Barack Obama has a vision of a better future. His political formal principle is hope. Hardly anything distinguishes him more clearly from his predecessor, George W. Bush, whose political formal principle was fear. He aroused fears, in order then to promise security against the threats. A comparison of their nuclear policies shows that.
On 7 April, in Prague, Barack Obama declared that the vision of a world free of atomic weapons was the goal of US policy. Vision zero option. He justified his initiative by saying that the USA had a "moral responsibility" to negotiate. The USA is the only country that has already used atomic weapons. He promised to revive arms control and non-proliferation, agreed on in treaties, to ratify the atomic test ban treaty, to support a prohibition of the production of nuclear material for atomic weapons, to push toward nuclear disarmament along with Russia, and to strive for improved non-proliferation regulations. For many observers, a long-awaited ray of hope.
Because under George W. Bush, the USA planned new nuclear carrier systems, new atomic weapons, and a remoulding of the industrial infrastructure for its nuclear weapons. These were integrated into a new strategy that also permitted the pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons against states and non-state actors that were suspected of possessing or producing weapons of mass destruction or their carrier systems. The ultimate weapon, the atomic bomb, as an ultimate re-insurance against a menacing environment and as a guarantee of the USA's own supremacy. Arms control and disarmament had a place here only if they did not restrict Washington's freedom of action. The result was a policy of demolition among the existing arms control agreements and a repressive policy of hindering proliferation.
Now with Barack Obama it is quite different. He wants to revive the basic idea behind the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty: Countries with nuclear weapons will make an effort to disarm, countries without atomic weapons will not acquire any, and all countries will have access to the peaceful use of atomic energy, says Obama. He quickly followed his words with deeds: in the budget, funds for controversial projects such as new nuclear warheads or missile defence systems in Poland were deleted. By August a new disarmament treaty with Russia is supposed to be concluded, which will limit the nuclear weapons potential of the two states to approximately 1,000-1,500 active warheads. The new treaty and the atomic test ban treaty are to be ratified by this year. Tangible progress in disarmament as a positive environment in order to be able to agree on stronger non-proliferation regulations during the review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2010.
Yet however much Obama strives for disarmament and better non-proliferation, his initiative has a flaw. Obama talks about an expanded use of nuclear energy: We must harness the power of nuclear energy in the service of our efforts to combat climate change and to increase the chances for everybody, he says. If ever more states operate nuclear power plants, however, there is a growing risk that more and more states can also build nuclear weapons, because the trained personnel, knowledge, and infrastructure are available. If more nuclear power plants are operated, the finite raw material, uranium, will be exhausted sooner. If people want to prolong the useful life of nuclear energy, the only thing left is reprocessing, but that increases the risk that new nuclear weapons states will emerge. It is not only technically less complex than enrichment, but also accumulates reactor plutonium, from which bombs can also be made, if necessary. No matter how helpful Obama's vision of a zero option for atomic weapons is, it would probably be sustainable only if it were accompanied by the vision for a zero option with regard to nuclear energy. Ultimately only a doubled zero option will function for certain.
Source: Vision Null
Original article published in Friedens Forum 3/2009.
About the author
A. D. Haun is a member of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity. This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, translator and reviser are cited.
URL of this article on Tlaxcala: http://www.tlaxcala.es/pp.asp?reference=8262&lg=en