by John Isaacs [contact information]
With 100 days now behind him and more than 1,000 left to go in his first term, President Barack Obama has given us much to celebrate – especially when compared to the dismal years of the Bush administration.
President Obama has already laid the foundation for a bold new direction in U.S. foreign policy. He has offered a multilateral and nuanced approach to international relations and has refused to divide the world into “good guys and bad guys.” Obama’s revitalization of the arms control process is particularly significant. Today there are new – and perhaps unprecedented – opportunities for great progress on reducing and securing nuclear weapons stockpiles.
Some highlights of Obama’s first 100 days include:
- Banning torture and signing an executive order to close the internationally-condemned Guantanamo Bay prison;
- Sending a video message to the people and leaders of Iran declaring support for dialogue between the two countries;
- Announcing a plan to bring American troops home from Iraq;
- Releasing previously-classified memos on the use of torture under the Bush administration;
- Giving a major foreign policy speech in Prague that publicly committed the United States to the goal of a nuclear weapons free world;
- Joining with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to commit to negotiating a successor to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) by the end of 2009.
LAYING THE FOUNDATION
In a matter of months, President Obama has pushed the reset button on U.S. relations with the world. As seen in his recent travels to Europe and Latin American, the international community appreciates a President who listens and discusses rather than lectures and threatens.
The American people clearly support this approach. According to a recent Washington Post poll, Americans approve of the President’s handling of international affairs by a margin of 67 percent to 27 percent.
Those who were frustrated for years by the lack of progress on reducing America’s reliance on nuclear weapons were particularly heartened by the President’s April 5 speech in Prague. This was the most significant presidential address on nuclear weapons since the dawn of the atomic age. It may have even surpassed President John F. Kennedy’s historic 1963 address proposing an end to nuclear weapons testing.
In Prague, President Obama spoke frankly about the dangers of nuclear weapons and the need to take immediate action to avoid a nuclear holocaust:
“As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it…I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”
He went on to outline a plan that reverses the Bush administration’s attempts to make nuclear weapons an even more visible part U.S. national security policy. The President proposed specific steps that should be taken immediately to decrease the prominence of nuclear weapons as part of a long-term effort to rid the world of these horrible devices. Obama proposed:
- Negotiating a new treaty with Russia this year to reduce nuclear warheads and stockpiles – and then moving on to further reductions with the other nuclear powers;
- “Immediately and aggressively” pursuing ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT);
- Ending the production of fissile materials that can be used in nuclear weapons;
- Strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT);
- Expanding international inspections to detect violations of the NPT;
- Securing all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years;
- Hosting a Global Summit on Nuclear Security within the next year.
The administration already has taken concrete steps to demonstrate the President’s commitment to these goals. The Vice President and the Secretary of State have talked about a strategic reset with Russia after years of troubled relations. In fact, negotiations with Russia on a new nuclear weapons treaty have already started. In addition, the President refused to request funds to develop new nuclear weapons such as the Reliable Replacement Warhead.
It will be months and even years before it will be possible to offer a complete assessment of President Obama’s performance on nuclear weapons issues. Yet without a doubt, his first 100 days have set a clear course for a foreign policy that reduces the danger posed nuclear weapons and, through intelligence and collaboration, helps keep Americans safe.