Many of us, even Obama himself, thought the Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize Committee awarded him the price prematurely. But by signing a landmark strategic nuclear disarmament treaty with Russia he is actually beginning to live up to the committees expectations.
Start II, signed by Obama and Medvedev, a few days ago is a step in the right direction. The arms treaty, if ratified, will cut strategic nuclear arsenals deployed by the former Cold War enemies by 30 percent within seven years, but still leave each with enough power to destroy the other. It also re-establishes an inspection regime that lapsed in December and could serve as a foundation for deeper reductions later.
Obama has spoken vividly about his vision of a world without nuclear weapons. It is a laudable goal that will unfortunately not be achieved during his presidency. Probably not for a long time after that either. But Obama is taking important steps to make the world a safer place and increase US credibility as it tries to constrain the nuclear ambitions of Iran, North Korea and others.
Signing the treaty confirms that Russia and the US, with 95 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, are taking their disarmament obligations seriously. It will also put the two presidents in a better position to put pressure on Iran, North Korea and other countries attempting to build up nuclear arsenals not complying with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Or as Obama himself put it “We are working together at the United Nations Security Council to pass strong sanctions on Iran and we will not tolerate actions that flout the NPT,”.
The treaty is the first major step of a “reset” announced by the administration a year ago and welcomed by Moscow after nearly a decade of deteriorating ties. The Kremlin’s top foreign policy adviser called it “a huge event that will have an extremely profound and positive effect on the way our countries deal with many other issues.”
The signing is a diplomatic achievement for Obama and a chance to portray the United States as a constructive global leader after years of dismay at U.S. foreign policy. It puts some substance behind Obama’s pledge to seek “the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons”.
Obama and Medvedev seek even deeper cuts in nuclear weapons than what they signed last week, but such an agreement will be much harder to reach. Unfortunately we can not un-do the invention of nuclear arms and in the world as it is it will be difficult to make further reductions, let alone abolish, nuclear arms.
Already JFK and Chrustjov were sleepless during the Cuba crisis 50 years ago worrying about the prospect of a nuclear war wiping out hundreds of thousands of people, or more. Today the world has even more nuclear weapons and the prospect of an armageddon is much higher. Consequently Mr. Obama has wisely made the prevention of nuclear terrorism and proliferation a central strategic priority. And the administration decision to lead by example by even stating that the US “will not develop new nuclear warheads” is commendable.
Mr. Medvedev called the treaty “a truly historic event” that would “open a new page” in Russian-American relations. “What matters most is that this is a win-win situation,” he said. “No one stands to lose from this agreement. I believe that this is a typical feature of our cooperation. Both parties have won.”
President Obama’s far-sighted initiative in trying to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons by reducing their number and proliferation and by stating that the United States will not retaliate with nuclear weapons against nonnuclear countries should go a long way toward preventing a nuclear armageddon. Combined with vigilance, the policies are worthy actions of a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. One New York Times reader got it right when he wrote “Hail to Presidents Obama and Medvedev for inking an agreement to end the production of nuclear weapons and eventually abolish them”. Most of us would like that to happen, and the new treaty is a step in the right direction.
Photo: Flickr – Mika V. Stetsovsky