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They did not find the reset button

July 13, 2009

Maybe we had expected too much. There had been so many promises. In his speech in Prague in April President Obama said: “So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons”.

That is, Obama had chosen the Road to Zero nuclear weapons. Did he discuss this with the Russian President Medvedev? No sign of that.

Another chance: ”… to cut off the building blocks needed for a bomb, the United States will seek a new treaty that verifiably ends the production of fissile materials intended for use in state nuclear weapons”.

Russia and the USA are here basically in agreement. Obama and Medvedev could have scored an easy point:
We will cooperate and make this reality.

President Obama further promised in Prague: Today, I am announcing a new international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years. We will set new standards, expand our cooperation with Russia, and pursue new partnerships to lock down these sensitive materials

Here USA and Russia are since ten years or more cooperating in securing nuclear weapons and fissile material in Russia. They now agreed to cooperate to secure the weapon grades uranium globally and to reduce their stock of plutonium. Good, and important. But will there be a treaty, or just a declaration of intent?

Further: 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.

It would have been great if Russia had conceded this point. A general statement of good intentions could have been achieved. There are no sign that Russia will make any concrete steps in this direction. A statement on the need to decrease readiness of strategic weapons (”High Alert”) should have been made.

So we have reason to be disappointed.

But the Presidents agreed to decrease the number of strategic nuclear warheads and missiles. Not that much, and no statement that this was a step in the March to Zero. At least there is an agreement that there will be a new treaty, a new Start, on reductions with ”trust and verify”, with transparency and inspections. A very small step for mankind. It seems the next little step after this tune will be taken in just a few years time.

It could have been much worse. Before the meeting the President’s adviser on Relations with Russia, Michael McFaul, made an ominous statement: “We do not need the Russians.” Several US experts on foreign policy had also criticized the President for his naïve hopes for deep reductions in the nuclear arsenal and ultimate abolition. President Obama will face a difficult opposition at home for the small steps taken.

And what about the Russians? For long before the meeting they have demanded an end to the development of Missile Defence in Europe. They are very concerned about NATO moving even closer to Russia if Georgia, Ukraine, Finland and Sweden become members. Furthermore, the “strategic imbalance”, the enormous superiority of USA and NATO in conventional weapons, makes Russia unwilling to give up more of its nuclear deterrent.

And here is the core of the problem. The Russians see the Star Wars, and the European Missile Defence, as an attempt by USA to maintain a First Strike capacity. USA, with its 14 submarines patrolling with unknown positions in the deep oceans, carrying most of the US strategic missiles, may have an ability to destroy 90% or more of the Russian strategic nuclear forces in an all out strike. The remaining few Russian missiles will be stopped by the US Interceptors, guided by the Missile Defence radars and computers. That’s what Star War is for, the Russians say.

It is unlikely that the Russians will join with the USA on the Road to Zero nuclear weapons if the US is not willing to negotiate on these points. That’s where the Reset button is.

We re awaiting the Nuclear Posture Review with great interest. Will there be anything left from the Prague speech?

Let’s hope President Obama gives evidence that he has understood that any use of nuclear weapons by a state is potentially a suicide, because of the climate consequences. Victory in a nuclear war is suicide.

Let’s hope this, at least this, will remain: : 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.

Gunnar Westberg

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