FOR MANY AMERICANS, the idea of a world without nuclear weapons is a bit like the idea of a world without war or disease – it would be nice, but, contra John Lennon, it’s hard to imagine. That’s not to say lots of people haven’t devoted themselves to the cause. As the atomic age was dawning, Gandhi was already demanding its end, and today Pope Benedict XVI echoes that call. A host of international organizations, from Greenpeace to Mayors for Peace to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament to the German Green Party, are dedicated to the abolition of nuclear weapons. Many of them have been at it for decades. The movement, however, has always carried utopian associations, and been conflated in the popular imagination with pacifism. The leaders of the world’s nuclear powers, their global stature buttressed by their atomic arsenals, have, with a few exceptions, shown little real interest in the idea. This is changing.

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