Thursday, August 16, 2007

Presidential Candidates Respond to Key Nuclear Weapons and Nonproliferation Questions

The Center's sister organization, Council for a Livable World, today released responses to seven critical questions on national security issues that were posed to all declared presidential candidates from both parties.

Joseph Biden, Hillary Clinton, Christopher Dodd, John Edwards, Barack Obama, and Bill Richardson responded to the Council’s questionnaire. Their responses exhibited noteworthy unity while differing on some important details.

Six of the seven questions were on nuclear weapons or nonproliferation issues. A summary and analysis for those questions is provided below. The full text of the candidates' responses is available here.

Question #1 - Reducing Nuclear Weapons Stockpiles
A January 2007 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Senator Sam Nunn, and former Secretary of Defense William Perry called for moving toward a "world free of nuclear weapons" and urged the United States to lead an international effort to reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles. Do you support or oppose their proposal?

All of the candidates called for moving toward a "world free of nuclear weapons" and reducing nuclear weapons stockpiles, but Biden and Clinton qualified their responses. Biden noted the difficulty of implementing several of the recommendations and Clinton committed only to working "to implement the sensible near-term steps" described by Kissinger, Shultz, Nunn, and Perry.

Question #2 - New Nuclear Weapons
Do you support or oppose researching, building, and possibly testing a new generation of nuclear weapons, including the so-called Reliable Replacement Warhead?

Most candidates expressed support for reductions in the number of nuclear weapons and the need to de-emphasize the value of these weapons.

Obama was less clear than the other candidates on opposing the Bush administration's plan to build a new generation of nuclear warheads, saying he did not support "a premature decision to produce the RRW." Other candidates were more clear-cut.

Biden commented that "the RRW concept has been hijacked" and that the Department of Energy was using it "as an excuse for maintaining a wastefully large nuclear weapons establishment." Richardson remarked that to see a nuclear weapon "is to be astounded that millions of deaths can be compressed into such a tiny package. To know intimately our nuclear arsenal is to know intimately how our species could destroy itself."

Question #3 - Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
Would you make a Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty a priority of your first term in office?

The candidates voiced unanimous support for making a Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty a priority in their first-term in the White House. Clinton, Edwards, and Richardson expressed their support for the test ban treaty in terms of restoring U.S. leadership in the world.

Biden pointed out that "securing 67 votes in the Senate won't be easy" and also expressed a desire to "find a means of assuring that any undetectable cheating will not pose a military threat to the U.S." In addition to leading a bipartisan effort to ratify the test ban treaty, Clinton committed herself to "a continued moratorium on nuclear weapons testing" if ratification could not be secured. Obama suggested that until it ratifies the treaty, the least the U.S. can do is fully pay its contribution to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).

Question #5 - Space Weapons
Do you support or oppose a multilateral international ban on placing weapons in space?

The candidates were the most divided on the issue of weapons in space. Dodd, Edwards, and Richardson endorsed a multilateral international ban on space weapons with no qualifiers.

Clinton supported the multilateral international ban but committed herself only to constraining testing and deployment of weapons in space "as much as possible, while continuing to protect our satellites from any threats that remain."

Obama said a treaty increasing space security, while "a good idea," would "take a long time to negotiate" and therefore suggested a "simpler and quicker" alternative: a "Code of Conduct for responsible space-faring nations."

Biden was the only candidate to answer "It Depends," explaining that he opposed space weapons "designed to cause damage on the ground" and supported "a carefully crafted ban on destroying or disabling another country's satellite," but remained wary of any treaty that aimed to "ban space stations or require international inspection of space payloads."

Question #6 - Nuclear Non-Proliferation Efforts
Do you support or oppose proposals for a major expansion and acceleration of nuclear non-proliferation efforts, including the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program, designed to ensure that weapons of mass destruction and their essential ingredients around the world are secured and accounted for as rapidly as possible?

All of the candidates demonstrated that they understood progress on threat reduction has been slow and that nuclear terrorism is one of gravest threats to U.S. security. Since more than half the work to secure vulnerable nuclear weapons material remains to be done, all expressed a sense of urgency in expanding the funding and scope of Nunn-Lugar and related programs and accelerating nuclear non-proliferation efforts.

Both Clinton and Obama committed to the goal of entirely securing all nuclear material in vulnerable sites within four years. Clinton focused her response on the threat of nuclear terrorism, calling for the creation of a Senior Advisor to the President for the Prevention of Nuclear Terrorism, an idea she first introduced in the Nuclear Terrorism Prevention Act earlier this year. Obama included "negotiating a verifiable global ban on the production of new nuclear weapons material" as an element of his four-year goal.

Obama and Richardson both mentioned the need to deal with Russia, and Obama highlighted the delays and disputes that have hindered progress on securing Russian nuclear weapons and material.

Biden voiced support for his previously articulated "nuclear forensics" initiative that would "determine the origin of nuclear materials so that we can bring deterrence into the 21st century." He also drew attention to the "low-end of proliferation: buy backs of handguns and automatic weapons in troubled countries."

Edwards suggested convening a summit of leading nations to form a new Global Nuclear Compact, which would aim to provide "access to fuel for peaceful nuclear programs" while limiting the capabilities of states to make such materials and providing for "strict monitoring to ensure that materials are not being diverted."

Richardson noted his relevant experience as Secretary of Energy and said that "Pakistan's weapons are the most likely to fall into the wrong hands," calling for cooperation with Pakistan "to ensure that, in the event of a coup, Jihadists would not be able to use the Pakistani nuclear arsenal."

Question #7 - Direct Negotiations with Iran and North Korea
Do you support or oppose direct negotiations with Iran and North Korea that would include incentives for Iran not to build nuclear weapons and North Korea to eliminate verifiably its nuclear weapons program?

The candidates all endorsed negotiations with Iran and North Korea and demonstrated an awareness of the value and importance of diplomacy and international engagement in solving some of the toughest nuclear non-proliferation problems. Biden, Clinton, Edwards, and Richardson all made clear that negotiations are required to achieve a successful outcome and are a necessary part of leadership, not some sort of capitulation or concession.

Biden said that direct talks "could add to, not take away from" the Six-Party talks with North Korea and EU-3 talks with Iran.

Clinton referred to her engagement strategy as "robust diplomacy" and contrasted it with the "cowboy diplomacy of the Bush-Cheney administration."

Edwards called for cooperating "with other great powers to isolate Iran and to offer Iran economic incentives." On North Korea, Edwards said that "We must engage the country directly, through the Six Party framework, placing economic and political incentives on the table."

Obama was the only candidate to explicitly state that he "will not take the military option off the table" in confronting these threats, but he reiterated that "our first measure must be sustained, direct, and aggressive diplomacy."

Richardson mentioned that "no nation has ever been forced to renounce nuclear weapons," but rather that "many nations have been convinced to renounce them." He explained that "meaningful sanctions accompanied by positive incentives and security guarantees" were the right approach. Richardson also cited his personal experience in negotiating with troublesome regimes, adding that "When the North Koreans want to re-engage the U.S., they call me, because they trust me."

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