In Brandenburg speech, Obama modifies old campaign goal of ‘a world without nuclear weapons’

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“President Obama basically told Russia’s president that he’ll walk away from our nuclear deterrence and at the same time is also walking away from helping protect our close allies in Europe right [now] when the threat is greatest for them particularly from Iran,” said Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Mr. Vitter and other Republicans also called for Congress to be involved with any discussions of further nuclear drawdown.

Shrinking arsenal

When put into historical perspective, the overall cache of American nuclear weapons already is relatively small. At the height of the Cold War, the nation had more than 31,000 nuclear weapons.

Today, that number is about 4,650, down from more than 5,100 in 2009, Mr. Obama’s first year in office.

The White House’s updated “nuclear weapons employment strategy,” released during the G-8 summit, calls for additional reviews of the arsenal. The policy “narrows U.S. nuclear strategy to focus on only those objectives and missions that are necessary for deterrence in the 21st century.”

It also directs the Department of Defense to strengthen its non-nuclear capabilities and calls for a reduction in “launch-under-attack capability,” or nuclear weapons ready to be fired in the event of an unexpected attack.

Still, both the U.S. and Russia understand — even if Mr. Putin and his aides aren’t as forceful in their rhetoric as Mr. Obama — that further reductions make sense, Mr. Kristensen said.

“I think both sides realize that they have enormous amounts of [nuclear] forces compared to any other nuclear state in the world,” he said. “Both sides have an interest in cutting the fat from the bone here and trying to get down to something affordable and reasonable for the type of world we’re heading into.”

Other analysts say that, despite the declining nuclear arsenals, Mr. Obama may be going too fast, especially with nuclear powers such as North Korea and China not factored into the calculations. Robert Zarate, policy director at the Foreign Policy Institute, warned in an analysis published Wednesday that the president’s proposed cut “comes at a dangerous time.”

“The president sees his plan as the next step in someday achieving his dream of a ‘world without nuclear weapons,’” Mr. Zarate noted. “But the world has a vote, too, and even if Russia is open to further nuclear cuts — something which remains unclear at this point — other nations do not appear to share President Obama’s aspiration.”

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