President Barack Obama proposed reducing the American nuclear arsenal by as much as a third on Wednesday, directing the Defense Department to align the United States with what the administration says are the more credible threats of the 21st century.
The proposal outlined by Obama in a speech in Berlin includes the maintenance of a “strong and credible strategic deterrent,” and will instruct the Defense Department to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in response to non-nuclear attacks on the U.S.
“We may no longer live in fear of global annihilation, but so long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe,” Obama said. The U.S. will seek cooperation with Russia for further cuts “to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures,” he said.
The announcement came in the middle of a sweeping speech that drew on Berlin’s history while evoking the ongoing unrest in countries like Afghanistan and Burma.
The U.S. will host a summit in 2016 to address the international flow of nuclear weapons and material, and Obama’s administration will push for domestic support to ratify the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty, Obama said.
The president delivered his speech at the historic Brandenburg Gate, the one-time boundary between East and West Germany where President John F. Kennedy spoke fifty years ago. Six thousand tickets had been distributed, according to the German government.
“While I am not the first American president to come to this gate, I am proud to stand on its eastern side to pay tribute to its past,” Obama said.
The nuclear defense plan laid out by Obama is separate from American weapons deployed in support of NATO, and Obama underscored the importance of the relationship between the United States and its European allies in an earlier appearance with Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday.
“In both conversations with Chancellor Merkel and earlier with your president I reminded them that from our perspective the relationship with Europe remains the cornerstone of our freedom and security,” Obama said. “Europe is our partner in almost everything that we do.”
In a 2009 speech in Prague, Obama said that it must be a priority for all the world’s countries to check the flow of nuclear weapons, calling the continued existence of aging nuclear stockpiles “the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War.”
“Some argue that the spread of these weapons cannot be stopped, cannot be checked — that we are destined to live in a world where more nations and more people possess the ultimate tools of destruction,” Obama said in the Prague speech. “Such fatalism is a deadly adversary, for if we believe that the spread of nuclear weapons is inevitable, then in some way we are admitting to ourselves that the use of nuclear weapons is inevitable.”
The changes come after the release of a 2010 review of the nation’s nuclear defense posture, as well as the ratification of the New START treaty, an agreement with Russia for each country to reduce its stockpiles of nuclear weapons over the next five years to 1,550 weapons each.The proposed reductions would take the U.S. further below that number.
An aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday before Obama’s speech that other countries as well as Russia and the U.S. should be involved in further decisions about nuclear cuts.
“It’s necessary to bring other countries that possess nuclear weapons into the process,” foreign policy advisor Yuri Ushakov said, according to Reuters.
Obama made passing reference to the threat of nuclear weapons in his February State of the Union address, saying that the U.S. would “do what is necessary” to prevent a nuclear Iran, as well as check the global flow of nuclear weapons.
“At the same time, we’ll engage Russia to seek further reductions in our nuclear arsenals, and continue leading the global effort to secure nuclear materials that could fall into the wrong hands – because our ability to influence others depends on our willingness to lead and meet our obligations,” Obama said.