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Obama at Hiroshima: Courage in Words, But Not in Action

It takes courage, in the cynical world of U.S. politics, to visit Hiroshima. Nearly 71 years after the United States used a nuclear weapon on that city, killing at least 140,000 people, President Obama has become the first sitting U.S. President to visit Hiroshima.

The White House vociferously proclaimed that this was not going to be an apology for President Truman’s decision in 1945 to use a nuclear weapon against a largely civilian population. That decision aside, President Obama has plenty of his own actions that he could have apologized for.

President Obama had the opportunity to actually do something about eliminating nuclear weapons. He not only did not take action, but he took us in the opposite direction. Under plans designed and implemented by his administration, the U.S. is creating new nuclear weapons and delivery systems that – if the Obama administration gets its way – will still be in use in the 2080s.

This “modernization” program is projected to cost $1 trillion over the next 30 years. The cost will likely be much higher in the end, as so many weapons programs go wildly over budget. More concerning to me, though, is the message that this sends to the rest of the world and the all-but-inevitable new nuclear arms race that will follow.

The Obama administration’s “modernization” program proposes a full overhaul of every nuclear warhead in the stockpile. In many cases, the new warheads will have new military capabilities, in direct violation of U.S. official policy. The B61-12 Life Extension Program, for example, will endow the B61 nuclear gravity bomb with a variable explosive yield and will include a guided tailfin kit, making it the world’s first “smart” nuclear gravity bomb.

The Obama administration is pursuing a new generation of nuclear-armed submarines, new nuclear bomber aircraft and new land-based Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. John McCain, the Republican Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, recently questioned the need for the U.S. to continue with this nuclear triad. He said that it is “very, very, very expensive.” That’s three “verys” from a person who for decades has been at the center of the political machine that feeds the insatiable appetite of the military-industrial complex. So, we have the Republican defense hawk and Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee questioning the need for the nuclear triad, and the Nobel Peace Prize-winning President fully on board with the trillion dollar trainwreck.

This administration is also fully funding construction of a Uranium Processing Facility in Tennessee, which will produce the highly-enriched uranium secondaries that put the “H” in h-bomb. They also continue to seek ways to fund a plan to produce up to 80 plutonium pits per year at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. At this time, there is no demonstrated need (even under the wildly over-ambitious “modernization” programs) for either of these capabilities. The nation’s two premier nuclear weapons laboratories, Los Alamos as well as Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, are run by for-profit entities that seek to maximize shareholder profit.

This is the reality of U.S. nuclear weapons policy under President Obama.

The U.S. Department of Justice is actively seeking to maneuver its way out of a lawsuit filed by the Republic of the Marshall Islands, which seeks to enforce Article VI of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Article VI calls for parties to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament.”

It is plain to see that the U.S. (and the world’s other eight nuclear-armed nations, for that matter) is in breach of these obligations. Instead of arguing the case on the merits, the U.S. is seeking dismissal of the lawsuit on technicalities. Because the U.S. does not accept the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice, U.S. courts were the only option available for the Marshall Islands to hold the U.S. accountable for its broken promises.

It is tragic that President Obama squandered his visit to Hiroshima, and his entire two terms as President, by failing to take any meaningful action to eliminate nuclear weapons. There are significant efforts happening around the world led by courageous non-nuclear nations and civil society organizations that will undoubtedly bring the world closer to nuclear zero. The President had an opportunity to create a legacy unlike any other in history. Instead, he has continued the legacy like all the others.

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    Rick Wayman is Director of Programs at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation in Santa Barbara, California. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability and Co-Chair of the “Amplify: Generation of Change” network.

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