Can we really achieve a nuclear-free world?

Is a nuke-free world realistic?

President Obama emerged from his two-day summit in Moscow heralding a "reset" of U.S.-Russian relations, with nuclear disarmament at the top of the agenda.

He signed a series of agreements with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev committing to a year-end deal that would cut both countries’ nuclear stockpiles.

Obama has repeatedly said that reducing the two largest nuclear arsenals in the world would both ease tensions between Russia and the United States and also set a good example for other nations.

"It’s naive for us to think that we can grow our nuclear stockpiles … and that in that environment we’re going to be able to pressure countries like Iran and North Korea not to pursue nuclear weapons themselves," Obama said.

Is his Russian diplomacy truly advancing the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons? Or is it his vision that is naive? Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis weigh in.

Joel Mathis:

Is it possible to eliminate every last nuclear weapon on Earth?

Probably not. Pandora’s box and all that. But it’s a noble goal — one in which the striving may well make the world safer.

The new deal cuts the maximum allowable number of strategic warheads from a ceiling of 2,200 each to 1,675. That may not sound like a big deal; 1,675 nuclear bombs each would still be more than enough to lay waste to much of the planet. On the other hand, that’s 525 fewer nuclear warheads to consume each country’s defense budget during lean times — and fewer warheads that can "accidentally" end up in the hands of terrorists or rogue states.

Given the loosening nuclear-security standards in both countries since the end of the Cold War, a reduction in warheads can’t hurt. It will probably make us safer.

Obama has talked of creating a nuclear-free world. It sounds like a pipe dream. But it’s a pipe dream that President Ronald Reagan strived mightily to attain during his infamous Reykjavik summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. And it’s a pipe dream endorsed by Henry Kissinger and George Shultz — hardheaded secretaries of state in Republican administrations — among other top former officials. Presumably they haven’t taken leave of their senses.

The United States has been well protected by its nuclear arsenal. We may never make it all the way to zero nuclear bombs, but attempting to get there may radically reduce the number of warheads that exist in the world — and thus radically reduce the chances one will ever again be used in anger.

Ben Boychuk:

Never mind the utopian talk about eliminating nuclear weapons. The question isn’t whether Obama can achieve an impossible dream. The question is, what’s in these disarmament talks for the Russians and, more importantly, what’s in them for us?

Fact is, the treaty would leave the United States at a strategic disadvantage, not just with its nuclear deterrent, but also in its conventional forces. At issue are warheads as well as the means of delivering them. But the bombers, submarines and missiles that can drop nuclear payloads are vital to maintaining America’s far superior conventional arsenal. No wonder the Russians are so eager to see them on the junk pile.

The Russians also want the United States to abandon its plans for missile defense in Europe, a demand that Obama appears all too happy to embrace. But a viable missile defense is one of the few credible ways of deterring a nuclear Iran and North Korea from blackmailing its neighbors.

Obama seeking peace will achieve only weakness. Boston University political scientist Angelo Codevilla cuts through decades of cant about disarmament in his latest book, "Advice to War Presidents" (Basic Books). "Why sweat the details if not for advantage?" Codevilla writes. "To admit this question is to acknowledge that pretending to disarm is part of preparing for war."

Medvedev and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin understand this lesson well. Here’s hoping Obama won’t have to learn it the hard way.

(Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis podcast at