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A Modest Step on Nuclear Weapons

April 6, 2010

The Obama administration chose to release a new nuclear weapons strategy document on the one year anniversary of the president’s historic Prague speech calling for a world free of nuclear weapons.

While the review has been characterized in some press reports as a big step forward (“Obama Limits When Nuclear Weapons Would Be Used“), other reports (“Obama appears to be backing off promise to take nation’s nuclear weapons off “hair-trigger alert”) describe the president as retreating from his promise of dramatic steps to work for a world free of nuclear weapons.

To make some sense of all this, I checked in with FCNL’s David Culp this morning:

The policy is modest incremental step in the right direction. We had hoped for bolder steps, but nuclear weapons supporters still control the Pentagon.

Personally, I’m pretty disappointed that President Obama didn’t go further. But David points out that if the Pentagon had written this policy themselves “it would have been much worse.” David’s sources tell him that the president intervened at the last minute and re-wrote key parts of the policy himself. Specifically, the president took his red pen and added a provision saying that the U.S. would not use nuclear weapons on any signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty — the Pentagon didn’t even want to go that far.

So another case of the glass half full?

  1. Ellen N. Duell permalink
    April 6, 2010 10:18 am

    I think this step is good. Glad to know that Pres. Obama did intervene and added that the U.S. would not attack any signatories to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty!

    I do not support the continued existence of any nuclear weapons, much less even the idea of deploying them on any persons or on any part of this planet. They must all be thoroughly dismantled.

    Also, maintaining a “first alert” system is unconscionable. What it means is that the U.S. is maintaining “order”, not peace, under threat of anihilation of others. Where is the recognition of good diplomacy in that??!! We have no interests–I repeat, NO interests, that are not also the best interests of the whole world. All else is greed and foolhardiness. We are one of the peoples of the world, only one, and should never be in competition for life. Cooperation in sustainable living is what is needed–and the “first alert” system, and expensive weaponry, denies even basic supplies for life to many people on earth.

  2. Helen Shane permalink
    April 6, 2010 12:42 pm

    I am a lifetime liberal. When I was younger, I demanded the most liberal policies be put in place NOW. And we need people to do that, to counteract extreme conservative views. I have, fairly recently, come to regard Obama and his like as more apt to be successful in their (our) endeavors. Negotiations, whether with the US congress or with foreign nations, are, indeed, the art of the possble. I think Obama has a pretty good sense of “the possible”. So I approve of this move, with the belief that it will be improved upon with time.

  3. Jo Aelfwine permalink
    April 6, 2010 12:44 pm

    Finally a President who puts Right above Might! And a quote from Carl Sagan: The nuclear arms race is like two sworn enemies standing waist deep in gasoline, one with three matches, the other with five.

  4. Rita Bott permalink
    April 6, 2010 12:51 pm

    I believe President Obama always speaks for peace and does what he can to make a world that will respect all its people. He is being bombarded on every issue by the other party that has no such inclinations to help others in the world unless there is something in it for them.
    I hope that FCNL will find many opportunities to support President Obama and let him know that we are there and understand.

  5. Robert R. Holt permalink
    April 6, 2010 1:10 pm

    The step taken by Mr. Obama is indeed in the right direction and about as minimal as possible. We need to learn who in the defense establishment believes that our security would be worsened by taking nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert, and how they justify such a counter-intuitive (actually, irrational) stance. s there no way to expose these people if it isIf possible, FCNL’s experts and those of other groups like FAS and UCS should engage them in dialogue, ideally public. Otherwise, is there no way to expose these people?

  6. April 6, 2010 1:20 pm

    I trust my president, Barack Obama, because he is an intelligent reasonable person a and “LISTENS” to ALL sides before he jumps into anything. He’s always moving , working and paying attention to what is happening in our world ! I prowdly voted for him realizing he knows much more than I do about his job and that ” he will do the right thing!” Sincerely, PS: I like his track record !

  7. Ben H White permalink
    April 6, 2010 1:31 pm

    Pledging “no first use” and working with the other nuclear nations towards zero weapons per country makes a credible stance towards Iran and those other wannabees. Lecturing and censuring Iran makes no sense otherwise.

  8. Margaret Knight permalink
    April 6, 2010 2:14 pm

    We should not only limit nuclear arms but abolish all our nuclear arms and depleted uranium weapons. Depleted uranium is radio active, very strong and used in bomb and shell casings. On impact these bombs and shells scatter radio active debris. We bombed and shelled Iraq so much that there is now an epidemic of birth defects and childhood cancers. One hospital reported 2 to 3 cases of birth defects a day. Iraqi women in Fallujah, heavily shelled by us in 2004, are urged not to have children. Isn’t this a case of crimes against humanity?

  9. Don McNeill permalink
    April 6, 2010 2:42 pm

    Many steps toward nuclear arms reduction are the prerogative of the US president, without a need to consult congress. But Obama has done nothing– US nuclear weapons are still on hair trigger alert (why?), new weapons manufacturing plants are in the planning, the US nuclear “shield” is expanding to new countries and purposes, and weapons development/modernization continues with new schemes afoot.

    There is no sign whatever that the US will pursue its obligations under the Nonproliferation Treaty (to reduce its nuclear armaments) or ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). On the latter Bill Clinton didn’t do his homework (particularly in the US Senate, where ratification was defeated in 1999), and Obama is not doing his.

    Since 1945, the possibility of progress toward the control or elimination of nuclear weapons has depended on the United States. This was clear in the Acheson-Lilienthal report of 1946, which dealt with all the problems we face today with nuclear weapons, except now the technology is far cheaper and universally available. Over that time the US has never in any way relinquished its own sovereign reliance on nuclear weapons or given serious evidence of regarding its own activities as a problem in the world. The US has been the leader, by example and by technology, in the proliferation of nuclear weaponry. (This is widely referred to as “vertical” proliferation– the expansion of nuclear weaponry by the major nuclear powers.)

    Recall how North Korea (and most of its predecessors in the acquisition of nuclear weapons) got new respect from Uncle Sam after it exploded a nuclear weapon in 2006. It may have been small, nearly a dud, but that test confirms a long standing point: from the standpoint of US policy makers, nuclear weapons work well. The US bullying of North Korea came to a sudden halt. Other countries have noticed and acted accordingly (with “horizontal” proliferation to new countries, of which we hear far more from the American authorities than their own behavior justifies).

    Does Obama expect others (such as Britain, for example) to accept the reduction or abandonment of their nuclear weapons if the US won’t lead in doing so? My guess, he doesn’t and he won’t. He has to go much farther than the new START agreement and today’s Nuclear Posture Review Report. This may simply confirm the US government’s addiction to nuclear weapons, something into which an ignorant Obama stepped in January 2009

    But his posh speeches combined with his inaction thoroughly confirm his continuity with the policies of his predecessors. The “negative assurance” proclaimed by the president earlier this week and in the new nuclear posture review is no more reassuring to the world than the previous policy.

  10. Sister Elizabeth Hillmann permalink
    April 6, 2010 2:45 pm

    small step but too small. I have opposed nuclear weapons since August 1945 when I was an Army Nurse. Now that i am handicapped I am glad to have the opportunity to oppose any nuclear weapons.

  11. Jennifer Blakeney permalink
    April 6, 2010 2:46 pm

    I agree that President Obama made only a small step, but given the sluggishness of our democracy and the fears we are innundated with, I believe Obama actually made a large and very brave step. I am also uplifted by this effort to maintain his campaign promise. Hopefully, with this limit on nuclear threats, our nation and the world will see that we can begin such movements toward abolition of nuclear weapons.

  12. Joan Sage permalink
    April 6, 2010 2:46 pm

    The millions of Japanese people did not deserve to be nuked and there is never an excuse for using
    bombs even on so-called enemy regimes. Only diplomacy can win the hearts and minds of people.
    That goes for occupying foreign countries like Iraq and Afghanistan–that must end as well.

  13. Greg Woz permalink
    April 6, 2010 3:01 pm

    Dear President Obama,

    You are not keeping the promises of your Elaction Platform. WHY?

  14. joy m. brown permalink
    April 6, 2010 3:04 pm

    About time and a good beginning.

  15. Adele Kushner permalink
    April 6, 2010 4:05 pm

    I am an FDR liberal, so I have seniority!
    President Obama has done fairly well but he has not pushed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty which should have priority. We have no need of nuclear weapons of any kind, per the Carl Sagan philosophy: Who is safer when surrounded by a pool of gasoline, he who has 5 matches or he who has only 3?
    We have grandchildren who need to be protected, so the new health care bill is an improvement but could still include the public option for further protection.
    I hope more improvements are on the way!

  16. Sally Bishop Merrill permalink
    April 6, 2010 5:05 pm

    All public policy is incremental, except violent revolutions, and they usually move us into chaos and back to worse tyrants, at least temporarily. Thus, I find this increment praiseworthy, and would hope it is part of a PROCESS of change toward total decommissioning of nukes, both civilian and military, one fine day. This might go hand in hand with alternative, diverse, locally sited and controlled energy production. Progress, not perfection! …. but we must insist on continuing this progress in true diplomacy, creative dialogues and exchanges, and all various strategies except sending soldiers again to destroy.

  17. Genet permalink
    April 6, 2010 5:16 pm

    I think President Obama is steering the country in the right direction. I agree that the move he has made so far whether in reforming the health care, or the effort to reduce the threat of Nuclear weapons, is not enough. However, they are good bold first steps that can be improved. Unlike the Republicans whose only job has become hurling venomous rhetoric at him, he is cautiously and brilliantly working to restore the image of the United States. America has a long way to go before all its blemishes are removed and Obama is courageous enough to begin that job.

  18. A.C. Cuppy permalink
    April 6, 2010 9:17 pm

    To upgrade and even replace with newer nukes is NO REDUCTION. Tat’s a farse!! ACC

  19. Vietnam Vet permalink
    April 6, 2010 9:17 pm

    More foolish appeasement for his terrorist allies.

  20. Sister Elizabeth Rogers permalink
    April 6, 2010 9:26 pm

    President Obama’s Prague speech and his recent agreement with the Russian leaders is heartening. If he pushes as hard for nuclear disarmament as he has for health care reform, I think that he will be faithful to his promises and be doing what is possible in the present climate. Anything depending upon Congressional approval will probably meet a stone wall; but since he is commander-in-chief and has ultimate responsibility for our foreign policy, I hope that he will prevail over the Pentagon’s pull in the opposite direction, an of mosd gain full support from the State dept. In the UN meetings also, coming up very soon, I fervently hope that the U.S. will support any possible moves toward taking weapons off hair-trigger alert and eventual disarmament. This is an urgent matter, that usually remains below the radar screen for most of us.

  21. April 7, 2010 12:15 am

    We must continue to work for our top priority of nuclear weapons abolition. Mr. Obama spoke of a world without nuclear weapons (although not within his lifetime). These weapons can be eliminated within the next decade if a worldwide movement demands it of our leaders. We need to contact them during this week and continue to advocate nuclear abolition through the Nonproliferation Treaty negotiations at the UN this June. We need to keep our eyes on the prize of a world without wars in which nonviolent means are used to achieve a just global peace.

  22. Marcello J. Rossano permalink
    April 7, 2010 11:31 am

    Your organization can do the American public a great service by informing it as to what a Post-Nuclear Strike environment would look like in the United States. The traumatic effects of 9/11 would be multiplied to the fourth power, at least. We still have crazies in the Pentagon who believe we could survive a nuclear strike. A graphic description of the aftermath would convince the public and our gullible legislators that that is an insane position to take. Studies have been made in the Pentagon and conveniently buried. The devestation would be beyond comprehension. Our nation would never be the same again. The impact on the rest of the world would be just as devestating in terms of the chaos it would unloose as well as contamination of the atmosphere, etc. Please undertake this mission as the public must know.

  23. April 7, 2010 12:59 pm

    Three cheers for President Obama. I truly feel that we finally have a president with an earnest resolve towards a more peaceful world – use the art of “soft power”.

    The resolve to accomplish to accomplish goals is most important. When one earnestly puts one’s mind to something, one’s brain, body, environment – everything – will start working toward achieving that end.

    The resolve that President Obama presently has will surely lead us to a more peaceful world, hopefully, a world free of nuclear weapons. He needs to know that he has our continued support in this effort.

    Thanks to All.


  24. April 7, 2010 7:52 pm

    The glass is half full, but we need to keep the pressure on Obama and others to get fully rid of our nuclear stockpile. That is apparently Obama’s long term goal. Why not now?

  25. April 11, 2010 1:15 pm

    I am impressed by the comments. I am new to FCNL and like it more all the time. Where else do readers provide overwhelmingly high quality comments.
    Anyone else interested in using 4th generation reactors to consume nuclear weapons material and nuclear waste? This could potentially eliminate both theats forever.

  26. Claudia Rushlow permalink
    April 11, 2010 10:17 pm

    Good to have this document signed by the leaders of these 2 world powers. Now what we need is to have it pass in congress. That will be no small fete, considering the Pentagon’s influence. I can’t believe that ordinary people would tolerate the millions spent on over-kill.

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