Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 17:53 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 17:53 | SYDNEY

Obama is not serious about nukes


Hugh White

12 October 2009 09:15

The Committee has attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.

- From the Nobel Committee's citation for this year's Peace Prize.

Apparently the Nobel Prize Committee takes President Obama's claims to want to rid the world of nuclear weapons seriously. I think they are wrong to do so. Of course he has given a speech about it, in Prague. But was that serious policy, or political posturing? The difference is critical. Serious policy comes with a price tag, carefully explained and justified to those who will have to pay it. Political posturing promotes the agreeable illusion that we can all get something for nothing.

Barack Obama's vision of and work for a world free of nuclear weapons falls into the later category.

Is this unfair? Well, imagine for a moment that he was really serious about abolishing nuclear weapons. What would he do first? I think the answer is plain; he would set out to convince his own people that they would be, on balance, more secure without nuclear weapons than with them. No American president can lead world opinion on this issue unless he can lead American opinion.

Persuading Americans of this would be hard. No one knows how we could transition to a nuclear-free world. Those who advocate total disarmament tend to imply that we could find a way to do it without risk. That is utopian. In reality, any process of disarmament would carry significant risks. Moreover America, like other nuclear powers, would lose the global weight and influence that nuclear weapons now provide. It would be perfectly possible to argue that the benefits of disarmament to Americans would outweigh those costs and risks, but they have to be acknowledged and quantified first.

So we should only take Obama seriously on this when he stands up in Washington and explains to his own voters the costs and risks of nuclear disarmament, and how they can be managed. Don't hold your breath.

Photo by Flickr user zionsiva, used under a Creative commons license.