President Obama will end his Presidency pretty much the same way he began it: with a call to the world to rid itself of nuclear arms—this time at Hiroshima, the site of the first atomic weapon used in war.
Too bad he did so little to reach that goal during the intervening seven years. Instead of bequeathing a smarter nuclear arsenal to his successor, he has launched the most-costly upgrade to the U.S. nuclear arsenal ever. By embracing the wholesale replacement of the nuclear triad—the bombers, submarines and land-based missiles that deliver warheads—Obama’s atomic blueprint will cost an estimated $348 billion over the coming decade.
Think of it as Cold War 2.0.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way.
“As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act,” he told an audience in Prague on April 5, 2009. “So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” Six months later, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded Obama its annual peace prize, saying it had “attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.”
Seven years later, the song remains the same. The White House announced Tuesday that Obama will visit Hiroshima on May 27 at the end of the G-7 economic summit, making him the first sitting President to visit Hiroshima (ex-president Jimmy Carter visited in 1984). A U.S. B-29 dropped an atomic bomb on the city on Aug. 6, 1945, killing up to 146,000 people; a second nuclear weapons destroyed Nagasaki three days later, killing up to 80,000 and forcing Japan’s surrender.
Obama’s visit will come 2,610 days after his Prague speech. National security spokesman Ben Rhodes said the Japanese visit will represent Obama’s “personal commitment” to “a world without nuclear weapons.”
But commitments aren’t actions. “Of all post-Cold War presidents the Obama Administration has reduced the warhead stockpile the least,” says Hans Kristensen, who runs the Nuclear Information Project for the Federation of American Scientists. “He has also presided over the most ambitious nuclear modernization effort since the Cold War by funding nuclear forces at record levels and committing the United States to a very broad modernization of the entire nuclear arsenal and its support facilities.”