The United States intends to seek additional reductions to its nuclear arsenal in exchange for potential comparable curbs by Russia, President Obama said on Monday (see GSN, Feb. 16).
"We can already say with confidence that we have more nuclear weapons than we need," Reuters quoted Obama as saying in South Korea on Monday, hours before the opening of the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul (see related GSN story, today).
The U.S. president vowed to seek bilateral curbs on quantities of atomic armaments at a meeting planned in May with Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin.
Republican lawmakers have already charged Obama with undermining the nation's capacity to discourage aggression by other states, and they would mount significant resistance to nuclear-weapon cuts he might propose during this year's presidential campaign, according to Reuters. Defense hawks would respond skeptically to such a proposal, as they contend the president has failed to follow through with adequate speed on a nuclear arms complex modernization commitment he made while seeking GOP backing of a Russian-U.S. strategic nuclear arms control treaty that entered into force last year (see GSN, March 15).
Washington and Moscow "can continue to make progress and reduce our nuclear stockpiles," Obama said. "I firmly believe that we can ensure the security of the United States and our allies, maintain a strong deterrent against any threat, and still pursue further reductions in our nuclear arsenal."
"Going forward, we'll continue to seek discussions with Russia on a step we have never taken before -- reducing not only our strategic nuclear warheads, but also tactical weapons and warheads in reserve," the president said.
The U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles are unrivaled in size, together comprising thousands of weapons that nonproliferation backers contend are multiple times the quantity necessary to eviscerate life on the planet.
The New START pact, which entered into force on Feb. 5, 2011, requires the two nations by 2018 to each reduce deployment of strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550, down from a cap of 2,200 mandated by this year under an older treaty. It also limits the number of fielded strategic warhead delivery platforms to 700, with an additional 100 systems permitted in reserve. The treaty calls for the nations to regularly share quantities, siting and schematics of armament equipment and sites (see GSN, March 9).
Obama also addressed China's increasing nuclear arms effort, saying he had called on Beijing "to join us in a dialogue on nuclear issues, and that offer remains open" (Spetalnick/Laurence, Reuters, March 26).
The U.S. nuclear force was built to stave off Soviet aggression and is “poorly suited to today’s threats including nuclear terrorism,” Obama said in remarks reported by Bloomberg. That characteristic, he said, prompted his mid-2011 call for a White House reassessment of the arsenal (see GSN, Feb. 15; Talev/Goldman, Bloomberg, March 26).
"I believe the United States has a unique responsibility to act -- indeed, we have a moral obligation," USA Today quoted Obama as saying. "I say this as president of the only nation ever to use nuclear weapons. I say it as a commander in chief who knows that our nuclear codes are never far from my side. Most of all, I say it as a father, who wants my two young daughters to grow up in a world where everything they know and love can't be instantly wiped out" (Aamer Madhani, USA Today, March 26).