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Obama alters US nuke policy, but keeps first strike

Wednesday, 7 April 2010 - 1:24am IST | Place: NEW YORK | Agency: DNA
For the first time, countries that attack the US or its allies with chemical weapons, but which comply with their nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations, will not be threatened with nuclear strikes.

US president Barack Obama is introducing a new nuclear-weapons strategy that changes the US position regarding nuclear weapons, narrows potential nuclear targets, while still leaving intact the longstanding US threat to use nuclear weapons first.

For the first time, countries that attack the US or its allies with chemical weapons, but which comply with their nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations, will not be threatened with nuclear strikes. They would face the prospect of a conventional military attack. This reflects Obama’s election pledge to move towards a nuclear-free world and strengthens US arguments that other countries should reduce nukes or forgo developing them. “This is part of our effort to incentivise nations to comply with the NPT, and to isolate those who don’t,” a US official told ABC News.    

Nuclear states and those nations such as Iran and North Korea that are non-compliant with the NPT “get no assurance at all”. India has not signed the NPT but is certainly not in the line of fire. Analysts told DNA that the US is making it clear that by continuing to develop nuclear weapons, Iran and North Korea are making themselves “less secure”.

Tuesday’s release of the Nuclear Posture Review document comes two days before Obama will sign a nuclear disarmament treaty with Russian president Medvedev in Prague. On Thursday, he and his Russian counterpart will sign a treaty cutting deployed US and Russian nuclear arsenals by 30%.

The move also comes a week before 42 countries, including India and possibly Pakistan, attend a nuclear security summit in Washington on April 12-13. Prime minister Manmohan Singh will not be weighed down by concerns about some of the Obama administration’s key nuclear policies when he attends a White House working dinner on April 12. New Delhi has secured significant concessions in the reprocessing accord granting rights to India to recycle spent US nuclear fuel.

India has been concerned ever since Obama’s victory in the 2008 presidential election that a US ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) will result in international pressure on New Delhi to sign the treaty. But with the loss of Edward Kennedy’s senate seat from Massachusetts and the crippling loss of a “filibuster-proof” 60-seat majority that is needed for Obama’s key initiatives, the Democratic Party’s senate leadership will no longer have the stomach to mobilise support on Capitol Hill to ratify the CTBT.
 
For ratifying treaties, 67 votes — not just 60 — are needed in the 100-member senate. There is no way Democrats can muster that number short of a miracle. Obama managed to push the healthcare reform bill through by tagging it to the budget. It works differently for treaties. India will, however, face intense pressure from the Group of 8 countries to sign the NPT in a May conference in New York to review the treaty, which bans the transfer of nuclear weapons and the technology to make them.

Since 1968, some 188 nations have put their names to the NPT which include the five main nuclear powers — Britain, France, China, Russia and the US. India, Pakistan and Israel have not signed the NPT.

The nuclear security summit in Washington in April is the result of a decision taken by the G8 to endorse Obama’s ambitious initiative in Prague to rid the world of nuclear weapons. It will deal with nuclear terrorism and launch an international effort to secure vulnerable nuclear materials within four years. The objective is to break up black markets such as the Pakistani AQ Khan-led network.

The Obama administration’s nuclear weapons policy review on Tuesday is the first since 2001 and only the third since the end of the Cold War. Analysts say it “bolsters the US position and sets the stage” for the nuclear security summit in Washington next week.




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