Friday, August 13, 2010

Hurdles for a Nuclear Free World

Has global security started to move toward a nuclear free world this year? Based on the Prague speech, President Barack Obama hosted the 1st Nuclear Security Summit in Washington on April 12 and 13. Also, Ambassador John Roos attended the Atomic Bomb Memorial Ceremony in Hiroshima on August 6 as the first US representative in history. Those actions are impressive, but it is a long way to go to achieve this goal, because old geopolitics has reemerged in the post Cold War era, and rogue states are pursuing nuclear development projects.

First, let me talk about fundamental points regarding the idea of a nuclear free world. This is not original to Barack Obama. It was senior American politicians, including Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Former Secretary of State George Schultz, Former Secretary of Defense William Perry, and Former Senator Sam Nunn that presented theoretical foundations for a world without nuclear weapons in the Wall Street Journal in 2007. In the article, bipartisan leaders insist that policymakers change Cold War mindset of MAD as nuclear deterrence is becoming decreasingly effective due to the challenge of rogue states like Iran and North Korea, and the emergence of non-state actors like terrorist groups. The four leaders argued just from realist viewpoints, and never remarked something controversial, like a highlighted phrase in the Prague speech, “As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act.”

Regarding this phrase, George Perkovich, Vice President at the Carnegie Endowment points out that Obama articulated to maintain nuclear deterrence to defend the United States and free allies as long as nuclear threats continue to exist (“The Obama Nuclear Agenda: One Year after Prague”; Carnegie Policy Outlook; March 31, 2010).

The most critical hurdle for a nuclear free world is old geopolitical rivalries posed by Russia and China. Russia wants to maintain its sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and Former Soviet Union. As to China, Gordon Chang says, “Beijing’s ruthlessly pragmatic leaders see our failure to press human rights as a sign that we think we are weak. And if they think we are weak, they see little reason to cooperate. So promoting human rights is protecting American security."

While the Obama administration explores a win-win deal with Russia, conservatives are concerned with new START because Kremlin simply wants to achieve nuclear parity with the United States. Former Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton criticizes Obama’s obsession with arms reduction and says, “The positions of the United States and Russia are not parallel, and roughly equivalent warhead limits impair Washington far more than Moscow." I agree with Bolton that the United States must defend allies around the globe, but Russia does not have to.

Quite importantly, neither Russia nor China share concerns with the West regarding nuclear proliferation to rogue states and terrorist groups. Russia sold S300 surface to air missiles to Iran. In addition, Kremlin decided to supply uranium to Iran’s first nuclear reactor in Bushehr, though the United States worries that Iran will interpret this as a signal of tolerance to its nuclear ambition (“Russian nuclear agency says Iran's first nuclear plant will start getting fuel next week”; FOX News; August 13, 2010). China still endorses the repressive regime in North Korea, simply because the Beijing government worries confusions associated with the collapse of the Pyongyang dictatorship, rather than nuclear proliferation. Stark gaps are found on nuclear terrorism. As Liz Cheney mentioned in the debate with Former Secretary of State Colin Powell this February, American policymakers are keenly aware of terrorist acquisition of WMDs, from conservative to liberal. Until Russians and Chinese face further serious attacks by radical Muslims of Chechnya and Uighur respectively, they may not assume common understandings on nuclear terrorism with the United States.

Also, it has become apparent that China does not respect the Obama initiative. In June, China proposed to sell nuclear reactors to Pakistan, despite the fear of intensified nuclear rivalries with India. Beijing Communists assume “If America can bend the rules for India, then China can break them for Pakistan” (“Nuclear proliferation in South Asia: The power of nightmares”; Economist; June 24, 2010). In theory, such a geopolitical game will happen. However, China was more cautious to avoid provoking America during the Bush era. Applying a phrase by an Iraq veteran Captain Pete Hegseth, founder of Vets for Freedom, I would like to say “China sees Obama as weak.”

Henry Sokolski, Executive Director at the Nonproliferaion Education Center, points out that even if America reaches a model nuclear deal with developing courtiers, other nuclear suppliers ruin nonproliferation efforts by Washington. Regarding the nuclear cooperation deal with the United Arab Emirates finalized by the Obama administration, Sokolski says that the UAE chose South Korean facilities because of lower price and looser nonproliferation requirements than those of the United States (“Nuclear Nonproliferation Games”; National Review Online; August 5, 2010). In other words, the Obama administration failed to bind the UAE, and simply lost business opportunity with this country. It is not lofty ideals cited by Barack Obama but commercial interests that have significant influences on nonproliferation efforts.

President Obama may have taken some impressive actions for a nuclear free world, but his initiative is not respected among major nuclear powers and possible proliferators. As long as they see America weak, none of nuclear elimination initiatives will make any progress. Particularly, autocratic regimes pursue interests of their leaders, not global peace. Yes, a nuclear free world is much safer. To achieve this goal, the United States must impress its strength, rather than hinting America's moralistic drawbacks that Obama mentioned in the Prague speech.