The “Arms-Control Enterprise” is taking a beating as the “Nuclear Enterprise” is recapitalized. These trend lines have become starker during the Obama administration’s second term, mirroring the declining fortunes for arms control during President Bill Clinton’s last four years in the White House. While Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush did surprisingly well in reducing nuclear force structure or stockpiles during their second terms, recent Democratic Presidents have fared poorly by comparison.
Success at arms control cannot be manufactured, and leadership can only go so far as international conditions will permit. Clinton’s first term was a tour de force, reflecting the persuasive powers of the world’s sole superpower. He secured U.S. ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention, signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (albeit with a poison pill entry-into-force clause), and maneuvered Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus to join the Non-proliferation Treaty as non-nuclear-weapon states, thereby enabling entry into force of the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.
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