Harry C. Blaney III

There seems to be no act by Donald Trump that does not endanger American and global security. We had the undermining of the EU and NATO, the beating up on America’s allies, and the threat to tear up the Iran nuclear and not least the still unknown relationship between Trump and Putin with overtones of selling out to Putin and rewarding him for helping in Trump’s election.  But in the most recent words by Trump in an interview Thursday, he said he thought an arms control treaty with Russia is a “bad deal” and that the United States should build up its nuclear arsenal to be the “top of the pack.” This, is my top pick of dangerous acts by this clearly clueless man on issues of war and nuclear matters.

As every knowledgeable person knows the American nuclear arsenal and capability tops that of any other nation on this earth and has for a long time. Our nuclear weapons can destroy much of the world almost instantaneously. Much of that nuclear capability is deployed in essentially invulnerable American ballistic missile submarines. That is why there is no reason for us to add to them or try to “modernize nukes” them beyond basic maintenance and safekeeping.

Contrary to Trump’s call for added military expenditure just adds to the overwhelming resources and war fighting capability we already have over either Russia or China. Any conflict with them would be as they use to say MAD –mutual assured destruction. That means they should never be used in any circumstance and their existence is purely as deterrence.

American experts and our allies know that a new arms race would not be to the interest of any nation either friend or potential foe. But now both Russia under Putin and Trump seem to not understand the importance to our security of past and present arms control treaties and agreements. The last was the New START treaty between America and Russia which capped the number of nuclear warheads by both nations. And under the Non-proliferation Treaty we and other nuclear nations are bound and promised to work toward elimination of these weapons. The treaty’s aim by this promise is to stop other nations from building their own nuclear weapons. Top leaders, Secretaries of State and Defense, etc. with great experience on nuclear issues, Republicans and Democrats have called for their eventual and timely elimination, known as “going to zero.” A worthy cause but requires all to moderate their own ambitions and work very hard on a true mutual reduction accompanied by other safeguards to ensure security for all nations.

US and Russian escalation of these weapons would undermine greatly the incentive of others to forgo their own weapons. Trump’s words and actions so far have only given other nation reasons to be frightened,  uncertain of our support, or  go alone in developing these weapons. The end being a world of chaos and destruction which Trump for some reason seems to relish.

What is at work in Trump mind or his real goals? Is it an initiative, not of gaining good and fair arms control agreements and seeking confidence building measures bringing security for the world population that make us all safer, or is it Trump’s chaos theory at work of unlimited and high risk blindness to an “arms race” that itself is massively dangerous?
What is needed is less such weapons, better training and practical equipment to ensure American defense, support of our allies, and safety of our people in the world we have today. We need not more money in weapons with no purpose in our time but the near elimination of humanity and global civilization.

Trump in this field has continue his exaggerations and reinforced his habitual lies in claiming the U.S. has “fallen behind on nuclear weapon capacity.” There is NO nation on earth that can match America’s modern nuclear force or for that matter conventional war fighting and the safeguarding of our nation. To say otherwise is to deceive out people, waste our needed resources for building back our civilian infrastructure, ensuring our children get the best education in the world, and protecting our environment, not least addressing the massive threat of climate change.

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American-Russian Cooperation: The Lynchpin to Effective Nuclear Nonproliferation

By John Gall

               This month has been marked by Russia’s decision to withdraw from a plutonium disposal agreement and a uranium research agreement with the United States in response to the American end of bilateral efforts in Syria. These actions continue a trend of Russia stepping away from nonproliferation activities with the United States. Earlier this year, Russia argued that its decision to not attend the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington was based on concerns that hosting countries received an unfair advantage against dissenting opinions. However, such a reason may simply be a convenient excuse to not commit to nuclear material reductions. Regardless, in order to effectively combat the spread of nuclear arms to more countries and dangerous non-state actors, Russian involvement is essential in both bilateral action with the United States and collaboration with the international community.

               As the two states with the largest nuclear arsenals in the world, the United States and Russia have the greatest capacity, and arguably obligation, to lead the global effort against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. With the fall of the Soviet Union, the partnership of these nations was crucial in deterring the threat of proliferation by dismantling the weapon stockpiles and securing the fissile materials within the other former Soviet states. Recent cooperation was initially successful, as the Obama administration’s ‘Reset on Russia’ produced the New START treaty in 2010. However, the increasingly hostile relations between Russia and the United States resulted in the cancellation of multiple nuclear cooperation agreements and caused the current halt to any future arms-reductions negotiations.

            The strain placed on the American-Russian relationship by the annexation of Crimea and invasion of Eastern Ukraine by Russia in 2014 and competing interests in the Syrian civil war are well known and impacted tensions in the bilateral relationship. Nevertheless Russia’s deteriorating nuclear collaboration also warrants serious concern.

            The 2013 reworking of the Nunn-Lugar agreement scaled back inspections of nuclear weapon and fissile material storage facilities. With the Russian economy suffering from low world fuel prices and economic sanctions, there are doubts that it can ensure the security of its radioactive material and less international oversight of these facilities raises the risk of undetected smuggling activity.

            Nuclear modernization efforts from both sides have also created a sense of competition rather than cooperation. The United States current modernization plan calls for an estimated $1 trillion over the next thirty years. Russia’s announced modernization efforts are part of a broad military buildup by Putin to project national strength and as a response to American innovations in missile defense systems. Although these efforts won’t change the number of nuclear weapons each of the two countries have, a sense of an arms race may deter future efforts to negotiate additional arms reduction treaties.

            But the development that could inhibit nonproliferation efforts the most would be the lack of arms reduction negotiations since the New START Treaty was signed and ratified half a decade ago. As the owners of the two largest nuclear stockpiles in the world, arms reductions send a signal to the other nuclear states of their commitment to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons; an important message to send to deter other growing stockpiles or aspiring weapon programs. One would think the fiscal costs of modernization would be an incentive to further reduce stockpiles, but the current icy relations between the US and Russia have put a halt to any potential talks.

            It would be disingenuous to claim that Russia has been absent in recent
nonproliferation efforts, as Moscow has played a crucial role in the negotiation and implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran. As a member of the P5+1 negotiations, Russia agreed to take Iran’s low-enriched uranium as part of the state’s obligations to drastically reduce its enrichment ability. Russia and Iran’s previous nuclear fuel dealings gave the five permanent security council members and Germany some diplomatic goodwill to reach a deal. The JCPA was an important achievement in worldwide nonproliferation efforts, and while it’s currently a fragile success, it does show that Russia is willing to contribute in some ways to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.

            A lack of cooperation with Russia may not harm the United States’ nonproliferation efforts in some cases, when a more suitable nuclear power partner may be better suited. In the case of North Korea’s nuclear aspirations, China has an exceptional amount of leverage, but not yet willing to fully use it for fear of North Korea instability. The DPRK is economically dependent on official and illicit trade with its neighbor to the north and if China exerts new pressure on North Korea, a breakthrough might be reached where previous sanctions from the international community failed. Russia was involved in the six party talks that previously attempted to curb North Korea’s nuclear efforts and may do so in future negotiations. However, success in this major challenge won’t rely on the United States’ relationship with Moscow, but rather Beijing.

            The growing diplomatic distance between the United States and Russia doesn’t jeopardize all international non-proliferation efforts, but it does seriously hinder many worthwhile bilateral efforts. Even if the two governments refuse to work together on major projects such as new arms reduction treaties, some thawing could take place through third channel talks between respective academics. Smaller obligations, such as the return of bilateral inspections, could improve rapport between the two states on at least this crucial policy sector. Unfortunately, if such possible routes aren’t viable, American and Russia non-proliferation activity may be limited to multilateral methods until changes in national leadership occur. In the mean time, a major concern is that such an arms race could lead to taking higher risks from both sides from miscalculation, misjudgment, and high risk behavior.


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By Harry C. Blaney III

The debate on Sunday night October 9th was one of the most depressing debates on record. The personal invective and behavior of Trump and avoidance of any positive elements or real substance made for an ugly debate and loss of time to address many foreign affairs key issues. This debate only confirmed that this format is a disaster and did not permit the candidates to fully address most of the key issues America and our allies face in a landscape filled with complex choices, instability, nuclear weapons and many high risks.

This debate started focusing on Trump’s previous behavior, but the debate made a new low in American politics. Trump brought up sordid elements that debased himself and dominated much of the debate. What it also clearly demonstrated was that Trump is unfit even as a decent human being, let alone fit to be Commander-in-Chief with his finger on the nuclear button.

Moderators permitted Trump especially to use his time and interfered with Clinton’s time to let him do inflammatory and off subject general personal attack statements. These included: Trump threatened to jail Clinton…….he said about e-mails: “You’d be in jail.” About Clinton and Obama, Trump said “Never been so many lies, so much deception….never been anything like this.”

He added “She has tremendous hate in her heart.” He said he would instruct “a Special Prosecutor to look into [her] situation” against Hillary. Trump also invoked extreme religious reference when expressing his shock of Bernie’s support for Clinton as “I was so surprised to see him sign on with the devil.” How does any of this help American understanding of key issues like nuclear weapons or climate change?

The thought that he might gain the power to send US forces mindlessly into harm’s way and alienating ourselves permanently through reckless actions, which he has already done from the statements of many key leaders around the world (as seen in our post on Voices Beyond Our Borders), is very disturbing. But his behavior in his personal life has already proved that he has no internal moral core, which should be a vital precondition for anyone to head the American government domestically or globally. His actions as well as his words all indicate that the man is either very stupid or mentally unbalanced. The debate only reinforced this judgement.

As for Clinton, on foreign and national security issues, she showed again a command of the issues and the problems the US faces abroad. But there was little time to get into details.

The problem with both the questions and the moderators, Anderson Cooper of CNN and Martha Raddatz from ABC, were that once again they did not get into or demand any real depth on most of these issues. Rather they permitted repeated statements by Trump to avoid any questions of his behavior and his substantive policies. They let Trump ramble on off topic statements while cutting off Clinton. This made the debate a bit more one sided than it would be with some real, fair discipline. They let Trump repeatedly interrupt Clinton even as she talked on serious issues. In sum, the candidates were not challenged or forced to reply to the questions asked except in one case, so we lost much insight about topics of great significance.

Perhaps the greatest cost of this display of utter coarseness and continued show of hate for much the world’s people especially women, Muslims, Latin Americans and beyond has threatened respect for and willingness to follow our leadership. How can anyone who is a true decent leader look to this brute of a man ever and give any respect or believe in his word? That does not and will not happen with Obama and nor for Clinton. Trump’s  dark and brutish gutter talk only deepens fear abroad.  His behavior along with his attacks and false accusations only contributed  to the sense around the world that America itself has lost its way. People of substance abroad are asking how American politics could produce such a man of such abhorrent quality.

Looking at a Few  Key Subjects That Were Raised or Not Raised with Commentary :

General Foreign Policy and Security:

This needs little commentary:

Trump cited “stupidity” of our foreign policy, but refused to give much specifics of how or what he would do.

Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control:

There was almost nothing said on nuclear weapons or arms control. The blame lies with the commentators and the networks that ran this debate that avoided real strategic issues and what direction they would take.

Trump – “But our nuclear program has fallen way behind, and they’ve gone wild with their nuclear program. Not good. Our government shouldn’t have allowed that to happen. Russia is new in terms of nuclear. We are old. We’re tired. We’re exhausted in terms of nuclear.”

Clinton – “I think wherever we can cooperate with Russia, that’s fine. And I did as secretary of state. That’s how we got a treaty reducing nuclear weapons [referencing coarsest New START treaty]. It’s how we got the sanctions on Iran that put a lid on the Iranian nuclear program without firing a single shot.”

Terrorism, Syria and Domestic Security Policy:

Trump once again took up terrorism as an attack in response to a question about hate statements about Muslims. Trump brought up again “extreme vetting” again citing the example of the refugees from Syria.

Clinton on the other hand made a strong case of accepting Muslims and not discriminating while saying that ISIS would be defeated and Trump played into the hands of terrorists. Clinton defended Syrian refugees while bringing them under tougher vetting.

On the question of Syria, Clinton said the situation was catastrophic and noted in the Aleppo bombing there is Russian determination to destroy Aleppo. She reaffirmed the need for a safe zone, that we need leverage over Russia, and to work with partners on the ground. Regarding the aggressiveness of Russia, she said that she stood up to Putin. She added that we should continue diplomacy and would hold Russia accountable for humanitarian crimes.

Trump did take up ISIS in the context of Syria and other nations like Libya but did little to enlighten onlookers with specifics of how he would address the multiplicity of terrorism threats. He gave the impression that he would be more aggressive without much specifics on how and at what risk or costs.  Clinton did outline how she would deal with ISIS in Syria. She also noted that progress against ISIS was being made in both Syria and Iraq without putting our troops into danger.

Key quotes are:

Donald Trump – “I think Aleppo is a disaster, humanitarian-wise…I think that it basically has fallen”

Hillary Clinton – “I do think that there is a good chance that we can take Mosul….I would go after Baghdadi. I would specifically target Baghdadi, because I think our targeting of Al Qaeda leaders – and I was involved in a lot of those operations, highly classified ones – made a difference… I would also consider arming the Kurds. The Kurds have been our best partner in Syria, as well as Iraq.”

Building The Wall on Mexico’s Border and Relations with Latin America and US Latinos:

The coverage of this topic was, except for building “a strong border,” not deeply addressed and neither were the means and costs addressed except Trump said, as he has in the past, keep illegal immigrants out and send them back.

Donald Trump – “We’re going to have borders in our country, which we don’t have now…We have many criminal illegal aliens. When we want to send them back to their country, their country says we don’t want them. In some cases, they’re murderers, drug lords, drug problems. And they don’t want them. And Hillary Clinton, when she was secretary of state, said that’s OK, we can’t force it into their country. Let me tell you, I’m going to force them right back into their country. They’re murders and some very bad people.”

The Russia-Putin Challenge: NATO, Ukraine, Syria and Defense of Europe and EU Unity:

There was only very short mentions about Russia and Putin. There was no policy or specific approaches discussed or really asked by the unenlightened and unbalanced moderators. Clinton noted broadly she would be tough on Putin’s aggression. Trump, against reports to the contrary, said he had no interests in Russia. Other documents show Russian investors and his staff included a key advisor who helped the Russian-backed Ukrainian President as a political advisor. When Clinton said he could prove this by releasing his taxes, Trump went on an attack against Clinton not related to Russian influence.

International Trade, Global Economic Policy and Global Poverty and Inequality:

Trump again went after TTP and demonstrated he might close much of our trade with large parts of the world. Clinton did not engage in this subject in any specific way. Global poverty and inequality were never mentioned.

Climate Change and other Environmental Issues:

This topic was never really addressed. The only mention was in relation to the issue of the energy industry. Trump said he would support clean energy but clearly was in favor of expanding coal and other fossil fuels. Clinton argued in favor of using natural gas as a transition to reliance on green energy, which would help address the serious problem of climate change.

Asia: North Korea, China, Japan, South China Sea, South-East Asia Pakistan- India Conflict and Africa:

These topics were not asked about by the moderators and the subjects never came up in substance

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Obama’s European Trip : Part III Obama’s Brandenburg Speech: More Than Rhetoric – An Outline of a Global Policy of Engagement and Common Problem Solving

President Obama and Chancellor Angela Merkel
President Obama and Chancellor Angela Merkel

“After a comprehensive review, I’ve determined that we can ensure the security of America and our allies, and maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrent, while reducing our deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third.  And I intend to seek negotiated cuts with Russia to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures.”

– President Barack Obama during his speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany

Recently as we have noted earlier, a number of conservative writers have been putting down Obama’s speech before the Berlin Brandenburg Gate. Some criticized it for its heightened or idealistic rhetoric, and others for not being more specific or strong on the climate, etc. Others tried to compare (unfairly) its 4,000 invited attendees to the hundreds of thousands that showed up in 2008. Not remarking that, for security reasons and the requirements of the host country, the format was necessary – and millions of Germans watched on their TVs.  Most of these pundits’ efforts were often the usual cheap shots at the President, a platform for those who are more interested in the partisan effort to bring our first Black, liberal President down. Few really examined the substance of what he had to say.        

The fact of the matter is that in often elegant and well chosen words, Obama outlined the basic elements of a more enlightened, ambitious, and yet pragmatic framework of American engagement in the world and a template for advanced industrialized and democratic countries to meet their responsibilities in what still is a difficult global environment. That is, perhaps, the most important “macro” concept that Obama made in this substance and idea-filled speech. The most important element, overlooked by many, is that Obama established a framework for his second term foreign policy. Both the goals and the means were at the same time idealistic and realistic. In briefings, White House staff pointed out the key elements and noted actions would follow.

Today, President Obama will set forth some of the specifics regarding U.S. climate change polices, which he cited as a key problem in his Berlin speech and in his earlier State of the Union. Unfortunately, due to the Republican obstructionist stance, these will have to be done by executive action.  This is a shame, but it is better than inertia on this critical issue. One approach is to try also for global “compacts” or agreements that do not require a treaty by which groups of nations bind themselves to limit green house gasses and support programs that will mitigate global warming. Yet the House Republicans have targeted the EPA (and USAID) for severe cuts in its budget and placing limitations on its pollution-preventing activities. Luckily, there are things the President and EPA can do under existing legislation that will help both the American and the global environment. Now is the time to do so!

The other key element that I have cited earlier, is the emphasis on common problem solving, joint and cooperative efforts, rather than saying “go it alone” whenever possible. This is a major separation from the often anti-international institutions position that the Bush II administration took on almost every issue. They took delight in bashing the United Nations, nuclear arms control treaties like the CTBT, and the International Criminal Court. Part of this is a clear preference by Obama to put emphasis on diplomacy, rather than crude and unilateral military force whenever this is a realistic option.  Here, Syria comes to mind, but also global health threats, multinational trade agreements, security cooperation via NATO and peacekeeping/peacebuilding efforts with the U.N., and other regional organizations or groups when possible.

The trip also made it clear that Europe will not and has not been neglected, as some have criticized. What is true is that Europe, based on my recent visit to the UK, has in many areas withdrawn from its legitimate major role in helping to “manage” regional and global crises. Obama has been renewing our transatlantic ties and has urged a more active and critical role for a grouping that has a population and economy larger than the U.S. It is not sadly pulling now its full weight. Obama’s trip to Northern Ireland for the G-8 and Berlin advanced a historic initiative and started the negotiations of a free-trade pact with the EU. Obama stressed the importance of cooperation among the Atlantic democracies. But his key message was for Europe to take a global perspective. And that the Atlantic community must now look well beyond its own borders. “Our work is not yet done,” Obama said. “For we are not only citizens of America or Germany–we are also citizens of the world.”  Taking up his idealistic side he added: “Our values call upon us to care about the lives of people we will never meet.” That was a prophetic American voice at a critical moment when it seems both strife and indifference to human suffering seems to be in the ascendancy.

Finally, one must acknowledge the limitation of pure executive actions. Our constitution gives broad powers to the president on diplomacy and national security issues – and now is the time they need desperately to be used powerfully, as this is a time of major critical challenges to America and the world. Others have said that we remain the responsible and essential nation to help lead global solutions and help solve important security dangers – but others must have their share of leadership. Obama showed an America is not in “decline’ but rather still is a critical part of global solutions.

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Obama’s European Trip PART II: Nuclear Security , Arms Control and Russia

I opened my newspapers this morning and found depressing and wrongheaded, but predictable op-ed articles by two infamous right-wing journalists in the Washington Post, both of whom decided to pour ashes on Obama’s accomplishments on this recent trip to Northen Ireland for the G-8, his meeting with President Putin, his visit to Berlin, his meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel, and his Brandenburg Gate speech.  They must not have understood the major and real changes in our world Obama was proposing.

Both Charles Krauthammer’s article entitled “America Sidelined, barely relevant” and George F. Will’s article called “Obama hits a wall in Berlin” tried to tear down what was a largely successful, international, and multifaceted set of initiatives by the president.  You get the essence of the Krauthammer article by its title, but it also contained an anti-science, fact denying argument about climate change and criticisms of Obama’s attempts to deal with this issue. You have to wonder about the Washington Post’s continued support for Krauthammer’s column, and whether it would support a columnist who constantly argues for the creation of the earth 10,000 more or less years ago? George Will also went after Obama for his views on terrorism and arms control, the subject of this post. He also attacked him over his Syria policy. Does Will think Syria will be solved only by inserting American troops?

As someone once said, “lets look at the facts.” While Will criticized Obama over dealing with President Putin, the reality is that there never was much of a chance to change Putin’s rigid policies regarding Syria until the tide changes on the battle field and international pressure grows.

In reality it was not Obama that was isolated at the G-8 meeting, it was Putin. He was opposed on Syria by all other members of the G-8; he will not be part of the imaginative  transatlantic trade pact that Obama has boldly initiated; he now faces a dismal Russian economy, a fraction of America, Europe, China or Japan’s –  with a poorly run energy sector and growing disenchantment at home. No wonder he looked despondent! What these neo-con pundits did not say, is that we still need to work with Russia and its people to establish for the long run a productive and peaceful relationship beyond Putin’s reign.

But the larger picture on U.S.- Russian relations may not be as bleak as Will and Krauthammer depict. Russia and the U.S., as we noted earlier, achieved agreement on a scaled down and a more limited, but still important program, of cooperation on destruction and security of nuclear weapons and materials in the former Soviet Union to replace the Nunn-Lugar expired agreement. The Geneva II diplomatic tract is shaky, but is still an agreed option for both sides. We have a consensus with Russia on the dangers of  terrorism and need to cooperate on this issue. An energetic Obama put forth a proposal of a cut of about one-third in the strategic nuclear arms of both sides. Obama also said that the key tactical nuclear weapons should be on the negotiating table. Russia and America are going ahead with the cuts of New START, they continue to cooperate on transit to and from Afghanistan, and we likely share a similar view on nuclear weapons for Iran. Obama also said that the White House will host another international Nuclear Security Summit in 2016. The summits are a key Obama initiative to discuss and work on securing loose atomic materials from terrorists.

Further, George Will characterized as “[resuscitating] the cadaver of nuclear arms control with Russia,” once again resuscitating his credentials as a post-cold war warrior still longing for a nice nuclear filled world and thinking the more nuclear weapons in the world the better, not acknowledging how much Obama has moved those numbers down and made the world safer for all.  Obama’s support for CTBT, continued drive to support NPT, and commitment to reduce nuclear global risks show leadership we have long missed in the disastrous Bush administration for which Will and Krauthammer must still long. 

President Obama’s European Trip, PART I: New Energy, New Initiatives, and Many Challenges Yet to Come

Obama and PutinPresident Obama’s substance filled and bold trip to Europe was more than the norm and showed a re-energized, focused, and innovative administration in foreign affairs. This is against a global landscape which, at the moment, can only be described as filled with difficulties, great dangers, and complexity in a host of explosive problem areas. This post will try to summarize quickly some of the highlights of the trip and its accomplishments, their meaning and the problems still ahead. More individual topics will follow in the coming days. Many of these topics, as well as the reactions of other countries to Obama’s bold stance to address a host of global challenges, will be examined.

In no particular order:


Despite the little change toward progress, Obama tried getting Russia to be more cooperative in achieving a true peace in Syria. Putin, as shown by his meeting with Prime Minister Cameron and his many statements on the topic was belligerent and negative, and also isolated from all of the other G-8 members. What was achieved was an agreement to at least try to go ahead with the Geneva II conference, but few experts think this will work. This means that arming of the opponents of Assad will likely go forward. The question now is whether it can help or is it too little and too late to make a difference, given the support of Iran, Russia and Hezbullah. Yet the White House has signaled that it is looking at new options and Secretary Kerry has reportedly argued for a more robust stance against the wishes of the US military.  There seems to be a growing consensus that more must be done.


Obama, both in his talks with Putin and in his bold Berlin speech, outlined his proposal to cut about one-third of the strategic nuclear arms of both sides. He also said that tactical nuclear weapons should be on the negotiating table. Russia maintains some 2,000 of these weapons, most of which are largely obsolete. We have 180 air-delivered nuclear bombs in Europe, which can be retired on a reciprocal basis. Agreement on nuclear arms could come without a full treaty.  He also called for a global ban on the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons. Once more he said he would work for the ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.  He also achieved agreement on a scaled down and more limited but important program of cooperation with Russia on destruction and security of nuclear weapons and materials in the former Soviet Union to replace the Nunn-Lugar expired agreement.       


This is one of the truly bold initiatives by Obama that has a transformative impact on the cooperation between North America and Europe. A joint announcement was made on the sidelines of the G-8 meeting and negations will start in Washington in a few weeks. These will not be easy, but if they can reach an agreement on most of the goals, the ties between America and our democratic allies in Europe will be strengthened and it will contribute hope for economic growth on both sides of the Atlantic. More on the meaning of this act in a future post.


There is little doubt that Obama intended this speech to both state a larger framework of American  foreign and security policy and goals, and to outline what he will work toward during his second term. He clearly decided on a bold, rather than a safe and modest approach.  He eloquently applied his morality and values to his specific policies and did so in ways to speak to German citizens (and to the world also). He emphasized the need for Germany to take a broader and more inclusive and global perspective. It was, in my opinion, a challenge to Chancellor Angela Merkel and her CDU party to recognize their larger responsibilities to the rest of Europe and globally.

The larger sub-text was that America was back as a strong global leader willing to take on the many challenges that the international community and the US faces. He called for cooperation and engagement by others. It was in some ways a call for a larger vision rather than a narrow and more selfish approach by both leaders and citizens. It was also a successful challenge to President Putin and his narrow global vision. In this way, it was just what is needed at this point when conflicts are widespread, when we are in a time of economic serious problems, and there is a tendency for extreme views and parties to dominate the debate.

But now comes the hard part of dealing with specific issues. Here a strong and innovative diplomacy from top to bottom will be needed. We must also add resources, rather than adhere to the efforts at home and abroad to cut diplomacy, foreign aid, and humanitarian assistance – to withdraw, and ignore, and be overwhelmed and endangered by the crises of our age.

More on this trip and the problems and opportunities of Obama’s speech and trip’s results in future blogs. 

(See full text of speech in our documents blog section)

The Election Results for Foreign Policy and National Security

There is little doubt that victory for President Barack Obama was also a victory for America’s responsible engagement in the world. 

There is now little doubt that crazy, counterproductive, and needlessly aggressive military orientated policies pushed by Romney and his neo-con advisors will now not be the hallmark of the next four years. The question then is what should be the goals and policies of a second term Obama and how should they differ from those of the past? What can be accomplished now?

The answer to this question, to be pragmatic and realistic, requires the acknowledgment that Obama will have some real restraints. These include blocked legislative efforts by the still crazy right-wing House majority Republican and (to some extent) from a Senate where the Democrats have only a slim majority, where they have not near the 60 votes to over-ride a filibuster unless the Democrats change the rules in the opening days of the new Congress next year. 

That makes it difficult, in some cases impossible, for him to get treaties ratified and domestically judges, let alone new cabinet members, confirmed. That itself is a tragedy for moving this country forward towards major accomplishments both domestic and international.

With that limitation in mind, what then can he accomplish and how?


His first effort should be to work again to move beyond New START reductions which were key –if modest accomplishment, but one that most thought would never happen with Putin still the “head man” and one most Republicans opposed. Now the issue is to get a cranky and myopic Putin to see the interest of Russia (and perhaps himself) in further reductions and better assurances by both sides of their security as well as reduction of catastrophic errors or clashes.

Clearly Obama is better positioned for this than would have been Romney with his unwise bashing of Russia. One can hope that perhaps after the next Congressional election in 2014 there might be reductions in Republicans in the House and some gains by the Democrats in the Senate.

The Comprehensive Test Band Treaty (CTBT) could maybe only see the light of day if that could happen. However, Obama can act to move executive agreements, short of a treaty, to advance important strategic goals. These include mutually agreed reductions of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, new “confidence building” measures, improved verification efforts, other weapons reductions, and military-to-military protocols that would reduce the risk of unintended skirmishes and address the European Missile Defense issue. Obama now can be even bolder than he was in his first term.


Key decisions will have to be made to restructure our military to reflect current realities and threats rather than the Cold War approach that was dangerously offered by Romney and his cohort neocons which would have “ballooned” the military budget at the expense of rebuilding American industrial, technological, and educational base – all key components of true strategic national security. Obama’s early task will likely, in part, be through addressing the coming requirements of the legislative and financial “cliff” to undertake both significant shifting and in some cases reductions in unneeded programs while enhancing others relevant to the existing strategic landscape. Republicans will be pushing in a different direction.

This will result in a real clash between legislators wedded to the military-industrial interests and those seeking a more properly scaled and mobile military able to react to crises and with enhanced flexibility. Many experts believe with the draw down in Afghanistan, that a cut of up to $1 trillion over 10 years is not an unrealistic goal if done with a fine scalpel rather than a sequester sledge hammer. Already some $525 billion has been agreed by the military via shrinking the size and the growth rate of the DOD over five years. Under that added reduction program, we would still have a military capacity far greater than the next 10 nations – which include our closest allies. We certainly do not need as many as projected F-35s and other such cold war systems or unnecessary nuclear weapons “modernization” programs as are on the books today.  


The time has come again to resurrect the global “stimulus” coordinated efforts that Obama and the UK’s George Brown tried at the start of the economic crisis which failed as conservative run states decided on the now clearly ruinous policies of forced austerity. That approach has brought disaster to those countries that practiced it or were forced to accept it.  Wiser heads might now see the wisdom of a U-Turn before we all fall into a global depression. Here, Obama should pick a new Treasury Secretary with a little more “guts” and fundamental economic judgment to deal with growth and unemployment and less prejudice towards rich bankers than the present incumbent. A stimulus program based on rebuilding the storm torn East Coast would help also if it would especially address the need for infrastructure and rebuilding “smart” against further climate change induced “super storms” of the future.


One of the greatest challenges Obama needs to face is the vital need in the next four years for Americans not only to work for national polices that will advance the requirement to reduce greenhouse gasses, but also to find a way to revive the effort to build a global consensus for broad international agreements on an ambitious action plan to turn back a looming global catastrophe.

Unfortunately, this is unlikely to be done via a single major treaty, since the Republicans will act to defeat any such effort.  The need is more a creative approach which depends more on informal and executive level agreements to achieve a cooperative approach which includes both the advanced developed countries and the developing world.

I would suggest it be part of a global “pact” for growth with the aim of “clean growth” which Obama has led here in the US even without much Congressional support.

We need to press ahead with the Law of the Sea Treaty ratification which the US military supports. While a hard sell with the right on the Hill; with industry backing it, it is worth again making an effort.


The “pivot” to Asia needs broadening and deepening and is crucial to long term peace in this key region.

Obama can do much to deal with China beyond what has been possible so far. The first need is to engage the new Chinese leadership which will be in power before the end of this year. Here, bold acts and wise words and lots of time with the key decision-makers could pay massive dividends on the direction of relations and the avoidance of conflict. Trade is a key, where “win-win” outcomes are doable, especially if we can achieve a global consensus on growth rather than “austerity.”  Dampening down nationalism and moderating conflicts over territorial disputes would do much to create a better climate for all sides to “reason together” and concentrate on issues that would move their economies forward together. 

A bold pan for economic growth in the Pacific region with a focus on clean energy would kill two birds at the same time. China’s two key cities Shanghai and Canton are among the most vulnerable urban areas in the world to the rise of oceans and storms. There is room for cooperation if each side’s right wing nationalists do not win the politics of their nation.


In the Middle East, the time has finally come to try to cut the Gordian knot that has been a source of regional and indeed global instability for decades. It is a large lift but turning our back on this festering looming calamity would be worse. The only fair solution is known by all – and rejected by both sides now. But the time has come for a “full court” press by America, the EU, and Middle East states. A solution to this conflict and the institution of a program of regional joint economic growth and prosperity would go a long way towards making this globe a bit better and safe for many of its people.

The method most likely to work is to put on the table a “deal” that “cannot be refused” as it is so overwhelming good to all, even if parts of it are not desired by one party or the other, that it would create the political will to seal an agreement. This would require, simply put, security guarantees by all concerned powers, the US especially, but also the EU, NATO, Arab league, the UN and others. The second actor is an economic Marshall Plan for the region that would be structured to enhance economic and trade cooperation between all parties and address unemployment especially of youth. It could be seen as part of a global stimulus effort to move the world towards sustainable growth rather than stagnation and conflict.

That also is a fruitful approach to the uncertainties and problems of the Arab Spring. Unemployment and economic stress are a real part of the rise of conflict and terrorism especially proving a fruitful ground for terrorist recruiting of resentful youth. With a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict some of the fuel for the fire in the Middle East is likely to dampen.      


One of the great challenges of the 21st century is to find some solution to this dangerous landscape and move to establish some kind of settlement which will set this area on a peaceful path. Here again, a “grand bargain” which enables all participants to see gains in their goals and security in the region and in their economy might help at last move the players toward a “win-win” approach rather than a “zero sum game.” Some kind of “settlement” of the Kashmiri conflict is a key element as well as agreement to “cool down” the nuclear arms race. Lowering military activities on the border would add confidence to all and help move toward cooperation on a host of issues. Here, America lead by Obama might leave an enduring legacy of peace. He has little to risk at this stage of his leadership but he will need the help of other powers in the region and especially of the EU and UN.


Perhaps the most important area under this category is the strengthening of international institutions devoted to peace making, peace keeping, and prevention of conflicts.  As Henry Kissinger once said, one has to “institutionalize” for the long-term institutions and capabilities that will endure and help peace prevail. These institutions include the IAEA, UNHCR, the various UN human rights groups, and the UN peacekeeping capabilities and programs…but with more standing capabilities and early intervention mandates. 

These issues will be examined in future posts as we elaborate on these sectors and other areas of America and international opportunity for innovation in the coming months.