Bush, Kerry Square off on Arms Control

By Boese, Wade | Arms Control Today, October 2004 | Go to article overview

Bush, Kerry Square off on Arms Control


Boese, Wade, Arms Control Today


The vivid memory of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the steadily increasing number of U.S. casualties in Iraq ensure that national security issues will remain prevalent throughout the homestretch of the 2004 presidential campaign.

President George W. Bush and his Democratic challenger, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, exchange barbs daily about who is better fit to serve as commander in chief and would make America safer.

To date, the campaign has not led to an in-depth discussion about how each candidate proposes to address the security challenges posed by weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Based on what little the candidates have said, it is clear that Bush and Kerry do agree on a few things. Both consider the greatest challenge to U.S. security to be preventing terrorists from acquiring nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons; and, taking their public statements at face value, the two rivals underscore the need to secure and eliminate nuclear weapons and materials in Russia and shut down the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs.

Still, even though they share some goals, they frequently disagree in tone and on strategy. Bush proudly touts his readiness to go it alone or patch together coalitions of the willing to counter potential threats. Although not disavowing unilateral action, Kerry speaks consistently of rallying international support and marshalling formal alliances to pursue a more peaceful world. The president prefers handshake agreements. The senator stresses the value of legally binding accords.

When Americans head to the polls Nov. 2, they will have a choice between two candidates who have staked out clear and often divergent approaches to dealing with nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.

Preventing Nuclear Terrorism

Bush's answer to nuclear terrorism is to capture and kill terrorists and confront, eliminate, or isolate regimes that might supply them with nuclear weapons. The president repeatedly speaks of "taking the fight to the enemy" and stamping out threats before they do damage. Prior to the Iraq war, Bush invoked the specter of Saddam Hussein opening up his suspected stockpiles of terrible weapons to terrorists.

To deter individuals, companies, and governments worldwide from doing business with terrorists, the Bush administration proposed and won adoption in April of a UN Security Council resolution requiring all countries to adopt and enforce laws designed to prevent nonstate actors from getting weapons of mass destruction. It also has encouraged other countries to intercept suspected shipments of weapons at sea, on land, and in the air as part of its May 2003 Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), which now counts 14 other countries as active participants.

Kerry's mantra is "No material. No bomb. No nuclear terrorism." In accordance with this theme, he prioritizes stepping up U.S. and international efforts to staunch production of new materials that could be used to build nuclear weapons, as well as to get rid of or take out of circulation as much of the existing ingredients as possible (see Nuclear Materials and Technologies Control and Threat Reduction sections below).

Kerry further asserts he will appoint a presidential coordinator to manage all U.S. resources and activities devoted to denying terrorists the weapons they seek. He has also outlined a new program to enable foreign scientists to seek refuge in the United States if they expose illicit weapons activities.

Nuclear Materials And Technologies Control

In a Feb. 11 speech, Bush said nuclear supplier nations should refuse to sell nuclear items to countries that do not grant international arms inspectors broader authority to carry out investigative work inside their borders. To achieve this, Bush is pressing all countries to approve an additional protocol to supplement their safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). …

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