mobilize the public on this issue, it's President Obama. At this point he is trying to mobilize the public on so many issues, it's hard to get them focused on this issue.

DAVID SPEEDIE: John, thank you for working these issues for over 30 years and thank you for being here today.

Our guest has been John Isaacs, President of the Council for a Livable World and the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

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