Regarding some of President Obama’s recent foreign policy moves, I have on several occasions thought and written here on GPP, ‘what’s in it for us?’, or ‘How does this concretely help either side?’ Most of this comes from soft power moves of Obama apologizing or distancing himself from American ‘arrogance’ or mistakes. I know state leaders need to play a bit to their foreign audience, but I don’t quite buy the theory that this type of ‘rapprochement’ brings either truly better strategic relationships between allies or makes enemies into partners ready to deal. If the US president was going to disparage the country and let others agenda’s trump our own at times, I would at least like to see some hard results, such as Russia denouncing North Korea’s missile launch (they did the opposite) or truly help out on Iran or maybe some stronger NATO commitment in Afghanistan. Alas, after stating all of this I am willing to give President Obama time. Time to show that all of this is part of larger strategic plan that will pay off dividends for the US and international security.
It is on that positive note that I turn to another topic, where I’m afraid I think Obama’s long-term plan is unfortunately not attainable and therefore his current moves might hurt more than help. I am talking about Obama’s Czech speech, where he laid out his policy towards nuclear weapons. He stated that the US would reduce their nuclear weapon collection, deemphasize their use in military affairs, and lastly that because the US was the only nation to use the weapon, we bare a ‘moral’ responsibility to work toward their elimination.
First off, about the ‘moral’ responsibility part. As horrible as the US use of nuclear weapons against Japan in WWII, I would disagree that it was immoral, in terms of state actions. The US and Japan were losing thousands of soldiers in the fighting around Japan, with Japan also losing thousands of civilians by Allied bombing of their cities on a daily basis, and the US calculated that they needed to end the war as soon as possible and utilized their most effective/destructive weapon to do so. This move caused untold human destruction, but it also saved thousands of other Japanese and American lives and ended the bloodiest war known to mankind. Since the wars end, the US and Japan have also had a strategic, friendly, and prosperous relationship. The US does indeed carry with it a burden of the weapons’ use, but I would argue against America still having any ‘moral responsibility’ for it use during what was an extraordinary moment in world history.
Alright, back to the speeches main points: A world without nukes sounds wonderful, but it is not realistic nor I think an area where Obama should be spending his global political capital. In his speech, Obama alluded that if the US showed it was willing to lessen its support of nuclear weapons, all other states, especially rogue ones, would feel less threatened and it would help the global norm against the weapon as a choice for states. In other words, if the US stopped being nuclear hypocrites other states and regimes would give up their nuclear ambitions. Unfortunately, history tells us otherwise. Did India, Pakistan, Iran, North Korea, South Africa, France, Great Britain, Al Qaeda all pursue nuclear weapons because the US had them? No, they pursued them for their own national strategic interests and defense.
What about the idea of a nuclear free-world? Though it would be very difficult to reach, wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing? Not really. As I have discussed before on GPP, I feel that states would still not trust that the others did not have nuclear weapons and this would create a security dilemma, where states would inevitably try to circumvent or protect themselves from another by obtaining them again! Except we would have to relive the dangerous early part of ‘who has the weapon?’, ‘will they use it?’ This sounds like a scary, unpredictable world to me. I would rather have our current situation where only a few, mostly stable states, hold nuclear weapons and it is well-known who. To have a world with no nukes would require some form of strong world government to verify this outcome and that does not appear on the horizon.
So once again, I ask about a new US foreign policy stance or maneuver, what does the US or world get out of this policy? Will it cause Iran to come to the negotiating table and actually negotiate instead of buy time? Will it stop North Korea from launching another missile, which may one day carry a nuclear weapon, in six months? Will it end nukes forever in 30 years? How does this policy make the US and world safer?