DISARMAMENT: Obama Magic is Gone

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By Ramesh Jaura

BERLINImage: President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, June 19, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)245 - President Barack Obama’s commitment four years ago “to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons” reverberated across the globe generating hope that humankind will not be annihilated by a sheer flash of light. On June 19 in Berlin he sought to build on the iconic Prague speech. But there was no magic filling the air.


The reason, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) General Secretary Kate Hudson wrote on June 28 in her blog: “. . . despite Obama's apparent continued commitment to the goal of global abolition, he did not quite take us to the dizzy heights of hope and emotion stirred by his Prague speech in 2009.”

Much of what Obama spoke of in Berlin was on the Prague list too, but progress has been slow, said Hudson. “Ratifying the CTBT (Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty) and moving forward on a fissile material treaty were both there in Prague and are still there now, as are the questions of nuclear security and access to civil nuclear power. Looking back, it is clear that the ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty – START – was the only real achievement out of Obama's 2009 initiative, with some success in reducing their respective nuclear stockpiles.”

Hudson added: “. . . maybe that is because since then we have seen that whatever his intentions, he has been unable to deliver on his disarmament promises without at the same time pledging modernisation of nuclear weaponry and pursuing new systems which void the 'deterrent' effect of his potential opponents' nuclear weapons.”

She pointed out that Obama was not having an easy time of it at home either. “Since Berlin, a number of Republican senators have jumped up to denounce the president in no uncertain terms with Kelly Ayotte describing his intentions as misguided and dangerous. So there are many obstacles to further progress on nuclear disarmament, to put it mildly. Although the picture would not be complete without recognising the impact of the financial crisis on public opinion and changing perceptions of security needs.

“Whether in the US or the United Kingdom, there is increasing hostility to spending on nuclear weapons. They are widely perceived as wasteful and anachronistic. People feel they are failing to meet 21st century threats such as terrorism, cyber warfare or climate change.”

While welcoming President Obama’s announcement in Berlin calling for a world without nuclear weapons and the readiness to pursue further reductions in the US and Russian nuclear arsenals, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) said: “ …  the humanitarian consequences of any nuclear weapon use, increasingly the focus of global engagement on these weapons, demands their prohibition and elimination.”

ICAN added: “The speech by President Obama contributes to a growing recognition that nuclear weapons are unusable weapons with no practical utility in today’s global security environment.  Despite this, they threaten shocking humanitarian consequences if they were to be used.  Nuclear weapons are the only weapons of mass destruction not subject to treaty prohibition and ICAN is calling for such a treaty to provide the framework for their elimination.”

Speaking from the former East German side of the historic Brandenburg Gate in divided Germany, Obama declared: “We may no longer live in fear of global annihilation, but so long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe.” In this context, it was significant that Obama linked nuclear weapons to peace and justice: “Peace with justice means pursuing the security of a world without nuclear weapons – no matter how distant that dream may be.”

“While this goal may seem to be a distant or even unrealistic one to some, it is not beyond our reach,” said Soka Gakkai (SG) Vice President Hirotsugu Terasak – who is also Executive Director, Soka Gakkai International (SGI) Peace Affairs. He quoted SGI President Daisaku Ikeda: “In order to achieve real security in the twenty-first century we need to bring forth the powers of imagination that will enable us to directly and accurately apprehend evolving realities, to guide these changes toward the desired direction and to give birth to entirely new realities.”

The Tokyo-based lay Buddhist organisation with members around the world, has been in the forefront of promoting awareness of the need to abolish nuclear weapons.

“President Obama’s Berlin speech is a welcome reaffirmation of his commitment to achieving a world free from nuclear weapons. The readiness he expresses to pursue further reductions in the US and Russian nuclear arsenals represents a concrete step toward this goal,” Terasaki said in a statement forwarded to IDN.

He added: “To make good on its stated commitments, the US administration now needs to establish a path of tangible actions to move beyond a world of decreased nuclear risks to reach the goal of nuclear weapons abolition. As President Obama’s stance makes clear, the doctrine of nuclear deterrence can no longer make any meaningful contribution to the security of any state. This is something the world’s ordinary citizens have long known: holding humanity hostage to nuclear Armageddon makes no one safe.”

In view of the risks, effects and costs of nuclear weapons, Terasaki said, there is both the practical necessity and the moral imperative to rid the world of those apocalyptic weapons. “The time has come to initiate negotiations on a treaty that will prohibit nuclear weapons,” he added.

“The work for eliminating nuclear weapons must be a global enterprise, shared by all members of the human family,” Terasaki stressed. “Every actor – the nuclear weapons states, the states that have refrained from developing these weapons and, most critically, the world’s people – must play a role. The SGI is committed to building grassroots awareness in order to empower people’s efforts toward the prohibition and abolition of nuclear weapons.”

More work to do

Obama admitted in his Berlin speech that “we have more work to do”, and said he was “announcing additional steps forward”. He went on to say: “After a comprehensive review, I've determined that we can ensure the security of America and our allies, and maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrent, while reducing our deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third. And I intend to seek negotiated cuts with Russia to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures.”

“At the same time,” he said, “we'll work with our NATO allies to seek bold reductions in US and Russian tactical weapons in Europe. And we can forge a new international framework for peaceful nuclear power, and reject the nuclear weaponization that North Korea and Iran may be seeking.”

Obama added: “America will host a summit in 2016 to continue our efforts to secure nuclear materials around the world, and we will work to build support in the United States to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and call on all nations to begin negotiations on a treaty that ends the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons. These are steps we can take to create a world of peace with justice.”

Although the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which bans all nuclear explosions, has been signed by 183 countries of which 158 have also now ratified, it can only enter into force after it has been ratified by the eight remaining nuclear capable countries: China, the North Korea, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and the United States.

Towards Global Zero

Expectedly, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle’s response on June 19 underlined cautious optimism mixed with an oblique reference to Berlin’s interest in having U.S. tactical weapons removed from the German soil and a genuine dialogue with Russia: “President Obama’s proposals on nuclear disarmament are a bold step forward which Germany supports in its foreign policy.

“The world will become a safer and better place if we together manage to realize his plans for nuclear disarmament. Fewer nuclear weapons and effective global rules on nuclear non-proliferation are decisive steps towards Global Zero – a world without nuclear weapons.

Now we need to work together to use the momentum. This is especially true of dialogue with Moscow. A reduction also in tactical nuclear weapons in Europe is particularly important to us. The German government will do its utmost to support President Obama’s plans.”

On June 20, Westerwelle explained in a statement at a conference on security in Nuremberg: “There are still 17,000 nuclear warheads around the world. If this figure can be reduced, the world will be a safer place. That’s why President Obama’s disarmament initiative is a bold step forward for peace and security.

“That President Obama has expressly included tactical nuclear weapons in Europe in his proposals, will give a boost to our efforts to bring about the withdrawal of the last nuclear weapons remaining on German soil.

“President Obama’s initiative is a great vindication of our decision to make nuclear disarmament a priority in Germany’s foreign policy. Of course, the other nuclear powers, especially Russia, have to play their part. We will now step up the dialogue with Moscow with a view to supporting President Obama’s initiative. The focus of German foreign policy will be on building bridges to foster nuclear disarmament.

“A world without nuclear weapons is a vision, not an illusion. Of course, it will not come about overnight. We need political will, astute diplomacy and, above all, perseverance and strategic patience.”

Chance passed

Uta Zapf, Chair of the German parliamentary sub-committee on disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation said on June 27 that Russia will not accept President Obama’s proposal for further reduction in nuclear weapons as long as no heed is paid to the country’s security needs.

She added: “Why should U.S. tactical nuclear weapons continue to stay in Europe and with us until disarmament has taken place? Would it not be much more conducive to disarmament if these weapons were stationed in the U.S.?”

In fact, the chance for a withdrawal of tactical nuclear weapons seems to have passed, Zapf said. “The June 12, 2013 new ‘Nuclear Employment Strategy’ of the United States – probably as a consequence of the decisions of Chicago (NATO summit) – stipulates the deployment of these weapons in Europe. The modernization of the B61 would appear to be an integral component of the U.S. strategy to protect allies (‘extended deterrence’).”

Russian reaction showed that Zapf is not off the mark. As the New START accord already requires each nation by 2018 to cap its stockpile of fielded warheads at 1,550, under Obama's proposal a new ceiling could become roughly 1,000 deployed strategic warheads apiece, according to the Global Security Newswire.

“Russia objects to the Obama administration's plan through the next five years to field increasingly capable missile interceptors in Europe. The Kremlin has not accepted the White House insistence that the antimissile systems are solely aimed at protecting against possible Iranian missile attacks, and is demanding a legally binding accord that would govern the interceptors' usage. Numerous rounds of US-Russia talks on missile defense have been unable to resolve the core differences,” noted the Global Security Newswire.

Considering that the antimissile issue is not yet resolved, Moscow is taking Obama's concept for talks with a grain of salt, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin was reported by ITAR-Tass to have said on June 20.

"How can we possibly take this thesis about cutting the strategic nuclear potentials seriously, when the USA. is building up the potential to intercept this strategic potential? Obviously, the top political leadership cannot take these assurances seriously," Rogozin said to journalists.

Moscow is unable to "indefinitely and bilaterally talk with the United States about cuts and restrictions on nuclear weapons in a situation where a whole number of other countries are expanding their nuclear and missile potentials," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said to RIA Novosti. "Before discussing the necessity of a further reduction of nuclear weapons we need to arrive at an acceptable solution of the (missile defence) problem."

Cold war posture

In an analysis for the Global Security Newswire, Elaine M. Grossman wrote on June 21: “While President Obama made headlines . . . for proposing to negotiate with Russia fresh reductions in each side’s fielded nuclear arms, the US leader has more quietly directed the Defense Department to hang onto some notable mainstays of the Cold War.

“A few hours after Obama’s speech in Berlin, the Pentagon released publicly a report to Congress on guidance the president issued in recent days on ‘nuclear employment strategy’ (to which Uta Zapf also referred) – the broad targeting directives that help determine how many atomic arms the nation requires.”

“On the one hand, the guidance directs pursuit of additional reductions in deployed strategic warheads and less reliance on preparing for a surprise nuclear attack,” Grossman quoted nuclear weapons expert Hans Kristensen saying in a June 20 blog post. “On the other hand, the guidance reaffirms a commitment to core Cold War posture characteristics such as counterforce targeting, retaining a triad of strategic nuclear forces, and retaining non-strategic nuclear weapons forward-deployed in Europe.”   [IDN-InDepthNews – June 30, 2013]

Image: President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany, June 19, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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