19 Jun 2013

Barack Obama outlines ambition to cut nuclear weapons

Barack Obama uses a speech in Berlin to call for further falls in global nuclear stockpiles, including pledging reduction in America’s deployed arsenals and negotiating further cuts with Russia.

Five years ago, an estimated 215,000 people turned out to see the presidential hopeful Barack Obama, caught up in his message of “hope” and “change”.

In 2013, Barack Obama did not attract the same numbers in his first official visit to Germany as US president, but still drew emphatic cheers from the crowd as he outlined his message – that the world needs to do more to rid itself of nuclear weapons.

Peaceful justice means pursuing a world without nuclear weapons, no matter how distant that dream may be. Barack Obama

Mr Obama said: “Peaceful justice means pursuing a world without nuclear weapons, no matter how distant that dream may be. And so as president I’d strengthen our efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, and reduce the number and role of nuclear weapons.

“And because of the new Start treaty (Strategic Reduction in Arms Treaty) we are on track to cut American and Russian deployed nuclear warheads to their lowest levels since the 1950s.

I intend to seek negotiated cuts with Russia to move beyond Cold War postures. Barack Obama

“But we have more work to do. So today I am announcing additional steps forward. After a comprehensive review, I determine that we can ensure the security of America and our allies, and maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrant, while reducing our deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one third.

“And I intend to seek negotiated cuts with Russia to move beyond Cold War postures.”

He also said he would work with NATO allies to “reject the nuclear weaponisation that North Korea and Iran may be seeking”. He also said that the US would host a summit on the issue in 2016.


There are an estimated 17,300 nuclear weapons stockpiled worldwide: the vast majority of those – 16,200 – held by Russia and the US.

According to the latest Federation of American Scientists report into nuclear stockpiles, Russia has a total arsenal of 8,500 warheads, 4,000 of which are waiting to be dismantled, and the US has around 7,700 warheads, 3,000 of which are waiting to be dismantled.

The US’s strategic, operational arsenal total 1,950 nuclear weapons – meaning Mr Obama is estimating a reduction of around 650 nuclear warheads.

The UK has a total of 220 nuclear warheads, of which 160 are strategic, operational weapons.

Russia’s response

Russia’s deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin responds to Mr Obama’s speech by saying such nuclear proposals cannot be taken seriously whilst the US is building up missile defences.

His comments followed the pointed words of Vladimir Putin, before Mr Obama spoke, who said: “High-precision conventional weapons systems are being actively developed … states possessing such weapons strongly increase their offensive potential.”

Russia also responded to the speech by saying that more countries than the US and Russia need to be involved in discussion over nuclear weapons reductions.

Senior foreign policy advisor, Yuri Ushkov, said: “The situation is now far from what it was in the 60s and 70s, when only the USA. and the Soviet Union discussed arms reduction.

“It’s necessary to bring other countries that possess nuclear weapons into the process.”

The broader “nuclear issue” was also been discussed elsewhere on Wednesday. China’s deputy foreign minister was reported to have told his North Korean counterpart that “denuclearisation” is in the interest of “all sides”. The North Korean response was that it is “willing to have talks” on the nuclear issue.

Berlin Wall

Mr Obama’s broader theme, linked to the site of his speech, the Brandenburg Gate, was “breaking down walls”. He spoke of the need for countries to avoid self-interest, and to strive to solve the problems of the world – including climate change, terrorism, and poverty.

“As long as there are walls in our hearts to separate us from people who don’t look like us, who don’t think like us, who don’t practice religion like we do, then we will have to work harder to bring those walls down,” he said.

Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Obama thanked Ms Merkel for the “humbling privilege” of speaking at the Brandenburg Gate – something she had denied him in 2008 because he was not president. The gate is a symbol of the divide, and later reunification, of Germany.

Protests aimed at Barack Obama's Berlin visit included one by Amnesty International activists over the continued detention of suspects at Guantanamo Bay (picture: Reuters)

Protests were organised for the president’s Berlin visit, including by Amnesty International over Guantanamo Bay (pictured, above), Germany’s Pirate Party over “snooping” and a protest by topless feminist group Femen.

In an earlier press conference (video, below), President Obama emphasised the unity between the US and Europe, depsite reports that the US is focusing its efforts on “Asia and the Pacific”.

“The relationship with Europe remains the cornerstone of our freedom and security,” said Mr Obama. “Europe is our partner in everything we do.

“And though the nature of the challenges we face have changed, the strength of our relationships, the enduring bonds based on common values and common ideals, remain.”