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Obama's Nonproliferation Initiatives Seen Losing Steam

President Obama's bid to pursue a nuclear weapon-free world and counter the threat of nuclear-armed extremists has foundered following early successes, and the intensifying U.S. electoral race diminishes the likelihood of significant new accomplishments by his administration in either area, Reuters reported on Tuesday (see GSN, Sept. 30, 2011).

Obama's past steps have included restricting the circumstances under which the United States could employ its atomic arsenal in conflict, as well as shepherding to ratification a strategic nuclear arms control treaty with Russia (see GSN, March 15). The president's administration is now formulating potential steps for further reducing the size of the U.S. nuclear stockpile (see GSN, Feb. 15).

Some foreign policy hard-liners consider a number of Obama's atomic policies to be political weaknesses in this year's presidential campaign (see GSN, Feb. 21).

"Instead of dealing with real nuclear threats like Iran and North Korea, he's going to magic shows and talking about a world without nuclear weapons, which would be a much less safe world for the United States," former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton said.

"The nuclear-free vision thing has run up against facts on the ground," added one independent consultant to the White House on security issues. "So, for now, there's going to be an abundance of talk and not much serious action."

In addition, the administration's "weak" commitment to previous promises on updating the nation's nuclear weapons complex could complicate efforts to win legislative approval for a second nuclear arms control pact, Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) said.

Efforts to contain atomic activities in Iran and North Korea have eclipsed Obama's plans for preventing extremists from obtaining weapon-usable nuclear substances, according to Reuters.

The U.S. president convened the first Nuclear Security Summit in the second year of his term, and issue specialists said governments are generally following through on commitments made at the event, though many such pledges are relatively minor in nature (see GSN, March 19).

Additional pledges are anticipated from multiple nations at the second nuclear summit slated to take place next week in South Korea, but major advancements at the forum are improbable, U.S. government sources said. "It's (going to be) a bit of a report card and also figuring out what has to be prioritized," one high-level insider stated.

Doubts persist over the call at the 2010 meeting to lock down all sensitive atomic substances on Earth within four years, and nonproliferation advocates have called for nonbinding pledges to be rendered mandatory.

Last month, Obama incensed nonproliferation proponents by seeking funding curbs to two nuclear security initiatives.

His fiscal 2013 budget request would provide $466 million for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative, which aims to secure, relocate or convert vulnerable nuclear material from civilian sites around the world. The funding level represents a $32 million drop, and his spending projections for the four coming years total $500 million less than estimates for the same period in his fiscal 2012 proposal (see GSN, March 7).

The consummation of an update to Russian atomic support systems and elimination of Russian sensitive substances account in part for the smaller funding request, according to one high-level Obama administration insider.

In addition, the International Nuclear Materials Protection and Cooperation Program would receive only $311 million, a $259 million cut from present funding levels (Spetalnick/Bull, Reuters, March 20).

The Washington-based Arms Control Association on Monday countered arguments that the Obama administration has not met its nuclear modernization promises.

Obama in 2010 unveiled a 10-year, $85 billion nuclear weapons spending plan amid efforts to secure Senate ratification of the New START treaty with Russia. The accord passed with support from 13 GOP lawmakers and entered into force last year.

Critics have noted that spending estimates from 2010 are not reflected in the administration's budget proposal for the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1.

"That is the wrong metric to use," the Arms Control Association said on Monday. "What really matters is whether the resources are adequate for the stockpile stewardship activities that maintain the effectiveness of the existing U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. At well over $7 billion per year, the nuclear weapons labs have more than enough to get the job done."

In making its case, the organization also noted the effect on government spending of the deficit-cutting Budget Control Act and noted that the administration is seeking $7.6 billion for stockpile operations at the National Nuclear Security Administration, the semiautonomous Energy Department branch charged with maintaining the U.S. nuclear arsenal. That amount is $1.2 billion higher than the amount appropriated in fiscal 2010, according to the Arms Control Association.

It also noted that the fiscal 2013 budget request seeks hundreds of millions of dollars for programs to prepare new bombers, ICBMs and other nuclear-weapon delivery systems (Collina/Kimball, Arms Control Association, March 19).


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