Will the outcome of the US presidential race make a difference to prospects for nuclear abolition? For the first time in many years, I think the answer is: it might. Something is changing in US politics. How substantial that may be is uncertain, but potentially there is a shift which is more than just spin.
This was brought home to me last weekend. We had guests over from the United States for our Global Summit and one of them – a Republican and longstanding senior advisor on nuclear weapons – told me his views on the election. ‘I’m backing Obama’, he said, ‘They call us Obamicans’. As he explained it, a number of senior Republicans, who consider themselves to be ‘Fordists’, see Bush as an extremist whose Iraq war policy has been a disaster. They do not want more of the same, and so they are not supporting a Republican candidate. And they are supporting Obama, because they believe he can win where Clinton cannot.
This is a real indication of the impact of Iraq on US politics, but what about nukes? In fact, nuclear weapons have been quite a feature in the current contest. There is a real interest in the issue – thanks in no small part to the work of the US anti-nuclear movement – and the internet is full of information about what the different candidates say on this question. This is given more significance because there seems to be a shift in wider US society away from nukes – as evidenced by the ongoing Kissinger-Shultz initiative, which strongly advocates new multilateral initiatives on nuclear disarmament.
On balance, it appears that Obama is more open to pursuing global abolition, reaffirming the NPT goal of disarmament, and frequently reiterating the need for it. Clinton’s angle appears to be support for a reduction in ’emphasis’ on nukes and for cutbacks, whilst preserving US nuclear superiority. Of course, it is no secret that what is said in election campaigns doesn’t necessarily happen. But this is an important one, and worth taking note of.