April 19, 2010

Obama’s N-party: Host waffles at his pet summit

Obama’s N-party

The Pioneer Edit Desk

Host waffles at his pet summit


The two-day Nuclear Security Summit held in Washington, DC, this past week more or less confirmed President Barack Obama’s crowning as Jimmy Carter, the Second. Like his one-term predecessor from the 1970s, Mr Obama is increasingly beginning to resemble a lacklustre chief executive, completely at sea in the power districts of Washington, DC, and obsessed with woolly-headed but ultimately unachievable global goals. Mr Obama has been calling for nuclear disarmament. However, not only does he not have support within his own establishment, he is also somewhat disingenuous about the project. The target of his rhetoric is other countries, rarely the United States, which has more nuclear weapons than the rest of the world put together. Simultaneously, the US is preparing the ground for the revalidation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. However, it is making no effort to make the NPT contemporaneous and to recognise genuine nuclear powers, like India, that are outside the NPT ambit simply because they have never signed it. These conflicting signals, combined with Mr Obama’s trademark waffle, made the Washington Summit successful only in the eyes of the US President’s camp followers. As such, Mr Obama has several sets of conflicting priorities before him — maintaining the US’ nuclear-weapons primacy as well pushing his utopian ideas of nuclear disarmament; seeking to secure the world from nuclear terrorism and preventing Al Qaeda access to the Bomb, while also pretending he can talk a civilian nuclear deal with Pakistan. In short, he is trying to be too many things to too many people.

It boils down to priorities. As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pointed out at the summit, nuclear terrorism is “a grave threat” and concern number one for the world community. There are several potential sources of nuclear terrorism. The US and Israel are worried about the Iranian nuclear programme and of material from it reaching groups such as Hamas and being used against Jewish and/or Western targets. Yet, the Iranian nuclear weapons programme — illicit as it is — exists in a context. It is a Shia response to the arming of Sunni powers, and to the perception that the Pakistani Bomb provides a nuclear umbrella to Saudi Arabia. The strongest argument, even deterrent, against Tehran’s nuclear mission would be to place curbs on Islamabad’s nuclear facilities, bring in AQ Khan for questioning before a credible international panel and search and completely destroy the so-called ‘Nuclear Wal-Mart’ he had assiduously built, supported by the Pakistani military brass, over a quarter century. Yet, this calls for tough decisions and playing hardball with Pakistan — not something Mr Obama is inclined to do in his current mood.

As a result, the US President is focussing his energies on other areas — from sanctions against Iran to renewing old arms-limitation treaties with Russia to selling dreams about total disarmament. India has no problems with disarmament. In fact, in 1988 Rajiv Gandhi suggested what remains the most credible plan for disarmament — and one every successive Government in New Delhi has backed — that called for simultaneous cuts by all nuclear-weapons countries with extra effort from those that had the biggest arsenals. If nuclear disarmament needs to be discussed, that 1988 plan should be the starting point. There is no point reinventing the wheel and pretending the world had not thought of these issues till the grand day in January 2009 when Mr Obama entered the Oval Office.

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