First, America has an interest in reversing the spread of nuclear weapons and preventing their use.
In the last century, generations of Americans and Russians inherited the power to destroy nations, and the understanding that using that power would bring about their own destruction. In 2009, our inheritance is different. You and I don’t have to ask whether American and Russian leaders will respect a balance of terror – we understand the horrific consequences of any war between our countries. But we do have to ask whether extremists who have killed innocent civilians in New York and Moscow will show that same restraint. We have to ask whether ten or twenty or fifty nuclear-armed nations will protect their arsenals and refrain from using them.
This is the core of the nuclear challenge in the 21st century. The notion that prestige comes from holding these weapons, or that we can protect ourselves by picking and choosing which nations can have them, is illusory. In the short period since the end of the Cold War, we have already seen India, Pakistan and North Korea conduct nuclear tests. Without a fundamental change, do any of us truly believe that the next two decades will not bring about the further spread of nuclear weapons?
That is why America is committed to stopping nuclear proliferation, and ultimately seeking a world without nuclear weapons. That is consistent with our commitment under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That is our responsibility as the world’s two leading nuclear powers. And while I know this goal won’t be met soon, pursuing it provides the legal and moral foundation to prevent the proliferation and eventual use of nuclear weapons.
We are already taking important steps to build this foundation. Yesterday, President Medvedev and I made progress on negotiating a new Treaty that will substantially reduce our warheads and delivery systems. We renewed our commitment to clean, safe and peaceful nuclear energy, which must be a right for all nations that live up to their responsibilities under the NPT. And we agreed to increase cooperation on nuclear security, which is essential to achieving the goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear material within four years.
As we keep our own commitments, we must hold other nations accountable for theirs. Neither America nor Russia would benefit from a nuclear arms race in East Asia or the Middle East. That is why we should be united in opposing North Korea’s efforts to become a nuclear power, and preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. And I’m pleased that President Medvedev and I agreed upon a joint threat assessment of the ballistic missile challenges of the 21st Century, including from Iran and North Korea..