Obama Calls for Nuclear Disarmament

During a speech in Prague on Sunday, President Obama laid out a policy plan regarding nuclear weapons.  In it he focused on several specific measures such as:

·         Signing a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia to shrink the size of each countries’ nuclear weapons arsenal

·         Pushing for US ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

·         Seeking a new treaty to verifiably end the production of fissile material that could be used to build atomic bombs

·         Strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) by giving international inspectors more authority and resources as well as systematically punishing states that violate the treaty

·         Building a new framework for civil nuclear cooperation, including an international fuel bank, that will enable nations to utilize nuclear power without having the opportunity to develop nuclear weapons

·         Making the Proliferation Security Initiative and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism permanent international institutions.

·         Working with other states to secure nuclear materials


Obama characterized these policies as steps towards global nuclear disarmament when he said “So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.  I’m not naive. This goal will not be reached quickly –perhaps not in my lifetime. It will take patience and persistence. But now we, too, must ignore the voices who tell us that the world cannot change. We have to insist, ‘Yes, we can.’”


Obama’s announcement came at a time when he is trying to get international cooperation on efforts to prevent Iran from building atomic bombs and persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.  In that context, his proposals make sense given that the US and its allies will have more credibility when it comes to establishing a stronger non-proliferation regime of they are reducing their own stockpiles. 


Most of the proposed near-term policies will have a lot of support in the US, although there might be opposition to ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty from Congress and officials in the defense field because some argue that the reliability of the American nuclear arsenal will be questionable in the future without live nuclear tests (right now testing is done with computer simulations).


The call for global nuclear disarmament will certainly be controversial, although it is not a novel move by American statesmen.  President Reagan proposed the same thing while he was in office, and former Secretary of State George Schultz has advocated that line of action. 


Ultimately, Obama’s statement was either an empty promise for propaganda purposes to improve America’s moral standing or an honest, but absurd, proposition.  Propaganda tactics are certainly nothing new when it comes to American nuclear proposals.  At the beginning of the Cold War, President Truman suggested that all atomic bombs should be given to the United Nations and controlled by that organization.  Truman knew that the Russians would refuse to do so, which would make them look bad and insure that he would not have to follow through on his offer.


The idea of a nuclear-free world might sound nice in theory, but it is highly unlikely that it will ever come to fruition.  Nuclear weapons exist and they cannot be un-invented, just like guns cannot be eliminated as long as the technology exists to make them.  It would be reckless for America to get rid of its nuclear arsenal and thereby enable even second rate powers to obtain military superiority over the US by acquiring atomic bombs, a feat which many relatively poor countries have been able to achieve.  Whether Obama was serious when he called for total disarmament is irrelevant because he said that the US will maintain a nuclear deterrent as long as other nations have atomic weapons.  The current situation in which many states possess such weapons will persist for the rest of the Obama’s time in office, so the issue of full disarmament will be left to his successors.


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