Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Please Support CounterPunch’s Annual Fund Drive
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We only ask you once a year, but when we ask we mean it. So, please, help as much as you can. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Has Obama Abandoned His Commitment to a Nuclear Free World?

In a major address in Prague on April 5, 2009, the newly-elected U.S. president, Barack Obama, proclaimed “clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” On January 24, 2013, however, Senator John Kerry, speaking at Senate confirmation hearings on his nomination to become U.S. Secretary of State, declared that a nuclear weapons-free world was no more than “an aspiration,” adding that “we’ll be lucky if we get there in however many centuries.” Has there been a change in Obama administration policy over the past four years?

There are certainly indications that this might be the case.

During the 2008 presidential election campaign, Obama made his support for nuclear weapons abolition quite clear on a number of occasions, most notably in Berlin. Speaking on July 24 before a vast, enthusiastic crowd, the Democratic presidential candidate promised to “make the goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons a central element in our nuclear policy.” He argued that “this is the moment to secure the peace of the world without nuclear weapons.”

Obama certainly seemed to follow through with this program during his first year in office. His Prague speech of April 5, 2009 — the first major foreign policy address he delivered as President — was devoted entirely to building a nuclear weapons-free world. In September of 2009 he became the first American president in history to chair a meeting of the UN Security Council — one dealing with nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. The upshot was unanimous Security Council support for Resolution 1887, which backed the goal of nuclear abolition and an action plan to reduce nuclear dangers. Obama’s promotion of a nuclear weapons-free world played a key role in the announcement that October that he would receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

The anti-nuclear momentum, however, slowed somewhat in 2010. In April of that year, the White House released its Nuclear Posture Review, which did reorient U.S. policy toward less reliance on nuclear weapons. But the policy shifts were fairly minor and smaller than anticipated. Soon thereafter, the U.S. and Soviet governments announced the signing of the New START treaty, which set lower limits on the number of deployed nuclear warheads and deployed delivery systems for the two nations. Although the U.S. Senate ratified New START by a vote of 71 to 26, the reductions in all types of nuclear weapons held by the United States and Russia were actually rather modest. Consequently, the two nations continued to possess about 95 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons.

Much worse, from the standpoint of nuclear disarmers, was the fact that strong Republican opposition to the treaty led to an Obama administration retreat on the issue of building a nuclear-free world. The most obvious indication was the White House pledge to provide roughly $214 billion over the next decade for modernizing U.S. nuclear forces and infrastructure. Apparently offered in an attempt to buy GOP support for the treaty, this pledge set the U.S. government on a course that totally contradicted its talk of disarmament. In addition, the administration withdrew plans to submit the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996) for Senate ratification, did not even begin negotiations for further nuclear arms reductions with Russia, and — with the exception of mobilizing other nations against the possibility of Iran joining the nuclear club — let nuclear arms control and disarmament vanish from the policy agenda. In 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton remarked dismissively that a nuclear weapons-free world would be attained “in some century.” President Obama’s January 2013 inaugural address did not discuss a nuclear-free world, or even specific arms control and disarmament measures.

The hearings on Senator Kerry are revealing. As the Republicans were eager to have him leave the Senate and open up his seat for a Republican (presumably former Senator Scott Brown), Kerry had a very easy time of it, and used his newfound popularity to defend the more controversial Chuck Hagel, the administration’s nominee for secretary of defense. When the Republicans raised the issue of Hagel’s support for Global Zero, a group advocating the abolition of nuclear weapons, Kerry responded that he did not believe Hagel wanted to completely eliminate them. Kerry added that, personally, he favored a policy of nuclear deterrence and believed that “we have to maintain” the U.S. nuclear stockpile. “We have to be realistic about it,” Kerry explained, “and I think Senator Hagel is realistic about it.” Kerry’s remarks about the “many centuries” it would take to eliminate nuclear weapons emerged in this context.

Of course, actions can speak much louder than words. Kerry’s remarks might represent no more than soothing pabulum for GOP hawks. The real test of the Obama administration’s commitment to a nuclear-free world will be its actions in the coming years. Will it reduce expenditures for modernizing U.S. nuclear weapons and facilities, promote Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, negotiate a treaty with Russia for deeper weapons reductions, and take actions that do not require Senate ratification (for example, join with Russia to remove nuclear weapons from high alert status)? Above all, will it begin to negotiate a treaty for the verifiable, worldwide elimination of nuclear weapons? We shall see.

In the meantime, people interested in removing the dangers posed by more than 17,000 nuclear weapons around the globe might want to press the administration to honor its commitment to seek a nuclear-free world.

Lawrence S. Wittner is professor of history emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is “Working for Peace and Justice: Memoirs of an Activist Intellectual” (University of Tennessee Press).

More articles by:

Dr. Lawrence Wittner is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany and the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press.)

October 18, 2018
Dean Baker
How Big is Big? Trump, the NYT and Foreign Aid
Vern Loomis
The Boofing of America
October 17, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
When Saudi Arabia’s Credibility is Damaged, So is America’s
John Steppling
Before the Law
Frank Stricker
Wages Rising? 
James McEnteer
Larry Summers Trips Out
Muhammad Othman
What You Can Do About the Saudi Atrocities in Yemen
Binoy Kampmark
Agents of Chaos: Trump, the Federal Reserve and Andrew Jackson
David N. Smith
George Orwell’s Message in a Bottle
Karen J. Greenberg
Justice Derailed: From Gitmo to Kavanaugh
John Feffer
Why is the Radical Right Still Winning?
Dan Corjescu
Green Tsunami in Bavaria?
Rohullah Naderi
Why Afghan Girls Are Out of School?
George Ochenski
You Have to Give Respect to Get Any, Mr. Trump
Cesar Chelala
Is China Winning the War for Africa?
Mel Gurtov
Getting Away with Murder
W. T. Whitney
Colombian Lawyer Diego Martinez Needs Solidarity Now
Dean Baker
Nothing to Brag About: Scott Walker’s Economic Record in Wisconsin:
October 16, 2018
Gregory Elich
Diplomatic Deadlock: Can U.S.-North Korea Diplomacy Survive Maximum Pressure?
Rob Seimetz
Talking About Death While In Decadence
Kent Paterson
Fifty Years of Mexican October
Robert Fantina
Trump, Iran and Sanctions
Greg Macdougall
Indigenous Suicide in Canada
Kenneth Surin
On Reading the Diaries of Tony Benn, Britain’s Greatest Labour Politician
Andrew Bacevich
Unsolicited Advice for an Undeclared Presidential Candidate: a Letter to Elizabeth Warren
Thomas Knapp
Facebook Meddles in the 2018 Midterm Elections
Muhammad Othman
Khashoggi and Demetracopoulos
Gerry Brown
Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics: How the US Weaponizes Them to Accuse  China of Debt Trap Diplomacy
Christian Ingo Lenz Dunker – Peter Lehman
The Brazilian Presidential Elections and “The Rules of The Game”
Robert Fisk
What a Forgotten Shipwreck in the Irish Sea Can Tell Us About Brexit
Martin Billheimer
Here Cochise Everywhere
David Swanson
Humanitarian Bombs
Dean Baker
The Federal Reserve is Not a Church
October 15, 2018
Rob Urie
Climate Crisis is Upon Us
Conn Hallinan
Syria’s Chessboard
Patrick Cockburn
The Saudi Atrocities in Yemen are a Worse Story Than the Disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi
Sheldon Richman
Trump’s Middle East Delusions Persist
Justin T. McPhee
Uberrima Fides? Witness K, East Timor and the Economy of Espionage
Tom Gill
Spain’s Left Turn?
Jeff Cohen
Few Democrats Offer Alternatives to War-Weary Voters
Dean Baker
Corporate Debt Scares
Gary Leupp
The Khashoggi Affair and and the Anti-Iran Axis
Russell Mokhiber
Sarah Chayes Calls on West Virginians to Write In No More Manchins
Clark T. Scott
Acclimated Behaviorisms
Kary Love
Evolution of Religion
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail