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October 7, 2009

Why Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize?

Reuel S. Amdur

Reuel S. AmdurLast month President Barack Obama has taken a step to cool international tensions. 

We only hope that he does not stop there. Other similar steps towards Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Israel/Palestine are urgently needed.

Obama cancelled the plan to set up shop for anti-missile defences in Poland and the Czech Republic.  Almost immediately, Russia responded by cancelling its plans to install missiles nearby, an installation which was to be tit-for-tat.

George W. Bush tried to reassure Russia that the anti-missile placement was designed to defend against attacks from Iran or North Korea. 

However, these anti-missile missiles would of course serve as instruments to attack missiles from any source.  Russia was not buying his assurances.  And an instrument to prevent a successful attack also serves as an offensive weapon because it makes the other party vulnerable to an attack to which it cannot effectively respond.

While the ending of the U.S. plan for placing these weapons systems in Eastern Europe is positive, it is at best a half measure. 

It is a Janus step, with a hopeful face forward but another backward.  Bush ended the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and the Non-Proliferation Treaty.  These actions have not been undone by Obama. 

However, he wants to move forward in negotiations with Russia to decrease atomic weapons stockpiles.  That desire, the pullback from deployment in Eastern Europe, and the Russian response to these positives constitute the forward face.

Unfortunately, past measures continue to weigh heavily on the future of the planet. 

Bush’s shadow still falls upon the globe, as the terminated agreements illustrate.  One Bush initiative continues to weigh heavily, the decision to go the anti-ballistic missile (ABM) route.  Here we have Janus`s other face. 

The ABM program is hugely expensive.  The price tag can easily top $1 trillion by 2015, and since the system is to come under NORAD (North American Aerospace Defence Command) in which Canada participates, if the U.S. has its way Canada could end up covering at least 10% of the cost.  What is more, the system cannot possibly work.

One scientist likened the ABM to hitting a bullet with a bullet, but that would be in the ideal situation. 

If someone sends up more than one at a time, including decoys, the ABM becomes ineffective.  Russia bragged that, in response to the American plan to deploy ABM systems in its back yard, it had developed a missile with multiple warheads.  So the ABM defence would have to be like hitting a burst of machine gun fire with a burst of machine gun fire. 

Obama is not ending the ABM madness. 

He plans to install the ABM’s on ships which would respond to missiles from Iran and North Korea.  However, the same limitations still exist. 

The system will not work.  As well, there is nothing to prevent an enemy from using other methods of attack, from dirty bombs in suitcases to chemical and biological weapons and forest fires in California.  ABM`s cannot make the world less scary.  Only international governance can do that.

The question arises as to what drives the United States to this kind of madness. 

Thomas Hobbes, a 17th Century philosopher, may have the answer.  He said famously, that in a hypothetical state of nature, without government, one finds ``the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.`` 

The state of nature is a state of war.  Government offers protection, but in the sphere of international affairs there is no overweening force, so governments are in that constant state of war, even when there are no actual hostilities. 

As Hobbes put it, the nations have ``their weapons pointing, and their eyes fixed on one another; that is, their forts, garrisons, and guns on the frontiers of their kingdoms; and continual spies upon their neighbours, which is a posture of war.``

In a condition of constant danger, where everything is at stake, a person is apt to act repetitively and stereotypically.  Fear and anxiety do not lead to clear thinking.  As a result, leaders, especially those of nations threatened by other forces, are apt to act irrationally.  

Mikhail Gorbachev`s great achievement was to move beyond fear and bring the world down from the Cold War.  He refused to be limited by fear, anxiety, and irrationality. 

Barack Obama, while getting out of the Bush straight jacket, has yet to show that he can act as decisively for peace and security as Gorbachev did. 

The United States still wants to play the role of sole superpower, not subject to any meaningful control from international institutions.  It wants to rely on its own strength to guarantee its security, inevitably a lost cause.

Reuel S. Amdur is a freelance writer based across the river from Ottawa.

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