“Peace with Justice”: Nuclear Weapons and Cyber SurveillancePosted: June 20, 2013
In his June 19 remarks at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, President Obama stressed the theme of achieving “peace with justice” in addressing challenges the United States and its allies face–and two of the challenges he highlighted are of interest to the readers of Arms Control Law–nuclear weapons and cyber surveillance against terrorism.
Press reports have often focused on the President’s proposal to reduce the numbers of US and Russian nuclear warheads by one-third from the levels set in the New Start Treaty. But the President’s remarks went beyond this proposal to lay out an even more ambitious agenda of nuclear diplomacy for his second term.
After declaring that “so long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe[,]” the President said:
Peace with justice means pursuing the security of a world without nuclear weapons — no matter how distant that dream may be. And so, as President, I’ve strengthened our efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, and reduced the number and role of America’s nuclear weapons. Because of the New START Treaty, we’re on track to cut American and Russian deployed nuclear warheads to their lowest levels since the 1950s.
But we have more work to do. So today, I’m announcing additional steps forward. 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.
At the same time, we’ll work with our NATO allies to seek bold reductions in U.S. and Russian tactical weapons in Europe. And we can forge a new international framework for peaceful nuclear power, and reject the nuclear weaponization that North Korea and Iran may be seeking.
America will host a summit in 2016 to continue our efforts to secure nuclear materials around the world, and we will work to build support in the United States to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and call on all nations to begin negotiations on a treaty that ends the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons. These are steps we can take to create a world of peace with justice.
Predictably, this agenda has sparked questions, skepticism, and opposition. But, with the speech, the President made clear that he wants his presidential legacy linked with global progress toward a world without nuclear weapons.
Cyber Surveillance and Terrorism
In a less noted section of the speech, the President included the challenge of “balancing the pursuit of security with the protection of privacy” within the “peace with justice” agenda. Here the President was referring to the international controversies caused by the disclosure of secret US surveillance programs, including PRISM, which targets Internet communications of foreign nationals. The President’s host, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, has been one of the leading European politicians to raise concerns about PRISM. The President said:
Our current programs are bound by the rule of law, and they’re focused on threats to our security — not the communications of ordinary persons. They help confront real dangers, and they keep people safe here in the United States and here in Europe. But we must accept the challenge that all of us in democratic governments face: to listen to the voices who disagree with us; to have an open debate about how we use our powers and how we must constrain them; and to always remember that government exists to serve the power of the individual, and not the other way around. That’s what makes us who we are, and that’s what makes us different from those on the other side of the wall.
Unlike pushing nuclear diplomacy forward, President Obama, no doubt, did not plan to talk about this issue in this speech but was forced to do so by the fallout from the disclosures. Here, the President defends what he believes is “peace with justice” in terms of the balance his administration struck between preventing terrorism and protecting civil liberties. This balance, and the process through which it is achieved, he distinguished “from those on the other side of the wall”–a phrase that resonates with memories of physical walls of the past and worries about virtual walls of the present. Whether Americans agree with the President about what should happen on our side of the wall remains to be seen, an outcome that will also affect how history remembers this President.