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Obama’s second chance at Prague nuke agenda via IISS Voices

The US electorate has spoken, and most of the international diplomats, academics, and others with whom I spoke on the day after our presidential election on 6 November breathed a sigh of relief that the stewardship of the world’s (still) sole superpower will remain in safe hands for another four years. The rest of the world famously backed Barack Obama, so while much of the satisfaction I heard about the Democrat’s re-election pertained particularly to the nuclear-policy matters being addressed in my various meetings, I also found myself, as an American citizen abroad, congratulated more broadly.

The election turned on domestic issues, and even the presidential debate that was supposed to be dedicated to foreign policy pivoted back to the American economy and education system. Nevertheless, the question that I have been asked most is how Obama will use his renewed lease on the White House to address global issues. In my area of specialisation on arms control and non-proliferation, everyone agrees there is much to be done. Unfortunately, there seems little scope for Obama to do it. And, of course, Iran looms large on his agenda.

Obama aimed high in his initial foray into the nuclear subject with his speech in Prague in April 2009. The following year he struck the New START nuclear arms agreement with Russia and corralled global leaders to prioritise efforts to counter nuclear terrorism. After these signal achievements, however, the nuclear agenda stalled.

In following through on his Prague promises, Obama has faced impediments on nearly every front. The constraints begin at home, with one half of the Congress remaining in the hands of those who are hostile to most of his nuclear goals, or at least to seeing him achieve success in the endeavour. The new Senate appears to be no closer to mustering the two-thirds majority necessary to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The leading Republican opponent – Senator John Kyl – is retiring, but the key Republican supporter on this issue – Senator Richard Lugar – was defeated in a primary election by a Tea Party stalwart (Richard Mourdock, whose comment that conception from rape was God’s will resulted in his loss on Tuesday). No Republican senator appears ready and able to take up Lugar’s role in forging domestic consensus on ways to reduce nuclear dangers.

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