The Economist’s leader essay lays out the daunting challenges to reducing nuclear arsenals, after President Obama called for a world without nukes in Prague on Sunday.
The influential magazine gives Obama credit for trying to move world powers in the direction of cooperation and reduction, but also makes clear that allies such as India and Israel are going to be hard to bring along because they consider themselves under imminent threat.
But there is an element of realpolitik disguised beneath Obama’s campaign slogans of hope and a nuke-free world. I asked the president’s nonproliferation adviser, Gary Samore, about this on a conference call minutes before the president’s speech in Prague.
“How much of this effort is aimed at trying to be in a position where you can speak with more integrity to nations such as Iran and North Korea about their programs?” I asked.
Samore, who worked on nonproliferation under President Clinton, responded that “for us to mobilize international pressure against countries like Iran and North Korea, we need to demonstrate that we’re committed to one element of the nuclear bargain, which is that the countries that have nuclear weapons are prepared to limit and reduce and move toward eventual elimination.”
“So from that standpoint, we are trying to seize the moral high ground,” he said.
“That’s in our national security interest because we want to have fewer nuclear weapons, we want to have a stable balance with countries like Russia, but it’s also in our nonproliferation interest by putting us in a position to have the moral authority to bring pressure to countries like North Korea and Iran, who’ve broken the rules and who are — have either acquired or are seeking to acquire nuclear weapons,” he said.
Notice that once again Samore repeats the Obama administration’s position that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons.
But his point about the moral high ground is probably more relevant than many of Obama’s skeptics think. It’s obviously not the whole enchilada, but when you read Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying that “those who ask Iran not to produce nuclear weapons should themselves give up their nuclear weapons first,” then Obama’s new policy obviously gives him some grounds to look Erdogan in the eye and say, “Mr. Prime Minister, we are making a good faith effort. Now what are you going to do to help us with Iran?”
— Jon Ward, White House reporter, The Washington Times