President Barack Obama has received his share of criticism in this column, and rightfully so. However, he deserves credit for his recent actions to curb the threat of nuclear weapons, but room for improvement remains.
The 1991 Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty, which reduced U.S. and Russian nuclear arms, expired in 2009. Obama continued the disarmament initiated by the treaty by signing an updated agreement April 8. The new treaty will not take effect unless the Senate ratifies it with a two-thirds vote. These days, one has a better chance of tracking down a unicorn than getting 67 votes in the Senate, but let’s assume eight Republicans exercise common sense. The agreement limits each nation to 1,550 warheads — an important decrease from current levels, but still enough weapons to destroy every speck of life on the planet. The president should be commended for this treaty, but if he were truly dedicated to a world without nuclear weapons, he would reduce America’s stockpile even further.
In the latest Nuclear Posture review, the president made a number of welcome changes to our nuclear position. Most notably, he ruled out using nuclear weapons against any nation that abides by the U.N. nuclear nonproliferation treaty. This is a great step in that it limits the instances in which America would use a nuclear strike. However, the possibility of a nuclear attack on Iran and North Korea remains. This is an attempt to pressure those countries into joining the NPT, which presents a head-scratching contradiction. We are saying we can live in a world without nuclear weapons. Yet, we are using the threat of nuclear warfare to gain compliance from “outlier” nations. The U.S. should drop its “first use” policy in regard to all nations, including the outliers.
Lastly, the president recently wrapped a summit addressing the containment of weapons-grade plutonium. The summit may have lowered the risk of terrorists gaining access to nuclear materials. For instance, Ukraine has agreed to get rid of its enriched uranium, and the U.S. said it will work with Mexico to convert fuel at Mexico’s nuclear research reactor to a grade of uranium unsuitable for nuclear weapons. However, none of the agreements made at the summit are binding, and their success is contingent upon nations upholding these promises.
The president has a lot of work to do before he can claim any significant success on the nuclear issue. Nevertheless, he deserves credit for what amounts to measurable steps toward achieving a more peaceful planet. Perhaps he is finally starting to earn that Nobel Prize.