WASHINGTON — On April 5, 2009, America's new president stood at the gates of Prague castle in front of 20,000 Czechs waving flags and offered what would be a defining moment of his presidency: a pledge to seek a world without nuclear weapons. He outlined specific steps to reach that goal.
Two years later, President Barack Obama has delivered on some of his promises, while other goals appear stalled. Here's a look at the progress:
The promise: "To reduce our warheads and stockpiles, we will negotiate a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the Russians this year."
The follow through: The administration delivered on the treaty, but it took longer than planned. The New START treaty was signed a year after the speech. After a rough road in the Senate, it was ratified by the U.S. in December and then by the Russian Duma in January. The treaty lowers the cap on deployed warheads to 1,550, down from a ceiling of 2,200. The two sides were already well below the earlier caps so actual reductions in warheads will be modest.
The promise: New START "will set the stage for further cuts, and we will seek to include all nuclear weapons states in this endeavor."
The follow through: Obama is seeking another treaty with Russia that would make further reductions in deployed warheads as well as in shorter range and non-deployed weapons not covered by New START. But discord on U.S. missile defense plans in Europe stands in the way. Obama also faces growing Republican resistance to further cuts and has his own re-election to cope with next year. So any new treaty is probably years off.
The administration has called for multilateral talks on nuclear arsenals that could include European and Asian countries, but there is little evidence that China, the key country, is willing to talk about limits to its secretive nuclear policies.
Meantime, the administration is looking for other ways to cut its arsenal. A senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, confirmed that the U.S. is considering these cuts independent of negotiations with Russia.
The promise: "To achieve a global ban on nuclear testing, my administration will immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty."
The follow through: The administration's efforts have hardly been immediate or aggressive. There appears to be little hope of winning approval for the treaty anytime soon. Approval of the test ban treaty, rejected by the Senate in 1999, would be a harder sell than New START, which was ratified only after a bruising fight and with a larger Democratic majority. The administration continues to say it is committed to the treaty.
The promise: "To cut off the building blocks needed for a bomb, the United States will seek a new treaty that verifiably ends the production of fissile materials intended for use in state nuclear weapons."
The follow through: The administration has pushed in a United Nations forum for a ban on production of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium. But negotiations have by stalled by Pakistan and other countries. The administration has threatened to negotiate a deal without the countries currently standing in the way.
The promise: "Today I am announcing a new international effort to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world within four years."
The follow through: Last year, Obama hosted 47 countries at a nuclear security summit that sought to win commitments to secure nuclear material. A soon-to-be published report by the Arms Control Association and the Partnership for Global Security concludes that the countries are generally on track to meet their commitments. Among the achievements already locked down:
-Kazakhstan secured 13 tons of nuclear material, enough to make 775 nuclear weapons.
-Russia has ended its plutonium production.
-Ukraine and Belarus have also pledged to remove all highly enriched uranium from their territory by 2012, with Kiev already making good on over half.
But the commitments made at the summit do not add up to eliminating the threat that nuclear materials could fall into the wrong hands. Obama is unlikely, for instance, to secure North Korea's nuclear material any time soon.1 comment on this story
The promise: "To put an end to Cold War thinking, we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy and urge others to do the same."
The follow through: A Defense Department review completed a year after the speech set clear limits on the circumstances under which the U.S. would launch a nuclear strike. The previous policy was intentionally ambiguous. The review said that the fundamental role of U.S. nuclear weapons was deterrence. The U.S. pledged not to threaten or use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that comply with a U.N. treaty on nonproliferation.