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Kerry Details Nonproliferation Agenda

Wade Boese

Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, used several June speeches to promise a more aggressive approach than President George W. Bush on keeping “weapons of mass murder” out of the hands of terrorists.

Describing the possibility that terrorists might acquire nuclear weapons as the “greatest threat we face today,” Kerry said June 1 that he would accelerate current programs aimed at controlling supplies of the two key ingredients for nuclear weapons—highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium. The Massachusetts senator also called for disposing of existing excess stockpiles and banning the future production of these materials for weapons purposes.

“No material. No bomb. No nuclear terrorism,” Kerry explained.

The Bush administration has dedicated $10 billion through 2012 to safekeeping and destroying bomb-making materials in the former Soviet Union and recently stepped up programs to do the same elsewhere. It has also won commitments by another 20 states to collectively try and match the U.S. $10 billion.

But Kerry argued these efforts have been insufficient. “We have done too little, often too late,” he charged.

Kerry stated his administration would remove all nuclear bomb-making material from inadequately guarded sites worldwide within four years as opposed to the 13 years he estimated it would take under current plans.

Kerry implied that this task could be accomplished, in part, by boosting funds but failed to put a price tag on his proposal. He also pledged to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin to end lingering bureaucratic disputes, such as assigning liability for accidents and gaining access to certain weapons sites, that have impeded some projects. (See ACT, June 2003.)

The senator further called for all countries permanently to cease production of HEU and plutonium for weapons, essentially capping the amount of nuclear bomb-making material worldwide. Although the U.S. government had long supported negotiating a treaty toward this end, the Bush administration initiated a review of the concept last year and has yet to announce any findings. (See ACT, November 2003.)

To better convince other countries to forgo nuclear weapons, Kerry declared the United States needed to serve as a better example by shelving its ongoing research into modified or new nuclear weapons. He contended that such activity “undermines [U.S.] credibility in persuading other nations” to give up their nuclear arms possessions or pursuits.

Two countries that Kerry, like Bush, particularly wants to persuade to abandon any nuclear ambitions are North Korea and Iran. But the Democratic challenger indicated that he would take a different approach in dealing with Tehran and Pyongyang, seeking more direct talks with each country. In the case of Iran, he said Washington should join with other capitals to call Tehran’s “bluff” by offering it nuclear fuel so it would have no excuse to produce its own.

Given the importance of preventing nuclear terrorism, the senator said he would name a single official to be in charge of U.S. policy on the threat. A similar position would be created for dealing with biological weapons dangers, Kerry said June 2.

Kerry does not disagree entirely with Bush. Like the president, Kerry stated that his administration would bolster rules and controls regulating nuclear trade and oppose the acquisition by any new countries of facilities useful for building nuclear weapons. Bush outlined several policy recommendations with the same aim in a Feb. 11 speech. (See ACT, March 2004.)

Even though many Democrats have been critical of what they deem as Bush’s undue emphasis on pre-emption, Kerry said June 3 that, if terrorists succeed in obtaining nuclear or biological weapons, he would “destroy those weapons before they are used.” In preparation for such a scenario, the senator said he would “build new forces that specialize in finding, securing, and destroying weapons of mass destruction and the facilities that build them.”

Still, Kerry said May 27 that he would work “to build an international consensus for early preventive action, so that states don’t even think of taking the nuclear road.” He did not specify what kind of actions he had in mind.

Acting in concert with other countries, particularly through alliances, is one of four foreign policy “imperatives” Kerry has outlined. Reshaping the U.S. military to counter and defend better against unconventional and asymmetric threats; relying on nonmilitary options, such as diplomacy, “early enough and effectively enough so military force doesn’t become our only option”; and ending U.S. dependence on oil imports from the Middle East are the other three.