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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 46, May 2000

Statement by George W. Bush

'New leadership on national security,' statement and remarks by George W. Bush, Governor of Texas, Washington, May 23, 2000


"Today, I am here with some of our nation's leading [Republican] statesmen and defense experts [former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Schultz, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, and former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell]. And there is broad agreement that our nation needs a new approach to nuclear security that matches a new era.

When it comes to nuclear weapons, the world has changed faster than US policy. The emerging security threats to the United States, its friends and allies and even to Russia now come from rogue states, terrorist groups and other adversaries seeking weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. Threats also come from insecure nuclear stockpiles and the proliferation of dangerous technologies.

Russia itself is no longer our enemy. The Cold War logic that led to creation of massive stockpiles on both sides is now outdated. Our mutual security need no longer depend on a nuclear balance of terror. While deterrence remains the first line of defense against nuclear attack, the standoff of the cold war was born of a different time. That was a time when our arsenal also served to check the conventional superiority of the Warsaw Pact. Then the Soviet Union's power reached deep into the heart of Europe to Berlin and Warsaw, Budapest and Prague. Today these are the capitals of NATO countries.

Yet almost a decade after the end of the Cold War, our nuclear policy still resides in that already distant past.

The Clinton-Gore administration has had over seven years to bring the US force posture into the post-Cold War world. Instead, they remained locked in a Cold War mentality. It is time to leave the Cold War behind and defend against the new threats of the 21st century.

America must build effective missile defenses based on the best available options at the earliest possible date. Our missile defense must be designed to protect all 50 states and our friends and allies and deployed forces overseas from missile attacks by rogue nations or accidental launches.

The Clinton administration at first denied the need for a national missile defense system. Then it delayed. Now the approach it proposes is flawed, a system initially based on a single site, when experts say that more is needed. A missile defense system should not only defend our country; it should defend our allies, with whom I will consult as we develop our plans. And any change in the ABM Treaty must allow the technologies and experiments required to deploy adequate missile defenses.

The administration is driving toward a hasty decision on a political timetable. No decision would be better than a flawed agreement that ties the hands of the next President and prevents America from defending itself.

Yet there are positive, practical ways to demonstrate to Russia that we are no longer enemies. Russia, our allies in the world need to understand our intentions. America's development of missile defenses is a search for security, not a search for advantage.

America should rethink the requirements for nuclear deterrence in a new security environment. The premises of Cold War nuclear targeting should no longer dictate the size of our arsenal. As President, I will ask the Secretary of Defense to conduct an assessment of our nuclear force posture and determine how best to meet our security needs. While the exact number of weapons can come only from such an assessment, I will pursue the lowest possible number consistent with our national security.

It should be possible to reduce the number of American nuclear weapons significantly further than what has been already agreed to under START II without compromising our security in any way. We should not keep weapons that our military planners do not need. These unneeded weapons are the expensive relics of dead conflicts, and they do nothing to make us more secure. In addition, the United States should remove as many weapons as possible from high-alert, hair-trigger status. Another unnecessary vestige of cold-war confrontation, preparation for quick launch within minutes after warning of an attack was the rule during the era of superpower rivalry. But today for two nations at peace, keeping so many weapons on high alert may create unacceptable risks of accidental or unauthorized launch.

So as President I will ask for an assessment of what we can safely do to lower the alert status of our forces. These changes to our forces should not require years and years of detailed arms control negotiations. There is a precedent that proves the power of leadership. In 1991, the United States invited the Soviet Union to join it in removing tactical nuclear weapons from the arsenal. Huge reductions were achieved in a matter of months, making the world much safer more quickly. Similarly, in the area of strategic nuclear weapons, we should invite the Russian government to accept the new vision that I have outlined and act on it.

But the United States should be prepared to lead by example because it is in our best interests and the best interests of the world. This would be an act of principled leadership, a chance to seize the moment and begin a new era of nuclear security, a new era of cooperation on proliferation and nuclear safety.

The Cold War era is history. Our nation must recognize new threats, not fixate on old ones. On the issue of nuclear weapons, the United States has an opportunity to lead to a safer world, both to defend against nuclear threats and reduce nuclear tensions. It is possible to build a missile defense and defuse confrontation with Russia. America should do both."

Questions and Answers

"Question: 'I'm just trying to clarify. When you say that we should be prepared to lead by example, are you saying that you'd be prepared to reduce America's nuclear arsenal whether or not the Russians follow suit?'

Bush: 'Yes, I am, and I would work closely with the Russians to convince them to do the same. … I would never do anything to put our nation at risk. I will work with the secretary of the defense to come up with a level of weaponry consistent with [deterrence]…but at the same time make a clear signal to the Russians that we are willing to reduce our arsenals to assure them, and to assure the world, that we're a peaceful nation...'

Question: 'There are many START III negotiations under way to bring down the level. Do you think the levels being talked about are insufficient? …'

Bush: 'The definition of sufficient reductions is going to be determined after I consult closely with the Secretary of Defense and the defense establishment in my administration, the people in my administration. Secondly, START III should not be an excuse to limit our ability to develop an anti-ballistic missile system.'

Question: 'Governor, are you saying that we ought to share the national defense system with our allies in NATO and perhaps even with our allies in Russia as well? When you say "protect our allies," who do you mean?'

Bush: 'I mean people in Europe, for example. But I also mean Israel. I, yes, I think we ought to consult closely with our allies. As to sharing information and technologies with the Russians, it depends upon how Russia behaves, depends upon how Russia conducts itself as a member of the family of nations.'

Question: 'Governor, would you share that technology with Taiwan?'

Bush: 'I think we ought to own the technology, but I'd be willing to use it, if need be, to uphold the Taiwan relations law.'

Question: 'Governor, President Clinton will be in Moscow in a week. What are you authorizing him or what would you like to see him do at the negotiations? You're saying that you'd like to see the number of warheads brought down…'

Bush: 'What I'm really suggesting is that he not hamstring the ability of the next President to fully develop an anti-ballistic missile system to protect ourselves and our allies. As I said, no treaty, no agreement, would be better than a flawed agreement. I'm concerned that this administration is not fully devoted to the development of an anti-ballistic missile system that will work.'

Question: 'Governor Bush, this is the second time that you've talked in…detail about a national missile defense system. In The New York Times you talked about the cost and how you would pay for it in context with your tax cuts, saving Social Security...'

Bush: 'We have a $4 trillion surplus. I intend to reserve over $2 trillion of that for Social Security; about $1.3 trillion for tax cuts. The remainder will be available to meet priorities. Secondly, the cost of an anti-ballistic missile system is worth the cost to protect ourselves, to protect our allies. The ability to determine the final cost will be the ability to determine, you know, what the new research in technologies look like, and the current treaty prevents us from fully exploring all options when it comes to the effective deployment of an anti-ballistic missile system.'

Question: 'Governor, at the [NPT] United Nations conference in New York last Saturday the United States and four other nuclear powers agreed to [eliminate their] nuclear arsenals… Do you support that agreement? Are you still opposed to ratification by the United States [of the CTBT]?'

Bush: 'I will never reduce the levels of the nuclear stockpile of the United States to a position where it would jeopardize our safety and security. And, no, I don't support the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.'

Question: 'The Russians seem to regard the ABM as the cornerstone of security. You are saying that you will get out of ABM… [A]re you willing to talk to the Russians before you make your final decision?'

Bush: 'Of course. … Absolutely. … I look forward to working with Mr. Putin and explaining my point of view and my attitude about the post-Cold War era. I'm going to look him right in the eye and say, "You're no longer the enemy. And we're not your enemy. Surely we can work together to bring certainty into an uncertain world." I look forward to that, and I think it's going to be very important for the next President to clearly state the intentions of the United States, that we're a peaceful nation and that we look forward to working together with Russia to keep the peace, that the world has changed dramatically.' …

Question: 'Are you talking about unilateral reductions in American deployed weapons? And if the Russians didn't reciprocate, would you keep to those reductions? And are you also talking about reducing stockpiles?'

Bush: 'I'm talking about…both. I'm talking about making sure the level of stockpiles and deployed weaponry is such that we can keep the peace and have a strong deterrence. I recognize we're in a different world, and I'm going to send that signal to the Secretary of Defense to analyze the world the way it is today, not the way it used to be...'

Question: 'If the Russians don't reciprocate?'

Bush: 'Well, hopefully they will. I'll look forward to working with the Russians. But if they don't, the level of nuclear readiness is going to meet our needs. It's going to meet the needs of the United States of America. I will never put our security at risk." …

Question: 'Governor, this program to defend the country against missiles has been problematic from the beginning from a technological point of view both during the Reagan administration and your father's administration, now during the Clinton administration. What technology do you see out there that makes you hopeful that once you implement your program you can actually defend this country?'

Bush: 'What I see out there is a couple of things. One, the world has changed a lot since the 80s. Science is evolving. Laser technology is evolving. There's a lot of inventiveness in our society that hasn't been unleashed on this particular subject. And, secondly, I see a treaty that makes it hard for us to fully explore the options available, the options available to keep the peace. And there needs to be an administration with a firm commitment to exploring all options and all opportunities. Be able to understand, you know, whether or not a space-based system can work, like some hope it can. And under this administration…I don't think there's been the full commitment to determining what the opportunities and options are for the country. And I think it's important to take a full look at whether or not we can keep the peace. … And the interesting fact is a lot of people think we can defend ourselves against an accidental launch. I think if you were to ask Americans, they will tell you that we've got the capability of defending ourselves. But it's not the case. And I believe the post-Cold War era dictates a different way of thinking.'

Question: 'Governor, are the people arrayed onstage behind you this morning involved in the formulation of this [statement]?'

Bush: 'Of course.'

Question: 'And have they all agreed to advise you on foreign policy and defense matters?'

Bush: 'Yes, they have. And I'm honored to have their support. I'm honored to have their opinions. I've told my supporters I was interested in thinking differently. As we go into the 21st century I want a different point of view when it comes to how to keep the peace. And it's the right thing to do for America, and it's the right thing to do for the world.'"

Note: delivering a commencement address at the West Point Miltary Academy on May 26, Vice President Gore strongly criticised the arms control strategy outlined in Governor Bush's statement. According to Gore, who did not mention the Governor by name: "An approach that combines serious unilateral reductions with an attempt to build a massive defense system will create instability and thus undermine our security… Nuclear unilateralism will hinder, rather than help, arms control…" Speaking to reporters after the speech, Gore described Bush's approach as "wildly optimistic," and "a formula…for a reignited arms race… If you're not careful, you could have fewer missiles and a more dangerous world." (Gore criticizes Bush nuclear plan, Associated Press, May 27). See next issue for further comment and reaction.

Source: Excerpts from Bush's remarks on national security and arms policy, The New York Times on-line library, http://www.nytimes.com/library/politics/camp/052400wh-bush-text.html. For remarks as prepared for delivery, see Governor Bush's Campaign 2000 website, http://www.georgewbush.com/speeches/natlsec.asp.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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