My fellow citizens, I have just sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, but what does that mean? Our earth has become so small, national economies so interdependent, global ecological problems so transcendent of nationality, that it would be an abdication of my leadership responsibilities to pretend otherwise. A new world has dawned, and the United States must begin to honestly redefine its interests within it.
After sixty-plus years of maintaining the peace by means of our overwhelming nuclear strength, we are confronted with a series of paradoxes that cannot be resolved merely by increasing that strength—because the very meaning of “strength” has totally changed. Even a small number of our nuclear weapons—or those of any other nation for that matter—cannot be detonated without raising enough dust and soot into the atmosphere to fatally affect world agriculture for a decade.
In addition, we must reluctantly admit that our own nuclear weapons no longer possess the deterrent effect that was intended by their triadic deployment on land, sea and air—let alone the fact that no leader can guarantee that command and control systems, either our own or those of other nuclear powers, can forever restrain their inadvertent or accidental misuse. It is past time to cooperate with our allies and as much as possible with our adversaries to create nuclear-free zones, to batten down nuclear materials so that they do not fall into the wrong hands, and to aggressively conclude new treaties for gradual reciprocal reductions of nuclear warheads around the world. We know from the Cuban Missile Crisis, now a half-century behind us, exactly where any nuclear confrontation inevitably leads, and how potential misunderstanding can push adversaries into a catastrophe that fails to resolve any conflict of interests, no matter how fundamental.
Nuclear weapons, useless for conducting rational foreign policy, must now take their place in the context of all our other ecological challenges. I am convinced that not only have nuclear weapons forever changed our world, but also that the scientific evidence is overwhelming that the earth is undergoing serious climatic changes that we must plan for rather than further denying. While no one can state with certainty that any given weather event, any storm or tornado or hurricane, is attributable purely to human activity, trends are emerging that cannot be ignored. At least we know for certain that military superiority, nuclear or conventional, will not be able to address the unfolding economic and ecological crises that loom over us. The quality of air we breathe in our own country is dependent upon policies that the Chinese adopt to satisfy their energy demands, and vice-versa. Authentic security now means cooperating with the Chinese and others to transition toward sources of clean, sustainable energy. Competition for military or territorial advantage on land or sea has become irrelevant to this transcendent goal.
We cannot afford both to take the steps that mitigate climate instability and prevent future wars over scarce resources, and also continue to be resented, and often confronted, in our role as self-appointed world policeman. Therefore the moment has come to prudently but swiftly transition out of our strategic emphasis upon maintaining an American military presence around the world and into partnerships with other nations that address root causes. It is clear that it is infinitely less expensive to supply food, shelter, safe water drinking water, education, medicine, reproductive services and sustainable energy to the entire world than it is for the United States to try maintain global military superiority. Further, addressing human needs directly is the only long-term structural solution to terrorism.
Further, our Constitution, written with the best intentions two and a quarter centuries ago, needs, like that of Ecuador, to extend rights not only to people but to the living systems which support our own well-being. Ecuador’s citizens and leaders accept that their own health depends upon animals that have genuine rights to viable habitats and rivers that have rights to run clean within their banks. We humans cannot be any healthier than the oceans, the soil, the coral reefs, the fish and the plants that make up the common resource that sustains us. Our economic principles cannot avoid taking this reality into account as a fundamental working truth. The ecological wholeness of the earth is the only ultimate “corporation” and the final source of available capital. Any investment that fails to take into account mutual earth-human relations will inevitably become a net loss for everyone, no matter how much a privileged few seem to benefit in the short-term.
This recognition of interdependence represents an enormous shift in our conventional cultural assumptions about military strategy, economics, and international and domestic politics, but the necessity for this shift has been creeping up on us for a generation. I know full well that for many of my fellow citizens, the notion of military strength contradicting itself, or of non-human creatures having rights to life and health analogous to our own, will appear to be deeply uncomfortable, even threatening, concepts. But my task is not merely to reflect our existing state of mind, it is to help lead us all toward the light as far as we can discern it. This world, and therefore this nation, will be infinitely safer if no one has nuclear weapons than it would be if everyone had them—just as true security for all lies in an authentic ecological stewardship in which all nations participate. We can renew our own special strengths as Americans by realizing that our own self-interest is bound up in what is best for the whole. This will open up new opportunities for world leadership as we search together for creative solutions.