Obama’s disarmament policy: We go first

Rebeccah Heinrichs Foreign Policy Analyst
Font Size:

While the Obama administration has spent the last three years attempting to take the world down the Road to Zero nuclear weapons, last week the International Atomic Energy Agency released a report presenting the strongest evidence to date that Iran is building a nuclear weapon.

Other intelligence reports, including the “721 Report,” named for the provision of the law that requires it, lists North Korean, Russian and Chinese entities that have provided Middle Eastern and South Asian countries with dual-use technologies that can assist in their programs to build a weapon of mass destruction and the means to deliver it.

As the administration fails to enforce meaningful sanctions, the Israelis are seriously considering military strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Israeli President Shimon Peres said recently that an attack on Iran was looking “more and more likely.”

The Obama administration could do more to punish the regime for its illicit nuclear program. For instance, it could establish the U.S. as an Iranian-oil-free zone, closing the legal loophole that allows Americans to import refined petroleum containing Iranian crude from Europe. The White House could also sanction Russian and Chinese companies for assisting the Iranians in their nuclear efforts.

And how about sanctioning Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei himself for his nuclear program, terrorist activities and human rights abuses? It’s hard to take the Obama administration at its word when it claims the “military option” remains on the table, as it hasn’t even attempted to exhaust all non-military options. Surely, the mullahs in Tehran have picked up on this.

The situation looks little better in Pakistan. Earlier this month, The Atlantic and National Journal published a jarring report illustrating just how precariously Pakistan’s nuclear weapons hang in the balance. Islamabad apparently worries more about the United States disarming its nukes than Islamist radicals getting hold of them. As a result, Pakistan is now said to transport its nuclear components in vans down crowded streets, to avoid U.S. surveillance.

The U.S.-Pakistan relationship is understandably complicated — the Pakistanis want our money, and we want their cooperation on finding terrorists. In July, the Obama administration withheld $800 million in aid to Islamabad, a third of what American taxpayers typically give Pakistan every year. Last month Secretary of State Clinton appeared at a joint news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and declared that “We intend to push the Pakistanis very hard.”

While it made for a nice soundbite, the Obama administration appears to have no idea how to do it in practice. The Haqqani network and other terrorist groups that kill American soldiers continue to operate with impunity in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province.

And while it looks as though terrorists are closer than ever to gaining a nuclear weapon, yesterday — the same day the IAEA report was made public — the Pentagon confirmed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is considering further reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. This fits with the Obama administration’s pattern of behavior.

In April, President Obama held a nuclear summit with over 40 countries, in an attempt to devise a plan to clean up unneeded nuclear materials. Ukraine agreed to discard enough highly enriched uranium to make several nuclear weapons. Chile, Canada and Mexico agreed to move their highly enriched uranium to the United States and Russia for safe disposal. These are important accomplishments, but these aren’t the countries that threaten Americans.

Perhaps, in President Obama’s eyes, the administration’s biggest non-proliferation victory lay in convincing the Russian Federation to sign New START, a nuclear arms reduction treaty that would eliminate a significant number of nuclear weapons — U.S. nuclear weapons, that is. The treaty capped strategic launchers and warheads, but Russia was already below those figures, meaning that it only compelled the U.S. to reduce its arsenal. The Russians would have to build up to reach the cap.

Yet only last month, Global Security Newswire reported that the Federation of American Scientists said Moscow has deployed 29 additional warheads on its ballistic missiles, placing it 16 weapons over the ceiling created by New START. And New START didn’t require the Russians to eliminate any of their tactical nuclear weapons, of which they have 10 times more than the U.S.

While the president has used valuable time and political capital leading the U.S. down the path to unilateral disarmament, our enemies are running full speed in the opposite direction.

The Obama administration must reverse course, lead from the front and address nuclear threats where they actually exist.

Rebeccah Heinrichs is an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.