COMMENTARY: An old idea from Ike and JFK could help Korea summit

The summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, tentatively planned for June 12, comes near the anniversary of one of President John F. Kennedy’s most famous speeches. JFK, in a 1963 commencement address at American University, proposed to the Soviet Union ending nuclear weapons testing.

If Trump and Kim are wise, they will follow up on JFK’s test ban proposal to strengthen their own peace effort.

Let’s begin with the fact that North Korea has just dismantled its nuclear test site. Why not take the next step and end all nuclear testing forever on the Korean peninsula and beyond?

North Korea should ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which bans all nuclear test explosions. So too should the United States, which is one of the treaty’s eight hold-out nations. The United States, North Korea, China, Egypt, Israel, Iran, India and Pakistan are the remaining “Annex 2” countries which are required to ratify before the treaty can take effect.

The planned U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore was suddenly called off by Trump, but now it’s back on again. We need to build some momentum to get diplomacy moving forward. The test ban treaty offers this opportunity and would aid the process of verifying a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.

Banning nuclear testing has long been seen as first step toward disarmament. President Dwight Eisenhower originally proposed such a treaty as a first step toward getting out of an expensive and dangerous arms race.

JFK followed Ike’s lead and worked hard to achieve an end to nuclear testing. This was during some of the tensest years of the Cold War, including the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The Soviet Union placed nuclear missiles in Cuba. Days of a tense standoff in October 1962, which included nuclear tests, followed. Diplomacy eventually prevailed and within a year JFK had secured the Limited Test Ban Treaty with the Soviets banning atmospheric, underwater and outer space blasts. Underground tests could continue. So we need to finish the job today of ending all nuke tests. It’s long overdue.

North Korea has conducted six nuclear weapons tests since 2006, each time raising fears of war. The regime’s nuclear program has not only caused international tension, but has come at the expense of its starving people.

More than 10 million of North Korea’s citizens are undernourished, according to the United Nations World Food Program. A disarmament peace deal in North Korea should get precious resources back to the people so they can eat and overcome poverty.

The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty features an international monitoring system to detect secret nuclear tests. Getting the treaty into force will make this verification regime fully active. This will help the process of getting North Korea to abandon nuclear testing and its weapons program. The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization also has formed a group of activist college students who are advocating for the treaty.

Ending nuke tests would help create the conditions for the elimination of the arsenals themselves. We would be better off if all nations started reducing their nukes.

Instead there is a scary trend with the United States, Russia and other nuclear powers looking to upgrade and spend more on their arsenals. If nuclear testing were to resume by any nation, it would escalate any potential arms race.

The United States has not tested a nuclear weapon since 1992. The current arsenal is maintained by computer technology called the Stockpile Stewardship program.

Senate ratification of the treaty and President Trump’s signature should be relatively simple.

We may still have a historic opportunity to disarm North Korea’s nuclear program. But we need to build the bridge toward nuclear disarmament first in Korea and around the globe. The Comprehensive Nuclear Ban Treaty is the next vital step on the road to peace and disarmament.

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William Lambers of Delhi, Ohio, is the author of “Nuclear Weapons — the Road to Peace.” He has been published by History News Network, NY Times, HuffPost, The Hill and Spectrum, the official magazine of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization.