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Obama on nuclear weapons

In his inauguration speech on 20 January President Barack Obama said:


"With old friends and former foes, we'll work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat"


Scottish CND Chair Alan Mackinnon has written two articles on the impact the new administration could have on nuclear disarmament.

Obama and Nuclear Weapons - part 1A fully loaded aircraft crash lands on the Hudson River without loss of life and people emerging from the plane appear to walk on water. Welcome to the era of Barack Obama. President Obama will need all his miraculous powers if he is to satisfy the aspirations of the people who elected him. He inherits an economy facing perhaps its biggest ever economic crisis with collapsing banks, insolvent car makers, lengthening dole queues and a broken health care system. There is growing anger at the handouts to banks and other big corporations whose own greed and folly led to their downfall while ordinary Americans struggle to save their jobs and their homes. He will be judged not just by his management of the domestic economy but by how far he meets his committments to tackle climate change and end the war on terror. During his campaign Obama often spoke of his vision of a nuclear-free world and his committment not to develop new nuclear weapons. This chimes with the growing support across the world for a global treaty to outlaw nuclear weapons. Former statesmen such as George Schultz, William Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn have renewed their call for steps to a nuclear free world in the Wall Street Journal in January 2008. Across the world opinion polls have shown widespread support for such an international treaty including 70% support in the United States. In November 2008 UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon published his ‘Five Steps to a Nuclear Free World’. Since then ‘Global Zero’ has been launched bringing celebrities and major world statesmen and women into the campaign and broadening its appeal. Further hope that Obama may actually carry out his pledges came from the appointment as Science Advisor of John P Holdren, a Harvard Professor with a long record of support for nuclear disarmament. And since being sworn in, the new administration has set out the aim of a nuclear free world as one of its key foreign policy objectives on the White House website. So far so good.But the key to opening up a new disarmament process is constructive negotiations with Russia to make deep bilateral cuts in nuclear weapons. And for Russia there will be two related stumbling blocks - missile defence and the expansion of NATO. Obama has been ambiguous on the issue of Missile Defence. The appointment of Robert Gates as Defence Secretary does not inspire confidence. From his early career at the CIA to his position as Defence Secretary for Bush, Gates has been a major advocate of Missile Defence. As the Pentagon’s single biggest cash cow, the prime contractors Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon are likely to fight hard to stop the programme being cancelled. The other problem is the expansion of NATO. Obama has stated that he supports the recruitment of Georgia and Ukraine into the alliance, despite clear opposition from many European NATO members. The depth of Russia’s concern about NATO encirclement was exposed by the short war in Georgia last August. The appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State could harden Obama’s position on NATO expansion. Bill Clinton’s administration oversaw the first round of NATO expansion which resulted in the accession of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland in March 1999 and Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia five years later. As US senator, Hillary Clinton voted in favour of NATO expansion and co-sponsored a resolution in favour of NATO entry for Ukraine and Georgia. Obama has emphasised diplomacy and working with allies as an alternative to the confrontational unilateralism of the Bush era. NATO would seem to be a key vehicle for that - a vehicle in which 26 states of Europe and North America can be bound into an agenda set by the United States and add some ‘legitimacy’ to the future threat or use of military power. NATO is increasingly acquiring an ‘out of area’ or offensive role and the inclusion of Georgia and Ukraine would provide a gateway to the Black Sea and the Caspian. But the world has changed. Today even the ‘soft power’ of President Obama cannot be sure of holding sway in the alliance. For the past 6 years NATO has been divided and paralysed because of deep differences over the war in Iraq, the role of an EU army, the committment of individual nations to the fighting in Afghanistan and over current plans to expand NATO. These cracks could widen if the new administration insists on expanding NATO at the expense of relations with Russia.If President Obama really wants to make progress towards a nuclear free world, he will have to halt Missile Defence and the expansion of NATO. That huge wave of activism which swept him to power is now needed more than ever.

Part 2 - Obama and Nuclear Weapons - how campaigning against Trident Replacement can strengthen the global movement to ban nuclear weapons.

In the previous article I argued that progress towards a nuclear free world would require the new US President to cancel Missile Defence and halt the expansion of NATO. Just as important would be to halt any new nuclear weapons programme at home or abroad which could destabilise the existing strategic balance. And President Obama is on record as opposing the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) which is intended to be the new warhead for Trident.He could start with Britain. Last month the British government quietly sold off its one third share of AWE Aldermaston - the company that runs Britain’s nuclear bomb factory - to the US company Jacobs Engineering. The management company is now two thirds owned by private US companies (Lockheed Martin owns another third and the British services company SERCO owns the last third). There is good reason to believe, despite the official denials, that scientists at Aldermaston have been working hard on a new warhead for Trident for around 2 years. This secret project, the High Surety Warhead, is the replacement for the existing W76 warhead and is, in effect, the RRW by another name. It is the only possible explanation for the massive £5 billion building programme at Aldermaston, the recruitment of 1000 new scientists and engineers(a 30% increase in staff numbers) and the growing rate of trans-Atlantic exchanges between the nuclear laboratories in the UK and the US. And all this is being done without any parliamentary decision or public scrutiny.For over two years the US Congress has cut off the funds to develop the RRW in the United States. Jacobs Engineering has a track record in nuclear weapons research and development. It is already a major contractor at the Oak Ridge, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories and heavily involved in R&D on new nuclear weapons. Lockheed Martin, for its part, builds the Trident missiles and runs the Sandia national laboratory and the Nevada test site. What we are witnessing is the merging of the US and UK nuclear weapons programme and a deliberate attempt to subvert the decisions of the US Congress by outsourcing the work to a country where democratic oversight and regulation is much weaker. The peace movement in Britain must take up this challenge.Meanwhile spending on Trident is increasing year by year. This year it will be £2 billion, twice the level of 5 years ago, and likely to swallow 5% of the defence budget for the next 50 years. And all for what? A weapon that was designed for a bygone era to fight an enemy that no longer exists. The case for replacing Trident was always pathetically weak. Today, with our economy facing meltdown and rising unemployment and repossessions, it is bordering on insane. Now a group of retired senior military officers have described Trident as ‘completely useless’ against the threats of the modern world and called for it to be scrapped. Trident is not a done deal. In September this year the Government will make the ‘Initial Gate’ decision about going ahead with an initial design of the new system. Parliament must demand a debate and vote so that this decision is not taken behind closed doors. British CND has relaunched its campaign against Trident replacement. Scotland’s for Peace is launching a campaign to send thousands of postcards to MPs calling for Trident to be scrapped and the money spent on other things. In May/June we are launching ‘Crunch Time for Trident’ which will involve meetings and activities all over Scotland culminating in a March and Rally in Glasgow City Centre on Saturday 20th June. Scottish CND is working with the STUC, faith groups and others on the Scottish Government’s working group Scotland without Nuclear Weapons to discuss how best to use the powers of the devolved government on Trident. An important part of this involves the STUC in developing a plan to diversify the Scottish economy away from Trident.In April this year, NATO will mark its 60th Anniversary in Strasbourg. It is an alliance that should be retired. Scottish CND is working with others to build for the demonstration in Strasbourg on 4/5 April. But we have a lot of work to do to win public opinion on the issue of NATO. On Trident we already have it - a clear majority who want to see the money spent on jobs, housing and climate change. We now need to move them into action and show how the growing support for a nuclear free world fits perfectly with the demand to cancel Trident replacement. In an economic crisis it makes absolutely no sense to spend money on a new generation of nuclear weapons only to cancel them as part of a multilateral disarmament process. And this time a US president could just become a vital ally. If Obama carries through on his pledge to halt new weapon developments it could become almost impossible for the UK government to go ahead with Trident replacement and the development of a new warhead. Could the ‘special relationship’ work in our favour for once?In the meantime we have to rely on building the campaign at home. As the retired Generals have shown, opposition to Trident renewal is winning new support from some surprising places. In Scotland and across the UK, we now have critical mass. Let us make it count.Alan MackinnonChair, Scottish CND