Two Cheers for Barack 27

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.

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27 thoughts on “Two Cheers for Barack

  • John D Monkey


    Agree with most of this but not nuclear power.

    I’ve reluctantly concluded that we have to have replacement nuclear power stations because the political climate and planning system in the west will not allow us to build any other kind of electicity generation plant with sufficient output.

    It’s not realistic for the west to cut energy consumption by over a third in a generation. Ain’t going to happen.

    The problem is therefore that everyone expects the lights to come on at the flick of a switch but are opposed to all kinds of power plant – wind is visually intrusive and no use for baseload, waste incineration CHP has to be too near homes and is violently opposed by the NIMBYs, coal is dirty, gas too scarce to waste on more electricity generation (and comes from russia and Alegeria, among others), wave needs huge plants like the Severn Barrage. Electric cars also obviously need electicity to recharge them!

    So unless someone makes fusion work (and the scientific jury is still out on whether this will ever be possible) we have to have nuclear power whether we like it or not. Clearly in the UK this means new plants next to the old ones – so expect Torness B, Sizewell C, etc in 10-15 years time. We are very likely to have serious brown-outs in the interim as some of the older plant will need to close before new ones can be ready. Of course a very prolonged recession would buy time but it would make financing new plant much more difficult…

    So there are no easy options, but nuclear has to be part of the mix.

  • Ed Davies

    Britain used to have air and sea launched nuclear weapons other than Polaris/Trident (stand-off bombs and cruise missiles). Now it only has Trident.

    Were the others negotiated out as part of a wider deal or did Britain just decide to get rid of them?

    According to Wikipedia the British and French systems were not affected by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty but I wonder if there was another treaty which did affect them. Related articles on Britain’s nuclear forces don’t make clear the reasons for getting rid of them.

    This question is obviously motivated by wondering if Britain has a lower-key alternative to replacing Trident which would allow us to keep some sort of nuclear deterrent for the time being but would not be so expensive to scrap in the long run – we’d still have useful conventional explosive cruise missile submarines, or whatever, whereas a Trident submarine is a bit of chocolate teapot without its missiles.

  • Taz

    We will have to wait & see if the US is willing to negotiate seriously.

    Current US policy has been willingness to negotiate if Iran concedes in advance.

    The US will also have to withdraw it’s threats to Iran.

    If so i’m guessing Iran will listen.

    Iran has offered negotiations with the US for years but these have been ignored.

    Mohammed ElBaradei of the IAEA proposed several years ago that the production of weapons-grade fissile material be under international control & supervision. Only Iran accepted it.

    Also if Obama is serious about this issue, especially with regards to the Middle East, he’ll have to address the issue of Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal.

  • John D Monkey

    Taz is correct.

    The elephant in this particular room is Israel. Has Obama got the will (or the votes) to address this? I suspect not.

    Obama said “I urge North Korea to abide fully by the resolutions of the UN Security Council and to refrain from further provocative actions.”

    I’m not holding my breath that he’ll ever say the same to Israel.

  • David McKelvie

    I wonder whatever happened to SALT and START – or were they just displacement activities for bureaucrats having a jolly?

  • Tom Welsh

    As James Lovelock puts it, nuclear power drives the Universe. If it’s good enough for God, why isn’t it good enough for us?

    And as Fred Hoyle, one of the most distinguished scientists Britain has ever produced, suggested, if we can’t think where to put all this dreadful scary nuclear waste, how about the uranium mines where we got the original fuel? It wasn’t considered a hideous danger before we dug it up, was it?

    As for Chernobyl, are you aware that wildlife is flourishing in the exclusion zone where human beings aren’t allowed because of the horrid radiation? (No, the animals do not have two heads either, and they are spectacularly fertile). Or that cancer rates have been found to vary inversely with the amount of natural background radiation in many places?

    If we didn’t want to have to handle terrifying quantities of energy, we shouldn’t have allowed our numbers to multiply while living standards vaulted upwards. 7 billion people times N KWh per person equals a certain (vast) amount of power per year. Windmills aren’t going to cut it.

  • Cide Hamete Benengeli

    Nuclear waste from power plants is much more radioactive than uranian fuel, which is more radioactive than depleted uranium. That is why nuclear waste is more dangerous than uranium. (This does not mean depleted uranium is good, it is just less deadly.)

    Nuclear power in nature (in the Sun, for example) is mainly controlled nuclear fusion of hydrogen, which is a completely different beast from nuclear fission of uranium or plutonium. The Sun’s kind of nuclear power, if it could be harnessed on Earth, could indeed solve some of our problems, but the technology for that is decades away.

  • relament


    You’re cheering Obama because of a speech?! The history of the United States is filled with broken treaties, endless invasions, countless lies, and millions of people murdered. Are you cheering the only nation to drop two atomic bombs on two cities, evaporating 150,000 civilians in order to save Americans? That is known in America as their “greatest generation”. Are you cheering the 3 million dead Vietnamese that America saved from communism? Maybe you’re cheering over a million dead Iraqis that were blown to bits, burnt alive, and shot to pieces in order to save them from a dictator. As Obama makes it his goal to save the world from terrorism you may want to consider thinking before you vomit your ‘wait and see’ attitude. “Obama deserves praise”?!! For what, surrounding himself with the same criminals that have dictated the same sick, war-loving policies that have made the American empire one of the most horrible in all known human history? While U.S. drones blow up human beings without charges or a trial and the newspaper calls them militants, insurgents, and terrorists do you praise Obama? Your ignorance is breathtaking. Thanks for nothing…jerk.

  • Craig

    I don’t know what is wrong with you people. Obama is neither an angel who is always right nor a demon who was always wrong.

    I judge him to be better motivated than Bush. Speeches are important – they are part of the fabric of politics. Just as Bush’s “Axis of evil” speech demostrated an unsophisticated world view and an aggressive intent, so Obama’s prague speech demonstrates a more complex world view and a more pacific intent.

    That doesn’t mean his policy on Afghanistan or Pakistan isn’t rubbish. On Palestine there is nothing hopeful to date. But on what he is talking about – nuclear weapons reduction – there seems some evidence that he meant it and it is a good thing.

    I find those who want to see Obama as another Hitler just as perplexing as those who want to see him as Martin Luther King.

  • John D Monkey


    Don’t think any of us were suggesting he was either. I’m totally behind him on most things, and GOK how we need to get away from the Bush / Blair world view.

    I also don’t doubt his motivation. I hope, but don’t expect, that he has enough wind in his metaphorical sails to deliver and bring the US military/industrial complex [and BAE] down a peg.

    But although a big reduction in nuclear weapons in the USA and Russia would clearly be a good thing, I’m not sure he’s ever likely to be able to deliver a world without nuclear weapons. It only takes one nuke to fry a city.

    And unless Israeli nukes are brought into the equation, all the rest is not enough. On any cool-headed analysis they are the power most likely to use nuclear weapons in the next 5 years.

  • relament

    Speeches are important? To who?! Somebody that can’t get enough empty, meaningless cliches(‘…the fabric of politics’)? Thanks for disclosing your method of research. What are you referring to when you say, “…there seems some evidence that he meant it”? His speech? Is that the evidence? Who are you speaking to when you inform the world that Obama isn’t the worst nor is he the best human being? A four year old? Someone who was just born? An alien from another planet? When you said Bush had an unsophisticated world view, I think you have to explain what sophisticated is for you.

  • John D Monkey


    Just read the full text of Obama’s speech. He specifically lectured Iran (who don’t have nuclear weapons, at least not yet), and obliquely threatened them – he talked about their missles being “eliminated”. But as ever he made no mention of Israel, where influential people openly talk about attacking the Iranian nuclear reactor research sites (eg Shabtai Shavit, the former head of Mossad, last June).

    So yes, it’s good that Obama is choosing to focus on this issue, but I fear there is little reason for optimism.

  • OrwellianUK

    This concept of an ‘International Fuel Bank’ has come up before.

    The idea was that an international body would enrich uranium and be the only source – from which every country would have to get their supplies from.

    Guess who was the only country to take an interest? Yep, that’s right – Iran.

    Obama’s supposed extension of an ‘Olive Branch’ to Iran is nothing but cynical PR, while ongoing covert operations attempt to destabilise the country. The West has persistently threatened and demonised a country that has invaded no-one, and whose people still remember the Western Oil interest policies that overthrew a democratic government in 1953 and installed the brutal dictatorship of the Shah. Naturally you will find no mention of this historical context in our media.

    In the current climate though, some kind of accomdation may be being offered in private due to the failure of US policy in Afghanistan, and the need to compromise with neighbouring countries.

  • Anonymous

    Guess that Obama will start his mission to make a pieceful world without nuclear weapons by demanding that Korea is skipping theirs, that Iran does not build one and in the end only USA shall have them -and piece will be here for ever – and then: God save America!

  • anticant

    Does anyone really think that the Big Boys will ever voluntarily throw their biggest priapic toys out of the pram?

    Obama certainly has the gift of the gab, and can wow the simple-minded “anyone’s better than Bush” crowd. But we have to watch what he does, not what he says. So far there has been little significant departure from the policies pursued by USA since 9/11, and no change in the Exceptionalist mindset – for Obama Americans are still the greatest, most wonderful freedom-loving, kindest, purely motivated God-fearing people on earth blah blah blah.

    As for nuclear weaponry, you can’t put the clock back any more than you can disinvent the wheel. It’s there, and the question is how to stop it getting into the hands of homicidal lunatics – much more difficult and complex than during the Cold War which, looking back on it, was a relatively much safer period than today.

    I fear that Obama’s talk of a “nuclear free world” is pie in the sky designed to soothe the anxious masses, and that he knows it.

  • paul

    Plenty of scope for tidal power, being an island, which works at night, when it isnt windy and doesnt consume a fuel.

    Then theres all the secret black project power sources that are centuries ahead of all the publicly known conventional ones.

  • Jon

    @relament – calm down. You probably won’t like to hear this, and will regard me as a stubborn conservative for my saying it, but I think Craig is pretty much on your side. I can’t speak for him, of course, but he is on record as having a good nuanced view of Obama’s track record (see link), which despite the “hope” propaganda is not good at all.

    Meanwhile you do yourself no favours at all by being as abusive as you are. It may be that in some respects Obama offers a rare glimmer of hope, certainly when compared next to the policies of Bush. Of course the foreign policy of the US is atrocious, and this must be remembered, but this is not Craig’s fault, nor Obama’s.

    I don’t wish to defend any slowing of the progressive agenda, but it may be the case that Establishment opinion in the States may only be changed slowly. I am in favour of faster change, but US foreign policy may be a big juggernaught that will take a long time to change course. We should alternately push for change and allow the man time to actually do it.

  • relament


    Calling Craig a jerk was quite calm when someone cheers for a U.S. president after a speech designed to allow that government more time to implement more of the same brutalities that have brought entire countries to it’s knees screaming ‘How could they do this?’ Obama has not stopped any drone from murdering people in their own countries, in fact his administration has accelerated the murdering of people who don’t have time to wait and see. The U.S. has put countries into such a panic that the only reasonable hope they have for not being invaded is to obtain nuclear weapons. Iran is completely surrounded by the U.S. and Israel, their only hope of not being invaded is to have a nuclear weapon of determent. I can’t think of a more critical time when people should stop being calm and and start being angry. Waking up to the history of U.S. lies and propaganda and to how the U.S. citizens are represented accurately by their government-the citizens themselves have no problem with hundreds of military bases around the world, wars of annihilation destroying peoples lives by the millions, over 40 invasions of other countries just since world war two, stealing money and resources from any country they wish(unless they have a nuclear weapon, that is), stunning arrogance while having a complete lack of empathy. They don’t think about anything but ‘getting theirs’, for morals they quote the fairy tales in the bible, for ethics they consult their lawyer, they love empire and have no idea why the world doesn’t love their empire. They have no clue why they were in any war but know they were the ‘good guys’. The only time Obama didn’t have a speech ready to fumble through was when the Palestinians were being massacred by “Our closest ally”, Israel. I think it is about time to stop cheering the horrific ‘hope, and change’ that the U.S. continually offers from a teleprompter.

  • Jon

    Aside from your insisting that you have to be abusive, it may surprise you that I agree with what you say. However, we would be kidding ourselves that there is something new about the current political corruption, or that it is particularly now that ordinary people should be waking up. “The people” should have woken up long ago, and by rights should be rioting in the streets en masse – and not just over the state of the national economy.

    But for a variety of complex reasons they are not. I wish they were, perhaps just as you do, so that substantial social unrest would turn the juggernaught around faster. But in trying to get there, and winning the arguments in favour of progressive change, one does not accelerate the process by name-calling; in fact it can be counter-productive. That’s the chief point I was trying to make to you.

  • relament

    What I have said is far removed from abusive, and it is curious that you think it is, but I agree with you that ‘now’ is not only the time but had been for quite awhile.

  • relament

    What is not needed is some ‘activist’ actively cheering speeches from presidents of the United States who could care less about you, your family, or anyone else that get in the way of their power.

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