President Barack Obama deserves at least a little credit for publicly calling for another round of nuclear arms reduction talks with Russia. He’ll deserve more credit if he can deliver on his vision of a world free of nuclear weapons.
Unfortunately, he’s demonstrated on multiple occasions that he talks a better game than he plays. There’s no question that a reduction of one-third of the deployed nuclear weapons in the United States and Russia is a goal worth pursuing. That would build on an agreement the two countries made during President Obama’s first term to limit their nuclear stockpiles to 1,550 weapons in what was called the New START Treaty.
Trouble is, there’s little indication Russia is genuinely interested. Russian President Vladimir Putin these days is overly sensitive about Russia’s second-tier status and is going out of his way to be assertive. Russia might not insist on its call for arms reduction that would involve other nations in the “nuclear club” — a notion that would probably kill the resumption of talks — but Russia’s preliminary reaction to President Obama’s overture was hardly encouraging.
Russia isn’t the president’s only obstacle. Some NATO allies would balk at a smaller nuclear deterrent against a Russia they’re still inclined to distrust. Also, Senate Republicans — who’ve derailed less controversial issues — won’t likely be supportive. Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, insists that whatever nuclear weapons deal the United States reaches with Russia must be in the form of a treaty that the Senate would have to ratify. What’s more, Sen. Corker wants President Obama to modernize U.S. nuclear weapons before the Senate considers a treaty.
One of Sen. Corker’s counterparts on the House Armed Services Committee, Ohio, Republican Michael Turner, seems even less supportive of President Obama’s initiative. Rep. Turner has accused President Obama of appeasement and of working with nations that would benefit from a weakened United States.
Though Sen. Corker and Rep. Turner are motivated at least in part by partisanship, their objections matter. Still, if President Obama is determined enough and creative enough to elicit real concessions from Russia without compromising U.S. strength, he might be able to ignore the most ideological domestic opponents and win a notable achievement.
It just might bring us closer to President Obama’s distant dream of a world “without nuclear weapons.”