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Russian roulette in the White House

Soric Miodrag Kommentarbild App
Miodrag Soric
May 24, 2016

Barack Obama is set to visit Hiroshima, the first city to suffer atomic bombing. There was a time when the US President's nuclear policies were praised - but prematurely so, says DW correspondent Miodrag Soric.

Nuclear test
Image: picture alliance/AP Images

From a political point of view, 2009 is eons ago. Back then, a young president promised hope, change and a new way of thinking: forget the old patterns that reigned during the Cold War! Barack Obama demanded brisk steps toward a nuclear-free world. He announced a massive reduction of nuclear weapons. No wonder people all over the world felt drawn to the new man in Washington. Europe even awarded Obama the Nobel Peace Prize, even though he had just taken office.

What has he done since then?

The facts: Obama's predecessor George W. Bush reduced the number of strategic nuclear weapons from 6,000 to 2,000. Obama merely phased out 500 warheads. In the meantime, his administration has announced plans to "revive the nuclear weapons program". Over the next 30 years, the US plans to invest the astronomically high sum of more than $1 trillion (891 billion euros) in the construction of new aircraft carrier systems, long-range aircraft, a dozen nuclear-powered submarines and the development of so-called "mini-nukes" - atomic weapons with a yield of less than five kilotons.

The consequences are far-reaching. In particular the development of small tactical nuclear weapons is bound to change the global security structure. Their destructive force may be weaker than that of the bomb that hit Hiroshima, but, military experts say, they target the enemy on the battlefield more precisely. Inhibitions to use these mini-nukes are waning. The world is becoming a less secure place, researchers at the Washington-based Union of Concerned Scientists think tank say. Obama takes a different view. Essentially, he wants to give his successors "additional options" in the event of a conflict.

So Pandora's Box is opening bit by bit. Russia, China and other nuclear powers are working on similar weapons. It's only a matter of time before it becomes impossible to control the multitude of mini-nukes. Terrorists will use that fact for their own purposes - or at least they'll try. By creating mini-nukes, politicians, including the US president, are playing Russian Roulette.

There are many reasons why Obama's nuclear policies failed. A fresh start in relations with Russia failed, and the question remains whether Iran will forgo nuclear arms of its own forever. Israel and many Arab states are skeptical. The man who was once a bearer of hope in the White House tried his hand at a new approach in security policies in 2009, but with the old "political establishment", including Robert Gates, Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden, by his side. At best, a naïve move, at worst he overestimated himself. In Washington, these politicians are among the coldest of warriors.

What remains?

When he visits Hiroshima on Friday, President Obama will find unctuous words for the dangers of nuclear war. However, his listeners won't be deceived, and may recall the words of Matthew 7:16-20: "By their fruits ye shall know them."

Soric Miodrag
DW Washington correspondent Miodrag Soric