President Obama’s climate speech to the United Nations may have been a big letdown, but he has come through in one key area: nuclear disarmament. In his address to the General Assembly on Wednesday, Obama promised to introduce a draft UN resolution later this week that would herald a significant shift in American nuclear policy compared with the Bush administration, which let the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty wither unratified in the Senate and stymied other important arms control initiatives. Obama’s resolution indicates that the US will renew efforts to ratify the treaty, and, among other things, proposes that a country’s right to use nuclear energy should be contingent on meeting its nonproliferation obligations. (That would currently bar Iran, for instance, from enriching uranium.) Later in the week, the president will head a UN Security Council meeting on nuclear nonproliferation—the first time an American president has done so.
Obama also announced that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will attend the Test Ban conference this week—a glaring contrast with the Bush administration, which didn’t even send a delegation to the last four meetings. Former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton huffed to the National Review that this meeting would be an “incredible waste of time for [Clinton].” (He also thought Obama’s speech to the UN was too “UN-centric.”)
Ridding the world of nuclear weapons has long been a pet cause for Obama—he spoke about them on the stump while running for the Senate way back in 2004. Later, he forged a close relationship with Sen. Richard Lugar on the issue, accompanying him on a trip to Russia to inspect weapons facilities and co-sponsoring legislation to secure loose nukes. “If we fail to act,” Obama told the UN on Wednesday, “we will invite nuclear arms races in every region, and the prospect of wars and acts of terror on a scale that we can hardly imagine.”