Critical Questions: Urgent Decisions for the Second Obama Administration

Decisions for the Second Obama Administration: President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama
Wikimedia Commons

Chen Kane
Bryan L. Lee
Miles A. Pomper
Amy E. Smithson
Nikolai Sokov
Leonard S. Spector
Jessica C. Varnum
Jon B. Wolfsthal
November 28, 2012

View the full Nuclear Threat Initiative Article:
Critical Questions: Urgent Decisions for the Second Obama Administration

In 2012’s U.S. presidential election campaign, disarmament and nonproliferation issues received remarkably little attention. Only one topic, how to deal with Iran’s uranium enrichment program, generated much interest from the candidates. And on this issue, despite rhetorical differences in emphasis between Republican candidate Mitt Romney and Democratic President Barack Obama, the candidates’ approaches did not differ significantly.

Issues Requiring Presidential Attention

Yet as President Obama prepares to re-take the oath of office in January, there are a number of other disarmament, nonproliferation and nuclear security issues that will require prompt presidential attention. Some of the issues—such as whether to hold, postpone, or call off a planned 2012 international conference on a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction—are dictated by the diplomatic calendar. Others, such as the future of U.S. strategic forces, represent decisions deferred by the first Obama administration as the 2012 elections approached, but which demand resolution. A third group, including responses to the potential dual-use dangers represented by rapid technological changes in the life sciences, reflect technological realities that require political responses.

New Decisions

CNS experts examine eight of the decisions that the new administration cannot avoid. In addition to those issues cited above, they include: how to shape the U.S. missile defense architecture; whether or not to attempt Senate approval of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT); and the future of U.S. Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) programs in Russia and the global Nuclear Security Summit process.

Finally, several key bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements are set to expire in the next four years (including with South Korea, China, and Taiwan), and a long list of nuclear newcomers are interested in concluding agreements with the United States (e.g., Jordan, Vietnam, and Saudi Arabia). In a companion piece, Jessica C. Varnum examines a ninth key decision facing the Obama administration in its second term—whether stricter nonproliferation preconditions for concluding these new and renewal 123 nuclear cooperation agreements with the United States would enhance or undermine their value as instruments of U.S. nonproliferation policy.

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