Monday, September 21, 2009

Barack Obama ready to slash US nuclear arsenal.

When he mentioned abolishing nuclear weapons during his campaign, I thought he was perhaps engaging in hyperbolic rhetoric; that he was simply feeding red meat to liberals and that, once he attained office, he would instantly revert to the arguments used by all previous presidents regarding why we need to keep our nuclear arsenal.

But that's not the way it's panning out.

Barack Obama has demanded the Pentagon conduct a radical review of US nuclear weapons doctrine to prepare the way for deep cuts in the country's arsenal, the Guardian can reveal.

Obama has rejected the Pentagon's first draft of the "nuclear posture review" as being too timid, and has called for a range of more far-reaching options consistent with his goal of eventually abolishing nuclear weapons altogether, according to European officials.

If Obama goes ahead with this he will be the first president in my lifetime to embrace the concept behind the NNPT, which calls for all nuclear nations to take steps to disarm.

The problem with George Bush asking Iran to desist from building a nuclear weapon was that Bush was also talking about building a new range of "bunker busting" nuclear weapons, which was in direct contravention of the NNPT.

It will be much harder for country's like North Korea and Iran to justify continuing any perceived path down the nuclear route if the rest of the world is heading in the opposite direction.

In an article for the Guardian today, the foreign secretary, David Miliband, argues that failure to win a consensus would be disastrous. "This is one of the most critical issues we face," the foreign secretary writes. "Get it right, and we will increase global security, pave the way for a world without nuclear weapons, and improve access to affordable, safe and dependable energy – vital to tackle climate change. Get it wrong, and we face the spread of nuclear weapons and the chilling prospect of nuclear material falling into the hands of terrorists."

According to a final draft of the resolution due to be passed on Thursday, however, the UN security council will not wholeheartedly embrace the US and Britain's call for eventual abolition of nuclear weapons. Largely on French insistence, the council will endorse the vaguer aim of seeking "to create the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons".

So, already, we have country's like France showing cold feet about aiming for a world without nuclear weapons. They would rather create "the conditions" for a nuclear free world, rather than actually go ahead and do it.

But the initial signs from Russia are good.
Russia has approximately 2,780 deployed strategic warheads, compared with around 2,100 in the US. The abandonment of the US missile defence already appears to have spurred arms control talks currently underway between Washington and Moscow: the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, said today that chances were "quite high" that a deal to reduce arsenals to 1,500 warheads each would be signed by the end of the year.
I happen to think that this is quite a modest aim, but it's certainly a step in the right direction. And it's certainly a sign that the nuclear powers are serious about fulfilling their role in the NNPT.

The Obama strategy is to create disarmament momentum in the run-up to the non-proliferation treaty review conference next May, in the hope that states without nuclear weapons will not side with Iran, as they did at the last review in 2005, but endorse stronger legal barriers to nuclear proliferation, and forego nuclear weapons programmes themselves.

Until now, the NNPT has been used as a way of banning other country's from joining the nuclear club; the members who possess nuclear weapons have certainly shown no inclination to ever give them up, despite the fact that our doing so was supposedly central to our convincing other nations that they should not pursue such weaponry. Unsurprisingly, the rest of the world has began to lose faith in our reading of this treaty. And who can blame them?

Obama is attempting to breath new life into a treaty which Bush and the neo-Cons treated with contempt.

I wish him well. Up until now it has been impossible for us to hold the moral high ground, insisting others stick to a treaty which we ourselves have been breaking.

Obama is seeking to change that. That can only be a good thing.

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