Wednesday, June 08, 2016

How Should We Assess Obama’s Hiroshima Legacy?



President Barack Obama visited the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima to deliver a historic speech for a world without nuclear weapons on May 27. The address itself was a critical reflection of human history and civilization to dominate the nature. It was well-balanced, as he expressed heartfelt condolences to Atomic bomb victims of Japanese, Koreans, and American POWs, without giving an apology. In East Asia, Japan faces the continual quagmire of apology to China and Korea. The US-Japanese relations must avoid such an enduring emotional impasse. In the face of the Trump phenomenon, it is quite noteworthy that Obama stressed that America and Japan had overcome wartime hostility to make the alliance real friendship and strategic linchpin in the Asia Pacific region. That helped Prime Minister Shinzo Abe address hopeful and future oriented messages, following Obama.

However, I would like to mention some problems that would ruin Obama’s Hiroshima legacy. The first one is, whether the next president of the United States takes nuclear nonproliferation seriously. The conscience that Obama expressed at Hiroshima needs to be inherited by his successor, regardless of partisanship, ideology, and understanding of wartime history. Particularly, Republican candidate Donald Trump shows extremely insincere attitude on this issue, as seen in his urging of nuclear proliferation to Japan, South Korea, and even Saudi Arabia. Therefore, he is the greatest nuclear threat to the world, now. In view of this, my attention was drawn to the sentence, “When the choice is made by ‪leaders‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬, reflect this simple wisdom, then the lesson of ‪‎Hiroshima‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬ is done” in Obama’s speech. Though Obama did not mention the presidential election itself in Hiroshima, he blamed Trump on the final day of the G7 Ise-Shima summit (“In a rare occurrence, Obama speaks his mind about Trump for the world to hear”; Washington Post; May 26, 2016). But the problem is not just Trump. Leaders around the world must be well-aware of nuclear security. Otherwise, the legacy would expire soon.

The second problem is Obama's nonproliferation policy. As shown in the Prague speech, Obama behaved as if he were an apostle of nuclear disarmament. Though the Hiroshima speech was taken favorably among world media and Japanese people, it seemed that he has been obsessed with his lofty ideal at the expense of realpolitik, throughout his presidential terms. This was typically seen in his reset with Russia to start New START negotiations, shortly after his inauguration. However, security environment had changed dramatically, since President-then Ronald Reagan proposed the START with the Soviet Union. Nuclear power balance had turned from bipolar to multipolar, as proliferators like Iran and North Korea emerged. Due to this, America and Russia did not overcome disagreements on the Missile Defense system (“Debating the New START Treaty”; Council on Foreign Relations; July 22. 2010). Also, Vladimir Putin had less incentive to improve relations with the West than the Soviet Chairman Michael Gorbachev did. There is no wonder Obama has not made a spectacular achievement in nuclear disarmament with Russia as Reagan did. In addition, Obama failed to take effective measures to stop the progress of North Korea’s nuclear program. To the contrary, Kim Jong-un has stepped up to test hydrogen bomb and more advanced ballistic missile. But it is not fair to criticize Obama only for this, because his predecessor George W. Bush also failed to stop North Korea.

But above all, the most critical test for Obama’s Hiroshima legacy is the Iran nuclear deal, as he is proud of this “accomplishment”. Opponents criticize the deal, because it will expire 10 years later. Sanction lift releases over 100 billion dollars of restricted assets of Iran, which could enable the Revolutionary Guard to finance terrorists (“Debating the Iran Nuclear Deal”; Brookings Institution; August 2015). Actually, Secretary of State John Kerry admitted that Iran uses some of that money to help terrorists (“US State Department: Iran world’s top sponsor of terrorism”; Y net News; June 3, 2016). The deal may work for the time being, but I would argue that this would not eliminate Iran’s nuclear threats completely. So far as Iran sponsors terrorists continually, they can acquire radioactive materials to make dirty bombs. More seriously, this deal could help Iran develop a plutonium bomb, since the United States purchases 32 tons of heavy water from them for 8.6 million dollars. Under the agreement with P5+1, Iran must restrict its stockpile of heavy water, but it is still allowed to keep a limited heavy water industry for export. This would lead to “external subsidization of Iran’s nuclear program”, according to Tzvi Kahn at the Foreign Policy Initiative (“U.S. Bankrolls Iran’s Nuclear Ambitions”; FPI Bulletin; May 4, 2016).

Obama’s nuclear deal is so fragile, and neither Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei nor President Hassan Rouhani is a Gorbachev. Iran continually denounces America and Britain as evils. Furthermore, they still brandish ballistic missiles to wipe out Israel (“Iranian commander: We can destroy Israel ‘in under 8 minutes’”; Times of Israel; May 22, 2016). It is quite hard to contain their enduring hostility to Anglo Saxons and Zionists with such a lukewarm agreement. The Iran nuclear deal can kill the beautiful legacy that Obama made in Hiroshima. Therefore, we have to see his accomplishments with watchful and critical eyes.