The world is rapt: Russia and the US are calling for nuclear disarmament. Mankind appears to be moving one step closer to world peace. But does this appearance reflect reality? What is the real motivation behind the disarmament negotiations between Moscow and Washington? In fact, neither the American nor the Russian President has any other option; they must work together if they want to make the grand plans surrounding their conventional armies into reality.
Barack Obama's plan to create additional intervention units of the US army that can be deployed anywhere around the world will cost hundreds of billions of dollars. Actually deploying these forces will cost billions more. For that reason, the US government is looking to save money on nuclear defense. Similarly, Russia is also worried about being overwhelmed by the costs of its atomic weapons program. Moscow feels like its hand is being forced on defense spending, even though it would like to free up more money for its military reforms. The war against Georgia uncovered the glaring weaknesses of Russia's military, and their eventual win was only possible because of massive advantages in numbers and weapons. The Kremlin now badly needs a professional army capable of meeting the challenges of high tech modern warfare.
Thus what Russia and the USA are discussing now is not disarmament, but only shifting armaments. By financing new conventional weapons, Obama's presidency has raised America's already astronomical defense spending even further. In Russia, the defense budget has grown almost 10 times larger in the last 10 years. In 2009 it is slated to grow by a further 27%.
Disarmament seems like a necessity in the face of the global finance and economic crises. But is Obama's vision of a world without nuclear weapons really in the West's best interest? Until now, the enormous costs of maintaining and updating its nuclear arsenal have stopped Russia from building more powerful conventional forces. The same is true for China. If America and Europe offer this opportunity for these rising countries to focus their resources on conventional armies, the number of bloody conflicts in the world could grow much larger. Even today, Russia and China are already putting pressure on the West through proxy wars in the Middle East and Africa. If mutual disarmament eases the perceived need felt by Moscow and Beijing to spend their money on nuclear weapons, it could seriously endanger the security of the West.
Dr. Thomas Speckmann is consultant to the Office of the Governor of the Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia and Assistant Lecturer at the University of Bonn. This article reflects the author's personal opinion and was first published by Die Welt on July 10, 2009. Translation from the German was prepared by Julia Follick of the Atlantic Community Editorial Team.
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