President Obama faces tough decisions in the near future as he plans to send the Nuclear Posture Review, an assessment of the roles, missions, and infrastructure of the U.S. nuclear forces to Congress later this month. He recently joined his Russian counterpart, President Dmitriy Medvedev, to work toward a “nuclear-free” world, saying that he is considering permanently reducing the number of nuclear weapons currently in the U.S.’s possession. He goes on to contradict himself by ensuring his nation’s safety through the use of such weapons, should the need arise.
The President needs to make clear his objectives and decide whether it is possible for both nonproliferation and nuclear arms reduction to actively take place. Is it possible to have both while at the same time keeping the U.S.’s safety a top priority?
In an April 2009 speech in Prague, President Obama declared,
We will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, and urge others to do the same. Make no mistake: As long as these weapons exist, the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary, and guarantee that defense to our allies…. But we will begin the work of reducing our arsenal.
The contradiction posed by Obama suggesting the existence of both nuclear arms nonproliferation and nuclear arms reduction begs the question: Are both truly viable? It has been argued that disarmament could trigger proliferation with the deterrence once guaranteed to our allies gone. Not only would our allies need to acquire/develop weapons to protect themselves, but also, our enemies would see it as an opportunity to operate unhindered.
Obama hopes that a favorable outcome from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Conference in May, being held at the UN Headquarters in New York, will bolster his cause for reducing the U.S.’s arsenal of nuclear weapons. Article VI of the NPT asserts that nuclear weapon states are required to reduce their nuclear arsenals over time, something that the U.S. has, until recently, been hesitant to comply with.
History has proven that nonproliferation and disarmament are not one in the same. It is also imperative to note that one cannot exist without the other. However, their coexistence should be approached with trepidation, making certain to tread cautiously around geopolitical balances of power. Small steps need to be taken in a specific and careful direction for world leaders, enemies and allies alike, to govern in a world without the weapons they once wielded.
Cold War thinking has changed along with the geopolitical and diplomatic landscape. While this offers an opportunity for President Obama to achieve his goals, he toes a fine line when discussing the extent and speed in which changes need to be made. Attaining a nuclear-free world is a respectable, albeit lofty goal, and if the current administration has learned anything from the health-care situation, it should be wary of making any promises that will prove difficult to keep.
The President needs to send well-defined messages to our allies as well as our enemies. We are supportive of nuclear arms reduction. However, in light of current potential threats from abroad, we will maintain a small, yet effective arsenal. We will also continue the research and development of reliable, precision-guided low-yield weapons that will allow us to strike our enemies with maximum effect and minimal collateral damage should this very real threat turn into a situation requiring us to defend our country and possibly our allies.
As the world’s greatest military power it is our duty to take the first step towards a nuclear-free world. My suggestion is to make it a small step, so that we don’t stumble.