Big Brother and the Holding Company I could do without, but I’ve been waiting four decades for someone with Janis Joplin’s raw talent and intensity. Finally, along comes Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes. Patience can sometimes be rewarded.
There is now considerable impatience directed at President Obama for not doing more and working faster to achieve a world without nuclear weapons. Will it take four decades – or more – to eventually reach Global Zero? Even if he wins a second term, President Obama won’t reduce the U.S. stockpile nearly as much as President George H.W. Bush or George W. Bush. Most probably, under President Obama’s watch, as with his predecessors, more U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons will be retired because of budgetary considerations and old age than because of treaty obligations. Team Obama has taken over a year and convened countless meetings to determine how much of New START’s excess can be trimmed without harm to U.S. national security. The answer, which is likely to create great angst among his political foes and continued impatience among his backers, awaits the outcome of the election.
Since the 1970s, Republican presidents have had a better track record than Democrats in decisively cutting nuclear deals as well as the size of the U.S. stockpile. Hans Kristensen at the Federation of American Scientists has blogged on this topic, and has kindly prepared the accompanying graphic.
Presidents Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama vocalized their vision of a world without nuclear weapons — Carter in his inaugural address, no less — but they, like President Bill Clinton, have been cautious incrementalists on nuclear matters. President Reagan, in stark contrast, demonstrated massive disregard for nuclear orthodoxy. George H.W. Bush signed off on two strategic arms reduction treaties and wisely undertook unverifiable initiatives to reduce nonstrategic nuclear weapons, rather than try to pursue this objective by means of a treaty. Even George W. Bush, whose idea of a reasonable strategic arms reduction treaty was one that would come into effect the same day it was set to expire, oversaw a quiet, hard trim of the U.S. stockpile. The record since 1977 clearly demonstrates that both parties have worked to shrink nuclear forces and stockpiles, but Republican Presidents have had more leeway to do so than Democrats.
Now for the caveats: President Reagan was sui generis – an anti-nuclear, anti-Communist President, who was uniquely able to quiet second-guessers. President George H.W. Bush was the beneficiary of Reagan’s openings. After initial hesitation, he grabbed with both hands opportunities presented by the demise of the Soviet Union to reduce nuclear stockpiles. President George W. Bush had far more excess to trim than President Obama.
Looking ahead, deep cuts in U.S. and Russian nuclear forces will be harder to accomplish in big steps, but are very likely to continue in smaller increments over the long haul. One reason is economics. Another is the progressive weakening of key constituencies in the United States that favor larger numbers and strategic modernization programs. A third is that Russia has still not recovered from the loss of infrastructure that supported the Soviet Union’s strategic modernization programs.
[Editor adds: here’s a musical bonus.]