3 International Commitments Obama Wants to Tie the US to Before Leaving Office

Obama will attempt to push through three measures next week on nuclear testing, nuclear strikes and the Arms Trade Treaty.

By Published on September 16, 2016

Before leaving office, President Barack Obama could commit the United States to two actions affecting its nuclear arsenal, and a third on much smaller weapons.

Ahead of Obama’s final trip to the United Nations General Assembly next week in New York, the administration is fending off criticism for potential plans to pledge the United States won’t strike another nation with nuclear missiles unless the other nation attacks first. Also, the administration is pushing a U.N. Security Council resolution regarding an international ban on nuclear testing, which, aside from policy, could also raise separation of powers questions.

The consideration of such measures comes at a time when the North Korean government has drawn increased attention for testing of its nuclear arsenal.

Separately, the administration has already said it would up its effort in a long-shot attempt to get the Arms Trade Treaty ratified.

  1. ‘No First Strike’ Pledge

The administration isn’t rebutting conflicting reports about plans to commit the United States to not striking with nuclear weapons unless attacked first. The Daily Signal asked the State Department if the administration will pursue the “no first use” nuclear strategy.

“As we have said, we will continue to review our planned modernization program, assess whether there are additional steps to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our security strategy, and pursue ways to strengthen the global nonproliferation regime further,” State Department spokeswoman Julie Mason told The Daily Signal in an email.

Mason referenced Obama’s 2009 speech in Prague that detailed a trajectory for a world without nuclear weapons. She said the administration has made progress, such as the New START Treaty.

“Moreover, we are always looking for additional ways to achieve progress on the president’s path forward while maintaining a credible deterrent for the United States, our allies, and partners,” Mason continued.

When The Daily Signal asked if recent nuclear tests by North Korea would give the administration pause on a “no first strike” pledge, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said he did not “have a lot of insight to share” on discussions “that may or may not be going on” within the administration. But he wouldn’t deny such a plan is under consideration.

“Suffice it to say, the president has made important progress in the last seven years in trying to realize his vision of a world without nuclear weapons and the president is going to keep fighting to make progress in that direction,” Earnest told The Daily Signal during the press briefing.

Making a no first strike pledge would undermine that deterrence factor and could make U.S. allies feel less secure, said Michaela Dodge, senior defense and strategic policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation.

“To say we will not use nuclear weapons unless we get attacked first is conceptually making that more acceptable to our adversaries,” Dodge told The Daily Signal. “Our allies would not have the same assurances as now — South Korea, Japan, and some NATO allies too.”

  1. UN Resolution on a Nuclear Test Ban

The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty will turn 20 this year. The United States is a signatory to the treaty, but the Senate rejected it in October 1999. So it isn’t binding U.S. policy. However, a United Nations Security Council resolution wouldn’t require Senate approval, and the U.S. adheres to such resolution, largely because such resolutions aren’t easy to pass.

Republicans such as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., have criticized the president’s plan to push a United Nations Security Council resolution regarding the test ban, viewing it as an end run around that Senate.

The administration denies it is attempting to ratify a treaty through other means.

“We are not proposing and would not support a U.N. Security Council resolution that would impose a legally binding prohibition on nuclear explosive testing,” White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price told The Daily Signal in an email. “The purpose of pursuing a resolution is to strengthen existing national moratoria on nuclear explosive testing and to improve the global verification architecture for detecting such testing.”

Price added this would largely be about marking the anniversary of when the treaty was open for signing.

“Such a resolution would not be a substitute for entry into force of the CTBT [Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty], which would require, among other things, ratification by the United States with the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate,” Price said. “The administration is committed to working with the Senate to build support for eventual ratification. In the meantime, it is in the U.S. national security interest to reaffirm the moratoria against nuclear explosive testing.”

Corker’s committee held a hearing on a potential resolution last week.

I just want to make sure that we are not allowing an administration on the way out the door to do something that ends up binding us through customary international law down the road in taking actions at the U.N. Security Council that I would deem inappropriate if that were the case,” Corker said during the hearing.

In an August letter to Obama, Corker said:

By signing onto language declaring avoidance of nuclear weapons testing to be essential to the ‘object and purpose’ of the CTBT, the State Department is in effect submitting the United States to the restrictions of a treaty that has not entered into force. Regardless of one’s view about the necessity of nuclear testing, seeking to limit a future administration through a customary international law mechanism, when your administration has only four months left in office, is inappropriate.

  1. Arms Trade Treaty

In another agreement that some lawmakers in the United States fear could bring about a national gun registry, a State Department official told an international gathering in Geneva last month the administration would push to get the Arms Trade Treaty ratified.

The treaty establishes international and import controls for combat vehicles, aircraft, and small arms and light weapons. The United States signed onto the treaty in 2013, but a bipartisan coalition of 50 senators immediately opposed the treaty. It requires 67 senators to pass.

 

Copyright 2016 The Daily Signal

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