United States President Barack Obama's 47-nation nuclear security summit, a
sort of Group of 20 meeting on steroids, may have been the biggest schmooze-in
of global leaders hosted by an American president since the 1945 San Francisco
conference that founded the United Nations.
There's hardly any need for a monster, Washington-gridlock, public relations
exercise to convince global politicians of the threat of highly enriched
uranium or plutonium being grabbed by an al-Qaeda-style jihadi group, or some
terror freelancers for that matter.
Yet US analysts such as Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation have been
gushing on Obama's "calculated subtlety", "Nixonian deftness" and "strategic
depth", not to mention
elevating the summit to a show of "what a US-led world order should look like".
Reality, though, is much more prosaic. Or dangerous. Or both.
The not-so-hidden agenda of "nuclear Obama" was basically to gather global
support for a tougher round of sanctions on Iran. Obama wants new sanctions in
place by June. Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao talked for 90 minutes
about it. The impeccably laconic Hu came out of it basically saying he would be
prepared to discuss it - but promised absolutely nothing.
As much as Obama, in the post-summit news conference, still insisted that Iran
was flouting global opinion by taking steps to building a nuclear weapon -
there's no evidence of it - he still refrains from calling on Israel to climb
down its self-built ivory tower and declare to the world whether or not it has
nuclear weapons (every nuclear expert knows it does). The meek Obama line in
the sand on Israel is to say the US has always called on "all countries" to
respect global non-proliferation agreements (undeclared nuclear power Israel
does not subscribe to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, NPT).
SALT of the Earth
What the Obama administration is currently selling to global public opinion is
that it would love nothing better than to secure every nuclear loose end
throughout the world before 2014. The wish was expressed by Obama himself in a
speech in Prague last year as a world "free of nuclear weapons".
Well, not exactly, as informed citizens in the overwhelming majority of the
world's nations may see for themselves. Reduction or not, the bulk of the
world's nuclear firepower will remain safeguarded in both the US and Russia -
not by accident the two supreme judges, for decades, over who should be allowed
to enter the nuclear club.
Last week, Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a nuclear
disarmament treaty in, once again, Prague, which will theoretically reduce US
and Russian nuclear arsenals roughly by a third.
Yet nobody in Washington knows whether the US Senate will even ratify this
treaty. What will certainly happen is the senate shooting down the ratification
of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which, for Republicans,
"threatens US security". Unlike George W Bush in 2001, Obama in 2010 supports
US ratification of the CTBT.
One should remember what happened to the previous Strategic Arms Limitation
Talks (SALT) treaties. SALT-1, in 1972, annulled the anti-ballistic missile
(ABM) system. The US had started the race. The former USSR followed. Washington
panicked. And then Richard Nixon had a reality attack.
SALT-2 was designed to monitor the growth of both nuclear arsenals. Washington
was scared by the firepower of the Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles
(ICBMs) - SS-1, SS-18 and SS-19. Without monitoring, the Soviet Union could
deploy any number of warheads it wanted in each of these missiles, tripling
SALT-2 was not ratified by the US - although in practice it was respected by
the Pentagon. None of this was explained to the American public at the time,
the late 1970s. SALT-2 was sold as a US "favor" to Moscow - and then scrapped
because the Soviet Union attacked, in president Jimmy Carter's words, that
"profoundly religious country", Afghanistan, in 1979.
Months before, the US ambassador in Afghanistan had been assassinated by those
"profoundly religious" characters, even though Russian intelligence itself had
tried to save him. This story was relayed to the press by none other than
Carter's foreign policy supremo, Dr Zbigniew "let's conquer Eurasia"
Years later, the Bush administration scrapped the ABM treaty and in 2003
decided to adopt Prompt Global Strike - under which thousands of strategic
nuclear weapons were converted for delivery of conventional warheads in a
timeline of two to four hours, enough to completely smash the critical
infrastructure of any enemy. Bush's Prompt Global Strike is now Obama's. So
substantially nothing has changed.
Impressed by my posture?
Even while negotiating a possible SALT-3 with Russia, the Obama administration
also announced a new, 72-page US Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). NPR at least
explicitly acknowledges Russia "is no longer an adversary", and adamantly
enshrines a policy of "no new nuclear weapons".
But NPR does not clearly establish how much further the formidable US nuclear
arsenal will be reduced. And as the Russians noticed right away, it also does
not say a word about the 200 tactical nuclear bombs the US keeps at five North
Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) bases across Europe, in Germany, Italy,
Belgium, the Netherlands and Turkey.
The NPR in theory scrapped a US first strike against any country signatory of
the NPT - but with two glaring exceptions: "rogue" Iran (which subscribes to
the NPT), and "rogue" North Korea (which does not). Not by accident, neither
one was invited to the Washington schmooze-in, thus voiding it of any major
There have been no rumblings out of Pyongyang - but then again this is a highly
idiosyncratic nuclear power; and they know - as does much of the rest of the
world - that they are immune to American intimidation. The rest of the world
also knows that had Iraq been certified as having gone nuclear, it would have
never been attacked by Washington.
As for Iran, there's still no evidence its nuclear enrichment program has been
diverted to a make weapons. That's why Obama will never convince China's Hu
about stringent sanctions. And at the start of the Washington summit, both
Brazil and Turkey - currently non-permanent members of the UN Security Council
- duly announced, once again, they are against sanctions, and especially
against what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insists should be
The Iranian leadership saw the NPR for what it is - a possible opening for a US
nuclear attack on Iran. Tehran will want the UN to adopt a resolution
condemning the US - but everyone knows this is something that obviously will
come to nothing.
Don't mess with my spectrum
Obama said in Prague last year he wanted "to put an end to Cold War thinking"
and pledged to "reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security
strategy and urge others to do the same".
If that's really the case he's on a collision course with nothing else than the
Pentagons' "full spectrum dominance" doctrine.
There's no evidence the US is bound to decrease a military budget that is
bigger than the rest of the world's combined. Under Obama, Prompt Global Strike
is on. The Pentagon is beefing up its vast, strategic non-nuclear firepower; it
is full speed ahead on global missile defense; its is propelling NATO to become
the global policeman; it has converted formerly nuclear Ohio-class submarines
into carriers of cruise missiles with non-nuclear warheads; and is not about to
abandon its dream of militarizing space.
The beauty is that the Pentagon cannot but profit from the multi-pronged
"Nuclear Obama" offensive. Full spectrum dominance does not necessarily need an
enormous nuclear arsenal; the current, staggering ICBM arsenal delivering
conventional warheads is more than enough.
The real test should be Iran. In the - for the moment unlikely - event of an US
attack on Iran, Prompt Global Strike would have its (literal) baptism of fire,
unleashing an upgraded version of "shock and awe".
The show, meanwhile, must go on. Next month comes the UN conference dedicated
to the five-year review of the NPT. Obama will be on top of this review - which
is already being spun in Washington as an "effective strategy" to contain Iran.
So one should expect more Obama administration pressure over reluctant China
and Russia - instead of Obama showing real "Nixonian deftness" by offering
carrots (and not only sticks) as well as trying to address Tehran's absolute
(and not unfounded) paranoia of an US bent on regime change.
And as for Washington talking about a "completely nuclear-free world" - that's
the stuff (non-Pentagon) dreams are made of.