The Obama Doctrine and the Dangers of the $185 Billion Increase in US Nuclear War Preparations

The Obama Doctrine and the Dangers of the 185 Billion Increase in US Nuclear War Preparations

President Barack Obama works as his motorcade arrives at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut, May 18, 2011. Although Obama has spoken out against nuclear proliferation, he's set to spend an additional $185 billion to “modernize” the US nuclear arsenal and its delivery systems. (Photo: Pete Souza / White House)

World Conference Against A- and H- Bombs, Hiroshima, August 3, 2011

Minosan Konichi-wa. I come with deep sympathy for all that the people of Japan have suffered as a result of the March 11 catastrophes and I am inspired by the resilience of the Japanese people and the Japanese peace movement.

I return to Hiroshima with humility and anger at what the government that speaks in my name has inflicted here and is preparing for the future.

And, who cannot but feel rage at the ways Japanese lives have been sacrificed and your economy undermined. Like the decision to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki, human ambition and greed, not simply nature, were responsible for what you, your friends and communities have suffered from Fukushima.

Also see: “Nuclear War or Real Security?

Let me begin with a few words about the US political landscape, the fluid state of the global (dis)order and the emerging Obama Doctrine.

The sad truth is that President Bush has been succeeded by another US war president. The US remains at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama escalated the Pakistan and Yemen wars and the aggressive military exercises in the Yellow and South China Seas. Washington has deepened its alliances across the Asia-Pacific with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, Australia and India and in Europe with NATO's new “strategic concept.”

Recall that during last winter's Korean crisis, the US sent the nuclear powered and nuclear capable USS George Washington into the Yellow Sea, which Beijing claims as its exclusive territorial waters. As former US Ambassador R. Stapleton Roy put it, “we poked China in the eye because we could.” Whether we agree with Beijing's claim or not, competing international claims should be addressed through law and diplomacy, not by signaling possible future nuclear attacks.

The strategic debate in US elite circles focuses on the relative US decline and the rise of China and the other BRIC [Brazil, Russia, India and China] nations. The dominant question is whether war with rising powers – especially China – is inevitable or if there are alternatives. Of course, the Know Nothings of the Tea Party are focused on cutting essential human services, and some may not even know where to find Japan or China on a map.

It is in this context that a recent article in Foreign Affairs asserted that after an initial phase of “multilateral entrenchment, we now have an Obama Doctrine: aggressive “counterpunching.”

Obama arrived at the White House with the US having become an isolated pariah nation. His initial priorities were to “Wind down [the Iraq and Afghanistan] wars, reestablish American standing and leadership … and focus on a broader set of priorities, from Asia and the global economy to a nuclear-nonproliferation regime.”(1) This included embracing the G-20, re-engaging Asia-Pacific multilateral organizations and Obama's Prague and Cairo speeches. The BRICs were unimpressed.

Now, having revitalized its alliances, especially in the Asia-Pacific and Europe, Obama and company have turned to “counterpunching,” reasserting US power and influence across the world “when challenged by other countries, reassuring allies and signaling resolve to potential rivals ….”(2) In addition to the poking of China in its Yellow Sea eye, this includes deepening economic and military ties with most of China's neighbors, declaring freedom of navigation in the South China Sea a core US interest and the accelerated pace of “military exercises” in contested waters.

In the Middle East, the Obama administration has used military and other leverage to limit the Arab Spring. In North Africa, Libya is the first of NATO's new “strategic concept” wars, with European allies having increased war-fighting responsibilities.

Where do nuclear weapons fit into this picture and why was the deal made with Congressional Republicans to spend an additional $185 billion to “modernize” the US nuclear arsenal and its delivery systems?

While some believe that, “the Obama administration's nuclear weapons policy appears to be schizophrenic,” that is not the case. Obama's Prague speech was part of a diplomatic offensive designed to achieve the nation's pre-eminent strategic goal: preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and thus reducing the risk of nuclear attacks against the United States. Following the recommendations of Shultz, Kissinger, and others, Obama acknowledged the Untied States' Article VI NPT abolition obligations and demonstrated commitments to at least limited disarmament. We had Prague, Obama's special Security Council session, the Nuclear Security Summit, New START and preparations for CTBT ratification.

But there is a less visible operational side to US nuclear strategies: the first strike doctrine and the administration's commitment that “as long as nuclear weapons exist, we the United States will maintain a[n] … effective nuclear arsenal.” The US is building the nuclear arsenal needed to enforce empire for decades to come. The deal that secured New START ratification committed Obama to “a major modernization effort to revitalize” the nation's genocidal strategic nuclear warheads and its massive arsenal of stockpiled nuclear weapons. The extra $185 billion will pay to expand the nuclear weapons production infrastructure, train a new generation of nuclear weapons designers and technicians, extend the murderous “life” of aging nuclear warheads and replace so-called “old delivery systems.”(3)

While it seems counterintuitive, in addition to maintaining enough strategic warheads to completely destroy Russia or China and bring on nuclear winter, the Pentagon will be modernizing low-yield nuclear weapons and make them deliverable by the new nuclear-capable F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and cruise missiles. B-61 nuclear bombs will be converted to lower-yield warheads. Funding will be there to replace the fleet of Trident submarines and to increase the accuracy of the missiles they carry. There are also plans for a new generation of nuclear-capable drones and air launched cruise missiles.

We are warned that “as nuclear weapons proliferate, it becomes increasingly likely that the United States will find itself in conventional conflicts with nuclear-armed adversaries. So, senior analysts tell us that “deterring weak, desperate adversaries from using their nuclear trump card will be a major challenge” and that the US “must possess nuclear weapons that a president might actually use.”(4) The $185 billion program is there to reinforce US nuclear threats and to increase the probability that future US presidents will not fear pushing the nuclear button.

Of course, Washington is not the only power preparing for nuclear war. Despite last year's NPT Review Conference, all the nuclear powers are modernizing and/or expanding their arsenals. We continue to face the urgent imperative of eliminating the world's nuclear arsenals before they eliminate us.

In the US, both elite and community-based forces are campaigning for abolition. Our movement is committed to winning negotiation of a nuclear weapons abolition convention, and we have long made the links between nuclear weapons and nuclear power. Some are preparing for Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty ratification.

But with the massive US budget reductions and the resulting loss of essential government services, our greatest chance for near-term success lies in the growing movement to cut Pentagon spending so that human needs are met. President Obama and the Tea Party Republicans are rehashing the policies that led to the Great Depression. The military budget – already 60 percent of discretionary spending is being increased, while trillions needed for under funded schools, railways, health care, jobs and environmental safety are being cut.

Reinforced by the calls of the US Council of Mayors for abolition and to slash Pentagon spending, we now have a growing popular wave of organized labor, faith communities and the peace movement demanding “Move the Money” and “Fund Our Communities – Not War!” One of AFSC's [American Friends Service Committee's] unique contributions is highlighting the need to put spending for nuclear weapons on the chopping block.

Other organizing includes an extended national Nuclear Free Future month. We began early in Boston with a Nuclear Free Festival on Trinity Day. There, as an expression of solidarity with your responses to Fukushima and Gensuikyo's abolition campaigning, activists signed this banner. In the fall, we will be exhibiting Hiroshima Hibakusha Kayashige Junko's paintings at Harvard University. And to build the our movement's capacity to challenge militarization in the Asia-Pacific, we have organized a Peace Forum with the Chinese People's Association for Disarmament and Peace, in which Gensuikyo will play leading roles.

Friends, none of this is enough. The 3-11 catastrophes mark a third great turning point in modern Japanese history, after the Black Ships and the Meiji Revolution and the 15-Year War and its resulting calamities. How will Japan recreate itself? With the peace marchers from Tohoku and this World Conference we are assured that the people of 21st-century Japan will continue to serve as the vanguard for the abolition of nuclear weapons and nuclear power.

Together, with imagination and persistence, WE SHALL OVERCOME!

No More Fukushimas! No More Hiroshimas! No More Nagasakis! No More Hibakusha!!


1. Daniel W. Drezner, “Does Obama Have a Grand Strategy?” Foreign Affairs, July/August 2011.
2. Ibid.
3. Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press, “The Case for Modernizing America's Nukes,” Foreign Affairs, July 6, 2011.
4. Ibid.