Wednesday, June 19, 2013

President Obama in Berlin: "So long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe.”

President Barack Obama at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate
Today, in front of the historic Brandenburg Gate, US President Barack Obama stood where Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy before him also stood.  He uttered the words now made famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” to a cheering crowd waving German and American flags together.  President Obama addressed the issue of nuclear weapons and proliferation in his speech.  Perhaps more importantly, Obama said, “We may no longer live in fear of global annihilation, but so long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe.”  While most likely rhetoric, Mr. Obama was correct when he said this; for as long as weapons exist that can take out entire cities and regions, no country or people are safe if war breaks out. 

President Obama championed the New START Treaty in his speech saying, “I intend to seek negotiated cuts with Russia to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures.”  However, unless Mr. Obama has had some great change of heart, his actions during his Presidency regarding nuclear weapons have yet to meet the expectations laid out in his grandiose speeches.  The New START Treaty is made to sound ambitious and groundbreaking, it is however very conservative in its changes and unimaginative.  The new treaty sets the deployed weapon limit at 1550 warheads for each country.  The estimate of the US stockpile is estimated at 4,650 warheads, of which around 2,150 are deployed.  Russian nuclear stockpile is estimated at 4,500 weapons.  Only 1,800 of those warheads are deployed.  So the limit of 1550 really isn’t that drastic of a change.

While the number of warheads is decreasing (ever so slightly), both countries are actively modernizing the weapons they do have deployed, making them more powerful and deadlier, which directly contradicts the point of the nuclear talks in the first place.  The language in the New START is vague about the numbers of launchers.  Officially the maximum number of nuclear warhead launchers is limited at 700 for each country.  However, this term launcher can vary from a single ballistic missile that fires a single nuclear warhead to a submarine or bomber that can launch multiple warheads.  Therefore the number of 700 is misleading and sounds small but is in reality arbitrary and meaningless. 

While the New START Treaty is indeed better than nothing, it fails to address the current problems of continued Cold War mentalities plaguing the US and Russian nuclear weapons forces.  Instead of merely downsizing our stockpile, President Obama and Putin should consider eliminating some of the most egregious Cold War policies that continue today, including maintaining hundreds of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert. Steps like this would foster trust between Russia and the US.

President Obama also stated that America will host a Nuclear Security Summit in 2016 “to continue our efforts to secure nuclear materials around the world,” and that we plan to work to build support in the United States to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty which, if successfully ratified, will call on all nations to end the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons.

The treaty, which will significantly reduce the global nuclear threat if implemented, has been signed and ratified by 159 states but the eight states that need to take further action before the treaty can enter into force are the United States, China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan. The ratification of this treaty by the United States would be a breakthrough in the struggle towards global nuclear disarmament because a first move on the part of the US would gain international support for the treaty, and provide an incentive for the remaining states that have not yet ratified to follow suit. Without the support of the seven other states, the treaty cannot enter into force, which is why it is necessary for the US to take the initiative and launch a diplomatic effort to bring on board other states whose ratification is required for the implementation of the treaty.

Entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty would prohibit nuclear explosive tests for all of its parties. Its enforcement would be in the best interest of every party involved and would serve as a catalyst in solving other key nonproliferation issues. If President Obama holds true to his word, and he pushes other states to ratify, nuclear proliferation will be greatly constrained by nations’ inability to test and advance nuclear weapons.

So, although the New START treaty has not proven to be as ambitious as we had originally hoped when it was ratified into force in 2011 due to its rather small and insignificant reductions in arms with a lack of actual policy change, the treaty has at least been successful in maintaining US-Russian relations and in reducing our nuclear stockpile which, though only a small breakthrough, is an accomplishment to pride ourselves on. However, the price paid for ratification of New START ($180 billion+ to modernize nuclear warheads and facilities) was steep. It is important that CTBT ratification not include such “deals.” Despite the failures of the New START treaty, there is hope for the US ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty which will provide an incentive for nations around the world to follow in the application of a treaty which has the potential to create better conditions for our entire planet and all its inhabitants.

Brooks Troiani is a recent graduate of Westmont College and an intern at NAPF. Amber Giallo is an undergraduate at the University of California, Santa Barbara and an intern at NAPF.

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