Obama is still right: A world without nuclear weapons is possible

Despite perceptions of a new Cold War, the US and Russia continue to respect the provisions of the New START treaty.

Despite perceptions of a new Cold War, the US and Russia continue to respect the provisions of the New START treaty

In 2009, Barack Obama gave a powerful speech in Prague, asserting that nuclear disarmament will be at the heart of his foreign policy. His announcements (such as the opening of talks on the New START treaty) and his rhetoric (a “world without nuclear weapons“) caused a flurry of activity among campaigners and diplomats, and some critics.

Obama’s initiative had some success. New START was ratified, the US hosted a major summit on securing nuclear materials, and Iran’s uranium enrichment programme is weaker.

However, the recent breakdown in US-Russia relations has led some to question whether further progress can be made. The Guardian’s Julian Borger claimed that a spat over Ukraine disrupted a G8 initiative to halt the spread of fissile material. He also noted the view of several experts that progress on tactical nukes is now unlikely.

Elsewhere, one could be forgiven for thinking that nuclear weapons are here to stay: France, among others, recently reasserted the centrality of nukes to its strategic doctrines.

Despite these worrying developments, the key points in Obama’s Prague speech are still true. Now as then, the existence and spread of nuclear weapons is dangerous, unacceptable and must be dealt with bilaterally and multilaterally. Now as then, states must overcome their differences at least to the extent of avoiding the catastrophic use of WMD.

There is some evidence this is happening, despite perceptions of a ‘new Cold War’. The US and Russia continue to respect the provisions of the New START treaty and have kept up mutual inspections of nuclear sites throughout the Ukraine crisis. Furthermore, Russia and the US continue to participate in negotiations on Iranian nukes and work together on the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons.

Today’s policymakers should not be resigned or fatalistic. Rather, they should work together and redouble their efforts to disarm the world’s worst weapons.

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