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So, the summit with North Korea is off, and now pundits will have at it on such themes as overreach, hidden agendas, John Bolton’s ill will, and misinterpretation of the meaning of “denuclearization.”

But the leaders of nuclear nations are like fish making petty threats and counter-threats while they swim in an ocean of reality they ignore to everyone’s peril: “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” (Ronald Reagan, 1984).

What an opportunity our planet is missing!

We all sense that the arms race has reached a fatal level of destructiveness. There is some debate about how many nuclear detonations might be required to bring on nuclear winter, but the number is clearly a small fraction of the total available to the nine nuclear powers. The meaning of peace through military strength will never be the same again. In recognition, 122 nations signedan agreement outlawing the weapons.

Two doors face us, one leading to death and one to life. We don’t see it, but both are equally easy to open and walk through. There are 82 million fellow humans in Iran, 25 million in North Korea, 1.4 billion in China, 143 million in Russia, all of whom want the same things we want for our children. Are they all our sworn enemies? Only in the insane, launch-on-warning, “surviving”-a-first-strike world where the tail of nuclear strategy wags the dog of common sense.

Everything has changed, and diplomacy must change with it. Diplomacy based in reality rather than double standards and illusion would suggest meeting our adversaries on the common ground of a shared desire not only to survive by gradual, verifiable, reciprocal steps back from the brink, but also to flourish by becoming free to repurpose the money formerly spent upon weapons to life-affirming programs and devices. Imagine governments encouraging the development of decentralized, sustainable power sources such as non-toxic rechargeable batteries and solar panels, creating an economic abundance that would reduce the “need” for war—a virtuous circle.

On this the major powers must lead—especially the United States, the only nation to have actually used a nuclear weapon to kill people. There are so many small, confidence-building measures we could take unilaterally which would not only not compromise our security, but would increase it, beginning with a pledge of no first use of nuclear weapons.

Such alternatives as renewing and miniaturizing our nuclear arsenal or taking the arms race out into space, as military planners in a number of nations are apparently racing to do, are the height of folly. The level of destruction available to nations is far larger than all our political and economic conflicts, and so the destructiveness has become irrelevant to the resolution of such conflicts. Because this is a Gordian knot we all share, we can cut through it on the basis of a common awareness that the arms race offers no way to reach the common security we all desire.

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Winslow Myers is author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide.” He serves on the Advisory Board of the War Preventive Initiative.

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