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The Obama Nuclear Agenda One Year After Prague

President Obama should assess whether any other leaders of major countries are seriously prepared to pursue a nuclear-weapon-free world. If some are, he should invite them to join him in detailing a ten-year action plan to minimize the dangers posed by fissile materials and maximize the potential of peaceful nuclear energy.

Published on March 30, 2010

A year ago in Prague President Obama declared America’s commitment to seeking a world free of nuclear weapons. Obama's vision has been misinterpreted by the right and the left and, more importantly, key countries have not done enough to help achieve progress, concludes a new paper by George Perkovich that analyzes, country by country, reactions to Obama’s nuclear agenda. 

The landmark speech presented an agenda for nuclear disarmament, nonproliferation, and counterterrorism. Upcoming events—the results of the Nuclear Posture Review, the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in New York, and the ratification of the new START treaty between the United States and Russia—will show whether other leaders in the United States and around the world are willing to join Obama.

Key Conclusions

  • The United States can’t do it alone. America alone cannot change the calculations of Russia, China, France, Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea—countries that balk at many, and in some cases all, of the steps required to begin abolishing nuclear arsenals. And key non–nuclear-weapon states passively resist necessary steps.
  • Obama can’t do it alone in the United States. The president lacks sufficient help from his own Cabinet and leading congressional Democrats.
  • Eliminating nuclear arsenals requires stronger political and security ties. The elimination of nuclear arsenals must progress in a co-evolutionary process with improvements in political-security relations.  
  • More realistic defense strategies and capabilities are essential. NATO and Asian allies are uncertain over how to deploy more realistic methods to deter or redress today’s threats.

We have a "a talented president ready to lead a long-term campaign to remove the existential threats posed by nuclear weapons, but as yet lacking sufficient colleagues and followers to make it happen," writes Perkovich. "To get from here to there—from today’s world to one without nuclear weapons—requires a collection of leaders willing to do the unglamorous, complicated work of strengthening cooperation and rules one year at a time."

Read more on International Reactions to Obama's nuclear agenda

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