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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8 Responses to “Obama is still right: A world without nuclear weapons is possible”

  1. swatnan

    Lets start the ball rolling by declaring unilateral disarmament.

  2. Leon Wolfeson

    The events in the Ukraine show that any sensible country should be reaching for nuclear weapons. Sadly.

  3. Frippertronics

    People are butchering each other like there’s no tomorrow in Syria. In Odessa 300 people burnt to a crisp whilst the firemen sit and watch. We’ve had unspeakable atrocities in the world like Rwanda. The Iran-Iraq war killed 1 million people and so on. There is only one thing in common in every single killing: Not one has been due to an atomic weapon.
    Nobody likes nuclear weapons but to spend time posturing about this when there is war all around us all of it conducted by conventional weapons shows how pathetic Obama is in reaching for anything to make him look good.
    No Obama is not right, he’s pointless as ever.

  4. Martin Butcher

    I admire the optimism you show, and the cause is a vital one for the future of the planet. But your faith in Obama is completely misplaced. New Start requires minimal warhead cuts by the US and allows Russia to actually increase warhead numbers, as they were below the limits negotiated. It wasn’t even a new achievement, it was merely a restating of agreement that Bush and Putin agreed back in the early 2000s. Obama will leave office as the first President since Carter to remove no warheads from Europe – indeed he is upgrading those bombs. He has spent huge sums on warhead upgrades, refurbishments and modernisation. He hasn’t even managed to get a debate started on his first priority – ratification of the CTBT. Much of this is down to Senate Republicans, but since the Prague speech his supposed leadership has not been poor, it has been completely and utterly absent. His achievements in this field are non-existent. the statements of his administration at events like the recent NPT PrepCom are an embarrassment to him and his country.

  5. Leon Wolfeson

    Most of the fears of supporting democracy raised are something like “wah Russia has nukes”.
    So..I disagree.

  6. Crankcase08

    Is Leftfootforward an organisation of schoolchildren? The naivety is blatantly obvious.

  7. Leon Wolfeson

    Indeed, thanks for admitting you’re naive for the record.

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