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The Candidates and Nuclear Nonproliferation

May 29, 2008

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Issue Trackers trace the positions of candidates from the 2008 presidential campaign on major issues related to foreign policy.

The U.S. presidential campaign has regularly featured debate over policy on containing the nuclear ambitions of states like Iran and North Korea. Instability in other nuclear countries, especially Pakistan, has also been cause for alarm among many candidates during the campaign. On the subject of broader nuclear nonproliferation policy, leading Democratic and Republican candidates have offered differing approaches. The Democratic candidates have all pledged to decrease the U.S. nuclear arsenal and to push for ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Some Republican candidates have in the past voted against the CTBT. Republican contenders generally favor initiatives like increased spending on missile defense as well as maintaining a strong U.S. nuclear arsenal as a deterrent.

Democratic Ticket on Nuclear Nonproliferation

Barack Obama
Democratic Party Nominee - President

President Obama has said the United States should seek "a world in which there are no nuclear weapons." But he said in an October 2007 speech he does not believe the United States should pursue unilateral nuclear disarmament. "As long as nuclear weapons exist, we'll retain a strong nuclear deterrent," he said. If elected, he says he will seek "a global ban on the production of fissile material for weapons," as well as an expansion of the U.S.-Russian intermediate-range missile ban. He also says he will "strengthen the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty so that nations that don't comply will automatically face strong international sanctions."

Obama says if elected he will make ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty a priority. Though he says the United States should "lead the international effort to deemphasize the role of nuclear weapons around the world," he has stopped short of opposing the building of a new Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW). Instead, he said he is against (PDF) a "premature" decision to build an RRW .

In August 2005, Obama traveled with Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN) to nuclear and biological weapons destruction facilities in the former Soviet Union, where they urged the destruction of conventional weapons stockpiles. With Lugar, Obama introduced the Cooperative Proliferation Detection, Interdiction Assistance, and Conventional Threat Reduction Act, which passed as part of the Department of State Authorities Act of 2006.

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Republican Ticket on Nuclear Nonproliferation

John McCain
Republican Party Nominee - President

The United States shares "an obligation with the world's other great powers to halt and reverse the proliferation of nuclear weapons," McCain said in a March 2008 speech. He also said the United States should work to "reduce nuclear arsenals all around the world, starting with our own." The United States does "not need all the weapons currently in our arsenal," he said.

In a May 2008 speech, McCain laid out his policy plans to reduce the nuclear threat. As president, McCain would have the Joint Chiefs of Staff "engage in a comprehensive review of all aspects of our nuclear strategy and policy," he said. He also said the United States should maintain a "safe and reliable nuclear deterrent, robust missile defenses and superior conventional forces that are capable of defending the United States and our allies."

McCain would "seriously consider" Russia's proposal to work to "globalize" the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. If elected, McCain says, he would continue the U.S. moratorium on nuclear testing and would cancel further work on the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator.

McCain also said in his May 2008 speech that he would support the development of a new kind of nuclear weapon only if it was "absolutely essential for the viability of our deterrent, that results in making possible further decreases in the size of our nuclear arsenal, and furthers our global nuclear security goals."

McCain would convene a "summit of the world's leading powers" to discuss nuclear nonproliferation and to revisit the notion that "non-nuclear-weapons states have a right to nuclear technology," he wrote in a November/December 2007 Foreign Affairs essay. Another agenda item at that summit would be the "automatic suspension of nuclear assistance to states that the agency [International Atomic Energy Agency] cannot guarantee are in full compliance with safeguard agreements." McCain also says the IAEA's annual budget should be "substantially increased so that the agency can meet its monitoring and safeguarding tasks."

In 2005, McCain cosponsored the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Act.

In 1999, McCain voted against the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, but, he said in his May 2008 speech, he would be willing to give it "another look."

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Democratic Primary Candidates on Nuclear Nonproliferation

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Democratic Primary Candidate

Sen. Clinton (D-NY) wrote in a November 2007 Foreign Affairs essay that she would take “dramatic steps” to reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal to boost support for international coalitions needed to “address the threat of nuclear proliferation and help the United States regain the moral high ground." Clinton said she would negotiate a U.S.-Russian treaty to “substantially and verifiably” reduce U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals to “send a strong message of nuclear restraint to the world.” She also pledged to urge the Senate to approve the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty by 2009, which she says would “enhance the United States’ credibility when demanding that other nations refrain from testing.” Clinton says she will support “efforts to supplement the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty,” and advocates the establishment of an international fuel bank guaranteeing “secure access to nuclear fuel at reasonable prices.” She also says she opposes building a new generation of nuclear weapons.

Clinton criticized (PDF) President Bush’s refusal for much of his administration to hold direct talks on nuclear issues with Iran and North Korea. She also opposed the Bush administration’s initial proposals to cut funding for the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program. In 2005, Clinton cosponsored the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Act.

In August 2007, Clinton cosponsored the Nuclear Policy and Posture Review Act, which would have required the president to conduct a review of U.S. nuclear policy to reinforce a U.S. strategy of nuclear deterrence. That bill never reached a vote.

Editor's Note: Sen. Clinton withdrew her candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination on June 7, 2008.

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John Edwards
Democratic Primary Candidate

Edwards told the Council for a Livable World that the United States should “aspire to a nuclear-free world” and said the reduction of nuclear stockpiles will be one of his “top priorities as president.”

Edwards, with Sen. Clinton and other lawmakers, cosponsored the Nuclear Security Act of 2003, which never reached a vote.

In 1999, Edwards voted in favor of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which failed in the Senate. If elected, Edwards says he will “refocus attention” on the passage of that treaty.

Editor's note: Edwards dropped out of the race for the Democratic nomination on January 30, 2008.

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Mike Gravel
Democratic Primary Candidate

As Senator from Alaska, Gravel was an outspoken critic of nuclear proliferation. He opposed nuclear testing under the seabed at Amchitka Island, Alaska, in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The testing, which many environmentalists claimed had a detrimental environmental effect, was eventually stopped, due in part to Gravel’s campaigning. Gravel says he was the first congressman to publicly oppose the use of nuclear fission. Gravel claims credit for stopping “a headlong policy that was threatening the global environment by producing nuclear wastes and proliferating bomb-grade nuclear materials.”

Editor's Note: Mike Gravel ended his bid for the Democraticnomination on March 26, 2008. He then ran for the LibertarianParty's presidential nomination before announcing the end ofhis political career on May 25, 2008.

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Dennis Kucinich
Democratic Primary Candidate

Rep. Kucinich (D-OH) is a strong advocate for nuclear disarmament worldwide. The proposed use of nuclear weapons is “dehumanizing through its calculations of mass casualties,” Kucinich wrote in a 2002 essay.

Kucinich says the United States must demand an end to “illegal use of depleted uranium munitions,” and must “lead an international effort to recover depleted uranium.”

In 2006, Kucinich introduced a House resolution “calling for the abolition of all nuclear weapons.” That bill never reached a vote. Kucinich cosponsored the Nonproliferation Treaty Enhancement Resolution of 2005. He also supports the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Editor's Note: Rep. Kucinich withdrew his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination on January 25, 2008.

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Bill Richardson
Democratic Primary Candidate

Richardson says the United States must stop proliferation and production of nuclear weapons and reduce its nuclear arsenals. The United States should also “halt or secure civilian programs that require or produce bomb-grade materials” and “consolidate and secure” fissile materials, he said in a March 2007 speech entitled “Preventing a Nuclear 9/11.”

Richardson says the United States should renew (PDF) its commitment to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. He opposes building a new generation of nuclear weapons, and pledges to reduce nuclear arsenals if elected. Richardson supports the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty and says its ratification will “send a signal to the world that America has turned a corner.”

As energy secretary under Bill Clinton, the Department of Energy increased funding from $85 million to $138 million for the Material Protection, Control and Accounting program, which he says was meant to “protect Russian nuclear warheads and weapons-grade fissile material from falling into the hands of terrorists or black market dealers.” As Energy Secretary, he also led the Nuclear Cities Initiative, an effort to encourage Russia to reduce its nuclear arsenal.

Editor's note: Richardson dropped out of the race for the Democratic nomination on January 10, 2008.

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Republican Primary Candidates on Nuclear Nonproliferation

Rudy Giuliani
Republican Primary Candidate

Giuliani says the United States “can no longer rely on Cold War doctrines such as ‘mutual assured destruction’ in the face of threats from hostile, unstable regimes.” In his September/October 2007 Foreign Affairs essay, Giuliani wrote that the United States must build a missile defense shield to make nuclear blackmail “less likely” and to make ballistic missile programs less appealing, thereby slowing “their development and proliferation.”

Giuliani also says the United States should develop “detection systems to identify nuclear material that is being imported into the United States or developed by operatives inside the country.”

Giuliani has said the use of tactical nuclear weapons against Iran’s nuclear facilities should be taken "off the table." His stance on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty is unknown.

Editor's note: Giuliani dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination on January 31, 2008.

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Mike Huckabee
Republican Primary Candidate

In a September 2007 speech, Huckabee expressed concern about the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran. He said that “faced with a nuclear Shiite Persian Iran, the Sunni Arab regimes to the west will feel the need to match them." Huckabee said he would “not take the military option for Iran off the table” as a means of prevention. But he emphasized using the tool of diplomacy in both containing Iran and seeking to engage in dialogue with its leaders to try to resolve the dispute over its nuclear program, which Iran says is peaceful. His views on other aspects of nuclear nonproliferation policy are unknown.

Editor's Note: Huckabee withdrew his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination on March 4, 2008.

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Duncan Hunter
Republican Primary Candidate

Rep. Hunter (R-CA) says he is “for nuclear nonproliferation to terrorist groups, and for technology control.” The United States should not eliminate its nuclear arsenal, but the United States should do “everything possible to prevent a regime with nuclear technology from falling into the hands of those who would use it irresponsibly,” Hunter told Wikinews in January 2008. Hunter has said he would not take the option of using tactical nuclear weapons against Iran “off the table.”

Editor's note: Hunter dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination on January 19, 2008.

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Ron Paul
Republican Primary Candidate

Rep. Paul (R-TX) says the U.S.posture toward nuclear proliferation is hypocritical. "If countries do have a nuclear weapon, they tend to be left alone, or possibly get a subsidy, but if they do not gain such a weapon then we threaten them," Paul wrote in December 2007. His stance on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty is unknown.

Editor's Note: Rep. Paul withdrew his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination on June 12, 2008.

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Mitt Romney
Republican Primary Candidate

Romney has often stressed the importance of preventing states like Iran and "jihadists" from obtaining nuclear weapons. Romney was asked about the prospect of using tactical nuclear weapons against Iran's nuclear facilities at a June 2007 Republican debate. He said, "you don't take options off the table" but stressed the importance of an invigorated broader policy for engaging moderate Muslims to counter extremism in Muslim-majority states.

Romney has said little on the issue of reducing the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and has not indicated whether he favors a nuclear test ban. He has said enforcement of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is "often lacking." Romney says if elected he will appoint a senior "ambassador-at-large" to rally nations to prevent nuclear terrorism.

Romney called the Bush administration's Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism "a good start," but in an April 2007 speech said it should be accelerated and expanded. He also has said he would create an international initiative to make nuclear trafficking a crime against humanity.

Editor's note: Romney dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination on February 7, 2008.

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Fred Thompson
Republican Primary Candidate

Thompson says the United States must modernize and “revitalize” its nuclear weapons capabilities. Still, he says nuclear capabilities should be kept at the “lowest level” to remain compatible with U.S. “national security needs and our international commitments.”

In a white paper on the U.S. Armed Forces, Thompson wrote that the United States must “maintain complementary land-, sea-, and air-based weapons delivery platforms to ensure the survivability of our nuclear deterrent.” In 1999, Thompson voted against the ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

As senator from Tennessee, Thompson criticized China, Russia, and North Korea for serving as “key suppliers” of nuclear information and materials to countries in the Middle East and Africa. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Thompson said the United States must make it clear that it “will not tolerate continued proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and related technologies.”

Editor's note: Thompson dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination on January 22, 2008.

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