President Barack Obama added a line at the last minute that wasn't in the prepared text of his nuclear-disarmament speech in Prague: "I'm not naive."
He needed the disclaimer because nearly simultaneous with his speech embracing the goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons, Kim Jong Il launched a three-stage rocket over Japan. Coincidence? "I hate to speculate about North Korean motivations," said Gary Samore, the very mannerly White House coordinator for nonproliferation as if speculation were necessary.
North Korea's diplomatic and economic strategy for two decades has been to engage in spectacular acts of international malfeasance to bully and cajole the world into concessions and aid. In between provocations, Pyongyang has promised several times over to abandon its nuclear program. It has never truly given it up, lest it lose its most prized bargaining chip.
As soon as the U.N. Security Council passes another ineffectual resolution regretting the defiance of its last ineffectual resolution (assuming it can manage even that), the North knows it can eventually find the Obama administration back at a negotiating table for the charade's next act. Kim father and son have managed the Hermit Kingdom's relations with the world with a perverse brilliance.
The meme in the press was how the test launch made Obama's disarmament speech all the more "urgent." It really makes it all the more childish and dangerous. In setting the goal of "Global Zero" (the program of universal disarmament that sounds a little like a new international Coke product), Obama hitched himself to a project as utopian as President George W. Bush's ambition to end tyranny in the world.
In fact, they are essentially the same goal. The bipartisan congressional Strategic Posture Review concluded in an interim report that to achieve Global Zero would require a "fundamental transformation of the world political order." All significant geo-political conflicts would have to end, and all untrustworthy governments disappear. The verification regime would have to be so all-encompassing as to constitute a kind of world government.
The Obama administration thinks Global Zero serves a hardheaded purpose against rogue states. The theory is that our arsenal makes us nuclear hypocrites. Only by pursuing its elimination do we gain the moral standing to pressure other nations to give up their nuclear ambitions.
This is a misreading of the calculations that drive states to seek nuclear programs, and of human nature. If we had zero weapons, there would be even more of a premium on other states acquiring nukes, for purposes of protection, power-projection and prestige.
The same weakness undercuts all the lesser arms-control schemes Obama touted in Prague speech, from the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to an international nuclear fuel bank: It's easier to get responsible states to comply than the truly dangerous ones or they wouldn't be dangerous.
The nuclear gambit is emblematic of Obama's "excuse me" or excuse my predecessor and my country diplomacy. He played to the European crowd by chastising Bush and his countrymen for their arrogance. He took responsibility for starting the financial crisis. He noted his country's diminished power, with evident satisfaction. All of this can be justified as winning over Europe with a soft sell, if it weren't that he got nothing for it.
Obama pleaded for more troops in Afghanistan, arguing correctly that terrorists emanating from that region pose a more direct threat to Europe. French President Nicholas Sarkozy responded with no additional troops, 150 MPs, and an offer to take one Gitmo detainee when the detention facility closes. At that, he pronounced himself much pleased to be working "with a U.S. president who wants to change the world and who understands that the world does not boil down to simply American frontiers and borders."
Obama referred at a press conference to every country having its "quirks." This is a cute way of saying all nations have their own character and interests. They may applaud our self-flagellation, but it won't change them.