Barack Obama’s speech in Prague today contains the headline catching idea that the US will work to lead the way to a World free of nuclear weapons.
We will see how he takes that forward. It is a good aspiration and his speech in detail was an acknowledgement of the obvious but often denied fact that the world is not the safer for the existence of nuclear weapons. He reiterated in terms the basic premise of international agreements on nuclear weapons – that new countries will not obtain them, while those states which already possess them will seek to reduce them.
But the glaring question this opens up, is where this leaves Gordon Brown’s determination massively to increase the power and capability of Britain’s nuclear arsenal by replacing the Trident missile system, at huge cost?
Trident2 is the elephant in the room which the “Experts” on Sky and the BBC are blithely ignoring even as I type. If Obama is serious, withdrawal of US support for Brown’s plans should be one of the obvious first steps. (The missiles systems in question are American and would not be able to be fired without US permission.) Unless we see some movement on Trident2, we will know that Obama is just spouting hot air.
There are hopeful signs he may not be. As I said before, his discussions on nuclear disarmament with Medvedev were the most significant event in London this week.
His Prague speech represented another olive branch to Iran, talking unreservedly of the right of all countries to pursue nuclear power for peaceful use. The plan for an international fuel bank is a good one. Iran should listen.
If we assume Obama’s good faith, there remain major problems.
Gordon Brown will be extremely pig-headed on Trident2. Putin is a man whose intstincts are highly militaristic and Russia may be less keen to cooperate than Reagan found Gorbachev. The Iranian leadership is likely, stupidly, to insist on its sovereign right to enrich its own uranium. North Korea is led by barking lunatics, as its new “satellite launch” shows. Obama also deserves praise for not changing his agenda or the timing of his speech to make a populist, jingoistic response to North Korea. Doubtless he is being attacked on Faux News for this right now.
Obama did not repudiate the US missile shield plan, maintaining the fiction that it is a defence against Iran. I hope he is merely keeping it as a bargaining counter in disarmament negotiations with Putin, so that part of his speech would only make my third cheer less rousing.
What lost him my third cheer was his endorsement of nuclear energy as part of the fight against climate change. I suppose he needs to offer prospects of making money to the military-industrial complex which would lose out from arms reduction.
Nuclear power cheers authoritarians everywhere, including Brown. But speaking in a City as close as he will ever get to Chernobyl, Obama got no cheer at that point in his speech. Nor does he from me.