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A world free of nuke weapons
Washington, Sept 23 (Agencies)
Published on 24 Sep. 2009 12:00 AM IST
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: No nuke, if you are an American old enough to remember “duck and cover” drills, or the MX missile, or MAD, or other such emblems of Cold War confrontation, then recent speeches in which President Barack Obama has spoken of a world with zero nuclear weapons might seem startling. After all, even with no Soviet enemy around, the world seems far from ridding itself of its most fearsome weaponry. North Korea's got a nuke or two. Iran would like one, we're told. The U.S. until recently was talking about building a new “mini” version, good for busting underground bunkers. Nevertheless, although he acknowledges that global nuclear disarmament probably won't happen in his lifetime, the 48-year-old U.S. president is speaking explicitly about the goal. And he'll have several big opportunities to take steps toward it in the next few months: --Today, Obama and the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, whose countries own 95 percent of the world's nukes, meet in New York to review progress toward a new arsenal-reduction deal. It's supposed to replace the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, which expires in December. --Every five years, nations sit down to review the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT, which since 1970 has been the cornerstone of efforts to prevent nuclear arms from spreading. The last review, in 2005, ended in disagreement. Next May in New York, Obama will try his hand as host. Among the disputes: Is is still realistic to believe in the treaty's basic pledge — that “have-nots” will forswear nukes if “haves” work toward getting rid of theirs? --Obama also vows to push two proposals that could be important steps toward disarmament: The first, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, negotiated in the post-Cold War glow of the 1990s after decades of attempts, was rejected by the U.S. Senate in 1999. Obama has pledged to put it to a revote. --The second pact Obama favors is even more ambitious, an idea that's been around since the 1940s and still is only an idea: A Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, which would ban signers from making fuel for nuclear weapons. The treaty was discussed in the 1990s, but work stalled when the Bush administration announced in 2004 that enforcement would be impossible. Obama has not said exactly how he would revive work on the treaty. --Another step he has taken already, at least tentatively. After the sole holdover from the Bush Cabinet, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, wrote an article in January urging that work go forward on a new generation of more dependable nuclear arms, the president overruled him. In foreign policy circles, much has been made of Obama's thinking, even while much of it remains unclear. As a senior at Columbia University in 1983, during one of the Cold War's coldest spells, Obama wrote a term paper and a campus newspaper article on disarmament. He wrote of the vision of “a nuclear-free world,” denounced “the twisted logic of which we are a part today” — but said little about how to achieve the dream. That was 26 years ago, when the occupant of the White House, Ronald Reagan, was denouncing the Evil Empire. Now the Soviet Union is gone but India, Pakistan and North Korea have elbowed their way into the nuclear club, and many doubt Iran's denials of a similar ambition. During his presidential campaign, Obama championed the message of four big names in national security who were urging elimination of the nuclear arsenals they helped build in the Cold War: two Republicans, Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, former secretaries of state, and two Democrats, William Perry, defense secretary in the Clinton administration, and former Sen. Sam Nunn. At the same time, Obama has tried to reassure the right that he intends nothing rash. “I've made clear that we will retain our deterrent capacity as long as there is a country with nuclear weapons,” he told the New York Times in an interview this summer. Among the unconvinced are Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and Richard Perle, an architect of the Reagan-era nuclear buildup. “This is dangerous, wishful thinking,” they wrote of Obama's stance this summer in the Wall Street Journal, calling him naive for believing North Korea or Iran would swear off nuclear arms just because America and Russia reduced theirs. Obama insists that is the best way forward. The U.S. will have more leverage to press other nations to give up nuclear ambitions, he said, “if we're setting a set of international rules that are not specific to one country or another but establish norms that everyone has to abide by.” The deal he hopes to seal with Russia by year's end, for a new START treaty, would shrink long-range nukes by about one-quarter: to between 1,500 and 1,675 warheads apiece instead of the current ceiling of 2,200. Delivery vehicles intercontinental missiles, submarine-based missiles and bombers would be limited to between 500 and 1,100, down from the 1,600 now allowed. Obama, if he achieves a new START, soon will have a chance to test his leverage theory. Next May's conference on the NPT faces the same disputes that stalled the 2005 review, disputes so serious that some question whether the 39-year-old bedrock treaty against proliferation can survive: --India, Pakistan and Israel are the only three nations not to have joined the treaty, yet under treaty rules would have to sign on as non-nuclear states. That's a big problem because India and Pakistan have demonstrated nuclear arsenals, starting in 1974 and 1998, respectively, and Israel's is an open secret. --North Korea used to belong to the treaty but quit and then set off a nuclear test in 2006. --How can the treaty deal with non-state groups that seek nukes, such as al-Qaida? --Some nuclear have-nots say the five declared haves the U.S., Russia, Britain, France and China are violating the treaty by shrinking their arsenals too slowly. A way will be found to keep the treaty alive, predicted Terry Clark, a professor of international relations at Creighton University who says he's often called a right-winger but describes himself as a believer in the power of “muddling” forward. Obama, Clark said, is serious about the no-nukes goal but “is a pragmatist,” not a dreamer. More importantly, foreign affairs tend to be driven by institutions, not individual personalities, he said, and the nuclear inertia call it the muddling momentum is toward disarmament. “Within 50 to 100 years, it's possible,” he said. The Cold War, in a sense, was a victory for both sides, Clark said, because Americans and Soviets were able to avoid using nuclear arms on each other and bought enough time to conclude that “we can't use these things.”

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