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Powerful Front Cover Of The Economist Features Nuclear Weapons And President Obama

April 10, 2009

20090411issuecovus400

Warhead-chopping is not even the hardest part. Mr Obama says he will resubmit the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty to the Senate for ratification (it was rejected in 1999 in a highly partisan vote), something Mr Bush refused to do. He also wants to jump-start long-stalled negotiations on a verifiable treaty to end the production of fissile material for military uses. But Mr Obama on his own cannot will success on either front. Others, not just America, need to change their ways too.

A treaty-backed ban on testing is in America’s interests. Many other countries have already signed it. China would probably ratify the ban if America does. But Pakistan won’t accept a test ban unless India does (both, like Israel, are nuclear-armed but outside the NPT), and without them and belligerent North Korea the treaty cannot take full effect. Similarly, the effort to ban making more fissile material for bombs was last stymied by Iran and Pakistan; India officially supports this ban, knowing that others will do the blocking for it.

Such is the disarmament minefield of today. Navigating a future world of much lower nuclear numbers presents new hazards. As America and Russia get close to 1,000 warheads each, they will want Britain, France and China to put their smaller arsenals on the negotiating table too. Britain has always said it will, China and France have not. And what about India, Pakistan, Israel and others?

As numbers drop, allies will wonder if America’s nuclear umbrella can still stretch far enough. Missile defences, a bone of contention today between America and both Russia and China, will be needed to bolster confidence against unexpected threats. But how to negotiate them and deploy them in ways that do not undercut nuclear stability?

Mr Obama is right. This and more are the work of decades. The world may never get to zero. But it would help make things a lot safer along the way if others act in concert. If North Korea and Iran can keep counting on the protection of China and Russia in their rule-breaking, progress will be all too slight.

One Comment
  1. Thomas J Canton permalink
    April 10, 2009 2:57 PM

    Let me ask you. If you were Israel and Iran was in the process of developing a nuclear weapon, do you think you would come to the table and say “Of course we will turn in our nuclear weapons, it is silly for us to keep a defense against a country who’s sole mission statement is to obliterate our country, culture and people off the face of the world.”

    Israel can be so damn unreasonable sometimes you know…

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