Lewis Griffith is an adjunct professor of national security issues at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, where he received both his MA and PhD in International Studies. In this editorial, he discusses the Obama Administration's nuclear policy.
There are two major reasons to view 2010 as a "nuclear spring" that energizes progress toward nuclear disarmament. (1)
The first is that U.S. President Barack Obama's commitment to nuclear disarmament is part of a growing elite consensus in the West that nuclear disarmament is sound long-term security policy. The case is being made not in reference to moral positions, but in traditional national security logic.
The second reason is that the Obama Administration has placed nuclear terrorism into a holistic policy framework. As the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) states, if nuclear terrorism is the primary threat, then the most important goal is to reduce the access of terrorists to nuclear materials.
There are two ways to do that. The first is to prevent proliferation, the centerpiece of the Bush effort which remains critical. The second method is to reduce the number of nuclear weapons globally, yielding fewer opportunities for terrorists to acquire them. Smaller nuclear arsenals, with excess nuclear materials destroyed or secured in a minimal number of sites, should be more secure against terrorist manipulation.
There is also an additional relationship between non-proliferation and arms control that, while long understood, has never been overtly part of U.S. policy. To reduce the appeal of nuclear weapons for others, one must minimize their utility to the current weapons states, a step taken by the Obama nuclear policy.
Under the best of circumstances, disarmament has a careful pace that measures progress in years. Add perceived security concerns between parties, still very much in existence, and progress becomes glacial. But the Obama Administration's nuclear policy is the first to see disarmament as a necessary national security policy, not desirable outcome, and you have to start somewhere.
Note: (1) Remarks by President Barack Obama, Hradcany Square, Prague, Czech Republic, 5 April 2009. John Issacs, "Those Were the Weeks That Were: Nuclear Spring," Center for Arms Control and Nuclear Proliferation, www.armscontrolcenter.org/policy/nuclearterrorism/articles/. For the official outcomes of the treaty and conferences see U.S. Department of State, Treaty Between the United States of America and The Russian Federation On Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, 8 April 2010; U.S. Department of State, Communiqué of the Washington Nuclear Security Summit, U.S. White House, 13 April 2010; and United Nations, Draft Final Document: 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, 27 May 2010.