by Dave Robinson
Executive Director, Pax Christi USA
Original article at www.paxchristiusa.org
Scripture tells us: “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Pro. 29:18). One must also say that where there is no courage, the vision perishes. In his Prague speech, President Obama offered a courageous vision of a world released from the Cold War bondage of nuclear weapons and the mutually assured destruction they exist to ensure: “So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” Moreover, he specifically committed to a transformational change in US nuclear weapons policy, “to put an end to Cold War thinking” and said “we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy and urge others to do the same.” And he committed to making this vision a global reality by stating “as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it.” It was this vision of a nuclear free world that animated the Nobel Committee to award him the Peace Prize: “The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.”
Soon the Administration will present its first Nuclear Posture Review. The congressionally mandated review will set the role nuclear weapons will play in overall U.S. security policy, how many nuclear weapons the United States needs to fulfill those roles, and whether the United States should produce new nuclear warheads. Its effects will be felt for the next decade.
The Bush Administration stunned the world in 2002 when portions of its Nuclear Posture Review leaked to the press revealed a dramatic expansion of the role that nuclear weapons would play in US national security policy. It expanded that role beyond preventing the use of nuclear weapons against the US to include deterring biological and chemical attacks as well as conventional threats to vital US interests. In an unprecedented move, it provocatively named 7 specific targets including Iraq, Iran, Syria and Libya which do not even possess nuclear arsenals. (The nuclear states cited were Russia, China and North Korea) The Bush guidance also embraced preemptive strikes, expanding the longstanding US policy of retaining the option to be the first to use nuclear weapons in a crisis. And in an ominous, post-911 move, the Bush Nuclear Posture Review proposed the development of smaller, more usable nuclear warheads. The goal here was to widen the capabilities of our arsenal to meet ongoing conventional challenges like destroying deeply buried targets and providing the Administration with the capacity to engage in limited nuclear attacks. Two years later the Bush Administration partially realized this goal with the introduction of Global Strike, a newly established mission for Strategic Command that gave the White House the ability to deliver a limited nuclear strike against any target on the planet within hours of the order to do so.
The Bush Review set the stage for increased nuclear weapons spending, expanded roles for the nuclear arsenal and the development of new weapons to meet those roles. It foreshadowed the invasion of Iraq—justified by the Administration as a counter-proliferation measure, and set the tone for our approach to Iran’s nuclear program.
The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review will necessarily be interpreted against this backdrop and will set the trajectory of US policy for the next five to ten years. It must also be linked to the Nonproliferation Treaty Review (NPT) Conference set for May. Bush’s Nuclear Posture Review in 2002 set the stage for the collapse of the 2005 NPT Review when Administration representatives dismissed all past obligations that the US had made in prior NPT reviews. President Obama’s vision of a US-led process to eliminate nuclear weapons hangs in the balance as powerful forces in the US nuclear weapons complex line up to endorse the status quo and hold on to their formidable power. It will take real courage to reverse the Bush era policies. It will take a transformational approach to truly align the Posture Review with the vision the President set forth in Prague and make the NPT Review a step in that direction.
What must the Nuclear Posture Review do? Minimally it has to do three things. First, it must truly commit the United States to fulfilling it longstanding obligations under the NPT. The Posture Review needs to embrace the vision set forth in Prague with a concrete policy declaration orienting US nuclear weapons policy toward the goal of global elimination under a negotiated, verifiable ban on development, testing and possession of nuclear weapons. Second, it must build a firewall around the role of the US deterrent during the period of negotiations on a verifiable ban. In so doing it needs to renounce the expanded roles for nuclear weapons formalized under the Bush Administration. Finally, it must envision a nuclear posture that embraces global elimination. Rather than continuing to spend over $50 Billion each year to maintain and deploy both the existing warheads and the scientific-industrial capacity to build new weapons, the United States must shrink and reorient the nuclear weapons complex to focus on the tasks of accelerating the dismantling of warheads, safely destroying their toxic nuclear material, and enhancing the technical capacities for global verification of nuclear disarmament.
In essence the Posture Review needs to change the trajectory of US nuclear weapons policy and spending. It must break from a reliance on indefinite deterrence and embrace elimination. It must limit the role that US nuclear weapons play in the interim by rejecting all uses of nuclear weapons first, all uses of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states and must reject any use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear threats. And it must reject language that declares the US nuclear deterrent a cornerstone of US security—a declaration that other nations have pointed to as justification for developing nuclear weapons for themselves.
The Vatican has been crystal clear on all of this. Mons. Francis Chullikat, Deputy Head of the Holy See delegation to the UN, addressing the first session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2005 review conference of the NPT, reminded the Conference that the 2000 Review Conference yielded commitments by the US to, “An unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear weapon states to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament to which all states parties are committed under Article VI.”
Mons. Chullikat continued by declaring: “There can be no moral acceptance of military doctrines that embody the permanence of nuclear weapons.…Those nuclear weapon states resisting negotiations should therefore be strongly urged to finally come to the negotiating table… In fact, in clinging to their outmoded rationales for nuclear deterrence, they are denying the most ardent aspirations of humanity as well as the opinion of the highest legal authority in the world. In this regard, my Delegation wishes to reaffirm its well-known position: nuclear weapons are incompatible with the peace we seek for the 21st century; they cannot be justified.”
The Vatican again addressed the continued reliance on nuclear deterrence in 2005. In his address to the delegates at the NPT Review Conference, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Vatican U.N. ambassador, condemned the ongoing investments to maintain and upgrade the nuclear weapons states’ nuclear deterrents: “When the Holy See expressed its limited acceptance of nuclear deterrence during the Cold War, it was with the clearly stated condition that deterrence was only a step on the way toward progressive nuclear disarmament. The Holy See has never countenanced nuclear deterrence as a permanent measure, nor does it today when it is evident that nuclear deterrence drives the development of ever newer nuclear arms, thus preventing genuine nuclear disarmament.”
President Obama said in Prague that “as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it.” The Posture Review is a good place to start it. The NPT Review Conference in May will bring together all the nations of the world with the notable exceptions of Israel, Pakistan, India and North Korea. That’s where the US can lead it. The Nobel Committee echoed the deepest hopes of a world that is ready to follow. It is up to President Obama to fulfill the promise of his esteemed Prize.