After years of leaving his nuclear weapons policy on the back burner, President Barack Obama called last month for major reductions in U.S. and Russian strategic stockpiles.
Obama made these remarks outside Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, nine days and 50 years after President John F. Kennedy’s American University speech, in which he called for the first round of arms talks with the Soviet Union and for the world to rethink nuclear weapons.
Before he spoke, Obama removed his jacket and rolled up his sleeves. Maybe it was the 90-degree heat, or perhaps Obama wanted to signal that leaders across the political spectrum must work hard to reduce the threat of nuclear warfare.
Obama didn’t just echo JFK. He also triggered recollections of President Ronald Reagan’s “Tear down this wall” demand on the same spot outside the Brandenberg Gate in 1987.
Until last month, Obama hadn’t made a major speech on nuclear weapons since the one he gave in Prague just three months after being sworn in for his first term. In Prague, Obama outlined his plan to work with Russia to reduce nuclear weapons while strengthening the treaty that prevents other countries from gaining nuclear weapons.
In Berlin, Obama called for the reduction of up to one-third of all strategic deployed nuclear weapons, the type of weapon that could instantly target a U.S. city. Following that course would strengthen U.S. national and fiscal security while reducing the threat of nuclear terrorism.
If Russia agrees to come to the table, the number of nuclear weapons that could be immediately targeted at U.S. cities would decrease from 1,550 to approximately 1,000.
America’s military and experts from both major political parties are reaching a consensus that a significantly smaller nuclear stockpile would meet deterrence needs while freeing resources for investment in other security priorities, such as counterterrorism or cybersecurity. These reductions would set the stage for future agreements that could include other countries — like China — in the arms control process.
Further stockpile reductions will not only move in the direction of a world free of nuclear weapons envisioned by Reagan, who once said: “We seek the total elimination one day of nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth.” It would also save billions of taxpayer dollars.
The United States is on track to spend $640 billion on nuclear weapons and related programs over the next decade, the Ploughshares Fund estimates. Reducing our stockpile to 1,000 deployed strategic warheads would save nearly $40 billion over the next decade, according to the Arms Control Association’s estimates.
In his Berlin address, Obama also outlined a push for two treaties that would prevent other countries from gaining nuclear weapons: the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
The cutoff treaty would prevent countries from creating the materials necessary for a bomb, and the test ban treaty would significantly limit their ability to test and perfect a bomb. Adding a cut off and a test ban treaty to the host of international nuclear agreements will make it much more difficult for potential enemies to go nuclear and threaten the United States.
Additionally, Obama outlined further steps to combat nuclear terrorism, including a 2016 Nuclear Security Summit and continued programs to secure loose nuclear materials internationally. In Prague, Obama initially laid out a plan to secure materials terrorist organizations could use to create a nuclear weapon or a “dirty bomb.” Since he established his goal, 11 countries have completed the process and the amount of unsecured nuclear materials grows smaller and smaller every day.
The initiatives Obama laid out in Berlin will enhance U.S. national security by reducing the threat of nuclear weapons and saving resources for investment in security priorities that address 21st century global realities.