Obama Still Prepares for Nuclear War

Peace Action Pages

From the July-August 2013 PNL #826

by Oliver Brown

“As long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe.” After approximately two years of silence on the issue, on June 19 President Obama called for reducing US and Russian nuclear weapons while speaking in Berlin. Many praised his proposal for a reduction of long-range nuclear weapons by “up to” a third. But critics point out that this is not enough, and is not even as significant a cut as it seems at first. US and Russia each have over 7,000 nuclear weapons, of which only about 1,500 apparently qualify for this proposed cut. Thus, “up to” 500 may be cut from the 1,500 deployed strategic nuclear weapons.

Some see Obama’s recent announcement as a far cry from his April 2009 speech in Prague: “So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” However, his lack of leadership was foreshadowed as he stated, “I’m not naive. This goal will not be reached quickly—perhaps not in my lifetime. It will take patience and persistence.”

...and the peace movement still prepares for nuclear disarmament.
Source: Peace Action

On June 19, President Obama also directed the Pentagon to release a report to Congress. The US government’s “Nuclear Employment Strategy” (NES) appears to make only minor changes from existing US nuclear policy. Although the administration’s position has been to work toward making deterrence of nuclear attack the “sole purpose” of US nuclear weapons, the NES reports that “we cannot adopt such a policy today.” The NES retains “counterforce strategy” as one aspect of US nuclear policy. This is “designed to employ US nuclear weapons to destroy an enemy nation’s nuclear weapons, delivery systems, installations”—a policy that is likely to be very destabilizing, as it provides incentive for nations to knock out opponents’ nuclear weapons before they can be used. Thus nations are more likely to initiate nuclear war and to acquire large numbers of nuclear weapons. (LS Wittner, History News Network 7/8/13. For full article, see www.peaceactioncny.org.)

An oft-ignored aspect of our huge nuclear arsenal is the expense. As Joel Rubin of the Ploughshares Fund writes:

“Our massive stockpile of nuclear weapons was designed to fight a foe—the Soviet Union—that no longer exists. It costs between $60-70 billion per year to maintain this arsenal. In an era of fiscal stress and tight budgets, where security threats are transnational and distinct from the Cold War, what justification do we have for maintaining such a large nuclear arsenal? It turns out, not much. There is a consensus among senior defense and security officials that we should reshape our nuclear forces and use the financial savings to fund other national security priorities. By reshaping our nuclear arsenal, we would allow our national security strategy to redirect resources to combating the threats of the 21st century, such as terrorism, cyber dangers, pandemics, and global warming.”


The President’s June 19 speech is long overdue. While welcome, it is but a baby step towards the goal of eliminating nuclear arms. After the global demonstrations against the Iraq War in 2003, the NYT called civil society “the second superpower.” This gives us a huge responsibility, and the peace community has big plans. Please start by joining with Peace Action’s summer events and by signing and helping us to distribute a national petition to pressure president Obama to take much bolder steps to eliminate nuclear weapons. Find the petition at www.peaceactioncny.org or on our Facebook page.


Oliver is the newest member of Peace Action CNY’s Board of Directors.