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The evolution of Barack Obama's nuclear policy

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U.S. President Barack Obama has finally unveiled his administration's Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) assessing the nation's nuclear strategy. The publication of a declassified version has been delayed several times since December 2009. The full version will now be submitted to Congress.

U.S. President Barack Obama has finally unveiled his administration's Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) assessing the nation's nuclear strategy. The publication of a declassified version has been delayed several times since December 2009. The full version will now be submitted to Congress.

This document constitutes the core of what will be known as the Obama nuclear doctrine.

Although President Obama has already made greater headway on nuclear arms control than his predecessor, George W. Bush, the document falls short of Obama's speech in Prague on April 5, 2009, in which he promised tough new controls, drastic cuts in nuclear stockpiles and even a world free of nuclear weapons.

Naturally, everyone understands that a world without nuclear weapons will continue to be a utopian dream even in 10-20 years. Still, after George W. Bush, it was nice to hear the 44th President of the United States talk like this.

Obama's nuclear doctrine can be considered revolutionary compared to August 1945. Had this doctrine been in place at the end of World War II, President Harry Truman would not have been able to order the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Under the new doctrine, Washington pledges not to use nuclear weapons against countries that do not possess them, provided that they are in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations and do not pose a "critical threat" to the United States.

The latter two caveats obviously refer to Iran and North Korea, whose nuclear programs continue to trouble the world.

Changing the U.S. nuclear doctrine is a source of serious headaches for any administration. Obama's review is no exception. Republicans don't approve because the review rules out developing next-generation nuclear warheads in favor of upgrading the existing stock.

Proponents of disarmament believe that the new doctrine contains only traces of the Obama who gave that stirring speech in Prague. In their view, there is nothing revolutionary about the document, which represents a gradual evolution away from the radical policies of President George W. Bush, who almost completely rejected the goal of nuclear disarmament and concrete (as opposed to rhetorical) arms control, and who reserved the right to conduct small-scale nuclear wars and launch preventive and punitive nuclear strikes under the banner of non-proliferation.

While far from disarmament, Obama's new arms control policy is a clear step in the right direction.

In the new doctrine, the greatest threats to U.S. and international security are defined as nuclear terrorism and nuclear proliferation throughout the world, not a nuclear confrontation between major powers.

But we must give Obama his due. As the first African-American president who just completely overhauled the national healthcare system, Obama deserves double the praise for some of the courageous new provisions in his Nuclear Posture Review.

The U.S. administration pledges not to use the Bomb against non-nuclear states, albeit with special reservations. Russia and China are no longer seen as a threat. Moreover, Washington pledges not to develop next-generation nuclear warheads and to focus instead on modernizing conventional weapons. The U.S. is also prepared to ban all nuclear testing and renounces the Bush administration's plans to develop new types of nuclear weapons.

It appears that Obama has the guts to play with such sensitive issues in American politics as national security and the might of the world's leading superpower in the face of growing Republican opposition.

However, Obama had to compromise with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a former member of the Bush administration. Gates and the Pentagon agreed not to develop new types of nuclear warheads and stop nuclear testing only after Obama promised to expand the nuclear budget. The money will go toward maintaining the preparedness, safety and capabilities of existing nuclear warheads as well as their modernization.

Obama does not completely rule out the possibility of using nuclear weapons against non-nuclear countries. It would be naive to expect the U.S. president to voluntarily renounce his right to use nuclear weapons when he deems it necessary. The Pentagon would never agree to this.

Rather, Obama has made the button slightly harder to reach. Judging by the delays in the document's publication, the president has had to do considerable maneuvering, making concessions to the Department of Defense and considering the mood of the Senate Republicans.

Also, too much "nuclear radicalism" would have torpedoed all chances for ratifying the successor treaty to START-1, due to be signed soon.

The United States has not backed off plans to create a missile-defense system to shield itself and its allies. So it seems Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama will have a lot to discuss in Prague on April 8th.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

 

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Fedyashin)

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