Stop Dragging Heels and Start Nuking the Nuke
In the very beginning of his presidency, President Barack Obama traveled to Europe in the hopes of gaining support for his nuclear weapons policy. And with his dramatic vow to rid the world of nuclear weapons, his goal gained universal support from virtually everyone watching. Yet despite an almost absolute consensus on nuclear nonproliferation, the United States is stuck in the mud, unable to achieve what it set forth a year ago.
The Nuclear Posture Review, the U.S. Government’s official document that spells out the country’s nuclear weapons policy, has once again been delayed. The NPR was supposed to be released on February 1, which would have demonstrated the President’s resolve and dedication to Congress. But that deadline has long passed, and the country’s nuclear policy continues to take on the role of the 800 pound gorilla.
This delay could be good news. Rather than settling for a quick review, the administration may be taking a little more time to weight its options. But guess what…the longer the President draws out the process, the longer it will take to finally disarm the world’s nuclear weapons (Afghanistan Strategy Review anyone?). And the longer it will take to disarm the world, the more difficult it will to convince Iran to forgo nuclear weapons development.
The fact that there are approximately 23,000 nukes in the world today is a reason why so many states in the developing world are interested in nuclear technology. Just take Iran as an example.
While nationalism is certainly behind Tehran’s quest for a nuclear capability, the old-fashioned principle of deterrence is probably part of the formula. With the world’s remaining superpower scattered across the entire region- and with American troops residing on both sides of its border- don’t be surprised if the Iranian Government sees its nuclear program as a potential saving-grace from a military attack.
A similar logic can be used to explain Syria’s interest in plutonium enrichment, which only increased after Israel breached Syrian territory and bombed a suspected nuclear installation in 2007. Hugo Chavez in Venezuela is also reportedly interested in building nuclear sites, which would give him a competitive advantage over other countries in South America. And of course, we cannot forget about Israel’s nuclear-weapons stockpile, which only gives Iran more incentive to develop its own program in response.
The point is that the U.S. and Russian arsenals could be responsible for nuclear proliferation in the 21st century. It’s really hard to achieve “a world without nuclear weapons” when the United States retains over 2,000 warheads on hair-trigger alert (not to mention Russia’s overwhelming force, which more than doubles the U.S. stockpile). We expect countries to take concrete steps in eliminating nuclear weapons, yet the U.S. and Russia continue to stall in their own attempts.
So when President Obama gears up for THE nuclear summit in April, he should explain how easier nonproliferation would be if the world’s nuclear powers practiced what they preached. A nuclear-free U.S and a nuclear-free Russia could potentially persuade other states- like Iran, Syria, and Venezuela- from trying to construct programs of their own.
-Daniel R. DePetris
**Comments courtesy of David E. Hoffman. His article, “Obama’s Nuclear Moment,” just appeared on FP.com