Public debate on nuclear-weapons policy is relatively rare these days. Two developments nevertheless pushed the topic back into the limelight last week. On June 19th, President Obama delivered a wide-ranging foreign-policy speech in Berlin that touched briefly on nuclear-arms control. Later that same day, the White House released a summary of new presidential guidance resulting from a lengthy interagency review of what's needed for nuclear deterrence. Criticism quickly followed from both ends of the political spectrum—but for very different reasons.
Arms-control advocates, on the one hand, felt that the president had passed up an opportunity to aggressively advance his nuclear agenda. They had anticipated that he would use the Berlin speech to rekindle interest in steps he had proposed four years earlier in Prague to eventually bring about "a world without nuclear weapons." They had also hoped that new presidential guidance would direct the Pentagon to take actions that would more dramatically reduce the role of nuclear weapons in national security policy. They were disappointed on both counts. The New York Times editorial board reflected this mood, describing Obama's proposals as "a disappointing example of what happens when soaring vision collides with the reality of obstructive Republican senators, a recalcitrant Russia and a convergence of regional crises."