Obama's nuclear test

Will the new administration in Washington DC usher in a new era when it comes to nuclear weapons? CN

It’s interesting to watch the Obama agenda unfold. So far we’re getting some tasty morsels on the nuclear disarmament front, but will they add up to the full feast?

Throughout the presidential campaign, he made it quite clear that he favours global abolition of nuclear weapons. He even talked about some specific steps to start down that road. This was all very encouraging, and it has been reassuring that since the inauguration he has reiterated some of these points.

The White House has announced that “Obama and Biden will stop the development of new nuclear weapons; work with Russia to take US and Russian ballistic missiles off hair trigger alert; seek dramatic reductions in US and Russian stockpiles of nuclear weapons and material; and set a goal to expand the US-Russian ban on intermediate range missiles so that the agreement is global”.

It sounds like a good start. But there is one particularly striking feature to that White House statement: it seems to hinge on agreements with Russia. That makes perfect sense because obviously the US and Russia have the vast majority of the global arsenal between them. But it does mean that if any progress is to be made, then there have to be good relations between those countries.

At the moment there are a couple of obstacles to that in the foreign policy field. Both are US initiatives which make Russia feel under threat. One is NATO expansion. The other is the US missile defence system, and its planned expansion, pushed under the Bush presidency, into the Czech Republic and Poland.

This is the system which would give the US the ability to attack other countries without fear of retaliation.

So what position will Obama take on these vital issues which will crucially affect the relationship between the world’s nuclear superpowers? On missile defence at least, I think there is the possibility of a little cautious optimism.

Obama has already expressed hesitation about pressing ahead with the system since he was elected. Although he hasn’t explicitly opposed it, the conditions he places on it seem to be almost prohibitive, not least that it has to be "proven to work" – which has not yet happened; and it mustn’t be expensive! I don’t think either of those is happening any time soon. It is also notable that after Obama spoke with Polish President Kaczynski – following his election success - Kaczynski claimed that Obama said that missile defence would continue. An Obama spokesperson subsequently announced that the President-elect had made no such commitment.

But US Missile Defence is not just something that the peace movement opposes. There is substantial mainstream political opposition in Europe, not least from social democratic parties, in the Czech Republic, Poland, Germany and elsewhere. But it is also a cross party issue too. One of the most interesting recent statements of opposition has come from four major German political figures: former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt (Social Democrat), former President Richard von Weizsacker (Christian Democrat), former Minister Egon Bahr (Social Democrat), and former Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher (Free Democrat).

In a statement specifically timed to send a message to the incoming Obama administration, they not only called for global nuclear disarmament, they also called for the restoration of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. This was the Treaty which banned missile defence systems, and from which the US withdrew in 2002 in order to build one.

European stability, which they argue, was strong enough to survive German reunification and the collapse of the East, "would be jeopardised for the first time by the American desire to station missiles and a radar system on extra-territorial bases in Poland and the Czech Republic on NATO’s eastern border."

The restoration of the ABM Treaty is key, in their view, to preventing a return to the era of confrontation. It’s certainly an interesting development – and one that it would be good to see mirrored in Britain, where we already host two missile "defence" bases.

All these issue will be discussed by politicians and activists from across Europe, at CND’s conference "Europe Against US Missile Defence", to be held at SOAS, University of London, on Saturday 31st January. Speakers will include: Michael Connarty MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Jean Lambert MEP, Walter Kolbow MP (SPD, Germany), Jolanta Szymanek-Deresz MP (SLD, Poland), CSSD Rep (Czech Republic), Monika Knoche MP (Die Linke, Germany), Jana Glivicka, ( Ne Zakladnam, Czech Republic), Filip Ilkowski, (Inicjatywz Stop Wojnie, Poland) and many other activists from across Europe.

Kate Hudson is chair of CND