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What Obama Did and Did Not Achieve at Nuke Summit

Taking stock after an intense two days

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As the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C. drew to a close, President Obama and 46 other heads of state signed a non-binding agreement to limit their nuclear stockpiles and ramp up security on remaining nuclear material. The pact, which came after two long days of public and private meetings between Obama and foreign leaders, is one of many agreements on nuclear security to emerge from the conference. Are these meaningful steps toward reducing the global nuclear threat, or misguided stabs at an all-too-ambitious goal? Here's what he achieved--and what he didn't.

  • Bringing Nuclear Security to Forefront  The Washington Post's Mary Beth Sheridan writes, "The governments attending Obama's Nuclear Security Summit agreed to take their own measures to safeguard nuclear material used in bombs, civilian nuclear reactors and power plants, and to strengthen international efforts. The gathering raised the profile of an issue long considered a sideshow in discussions of international security." She cautions, "the commitments are voluntary, and experts said reaching the goal will be difficult."
  • Cleaning Up Loose Nukes  The New York Times' David Sanger contextualizes the event, saying "This was a far broader effort to persuade African, Latin American, Asian and European nations to agree on steps to deny terrorist groups the two materials necessary to make a bomb: plutonium and highly enriched uranium." He adds, "The summit meeting forced countries that had failed to clean up their nuclear surpluses to formulate detailed plans to deal with them, and it kicked into action nations that had failed to move on previous commitments."
  • Reducing the Terror Threat  Newsweek's John Barry channels Obama's view that "the risk of terrorists acquiring a nuclear weapon is now the greatest threat facing the United States." Barry calls it "a new threat that the international community simply isn't organized to confront." But, he writes, Obama has taken steps towards acknowledging and reducing that threat worldwide.
  • Failure on Iran  Time's Tony Karon sighs, "The goals of President Obama's Nuclear Security Summit are so modest and uncontroversial that the event can't be anything but a success." On securing Russian and Chinese support for sanctions on Iran, "It has become a familiar pattern to hear Administration officials claim Russian and Chinese support for sanctions, only for the extent of that support to quickly pale in the cold light of day. ... The chances of such discussion resulting in a meaningful escalation of U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran remain slim."
  • ...Not Total Failure!  Time's Joe Klein dissents from his colleague, writing "These slow steps toward cooperation--after eight years of American neo-cowboyism--are how diplomacy begins. If it works and an atmosphere of mutual trust is created, larger steps become possible. For the moment, however, the President's nuclear summit seems a good week's job of work."
  • End the Nuclear Era  The Daily Beast's Joseph Cirincione looks at the big picture. "There are times when you can feel the hinge of history moving. This is one of them," he writes. " We may be witnessing the creation of a new global nuclear-security agenda. The process, and the momentum it creates, may move us from the Dr. Strangelove world of massive, mutual annihilation to the Dr. Einstein world where nuclear weapons have finally changed everything—including our way of thinking."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.