How Obama Learned to Love the Bomb via MotherJones

The president’s budget boosts spending on our atomic arsenal while cutting money to stop the spread of nukes.

In the winter of 2012, President Obama stood on a podium at the National Defense University to honor the 20th anniversary of a program that successfully dismantled nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union, declaring, “We simply cannot allow the 21st century to be darkened by the worst weapons of the 20th century.” He reaffirmed his commitment to continue investing in nonproliferation, because “our national security depends on it.” But his administration’s recently released budget proposal reflects the opposite agenda: It makes big cuts to nuclear nonproliferation programs while beefing up funding for the United States’ nuclear-weapons stockpile.

“I’m baffled as to why they would do that,” says Barry Watts, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a national-security policy think tank, said of the Obama administration. “Nonproliferation goes straight to the heart of their policy.” Obama’s budget proposal for 2014 would cut $400 million from nonproliferation programs while spending an additional $560 million on extending the life of our atomic arsenal (compared to the fiscal 2012 budget).


The nonproliferation advocates are baffled. At a 2009 speech in Prague and in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Obamavowed to work toward a world free of nuclear weapons. The new budget is “inconsistent with the philosophy the president has espoused at Prague and in his Nobel Peace Prize speech. The direction seems wrong,” says Philip Coyle, a senior science fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and a former associate director of the White House Office on Science and Technology. Obama “committed to reducing the stockpile, and stockpiles are scheduled to go down. The DOD has supported that. The vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has supported that. The Secretary of State has supported that.”

The renewed focus on maintaining the nuclear arsenal, says Watts, may reflect a shift away from the administration’s idealistic stance. Though Obama’s position has been to “try to get out of the nuclear business in the long run, the problem with that is if you look at virtually all other nuclear-powers wannabes, they don’t seem inclined to follow our lead, which I think was the hope.” Last week, a Chinese defense white paper appeared to alter the country’s long-standing commitment to not use its nuclear weapons first. Writing in the New York Times, James M. Acton of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said this move “may also make it more difficult politically for President Obama to carry out his ambitious nuclear agenda.”

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