President Obama’s call Wednesday to reduce U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles by one-third ran into immediate opposition in both Washington and Moscow, with officials from both countries questioning the need for such a sharp cut in their weapons arsenals.
Obama’s proposal, which he made during a speech at Berlin’s Bradenburg Gate, would reduce U.S. and Russian stockpiles of nuclear weapons to roughly 1,000 each, down from the 1,500 outlined in the current treaty between the superpowers.
Back in Washington, however, Republicans in particular expressed fears that such a development would amount to unilateral disarmament.
“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,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. “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.”
Obama said he would pursue the nuclear reductions through further negotiations with the Russians, but those close to Russian President Vladimir Putin were far from enthusiastic about the idea.
“The situation is now far from what it was in the ’60s and ’70s, when only the U.S.A. and the Soviet Union discussed arms reduction,” said Russian foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov.
The push for further talks with Russia comes at a delicate time, considering the two nations remain at loggerheads over how to respond to the two-year civil war in Syria. Putin refused this week to endorse the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, despite pressure from Obama and other U.S allies.
The president has long argued that building massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons is an outdated, Cold War-era strategy. But he’s had limited success in convincing other countries to give up their warheads, particularly when then U.S. maintains such a big arsenal of those weapons around the globe.
“The United States can and should reduce its arsenal well below 1,000 deployed strategic warheads, which is still more than enough nuclear firepower to deter any current or potential nuclear adversary,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. “The ‘one-third’ cuts outlined by the president are a good start, but it is only 200-300 warheads fewer than the United States was prepared to agree to during the New START negotiations four years ago.”
But the president’s supporters said he took an important first step in laying out a concrete marker for discussions with Russia.
“It is my strong belief that the world will be better off without an unnecessarily high number of these powerful weapons,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. “The Cold War is long gone and the United States and Russia must do more to adjust their deterrents to practicable standards.”