President Barack Obama used a speech in Berlin on Wednesday to call on Russia to revive the push for a world without nuclear arms by agreeing to target further reductions of up to one third of deployed nuclear weapons.
Speaking in Berlin where John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan gave rousing Cold War speeches, Obama urged Russia to help build on the "New START" treaty that requires both countries to cut stockpiles of deployed nuclear weapons to 1,550 each by 2018.
"After a comprehensive review I have determined that we can ensure the security of America and our allies, and maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrent, while reducing our deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one third," he said.
"I intend to seek negotiated cuts with Russia to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures," Obama said at the Brandenburg Gate, which once stood alongside the Berlin Wall that divided the communist east and the capitalist west.
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But Republicans quickly warned that the cuts Obama is contemplating would put the United States at greater risk as rogue nations like North Korea and Iran seek to build larger arsenals. Moreover, allies like Japan may move to build their own arsenals as they determine they can no longer depend on the U.S. nuclear umbrella.
"Our experience has been that nuclear arsenals — other than ours — are on the rise," said Jim Inhofe, the top Republican on the Senate's Armed Services Committee, pointing to Iran and North Korea.
"A country whose conventional military strength has been weakened due to budget cuts ought not to consider further nuclear force reductions while turmoil in the world is growing."
Sen. Bob Corker, Republican from Tennessee, the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said any additional limitations of the U.S. nuclear arsenal without first fulfilling commitments to modernization of existing forces could amount to "unilateral disarmament."
"Maintaining a strong nuclear deterrent is vital for our nation's security and that of our allies around the world. While the administration has assured me that no further reductions will occur outside of treaty negotiations and the advice and consent of the Senate, the president's announcement without first fulfilling commitments on modernization could amount to unilateral disarmament," Corker said.
"The president should follow through on full modernization of the remaining arsenal and pledges to provide extended nuclear deterrence before engaging in any additional discussions," Corker told Bloomberg News.
In April, Corker pointed out the Obama administration's unmet obligations on nuclear modernization in a joint commentary with Inhofe published by Foreign Policy. And in a previous op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal, also with Inhofe, Corker argued unilateral disarmament by the United States could lead to the "very instability that the U.S. seeks to avoid."
Republican Rep. Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee told Newsmax's John Gizzi that he was very disappointed by the speech.
"I'm sure you remember last year when the president discussed with [then-Russian President Dmitry] Medvedev about how he could do more after the election when he wouldn't be seeking re-election? Now you know the rest of the story," Fleischmann said.
"We live in a dangerous world and Russia has not complied with existing treaties. Russia also has an advantage in tactical nuclear weapons and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has not exhibited any credibility, as we have seen recently regarding Syria."
Further cuts also are likely to embolden other non-nuclear states, including Japan, to consider building their own nuclear arsenals, analysts say.
Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney told Newsmax earlier this year that the administration is seeking to unilaterally disarm U.S. nuclear forces, something that is "the most dangerous thing I have ever seen an American president attempt to do."
"This is not the time to embark on such a dangerous path, with China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea increasing their nuclear forces," he said.
A U.S. official familiar with strategic nuclear policy also told Newsmax in May that the delay in signing the implementation study may be the result of concerns among military commanders in charge of nuclear deterrence that China's nuclear arsenal is expanding more rapidly than anticipated, and that Russia and other nuclear states, including Pakistan and North Korea, are modernizing their forces.
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"I hear increasing concerns about China," the official said. "We really don't know what they're doing and what decisions are being made" about China's nuclear-force modernization.
Obama's vision of a "world without nuclear weapons" set out in a speech in Prague in 2009, three months into his presidency, earned him the Nobel Peace Prize. But his mixed results so far have fueled criticism that the prize may have been premature.
Experts said reducing the nuclear arsenal makes strategic and economic sense. But Mark Fitzpatrick at the International Institute for Strategic Studies said Obama faces major obstacles "including a recalcitrant Russia and a reluctant Senate".
President Vladimir Putin, speaking in St. Petersburg minutes before Obama's speech, made no direct comment but voiced concern about U.S. missile defenses and high-precision weapons.
Moscow sees nuclear deterrents as the safeguard of national security. It is worried about the West's superior conventional weapons and NATO plans for a missile defense system in Europe.
"High-precision conventional weapons systems are being actively developed. ... States possessing such weapons strongly increase their offensive potential," said Putin.
The chief of the Russian military's general staff appears reluctant to negotiate a new nuclear deal, and Russian foreign policy expert Fyodor Lukyanov described Obama's desire to "go to zero globally" as totally unacceptable in Russia.
Obama will also target reductions in U.S. and Russian tactical nuclear weapons in Europe and host a summit in 2016 on securing nuclear materials and preventing nuclear terrorism. He hosted such a meeting in 2010, a second was held in Seoul in 2012, and Obama will attend a third in The Hague next year.
He met the Russian president this week at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland, where they signed a new agreement on securing nuclear material left over from the Cold War, replacing the 1992 Nunn-Lugar agreement that expired on Monday.
That was "the kind of constructive, cooperative relationship that moves us out of a Cold War mindset," Obama said afterward.
Early initiatives of Obama's presidency led to the New START treaty plus measures to bolster the Non-Proliferation Treaty and a new effort to secure nuclear materials worldwide, but that push has flagged in the face of political realities.
But Obama said the United States and Russia were on track to cut deployed nuclear warheads "to their lowest levels since the 1950s," and said a framework was being forged to counter what he called Iran and North Korea's "nuclear weaponisation."
Iran denies it is seeking nuclear weapons.
Obama also wants to see negotiations on a treaty to end the production of fissile materials, which are necessary for a chain reaction of nuclear fission, for weapons.
Experts and advocacy groups described Obama's initiative as "long overdue" and the reduction targets as modest.
"The one-third cuts outlined by the president are but 200 to 300 warheads fewer than the United States was prepared to agree to during the New START negotiations four years ago," said Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association in Washington.
"The U.S. could have gone much lower and maintained deterrence," said Jon Wolfsthal, a former special adviser to the vice president on nuclear security and nonproliferation. He saw little chance of success in the face of political opposition.
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