By Sir Ronald Sanders:
Barack Obama is earning the Nobel Prize for Peace that he received late last year amid criticism that he had done nothing to deserve it.
The arms treaty that he personally pushed and signed with the Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev on April 8 in Prague is cause for the entire world to breathe a sigh of relief.
For sure, the world is a safer place for the fact, that under this Treaty, the nuclear arsenals of both the United States and Russia will be cut by a third.
Small nations, such as those in the Caribbean, would never have been part of the nuclear arms race, but once these weapons are in the hands of countries which might be tempted to use them, the real risk exists that small countries in their proximity could become innocent victims.
Of course, the risk now goes beyond nations to rogue groups with the financial capacity either to buy or develop nuclear weapons for use against nations they consider enemies. By the nature of its involvement in global affairs, the United States is an obvious target for hostile nations and anti-American organisations.
A nuclear attack on the United States would have dramatic and fatal consequences for the Caribbean in a range of ways that go far beyond the overspill from nuclear explosions.
Against this background, Caribbean countries should applaud the treaty signed by Obama and Medvedev. Similarly, they should welcome the Conference to be held by 47 nations, hosted by the United States on April 12 and 13.
Small states will forever be spectators at such Conferences – not being nuclear nations themselves – but they should be active spectators cheering on the governments that resolve not to develop nuclear weapons as well as the governments that take the bold step to reduce their arsenals. In this regard, governments of small states would act in their own interest and in the interest of all mankind if they sent messages of congratulations to Presidents Obama and Medvedev. These two leaders need to know that people around the world approve of their action.
It would not be amiss too if Caribbean governments also sent messages to the leaders of all 47 states participating in the Summit meeting on nuclear security starting on April 12. Such a message should make it clear that the world expects them to act responsibly and collectively to uphold the fundamental premise of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NTP) which is that while all nations have the right to seek the peaceful use of nuclear energy, they all also have the responsibility to prevent nuclear proliferation, and those that do possess these weapons must work towards disarmament.
Both Medvedev and Obama have already received strong criticism from influential persons and groups within their own countries, making it even more urgent for peace-loving nations to register their vibrant support for their courage in resisting the combatants in their own societies. The ink was not yet dry on the signatures to the Treaty signed on April 8 when conservatives opposed to Obama’s agenda for nuclear non-proliferation attacked him, saying that he will weaken the US nuclear deterrent against possible attack.
Not surprisingly among the nay-sayers was John McCain, the Republican Senator against whom Obama ran for the US Presidency. He was joined by another Republican Senator in saying: “We believe that preventing nuclear terrorism and nuclear proliferation should begin by directly confronting the two leading proliferators and supporters of terrorism, Iran and North Korea. The Obama administration's policies, thus far, have failed to do that and this failure has sent exactly the wrong message to other would-be proliferators and supporters of terrorism”.
Their statement indicates quite clearly what the attitude of the Republicans will be in the US Senate which has to ratify the Obama-Medvedev treaty before it can come into force. They will subject Obama to a verbal bashing, and raise the spectre of American vulnerability as they try to scaremonger the entire nation into rejecting it. The Russian Parliament also has to ratify the treaty, and while the ride there may be easier, it will not be entirely smooth. This is even greater reason for other nations to transmit to these bodies their support for the agreement.
The Summit on Nuclear Security is not expected to discuss particular countries but undoubtedly Iran and North Korea will be discussed in the margins of the meeting. Iran is widely suspected of pursuing nuclear weapons, and North Korea, which withdrew from the NPT in 2003, has twice detonated nuclear devices. Both countries are under UN sanctions, and both are governed by regimes that have demonstrated a dislike and disregard for international rules.
What was particularly significant about the speech made by Medvedev after signing the April 8 treaty is that he was severely critical of Iran saying that the world could not turn a blind eye to Iran, which he said had not responded to "many constructive proposals". He suggested that Russia would be open to further sanctions against Tehran.
Small states, particularly those that are actively seeking economic links to Iran, also need to be careful that the Iranian government does not expect their votes in diplomatic tussles at the United Nations and other international bodies over Iran’s nuclear programme. While all countries should support the desire for nuclear energy, it is not at all clear that Iran’s programme stops there. And rejecting any overtures from Iran for diplomatic support in the nuclear controversy would not be submission to a US-Russia position; it would be an assertion of the vital concern of small nations for a world in which no new nuclear weapons are built and existing arsenals reduced.
On April 7, the Obama government committed the US not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states provided that they are party to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations. Only North Korea and Iran are presently omitted from this undertaking.
The nuclear security Summit could be a first step in a constructive nuclear-use strategy. If the development of nuclear weapons could be universally rejected and a commitment made to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, nuclear power could be used in the fight against climate change and in giving the entire world greater confidence in energy security
Obama has given the world the right lead by his intense desire to end nuclear-proliferation. Yes, the US would be safer if this happens, but so too would the rest of the world particularly those with no nuclear weapons. Obama deserves support.
April 9, 2010