Who wouldn’t aspire for such a world? Everyone does. Eerily, there are insurmountable obstacles to realizing the dream of living peacefully in a just world. What constitutes such a roadblock in this regard is the centerpiece of the study the author intends to pursue through this piece.
One would be keen to know why the dream of having a world with no nuclear weapons shared by U.S. President during his 2008 historic Berlin speech is not within sight. Then, as an American senator, Obama raised the hopes of peace loving people around the world announcing that he, if elected the president of his country, would make efforts to start concluding nuclear arms reduction treaties with a view to ultimately ridding the world of all nuclear weapons.
Fortunately, Obama not only got elected as U.S. president in 2008 (November) election but he has also been reelected for the second term 2013-2016. Obviously, eyes are set on what he intends to do in realizing his nuclear-free world vision albeit he deserves some credit in nuclear disarmament having successfully negotiated and signed a New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) with Russia in 2010.
The above treaty seeks to limit the number of currently-deployed strategic nuclear weapons to 1550 for the U.S. and Russia each. Considering the number of strategic weapons to be slashed and the provision of adequate verification for enforcing compliance, the New START has been considered a milestone in the history of bilateral nuclear arms cuts negotiation between the world’s two major nuclear powers, which possess almost 95% of all the nuclear weapons worldwide.
Against this background comes president Obama’s June 19, 2013 speech delivered at Brandenberg Gate-Berlin, Germany in which he has requested the Russian leadership to negotiate further reduction in their nuclear arsenals. The president has been quoted in his speech, the source of which is the Office of the Press Secretary in the White House, saying “After a comprehensive review, I’ve determined that we can ensure the safety of America and our allies, 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 posture.”
Additionally, president Obama has expressed his willingness to seek reduction in U.S.-Russian tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, though in this case a serious disagreement looms large between the negotiating partners.
While the initiative of president Obama in seeking cuts in both categories of nuclear weapons i. e. strategic and tactical (non-strategic) is a welcome gesture, Lawrence M. Krauss, a scientist, doubts in actually succeeding to slash those weapons given the difficulties under the present circumstances.
Krauss is a theoretical physicist at Arizona State University, whose piece “Letting Go of Our Nukes” (The New York Times) reminds us of hurdles before Obama in cutting down the size of above weapons. To him, Obama’s request to Russia to join in mutual reduction in strategic nuclear warheads leaving each of them with slightly more than 1000, faces broad resistance even in the U.S. Congress, which insists on Senate approval of the proposed cuts. Krauss believes that in Russia, America’s proposed Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) in Europe will be a stumbling block.
Seen from the standpoint of Lawrence M. Krauss, America does not need more than 1000 strategic weapons, which are enough to protect the U.S. Such an arsenal, in his opinion, is literally overkill.
Convincing other nations like North Korea to give up nuclear program and persuading Iran not to go nuclear requires America to first demonstrate that the development of nuclear weapons is not in its own interest. This can be done by slashing the size of strategic nuclear weapons by the Obama administration. Otherwise, Obama’s request to Iran to stop enriching uranium for nuclear weapons and to North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons capability will ring hollow.
More worryingly, even with the possession of 100 or so nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan, the two South Asian rivals, the region remains unstable as historic enmities continue to flare between the two that makes the possibility of a nuclear conflagration very real. The world was really frightened seeing the nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan so close during the Kargil crisis in 1999.
None disputes that should a nuclear war happen between India and Pakistan, how limited it might be, its adverse effects would transcend the region of South Asia. According to Lawrence M. Krauss, the scientific studies conducted by two physicists Alan Robock and Owen B. Toon of Rutgers University and University of Colorado respectively have found that a nuclear war in South Asia involving the detonation of even 100 Hiroshima-size weapons, far smaller than those possessed by India and Pakistan, could kill as many as 20 million people from the blasts and resulting fires and radiation, and generate so much smoke that it would block 7-10 % of sunlight reaching the earth for at least the decade. This prediction sounds alarmingly serious.
Responding to Obama’s request for mutual reduction of strategic nuclear weapons, Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister has said that they would be ready to discuss further cuts only in a multilateral format. Pavel Podvig, a physicist trained at Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology, writing a feature “A case for unilateral U.S. nuclear warhead reductions” carried by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, has quoted Lavrov adding that to ensure their participation in any future nuclear arms reduction talks all nuclear powers, declared and undeclared should be involved.
The above precondition of Russia for negotiations is no less challenging for Obama, whose commitment to nuclear disarmament has been compromised by Senate non-ratification of Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and U.S.’s failure to renounce a policy of possible first-use of nuclear weapons.
Moreover, Russian objections to proposed arms cuts negotiations have become more pronounced since the conclusion of New START, which Russia considers to be a “gold standard treaty” for its moderate and balanced reductions over an extended time period (10 years from the date of ratification) , among others. In this vein Richard Weitz, a fellow and director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at the Hudson Institute, through his Foreign Affairs feature “Obama’s Russian Roadblock”, has said that America’s efforts to build up BMDS are perceived by Russia as being a threat to their nuclear deterrent.
All these obstacles nevertheless, we should applaud Obama’s call for further cuts in U.S.-Russian nuclear arsenals because we should accept that much about war, peace and global security changed after atomic weapons were dropped in 1945 and changed again with Berlin Wall’s dismantling almost two decades ago ending the Cold War. Any progress towards nuclear disarmament should be viewed as a right step to create a world of peace where justice prevails.