WASHINGTON -- In April, U.S. President Barack Obama said in a speech in Prague that his administration had begun work on an effort to eliminate nuclear weapons from the world's arsenals. In Washington on October 21, Obama's secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, followed up by urging stronger UN authority to crack down on proliferators.
Clinton said international treaties must be strengthened and the UN's nuclear guardian be given more resources to provide stability in a world that faces a threat from nuclear weapons proliferation.
Clinton gave few details of how she would strengthen the treaties or what resources should be given to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). But she said these kinds of steps are essential in a world that may be more even more at risk from nuclear weapons than it was during the Cold War.
"The range and intensity of current nuclear proliferation challenges is alarming," she said. "The international community failed to prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons. We are now engaged in diplomatic efforts to roll back this development. Iran continues to ignore resolutions from the United Nations Security Council demanding that it suspend its enrichment activities and live up to those international obligations."
As it stands now, Clinton said, the IAEA is doing a good job, but only as good as it can with its current powers. Because it is under-resourced, she said, the agency couldn't detect a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor, which was destroyed by an Israeli strike two years ago, or Iran's second uranium-enrichment plant, whose existence wasn't known until last month.
In Clinton's view, these oversights occurred because the Vienna-based IAEA doesn't have what she called "the tools or authority" to conduct inspections of facilities suspected of developing nuclear weapons and to punish countries in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).
"If we expect the IAEA to be a bulwark of the nonproliferation regime, we must give it the resources necessary to do the job," Clinton said. "Improving the IAEA's ability to detect safeguard violations is not enough. Potential violators must know that if they are caught they will pay a high price. That is certainly not the case today."
Meanwhile, Clinton said, the United States remains committed to working with Russia to reducing the two countries' own nuclear weapons, the largest such arsenals in the world.
Clinton pointed to progress in negotiations between Moscow and Washington to draw up a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty to replace the pact that expires on December 5. She said that's part of the vision that Obama spoke of in a speech he delivered in Prague six months ago about his vision of a world without nuclear weapons.
Clinton said such reductions wouldn't create any vulnerabilities for the United States, its forces deployed around the world, or its allies. In the meantime, she said, it will help persuade the rest of the world to stand by their commitments to nonproliferation.
Pursuing A Vision
That doesn't mean that anyone expects the world to be free of nuclear weapons soon, Clinton said.
"As the president has acknowledged, we might not achieve the ambition of a world without nuclear weapons, in our lifetime or successive lifetimes," she said. "But we believe that pursuing this vision will enhance our national security and international stability. We also believe that the United States must maintain a safe, secure and effective nuclear arsenal, to deter any adversary and guarantee the defense of our allies and partners, while we pursue our vision."
Clinton also called on countries that have ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty to renew their commitments to the pact and challenge other nations that they suspect are testing, or planning to test, nuclear weapons.
At the same time, Clinton said Obama's administration also will put pressure on the U.S. Senate to ratify the treaty. Her husband, Bill Clinton, signed the treaty a decade ago when he was president, but the Senate refused to ratify it at that time. After that, President George W. Bush never sought Senate ratification of the treaty.
Still, Clinton pointed out, the United States has unofficially complied with the accord because it hasn't conducted a nuclear weapons test since 1992.
Clinton likened today's nuclear threat with that of global climate change, saying the problem can't be solved by the actions of just a few countries.
"The nuclear threats facing the international community today cannot be overstated. They pose a grave challenge," Clinton said. "And as with other global threats, most notably climate change, we are all in the same boat. Unless we act decisively and act now, the situation may deteriorate -- catastrophically and irreversibly."
If all countries agree to fight the spread of nuclear weapons, Clinton said, then Obama's vision of a nuclear-free world will come about -- not necessarily in the foreseeable future, but eventually.