Friday, April 10, 2009

More nuclear disarmament

This past Sunday President Obama made a speech in Prague, Czech Republic, in which he spoke extensively on the subject of nuclear weapons and nuclear disarmament (see full text of speech). Below is the part of the speech related to nuclear matters:
One of those issues that I will focus on today is fundamental to our nations, and to the peace and security of the world – the future of nuclear weapons in the 21st century.

The existence of thousands of nuclear weapons is the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War. No nuclear war was fought between the United States and the Soviet Union, but generations lived with the knowledge that their world could be erased in a single flash of light. Cities like Prague that had existed for centuries would have ceased to exist.

Today, the Cold War has disappeared but thousands of those weapons have not. In a strange turn of history, the threat of global nuclear war has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up. More nations have acquired these weapons. Testing has continued. Black markets trade in nuclear secrets and materials. The technology to build a bomb has spread. Terrorists are determined to buy, build or steal one. Our efforts to contain these dangers are centered in a global non-proliferation regime, but as more people and nations break the rules, we could reach the point when the center cannot hold.

This matters to all people, everywhere. One nuclear weapon exploded in one city – be it New York or Moscow, Islamabad or Mumbai, Tokyo or Tel Aviv, Paris or Prague – could kill hundreds of thousands of people. And no matter where it happens, there is no end to what the consequences may be – for our global safety, security, society, economy, and ultimately our survival.

Some argue that the spread of these weapons cannot be checked – that we are destined to live in a world where more nations and more people possess the ultimate tools of destruction. This fatalism is a deadly adversary. For if we believe that the spread of nuclear weapons is inevitable, then we are admitting to ourselves that the use of nuclear weapons is inevitable.

Just as we stood for freedom in the 20th century, we must stand together for the right of people everywhere to live free from fear in the 21st. And as a nuclear power – as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon – the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it.

So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons. 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.

First, the United States will take concrete steps toward a world without nuclear weapons.

To put an end to Cold War thinking, 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, we will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary, and guarantee that defense to our allies – including the Czech Republic. But we will begin the work of reducing our arsenal.

To reduce our warheads and stockpiles, we will negotiate a new strategic arms reduction treaty with Russia this year. President Medvedev and I began this process in London, and will seek a new agreement by the end of this year that is legally binding, and sufficiently bold. This will set the stage for further cuts, and we will seek to include all nuclear weapons states in this endeavor.

To achieve a global ban on nuclear testing, my Administration will immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. After more than five decades of talks, it is time for the testing of nuclear weapons to finally be banned.

And to cut off the building blocks needed for a bomb, the United States will seek a new treaty that verifiably ends the production of fissile materials intended for use in state nuclear weapons. If we are serious about stopping the spread of these weapons, then we should put an end to the dedicated production of weapons grade materials that create them.

Second, together, we will strengthen the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a basis for cooperation.

The basic bargain is sound: countries with nuclear weapons will move toward disarmament, countries without nuclear weapons will not acquire them; and all countries can access peaceful nuclear energy. To strengthen the Treaty, we should embrace several principles. We need more resources and authority to strengthen international inspections. We need real and immediate consequences for countries caught breaking the rules or trying to leave the Treaty without cause.

And we should build a new framework for civil nuclear cooperation, including an international fuel bank, so that countries can access peaceful power without increasing the risks of proliferation. That must be the right of every nation that renounces nuclear weapons, especially developing countries embarking on peaceful programs. No approach will succeed if it is based on the denial of rights to nations that play by the rules. We must harness the power of nuclear energy on behalf of our efforts to combat climate change, and to advance opportunity for all people.

We go forward with no illusions. Some will break the rules, but that is why we need a structure in place that ensures that when any nation does, they will face consequences. This morning, we were reminded again why we need a new and more rigorous approach to address this threat. North Korea broke the rules once more by testing a rocket that could be used for a long range missile.

This provocation underscores the need for action – not just this afternoon at the UN Security Council, but in our determination to prevent the spread of these weapons. Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something. The world must stand together to prevent the spread of these weapons. Now is the time for a strong international response. North Korea must know that the path to security and respect will never come through threats and illegal weapons. And all nations must come together to build a stronger, global regime.

Iran has yet to build a nuclear weapon. And my administration will seek engagement with Iran based upon mutual interests and mutual respect, and we will present a clear choice. We want Iran to take its rightful place in the community of nations, politically and economically. We will support Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear energy with rigorous inspections. That is a path that the Islamic Republic can take. Or the government can choose increased isolation, international pressure, and a potential nuclear arms race in the region that will increase insecurity for all.

Let me be clear: Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran’s neighbors and our allies. The Czech Republic and Poland have been courageous in agreeing to host a defense against these missiles. As long as the threat from Iran persists, we intend to go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven. If the Iranian threat is eliminated, we will have a stronger basis for security, and the driving force for missile defense construction in Europe at this time will be removed.

Finally, we must ensure that terrorists never acquire a nuclear weapon.

This is the most immediate and extreme threat to global security. One terrorist with a nuclear weapon could unleash massive destruction. Al Qaeda has said that it seeks a bomb. And we know that there is unsecured nuclear material across the globe. To protect our people, we must act with a sense of purpose without delay.

Today, I am announcing a new international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years. We will set new standards, expand our cooperation with Russia, and pursue new partnerships to lock down these sensitive materials.

We must also build on our efforts to break up black markets, detect and intercept materials in transit, and use financial tools to disrupt this dangerous trade. Because this threat will be lasting, we should come together to turn efforts such as the Proliferation Security Initiative and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism into durable international institutions. And we should start by having a Global Summit on Nuclear Security that the United States will host within the next year.

I know that there are some who will question whether we can act on such a broad agenda. There are those who doubt whether true international cooperation is possible, given the inevitable differences among nations. And there are those who hear talk of a world without nuclear weapons and doubt whether it is worth setting a goal that seems impossible to achieve.

President Obama touched on a number of issues, the following are some thoughts and reactions to the speech:

The good:
  • President Obama declared that the United States will take a leadership role in the efforts to bring about global nuclear disarmament, including negotiating reductions in nuclear forces with Russia, to be then followed by other nations.
  • Beyond reductions in existing nuclear stockpiles, President Obama spoke re additional measures: U.S. ratification of the (already signed) Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT); efforts to end the production of fissile materials for use in nuclear weapons; and a broadening of the Proliferation Security Initiative and the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism
  • Very importantly, the President acknowledged that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is not one-sided (i.e. solely for the prevention of the spread of nuclear weapons), but that it is a grand bargain between the nuclear "haves" and the nuclear "have nots" in which the "haves" committed to moving towards nuclear disarmament in exchange for the "have nots" renouncing the acquisition of these weapons. Also, that the NPT allows for nations' peaceful use of nuclear technology...
The bad:
  • This blogger was not impressed with the suggestion (?) that a terrorist nuclear blast in a major city would have consequences including "ultimately to our survival." Besides being flat out wrong and a gross exaggeration, this sort of language only has negative outcomes. First, this exaggeration can induce fear in the populace, is not conducive to rational thinking, and is the sort of thing that could translate into the acceptance of hasty and/or ill-conceived measures and actions... Secondly, it caters to the fevered imaginations of the people in caves (and elsewhere) who already have a propensity to believe this, and are seeking nukes for this very purpose...
  • President Obama spent some time talking about North Korea and Iran. Granted, these countries are currently in the news... However, by picking and choosing which (and specifically these) countries to call to task here, this blogger believes that he undercut the universal applicability of the responsibility and effort that he was attempting to articulate. Given that some resistance to U.S. efforts in this and other fields is due to many feeling that the U.S. is 'selective' in the application of its principles, calling out these countries while ignoring others - e.g. India (true, not an NPT signatory, but a country with which the U.S. has signed an agreement, and which the U.S. sees as a partner in assisting with non-proliferation efforts), Pakistan, and (dare we say it) Israel - is not exactly the way to break with the past and allay the fears of some nations that these efforts are specifically targeted against them.
... and the ugly:
  • This blogger was very disappointed that immediately after declaring the U.S.'s commitment to seeking a world free of nuclear weapons, the President suggested an open-ended (and perhaps indefinite) time line... By not suggesting a finite period and by using the words "perhaps not in my lifetime" he undercut the urgency of the effort even before getting to any further details of what he was proposing...
  • Worse, by following the conventional wisdom that denuclearization efforts ought to begin with, and be initially limited to, cuts in the U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles, he demonstrated a lack of vision. This blogger has long argued (e.g. see the December 31st 2008 entry 'Nuclear moves...', the December 22nd, 2008 entry 'Zero Global Zero', the April 22nd, 2008 entry 'WMD aren't what they used to be,' and the February 4th, 2008 entry 'Pablum re a nuclear free world') that elimination of the French and British nuclear forces should be the first step, one that would have an outsize effect that would jumpstart and radically energize the effort to first reduce, then ultimately eliminate current nuclear weapons.
All in all an excellent speech, and the most important piece was the acknowledgment that the NPT is a grand bargain. However, it remains to be seen how serious this effort really is, and how well it will be translated into concrete actions. The augurs in this regard may not be that good. As a speech, an 'A', otherwise mark this down as 'TBD.'

FAS: Status of World Nuclear Forces
In Prague, Obama sets sights on nuclear-free world
Obama in Prague: Analysis of His Speech
Obama's Nuclear Speech: Required Reading
The 52 minutes of Obama magic that changed the nuclear rules

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