Monday, January 7, 2008

Nukes Get Significant Talk-Time at NH Debates

Thank you to ABC's Charlie Gibson for bringing the issues of nuclear terrorism and general nuclear proliferation to the weekend's Democratic presidential debate at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H.

Not only were the issues discussed, but they were discussed at length - approximately fifteen minutes of the one hour debate were dedicated to those of nuclear proliferation.

Major highlights here, with a link to the full transcript below:

CHARLES GIBSON: 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.


SEN. OBAMA: ...It is important for us to rebuild a nuclear nonproliferant -- proliferation strategy -- something that this administration, frankly, has ignored, and has made us less safe as a consequence. It would not cost us that much, for example, and it would take about four years for us to lock down the loose nuclear weapons that are still floating out there, and we have not done the job.


MR. EDWARDS: I think the bigger picture on this is, what do we do over the long term? Because what we're doing now is essentially an ad hoc, nation by nation, case by case basis of trying to control the spread of this nuclear technology. In the short term, that is exactly what we should do and what I would do as president of the United States.


And what I believe we should be doing, over the long term, and what I will do as president of the United States, besides dealing with these short term threats -- which are very serious and should be taken seriously -- I, as president of the United States, want to do what some Republicans and some Democrats have said, which is to lead a long-term initiative, international initiative, to actually rid the world of nuclear weapons, because that is the only way to make the world safer and securer and to keep America safe.


MR. GIBSON: I want to get to another question, and it really is the central one in my mind in nuclear terrorism. The next president of the United States may have to deal with a nuclear attack on an American city. I've read a lot about this in recent days. The best nuclear experts in the world say there's a 30 percent chance in the next 10 years. Some estimates are higher: Graham Allison at Harvard says it's over 50 percent.

Senator Sam Nunn, in 2005, who knows a lot about this, posed two questions that stick in my mind, and I want to put them to you here. On the day after a nuclear weapon goes off in an American city, what would we wish we had done to prevent it? And what will we actually do on the day after?


SEN. OBAMA: We would obviously have to retaliate against anybody who struck American soil, whether it was nuclear or not. It would be a much more profound issue if it were nuclear weapons. That's why it's so important for us to rebuild the nuclear proliferation -- nonproliferation treaty that has fallen apart under this administration.

We have not made a commitment to work with the Russians to reduce our own nuclear stockpiles.

That has weakened our capacity to pressure other countries to give up nuclear technology. We have not locked down the loose nuclear weapons that are out there right now. These are all things that we should be taking leadership on. And part of what we need to do in changing our foreign policy is not just end the war in Iraq; we have to change the mindset that ignores long-term threats and engages in the sorts of actions that are not making us safe over the long term.


SEN. CLINTON: Well, the first -- the first part of your question was what would we wish we had done. And I have worked on this and passed legislation to move in the direction that I think we should go to have a very high level of commitment from the White House, including a person responsible in our government for marshaling our resources against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. There has to be a better organizing effort to make sure that every part of the United States government is working together.


GOV. RICHARDSON: Charlie, when I was secretary of Energy, that was one of my responsibilities, securing nuclear stockpiles, nuclear materials, mainly with the Soviet Union. And I went there many time; we made progress. But since then there's been a proliferation of loose nuclear weapons, mainly in the hands of terrorists, that could cross presumably a border, that could be smuggled in in a cargo ship with our very weak port security.

If I'm elected president, I will do two things. First, I will seek immediate negotiations with the Soviet Union and other nuclear states to reduce the number of nuclear weapons. But also a treaty on fissionable material, where you have verification, where you try to secure those loose nuclear weapons from states like North Korea and others that -- that could be drifting into the international community.
For a complete transcript of the debate from the New York Times, click here.

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