In 1981, the United Nations General Assembly created an annual International Day of Peace to take place on the opening day of the regular sessions of the General Assembly. The purpose of the day is for “commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace both within and among all nations and peoples.”
Twenty years later, in 2001, the General Assembly, desiring to draw attention to the objectives of the International Day of Peace, gave the day a fixed date on which it would be held each year: September 21st. The General Assembly declared in its Resolution 55/282 that “the International Day of Peace shall henceforth be observed as a day of global ceasefire and non-violence, an invitation to all nations and people to honor a cessation of hostilities for the duration of the Day.”
The Resolution continued by inviting “all Member States, organizations of the United Nations system, regional and non-governmental organizations and individuals to commemorate, in an appropriate manner, the International Day of Peace, including through education and public awareness, and to cooperate with the United Nations in the establishment of the global ceasefire.”
The United States has announced that its next test of a Minuteman III will occur on September 21, 2011. Rather than considering how it might participate and bring awareness to the International Day of Peace, the United States will be testing one of its nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles that, 20 years after the end of the Cold War, continue to be kept on high-alert in readiness to be fired on a few moments notice.
Of course, the missile test will have a dummy warhead rather than a live one, but its purpose will be to assure that the delivery system for the Minuteman III nuclear warheads has no hitches. As Air Force Colonel David Bliesner has pointed out, “Minuteman III test launches demonstrate our nation’s ICBM capability in a very visible way, deterring potential adversaries while reassuring allies.”
So, on the 2011 International Day of Peace, the United States has chosen not “to honor a cessation of hostilities,” but rather to implement a very visible, $20 million test of a nuclear-capable missile.
Perhaps US officials believe that US missile tests help keep the peace. If so, they have a very different idea about other countries testing missiles. National Security Spokesman Mike Hammer had this to say about Iranian missile tests in 2009: “At a time when the international community has offered Iran opportunities to begin to build trust and confidence, Iran’s missile tests only undermine Iran’s claims of peaceful intentions.”
In 2008, Condoleezza Rice, then Secretary of State, said, “We face with the Iranians, and so do our allies and friends, a growing missile threat that is getting ever longer and ever deeper – and where the Iranian appetite for nuclear technology is, to this point, still unchecked. And it is hard for me to believe that an American president is not going to want to have the capability to defend our territory and the territory of our allies, whether they are in Europe or whether they are in the Middle East against that kind of missile threat.”
The US approach to nuclear-capable missile testing seems to be “do as I say, not as I do.” This is unlikely to hold up in the long run. Rather than testing its nuclear-capable delivery systems, the US should be leading the way, as President Obama pledged, toward a world free of nuclear weapons. To do so, we suggest that he take three actions for the 2011 International Day of Peace. First, announce the cancellation of the scheduled Minuteman III missile test, and use the $20 million saved as a small down payment on alleviating poverty in the US and abroad. Second, announce that the US will take its nuclear weapons off high-alert status and keep them on low alert, as China has done, in order to lower the possibilities of accidental or unauthorized missile launches. Third, declare a ceasefire for the day in each of the wars in which the US is currently engaged. These three actions on the International Day of Peace would not change the world in a day, but they would be steps in the right direction that could be built upon during the other 364 days of the year.