Will Nuclear Disarmament Be on Obama’s Agenda?

December 1st, 2008 - by admin

Thalif Deen & Jacqueline Cabasso / InterPress Service – 2008-12-01 00:44:09


UNITED NATIONS, Nov 25 (IPS) – As President-elect Barack Obama marshals his transition team before he takes office on Jan. 20, some of his political supporters are wondering how much of his campaign promises will receive priority during his first hundred days in the White House.

With a recession-hit US economy ranking high on the domestic political agenda, he will also have to gradually deal with a slew of international issues, including climate change, multilateralism, human rights, free trade, weapons of mass destruction, and war and peace.

Will Obama, who was once quoted as saying that “America seeks a world in which there are no nuclear weapons,” place a higher priority on nuclear disarmament than previous US administrations?

“Obama has repeatedly stated that he will set and pursue the goal of a world without nuclear weapons,” says Jacqueline Cabasso, a U.S. advocate of nuclear disarmament who was recently awarded the annual 2008 Sean MacBride Peace Prize by the Geneva-based International Peace Bureau, a former Nobel Peace laureate.

“But that statement is immediately followed by a disclaimer that as long as nuclear weapons exist, the U.S. will maintain a strong nuclear deterrent,” she said.

“Packed into that short sentence is a massive and extraordinarily powerful military-industrial complex which has successfully perpetuated the central role of nuclear weapons as the ‘cornerstone’ of U.S. national security policy since 1945 — despite the end of the Cold War nearly 20 years ago,” said Cabasso, in an interview with IPS U.N Bureau Chief Thalif Deen. Excerpts from the interview follow.

IPS: Will nuclear disarmament, under an Obama administration, be another good try in a lost cause?

JC: Plans are well underway to invest tens of billions of dollars in modernisation of the U.S. nuclear weapons research and production complex. With or without the “reliable replacement warhead,” every weapon type in the U.S. nuclear arsenal is being revamped under the ongoing “stockpile life extension” programme, and just two weeks before the election, the Air Force released a detailed “roadmap” for “reinvigorating the Air Force nuclear enterprise.”

Obama has made encouraging sounding promises: to keep the U.S. commitment under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT); to work with Russia to take U.S. and Russian ballistic missiles off hair-trigger alert; to dramatically reduce the stockpiles of U.S. nuclear weapons; and to seek a global ban on the production of fissile material for weapons.

But it’s not clear where he stands on the provocative U.S. missile defence programme, and both he and Vice-President-elect [Joseph] Biden recently voted for the proliferation-provocative U.S.-India nuclear sharing deal.

I also find it worrying that Obama is surrounding himself with advisors who served in the [Bill] Clinton administration. It was the Clinton administration that turned its back on the historical opportunity that appeared at the end of the Cold War to take decisive steps towards the elimination of nuclear weapons.

I’d like to give President Obama the benefit of the doubt, but if he’s serious about getting rid of nuclear weapons, he’s going to have to make a major break with the policies of both the [George W.] Bush and the Clinton administrations, and take on some of the most powerful and entrenched forces on earth.

IPS: What is your reaction to sceptics who say that nuclear disarmament is an unreachable goal — considering also the fact that the world meekly accepted three more nuclear powers, India, Pakistan and Israel — and perhaps North Korea — in the last three decades?

JC: I’m not sure I agree that the world meekly accepted India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea as nuclear powers. Beyond the limited sanctions imposed on India, Pakistan and North Korea, I think that governments didn’t know what to do. They didn’t want to do provoke deep strategic divides, and in the case of North Korea, a devastating military conflict that could lead to a possible nuclear weapons use.

The nuclear weapon states and their strategic allies couldn’t effectively demand that these new nuclear weapon states unilaterally disarm. After all, it is the original five nuclear weapon states that, by virtue of their permanent seats on the Security Council, have made nuclear weapons the currency of global power.

But civil society and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) knew what to do. We understood that the global elimination of nuclear weapons is an imperative for our collective survival. And we know that the “ultimate” elimination of nuclear weapons will never happen unless we demand it now.

I am proud to be a “founding mother” of the Abolition 2000 Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons, which came together at the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference to demand the immediate commencement of negotiations for the elimination of nuclear weapons, within a time-bound framework. We even drafted a Model Nuclear Weapons Convention that has been circulated as an official United Nations document. The call has now been taken up by the “Mayors for Peace 2020 Vision Campaign”.

IPS: Do you think the five declared nuclear powers — the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia — have a moral or legitimate right to call for the abolition of nuclear weapons when they arrogate to themselves the right to retain their own weapons?

JC: It is both immoral and illegal for the original nuclear weapon states to call for the selective abolition of nuclear weapons while retaining and threatening to use their own nuclear arsenals. It makes me crazy when I hear U.S. officials declare that we need to keep nuclear weapons from falling into the “wrong” hands. Whose hands are the “right” hands? The only hands that have, so far, dropped atomic bombs on civilian populations, for which no apology has yet been made? No one should have nuclear weapons.

The NPT was one of the central bargains of the 20th century, but it is in jeopardy now, in large part due to the lack of good faith evidenced by the nuclear weapon states regarding their compliance with the disarmament obligation embedded in Article VI and affirmed by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 1996. While the term “good faith” may sound vague, the nuclear weapon states’ good faith obligation to disarm has a precise meaning in law.

If the most powerful military force that has ever existed on the face of the Earth premises its national security on the threatened first use of nuclear weapons, why shouldn’t we expect less powerful countries to follow suit? This is simply an unsustainable situation. It is time to throw away the outdated notion of “national” security premised on overwhelming military might, and replace it with a new concept of universal “human” and ecologically sustainable security.

With the global economy in collapse and the worldwide surge of hope in response to the election of Barack Obama as U.S. president, the time is ripe for another massive surge of public opinion — from the bottom up — calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. But this time, we must understand that demanding nuclear disarmament is not enough, and that we can’t achieve it alone.

This time we must insist that nuclear disarmament serve as the leading edge of a global trend towards demilitarisation and redirection of military expenditures to meet human needs and save the environment.

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