UPDATE: An open letter to President Obama on global nuclear security

Apr 16, 2010

Murray, KY – On Thursday, April 8th President Barack Obama and Russian Federation President Dimitri Medvedev signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, signaling a change in relations between the two countries. Commentator and History Professor Doctor Brian Clardy writes this open letter to President Obama about the future of nuclear weaponry and global security.

Like many foreign policy observers, I watched your recent meeting in Prague with Russian Federation President Dmitri Medvedev with great interest and optimism. It was indeed a relief to witness the signing of the START Treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation. This was long overdue and a much needed change of direction in Post Cold War foreign policy.

While the final outcome of this ground breaking event in post Cold War diplomacy is yet to be determined, it is safe to say that Washington and Moscow are well on their way to making sure that the world community will be safe from the worst-case scenario of nuclear conflagration. And it will provide a pragmatic framework for our two countries to begin work on towards other key areas of joint strategic concern.

However, there is another point that I would like to raise, and one that you addressed in your address in Prague last year. The single biggest threat to global peace and stability is the spread and potential use of nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons technology by rogue states and non-state actors.

In the spirit of the most recent treaty signed in Prague, the United States and Russia should actively seek to prevent these terrible materials from getting into the hands of those who seek to use mass violence to affect narrow political ends.

In this worst case scenario, nations such as India and Pakistan could very well square off in a dangerous game of brinksmanship, unless cooler heads prevail. Such vital issues as the control of Jammu and Kashmir must be addressed in a non-violent fashion as the 1999 Lahore Declaration has proclaimed. The United States and the Russian Federation should play a critical role to make sure that Islamabad and New Delhi can come to the negotiating table to resolve this matter peacefully and refrain from the use of strategic weaponry during a fit of anger.

Moreover, Washington and Moscow should seek to implement the usable sanctions provisions based upon the NPT should also serve as a strong deterrent to discourage Tehran and Pyongyang from pursuing a nuclear program. Your recent policies on the United States nuclear posture will be constructive towards that end. Thus, Washington and Moscow must take the lead to make sure that those sanctions are meaningful as they meet their overall strategic objectives.

Of course, this will depend, in part, on the situation in Iran. It is my sincere hope that if not President Ahmadinjad, that his opposition, and other key leaders in Tehran can create an constructive diplomatic environment that is conducive to a Central Asian region that is on the path to peace. Here, Washington and Moscow can work actively with the other P5+1 participants to make this desire a reality.

Regarding North Korea, you and President Medvedev should encourage the United Nations Security Council to make this crisis its number one priority and work tirelessly to make sure that North Korea never acquires a nuclear weapon much less continue its provocative testing of weapons delivery systems.

In either event, you and President Medvedev have your work cut out for you. What is vital here is the hope that two powerful nations who have a history of rivalry and mistrust use this historic opportunity to resolve these crises, many of which were born out of the tragic legacy of the Cold War.

Doctor Brian Clardy is an Assistant Professor of History at Murray State University, specializing in US foreign relations and modern presidency. He is also host of Caf Jazz on Thursday nights.

A Response from Barack Obama

Dear Friend:

Thank you for your views on issues related to nuclear arms control and energy. I appreciate your perspective.

Nuclear weapons and their proliferation pose one of the gravest threats to America and the world, from North Korea's nuclear and long-range missile tests, to Iran's expanding nuclear program, to the potential of terrorists obtaining these weapons. Since the end of the Cold War, the threat of a global nuclear war has decreased, but the risk of nuclear attack has increased. However, even as we seek to end this threat, we must also use nuclear energy as one option to help the world confront the effects of climate change. Building on my previous work in the United States Senate, my Administration will partner with the international community to limit the danger of nuclear weapons, while encouraging the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

As Commander-in-Chief, I am committed to stopping nuclear proliferation and seeking a world free of nuclear weapons. To achieve this goal, we will lead efforts to reduce nuclear arsenals and bring into force the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and a verifiable Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty. My Administration is working with Russia on a new treaty to reduce our warheads and delivery systems, consistent with our commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. We will also increase cooperation to secure all vulnerable nuclear materials, work with others to enhance the international inspection system, and take decisive action when countries break the rules.

Please join me online to learn more about issues related to nuclear arms control and energy at: www.whitehouse.gov/issues/foreign-policy.

Thank you again for writing on this important issue.


Barack Obama