Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Progressive nuclear policies sound good but mean nothing

While it'll been fun hearing right-wing blowhards blow a little harder this week, the most important thing about the new nuclear weapons policy unveiled Tuesday by U.S. President Barack Obama is that it doesn't mean anything. Rhetoric about when and where a country will or will not use nuclear arms is meaningless because neither situations nor temptations can be accurately predicted in advance. So, the Obama administration's Nuclear Posture Review, a document required from all U.S. governments by the Congress, can be full of lofty anti-nuclear sentiment yet not reflect what the country will actually do in the event of nuclear conflict. If another country launches a nuclear attack on the United States, sentiment loses all value. Critics of the administration must realize this, even as they launch what are sure to be bombastic attacks on the new policy. The Obama policy, which replaces the Bush administration's threat of nuclear retaliation in the event of chemical or biological attack, commits the United States to refrain from the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear countries that comply with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1970, according to the Reuters international news service. The new policy also declares that the United States will not develop any new nuclear weapons. "We are taking specific and concrete steps to reduce the role of nuclear weapons while preserving our military superiority, deterring aggression and safeguarding the security of the American people," Obama said in a statement released by the White House, Reuters said. The policy was released in time for Thursday's scheduled signing of a new arms reduction treaty with Russia and appears designed to enhance next week's 47-nation nuclear summit in Washington. Iran and North Korea, emerging nuclear powers that have not signed the treaty, were deliberately left out of the non-use guarantee, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said. "If there is a message for Iran and North Korea here, it is ... if you're not going to play by the rules, if you're going to be a proliferator, then all options are on the table in terms of how we deal with you," Gates told reporters, Reuters said. The document also expressed concern about China, which has a nuclear arsenal and has signed the treaty, but has not been forthcoming about its program. "China's nuclear arsenal remains much smaller than the arsenals of Russia and the United States," the document said. "But the lack of transparency surrounding its nuclear programs -- their pace and scope, as well as the strategy and doctrine that guides them -- raises questions about China's future strategic intentions." Obama is expected to hold talks with Chinese leader Hu Jintao on the sidelines of next week's summit that will possibly include China's nuclear program as well as the value of its currency, Reuters said.

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