O's No-Nukes Pitch Falling on Deaf Ears

There’s a lot more to President Obama’s proposal Wednesday in Berlin to cut U.S. nuclear warheads by one-third (beyond the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) if Russian President Vladimir Putin agrees to do the same.

Sure, the president believes that taking the world down the road to “nuclear zero” is possible. While a pipe-dream, a lot of people oddly believe it’s feasible, too.

So far Putin has given the idea of further nixing nukes the cold shoulder, no doubt in response to long-standing disagreements over U.S. missile defenses and more recently over efforts to oust Bashar Assad from Syria.

Then again, why would Russia agree to further cuts in its nuclear arsenal since it’s involved in a major modernization program that’s allowing it to grow — yes, grow — its nuclear forces to U.S. levels under New START?

Pretty good deal for Moscow if you think of it: The Amerikanskies cut their nukes while the Russkies get to plus-up their stockpiles to levels equal with those of Washington.

Plus, for both countries, the nuclear threat to their security is hardly getting better. Cutting warheads could be a big mistake — which brings us to the other reasons for the president’s plutonium-packed proposition.

The performance of his non-proliferation plans have been — shall we say — less than perfect. While it’s hard to believe the White House thought the Kremlin would bite, the proposal wasn’t just meant for Russia.

Obama may very well believe that if the United States shows some good will on denuclearization, others will follow our lead down the non-proliferation primrose path.

For instance, at the moment the North Koreans and Chinese are strategizing in Beijing about Pyongyang’s return to multilateral meetings on the North’s nuclear program.

Obama hopes his new no-nukes notion will kick-start talks with North Korea by indicating the United States is willing to reduce its nuclear holdings. The North should, naturally, be willing to do the same.

It also applies to Iran, where there’s been no progress over the last five years to bridle Tehran’s runaway nuclear program. Iran isn’t only continuing to enrich uranium, it’s modernizing facilities with upgraded centrifuges.

Of course, considering the lack of headway negotiating Iran’s nuclear program, with a new Iranian president recently elected, what better time than now to make a non-proliferation push in hopes of getting some movement?

Then, of course, there’s China. Beijing is immersed in a significant strategic modernization. Beyond mobile ICBMs, it’s also sending nukes to sea on subs and may be building out bombers for nuclear missions.

All of this is in the absence of China’s participation in arms control initiatives. While Beijing won’t eagerly join any effort to restrain its nuclear buildup, Obama may hope to open a conversation by showing some good intentions.

Unfortunately for the president, none of those he needs to reach with his no-nukes message are listening.

-Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.

About the Author

Peter Brookes Senior Fellow, National Security Affairs
The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy

First appeared in the Boston Herald