Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Nuclear Proliferation and Prez Candidates: Deadly Silence?

Catherine Collins (co-author of The Nuclear Jihadist: The True Story of the Man Who Sold the World's Most Dangerous Secrets ... and How We Could Have Stopped Him) published an interesting op-ed in the Chicago Tribune last week on what she perceives as a lack of attention paid to nuclear proliferation in this year's presidential debates.

Though a significant portion of the January 5 Democratic Presidential Debate in Manchester, New Hampshire was dedicated to the issues of nuclear terrorism and nuclear proliferation, with approximately 15 minutes of a one hour debate spend on the topic, she argues that candidates have done little to otherwise address the issue. ABC's Charlie Gibson agreed with Collins' perspective when he put forth this question:

So let me start with what is generally agreed to be, I think, the greatest threat to the United States today and somewhat to my surprise has not been discussed as much in the presidential debates this year as I thought would be, and that is nuclear terrorism.
Collins argues that in 2004, President Bush and Senator Kerry both seemed to agree that nuclear proliferation was the most serious threat to national security. And since that time, North Korea has tested a nuclear weapon (though it has now taken concrete steps toward abandoning its nuclear program), Iran's nuclear program has come under more intense international scrutiny, and concerns about the safety of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal have arisen in light of domestic "unrest" - to put it mildly - after the death of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

Rather than be pushed to the forefront of the presidential debates, however, nuclear proliferation has been largely ignored, she argues. And "the silence has been deafening."

Many of the Democratic candidates' positions on nuclear issues can be found in their comments from the New Hampshire debate, but Collins also sent a questionnaire to the Republican candidates. When only one (Mitt Romney) responded, she compiled some of their quotes from other speeches.

On the Republican side, she argues:
The GOP candidates are more likely to equate nuclear issues with terrorism and they appear unwilling to talk to Iran under current circumstances.

The Republicans have largely avoided discussing whether to build a new generation of nuclear weapons, a program pushed by the Bush administration [the funding for which was recently cut in the December Omnibus Appropriations bill].

Proliferation concerns are most often expressed in terms of putting the burden on non-nuclear countries to stop the development of weapons without addressing the U.S. obligations to reduce and eventually eliminate its own stockpile. Romney set himself apart from others in both parties by proposing a new body of international law that would make trafficking in nuclear technology a 'crime against humanity.' He also outlined a five-point plan for dealing with Iran's nuclear ambitions, extending the Bush policy by proposing tighter economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation.
On international treaties:
On the Republican side, Sen. John McCain and former Sen. Fred Thompson [who just dropped out of the race] are on record opposing the test ban treaty, which suggests that they also support developing new nuclear weapons down the road. McCain has called the treaty broken because it failed to stop the spread of nuclear technology. Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee have opposed reducing the U.S. nuclear stockpile, as the treaty requires. Rep. Ron Paul is the only Republican who advocates reducing the number of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal.
She identifies that Democrats and Republicans on the whole offer distinctly different proposals on how to address the issue of nuclear proliferation, but calls on both sides to raise the issue as part of their campaigns.
The world has become a more dangerous and unstable place since the last election. The world's nuclear powers have not lived up to their promise to eliminate nuclear weapons and more countries are trying to acquire them. The time for silence is long past and the candidates of both parties should raise the volume on the nuclear debate.
For further information on the candidates' positions on nuclear weapons, check out "Eyes on the Prize," compiled by the Friends Committee on National Legislation, and questionnaire responses from the candidates, collected by the Center's sister organization, Council for a Livable World.

* The Center for Arms Control and Non-proliferation does not endorse candidates, presidential or otherwise.

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