Obama dreams of a world without nuclear weapons
In the final days of World War II, in August 1945, US President Harry S. Truman made the fateful decision to drop atomic bombs on the industrial Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on August 6 and 9, respectively. By the year’s grim end, the cities resembled “graveyards without tombstones standing,” as one witness described the devastating aftermath. In all, 320,000 people were reported dead, and thousands of people suffered from radioactive burns and contamination that left them with a life of pain and most often an early death.
After Japan’s formal surrender six days after the second bombing, the US forced its World War II enemy to sign a peace treaty with the rather odd addendum that the nation would be forbidden from acquiring atomic weapons in the future.
Today, the United States, as the only nation to implement these horrific weapons against an enemy, is pushing for a world without nuclear weapons. Is this a realistic goal, or did mankind wait too long to take the initiative? Is the nuclear genie out of the bottle never to be returned? Finally, does America, especially so soon after the violent Bush years, possess the moral authority to underwrite such an ambitious plan?
No more nukes?
Obama said he has no illusions about the great challenge that he faces, and told a crowd in front of the Prague Castle earlier this month that the world must work towards nothing less than “change.”
“I’m not naïve,” said Obama. “This goal will not be reached quickly – perhaps not in my lifetime. It will take patience and persistence. But now we, too, must ignore the voices who tell us that the world cannot change.”
The speech seemed to be well-timed. Just hours before Obama gave his own version of the ‘I have a dream’ speech North Korea launched a missile that it claimed took a satellite into outer space. Western observers, however, fear the launch had nothing to do with charting the final frontier, but rather proved the ability of the communist nation to catapult a nuclear missile some 3,200 km (2,000 miles).
It is exactly this sort of nuclear threat that the United States hopes to remove. Vulnerable, paranoid nations like North Korea, or Pakistan, and increasingly Iran view nuclear weapons as a mark of great national pride, not to mention the great equalizer. As a rule, at least to date, nuclear-armed nations don’t suffer much in the form of invasions and occupations, a bit like the strange-yet-true logic that countries that have McDonald’s don’t go to war with each other.
It is not difficult to imagine the myriad problems involved in disarming a power-hungry world of its nuclear weapons. Actually, getting rid of the weapons might just be the easy part. Finding the trust between friends and enemies alike to initiate such a program would be next to impossible.
After all, even in the fantastic event that nuclear weapons did get shelved around the world, the technology to produce these weapons would still be available. And it is not only nation states that have access to this technology. Today, there exists the fear, largely germinated by the events of 9/11, that rogue states or outright terrorists will get their hands on the technology, or the fissile material needed for the technology to work, thus possibly taking the world hostage with the most destructive weapons imaginable.
Finally, ridding the world of nuclear weapons would certainly open up another can of worms. After all, many countries around the world, after many years of arming themselves to the teeth with everything from tanks to fighter jets, might be tempted to risk a jolly little war if nuclear weapons were no longer in the equation. But as deadly and frightful as nuclear weapons may be, conventional warfare offers just as many opportunities for unleashing unprecedented destruction on the planet.
It seems that the trick to modern warfare is how to destroy the enemy without destroying the entire planet, which just might mean that we have no choice but to declare all wars extinct.
Good intentions or sly strategy?
It is no small irony that Obama’s no-more-nukes speech was delivered in Prague, the Czech Republic – the very place where the United States hopes to install components of its missile shield, which Moscow views as a direct threat to its national security.
First, Obama, in his caramel-coated delivery, poured it on thick about the Czech Republic’s present status within NATO and Europe.
“Few would have imagined that the Czech Republic would become a free nation, a member of NATO, a leader of a united Europe.”
Then the American president dragged up dusty memories that many people, judging by the faces in the crowd, were probably too young to even remember, but they cheered them wildly nevertheless.
“We are here today because 20 years ago the people of this city took to the streets to claim a promise of a new day, and the fundamental human rights that had been denied them…”
And then Barack Obama seized the opportunity to speak in the native tongue of the audience, which never fails to draw applause, uttering the phrase ‘Velvet Revolution’ in Czech.
Admittedly, the speech was inspiring, and listening to Barack Obama’s powerful articulation after eight long years of George W. Bush’s incomprehensible gibberish only accentuates the American president’s rare gift.
But who can help but wonder, after the slash and burn chaos of the Bush years, where even allies had no idea where they stood, if we are not witnessing one of those good cop, bad cop comic routines performed wonderfully by Bush and Obama? After all, who could forget how Donald Rumsfeld, Bush’s old Pentagon warhorse, soothed Eastern Europe’s jaded ego by calling the region ‘New Europe,’ as opposed to the ‘Old Europe’ of the western half of the continent?
And once the Bush administration divided the European continent, it was child’s play to conquer the eastern half by installing secret CIA prisons, recruiting enthusiastic troops into Iraq and Afghanistan, and finally, convincing Poland and the Czech Republic about the need for a missile defense system on their territories.
Suddenly, amazingly, and even stupidly, the rise of a single black man to the highest office in the Land of Liberty whitewashes all of the unsavory actions – from the photographic horrors of Abu Ghraib to the abuse of civil liberties in the Homeland – of the Bush administration. How eager we are to forget. How eager we are to forgive. How eager we are ready to write off the blundering Bush years as an isolated anomaly that could never be repeated in the United States, a country that fanatically believes it is free because it has the chance to democratically mull over its mistakes every time they are committed. Rarely, however, as the war in Iraq proves, not to mention the very election of George W. Bush, which had nothing in common with democracy, do the American people enjoy enough powers to sway the will of their leaders at the most crucial moments. Debating issues after the fact is not democracy – it is merely an exercise in futility, with less sense than American Idol.
More to the point, it’s important to remember that Barack Obama never said he would shelve the missile defense plan for Eastern Europe.
And as more than one Russian general has commented, it can only seem strange, at least from Moscow’s viewpoint that the Obama administration is hoping for a heavy reduction of Russian nukes, at the very same time that the US military is trying to lay the groundwork for an extensive missile defense system.
So if Barack Obama is really serious about a world without nuclear missiles, he should come to Moscow in July with the news that America has completely scrapped its plans for missile defense in Eastern Europe.
Then, and only then, can Obama’s dream of a world without nuclear weapons start to become a reality.