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April 14, 2010

Column #1,494

Obama Exerts Nuclear Leadership

By Mike McManus

            “Two decades after the end of the Cold War, we face a cruel irony of history – the risk of a nuclear confrontation between nations has gone down, but the risk of a nuclear attack has gone up,” said President Obama at a Nuclear Security Summit of 47 nations this week.

            “Nuclear materials that could be sold or stolen and fashioned into a nuclear weapon exist in dozens of nations. Just the smallest amount of plutonium – about the size of an apple – could kill and injure hundreds of thousands of innocent people.  Terrorist networks such as al Qaeda have tried to acquire the material for a nuclear weapon, and if they succeeded they would surely use it.  Were they to do so, it would be a catastrophe for the world.”

            What’s encouraging is that Obama was persuasive with a number of countries. 

For example, Canada, Mexico, and Ukraine committed to eliminating their surplus weapons-grade materials or  to give them to the United States. Russia closed a plutonium reactor it had used to make weapons-grade fuel.  Other countries agreed to convert research reactors to a fuel that could not be used for weapons.

            Of course there were critics. “The summit’s purported accomplishment is a nonbinding communiqué that largely restates current policy, and makes no meaningful progress in dealing with nuclear terrorism threats or the ticking clock represented by Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” said Sen. John Kyl, a Republican who opposes Obama’s New START  (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) signed with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last week.

            However, both initiatives are being praised by Evangelical Christian leaders. “I can hardly imagine a more important foreign policy goal for Christian citizens of the United States than pursuing a realistic, comprehensive strategy to reduce the number of strategic nuclear weapons – weapons which cannot be used in any conceivable scenario in accordance with the principles of just war,” said Andy Crouch, senior editor of Christianity Today International.

            He called the New START treaty a significant step towards “greater security, stability, transparency and predictability and toward the ultimate goal of shaping a world where the use of nuclear weapons, by anyone, is truly impossible.”

            George Shultz, former Secretary of State and Treasury under Republican Presidents, thinks the deterrence value of nuclear weapons has run its course.   “As more countries have nuclear weapons, as people worry more about the fissile material that may be lying around that can lead to a nuclear weapon, the less confidence anybody can have that deterrence can be relied on as a way of keeping them from being used,” he says.

            Why?  It is impossible to deter a non-state terrorist with the nuclear threat. Terrorist groups lack a return address upon which deterrence now depends.

            However, al Qaeda terrorists could bribe the guards of enriched uranium and plutonium in scores of countries, and hire Mulim scientists to make a small bomb that might be shipped to America in a box of grapefruit. That’s the danger that Obama and 47 nations openly addressed this week. 

           Republicans like Sen. Kyl who denounce such a step seem to have forgotten that 23 years ago, President Reagan and Soviet President Gorbachev talked of their desire to eliminate nuclear weapons entirely.  “Let’s do it!” Sec. Shultz exhorted them at the time.

            Shultz and other fellow Cold Warriors – such as Henry Kissinger and former Sen. Sam Nunn plus 16 top Reagan Administration officials shocked many by penning a January, 2007 Wall Street Journal op ed column calling for nuclear abolition. Almost overnight, an idea previously dismissed by some as utopian became a viable policy option.

            Clearly Obama seized it during his campaign for President and is now at center stage, building international support.   

            Shultz told Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, the Christian creator of the “Two Futures Project,” that this effort “has to be done with great, great care because you’re talking about the security of countries.” Months ago he outlined four steps that America need to be ready to take:

1.      A follow-on agreement to the START I treaty, taken last week.

2.      Increase the warning time for U.S. and Russian ballistic missile launch procedures

3.      Engage in a multinational enterprise to secure fissile material, started this week

4.      Engage the Senate to secure U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

As Wigg-Stevenson asks, “Who would Jesus bomb?”


END TXT  Copyright © 2010 Michael J. McManus

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