Current Affairs

Day 1 at the U.N. – Obama wants progress on nuclear weapons

I’m looking forward to major speeches and lots of news on nuclear weapons this week with both President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton at the U.N. Check out the schedule:

  • 9/23: President Obama addresses the U.N. General Assembly
  • 9/24: President Obama will chair a head of state-level meeting of the U.N. Security Council focusing on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament. The U.S. plans to introduce a U.N. Security Council resolution on nonproliferation and disarmament.
  • 9/24-9/25: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will represent the U.S. and deliver a statement at the Conference on Facilitating the Entry into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) being held at the U.N.

Obama’s speech today included non-proliferation and disarmament as one of the “four pillars [he] believe[s] are fundamental to the future that we want for our children.” Many of his comments were similar to the points he made in his Prague speech, and he reiterated that “we must stop the spread of nuclear weapons, and seek the goal of a world without them.”

One of the new and noteworthy statements Obama made was this:

We will complete a Nuclear Posture Review that opens the door to deeper cuts and reduces the role of nuclear weapons.

Why is this significant? William Hartung ‘s post at Talking Points MemoCafe explains:

This means that the president intends to push back against the the clique of nuclear neanderthals in the Pentagon who would like nothing better than to tie his hands by churning out a business-as-usual statement of policy on nuclear weapons.

This encouraging rhetoric needs to be followed up with urgent action. This should include pursuing the deepest possible cuts in U.S.and Russian arsenals. Current talks are aiming at the 1,500 to 1,650 deployed warheads on each side; a second round of talks should push total stockpiles down into the hundreds, levels at which other nations may feel obliged to join the move towards deep cuts in these weapons of mass terror.

…There is far to go, but Obama’s willingness to push the Pentagon in the right direction could be a sign of good things to come.

There have been plenty of reports of internal dissent within the Obama administration over the Nuclear Posture Review, which will set US nuclear weapons policy for the next 5-10 years. Questions like how many nuclear weapons we should have, whether or not we should “modernize” our nuclear weapons complex and stockpile, whether or not they should be kept on “hair trigger alert,” and how much of a role they play in deterrence are being asked.

Sec. of Defense Gates has come out repeatedly arguing for new nuclear weapons like the Reliable Replacement Warhead, while Vice President Biden has opposed pursuing new nuclear weapons. More statements from the President and his personal involvement in the Nuclear Posture Review can help steer the review in a direction that actually puts the US firmly on a path toward a nuclear weapons free world.

Below are a few more excerpts relating to nuclear weapons issues from Obama’s speech, which can be read in whole here:

But today, the threat of proliferation is growing in scope and complexity.  If we fail to act, we will invite nuclear arms races in every region, and the prospect of wars and acts of terror on a scale that we can hardly imagine.

A fragile consensus stands in the way of this frightening outcome, and that is the basic bargain that shapes the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.  It says that all nations have the right to peaceful nuclear energy; that nations with nuclear weapons have a responsibility to move toward disarmament; and those without them have the responsibility to forsake them.  The next 12 months could be pivotal in determining whether this compact will be strengthened or will slowly dissolve.

America intends to keep our end of the bargain.  We will pursue a new agreement with Russia to substantially reduce our strategic warheads and launchers.  We will move forward with ratification of the Test Ban Treaty, and work with others to bring the treaty into force so that nuclear testing is permanently prohibited.  We will complete a Nuclear Posture Review that opens the door to deeper cuts and reduces the role of nuclear weapons.  And we will call upon countries to begin negotiations in January on a treaty to end the production of fissile material for weapons.

I will also host a summit next April that reaffirms each nation’s responsibility to secure nuclear material on its territory, and to help those who can’t — because we must never allow a single nuclear device to fall into the hands of a violent extremist.  And we will work to strengthen the institutions and initiatives that combat nuclear smuggling and theft.

All of this must support efforts to strengthen the NPT.