John Hockenberry for The Takeaway: The big international news this morning: President Obama and his family touched down in Moscow about a half hour ago. Obama, his wife Michelle, and their two daughters walked down a formal reception line on the tarmac shaking hands with Russian officials. The first event in Russia on Monday is symbolic, laying a wreath at the Russian tomb of the unknowns. But the substantive meeting will be with President Medvedev. And on the agenda for this summit, which will also include discussions with Vladimir Putin, the Prime Minister, is strategic and nuclear weapons — how to reduce them, and actually using models for reducing them that come from the Reagan era. Joining us now to talk about how the Obama administration is projecting itself to Russia and this critical U.S. relationship is Ambassador John Bolton, former U.N. ambassador from 2005-2006. Currently with the American Enterprise Institute. Ambassador, good morning.
Amb. John Bolton: Good morning.
John Hockenberry: Now normally you hammer the assumptions in my questions, so let’s get that out of the way. Nothing really to quibble with there, right?
Amb. John Bolton: Well I think there’s a lot to quibble with there. I think the President goes into these negotiations with a very misguided view of the strategic situation internationally and particularly the question of America’s and Russia’s nuclear arsenals. So I think he’s pursuing, at least from what he’s putting out and what his aides are putting out, is a very ideologically motivated agenda to reduce our strategically deployed weapons without even having conducted the appropriate nuclear posture review.
John Hockenberry: Putting the review aside for just a moment, would you support a maintenance of the current levels of nuclear weapons, and where would you aim them?
Amb. John Bolton: The purpose of the review is to answer that question. That’s why the criticism that he’s pursuing an ideological agenda seems to me to be so manifest. You’re just picking numbers out of the air until you’ve reviewed exactly what the circumstances are that we face in the world. The President himself has said just a few days ago that he wants to look to reduce the numbers of deployed weapons because he thinks that will have an influence on North Korea and Iran which I think is manifestly incorrect. But he said the idea for us to think that we can grow our nuclear stockpiles, the Russians continue to grow theirs, and our allies grow theirs and that we can pressure these others is wrong. The United States has not been growing its nuclear stockpiles for 25 years. And neither have any of the allies that I know about, Britain and France, unless we’ve counted a few more in there. It is true the Russians are growing theirs, but that’s not something that influences Iran and North Korea.
John Hockenberry: Isn’t a more cooperative arrangement between the United States and Russia, doesn’t that leverage in the region, in Afghanistan, there’s already an agreement to share territory in bringing military material to the Afghan theater. Doesn’t that produce some sort of leverage in Afghanistan or in Iran?
Amb. John Bolton: The only thing the Russians have granted there is limited over-flight rights that haven’t been spelled out exactly, to bring materials to the coalition forces in Afghanistan. It’s a very limited concession since most of what we ship there we ship through our bases in Western Europe and the Middle East already, we don’t need over-flights in Russia. But the real issue, I think, is this determination to reach an agreement with a much less significant Russia that will in fact reduce America’s global nuclear umbrella. Remember, the Russians don’t have any allies that they protect with their nuclear weapons. We have our NATO allies, we have Japan, Australia and a range of others around the world. Shrinking our nuclear umbrella actually lessens security for many of our friends around the world.
John Hockenberry: Is that how they view it? Is there a global consensus among Western allies that the U.S. needs to maintain its nuclear arsenal? That’s certainly the first I’ve heard of that.
Amb. John Bolton: There’s certainly no pressure that I’m aware of from the Europeans to reduce the arsenal, and in Japan, if anything, the conversation, because of the threat from North Korea and growing concern about China, really now is on the issue whether Japan itself will become a nuclear power is something we should try and avoid. But I think you’ve got to come back to the fundamental point that we haven’t heard in some number of years, what the actual nuclear posture review has shown. And to me that’s a real failing in the administration’s strategy. You said at the beginning, “Let’s put the study aside,” you can’t put the study aside, that’s why we do the study.
John Hockenberry: Well, I just wanted to put it aside for the purposes of this conversation.
Amb. John Bolton: But my point is you can’t put it aside and have an intelligent discussion about the subject.
John Hockenberry: Well, then let’s just talk about the status quo. Isn’t there an implicit trust in maintaining the status quo and we believe, somehow, without actually any leverage on Russia, that they won’t end up delivering or somehow losing nuclear weapons into the hands of nations that would actually use them against the West?
Amb. John Bolton: We have programs, we’ve had cooperation with Russia for nearly 20 years to prevent their own weapons from falling into the hands…
John Hockenberry: But you just said the numbers were going up.
Amb. John Bolton: No I did not say that.
John Hockenberry: You just said the numbers of Russian warheads is going up.
Amb. John Bolton: The modernizing of the Russian strategic nuclear capabilities is undoubtedly going on. Not because they’re increasing their warheads, but because they’re increasing their delivery system. The point is, they are engaged in this kind of activity, along with a variety of other belligerent behaviors such as threatening Western Europe with cutting off oil and natural gas supplies, invading Georgia last August, providing protective cover for Iran and the Security Council and interfering generally in the Middle East.
John Hockenberry: Finally, the Obama administration has said nonproliferation is one of the goals of nuclear reductions between the U.S. and the Russians. Do you think nonproliferation is a worthy goal here?
Amb. John Bolton: Nonproliferation is a critical goal. Reducing America’s nuclear arsenal will have zero impact on the mullahs in Tehran and their quest for deliverable nuclear weapons. And if it’s possible to have less than a zero impact, that’s the effect it will have on Pyongyang. Pulling our numbers down does not convince the rogue states and terrorist groups that want nuclear weapons to give up their quest for that capability.
John Hockenberry: Ambassador John Bolton, former Ambassador to the United Nations from 2005-2006. Thanks for joining us.