June 6, 2023

The real nuclear threats


Founded by Drew Pearson 1932

The real nuclear threats

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – President Obama’s speech at the historic Brandenburg Gate in Berlin sought to capture some of the magic of the speech he delivered in Berlin as a candidate for president in 2008. The crowd of mostly young people was enthusiastic and respectful even as their reaction was tempered by time and reality. Obama focused his speech on a proposal to reduce the number of nuclear warheads held by the U.S. and by Russia, a proposal Russian President Putin rejected out of hand.

It may be a worthy goal, but Obama might as well be talking to the lamp post for all the good his speech will do. He made the front page of The Washington Post, but for the most part, his words at the Brandenburg Gate were more symbolic than substantive. He spoke facing the East, where no previous president has stood, celebrating the emergence of East Germany, where German President Angela Merkel grew up.

Behind the uplifting words, Obama knows better than anyone that the real nuclear danger does not lie in the aging stockpiles of the old Soviet Union, or the U.S. Newer entrants to the nuclear club are where the fault lines are. And they don’t necessarily buy into the proposition that nuclear weapons are only meant to be a deterrent.

When we talk about nuclear reduction, it’s much more comforting to focus on the Great Powers, the U.S. and Russia, because each has demonstrated through a succession of governments and over more than half a century that they can be responsible stewards of nuclear power.

The greater danger of course is with the lesser powers. Pakistan is a case in point. It has a weak government and a rising tide of insurgents and extremists. What if its nuclear weapons fall into the wrong hands? So far a strong military and intelligence service in Pakistan has been able to secure the country’s weapons regardless of who served as president. And just as the U.S. and the Soviet Union maintained what has been dubbed MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction), Pakistan and neighboring India, also a nuclear power, have not engaged in their warring ways for decades thanks to nuclear deterrence.

Then there are the emerging nuclear powers: North Korea, which is trying to attach warheads on missiles to boost the threat it poses its neighbors, and Iran, which is unlikely to give up its nuclear ambitions regardless of what incentives Obama and the world community offer.

An ability to manage the complex strands and shifting sands of foreign policy is central to Obama’s job as president, and there was one piece of good news this week. The Iranian people showed up in great numbers (72 percent voted) to elect moderate leader Hassan Rohani as their new president. He defeated two conservatives hand-picked by the Ayatollah Khamenei, himself a former president of Iran.

When Rohani takes office next month, he will present a welcome opportunity for the Obama administration to establish a more meaningful dialogue on a range of issues, including Iran’s nuclear aspirations. But Rohani’s measured and pragmatic approach doesn’t mean he can shift policy in any meaningful way. Power in theocratic Iran still rests mainly with the ayatollah, especially on nuclear policy.

Politics remains the art of the possible, from the Brandenberg Gate to Tehran.

© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.


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