The South Korean Navy fired five warning shots against North Korean fishing boats and military vessels after they trespassed into South Korea waters. The incident immediately raised concerns tensions could escalate to a nuclear exchange and world war. In Japan, Barack Obama became the first sitting US president to visit the site of America’s nuclear attack on Hiroshima where he delivered a speech calling for a nuclear free world. Although the US President is the one person most capable of leading the International Community to a nuclear free world, he is powerless thanks to the realities of the nuclear battleground.
Reminiscent of his aspirational campaign rhetoric, Obama’s Hiroshima speech, along with his 2009 Noble Peace Prize acceptance speech in Prague, is a sad commentary on the limits of global leadership. Even if the US congress was willing to eliminate America’s nuclear arsenal, even if Russian President Vladimir Putin was willing to eliminate Russia’s nuclear arsenal, the nuclear deterrent legacy of the Cold War is little more than a curse sustained by fears of succumbing to a catastrophic power. It is, in fact, this very fear that has created today’s demand for a far more complex, far more entrenched multilateral nuclear deterrent.
Since the Ukraine Crisis started, fears of a US-Russian nuclear war have been revived. Before the Putin government sparked outrage by seizing Crimea from Ukraine, however, the threat of nuclear war between the two Cold War rivals, which control somewhere around 90% of the world’s nuclear arsenal, was little more than a historic fact than an actual concern. Most saw the need to maintain the US and Russian nuclear stockpiles as a fiscal burden, thereby making it a matter of time and political technicalities to eliminate both nuclear arsenals, i.e. the START II treaty. If not for new post-Cold War nuclear threats, the two would likely have denuclearized long ago.
Where there was a need to maintain a bilateral nuclear deterrent throughout the Cold War, the post-Cold War era, during which multiple nuclear powers outside of the American and Russia spheres of influence emerged, a web of multilateral nuclear deterrents become necessary. Not only did the pursuit of nuclear weapons by rogue states like North Korea and Iran discourage the US and Russia from disarming, the rise of revivals Pakistan, India, and China as nuclear powers opened the possibility of multiple origins of nuclear conflicts. Nuclear stateless and state-sponsored terrorism also became a greater concern with the rise of additional nuclear powers.
Ever since the Ukraine Crisis began, as well as ongoing issues like the South China Sea Crisis and the advancement of North Korea’s nuclear program, the global environment has fostered nuclear growth instead of encouraging nuclear disarmament. Barack Obama may sincerely want to pursue a nuclear free world, but President Barack Obama is compelled to pursue a public policy agenda of renuclearization, which he has with his nuclear modernization program. When he retires from the Office of the President, he may well regret his inability to deliver a nuclear free world, but the environment must change before nuclear disarmament by example is possible.
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