In the FT, Edward Luce in Washington examines the contrast between President Obama’s words and his actions: “most notably in the war on Islamist terrorism, where he banned the term “war on terror” while redoubling drone warfare”. He continues:
The gap between his nuclear promises and reality
Seven years ago Mr Obama promised to work for a “world free of nuclear weapons” at a landmark speech in Prague.
“As Mr Obama prepares to leave office, he will bequeath what nuclear analysts call the ‘second nuclear age’. In Prague he said: “As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act.”
“Mr Obama’s biggest single action since then has been to embark on the largest nuclear weapons modernisation in history — a $1tn, 30-year upgrade to the US nuclear force scripted by the Pentagon”.
Luce (left) points out that Mr Obama agreed to the ‘ambitious’ $1tn upgrade in exchange for Republican support for his nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia:
- Whole classes of warhead will be replaced.
- Alert warning times will be shortened.
- the US will retain its nuclear triad on air, land and sea.
And though, in 2010, he promised not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear countries, he retained the US “first use” doctrine against nuclear weapons countries like China and Russia.
In similar vein, Jo Cirincione (below right) president of Ploughshares Fund and the author of Nuclear Nightmares: Securing the World Before It Is Too Late, points out in Defense One, that the policy transformation Obama offered didn’t happen:
- He wanted “a new treaty that verifiably ends the production of fissile materials intended for use in state nuclear weapons.”
- He pledged to secure all nuclear materials within four years. The final summit will end with tons of material in 25 nations still unsecured, with a patchwork of policies rather than legally binding requirements and universal standards.
- He intended to negotiate with Russia truly deep cuts in both arsenals and then “include all nuclear weapon states in this endeavor.”
“These setbacks can be blamed on Russian intransigence and Republican politicization of national security, as Brookings Institution scholar Steven Pifer details.
“But the worst of the failures were self-inflicted: his Prague pledge to maintain a “safe, secure and effective arsenal” morphed into a $1 trillion plan to replace the entire Cold War nuclear arsenal and a maintenance program became a replacement program for every weapon, all with new capabilities, even new missions”.
He recalls that Rep.Trent Franks, R-Ariz.asked a House Armed Services Committee hearing in March, “Has the administration conducted a detailed analysis of eliminating one or more legs of the triad, or significantly altering the US nuclear posture?” The witnesses looked at each other and shrugged. “I’m not aware of any detailed look at that,” said Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, and Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James agreed.
Both asked for more money for new weapons, but not for any new examination of our ability to destroy human civilization.
Cirincione continues: “This is precisely the problem. Yes, the Russians refused and the Republicans blocked, but Obama’s biggest foe was his own bureaucracy, including many of those he appointed to implement his nuclear policies”. He knew the danger. “Some argue that the spread of these weapons cannot be stopped, cannot be checked — that we are destined to live in a world where more nations and more people possess the ultimate tool of destruction,” he said in Prague, “Such fatalism is a deadly adversary.”
He didn’t expect that this adversary would be the cynicism and careerism of his own appointees. Cirincione ends:
“When Obama stopped pushing his nuclear policies in 2011 (save for Iran), the nuclear-industrial complex took over. Those supporting his views, particularly in the State Department, were outnumbered by those, particularly in the Defense Department, who opposed, even mocked, his goals. Policy stalled; contracts raced on.
“It may not be too late. Before a new arms race begins in earnest, Obama could move to delay or cancel some of the new weapons, notably the new nuclear cruise missile and the new ICBM, as former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry urges. There is no shortage of other recommendations. But he will have to be bold, as bold as he was at the beginning of his presidency. If he follows another Barnum adage, the president may yet secure his legacy.”
Edward Luce summarises:
Taken as a whole, however, the world looks less safe today than when he took office. China, India, Pakistan and Russia are all following America’s lead in modernising their arsenals. North Korea is considerably closer to developing a nuclear warhead with intercontinental reach.
On the plus side, he has chivvied other nuclear countries to reduce uranium stockpiles and improve safety and his Iran deal could prevent what might otherwise have turned into a full-blown nuclear arms race in the Middle East.