For Obama's Second Term, a Call to Arms Control

Article excerpt

President Obamas second term has barely begun and yet it seems already to have one theme: What will be done about instruments of aggression?

Consider these examples:

The mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., has forced Mr. Obama to embrace an ambitious agenda of gun control. His critics, meanwhile, are pushing him to show restraint in his use of Predator drones against terrorists in civilian areas. The White House also plans to aggressively combat foreign cyberattacks on American computers while the Pentagon is designing a capability for offensive cyberwarfare.

Then there are the instruments of aggression that probably command the presidents closest attention: nuclear weapons.

His campaign rhetoric in 2008 was strong in seeking a world with no nuclear weapons. But little was done during his first term toward that goal except the New START treaty. Yet according to reports about his 2013 State of the Union message, Obama plans to cut the number of US nuclear warheads by about a third and work closely with Russia to reduce its atomic arsenal.

What binds together concerns over all these tools of force is the need to better defend the moral and legal arguments behind their continued existence or the methods of curbing them.

Take, for example, the concept of deterrence. It is cited as a rationale by those arguing to keep current nuclear stockpiles as well as by gun-rights advocates. In a world in which more than half the population lives in a nuclear-armed country, it might seem justifiable to hang on to nuclear weapons. The same reasoning could apply to keeping a gun in the home or to carry one when traveling.

Yet the possession of both nukes and guns comes with a risk of mass slaughter, especially when those who are unstable, aggressive, or arrogant might not be deterred. Over time, millions of innocent people have been killed by these weapons. At some point, a moral argument must be made to put limits on them. Deterrence should be seen only as a transition to a more peaceful, weapons-lite world. …