US Foreign Policy

Presidential Inbox 2009: The First 100 Days

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The first 100 days of any administration are filled with tough choices and breaks from past policies. This administration is no different. In the lead-up to the election, Stimson experts identified the issues, from nuclear proliferation to a code of conduct for space, that should be at the top of the president’s inbox. They have been tracking the administration’s moves on these issues and offer their assesments of how the administration has coped in its first 100 days.

      Barry Blechman-Nuclear Proliferation: Great Start, But Tough Hurdles Ahead | Brian Finlay and Libby Turpen-Against All Odds: Strong Team, Limited Action | Michael Krepon-Space: A Code of Conduct


Nuclear Proliferation: Great Start, But Tough Hurdles Ahead

Barry M. Blechman

The Obama Administration is off to a strong start in its efforts to contain nuclear proliferation and to reduce and eventually eliminate nuclear weapons. Most importantly, the President and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton have regained the high ground in proliferation diplomacy by stating emphatically that the United States’ ultimate goal is to eliminate all nuclear weapons from all nations. In Prague, for example, the President said, “So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” By indicating the United States is prepared to negotiate away all its own weapons, the Administration’s efforts to persuade other nations to forego or limit nuclear arsenals have gained greater credibility and political persuasiveness.

  • The Administration has also made rapid progress in negotiations with Russia to replace the START arms control agreement, which expires at the end of the year.
  • The Administration has also reaffirmed on several occasions its commitment to submit the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty for Senate ratification.
  • If ratified, the two Treaties will greatly strengthen the US hand going into the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in June 2010, a crucial milestone.

Two more initiatives must also come to fruition, however, and both are proving difficult.

  • An arrangement must be reached with Iran that draws a bright line between the civil nuclear power Tehran says it is seeking, and Iran’s potential to acquire nuclear weapons.
  • The second problem, North Korea, is even more difficult. Pyongyang defied the international community by testing a long-range missile in April and responded to a relatively mild statement of rebuke by the president of the UN Security Council by throwing out international inspectors and stating that it intended once again to begin reprocessing plutonium.

Presidential Inbox 2009: Nuclear Proliferation: Avoiding a Pandemic


Against All Odds: Strong Team, Limited Action

Brian Finlay and Libby Turpen

The early signs from the administration are encouraging, although meaurable progress in such a limited time scale is only possible at this point by analyzing policy objectives and appointments to key positions. The president has routinely noted his intent to secure all loose nuclear materials in the world within four years, build upon efforts to break up black markets, and within the next year, host a Global Summit on Nuclear Security to promote international collaboration on these goals.

  • We applaud the appointment of a top-notch National Security Council official to “coordinate a comprehensive interagency reassessment” of proliferation threats and government-wide responses.
  • The nomination of a Coordinator for Threat Reduction with the rank of ambassador at State will provide a significant boost to the State Department’s efforts.
  • From our proposed tripartite structure for achieving better inter-agency coordination, only consolidation of the full cooperative nonproliferation portfolio within one office at OMB remains.
  • The promotion of a longstanding CTR expert within the Pentagon to the position of Assistant Secretary for Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense Programs can achieve at once needed continuity for ongoing initiatives and an enhanced profile to attain greater reach in the future. This, in conjunction with Senator Lugar’s recent action to address remaining legislative impediments, can reposition the Pentagon’s role for global application of these preventive tools.

Real national security heft in the Deputy Secretary of Energy would be embellished by similarly impressive appointments to key nonproliferation posts within the National Nuclear Security Administration – the focal point for the lion’s share of funding on US nonproliferation efforts globally. For those of us awaiting more aggressive application of these nonproliferation tools, all the signs reflect a serious intent to move prevention further, faster.

  Presidential Inbox 2009: Against All Odds: Preventing Terrorists from Getting Nuclear, Biological, & Chemical Weapons


Space: More Ambitious than the Campaign

Michael Krepon

The Obama administration has yet to address US space policy and whether or not to pursue Stimson’s proposal for a Code of Conduct for responsible space-faring nations. However, the White House’s website recast the president’s space diplomacy objectives in a very ambitious way; on the campaign trail, candidate Obama adopted a more focused approach. Usually the reverse is true.

  • In office: “The Obama-Biden Administration will restore American leadership on space issues, seeking a worldwide ban on weapons that interfere with military and commercial satellites. They will thoroughly assess possible threats to US space assets and the best options, military and diplomatic, for countering them, establishing contingency plans to ensure that US forces can maintain or duplicate access to information from space assets and accelerating programs to harden US satellites against attack.”
  • The campaign: In response to questions posed by the Council for a Livable World to presidential candidates, Senator Obama responded that, “Weapons in space are a bad idea. A treaty that increases space security is a good idea but is likely to take a long time to negotiate. There is a simpler and quicker way to go: a Code of Conduct for responsible space-faring nations. One key element of that Code must include a prohibition against harmful interference against satellites.”

Interagency policy reviews will determine how best to pursue the administration’s objectives, bearing in mind overall US national security imperatives and agenda items, as well as US verification capabilities. Two key figures that will be involved in interagency deliberations are likely to be Rose Gottemoeller at the State Department and Assistant Secretary of Defense designee Michael Nacht. Ms. Gottemoeller is fully focused at present on negotiating with Moscow a treaty reducing strategic arms, while Mr. Nacht has yet to be confirmed by the Senate.

The timing and degree of ambition associated with US diplomatic initiatives related to space are likely to be affected by the Obama administration’s other arms control and nonproliferation agenda items. It is likely that Gary Samore, a key figure on the National Security Council staff, will also be involved in the formulation of US space diplomacy. President Obama has established a track record of taking his campaign promises seriously, so the Code of Conduct is certainly one option the administration might pursue.

  Presidential Inbox 2009: Space: A Code of Conduct


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