(And now for something completely different – a respite from the criticisms peace activists justifiably level at President Obama over Libya, Afghanistan, Iran, military spending, Israel-Palestine, Guantanamo, continued support for nuclear power even after the Fukushima disaster and many other issues, for a consideration of his steps in the last two years on nuclear weapons issues.)
On April 5, 2009, President Barack Obama delivered a well-received speech in Prague on his vision for nuclear disarmament. The speech maintained consistency with positions he had taken as a candidate for president, and was noteworthy for specific incremental steps toward a nuclear weapons-free world as well as the president’s advocacy of nuclear weapons abolition (though he disappointingly said it would perhaps not happen in his lifetime – the president is a relatively young man, only a year older than me, and I certainly intend to see the scourge of nuclear weapons eliminated in my lifetime!).
Today, the Associated Press published a concise report card on the state of play of the objectives Obama set out in the Prague speech. This list omits the very bad “nuclear modernization” funding issue (the promised $185 billion over the next decade for “modernizing” the nuclear weapons production complex and delivery systems, supposedly necessary to secure Senate ratification of New START). However, there are two potentially promising (unsourced) tidbits regarding possible further cuts in strategic nuclear weapons independent of Russia and a fissile material cut-off outside the stalled Conference on Disarmament process.
Our colleague Stephen Young at the Union of Concerned Scientists proposed concrete, achievable next steps regarding the doctrine or underlying purposes and policies for U.S. nuclear weapons in a blog post on All Things Nuclear.
My own view, held for some time now, is the president and his administration need to become more assertive on executive actions the president can take that don’t necessitate long, difficult treaty negotiations and then extortionist Senate ratification battles. If this doesn’t happen, and the administration stays wedded to an incremental process of checking off things Bill Clinton didn’t get done in the 90’s (such as Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty ratification, which looks very unlikely given the make-up of the Senate), the Prague agenda may well stall with fairly little progress toward the laudable goals outlined in the speech.
In addition to the two possible steps mentioned in the AP article and others in Stephen’s blog post, President Obama could reverse course and state that “nuclear modernization” is not in our country’s interest, in security or financial terms; throw real political and diplomatic support behind next year’s planned conference on a Weapons of Mass Destrcution-Free Zone (the only real solution to concerns about Iran’s possible pursuit of nuclear weapons and Israel’s actual arsenal of over 200 nukes); and announce the initiation of international negotiations for a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons (under which subsidiary or incremental issues could be addressed).
Taking these bold initiatives would certainly invite howls of protest from the Right and from the nuclear priesthood, but it would put them on the defensive and force them to defend their indefensible “nuclear weapons forever” policies, and put the U.S. in the leadership role it should be playing, not just on non-proliferation or incremental nuclear arms cuts, but for abolishing nuclear weapons globally.