Bernie Sanders
Candidates Answer CFR's Questions

Bernie Sanders

July 30, 2019 11:24 am (EST)

Carlos Barria/Reuters

CFR invited the presidential candidates challenging President Trump in the 2020 election to articulate their positions on twelve critical foreign policy issues. Candidates’ answers are posted exactly as they are received. View all questions here.

1. How, if at all, should China’s treatment of the Uighurs and the situation in Hong Kong affect broader U.S. policy toward China?

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China is engaged in a program of mass internment and cultural genocide against the Uighur people. It has also been steadily eroding liberal democracy in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, the United States has limited options when it comes to pressuring Beijing to change its policies. But that does not mean that we should, as the Trump administration has done, abandon our role in promoting human rights, whether at the United Nations or as part of our ongoing trade negotiations with China. My administration will work with allies to strengthen global human rights standards and make every effort to let Beijing know that its behavior is damaging its international standing and undermining relations with the United States.

2. Would you rejoin the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)? What changes to the existing agreement, if any, would you require before agreeing to rejoin the accord?

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Yes. The agreement achieved by the US, Europe, Russia and China with Iran is one of the strongest anti-nuclear agreements ever negotiated. It prevented a war and blocked Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon. I would re-enter the agreement on day one of my presidency and then work with the P5+1 and Iran to build upon it with additional measures to further block any path to a nuclear weapon, restrain Iran’s offensive actions in the region and forge a new strategic balance in the Middle East.

3. Would you sign an agreement with North Korea that entailed partial sanctions relief in exchange for some dismantling of its nuclear weapons program but not full denuclearization?

Yes, and then continue negotiations. Every step we take to reduce North Korea’s nuclear force, to open it up to inspections, to end the 70-year-old Korean War and to encourage peaceful relations between the Koreas and the United States increases the chances of complete denuclearization of the peninsula. Peace and nuclear disarmament must proceed in parallel, in close consultations with our South Korean ally. I will work to negotiate a step-by-step process to roll back North Korea’s nuclear program, build a new peace and security regime on the peninsula and work towards the eventual elimination of all North Korean nuclear weapons.

4. What, if any, steps would you take to counter Russian aggression against Ukraine?

The framework put in place by the Obama Administration—the European Reassurance Initiative and multilateral sanctions—seems to have helped contain Russian aggression in Ukraine. My administration will make clear to Russia that additional aggression will force the United States to increase pressure, including expanding beyond current sanctions. For now, our main priority should be to work closely with our European allies to help the new Ukrainian government make good on its promises to reform the economy, improve standards of living, and substantially reduce corruption. 

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5. Would you commit to the full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of your first term, or would you require certain conditions be met before doing so?

I would withdraw U.S. military forces from Afghanistan as expeditiously as possible. Our military has now been in Afghanistan for nearly eighteen years. We will soon have troops in Afghanistan who were not even born on September 11, 2001. It’s time to end our intervention there and bring our troops home, in a planned and coordinated way combined with a serious diplomatic and political strategy which helps deliver desperately needed humanitarian aid. Withdrawing troops does not mean withdrawing all involvement, and my administration would stay politically engaged in these countries and do whatever we can to help them develop their economy and strengthen a government that is responsible to its people. 

6. Given the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi and Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the civil war in Yemen, what changes, if any, would you make to U.S. policy toward Saudi Arabia?

The reality is that the U.S.-Saudi relationship needs to change. It is based on cheap oil, millions of dollars of arms sales, a complete disregard for Saudi Arabia's human rights violations, and willful blindness when it comes to Saudi's spread of religious radicalism. We must immediately end our support for Saudi Arabia's carnage in Yemen and clearly signal Riyadh that we categorically reject their not-too-unsubtle efforts to drag the US into a conflict with Iran. But we must also recognize that for the sake of stability in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia needs to be part of the solution. It’s a hard reality that the United States sometimes has to work with undemocratic governments to protect our own security, but we should also recognize that relying on corrupt authoritarian regimes to deliver us security is a losing bet. Democratic governments that are accountable to their own people, which share our values and have open societies make far better partners in the long term.

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7. Do you support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, if so, how would you go about trying to achieve it?

Yes, the parameters of that solution are well known. They are based in international law, in multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions, and are supported by an overwhelming international consensus: Two states based on the 1967 lines, with Jerusalem as the capital of both states. Ultimately, it’s up to the Palestinians and Israelis themselves to make the choices necessary for a final agreement, but the United States has a major role to play in brokering that agreement. My administration would also be willing to bring real pressure to bear on both sides, including conditioning military aid, to create consequences for moves that undermine the chances for peace.   

8. What, if any, additional steps should the United States take to remove Nicolás Maduro from power in Venezuela?

My administration would support the negotiations between the Maduro government and the opposition, and work with other countries in our region, and the international community, to support the Venezuelan people’s right to build their own future. The United States should support the rule of law, fair elections and self-determination in Venezuela, as we should elsewhere. We would condemn the use of violence against unarmed protesters and the suppression of dissent. We would also listen to the voices of Venezuelan activists themselves who warn against broad sanctions, such as the Trump administration’s oil sanctions, that mainly punish the people, not the government. My administration would not be in the business of regime change. The United States has a long history of inappropriately intervening in Latin American countries; we must not go down that road again.

9. By 2050, Africa will account for 25 percent of the world’s population according to projections by the United Nations. What are the implications of this demographic change for the United States, and how should we adjust our policies to anticipate them?

America must create room for Africa to play a greater role in setting the global agenda or else we will repeat the colonialist/imperialist history of the 19th and 20th century that suppressed African opinions and impoverished Africa. Our global institutions, like the IMF, World Bank and UN Security Council (which we lead) must reflect the changing global demographics and add Africa to leadership roles. For too long we have been comfortable with Africa taking a back seat in setting the global agenda and being responsible for world peace. The US is about 5 percent of the world’s population and consumes about 25% of the world’s resources to live the way that it does. We must invest in making Africa more efficient than the rest of the world in order to avoid resources wars, which are already happening. Supporting the UN sustainable development goals is a critical part of this. We can explore tax breaks to these sort of Sustainable Development Goal investors who are investing in making the world more efficient. 

10. Under what circumstances, if any, would you support the United States joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), formerly the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

Under no circumstance would we rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership under a Sanders Administration. I helped lead the effort against this disastrous unfettered trade agreement.  The TPP follows in the footsteps of other unfettered free trade agreements like NAFTA, CAFTA and the Permanent Normalized Trade Agreement with China (PNTR). These treaties have forced American workers to compete against desperate and low-wage labor around the world. The result has been massive job losses in the United States and the shutting down of tens of thousands of factories.

Re-joining the TPP would not bring back one American job that has been outsourced to China. Instead, it would force more American workers to compete with desperate workers in Vietnam who make less than a dollar an hour and migrant computer workers in Malaysia who are working as modern-day slaves. It is bad enough to force U.S. workers to compete with low-wage labor; they should not be forced to compete with no-wage labor.

We need to fundamentally rewrite our trade policies to benefit American workers, not just the CEOs of large, multi-national corporations. Rejoining the TPP would be a betrayal of American workers and a step in the wrong direction.

11. How would you discourage the proliferation of coal-fired power plants in developing countries?

Solving our climate crisis requires a major diplomatic campaign. A major goal of U.S. foreign policy should be to create the conditions for all countries to transition to carbon-neutral energy. That includes developing countries that burn coal. The first thing we must do is act aggressively to decarbonize our own economy so that we have the credibility and influence to lead. As we do so, we should orchestrate a multilateral campaign — a Green New Deal for the World — to coordinate investment in green technology and make that technology widely available through long-term financing for the poor countries that currently depend on coal and other fossil fuels. 

12. What has been the greatest foreign policy accomplishment of the United States since World War II? What has been the biggest mistake?

For greatest accomplishments, I would name two. First, the extremely radical foreign policy initiative called the Marshall Plan. Historically, when countries won terrible wars, they exacted retribution on the vanquished. But in 1948, the United States government did something absolutely unprecedented. After losing hundreds of thousands of soldiers in the most brutal war in history to defeat the barbarity of Nazi Germany and Japanese imperialism, the government of the United States decided not to punish and humiliate the losers. Rather, we helped rebuild their economies, spending the equivalent of $130 billion just to reconstruct Western Europe after World War II. We also provided them support to reconstruct democratic societies. Despite centuries of hostility, there has not been a major European war since World War II. That is an extraordinary foreign policy success that we should be very proud of.

The second was supporting the creation of the United Nations, which former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt called “our greatest hope for future peace.” It is fashionable to bash the UN, which can be ineffective, bureaucratic, too slow or unwilling to act, even in the face of massive atrocities. But to see only its weaknesses is to overlook the enormously important work the UN does in promoting global health, aiding refugees, monitoring elections, and doing international peacekeeping missions, among other things. All of these activities contribute to reduced conflict, to wars that don’t have to be ended because they never start.

The biggest blunder is the war in Iraq, which I strongly opposed. The war in Iraq led to the deaths of some 4,400 U.S. troops and the wounding of tens of thousands of others—not to mention the pain inflicted on wives and children and parents. It led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands Iraqi civilians and the displacement of millions. It created a cascade of instability around the region that we will be dealing with for many years to come. It cost trillions of dollars, money that should have been spent on health care, education, infrastructure, and environmental protection, distracted us from pressing issues like climate change, and undermined our ability to work with allies to address other challenges.


This project was made possible in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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