Barack Obama’s Nobel Prize attracted a huge amount of controversy. For what it is worth, I think it was undeserved-certainly extremely premature.
If the Nobel committee is giving the Peace prize for ‘vision’ and ‘symbolism’ without enough concrete actions on the part of the beneficiary, then we are going down a strange path indeed.
However, I’m not going to wade into that particular debate today, but I am addressing a related point. It is noteworthy that Obama was praised for his efforts to bring about world peace.
There has been extensive commentary about Obama’s efforts in diplomacy and the way he has shifted the focus of American engagement from Bush’s more aggressive stance to a more conciliatory one.
However, one aspect which has gained less attention has been Obama’s stated commitment to a world free of nuclear weapons.
The details are a bit thin on the ground, which is understandable considering the gigantic undertaking that would be inevitable. However, Obama appears to be genuine about this which is quite a significant shift in American policy.
Previous administrations may have talked about the desire to reduce their stockpiles but the idea of completely dismantling them would have been absurd. At some point in time, the superpowers stopped viewing them as leverage or last-case scenarios and began seeing them as absolutely essential.
Of course Obama’s vision of a world without these weapons is not a spontaneous proposal borne out of a strictly benevolent desire for a peaceful world.
The American Government is reacting to the fact that such weapons are no longer the preserve of the developed world. First India and Pakistan jumped on the bandwagon in the nineties and now Iran and North Korea are set to join the club.
The latter two gaining access to nuclear weapons is a nightmare scenario, but it is the much more probable outcome. Today the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is more or less worthless and the technology to create these deadly devices is already in the wrong hands.
All this leads one to suspect that Obama’s efforts-while noble- are doomed to fail. The Cold War is over which, in theory, should reduce the need for nuclear weapons and their deterrent effect. Yet the opposite is happening.
More and more nations want to join the nuclear club. Owning one now goes beyond the posturing of the cold war era and is more of a badge of prestige and a sign that a developing Country is on par with the big powers.
Obama might be counting on the hope that many Countries will find them passé and obsolete, but that might not happen. Instead, they may take on a different meaning.
They could become twisted icons of religion or nationalism in the way they were in India and Pakistan and the way they will certainly be applied in North Korea.
There is no reason why dozens of other smaller Countries will not want to join the club and turn the nuclear weapon into the same false god.
Even American proposals to give up their own weapons may prove to be inadequate, because they have already set the wheels in motion.
Giving Countries incentives not to go down that path will create a situation where many others will demand the same incentives and of course there is no guarantee that the beneficiary nations will stick to any promises made.
The author is lawyer and regular contributor