On June 10, John Isaacs gave a talk to a group of advocacy and think tank representatives under the banner of Connect U.S., a network in support of responsible U.S. global engagement through grantmaking, policy advocacy and community-building.
In assessing progress and obstacles in less than four months of the Obama administration, Isaacs said: “To use a playground vernacular, those working on nuclear weapons issues are lucky duckies.”
Isaacs pointed out that in January, the Connect US community presented a three point agenda on nuclear weapons issues. The President said thanks, sure I will back these, and raise you several items that you did not call for.
Isaacs added: “Not only that, but we wanted to see high level engagement on our issues. We got that coming out of our ears.”
However, Isaacs warned: “But the most important question mark on nuclear issues: our agenda has been endorsed at the highest levels but it is a long way from being negotiated, approved and enacted.”
Complete text below.
Connect US Talk by John Isaacs
June 10, 2009
Early Progress and Challenges in the Road Ahead on Nuclear Weapons
To use a playground vernacular, those working on nuclear weapons issues are lucky duckies.
That is, in January this year, the Connect US community presented a three point agenda on nuclear weapons issues. The President said thanks, sure I will back these, and raise you several items that you did not call for.
In comparison, you guys in other communities who want consistent human rights policies from the Obama Administration, you have got inconsistencies.
You who want the Guantanamo prison closed, you got uncertainties, and by the way, keep those prisoners out of my backyard.
You who want Law of the Seas to win Senate approval, you have silence from the White House.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – as the Brooklyn Dodgers used to say, wait until next year.
Show dirty pictures of torture? Obama adopts Bush policies.
Appoint a highly respected person to lead U.S. development programs? A player to be named later.
Now on nuclear weapons, our Connect U.S. letter spoke of:
1. Resumed talks with Russia on a new nuclear reductions agreement
- Move to a new Senate vote on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
- Commit to securing and retrieving vulnerable nuclear weapons materials worldwide within 4 years.
President Obama responded by saying I see your three issues and raise you four more:
- A Fissile Material Control Treaty
- Strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty;
- Expanding international inspections to detect treaty violations;
- Hosting a Global Summit on Nuclear Security within the next year.
And if that was not enough, he went far beyond what our community expected and said:
“I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”
Not only that, but we wanted to see high level engagement on our issues. We got that coming out of our ears.
Two weeks into the Obama Administration, Vice President Biden went to Munich and promises a ‘reset’ with Russia.
Two days later, the President spoke of the need for a new nuclear reductions treaty with Russia at a press conference.
Secretary of State Clinton met with her Russian counterpart to pledge the same.
Perhaps most important, the President met with the Russian President on April 1 to promise progress and then delivered one of the most significant nuclear weapons speeches of the nuclear age, and probably the most far reaching.
That the speech was delivered in Prague at 4:00 AM east coast time did cut down on the domestic audience and attention to his message but that is a minor blemish
Not that all is sweetness and light and we can’t count our chickens before they are completed.
In a small complaint, the new budget presentation by the Obama Administration was a little light on non-proliferation funding.
But the most important question mark on nuclear issues: Our agenda has been endorsed at the highest levels but it is a long way from being negotiated, approved and enacted.
The nuclear reductions treaty might be finished by the end of the year.
A vote on the test ban treaty, maybe next year, maybe 2011.
A Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, three years at best
Safeguarding nuclear weapons and materials, a four year goal
A world free of nuclear weapons, the President said not in his lifetime.
And if you think that 60 votes to overcome a Senate filibuster on issues such as global warming is difficult, we will need a two-thirds majority to win approval of new treaties.
To the mathematicians among you, that is 67 votes and that means 7 – 10 Republican votes, obviously no easy task.
Still, to conclude with my opening message and to return to the playground vernacular, we are very lucky duckies.