Call me a cynic, but the latest agreement between the United States and Russia to cut their stocks of nuclear weapons seems nothing over which to expend any enthusiasm. Quite the contrary. It’s a hangover from the dead and distant days of the Cold War. Disarmament mattered when Ronald Reagan faced Mikhail Gorbachev, because it expressed the understanding that mutually assured destruction was not a real policy. Russia today is a very different proposition to its forebear, the Soviet Union. To be sure, its leaders, President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, are keen warmongers, and paranoid, so gestures to reassure them are in order. Even as they sign this treaty, they’re commissioning new assault vessels to be built in France. Mutually assured destruction, however, is over and done with. Still, granted the background and outlook of the present Russians in the Kremlin, any treaty with them is in the nature of all-in wrestling. They’ll cheat if they can, and obstruct or avoid verification.
Barack Obama evidently has a belief that the whole world ought to be free from nuclear weapons, and the United States has to show them the way. Such a belief is as commendable as it is infantile, a sort of pacifist delusion about the nature of power politics. How are India and Pakistan to be persuaded? What about China, already flexing its muscles as a super-power? A smaller arsenal in the United States will only help convince North Korea and Iran to build a bigger one, to equalise if possible. What the latest treaty does is to confirm John Bolton’s nightmare that Obama is the first post-American president, and under him the United States is deliberately dismantling its status in the world, so that Pax Americana goes out of the window. It’s some consolation that the stock of nuclear weapons is still high, and the next round of disarmament talks is seven years away, by which time the man in the White House must be other than Obama.