Obama and the Bomb

The rhetoric in the arms control community has changed in the past 5 years. Working to achieve “Global Zero” or a “world free of nuclear weapons” have become common expressions, vocalized by governments and top level officials whom previously subscribed to a much different school of thought. It is unquestionable that U.S. President Barack Obama and his administration have made a massive impact on the strength and direction of the non-proliferation and disarmament regime and thus it is not surprising to have a compilation of essays by nuclear experts entitled “Obama and the Bomb.”

In 2009, Obama made a speech in Prague which has now become a landmark among non-proliferation enthusiasts, and the bible for US officials with related responsibilities. In an attempt to reverse the US’ poor reputation by standards of arms control and disarmament, Obama made a commitment work toward a world free of nuclear weapons. As many of the essays in “Obama and the Bomb” remind us, the adoption of a new approach to arms control and non-proliferation has led to: a revised US nuclear posture that reduced the role of nuclear weapons and strengthened negative security assurances ; a top level Nuclear Security Summit; increased transparency in the declaration of the exact number of nuclear weapons in the US arsenal; and reductions in the US’ and Russia’s nuclear arsenals under renewed verification and inspections process through the New START treaty.

In “Obama and the Bomb,” Heinz Gartner’s concise but thorough introduction and conclusion help to reign in the focus, and frame the overarching theme that manifests throughout the book: in what way does it relate to the global context of disarmament and non-proliferation? It is in this approach that “Obama and the Bomb” manages to go beyond its title, as it successfully embraces the global perspective rather than focusing exclusively on the US President and US policies. Perhaps this is because this is a book on the American President’s agenda as seen from a broad European perspective. Because it is a compilation of essays written by a range of experts from the nuclear world, this book incorporates many of the major issues that are discussed among nuclear professionals today. Consequently, “Obama and the Bomb” can be seen as an A to Z reference encyclopaedia of nuclear themes, covering topics from Arms control treaties to nuclear weapon free Zones. Thankfully, the majority of the essays maintain a good balance between simplicity and complexity. As a result, this book can be read by a nuclear novice and yet, it would still satisfy the attention of a professional (non)proliferator.

What differentiates “Obama and the Bomb” from the countless comparable narratives describing Obama’s commitment to nuclear disarmament is the analysis of Obama’s impact in a global context, with respect to the various aspects of the non-proliferation regime. This is slowly revealed and examined throughout the three chapters of the book. Spearheaded with essays by the two former IAEA Secretaries-General Mohamed ElBarandei and Hans Blix, the “Global Vision” chapter summarize the international climate and recent developments in the nuclear world. This chapter is supported by essays from Philip Terrence Hopmann and Alexander Kmentt, which frame New START and the CTBT in the global context of disarmament and non-proliferation. Essays in the “Nuclear Postures,” chapter demonstrate the shifts in policy and thinking. Tom Sauer’s and Linda Michalech’s essays reveal the transformation in US nuclear policy and posture between the administrations of Clinton, Bush, and Obama. An association is implied as Kari Mottola’s article about perspectives on tactical nuclear weapons in Europe and Hakan Akbulut’s essay revealing the regional tensions between Turkey and Iran regarding nuclearization, are both strategically placed before Marco Roscini’s essay which addresses regional transformations around the world through the establishment of nuclear weapon free zones. “Nuclear Postures” also includes an essay by Magdalena Skrzypczyk that tackles deterrence theory and the Nina Tannenwald/T.V. Paul competing, but associated, arguments over taboos, norms, and traditions. The final chapter, “Multilateral Institutions,” includes essays on the governing bodies that constitute the non-proliferation regime and the political challenges faced at the multilateral level. The essay by Markus Kornprobst and Charlotte Spencer-Smith examines Obama’s Prague speech, the promises he has made, and the political capacity he has to show legitimacy and compliance with international standards of disarmament and non-proliferation. Wolfgang Bednarzek scrutinizes the strengths and weaknesses of the IAEA’s institutional structure and the effect this has on member states and the output of the organization. Simon Tauer’s examination of the UN Security Council Resolution 1540 shows many areas that need to be strengthened to reach fulfilment of the resolution’s international obligations. Lastly, the evolution of proposals for a multinational fuel bank to manage and secure the world’s nuclear fuel, is outlined in an essay by Markus Woltran.
What one can take away from this book is a sense of the complexity of actually achieving global nuclear disarmament with a complimenting sense of optimism and support for the aspirations of Obama and other devoted disarmament supporters. Most people are familiar with John F. Kennedy’s speech in May 1961, where he made an impossible pledge to reach the moon. In his words, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.” In July 1969, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and the Apollo 11 crew landed on the moon and returned safely to Earth three days later. Obama’s speech in Prague in 2009 is not unlike the one made by JFK in 1961. Both men spoke with optimism of achieving a tremendous goal, one that would change the international system and make history. Many still believe that global nuclear disarmament is unattainable, impossible, or even unnecessary, but they are probably similar to those who thought the same about getting to the moon. Visions are necessary to achieving great things.

“Obama and the Bomb: The Vision of a World Free of Nuclear Weapons,” from Peter Lang Publishers, edited by Heinz Gartner.

To purchase the book: http://www.peterlang.com/index.cfm?event=cmp.ccc.seitenstruktur.detailseiten&seitentyp=produkt&pk=53695&cid=5

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