Hardly. Moscow has neither the resources nor the technology to keep pace with America’s strategic forces. START affords Moscow nuclear parity with Washington, despite the fact that Russia isn’t bound by treaty to provide a strategic umbrella over dozens of non-nuclear allies, as is the case with the United States. In addition, President Obama’s focus on 1980s-era arms control has obscured other important issues in the relationship such as Russia’s repression of political opposition forces, endemic corruption, bullying treatment of its neighbors, including current and future NATO allies, and its continued hesitance to impose serious crippling sanctions on Iran.
All of these efforts need to be seen in the context of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, scheduled to take place in May in New York. The president told the New York Times on April 5 that the first step toward reducing the threat of nuclear weapons is to “have a much stronger NPT.” This is pure fantasy. Iran has violated the treaty for decades and North Korea has shown little interest in returning to the NPT since its withdrawal in 2003. Despite his focus on the sanctity of the NPT, President Obama has done nothing to punish Syria for its violation of its NPT obligations, even as he engages Damascus and attempts to return a U.S. ambassador to the country for the first time since 2005.
A nuclear free world isn’t an ignoble goal, but it needs to be approached realistically. Focusing on the stockpiles of the United States and Russia and limiting U.S. options for use of nuclear weapons does nothing to change the calculus of Tehran and Pyongyang.
Henry Kissinger, who is now among the chief proponents of nuclear disarmament, wrote in 1957 in his landmark study Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy that “A renunciation of force, by eliminating the penalty for intransigence, will therefore place the international order at the mercy of its most ruthless or irresponsible members.”
Our unwillingness to penalize countries such as Iran, North Korea, and Syria for their illicit activities only empowers them. It sends the message to other states potentially seeking nuclear weapons that the path to a weapon can be pursued with few repercussions. If President Obama were truly concerned about the future of the international nonproliferation regime, he would follow his recent disarmament “accomplishments” with some serious action to ensure that rogue regimes realize that there is a price to be paid by those who choose to pursue nuclear weapons.
Jamie M. Fly is executive director and John Noonan is a policy advisor at the Foreign Policy Initiative.
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