The Antinuclear President Modernizes the Arsenal

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He hadn't been in office three months when he went to Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, and delivered remarks on the world's nuclear dilemma. They proved to be of a sort that might normally have come from an antinuclear activist or someone in the then just-budding climate change movement, not the president of the United States. While calling for the use of new forms of energy, Barack Obama spoke with rare presidential eloquence of the dangers of a planet in which nuclear weapons were spreading and of how that spread, if unchecked, would make their use "inevitable." He called for a "world without nuclear weapons" and said bluntly, "As a nuclear power, as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act." He even promised to take "concrete steps" to begin to build just such a world without such weapons.

Seven years later, the record of America's first and possibly only abolitionist president is in. The U.S. nuclear arsenal -- at 4,571 warheads (far below the almost 19,000 in existence in 1991 when the Soviet Union imploded) -- remains large enough to destroy several Earth-sized planets. According to the Federation of American Scientists, the latest Pentagon figures on that arsenal indicate that "the Obama administration has reduced the U.S. stockpile less than any other post-Cold War administration, and that the number of warheads dismantled in 2015 was [the] lowest since President Obama took office." To put that in perspective, Obama has done significantly less than George W. Bush when it comes to drawing down the existing American arsenal.

At the same time, our abolitionist president is now presiding over the so-called modernization of that same arsenal, a massive three-decade project now estimated to cost at least a trillion dollars -- before, of course, the usual cost overruns set in. In the process, new weapons systems will be produced, the first "smart" nukes created (think: "precision" weapons with far more minimal "yields," which means first-use battlefield nukes), and god knows what else.

He does have one antinuclear success, his agreement with Iran ensuring that country will not produce such a weapon. Still, such a dismal record from a president seemingly determined to set the U.S. on the abolitionist path tells us something about the nuclear dilemma and the grip the national security state has on his thinking (and assumedly that of any future president).

It's no small horror that, on this planet of ours, humanity continues to foster two apocalyptic forces, each of which -- one in a relative instant and the other over many decades -- could cripple or destroy human life as we know it. That should be sobering indeed for all of us. It's the subject that Noam Chomsky takes up in "The Doomsday Clock" from his remarkable new book, Who Rules the World?