statism watch

Barack Obama to limit use of US nuclear weapons


Well, that’s good to know. Did the US ever plan on nuking small state actors foolish enough to lob a few slings and arrows its way? It seems unlikely as the global outrage would have been magnitudes of intensity higher than the sort of present languid disapproval of the expanding war in Iraq/Afghanistan/Pakistan we’ve seen. However, this all begins to look a little more like an attempt to preemptively claim the moral high ground on both sides when one recalls the fact that Iran affirmed a desire for nuclear disarmament a month and a half ago – the same day that Russia announced continued sales of defensive conventional SA missiles to Iran in support of the Iranian domestic nuclear program. Anyways, it remains to be seen what will come of this, there are a lot of pieces in play. At least it has the appearance of a virtuous circle – a disarmament race would be a welcome change from the usual. So let’s practice a little prescriptive optimism today (in defiance of all rational expectation.)

Update (same day): Ah. The CBC is now reporting that US Defence Secretary (and former CIA head) Robert Gates has announced that “the policy, known as the Nuclear Posture Review, would not apply to North Korea, Iran or other countries that refuse to co-operate with the international community on nonproliferation standards.” So it’s just more of the sort of political maneuvering we saw in the lead-up to the Iraq war.

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Mark Tran, The Guardian
April 6, 2010

Revamped strategy to rule out use of atomic weapons in response to attacks from non-nuclear states

The US will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states that comply with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, even if it is attacked with biological or chemical weapons, Barack Obama is expected to announce today.

However, the US president is expected to stop short of declaring that the US would never be the first to launch a nuclear attack, as many arms control advocates had recommended.

Obama will describe the purpose of weapons as “primarily” or “fundamentally” to deter or respond to a nuclear attack. But even as he limits the conditions for a nuclear strike, the president will make an exception for states such as Iran and North Korea, which have violated or renounced the NPT.

In an interview with the New York Times, before today’s unveiling of the new US nuclear strategy, Obama described his policy as part of a broader effort to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons.

Obama can expect an onslaught from conservatives who believe that such an approach undermines US national security. At the other end of the spectrum, liberals will be disappointed that he stops short of renouncing the first-strike option altogether.

“We are going to want to make sure that we can continue to move towards less emphasis on nuclear weapons,” Obama told the New York Times, “while making sure that our conventional weapons capability is an effective deterrent in all but the most extreme circumstances”.

There are five declared nuclear states: the US, Britain, France, Russia and China. Three states with nuclear weapons have refused to sign the NPT — India, Pakistan and Israel — and North Korea renounced the treaty in 2003.

Iran remains a signatory, but the UN security council has repeatedly found it in violation of its obligations, because it has hidden nuclear plants and refused to answer questions about allegations that it was working on a warhead.

The new strategy, known as the nuclear posture review, comes amid a flurry of nuclear diplomacy. Obama plans to fly to Prague to sign a new arms control agreement with Russia on Thursday to slash nuclear arsenals by a third. The following week, he will host 47 world leaders in Washington for a summit meeting on nuclear security.

Obama’s new strategy marks a break with the Bush administration’s more hawkish policy set out in its 2002 review, threatening the use of nuclear weapons to pre-empt or respond to chemical or biological attack, even from non-nuclear countries.

Those threats, Obama said, could be deterred with “a series of graded options” — a combination of old and newly -designed conventional weapons. In another departure from his predecessor, Obama will commit the US to no new atomic arms development, US officials said.

The US will, however, increase investment in upgrading its weapons infrastructure, which one White House official said would “facilitate further nuclear reductions”.

In line with an in-depth review of US nuclear weapons policy, the administration also hopes to persuade Russia to agree to open talks on mutual cuts in nuclear arsenals that go beyond the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start) treaty to be signed in Prague.

The White House hopes to overcome Russia’s expressed reluctance to move beyond Start, signed at the end of the cold war in 1991 and which expired in December, especially if it means cutting Moscow’s arsenal of tactical, or short-range nuclear arms. Russia considers these so-called theatre nuclear weapons vital to its defence strategy and an important bargaining chip on security issues.

“We are going to pursue opportunities for further reductions in our nuclear posture, working in tandem with Russia but also working in tandem with Nato as a whole,” Obama told the New York Times.

An early test will be the estimated 200 tactical nuclear weapons — considered largely obsolete — the US still has stationed in western Europe. Russia has called for their removal, but Obama said he wanted to consult his Nato allies before such a commitment.

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