A Return to Nuclear Arms Control

Obama says zero nuclear weapons is an (eventual) objective of US policy and that he will seek US ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. This is a greater reversal of Bush foreign and security policies than we have so far seen.

In his Prague speech, President Obama has made the most substantial reversal of Bush national security policies yet announced. He has announced that the (eventual) goal of US policy will be a world without nuclear weapons, and that to this end the US will not only seek major nuclear arsenal reductions in conjunction with Russia but that his administration will seek US ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban treaty (which is by no means a foregone conclusion in the US Senate.) Accounting for all fissile material is recognized as the essential step to making possible a world without nuclear weapons, and to controlling proliferation while on the road to such a world.

President Obama is clearly returning to the bargain explicitly stated in the Non-Proliferation Treaty, by which the nuclear powers would commit to disarmament. The reversal from the Bush administration’s rejection of arms control could not be more stark.

In the past, the US nuclear weapons laboratories have succeeded in extracting a heavy price in terms of additional spending on “safeguards” in exchange for progress on arms control. A dramatically smaller stockpile should allow our weapons engineers to maintain the reliability of current US weapons types for some time, especially since their role as a deterrent under current conditions does not require the extreme reliability or ability to operate in extreme environments that were written into weapons requirements at the height of the cold war. The Congress should recognize that a push to develop new weapons types would go against Obama’s reasoned goal of reducing the role of nuclear weapons in international politics, and that any possible trigger for doing so should be predicated on actual need and relegated to the indefinite future.