Addressing an audience at the New Economic School in Moscow, Obama spoke about reducing nuclear arsenals, negotiating a missile defense program in Europe, and security topics such as Afghanistan and NATO.
“Together, we can build a world where people are protected, prosperity is enlarged, and our power truly serves progress,” he said. “And it is all in your hands.”
On nuclear weapon reduction, Obama noted that he and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev agreed yesterday to reduce U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons stockpiles by up to a third. In a meeting at the Kremlin, the leaders signed a pact to follow up the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, known as START.
“America has an interest in reversing the spread of nuclear weapons and preventing their use. That is why America is committed to stopping nuclear proliferation, and ultimately seeking a world without nuclear weapons,” Obama said. “And while I know this goal won’t be met soon, pursuing it provides the legal and moral foundation to prevent the proliferation and eventual use of nuclear weapons.”
As the United States and Russia stick to their own commitments, Obama said, they must also hold other nations accountable for meeting their obligations. He warned that Iranian or North Korean nuclear capabilities could spark an arms race in East Asia or the Middle East.
“I’m pleased that President Medvedev and I agreed upon a joint threat assessment of the ballistic missile challenges of the 21st century, including from Iran and North Korea,” he said.
But Obama said nuclear nonproliferation is a concern for the international community writ large – an issue that’s not solved by singling out individual nations.
“If we fail to stand together, then the [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] and the [United Nations] Security Council will lose credibility, and international law will give way to the law of the jungle,” he said.
Acknowledging that U.S. plans to configure a missile defense in Europe has been met with opposition in Russia, the president reiterated that the system is designed to defend against an Iranian attack, not to weaken Moscow. He also proposed working with Moscow on creating acceptable missile defense architecture.
“I want us to work together on a missile defense architecture that makes us all safer,” he said. “But if the threat from Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs is eliminated, the driving force for missile defense in Europe will be eliminated. That is in our mutual interest.”
Speaking about Afghanistan, Obama highlighted another pact signed yesterday – one that permits the United States to transit troops and weapons across Russian territory en route to Afghanistan. The agreement allows for 4,500 flights per year through Russian airspace, and saves the U.S. government $133 million annually in transportation costs while boosting logistical efficiency.
He underscored America’s goal in the region: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida and its allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“I’m pleased that Russia has agreed to allow the United States to supply our coalition forces through your territory,” Obama said. “Neither America nor Russia has an interest in an Afghanistan or Pakistan governed by the Taliban.
“It is time to work together on behalf of a different future – a future in which we leave behind the great game of the past and the conflict of the present; a future in which all of us contribute to the security of Central Asia,” he said, alluding to the 19th and early 20th century geopolitical competition for Central Asian dominance known as the “Great Game.”
Addressing a controversial topic, Obama said state sovereignty must be a cornerstone of international order – a reference to the five-day conflict last August during which Russia invaded an enclave within the borders of the former Soviet satellite of Georgia. The government in Tbilisi is seeking membership to NATO, which would guarantee protection under Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, which created the alliance. The article states that an attack against one NATO member is an attack against all.
But Obama underscored that NATO, a political and military alliance that came to rise during the Cold War, now seeks collaboration with Russia, not confrontation.
“For any country to become a member of NATO, a majority of its people must choose to, they must undertake reforms, and they must be able to contribute to the alliance’s mission,” he said. “And let me be clear: NATO seeks collaboration with Russia, not confrontation.”