Tuesday, June 3, 2008

McCain's Nuclear Weapons Speech: Cheers, Jeers, and Questions

Sen. John McCain's speech last week certainly falls short of calling for a world free of nuclear weapons, but the good news is that his presidency shouldn't look exactly like Bush III.

The Center's Leonor Tomero released today an excellent summary of his much talked about Denver speech on nuclear security. While some find his statements largely in line with Bush's, Tomero finds a number of high points: a willingness to begin to address the threat of nuclear weapons, a commitment to internationalism and diplomacy, and a recognition of the necessity of U.S. non-proliferation leadership.

Her summary, cheers, and jeers follow.

In his speech about nuclear weapons issues delivered on May 27, 2008, Senator John McCain raised important issues for the next Administration. His remarks signaled a welcome shift from the Bush Administration's repudiation of important tools that can effectively reduce the dangers posed by nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, tools which served us well during the Cold War and which remain important for the continued viability of the non-proliferation framework.

Senator McCain's remarks signal a significant change from the Bush Administration in certain important areas, including a renewed commitment to pursuing further legally-binding and verifiable reductions in the number of U.S. and Russia nuclear weapons; opening a discussion on the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT); strengthening efforts to secure vulnerable bomb-grade material; pursuing negotiations for a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT); and increasing funding for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Questions remain about specific policies, including whether Senator McCain will continue the successful engagement with North Korea to achieve a verifiable dismantlement of its nuclear weapons program, and whether he will be willing to negotiate directly with Iran. Another concern is his support of an ineffective and provocative missile defense which rankles the Russians and does nothing to reduce the more likely risk of a hostile country or terrorist group detonating a nuclear weapon in the United States or from a U.S. harbor.
  • McCain recognized the threat and the urgent need to address the danger of nuclear weapons.
  • McCain proposed "broad-minded internationalism, and determined diplomacy" to re-engage in international cooperation, a shift from the Bush Administration's aversion to multilateralism and international cooperation.
  • McCain gave a clear commitment to reducing significantly the size of the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal by negotiating further legally-binding and verifiable reductions with Russia.
  • McCain acknowledged the special leadership role that the United States and Russia play.
  • McCain affirmed his commitment to a moratorium on nuclear weapon testing, in place since 1992, and expressed his preference for opening a discussion on the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
  • McCain expressed support for strengthening the non-proliferation regime by increasing funding for the International Atomic Energy Agency.
  • McCain endorsed increased funding for Cooperative Threat Reduction ("Nunn-Lugar") programs.
  • McCain urged that the United States "should move quickly with other nations to negotiate a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty to end production of the most dangerous nuclear materials."
  • McCain was vague with respect to the number of nuclear weapons that the United States should maintain.
  • McCain was ambiguous about whether he would support new nuclear weapons.
  • While McCain noted the danger of North Korea's nuclear weapons program and Iran's nuclear program, he does not specify how he would address these challenges.
  • McCain proposed to continue to threaten the use of nuclear weapons to deter the use of chemical and biological weapons.
  • McCain's support for missile defense may exacerbate a nuclear arms race while failing to provide an effective defense for the United States.
  • McCain's support for a U.S.-India nuclear cooperation deal undermines nuclear non-proliferation.
  • McCain support for resuming reprocessing in the United States undermines efforts to keep other countries from developing these technologies even while he affirmed his desire to limit the spread of reprocessing and uranium enrichment technology.
  • McCain undercut his proposals to pursue nuclear weapons reduction negotiations with Russia by proposing to expel Russia from the G-8, the group of eight industrialized countries that meet periodically to cooperate on economic issues.
For additional resources on the increasingly likely Obama-McCain match-up for November, check out the great resources of (our sister organization) Council for a Livable World, especially a great article by Executive Director John Isaacs, Friends Committee on National Legislation, and the Council on Foreign Relations.

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