The Corner

National Security & Defense

Checking In with President Nobel Peace Prize…

From the last Morning Jolt of the week:

Checking In with President Nobel Peace Prize…

Shot:

Obama called on countries like the U.S. that have nuclear weapons to “have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them.”

 “‎We have known the agony of war,” Obama wrote in the guest book at the memorial site. “Let us now find the courage, together, to spread peace and pursue a world without nuclear weapons.‎”

Chaser:

A new census of the American nuclear arsenal shows that the Obama administration last year dismantled its smallest number of warheads since taking office.

The new figures, released by the Pentagon, also highlight a trend — that the current administration has reduced the nuclear stockpile less than any other post-Cold War presidency.

Of course.

Turn to another one of Obama’s remarks:

“That is a future we can choose,” Obama said in a speech on Friday after laying a wreath at the site, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe by his side. “A future in which Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known not as the dawn of atomic warfare but as the start of our own moral awakening.”

Except Hiroshima and Nagasaki weren’t the dawn of atomic warfare. Nobody’s used an atomic or nuclear weapon since then. Sure, we had some tense moments and near-misses during the Cold War, but the genie has largely remained inside the bottle. How many people would have bet in 1945 that no nuclear weapons would be used in war in the next seventy years?

In a world where governments fail all the time, avoiding a nuclear exchange through decades of on-and-off warfare might be their most significant accomplishment. And a key part of that accomplishment was keeping the number of countries with nuclear weapons to the minimum possible. The United States split the atom, and though the 1960s, only Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union and China had nukes. India and Pakistan detonated their own bombs; Israel is widely believed to have nuclear weapons but has never publicly confirmed it. We live in a world where countries have voluntarily ended their nuclear programs – South Africa dismantled theirs in the 1990s. Belarus, Kazakhistan and Ukraine transferred weapons on their soil to Russia. (Bet Ukraine regrets that, huh?)

And then there’s North Korea, where no one seems to have any leverage or certainty that their bombs work, and Iran, where the administration seems content to live with a promise not to develop a weapon for a decade or so.

Where our leaders have completely dropped the ball is stopping the use of chemical weapons.

Syria’s regime has used sarin nerve gas for the first time since 2013, dropping bombs laden with the chemical agent on Isil fighters outside Damascus, according to a senior Israeli official.  

This use of sarin would show that Bashar al-Assad has retained the ability to gas his enemies despite an agreement that supposedly disarmed Syria of its chemical arsenal.  

And

Islamic State has moved its chemical weapons operation to densely populated residential areas and is testing homemade chlorine and mustard gas on its prisoners, residents of the Iraqi city of Mosul have claimed.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) is reported to have set up laboratories in built-up neighbourhoods in the heart of its so-called caliphate to avoid being targeted by coalition air strikes.

It sounds rather silly to wax poetic about a nuclear-free world when the two sides in the Syrian conflict are defying the “red line” with impunity, launching poisons without consequence, killing thousands and destabilizing Europe with a wave of desperate refugees as well.

One final note: depending upon who you ask, the death toll in the Iraq War was 151,000 to one million. One of the estimates of civilian noncombatants is 112,000-123,000.

Depending upon who you ask, the death toll in Syria’s civil war has reached 152,000 to 470,000; one estimate of civilian casualties is about 81,000.

When America intervenes, as in Iraq, a collapsing Arab state convulses in mass bloodshed. When America doesn’t intervene, as in Syria, a collapsing Arab state also convulses in mass bloodshed. For all of our flaws, we’re not the cause of collapsing Arab states convulsing in mass bloodshed.

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