The recent conclusion of a new bilateral strategic arms treaty between the United States and Russia is important for both countries' security. Yet seen through the prism of nuclear disarmament, it is but a baby step. More substantial progress toward the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons will only come to fruition if a key group of non-nuclear-weapon states help defuse tensions between the nuclear haves and the have-nots.
The prime candidates for this job are the states often referred to as middle powers, including Ireland, New Zealand, Germany and Sweden. These nations have a history of activist disarmament diplomacy, and their success securing commitments from the nuclear-armed states has raised their clout with developing countries. The middle powers have the opportunity to create the political space to establish negotiations between both sides and referee the progressive implementation of any reciprocal steps the two sides may agree to.
The Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference this May is one opportunity where the middle powers can play an important role harnessing their influence with both sides of the nuclear divide. With the right diplomatic strategy, they can capitalize on a unique window of opportunity that opened in 2007, when a new disarmament movement emerged among U.S. national security leaders, reviving a goal as old as the bomb itself: to achieve a world without nuclear weapons. This momentum has since grown with the election of President Barack Obama, one of its most vocal supporters, and has won converts among leaders in other nuclear-weapon states.