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Obama’s Nuclear Credibility Gap

A month ago, writing in the New York Times about the economy and the escalating war in Afghanistan, Bob Herbert warned President Obama that he was developing a "credibility gap." Now, the advance advertising designed to help launch the president's Nuclear Posture Review and the stalled negotiations with Russia on the START 1 Follow On Treaty are leading people around the world to ask their version of "Where's the beef?" The administration's policies and actions are severely undermining its commitment to non-proliferation and its promise of working to create a "nuclear weapons free world."

First some background: Forty years ago today the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty went into force. It rests on three pillars: With the exceptions of Israel, India and Pakistan, the (then) non-nuclear powers foreswore ever joining the nuclear club. In exchange, in Article IV, they were guaranteed the right to necessary technologies for nuclear power generation for peaceful purposes (a serious flaw in the Treaty) and in Article VI that the nuclear powers would engage in "good faith" negotiations to completely eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

Unfortunately, the nuclear powers, led by the United States have not kept their part of the bargain. As former Deputy Secretary of Defense and CIA Director John Deutch once put it, "The United States never intended, nor does it intend now, to implement Article VI. That's just something you have to say to get what you want out of a conference." This approach, plus that fact that U.S. presidents have prepared and threatened to initiate nuclear war at least 40 times during international crises and wars (most recently in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the "all options on the table" threats against Iran, has been the driving force of nuclear weapons proliferation.

Among the disasters visited upon the United States and the world by the Bush-Cheney government was its sabotage of the 2005 NPT Review conference. The Review, conducted every five years at the United Nations, provides an opportunity for the world's nations the ability to press for more intrusive inspections, and thus control over, the world's nuclear power plants to prevent non-nuclear nations from becoming nuclear powers. It also affords the vast majority of the world's nations to press for implementation of Article VI. During its eight years in office, the Bush-Cheney Administration failed to implement any of the 13 disarmament steps agreed to during the 2000 Review Conference, and delirious with its "romance of ruthlessness" -- in this case believing that the U.S. could militarily enforce non-proliferation - it refused to agree to an agenda for the 2005 Review Conference until it was half completed and then prevented the Conference from reaching any agreements.

The failure of the 2005 NPT Review Conference placed the NPT, and thus the non-proliferation order, in jeopardy, thus increasing the nuclear dangers faced by the United States and other nations. Elite figures, from George Shultz and Henry Kissinger to presidential candidates Barack Obama, John Edwards and Bill Richardson responded by attempting to regain U.S. legitimacy and leverage in this coming May's NPT Review Conference by calling for significant reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal and a reaffirmation of the United States' commitment to fulfill its Article VI obligations.

Since his election, especially with his speeches in Prague and last September at the United Nations, President Obama raised the world's hopes that under his leadership we could finally free ourselves from the nuclear sword of Damocles. Now he appears to be having second thoughts, and as the president's nuclear security conference" with its focus on non-proliferation, not disarmament or abolition scheduled for this April, analysts, officials and activists across the United States and around the world are wondering if Obama is cleaving to the hypocritical double-standard of the last four decades.

In his National Defense University speech Vice President Biden anticipated that many committed to disarmament and the elimination of the world's nuclear arsenals would be critical of the administration's nuclear policies, and he was right. As on too many other issues, President Obama hasn't walked his talk.


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President Obama's budget calls for a 10% increase in spending to ensure the "reliability" of the nuclear weapons stockpile and an additional $2 billion dollars to modernize and expand the of country's nuclear weapons infrastructure, including more money for the weapons laboratories, to reinforce the country's ability to design, develop and maintain nuclear weapons for decades to come.

Elsewhere the START 1 Follow On negotiatons have stalled, because in violation of President George H.W. Bush's pledge to Mikhail Gorbachev not to move NATO a centimeter closer to Moscow, the U.S. is moving ahead with so-called "missile defense" deployments in the Czech Republic, Poland and Rumania. Russia sees these as shields to reinforce Washington's first strike nuclear swords.

Worse, as advertised, the Nuclear Posture Review will reiterate the United States' nuclear first strike policy, leading other nations to either maintain or develop their nuclear arsenals to deter a possible U.S. attack. And diplomatically this is hardly offset by the Posture Review's commitment to dismantle a portion of the non-deployed nuclear stockpile and not to build a new generation of nuclear weapons mis-named "Reliable Replacement Warheads."

Just as Wall Street's speculators pursued their narrow self-interests at great cost to the people of our nation and others, vested interests who accumulated power and privilege during the Cold War are jeopardizing our and the world's security as they continue to call the nuclear shots in Washington, D.C.

What is to be done? As in the civil rights, women's rights, 1980s nuclear weapons freeze and other movements for justice, peace and security, it will take people's power to prevail. And the movement to do it is being built.

In the broadest popular mobilization for nuclear weapons abolition in well over a decade, more than 250 U.S. and international organizations are preparing to send a clear message to this May's NPT Review Conference: President Obama, fulfill the U.S. commitment to Article VI. We want abolition in our lifetimes. Carrying millions of petition signatures, thousands of people from across the country and around the world -- led by the largest delegation of atom bomb survivors ever to visit the U.S. and 2,000 activists traveling from Japan -- will descend on New York for the May 2 International Day Action for a Nuclear Free Future. In the weeks that follow, we will be pressing the Review conference and making plans for the longer struggle to eliminate this omnicidal threat to life itself.

Joseph Gerson

Joseph Gerson

Dr. Joseph Gerson is Executive Director of the Campaign for Peace, Disarmament and Common Security and Vice-President of the International Peace Bureau. His most recent book is Empire and the Bomb: How the US Uses Nuclear Weapons to Dominate the World. His previous books include The Sun Never Sets and With Hiroshima Eyes.

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