A Wobbly Nuclear Order
Five years ago, President Barack Obama was preparing to deliver a speech in Prague calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons. Nongovernmental organizations, including the Stimson Center, helped with blueprints for getting to zero, and distinguished “formers” were lending their names to the cause. Now these initiatives seem like headlines from a bygone era. The pursuit of a world without nuclear weapons remains an essential complement to nuclear non-proliferation, but this quest cannot be divorced from international relations. President Obama continues to try to reduce nuclear dangers at Nuclear Security Summits and in negotiations with Iran, but progress comes grudgingly. The need of the hour is to prevent further backsliding, not to promote sweeping plans.
Aspirations matter, but nuclear arms reduction will occur only as quickly as conditions permit. The numerical top line of force deployments set in the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty are in excess of the Pentagon’s needs. They are also in excess of Russian needs, but Vladimir Putin is building up to treaty limits and remains wedded to weapons that have symbolic significance instead of military utility. In all likelihood, US-Russian relations have yet to hit bottom, and it will take time before stabilization occurs and another treaty might be pursued.
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