Putting President Obama’s Disarmament Rhetoric to the Test
|| by Jacqueline Cabasso
Eexpert Advisor to
the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation
The May 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference is widely seen as a make-it-or-break-it point for the long term viability of the nuclear nonproliferation regime.
Non nuclear weapon states are rightly expecting the nuclear weapon states to finally make good on their NPT disarmament obligation, in force since 1970.
The outcome of this Review Conference will put to the test the reality behind U.S. President Barak Obama’s nucleardisarmament rhetoric.
Everywhere I’ve travelled, President Obama’s April 5, 2009 Prague speech has been hailed as a world-changing event.
I think this reflects our collective sense of relief that the Bush era is over, as well as our desperate desire for a breakthrough on nuclear disarmament. One thing is certain.
Obama’s Prague speech inspired a tidal wave of hope and opened up the space for a badly needed renewal of advocacy and action to abolish nuclear weapons.
But Obama made conflicting statements in Prague, and his foreign policy is similarly characterized by contradictory positions,
emphasizing the importance of diplomacy while relying heavily on the use of force.
Continuity of “National Security” Doctrines
In Prague, Obama made a welcome acknowledgement that
“as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act” for their elimination.
Encouragingly, he declared: “To put an end to Cold War thinking, we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, and urge others to do the same.”
But this was followed with: “As long as these weapons exist, the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary, and guarantee that defense to our allies.”
This disclaimer reflects the influence of a massive powerful military-industrial complex that has perpetuated the role of nuclear weapons as the cornerstone of U.S. national security policy for 64 years.
What does deterrence mean in U.S. doctrine? A typical definition appears in a September 2008 Defense Department report: “Though our consistent goal has been to avoid actual weapons use,
the nuclear deterrent is ‘used’ every day by assuring friends and allies, dissuading opponents from seeking peer capabilities to the United States,
deterring attacks on the United States and its allies from potential adversaries, and providing the potential to defeat adversaries if deterrence fails.”
In other words, the U.S. uses the threat of nuclear attack the way a bank robber holds a gun to the head of a teller. In his 2007 book,
“Empire and the Bomb: How the U.S. Uses Nuclear Weapons to Dominate the World,” Joseph Gerson documented at least 30 occasions since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
when every U.S. President has prepared or threatened to initiate nuclear war. The policy of nuclear deterrence is not passive and it is not benign.
While the personality at the top of the U.S. government has changed, the architecture and special interests that underpin it have not.
Today, the U.S. spends nearly as much as the rest of the world’s countries combined on its military.
The Pentagon maintains some 1,000 overseas bases in over 130 countries. The U.S. military dominates the globe through its operation of 10 Unified Combatant Commands whose areas
of operation cover the entire Earth. The U.S. is building new bases in Colombia, and as additional troops are sent to Afghanistan, it will build more bases there.
And the U.S. is the only nation that deploys nuclear weapons on foreign soil, at NATO bases in five European countries.
Power and Influence of Entrenched Interests
Against this backdrop,
influential members of the nuclear establishment are engaged in a full court press to ensure that even Obama’s modest first steps to reestablish traditional arms control are doomed to fail.
For example, the Commission established by Congress to give advice on the forthcoming Nuclear Posture Review, in May 2009 reported: “The United States requires a stockpile of nuclear weapons
that is safe, secure, and reliable, and whose threatened use in military conflict would be credible… The conditions that might make the elimination of nuclear weapons possible are not present today
and establishing such conditions would require a fundamental transformation of the world political order.”
Almost as if to ensure that such conditions are not created, the Senate
in 2009, with bi-partisan support, adopted an amendment to the 2010 Defense
Authorization Bill calling on the President to assure that the U.S.-Russia
START follow-on treaty does not limit U.S. ballistic missile defense systems,
space capabilities, or advanced conventional weapons systems. Yet these
are precisely the issues that Russia has raised as impediments to deeper
nuclear arms reductions. Another amendment requires the President to deliver
a plan to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Similar anti-disarmament conditions will likely be attached to Senate ratification of the Comprehensive
Test Ban Treaty, rendering its historic intent mute and making it even
more unlikely that other holdout states will ratify the treaty.
According to proponents, maintaining a “credible” U.S. deterrent will
require a massive investment in the nuclear weapons infrastructure. In
March 2008, General Kevin Chilton, Commander of Strategic Command, in charge
of U.S. nuclear war planning, told Congress: “A revitalized infrastructure….
will allow us to sustain our nuclear capability and expertise throughout
the 21st Century.”
In November 2009, Chilton predicted the United States will need nuclear
weapons 40 years into the future: “The President himself has said such
a world [without nuclear weapons] will not be reached quickly and perhaps
not in his lifetime and I agree with that…. It’s not because we couldn’t
physically cut up every weapon in the world in 40 years. We could… The question is would it be a safer world if we did.” Quoting from Obama’s Prague speech, General Chilton said his Command must focus on “the President’s confirmation that as long as nuclear weapons exist the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary and to guarantee that defense to our allies.”
To this end, in September 2009, Congress voted to spend $6.4 billion in
Fiscal Year 2010 －slightly more than in 2009－ to maintain and enhance the
U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. This includes an upgrade to the W76 warhead
carried aboard the 14 U.S. Trident submarines currently patrolling the
world’s oceans. The W76 is being given a new capacity to destroy “hard
targets,” making it more suitable for a first-strike. It also includes
funding to study modernization of the B61 bomb and plan for a “long-term
21st century weapon.” And it increases funding for production of plutonium
pits ‐ the cores of hydrogen bombs.
Perhaps even more dangerous than nuclear warhead modifications, are upgrades
to delivery systems for conventional weapons. According to General Chilton:
“We have a prompt global strike delivery capability on alert today, but it is configured
only with nuclear weapons, which limits the options available to the President
and may in some cases reduce the credibility of our deterrence.”
In response, the Pentagon is poised to begin development of a new generation of long range delivery systems capable of carrying conventional warheads that would allow the United States to strike any
target on earth within an hour. Those at the receiving end would have no way of knowing if the incoming missile was nuclear or conventional, and if they had a nuclear capability they would probably unleash it.
Russian security analysts have raised concerns that these conventional U.S. “alternatives” to nuclear weapons might pose an obstacle to U.S. －Russian nuclear arms control negotiations.
According to Alexi Arbatov, a scholar at the Carnegie Moscow Center: “There are very few countries in the world that are afraid of American nuclear weapons. But there are many countries
which are afraid of American conventional weapons. In particular, nuclear weapons states like China and Russia are primarily concerned about growing American conventional, precision-guided,
long-range capability.” Arbatov added that “threshold states” with potential for developing nuclear weapons are similarly concerned about U.S. conventional capabilities.
Paradoxically, Robert Einhorn, Special Advisor for Nonproliferation and Arms Control to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, remarked in 2007: “We should be putting far more effort into developing
more effective conventional weapons. It’s hard to imagine a president using nuclear weapons under almost any circumstance, but no one doubts our willingness to use conventional weapons.”
This statement, unfortunately, is all too true. But an even more overpowering conventional U.S. military threat surely is not the desired outcome of the nuclear disarmament process. Moreover,
how would potential adversaries with fewer economic resources respond? Wouldn’t they have an incentive to maintain or acquire nuclear weapons to counter U.S. conventional military superiority?
And wouldn’t that, in turn, entrench U.S. determination to retain and modernize its own nuclear arsenal, thus rendering the goal of nuclear disarmament nearly impossible?
This conundrum is one of the biggest challenges we face.
In a profoundly disturbing speech to the U.S. Institute of Peace on October 21 2009, Secretary of State Clinton said: “We are sincere in our pursuit of a secure peaceful world without nuclear weapons.
But until we reach that point of the horizon where the last nuclear weapon has been eliminated, we need to reinforce the domestic consensus that America will maintain the nuclear infrastructure
needed to sustain a safe and effective deterrent without nuclear testing.” Citing General Chilton, she added: “This is what the military leaders, charged with responsibility for our strategic
deterrent, need in order to defend our country.”
Asking the Hard Questions
Some commentators have characterized Obama’s pledge to “to seek the peace
and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” as unprecedented. Yet
in the NPT itself, the U.S. and the other original nuclear weapon states
pledged to negotiate in good faith the elimination of their nuclear arsenals. So, 40 years later, and 20
years after the end of the Cold War, why are nuclear weapons still with
us? Who benefits from them? If the most powerful military force in history
insists that it still needs nuclear weapons to defend itself, how can we
realistically expect less powerful states to forgo them? These are the
difficult questions we must ask in order to figure out what it will take
to get rid of the ultimate weapons of mass destruction.
While I don’t have all the answers, I’ve come to believe that we can no longer approach the abolition of nuclear weapons as a single issue. In order to succeed, we’ll need to address
interconnected issues of militarization, globalization, and the economy. And we’ll need to build a movement that brings together the very diverse constituencies that make up the vast majority
of the world’s population that does not benefit from the permanent war system. In order to attract these constituencies we’ll need to develop an alternative vision of “human” security
to replace the outmoded, unsustainable and fundamentally undemocratic concept of “national” security through overwhelming military might.
In a time of twin global economic and environmental crises and growing
competition over natural resources, the dangers of conflicts among nuclear-armed
states are increasing. We can’t afford to wait decades more for the elimination
of nuclear weapons. Seriously moving toward abolition of nuclear weapons
will require taking on other challenges as well, but this is not a reason
to delay any longer delegitimizing deterrence and eliminating the role of nuclear weapons in national security policies.
“Nuclear disarmament should serve as the leading edge of a global trend
toward demilitarization and redirecting resources to meet human needs and
restore the environment.”
|Ms.Cabasso introduces Mayor Akiba at the May 1, 2005 rally in Central Park in New York City, on the eve of the 2005 NPT Review Conference.
| This is the mission statement adopted by a growing international civil society campaign preparing for the May 2010 NPT Review Conference. Initiated by Japanese non-governmental organizations, and supported by Mayors for Peace, groups around the world are collecting millions of signatures on petitions calling on NPT members to commence negotiations on a treaty to eliminate nuclear weapons within a timebound framework, and making plans to converge in New York City for a major conference, march and rally May 1 and 2.
President Obama needs our help to earn his Nobel Peace Prize! It is up to all of us to create the political will that will make meaningful progress on disarmament possible.
(Contributed in January 2010)
Jacqueline Cabasso, executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation in Oakland, California, is a founder of the Abolition 2000 Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons
and steering committee member of United for Peace and Justice. An expert advisor to the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation and North American Coordinator for Mayors for Peace,
she received the International Peace Bureau’s 2008 Sean MacBride Peace Award.