The presidents of the United States and Russia, Barack Obama and Dmitri Medvedev, signed a nuclear pact in Moscow yesterday, which will replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), signed in 1991 and set to expire December 5. The new agreement commits both countries to reduce operational nuclear warheads by one third over a period of seven years and sets a new maximum between 1,500 and 1,675, a substantial reduction since the agreement signed by George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev.

This is positive, because it represents a new step toward reducing nuclear arsenals, renews expectations for global eradication of such arms and acknowledges the progress of a process that, although incomplete, has accomplished significant change: Scarcely more than two decades ago, in the context of the Cold War, there was the immediate danger of nuclear war between the U.S. and the now defunct Soviet Union, with disastrous consequences for humanity. The disarmament program, initiated in 1991, when the White House and the Kremlin reduced their arsenals by 80 percent, is, in itself, proof of the progress of civilization over barbarism, and the viability of multilateral consensus in favor of world peace and the survival of the species.

It cannot be overlooked, however, that the signing of the new nuclear agreement is occurring in a context in which the possession of such weapons is not confined to Washington and Moscow, nor even to the rest of the nations of the Security Council of the United Nations (China, France and England). In recent decades, with the emergence of new nuclear nations, like India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea, the world has witnessed a process of proliferation and dispersion of atomic weapons that has multiplied factors for world-wide tension. The West is largely responsible for this: The U.S. and its allies have implicitly approved the arms projects of the regimes in Tel Aviv, New Delhi and Islamabad. The first, indeed, has inexplicably been left out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and has succeeded in avoiding inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, while the desire for Pyongyang to develop its own atomic arsenal can be explained, for the most part, as a result of the doctrine of preemptive war, conceived and launched by the White House and the Pentagon in Iraq and Afghanistan during the administration of George W. Bush.

In the present circumstance, it is essential that the atomic powers - beginning with the U.S. and Russia, by far the principal players - forsake the double standard that has characterized them and concentrate efforts to find adequate measures for controlling and eradicating nuclear arms, as the international community has done in outlawing and controlling chemical weapons: through agreements and effective inspection programs to destroy that type of armament and to prevent its elaboration and world-wide dissemination. Additionally, as a step toward negotiating reduction of atomic arsenals in Russia and other countries, it is imperative that Washington arrange for the dismantling of anti-ballistic systems like those it plans to install in Eastern Europe, which constitute incentive for members of the nuclear club – and Moscow, in particular – to devote greater resources to the arms race.

Given the evidence mentioned above, it is hoped that the agreement made public yesterday in the Russian capital foreshadows a series of major measures and efforts to reach the goal - desired and essential – for a world free of atomic bombs.