“The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations.”
The Nobel Peace Prize for 2009
The Norwegian Nobel Committee in their press release of the Obama Nobel Peace Prize announcement
As Iran is perhaps preparing its delivery systems for its nuclear weapons, President Obama’s rhetorical flourish in Prague may not deliver the promise of global denuclearization in time. The President, these days, is a man obsessed with domestic economic priorities. And so is his Republican opposition in the United States Congress, waiting in the wings to reclaim power in Washington.
Having largely delegated defense and foreign policy responsibilities to his able secretaries of defense and state, the former a Bush Republican and the latter a former first lady, he worked the phones to pass a health care bill that would double the federal budget and could double the national debt by the times the boomers retire. The former professor of constitutional law missed the point of elementary American constitutionalism: national defense and diplomacy are any president’s first constitutional obligations because the people cannot provide those for themselves. And health care is unlike both. Yet, he treated health care as if it supersedes defense and diplomacy.
There are four global hotspots that could destabilize the world within the next decade: Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and North Korea. And all of them are interlinked because of nuclear proliferation. The President’s predecessor George Walker Bush had dealt with Saddam’s Iraq. He could have approached the matter better, but in the end game the job is done because he corrected the course taking due responsibility for the mistakes.
This President has restarted the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia only to commit to about 25 per cent reduction. What the United States and Russia could reduce from their two fairly well regulated nuclear arsenals could proliferate with far less technological sophistication elsewhere. Bilateral commitment by the former Cold War foes is not enough to prevent either nuclear proliferation or nuclear terrorism which can be far more diffuse problems.
The optimal policy response of the United States in the aftermath of both September 11 2001 (Al Qaeda) and circa September 11, 2008 (domestic economic meltdown) is to walk and chew gum at the same time on domestic reforms and global reforms. Domestic reforms under this president are decidedly taking the tone of bigger government and foreign policy is following a path of withdrawal and protectionism.
Bigger government is tolerable even if it materializes to about 40 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) by 2040, up from about 27 per cent today. It is tolerable for the United States even if national debt rises to about 200 percent of GDP but it is more likely that may continue to track the GDP at the 100 percent level for the foreseeable future.
With money, especially for the United States which is 3 times as wealthy as its nearest G7 country, Japan, there are always ways out. A future Republican president or Congress or both can truncate the ambitions of the Democrats to increase government size instead of reforming government to remain limited but effective, completing the work that Ronald Reagan had begun. Domestic economic policy must return to the Republicans after Bill Clinton had squandered it, not just in the United States but globally.
There are no ways out, however, if the United States fiddles on the roof as the world burns, pursuing a policy of gradual withdrawal from the global political fault lines. And the Republicans, on the nuclear issue, would be worse than Obama. They would rather nuke than talk, feeling entitled to American nuclear supremacy.
There is a certain appeal to this more collegial and pacifist president who prefers to talk before declaring war: he has the mindset, clearly as the Nobel Committee has recognized, to deliver on the vision of global denuclearization. The vision itself has been unduly and overexuberantly credited by the Nobel Committee to Barack Obama because it is as old as the first nuclear test at Trinity in the New Mexico desert by the United States and the Cold War itself was the prolonged process of ridding the world of the nuclear pestilence that had culminated in the Nobel Peace Prize to Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990. Now, Obama’s task, along with his U.N Security Council counterparts is to commit the world to total denuclearization in favor of strictly civilian uses of nuclear power, not merely disarmament.
To this end he must dedicate the rest of his presidency to achieving the end of Taliban in Afghanistan; complete normalization of diplomatic relations with Iran, giving peaceful nuclear power to Iran in exchange by 2020; the reunification of the two Koreas by ending the North Korean regime per force if necessary; and a new United Nations treaty for complete and permanent global denuclearization.