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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 50, September 2000

Interfaith Questionnaire on Elimination of Nuclear Weapons: US Presidential Candidates' Responses

'Presidential Candidates' Views on Nuclear Disarmament Issues,' results published by the United Methodist Church http://www.umc-gbcs.org/president_campaign1.htm, September 7, 2000.

Note: the September issue of Arms Control Today also features a questionnaire http://www.armscontrol.org/ACT/sept00/pressept00.html sent out to the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates.

"On August 18, 2000, forty-eight religious leaders from a cross-section of faith groups and geographic areas wrote to the Presidential candidates of the Democratic, Green, Reform, and Republican parties, asking a series of questions on nuclear disarmament issues. From the responses of the candidates and their campaign staffs we obtained the views of Governor George W. Bush (Republican), Vice President Albert Gore, Jr. (Democratic), and Mr. Ralph Nader (Green). The two Reform Party candidates declined to respond. The questions and the candidates' answers (and lack of answers) are presented below.

Religious Leaders' Perspective

We look forward to a wholesome debate among the Presidential candidates on significant issues that are of great importance to the American people. Among these issues one of the most important is the future of the world's nuclear arsenal. Our own perspective is that the time has come for the United States to provide creative leadership to achieve the global elimination of nuclear weapons.

For decades numerous religious denominations, interfaith organizations, and religious leaders have questioned the morality of nuclear weapons and have called for their elimination. Thus, the Sixth Assembly of the World Council of Churches in 1983 stated: 'We believe that that the time has come when the churches must unequivocally declare that the production and deployment as well as the use of nuclear weapons are a crime against humanity and that such activities must be condemned on ethical and theological grounds. Furthermore, we appeal for the institution of a universal covenant to this effect so that nuclear weapons and warfare are delegitimized and condemned as violations of international law.' Speaking for the Holy See, Archbishop Renato Martino in October 1997 told the First Committee of the United Nations General Assembly: 'Nuclear weapons are incompatible with the peace we seek for the 21st century. They cannot be justified. They deserve condemnation... The world must move to the abolition of nuclear weapons through a universal, non-discriminatory ban with intensive inspection by a universal authority.' In a message on January 1, 2000, His Holiness the Dalai Lama called for a step-by-step approach to external disarmament. He stated, 'We must first work on the total abolishment of nuclear weapons and gradually work up to total demilitarization throughout the world.'

In the United States numerous denominations have called for the elimination of nuclear weapons. Recently 21 heads of communion and other religious leaders joined with 18 retired general and admirals to point out that 'the long-term reliance of nuclear weapons in the arsenals of the nuclear powers, and the ever-present danger of their acquisition by others, is morally untenable and militarily unjustifiable. They constitute a threat to the security of our nation, a peril to world peace, a danger to the whole human family.' Therefore, they called for 'action leading to the international prohibition of these weapons.'

Questions to the Candidates and Their Replies

(1) What are your views on the morality of possession, threatened use, and actual use of nuclear weapons? To what extent do you agree or disagree with the broad consensus that has emerged within the faith community on the inherent immorality of nuclear weapons?

Governor Bush: Views unknown.

Vice President Gore: Views unknown.

Mr. Nader: 'Nuclear weapons have no moral or practical use for any purpose except as a deterrent to nuclear threats. The US government's refusal to adopt a no-first-use policy is a striking example of political immorality. If elected President, I would immediately adopt a policy that the US will never be the first to use a nuclear weapon in any conflict, and would urge other nuclear powers to do the same. More broadly, as the first country to use nuclear weapons, and the perennial leader in new technologies for these horrifying weapons of mass destruction, the United States has a moral obligation to take the lead in working for their elimination. The 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty gives us a legal obligation to work for elimination, as well. General George Lee Butler, the retired former commander of both the Strategic Air Command and the US Strategic Command has been eloquent in support of abolition.'

(2) We are encouraged that the United States has joined with Russia, United Kingdom, France, and China in making a commitment to 'an unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals.' This occurred in the Final Document of the 2000 Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This commitment carries forward the obligation for good faith negotiations on nuclear disarmament as expressed in Article VI of the NPT, an agreement signed by the United States in July 1968 and ratified by the US Senate in March 1969. If elected President, what specifically will you do during your four-year term to fulfill this commitment?

Governor Bush: Views unknown.

Vice President Gore: Views unknown.

Mr. Nader: 'I would:

  1. Take all nuclear missiles off 'hair-trigger' high-alert status, and urge the Russian President to do the same. The greatest danger of a global nuclear disaster is an accidental launch. De-alerting will not undermine the United States' ability to deter a nuclear strike. There are over 3,000 nuclear warheads on American submarines. Enough are at sea and on alert at any time to assure sufficient retaliation capacity even after a massive first strike.
  2. Adopt a no-first use policy, and urge other nuclear powers to do the same.
  3. Stop nuclear testing, including sub-critical and virtual testing. I would make the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty one of my top legislative priorities.
  4. Prohibit the deployment of US nuclear weapons outside the United States.
  5. Push for the ratification of the START II treaty, which Russia has already ratified, work with Congress and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to further reduce the US nuclear arsenal to around 1,500 warheads as expeditiously as possible, and begin negotiating a START III agreement that will bring missile levels below 1,000.
  6. Begin talks with all nuclear nations to develop a framework and a final date for the abolition of nuclear weapons.'
(3) For instance, do you favor multilateral negotiations to achieve a global nuclear weapons convention that provides for total elimination of nuclear weapons within a timebound framework with effective verification and enforcement?

Governor Bush: Views unknown.

Vice President Gore: Views unknown.

Mr. Nader: 'Yes. Working toward total elimination is the only moral and rational course. The United States, as the sole superpower, has the responsibility to take the lead in such negotiations.'

(4) There are interim steps to take in the quest for the elimination of nuclear weapons. For example, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty provides a means of controlling the spread of nuclear weapons. If elected President, will you seek ratification of the CTBT by the United States Senate?

Governor Bush: 'Our nation should continue its moratorium on testing. But in the hard work of halting proliferation, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is not the answer. The CTBT does not stop proliferation, especially to renegade regimes. It is not verifiable. It is not enforceable. And it would stop us from ensuring the safety and reliability of our nation's deterrent, should the need arise. On these crucial matters, it offers only words and false hopes and high intentions - with no guarantees whatever. We can fight the spread of nuclear weapons, but we cannot wish them away with unwise treaties.'

Vice President Gore: 'I support ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and I will continue to fight for its ratification. Because of the Treaty's importance to the long-term national security interests of our country, I intend to take this issue to the American people during my campaign for the Presidency, and if elected, my first act as President will be to put the Treaty back before the Senate with a demand from the American people for its ratification.'

Mr. Nader: 'Nuclear testing poses a grave threat to the environment and public health, and increases the danger of nuclear war by promoting the development of new nuclear-weapons technology. I would both immediately halt all US nuclear test explosions, including sub-critical and virtual testing, and make the ratification of the CTBT a high priority.'

(5) Many experts have pointed out the inherent danger of keeping US and Russian strategic nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert. If elected President, will you embark upon a de-alerting initiative to take strategic weapons off hair-trigger alert? If so, please provide specifics.

Governor Bush: '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 or an attack - was the rule during the era of superpower rivalry. But today, for two nations at peace, keeping so many 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.'

Vice President Gore: In another questionnaire, when asked about Admiral Stansfield Turner's proposal that the US take the initiative to create a reciprocal reduction in nuclear alert status by separating warheads from delivery systems and moving the components hundreds of miles away to a storage sites monitored by verification teams, Vice President Gore responded as follows: 'Right now, US nuclear warheads are not targeted against Russian targets, and the Russians are similarly "de-targeted." I have concerns about Admiral Turner's ideas because of the way in which they might work out in a period of crisis if either side tried to reunite warheads with their delivery systems. This issue is one that requires further detailed study.'

Mr. Nader: 'Due to Russia's collapsing military infrastructure, the danger of an accidental nuclear launch is greater now than it was at any time during the Cold War. I would immediately take all US nuclear missiles off of "hair-trigger" high-alert status, and strongly urge President Putin to do the same. Again, this will not undermine the country's ability to effectively deter a nuclear strike. Taking nuclear weapons off high-alert status is the single most important step we could take towards preventing a nuclear disaster.'

(6) During the past fifteen years progress has been made in reduction of nuclear weapons through treaties between the United States and the Soviet Union, then Russia. Two treaties were negotiated under President Ronald Reagan: the Intermediate Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty to eliminate an entire class of nuclear weapons and the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I). Another treaty, START II, was negotiated under President George Bush. Russian President Vladimir Putin has indicated a willingness to negotiate a START III agreement to reduce the number of deployed strategic warheads to 1,000 on each side. However, we understand that the US Joint Chiefs of Staff insist upon keeping 2,500 warheads in active service because of the targeting requirements of current US policy. If elected President, will you change US policy so that deeper bilateral cuts in strategic weapons can occur? Will you negotiate a START III agreement with Russia? What level of strategic warheads will you seek?

Governor Bush: '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 national security. It should be possible to reduce the number of American nuclear weapons significantly further than what has already been 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.'

Vice President Gore: 'I believe in the value of nuclear deterrence for the foreseeable future, but I do not think that we need incremental increases in our nuclear arsenal. In fact, I am interested in seeing our nuclear arsenal reduced substantially through arms control. This Administration is working on the entry into force of the START II Treaty, negotiation of a START III Treaty providing for even deeper reduction in weapons pointed at the United States, and an agreement with Russia to adjust the ABM Treaty to make it possible to defend ourselves against rogue states.'

Mr. Nader: 'I would push for immediate ratification of START II, and immediately begin negotiations of a START III agreement that will bring missile levels below 1,000. Once we have achieved this level of disarmament we would be in a position to begin talks with all nuclear nations for the negotiation of deeper cuts and the eventual abolition of nuclear weapons. The Center for Defense Information reports that the Pentagon's remarkably bloated list of targets for nuclear warheads has actually grown since the end of the Cold War. I would provide the Presidential leadership that has been lacking to reduce the target list, which is a major technical barrier to the negotiation of a START III agreement.'

(7) Complementary to nuclear arms reduction through treaties is the undertaking of reciprocal initiatives through executive action. This was the approach used by President Bush in 1991 when he took unilateral action to deactivate a large number of US strategic weapons and to withdraw most US tactical nuclear weapons stationed outside the United States. A few weeks later Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev reciprocated with similar actions. Would you as President use similar reciprocal initiatives to achieve such objectives as de-alerting and significant reductions in the nuclear arsenal? If so, please provide specifics.

Governor Bush: 'These changes to our forces should not require years and years of detailed arms control negotiation. 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 I have outlined, and act on it. But the United States should be prepared to lead by example, because it is in our best interest and the best interest of the world.'

Vice President Gore: Views unknown.

Mr. Nader: 'I would use reciprocal initiatives in parallel with treaty negotiation. In particular, as discussed earlier, I would act immediately to take all nuclear weapons off of high alert, and work to reduce the number of deployed, strategic warheads to 1,500. Both of these could safely be done unilaterally, with strong urging that Russia follow suit.'

(8) We note that numerous retired generals, admirals, and national security civilian officials have indicated that nuclear weapons have no war-fighting utility. We also know that Presidents Truman and Eisenhower chose not to use nuclear weapons in the Korean War and that Presidents Johnson and Nixon chose not to use nuclear weapons in the Vietnam War. Do you see any utility for nuclear weapons in war? If so, please tell us the categories of targets you as commander-in-chief would consider legitimate to strike with nuclear weapons.

Governor Bush: 'Deterrence remains the first line of defense against nuclear attack.' ...

Vice President Gore: 'America must maintain its nuclear strength, with adequate offensive forces to ensure deterrence.' ...

Mr. Nader: 'The only practical use of nuclear weapons is as a deterrent to nuclear threats from other countries. They should not be used for any other purpose whatsoever.'

(9) If your reply indicates that nuclear weapons are useful only to deter other nuclear weapons, would not the wisest and safest course of action be to achieve the universal elimination of nuclear weapons through such measures as previously identified?

Governor Bush: No comment.

Vice President Gore: No comment.

Mr. Nader: 'I agree completely. As I have said above, we should set complete elimination of nuclear weapons as a long-term goal, and immediately begin taking concrete steps to de-alert, deactivate and eliminate nuclear weapons.'

(10) Are there other initiatives you plan to undertake for the elimination of nuclear weapons?

Governor Bush: 'If elected President, one of my highest foreign policy priorities will be to check the contagious spread of weapons of mass destruction, and the means to deliver them. We must work to constrict the supply of nuclear materials and the means to deliver them by making this a priority with Russia and China. Our nation must cut off the demand for nuclear weapons by addressing the security concerns of those who renounce these weapons. And our nation must diminish the evil attraction of these weapons for rogue states by rendering them useless with missile defense. In an act of foresight and statesmanship, Senator Richard Lugar and Senator Sam Nunn realized that existing Russian nuclear facilities were in danger of being compromised. Under the Nunn-Lugar program, security at many Russian nuclear facilities has been improved and warheads have been destroyed. I'll ask the Congress to increase substantially our assistance to dismantle as many of Russia's weapons as possible, as quickly as possible.'

Vice President Gore: 'I support the program that our Administration has developed with North Korea to forestall plutonium production development, a central element of which is to support the financing of a non-threatening type of reactor for nuclear energy. I also support our efforts to work with Russia to reduce the size of its nuclear weapons establishment, such as the Nuclear Cities Initiative, and I have personally engaged, through the US-Russia Binational Commission, in efforts that have resulted in the safe demilitarization of over 1,500 Russian nuclear warheads. Similarly, I have worked for removal of nuclear weapons, plutonium, and enriched uranium from the states of the former Soviet Union.'

Mr. Nader: 'I would phase out the use of nuclear power in the United States, stop the US government from promoting nuclear power abroad, and work toward the global abolition of nuclear energy. History shows that it is impossible to separate the 'peaceful atom' from the potential proliferation of nuclear weapons. As part of the phase-out, I would immediately ban the conversion of plutonium into Mixed Oxide (MOX) fuel, a particularly ill-advised procedure. I would push for a global ban on the production of weapons-usable fissile materials.

I would halt all research into the design of new nuclear weapons, including improving existing types and creating new types. The US has all the nuclear weapons that it ever needs. Further research is likely to destabilize our position by making other countries feel threatened, and could damage our security directly when our ideas leak out and are copied. There are no benefits except to contractors at our national labs and military contractors in general. It is time to put the interests of the people of this country and the world above the profits of General Dynamics and Lockheed-Martin.

I would abandon research into the useless and wasteful National Missile Defense program, and reconfirm the United States' support for the ABM treaty.

I would cancel the Department of Energy's plans to produce tritium, and push for legislation to ban the production of tritium in the United States. Current tritium plans assume no progress on arms control. The US has a sizable inventory of tritium, and tritium can be recovered from scrapped nuclear warheads. If we can even approach levels already negotiated in START II, or discussed for START III, there will be no need for new tritium far into the future. If elected President, I will devote my energy to making sure that nuclear arms are reduced lower still.'

Sources

Governor George W. Bush. Information provided by campaign staff: (1) Speech on 'New Leadership on National Security' given in Washington, D.C. on May 23, 2000; (2) Not yet published answers to questions from an arms control organization.

Vice President Albert Gore, Jr. (1) Answers to questions posed by Council for a Livable World, November 1999; (2) Speech at International Press Institute, Boston, MA, April 30, 2000; (3) Al Gore web site.

Mr. Ralph Nader. Statement entitled 'Ralph Nader's Response to Interfaith Questionnaire on Elimination of Nuclear Weapons', received September 6, 2000."

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.