Paul Ingram responds to Mello-Knight exchange

Paul Ingram is the executive director of the British American Security Information Council (BASIC). He responded on 15 February 2010 to the Mello-Knight exchange of views on nuclear disarmament and the Obama administration.


Everyone knows that in this tough world of realist nuclear politics it does not pay to be naïve. What is less frequently recognised is that in a world of global threat it can be equally dangerous to play an extreme game of zero trust.

So we have to go through this strange and difficult world navigating a constant and complex series of considered calculations, making judgments based upon evidence and previous experience, what we can trust and what we cannot. That goes as much for those of us trying to influence decision-makers as much as for officials making decisions over foreign policy.

So when a President gets up and makes a speech that contains within it commitments to a world free of nuclear weapons, proposing a number of initiatives, and looking forward to concrete commitments in the near term, it pays to be hopeful, but not gullible. And we have the first test of this hope in the very near future when the President comes to publish a version of his long awaited Nuclear Posture Review.

Let me say at the outset that I am not intimately familiar with the inner workings of the Obama Adminsitration’s game plan, with the NPR, the START follow-on negotiations, these investments. I don’t like these investments in the infrastructure [weapons complex] any more than Greg. I think they are a waste of US taxpayer’s resources, and America and the world would be better off without them, with existing budgets devoted to further winding down the infrastructure, clean-up and the like.

But there remain several reasons for treating Obama’s nuclear diplomacy, and these investments, seriously:

1) It is a new departure. Now, bask in that fact, but I agree with Greg, this is hardly a cause for great celebration.

2) There are no obvious electoral benefits in this for Obama beyond the concrete international results that pertain. Few Americans will vote differently on this, unless President Obama actually delivers upon this agenda and appears come the next election as a President that delivers on the international scene. In actual fact, if the agenda were a cynical one, he will more likely end up seen as a President big on promises and weak on delivery – whether he is genuine or not, this is a likely and very depressing outcome.

3) The view that is being taken by the Administration over the need for this level of extra investment may be misguided, but it does hold a certain level of internal consistency. Let’s be honest, few things in politics are pure and simple, black and white. Even the JASON report, when pointing out that the warheads were in good shape, said that the infrastructure itself was under severe strain through lack of investment and the challenge of attracting talent into the profession. The belief that we need to reduce slowly and multilaterally whilst maintaining a nuclear force well into the future may be frustrating to many of us, and highlight the fact that we still live in a world where governments have not yet understood the need for more radical shifts in their postures, but it does not contradict the vision. And let’s be clear here, commitment to the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons, whilst only the first step, is an important one nevertheless. And if you were based in France, you’d know what a big step it was.

4) Perhaps most important, the Obama Administration, and we ourselves, need to consider strategically how we can realistically bring the majority of Americans, Russians, and God knows, the Indians, Pakistanis and Israelis along with us (everyone these days focuses on the Iranians but trust me, they are easy in comparison). It is not effective simply to state positions and push through initiatives against majority opposition, even when you are the most powerful man in the world. You still have to convince Congress, the Americans people, and then colleagues abroad, in a huge complex web of inter-relationships that are not conducive to rational debate, let alone instruction. It takes gentle engagement, openness to others’ perspectives, appreciation of diversity, team work and many other cooperative skills beyond policy work to build the process necessary for disarmament. And that takes building confidence. And that probably requires the sort of investment we are witnessing today.

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