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Russia and the US, 10 years after Obama’s nuclear-free vision

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People listen to U.S. President Barack Obama during a speech in Hradcany Square, Prague April 5, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Reed (CZECH REPUBLIC POLITICS) - GM1E5451G3W01

Brookings

Steven Pifer (

April 5 marks the 10th anniversary of the speech in which Barack Obama laid out his vision for a world without nuclear weapons. It did not gain traction. Instead, the United States and Russia are developing new nuclear capabilities, while the nuclear arms control regime is on course to expire in 2021. The result will be a world that is less stable, less secure, and less predictable.

A WORTHWHILE VISION

Just 10 weeks after his inauguration, President Obama’s first trip to Europe took him to Prague. Speaking in Hradcany Square, Obama voiced his deep interest in reducing nuclear arms, including a “commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” He added that reaching that goal would require time, and that, as long as nuclear arms existed, the United States would maintain a “safe, secure and effective” nuclear arsenal.

Obama’s critics mocked him as naïve and idealistic. Achieving a world without nuclear arms would require, at a minimum, that nations conclude that they could protect their vital interests without nuclear arms; that new and very intrusive verification mechanisms were developed and agreed; and that an enforcement mechanism against any cheating state have real teeth—daunting challenges, to be sure. That said, a world in which nuclear arms were reliably and verifiably eliminated would be very much in the U.S. interest.

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