Candidates Answer CFR's Questions

Kirsten Gillibrand

July 30, 2019

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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?

I am deeply troubled by the alarming reports of widespread human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other Muslim Chinese citizens. I have called on U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to update U.S. export controls on American technology to ensure that neither China nor other repressive regimes can use American technology to commit human rights violations. I have further supported targeted sanctions against those responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture and other abuses of human rights, and have cosponsored the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act of 2019. America must pursue a variety of goals in the bilateral relationship with China, including holding them accountable for currency cheating, unfair trade practices, and cyber theft of American technology and Americans’ data. But history has taught us that we never ultimately advance our interests when we ignore human rights abuses. I believe we can support human rights in the context of addressing our country’s vital national security and economic interests.

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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Abandoning the Iran nuclear deal was reckless and dangerous. We need to rejoin our allies in returning to the agreement, provided Iran agrees to comply with the agreement and take steps to reverse its breaches, and strengthen the deal. While President Trump’s reckless policies have moved American security and the security of allies backwards, I would - together with our allies - press Iran to extend the agreement for a longer period, and tackle other security issues from Iran’s missile program to its support for terrorists. I believe that our leverage will increase if Iran sees the benefit of agreeing to a deal.

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?

When it comes to North Korea, we must base our actions on a clear understanding of what has and has not worked in the past, and make a commitment to peace on the Korean Peninsula. I would come to an arms control summit prepared with facts based on seasoned policy and intelligence advice. I would strategically leverage diplomatic steps to curb aggression. And I would carefully articulate our national security goals, rather than send mixed signals. I would work together with our allies, including through incremental measurable steps designed to limit the North Korean threat, with the ultimate goal of a nuclear-free and peaceful Korean Peninsula.

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

Russian aggression toward Ukraine - whether in the Crimean Peninsula, Eastern Ukraine or in the Kerch Strait - is dangerous, not only toward Ukraine, but broadly, because it emboldens Russian aggression elsewhere. Russia’s cyber hacks of Ukrainian infrastructure gave it a testbed, and its lessons could be used to target the U.S. We must be very clear with President Putin that Russia’s illegal attempts at annexation are not acceptable. That is why rather than warmly greet Putin in confidential conversations, or weigh his assertions above U.S. intelligence assessments, I would continue a policy of sanctions aimed at the group of Russian leaders who have undermined Ukraine’s democracy, security and territorial integrity, and closely coordinate our policy with our European allies to deepen their impact. And I would once again deepen our NATO ties because this alliance presents one of the strongest bulwarks against Russian aggression.

And because Russia has demonstrated its willingness to invade its neighbors, it is all the more reason that we must ensure we have arms control agreements in place to limit Russia’s nuclear and strategic forces. I had opposed President Trump’s withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Agreement because its absence opens the door to a new and dangerous arms race. It is all the more critical that we extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty to limit Russian nuclear weapons and provide information to the U.S. intelligence community.

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?

Yes. In 2011, after I traveled to Afghanistan, I was among the first Democrats to call for bringing our combat troops home from Afghanistan. We have been in Afghanistan for over 18 years - longer than some of today’s U.S. military recruits have been alive. We have accomplished the mission we set out to achieve. We do not need to remain in Afghanistan to counter terrorism. Terror groups metastasize - they recruit and plan via borderless computer networks and can strike us and our allies regardless of physical control of a large territory. Meeting this threat means changing our mission in Afghanistan to intelligence gathering and quick reaction forces. We have the best intelligence professionals and special forces, and we have military assets deployed around the world. There is no geography that we cannot reach on short notice...we don’t advance our goals by stationing tens of thousands of US troops and heavy equipment in countries that don’t want us there and in locations that are costly to supply.

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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?

We must stop aiding other countries’ wars that serve only to create grave human rights tragedies and turn people against us. My consistent position as senator has been to condemn and take steps to stop human rights abuses by Saudi Arabia - whether it has been stopping arms sales that would be used in Yemen, refueling Saudi planes that bomb civilians, freeing political prisoners, or supporting accountability for Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.

Under my presidency, the United States would support accountability for the horrific and barbaric murder of Jamal Khashoggi, including sanctions even if evidence implicates the highest office in Saudi Arabia. My administration would end U.S. support for the Saudi war in Yemen, whether refueling of Saudi planes that bomb Yemen’s civilians or selling munitions to Saudi Arabia that have created the carnage in Yemen. We stand with our allies’ defensive needs, but we do not gain greater security when we aid their indiscriminate attacks on civilians.

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. In my trips to Israel and through conversations with U.S. experts and Israeli leaders, I have learned that Israel’s security and the prosperity of both Israelis and Palestinians is best achieved through a peace based on two nations living side by side. But that lasting peace and security can only be achieved by those on the ground, and the U.S. must remain engaged, but balanced, in order to foster direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. The Trump administration has dangerously undermined U.S. ability to foster such negotiations. As president, I would seek to restore it by continuing America’s strong relationship with our ally, Israel, ensuring its meaningful military edge allows Israel to defend its people, while at the same time reversing the Trump administration’s damaging policies toward the Palestinians. This means reopening the diplomatic mission to the Palestinians, restoring our USAID presence in the West Bank and restarting USAID programs that President Trump has cut.

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

I want to see free and fair elections in Venezuela - monitored by international experts so that the will of the Venezuelan people is reflected in their government. But more than that, I want to see a fair judiciary, an open press, and other aspects of a truly thriving democracy. So I support the efforts of the international community to impose a combination of sanctions and humanitarian aid and diplomatic pressure on President Maduro, and to take steps to lessen the humanitarian disaster ordinary Venezuelans are suffering. Almost 4 million Venezuelan refugees have fled and we must provide humanitarian and refugee assistance.Venezuelans, like other asylum seekers who reach our shores, deserve our protection. But I do not support military intervention. We cannot allow Trump’s warmonger advisors get us into yet another war. It would not be good for the American people,Venezuelans or our other friends in the region.

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?

We must recognize the enormous potential of the young generation growing up in the fifty-four countries in Africa. For far too long, we have ignored the opportunities, focusing only on the risks emanating from the continent. Yet with better diplomacy — one that recognizes the value of those countries, rather than insulting them as President Trump has — and with more trade, investment in rule of law, and policies to address climate change, we can foster the opportunities that this young population will have and contribute to greater global stability. China has recognized and worked to leverage these opportunities for its own benefit through the Belt and Road Initiative. America should lead, based on respect for the rule of law, and likewise compete for the hearts and minds of the people in these countries.

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?

I opposed TPP because I do not believe it was good for American workers or American families. Any new agreement would need to: 

● Bring our allies to the table to hold China accountable for their cheating. China’s currency manipulation, dumping of steel, and stealing of intellectual property threaten the economy and security for free countries all around the world. 

● Prioritize American workers and not corporate interests by creating a new independent national worker dispute board, so that we don't agree to another trade deal that leaves workers holding the bag.

● Raise worldwide standards on the environment, using it as a way to tackle global climate change.

● Ensure the right to collectively bargain, both at home and abroad, because sham unions abroad and Right to Work at home both contribute to the culture of greed and profits that create massive income inequality.

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

I would ensure that the U.S. Export-Import Bank does not provide any financing for the development of coal-fired power plants in developing countries, and I would work with the international community to push other international development banks and financial institutions to end financing for these projects as well. I would refocus our overseas investments in sustainable clean and renewable energy, including incentivizing the development of American clean energy technology that can be exported overseas. I would also ensure that the United States stays in the Paris Climate Accord and work to negotiate stronger emissions reduction targets for all countries in order to achieve net-zero global carbon emissions by 2050.

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

The United States has a number of remarkable achievements. We have helped to create an international arms control regime that has diminished the risk of nuclear war despite the proliferation of nuclear technology. We have helped to support development and respect for human rights and the rule of law in many emerging nations, as well as in older countries going through political change. And we have contributed to the research and development of medicines and agricultural innovations, ensuring that much more of the global community can survive the devastation of disease and famine. But none of these achievements would have been as successful — or even possible — without the strong alliances that the United States has nurtured. It is thanks to these alliances that we have arms control agreements, climate agreements, and institutions that support international security and development. 

The United States has bravely faced its enemies, and has not shrunk when called to stand up to a common foe; but it has too often remained embroiled in battle beyond its time. It is time to end the endless wars that ultimately undermine our security. We have an obligation and a moral duty to extricate ourselves from unending battles that turn people against us and cost trillions of dollars, which could be invested in rebuilding America’s infrastructure and education system, guaranteeing Americans medical care, and creating the green jobs of tomorrow. 

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