A nuclear-free world? Not yet.
Obama is right to seek reductions. But nukes are still fundamental to deterrence.
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Global nuclear disarmament remains an eminently worthy goal. But it cannot be achieved in today's climate, while:Skip to next paragraph
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•A nation with fickle leadership such as North Korea develops nuclear weapons.
•Terrorist groups yearn to acquire one.
•Syria may aspire to join the nuclear club.
•Iran, despite its protestations of peaceful nuclear development, is probably developing nuclear weaponry.
•Israel (although it does not discuss its nuclear weapons) will not forgo them so long as challenged by unfriendly neighbors or groups.
What can happen is a reduction of existing nuclear arsenals. The US and Russia possess 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons – far more than they want, or are needed for deterrence. Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev are scheduled to meet in Moscow next month. It is expected that a draft treaty to replace the expiring 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) will be on their agenda. It would further decrease the number of nuclear warheads each of them agreed to in START.
Next year, signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) are scheduled to review, and hopefully revise, that document. Launched in 1968, it legalizes the right of the US, Britain, Russia, China, and France to have nuclear weapons but called upon them to reduce, and ultimately disband, their nuclear arsenals. In exchange, some 180 nations not bearing nuclear weapons agreed not to develop them.
Over the years, the treaty has become tattered as countries such as North Korea have opted out of it, countries such as Iran are in it but not observing it, and countries such as Pakistan and India have developed nuclear weapons outside it.
At a press conference in April, Obama said the US and Russia would be in a stronger position to re-invigorate the NPT if they were leading by example.
Reductions in nuclear arsenals would be a plus. A nuclear-free world is but a mirage.
John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, served as assistant secretary of State in the Reagan administration. He writes a biweekly column.