President Obama’s plan for America to take drastic new steps toward nuclear disarmament has suffered a bit of a delay. But this spring, a year after the president unfolded his vision of a nuclear-free world during a speech in Prague, Obama’s plan will finally come into effect. Within several weeks, the White House will present a new strategy in the so-called Nuclear Posture Review.
According to the New York Times, Obama plans for a large-scale and permanent reduction in arsenals. Thousands of nuclear warheads will have to be dismantled.
Russia also seems to want to participate. Both powers — after years of frustrations on each side by the unilateral policies of Bush and the recalcitrant politics of Putin — have now almost agreed on a new strategic nuclear weapons treaty.
U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe could be involved in this reduction, partly because these nuclear warheads are no longer of great importance and carry mainly a political connotation. The dismantling of the nuclear depots in Germany, Italy, Holland, Belgium and even Turkey is primarily an American affair, which the European partners have little influence over.
Obama’s initiatives can only be applauded. The current concept of nuclear deterrence and balance, which stems from the Cold War era when power blocks opposed each other, has become outdated. The proliferation of nuclear weapons to fickle countries like North Korea and Iran demands a more flexible answer. Therefore, the White House will most likely, despite pressure from the progressive corner of Obama’s Democratic Party, not stick to the promise that the United States will never use nuclear weapons first.
The same goes for the defense against biological and chemical weapons systems. Therefore, in the concept that is now in the works, conventional weapons have become more important. Technology has now advanced so far that non-nuclear weapons can be an answer to nuclear arsenals, and certainly also to the chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction.
In Obama’s new strategy, the conventional Prompt Global Strike, which must have as much firepower as the former nuclear first-strike plan, seems to become crucial.
Deterrence remains a key part of the American defense strategy, although it will no longer be solely nuclear. The boundary between the classic nuclear bombs and modern conventional weapons systems is thus diffused. Erasing this line is not without risk. A new conventional weapons race is threatening. But that could also be announced without Obama’s nuclear reduction plan. The cynic would say that the American president is only doing half the work. But doing half the work is preferable to doing no work at all.