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– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General

How Will the Next President Reduce Nuclear Dangers? McCain and Obama Campaign Represenatives Discuss Candidates’ Strategies
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AFTERNOON SESSION

WELCOME AND MODERATOR:
DARYL G. KIMBALL,
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR,
ARMS CONTROL ASSOCIATION

SPEAKERS:
JOHN D. HOLUM,
FORMER DIRECTOR,
ARMS CONTROL AND DISARMAMENT AGENCY

STEPHEN BIEGUN,
FORMER EXECUTIVE SECRETARY,
NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL
MONDAY, JUNE 16, 2008

Transcript by
Federal News Service
Washington, D.C.
Edited by the Arms Control Association

DARYL KIMBALL: Good afternoon and welcome back for this third segment of today’s Arms Control Association event addressing the current and future challenges facing the global nuclear nonproliferation system and in particular, the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).  I say 1968 because that treaty was opened for signature nearly 40 years ago on July 1, 1968.

I’m Daryl Kimball. I’m executive director of the Arms Control Association, which is the sponsor of today’s events. We were established in 1971 by several of the leading players in the negotiation of the NPT and other nuclear arms control and nonproliferation agreements. Through our journal, Arms Control Today, our website, and public events like this one, we seek to fulfill our mission which is to provide independent information and analysis and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world’s most dangerous weapons.

Now, today’s events have been focusing on the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, as I said, which has, over the last four decades, established an indispensable yet imperfect set of interlocking nonproliferation and disarmament obligations and standards. Rather than dozens of nuclear-armed states today that were forecast before the NPT, we have only four additional countries beyond the original five possessors having nuclear weapons today. 

The NPT and energetic U.S. diplomacy have also led several states to abandon their nuclear weapons programs. The NPT, bolstered by nuclear export controls and a safeguard system, makes it far more difficult for non-nuclear-weapon states to acquire or build nuclear weapons. Equally important, the NPT, under Article VI, commits the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China to achieve nuclear disarmament.

Yet, as we heard in this morning’s sessions, the NPT and the nuclear nonproliferation system, as a whole, is at a critical juncture. Some leading figures, including our panelists in this morning’s session, have warned that a nuclear tipping point is approaching and, if mishandled, the situation could lead to a new wave of proliferation.

Now, thankfully, there appears to be a growing recognition of the problem and a growing recognition for the need for renewed U.S. leadership on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament, including from the presumptive presidential nominees of both the Republican and Democratic parties. While Senator Obama and Senator McCain have each outlined their proposed strategies on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament in speeches and in legislation over the course of the past several months, in our view, the view of the Arms Control Association and many others in our community, media attention on the candidates’ proposals on the topic has been all too thin. Given the importance of the issue to U.S. security, we hope that’s going to change relatively soon.

Now, today, we have the honor to have representatives from the John McCain for President campaign as well as the Barack Obama for President campaign to discuss their respective nominees’ views and strategies about how to strengthen U.S. and international efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons. 

John Holum will speak on behalf of the Obama campaign. John is the former undersecretary of state for arms control and international security and is the former director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency during the Bill Clinton administration. Steve Biegun will speak on behalf of the McCain campaign. Steve is currently a corporate officer and vice president of international governmental affairs to the Ford Motor Company. He was the national security advisor for former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and worked from 2001 to 2003 as the executive secretary of the National Security Council. 

Now, after each of them speaks for about 10 to 15 minutes, we’re going to take your questions, which I hope you’ll write on the three-by-five cards that were on your chairs. If you could pass those to the sides to our staff, they will send them forward and I would just add that we’re going to have far more questions than we’re going to have time to get to and I’m sorry about that. So we’ll do our best to put together a representative sample of questions. 

After the two speakers respond to your questions, we will then allow each speaker, toward the end, about five minutes or so to make any concluding remarks. By mutual agreement, John Holum is going to start out first this afternoon on behalf of the Barack Obama for President campaign. John, the podium is yours. Thanks for coming.

JOHN HOLUM: Thank you, Daryl. Can everyone hear? It’s a pleasure for me to be back with the Arms Control Association. I recall, with gratitude, all the good advice that many of you gave me when I was in the Clinton administration and I’m happy to return the favor and come here and give you my best advice on who should be the next president of the United States.

My own commitment to Senator Barack Obama actually was cemented when he first came under fire for saying he’d talk unconditionally to some of the world’s hardest cases – the leaders of North Korea, Iran, Cuba – and he didn’t back down. I’ll return to that in the context of laying out, briefly, three broad reasons why I think Barack Obama would be a great president, indeed a transcendent president, for the fight against the spread of nuclear weapons. Those reasons flow from what I’ve observed about what he believes, how he thinks, and who he is.

As to what he believes, the first thing to know it that he sees these issues as profoundly important. Given the demands on a president’s time, what he personally cares about can be crucial. On that score, it’s significant that from the time he first came to the Senate, he made nonproliferation a personal priority. His first overseas trip was with Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) focused on safeguarding nuclear weapons. He reached across the aisle to collaborate with Senator Lugar on initiatives to do that. 

Senator Obama and Senator Hagel (R-Neb.), another Republican, introduced the Nuclear Weapons Threat Reduction Act, which would adopt what Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, Sam Nunn, and Bill Perry—Norm Wolf’s “four statesmen”—have recommended as practical steps toward a nuclear-weapons-free world, bipartisan recommendations now endorsed in concept by 17 of the most recent 24 secretaries of state and defense and national security advisors. As you would expect, Senator Obama has also made these issues prominent in his presidential campaign including in the far-reaching address last October in which he pledged to strive for a world free of nuclear weapons.

To me, three parts of his approach to that stand out. The first is an emphasis on prevention. As he has said, we face no greater security challenge than the possibility that terrorists will get their hands on a nuclear weapon or fissile materials. That’s why he stressed securing loose nuclear materials, a task which, as president, he would complete in four years, as compared to a dozen years at the current pace. Preventing nuclear smuggling is another emphasis, including: support for the Bush administration’s Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI); discouraging national reprocessing and enrichment in developing countries through access to an international fuel bank; and strengthening the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to fortify enforcement. So prevention is key. 

The second element of Senator Obama’s approach is his recognition that the strong global regimes we need to fight proliferation depend upon progress in arms control. For the past seven-and-a-half years, we’ve had an administration that essentially repudiated the longstanding bipartisan consensus for negotiated arms control, practicing instead a fringe philosophy that international agreements are not only useless, but actually dangerous and that what we really need to do is just get tough. The administration pressed this view even to the point of abolishing the State Department’s Arms Control Bureau, in the process, burying the focus on nonproliferation another level down in the bureaucracy, even though they defined that as a priority.

Senator Obama will take a different course. At a minimum, we shouldn’t be heading off in the wrong direction. In the Senate, Barack Obama opposed development of new nuclear arms, lower-yield tactical weapons, and the so-called Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, which is now held in such low regard that the Bush administration no longer even requests funds for it. But the Bush nuclear weapons policy has not changed. Its doctrine has been to blur the distinction between conventional and nuclear arms and to imagine potentially new uses for nuclear weapons. 

Senator Obama has recognized that crossing the nuclear threshold is not simply passing a gradient, but plunging into a different realm. Rather than finding new ways to use nuclear weapons, we need to confirm that, in today’s world, their only utility is to deter an attack on us. And in the world he seeks, they’ll have no utility at all. As I said, last October, Senator Obama took the lead in adopting a principle that presidents often hedge. Specifically, he said, here’s what I’ll say as president. America seeks a world in which there are no nuclear weapons, period.  That goal would serve our security interests for we would all be safer in a world without nuclear weapons. We wouldn’t, for example, have to be concerned about nuclear arms going unaccounted for and weapons technology being misdirected; even in our own country, it’s happened just recently.

The nuclear-weapons-free goal is also at the heart of the nonproliferation bargain. The nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is what makes the spread of nuclear weapons against the law. It’s the strong international legal framework for all our nonproliferation efforts and Senator Obama understands that if we don’t take seriously our own commitments under the treaty to pursue nuclear disarmament, we’ll have an uphill battle to lead a global response when Iran and North Korea blow off their obligations or an even tougher task in seeking to strengthen enforcement. To Senator Obama, a nuclear-weapon-free world is not merely a dream on a far horizon, but an objective we should be working hard through tangible steps to achieve. 

He would work with Russia to take our arsenals off hair-trigger alert, an idea George Bush raised in 2000 but then forgot. He supports further deep, verifiable, and durable reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals. He’ll seek to globalize the U.S.-Russia ban on intermediate-range missiles. He’ll resume the languishing effort to negotiate a fissile-material cutoff with strong verification and he’ll press for the earliest possible ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty – not just take a look, but take the lead in getting it approved – and not just to limit testing, but to end it for all time.

The third element in Senator Obama’s approach will be to strengthen our efforts on specific challenges, most notably, the nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran. Now, obviously, neither one of those lends itself to an easy or quick solution, but under the Bush administration, the U.S. approach to both has been hamstrung by a self-defeating principle: that talking with an adversary is in itself a concession. 

In the case of North Korea, you’ll recall when Secretary of State Colin Powell ventured that the Clinton administration’s contacts with North Korea would continue, he was smacked down. Instead, we saw years of diplomatic immobility while a dangerous regime separated enough plutonium for at least a half dozen more weapons and conducted a nuclear test. At last, belatedly, the principle was relaxed enough to get us back roughly to where we were under the 1994 Agreed Framework, which the Bush administration couldn’t wait to repudiate in 2002. What a dismal record.

The “negotiation-equals-concession” philosophy has been equally unproductive in Iran, where nuclear weapons potential that threatens the region and the world has continued to grow. There, as you know, the Bush position has been that we will only talk on condition that Iran agrees, in advance, to give up the activities that would be the subject of the talks. While we’ve stood still on that principle, Iran’s nuclear capability has not stood still, but has continued to grow. Not talking is the diplomatic equivalent of holding your breath until you pass out – (laughter) – employed against someone who prefers you unconscious – (laughter).

There is in that context that I heard Senator Obama respond, yes, when asked in a debate whether he would unconditionally engage in talks with adversary countries. It’s a position that’s easy to mischaracterize and demagogue as President Bush in his bizarre comments to the Israeli Knesset a few weeks ago. But the bottom line is that Barack Obama is the one who understands a basic reality, that when addressing unacceptable dangers, we cannot deny ourselves any tool. We must, instead, move comprehensively across the board through strengthened global agreements and norms, improved and credible deterrence intelligence, an unmistakable deterrent, workable defenses, broad sanctions, coalition-building, and skilled, creative, and tough diplomacy on every front and at every level, backed up by additional resources to improve our prospects for success.

Obviously, no one can guarantee that restoring diplomacy to the mix will turn the tide. What we do know, for sure, is that the absence of diplomacy has not worked and there’s no reason to believe it ever will. All three of these elements: aggressive prevention, stronger global regimes through arms control, tough and comprehensive enforcement, are ways that, as president, Barack Obama can and will serve the organizing cause of this conference. Now, beyond what he believes, I recommend Senator Obama because of the way he thinks. Let me just briefly touch on that.

You may recall that at roughly the same time as he was under attack for his willingness to talk with adversaries, Senator Obama was chastised for casting doubts on whether we would use nuclear weapons against one evil person, Osama bin Laden, and also for saying that if we had actionable intelligence on bin Laden’s whereabouts in Pakistan and our ally, Pakistan, wouldn’t act, we would. We can discuss the merits of those positions, but what I’d like to underscore here, is that Senator Obama was demonstrating a willingness to challenge conventional wisdom and to depart from time-worn talking points. 

That had a particular resonance for me because, as you may recall, I joined the Clinton administration late in 1993 and I can’t tell you how many times I encountered a policy question only to be told that it had already been settled in a presidential decision directive and it was too late. To his historic credit, President Clinton was himself willing to reexamine some of those previously decided issues, which is what made it possible to extend the NPT indefinitely and to negotiate a truly comprehensive ban on nuclear testing.

Senator Obama is not only receptive to new thinking; change is what his campaign is about. Obviously, a good deal of conventional wisdom remains wise. But as a president who’s prepared to challenge old precepts and doesn’t see every issue and every player fitting into pre-defined box can make a huge difference. 

Finally, a few words on supporting Obama because of who he is. It will take at least a generation, in my view, to repair the damage to U.S. international interests inflicted by George W. Bush and ideologues whose pet theories became his lodestars. After the debacle in Iraq, hawked through exaggerated intelligence and minimized risks, we have a long struggle ahead just to regain American credibility so other nations and institutions will trust what we say. We’ll also need to rebuild alliances and coalitions fractured by the swaggering, go-it-alone mentality and forge new collective measures effectively to address challenges as diverse as climate change, radical Islam, and WMD proliferation, which even the world’s strongest nation can’t resolve by itself.

In the coming months, America and the world will come to recognize even more clearly that we have an opportunity to elect a leader who has shown sound judgment on the transcendent issues of our time, is clear-eyed about the challenges ahead, especially those of climate change and nuclear terrorism, and has laid out an ambitious and comprehensive agenda to meet them. 

Our first task, beginning next January, must be to reconnect with the world through means other than bluster and arms. The election of Barack Obama will, in and of itself, jumpstart those endeavors. His heritage and extraordinary life story will inspire people all over the world and be seen as a confirmation more powerful than any words that America has at once honored its highest ideals and turned the page to a new kind of leadership.

That’s why I believe that, in one stroke, Senator Obama’s election will lift us out of the hole the Bush presidency has dug for us and onto higher ground where we can once again engage from strength and respect. For all of these reasons – what he believes, how he thinks, and who he is – I’m immensely proud to be here as an advocate for Barack Obama for president of the United States and I look forward to our discussion. Thank you. (Applause.)

KIMBALL: Thank you, John Holum. Next, Steve Biegun.

STEPHEN BIEGUN: Good afternoon. I apologize in advance to John because, unfortunately, I’m not going to represent the Bush administration at this forum. (Laughter.) I was curious to hear that the bulk of his critique was directed at the president who will be leaving office next year. I have a newsflash; John McCain is running and he’s running against Barack Obama.

I also hope to persuade you with an open mind and a sound mind on the many reasons why John McCain really is the superior candidate for the presidency of the United States. But, first, before I do that, I’d like to go to some of the substance of the issues that you’ve been considering over the course of the day and then return back to that point just at the end.

Let me first say that my role with the campaign is as an outside foreign policy advisor. I’m not formally on the campaign team. I’ve had the opportunity to work in and out of the government over the past 20 years, for the last 20, very closely with Senator John McCain, who’s been a fixture in virtually every debate of import in U.S. national security over that period.

Senator McCain recently gave a speech in which he pulled together many ideas that are of great interest to the crowd here today. The speech was given in late May at the University of Denver and, for those of you who haven’t seen it, I would encourage you to take a look at it. While I am not the most experienced of all of Senator McCain’s advisors on proliferation issues, I count myself as one of the most passionate, through personal experience and personal concern. I am very pleased to be associated with a candidate who is willing and able, credibly, to lay out a vision of leadership on nuclear security issues, which is incomparable to anything given by the other campaign, the other candidate in this campaign. 

Senator McCain has 20 years-plus experience in the United States military, 20 years-plus experience in the United States Senate, served on the Armed Services Committee in the Senate. I do want to emphasize that his experience has put him at the center of virtually every national security debate of import over that period. He has a reputation and admirers on both the Democrat and Republican side for courageous leadership, for a willingness to buck conventional wisdom, for a willingness to go against his own party when necessary or with the other party when called for. 

Senator McCain is a proven leader. While being bound by the precepts of the past can be a convenient explanation for an absence of experience, John McCain shows above and beyond all candidates that have been in this election this year the importance of leadership. Senator McCain has proven leadership.

Senator McCain gave his University of Denver speech in late May and he laid out a vision that isn’t just a catalogue of positions on particular treaties or particular priorities. His intention was to lay out a comprehensive vision, knitting together many different trends that are happening in the world today, some of which John, I think, very eloquently defined, including America’s standing in the world, its ability and the vigor of its leadership with the international community. 

Also, Senator McCain sought to address the tie-in between the growing threat of nuclear proliferation and the growing global demand for nuclear energy. As we face an energy-constrained world, it is inevitable that civilian nuclear energy will increasingly be a choice for many nations around the world.

I’d like to address three basic issues in the context of Senator McCain’s remarks and then we’ll go ahead for questions. One is the timing; why did he do this now? Second is, what is this directional approach that he has laid out? Third, a little bit of the substance of his speech.

On the timing, there’s obvious urgency on the nuclear proliferation issue, as there has been for some time. Not only North Korea and Iran, but even our handling of our own nuclear materials in this country is a subject of great concern. We only needed to open yesterday’s Washington Post to read further affirmation that the plans for an advanced nuclear weapon were being shopped around to many countries – who knows where? – to understand the urgency of this threat.

We do have the ongoing possibility of the threat of terrorists acquiring and using a weapon of mass destruction, including a nuclear weapon and including against us. As I said, there’s an interplay. At the same time these concerns are growing, many countries around the world are seeking the development of civilian nuclear energy to answer their own domestic energy needs. So what Senator McCain laid out is a comprehensive vision that seeks to encompass all of these parts.

Now, directionally, I think one thing that, again, makes Senator Obama and his supporters uncomfortable, is that Senator McCain is not President Bush. Senator McCain openly embraces the role of allies in this process. He openly embraces the role of multilateral organizations in this process of addressing nuclear proliferation and improving nuclear security. 

He openly endorses the important role of traditional treaty-making, bilateral negotiations, verifiable measures as the means and the conduit through which we can achieve these aims. In short, Senator McCain endorses the approaches that have been successful in the past, but need some refinement, improvement if they’re going to succeed in the future. 

He also lays out the ability to call upon allies and friends with whom not only the United States, but Senator McCain personally, has invested decades in nurturing a trusting relationship with. Now, in the speech, Senator McCain lays out many different initiatives and I won’t catalogue all of them, but I would like to touch upon a few which I would consider the highlights.

First, like Senator Obama, Senator McCain has laid out an underlying philosophy on nuclear issues. In this, he chose to quote Ronald Reagan who, 25 years ago, said, “Our dream is to see a day when nuclear weapons will be banished from the face of the Earth.” This is very much Senator McCain’s hope as well. 

Now, Senator McCain is not going to come here or come anywhere else, certainly not going to go to University of Denver, and tell you that’s going to happen during the four years of his presidential term, but he has affirmed that that is, directionally, where he wants to take the United States. In his speech, he also sought to restore some of the anathema around nuclear weapons. I completely agree with John that it’s diplomatic and strategic folly for us to erase the divide between nuclear weapons and conventional weapons. There is an anathema around nuclear weapons that properly must be restored.

In his speech, Senator McCain commits to reductions. He will continue the process of studied, but forward progress on reducing the size of the nuclear arsenal of the United States of America. But likewise, he will be looking to engage Russia, to engage Russia in the reduction of its nuclear forces. Also Senator McCain separately calls for additional strategic dialogue with China to begin the process of better understanding, better recording, and, hopefully, even leading to a result where China’s strategic nuclear arsenal is constrained.

Senator McCain lays out a vision on new nuclear weapons systems. In this, here I’d want to quote directly from the text in his speech, that he would only support the development of any new type of nuclear weapon that is absolutely essential for the viability of our deterrent, that results in making possible further decreases in the size of our nuclear arsenal and furthers our global nuclear security goals. In short, he is establishing a test for any future weapons system and, in the course of this speech, he also, as Senator Obama has, opposes the deep-earth nuclear penetrator.

Third, in his speech, Senator McCain lays out some initiatives for strengthening the IAEA. As I said, Senator McCain is very eager to invigorate the international and multilateral institutions that help us constrain the spread of nuclear weapons. He calls for some specific reforms including reversing the burden of proof to put upon proliferators the necessity to demonstrate that they aren’t developing nuclear weapons programs. He calls for more automaticity in sanctioning of violators of the nonproliferation treaty. And he also calls for the return of any material assistance provided to countries under the Atoms for Peace program who subsequently withdraw from the agreement.

Lastly, Senator McCain does return to the issue of civilian nuclear energy, which he does recognize and support as an important means for the United States and other countries, not only to lessen their dependency upon non-domestic energy resources, but also very much sees its contribution potentially to the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. Toward that end, he lays out a framework under which he would envision both international enrichment centers and international centers for the storage of spent fuels as two choke points to attempt to limit the ability of countries to use the cover of civilian nuclear energy to develop nuclear weapons programs.

As I said at the start, Senator McCain does lay out a comprehensive vision. He ties together both the energy agenda as well as the nuclear proliferation and arms control agendas. I do firmly believe, as somebody who has worked with him for 20 years, that he is not only capable of enacting this vision; he is capable of leading a global initiative to reinvigorate the fight against proliferation. He has a record of accomplishment. He has strong credibility with allies. 

Now, a couple of comments, just in passing, on what John mentioned. It was with verbal deftness that John quickly went from Senator Obama’s commitment in the first year of his presidency to unconditionally meet with leaders like President Ahmedinejad to transform that into a commitment to restore diplomacy or a willingness to talk with adversaries.

Senator McCain is not at all critical of diplomacy. In fact, he firmly supports it as the first and best opportunity for the United States to resolve issues of all natures around the world, including nuclear proliferation. But the statement by a presidential hopeful that within the first year of their presidency, with no conditions, at the highest level of government, they would meet with a leader, with a tyrant as important as President Ahmedinejad without precondition not only provides a level of prestige and recognition to a leader like Ahmedinejad, but it also had the consequence of actually doing harm to the existing diplomacy that’s underway right now. 

All President Ahmedinejad has to hold out for now is the hopeful victory of President Obama. Why should he, during the interim, have any serious negotiation with the European allies who are working so hard to bring an end to Iran’s nuclear ambitions?

Senator McCain doesn’t need to reconnect the United States to the world; Senator McCain, as a leader of the United States, is well connected to the world. Countries like Mexico and Canada, countries like Colombia, European allies to whom he has never pejoratively referred as having had U.S. diplomacy outsourced to them as if their efforts are feeble. There is no need for Senator McCain to reconnect to anyone. In the course of this campaign, in the course of his 40 years of public service, he has shown at every turn a willingness to listen to allies, a close cooperation with them. He’s traveled extensively. He’s been to the places that challenge the United States and I encourage you to reflect long and hard upon the importance of that experience, that credibility, that reputation with friend and foe alike. 

Senator McCain is the next choice for president of the United States and he would strongly welcome the support of this community as he pursues it. Thank you. (Applause.)

KIMBALL: Thank you very much to both of you. We now have time for questions. If I could just remind you, if you could pass them to the sides to the volunteers rather than getting up, that would facilitate the process. 

All right. All right. So we have a series of questions from our audience and we’re going to give each of you a chance to respond to the questions even if they’re not directed toward you and your candidate. Here is the first question:  “The next presidential administration will come into office in the middle of a six-party process on denuclearizing North Korea. What should be maintained from the current approach and what should change?” John or Steve, would you like to begin?

HOLUM: I can begin, I guess. Senator Obama has been complimentary of the Six-Party Talks and very hopeful that they’ll be successful. I think also, as a matter of principle, that it doesn’t make sense for a presidential candidate to inject himself into the middle of the details of a negotiating process that’s under way. As I said in my remarks, it’s been a very important step that the administration has overcome its allergy to talking, at least in the six-party context, with North Korea. And that’s had some impact on the process.

North Korea is still in violation of global norms on nonproliferation. I think there’s a good case to be made, a good argument to be made, that its withdrawal from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty was not legitimate under Article 10. But, in any event, the process should go forward. We hope very much that they’ll live up to their obligations under the agreement they’ve already accepted and that that process will succeed.

BIEGUN: Just as an aside, John, I remember one of the hang-ups early in the Bush administration and why the negotiations couldn’t begin, ironically, is that the Bush administration wanted unconditional negotiations. That is, they wanted everything on the table. It was the North Koreans who were insisting that any discussion be narrowly limited to a set of issues that they were comfortable talking about. 

As you remember, even early on, the nature of the regime, the huge Stalinist gulags that continue to exist in North Korea, the absolute lack of political liberties confounded the diplomacy. In the end, obviously, the ascendant threat of a North Korea that was not only nuclear armed, but potentially proliferating has driven the diplomacy to the front and put together the Six-Party Talks. 

Senator McCain, certainly, is well complimentary of the process of a six-party negotiation and we should be mindful, again, that there is no agreement. I think, conditionally, were this to be going on in the next administration – and I don’t think that’s necessarily, at least, who knows the state it will be by the time the next president takes – I think Senator McCain would be very interested that any agreement be complete and verifiable. As we go forward, we really do need to put the highest priority on ending and accounting for everything that North Korea has done in a nuclear area and we’re certainly hopeful that these Six-Party Talks can produce exactly that outcome.

KIMBALL: All right. Thank you. Next question is on Iran and how to deal with Iran:  “Both candidates have said that we need tougher multilateral sanctions against Iran. How can we best engage states like Russia and China, which have been hesitant to impose tough sanctions to agree to strengthen measures against Tehran?”

BIEGUN: Certainly, one of the challenges that United Nations sanctions present for us is that getting it through the Security Council empowers both China and Russia with the ability to veto the sanctions. I think it’s almost a unanimous frustration among people who want to see an end to Iran’s nuclear weapons program that the U.N. Security Council process has been so halting. We should continue to work with the U.N. Security Council. We should continue to seek every opportunity to put comprehensive multilateral sanctions on Iran. But it doesn’t need to be the sole limit of our activities either. 

Senator McCain has certainly strongly endorses the type of financial sanctions that are being discussed on a bilateral or really multilateral basis between the United States and the European Union, but also recently in a speech has called for putting together a coalition of countries to examine investment sanctions as well. It would be preferable, in all cases, to have China and Russia in support and participating in effective sanctions against Iran, but there is still a significant amount of economic pressure that can be put on the regime in Iran through simply the cooperative action of U.N. countries.

HOLUM: I agree. (Laughter.)

KIMBALL: We have a few questions relating to the subject of nuclear testing and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. One of them is phrased: “Does your candidate support bringing the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty – CTBT – into force as currently negotiated? If yes, what steps would be taken to achieve that objective?” I think you talked about that, John. “If not, how would your candidate address the CTBT and ensure that the world does not return to nuclear testing?’

HOLUM: Well, I think it’s a combination of things. First, yes, on the question of whether he supports the CTBT as currently negotiated. Senator Obama has been very clear in his October speech and elsewhere that the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is a priority for him. So it takes two parts. One is to submit it to the Senate. Obviously, again, another is to begin a comprehensive engagement with the Senate to make sure that the objections that led to its defeat in 1999 have been overcome. 

There have been a lot of things that have happened since 1999. The international monitoring system is largely in space: 200 monitoring stations around the world. We’ve had an additional nine years of experience under the Stockpile Stewardship Program. So we know now better than we did nine years ago that we can maintain our stockpile safe and reliably under the test ban treaty for the indefinite future. 

We have no need to test. Some senators were concerned about that in 1999. So I think a lot of the objections that were raised then have been cleared up. I think it’s important to engage in a bipartisan way on Capitol Hill, follow up on the excellent report that the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, John Shalikashvili, prepared and submitted to the president in 2001 and get this treaty ratified.

BIEGUN: Senator McCain, in his remarks at the University of Denver, first, put a line underneath the current moratorium on testing that he’s committed to continuing the U.S. moratorium on testing. Second, going to the greater issue of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, he did commit in the speech in both specific as well as in generic form to take a look at this initiative and any other serious initiative for its potential not only to meet U.S. national security needs, but also, ultimately, to meet through reducing the risk of nuclear proliferation.

John laid out the two issues that were a particular conundrum to the United States Senate when the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was rejected by a majority of senators in the late 1990s. I don’t accept as confidently as John that all of those problems are resolved, but Senator McCain, in his speech, commits to taking a very serious look at exactly those points. Is the verification regime inherently more accomplished than it had been? Is there an ability to verify satisfactorily a zero-yield test ban? Those were questions around which the Senate ultimately rejected the treaty, among other issues, but certainly a willingness to look at verifiability and going forward is an important issue.

Second is the ability through modeling to maintain the safety and security of the stockpile. While there have certainly been recent developments in computing speed and a variety of other issues that potentially, certainly, I think, in the Senate would create an opportunity to revisit those issues. Again, I would not, in advance, myself, having been out of it for a few years, confidently project that we yet have the ability, absent testing, to do all of the modeling necessary to maintain the safety and security of our stockpile.

Ultimately, while Senator McCain strongly believes that we should move away from nuclear weapons and himself would hope for a day in which there are no nuclear weapons in the world, as long as there are nuclear weapons, the United States does need a reliable and usable deterrent. It’s for deterrence, not only for our security, but that of many of our allies. And to the extent that our own confidence in our deterrent is in any way eroded, not only does it have consequences for the effectiveness of that deterrent and for, ultimately, for the security of the United States, that also can have, potentially, a corrosive effect on the many countries around the world that do not pursue nuclear weapons precisely because they do have a confidence in the United States’ deterrence and the effectiveness of the United States’ nuclear umbrella.

With the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, as well as with many of the other initiatives that Senator McCain has laid out in considerable detail in the course of his speech, one of his first stops, beyond the United States military and the Department of Defense and its strong analysis and recommendations, one of the first stops that Senator McCain will make is with our allies. All of this has to be done in concert with the other countries that depend so much on U.S. national security. 

There is much we can accomplish and I think Senator McCain agrees wholeheartedly with Senator Obama that there is much the United States must do to lead toward that end, but it also has to be done cognizant of the fact that we still live in a world in which nuclear weapons play a very important role to our security.

KIMBALL: So Senator McCain would take another look and explore the CTBT again with those issues in mind, to be clear?

BIEGUN: Specifically, what he said is that he commits to take a very serious look at the obstacles that prevented it from gaining approval in the Senate because not only will the next president of the United States have to be convinced of this – because already one president of the United States was convinced of this – the United States Senate has to be convinced of it; two-thirds of the United States Senate has to be convinced of it. So it’s not simply enough for the president to be convinced or else this treaty would have already been enforced or this treaty would have already been ratified by the United States Senate. I don’t think this treaty –

KIMBALL: There are 44 nations required to ratify the treaty for it to enter into force, including the United States and China, which also has not ratified.

BIEGUN: And a specifically enumerated set of countries which will be extremely difficult to ever get to ratify this treaty in its form. John paraphrased the question, would the next president submit the treaty or support the treaty? The question was, can this treaty, as its currently written, be brought into force. I think that’s a stretch and initiatives in the United States Congress, even among supporters of the treaty as it currently is written, are proposing changes that would alter the requirement for countries that have to be adhering to the treaty in order for it to come into force. 

KIMBALL: Well, in another area where there might be a stretch, we heard in this morning’s discussion about how to deal with the global nuclear fuel cycle and how to manage the potential spread of technologies that could make bomb material, highly enriched uranium and plutonium. This is a question directed to Steve Biegun: “If Senator McCain supports international enrichment centers as an incentive to persuade non-nuclear-weapon states not to build them, would he support demonstrating U.S. leadership by converting some of the U.S. enrichment plants to multilateral ownership or management?” And if you could also answer that, too, John.

BIEGUN: It’s not an issue that Senator McCain has taken a position on to date so I cannot speak for Senator McCain on that issue, but this goes to the conundrum of the entire NPT, which is the haves and have-nots, that some countries have nuclear weapons, some don’t. There’s a central bargain contained in the treaty by which the countries that do have the weapons commit themselves ultimately to disarmament and the ones that don’t have nuclear weapons agree to proceed with the peaceful pursuit of nuclear energy for civilian purposes with the guidelines that are in place.

I don’t think that I would be eager to take this to the next level of putting all U.S. enrichment under international supervision. I think that’s blurring the line, but, again, it runs into the same conundrum we have with nuclear-weapon states. A good first step would be to get our arms around the security and the location, geographical location, of all enrichment anywhere in the world. 

Ultimately, I would place – and I trust Senator McCain would place – a much higher premium on putting under international control or keeping under international control that enrichment which could potentially contribute to the development of a new nuclear power. The United States is a declared nuclear-weapon state. It is what it is. While there may be political benefit for another country to introduce this as a foil, it’s not one that I personally would be enthusiastic about. 

But, you know, these are the kinds of issues that, if Senator McCain is elected president, I have no doubt will be on the agenda. We’re just going to have to work our way through the inherent contradiction or the inherent conundrum of the NPT, which is that there are countries that have and countries that have not, and try to create a totality of benefits, opportunities, and punitive measures that can keep people from moving across the line from non-nuclear-weapon state to nuclear-weapon state. That’s where I would put the highest premium, if I were advising Senator McCain on that issue.

HOLUM: Well, I’m in the similar position to Steve in that I don’t have any specific guidance on this fairly detailed question. As I said in my remarks, Senator Obama has strongly endorsed the idea of international centers for enrichment and assuring countries that pursue nuclear energy that they’ll have a secure supply of fuel in which they can have confidence.

I think the important thing – and somebody touched on this in the discussion this morning – is that we need to take the mystique out of enrichment. That involves making sure that fuel supply is dependable, that countries that want to proceed with nuclear energy can know that their sources of low-enriched uranium for reactors will not be interrupted. There’s a lot of doubt about that. I think U.S. leadership can make a great deal of difference to pursue it. The first time I saw this idea it was from Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and he’s been very energetic in pursuing it and I think it’s a terrific idea.
           
The core reality underlying all of this and the one that we used when we were engaged in the effort to extend the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty indefinitely in 1995 was that the treaty is not a favor of the non-nuclear-weapon states to the nuclear-weapon states. Tom Graham and Norm Wulf and others were very effective in demonstrating why the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the bargain, is in the interest of the non-nuclear countries. The same sort of principle should apply when we engage in the process of seeking to limit national enrichment and plutonium separation programs.

The countries that will agree not to pursue those capabilities will do so because it’s in their interest, because they’ll have better confidence that their neighbors will not be doing the same thing. So I think that basic principle has to be at the core of our international diplomacy on this issue.

KIMBALL: Thank you. Well, we have a couple of questions here about how to deal with the threat of catastrophic nuclear terrorism, which the question states:  “Many experts believe that the threat of catastrophic nuclear terrorism is among the highest risks our nation faces. What specifically would your candidate do to reduce that risk in his first year in office?”

HOLUM: Should I go first?

BIEGUN: No, please.

HOLUM: The first priority that Senator Obama has laid out and that he’s pursued since he has been in the Senate is prevention, securing all the nuclear materials and nuclear weapons that are now in vulnerable sites in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere. Everything else pales behind that responsibility. 

It’s shocking to me that we’re still 12 years away from having those materials secured based on the current pace. What he’s pledged to do is pursue that within four years. The risk is not that a terrorist organization is going to build a bomb; the risk is that a terrorist organization is going to acquire materials from somewhere else. There’s a possibility that they conceivable could build one, but they could acquire materials or acquire a weapon that they could use.

So the first priority has to be to nail that down. The second priority, of course, in the same context is to pursue the efforts to close down the nuclear weapon operations in North Korea and Iran because those are two countries that we can’t have any confidence that they wouldn’t be prepared to transfer materials to other country; and now North Korea has enough so it could possibly transfer plutonium. So those two priorities would be at the top of Senator Obama’s list.

BIEGUN: Well, the good news is Senator McCain is not waiting until next year; he started 20 years ago. For his two decades in the United States Senate he has been a strong supporter of treaty-based arms control. He was supportive of the agendas both in the Reagan administration as well as the Bush and Clinton administrations. Senator McCain was a close ally and supporter of Senators Nunn and Lugar with the foundation of the Nunn-Lugar program and also in the early 1990s a vocal defender of the Nunn-Lugar program when it was periodically under pressure in part because of backsliding in Russian behavior, in part because of some of the administrative difficulties, particularly on the Russian side in the early stages of that program.

Senator McCain is and has been a vocal opponent of the spread of nuclear weapons and he has a long record of concern on the development of nuclear weapons capabilities not only in countries like Iran and North Korea, but Iraq – lest we forget – was rapidly moving toward the acquisition of a nuclear weapon in the early 1990s. Senator McCain cares so much about this issue that he’s made it one of the centerpieces of his national security debate in the course of his campaign.

Senator McCain is fully aware, as not only a presidential candidate but as a United States Senator and ultimately, perhaps, as the president of the United States, that in his very first moment in office, this issue, epitomized by Iran and North Korea but more broadly the growing and very serious threat of nuclear weapons, has to be at the front of the next president of the United States’ mind right from the first moment in office.

I completely agree with the premise of the question, personally, that this is a growing threat. The threat of catastrophic nuclear attack against the United States by a terrorist is certainly a plausible scenario; and it’s one that the next president of the United States – I’m actually confident, regardless of who it is – will put at the very top of their agenda. I think I’ll just leave it at that.

KIMBALL: We have several questions regarding potential plans for the United States to develop new nuclear weapons capabilities; and some of this goes back to the discussion on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. One of these questions asks: “If we assume that the United States arsenal will continue to be certified as safe and reliable by the Pentagon and Energy Department, would either an Obama or McCain administration decide to pursue or commit not to pursue the so-called Reliable Replacement Warhead Program, which the Department of Energy and Bush administration have advocated?”

There is another question on a related issue; this is directed to Steve: “Senator McCain recently said in his May 27th speech that he would not support the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator Program, which was a previous program advocated by the Bush administration to build an earth-penetrating nuclear weapon. He voted twice for that in 2003 and 2004. What led to the change in his position?”

BIEGUN: Why don’t I go first? Now, I’ll take the second one since it’s specific to Senator McCain and then I’ll address RRW and then pass that on to John for any comments that he has. On the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, Senator McCain did support the feasibility studies to look as this. Ultimately, he found the logic unpersuasive that we could presume to use a nuclear weapon in a non-nuclear manner and consider ourselves not having crossed the threshold, a very significant threshold, of use of nuclear weapons proved to him to be an argument that was unsupportable.

Now, the program was not requested for funding this year by the administration; that’s right. It’s not a completely dead issue; but I assure that if Senator McCain does win the presidency, it is a completely dead issue. That issue is resolved in his mind and he won’t be revisiting it.

The Reliable Replacement Warhead is a very important issue, and one that the next president of the United States will have to consider. Senator McCain doesn’t address it specifically in his May 27th speech, but he does lay an all-encompassing vision that he expects to apply to any new developments in this strategic area.

I quoted it, but I will cite it again because I think it’s an important test to direct your attention to, he said – if I could get the quote directly – he said that, “I would only support development of any new type of nuclear weapon that is absolutely essential for the viability of our deterrent, that results in making possible further decreases in the size of our nuclear arsenal, and furthers our global nuclear security goals.”

Those are carefully chosen words – well thought through – and Senator McCain, in the course of putting together his speech, consulted with some of the true lions of American national security over decades. It’s no secret that he counts among his friends some of the leading strategic thinkers across several administrations. In putting together this speech, it’s not just a speech; it is a statement that approaches presidential policy.

I think, for anyone who has read it, you can see that it goes beyond normal campaign rhetoric and in a passage like that, I can tell you – and I would apply this to the RRW as well as anything else – Senator McCain carefully chose those words there so when he becomes president, if he were to become president, that would be the test that he would apply to this.

HOLUM: I’ll just say, I just want to mention, Steve, that the notion of having come to a new position on Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator is very welcome. Very welcome, but it also cuts against a little bit the notion of being there for 20 years because Senator Obama has been against this since it was first proposed even though it’s more recent than Senator McCain’s earlier support for it.

That said, the Reliable Replacement Warhead has to be considered in the context of the U.S. leadership role in reducing the roles and risks of nuclear weapons and ultimately eliminating them, which Senator Obama has said he would pursue from day one of the new administration. So we shouldn’t be rushing to deploy a new nuclear warhead at a time when we are leading to convince the rest of the world that nuclear weapons have a diminished and an ultimately disappearing role in our security strategy and in the security strategy of other countries.

He hasn’t ruled out for all-time that concept; but he has said it’s very important not to pursue anything like this way before it’s necessary to consider it. Remember that we’ve conducted 1,000 nuclear weapons tests, far more than any other country in the world; all the weapons in our stockpile have been thoroughly tested. There are between 4,000-6,000 parts of a nuclear weapon. Very few of those parts are precluded from testing under the Stockpile Stewardship Program.

All you can’t do is test to an explosive yield. So all those mechanical and electronic and other parts can be constantly tested, and are being so, and replaced. Recent studies have suggested that the pits, the plutonium pits of our nuclear weapons, are secure for way longer than expected; as long as 80 years. So this is not something we need to rush up on.

KIMBALL: We have a set of questions regarding how the United States will relate to Russia with respect to nuclear arms control and nonproliferation. Question is: “Both candidates have spoken about deeper U.S.-Russian nuclear weapons reductions. The START I Treaty, that is the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty of 1991, is due to expire in December of 2009. How do each of the candidates propose to follow on that agreement and, specifically, pursue deeper nuclear reductions in U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals?” Either of you can start.

HOLUM: Okay, I’ll start. Senator Obama has said that he supports reductions in nuclear weapons; and that means going significantly below the levels in the current agreement of 1,700-2,200 deployed warheads. He also wants those agreements to be verifiable, either through extension of the START verification provisions or some other arrangement worked out in discussions with Russia.

He wants those limitations to be durable. This is an important point because the so-called SORT Treaty limits come into effect in 2012 and on the same day, they expire. So it’s only a moment in history when we have to be down to those levels and then either side can do whatever it wants. What we need to do is resume the negotiating process that we’ve pursued traditionally and put into effect, as I said in my remarks, deep, durable, and verifiable reductions in nuclear weapons.

BIEGUN: Agreed. Senator McCain would, as a matter of approach, begin this process with a Nuclear Posture Review. It would require not only a strong advisory role for our military and our civilians in the Pentagon but also close consultation with our allies. But I trust that that would be the same for Senator Obama as well. In terms of the overall direction, no difference of opinion.

KIMBALL: Okay, now there are other issues relating to the United States and Russia and arms control, one of which has to do with the Bush administration’s plan for missile defenses, particularly the proposal to put 10 interceptors in Poland. Question is: “Does either the Obama or the McCain – let me rephrase this – would either President McCain or President Obama continue to pursue the current U.S. plan for a missile defense system in Europe. If so, under what terms, under what schedule? And would they continue to pursue a cooperative approach with Russia, which the Bush administration has begun discussing in the past year?”

BIEGUN: In regards to Senator McCain, it’s his stated intention to continue with the deployment. It’s also, as he laid out in his University of Denver speech, it is his intention to seek to continue to address Russian concerns in this context, including whether any sort of data sharing or other cooperative actions can ameliorate Russian concerns.

It is not Senator McCain’s intention to honor any request that would be judged as being premised upon the right of a country, in this case, Russia, to have a say in the security decisions of a sovereign nation that may or may not have been under its orbit at one point, when those objections are judged to largely be based upon the expression of a geopolitical sphere of influence.

If there are legitimate Russian security concerns that arise from a limited number of interceptors being based in Central and Eastern Europe to protect the territory of the North Atlantic area against a limited missile strike, largely emanating from one country but potentially others, we definitely need to have a dialogue with Russia about that. But we do not and should not have a dialogue with Russia about the sovereign decisions of Poland or the Czech Republic and what decisions they make to defend their own security in cases in which it poses no threat whatsoever to Russia.

HOLUM: I think the possibilities for working out understandings, making clear to Russia that its security interests aren’t threatened by European deployments are reasonably high. Certainly, that’s an effort that should be pursued. But I also think it’s important to put missile defenses in a broader context.

Senator McGovern–boy that’s old-speak (laughter)–Senator Obama has -

KIMBALL: You once worked for Senator McGovern, yes? (Laughter.)

HOLUM: Thirty-five years ago, good grief. Don’t I have a great memory? Senator Obama agrees with the deployments that are in place. He certainly supports the deployments that are in place in California and Alaska. But at the same time, he thinks it’s very important to proceed on the basis of workable defenses, making sure that systems are capable before we put so many resources into these systems. He also believes we need to prioritize our missile defense based on the threats. So we should be focusing on theater defenses and local defenses, and further down the list, as the technology is proven, more effective defenses; national or longer-range defenses.

He also has stressed that defenses don’t answer the threat of nuclear smuggling. The likeliest dangers that we face are not that a nuclear explosion will arrive with a return address on it and be susceptible to interception if the system could work; but in a suitcase or in a boxcar or in a shipping container where missile defenses don’t have any impact. Those are the likeliest threats. So, we really need to concentrate our attention on things like port security, securing materials as I discussed earlier, and the kinds of issues that are much more immediate.

KIMBALL: We have several questions about how the next administration will organize itself to deal with this wide range of proliferation challenges, disarmament-related challenges. One question about legislation that was signed into law in 2007, H.R. 1, which mandates a White House coordinator for preventing nuclear terrorism. The question states, and this is correct, that the Bush administration has not acted on that mandate. So the question is: “Where do your candidates stand on the issue of a White House coordinator for preventing nuclear terrorism?”

Before you jump to that question, we have another related question, which is: “How can the State Department best organize itself to address arms control in the next administration. And specifically, what do the candidates think of the idea of an independent agency for nonproliferation and arms control to elevate the issue inside the administration?”

HOLUM: I guess that question is addressed to me.

KIMBALL: Well, it’s addressed to both of you since it’s an issue both candidates need to consider.

HOLUM: First, on a White House coordinator, I don’t know that Senator Obama has addressed that question. So I can only express a personal view, and that is if we are going to have a White House coordinator of anything – this is a matter of influence and effect – the position needs to have control over resources and not just be a voice without backing. We’ve had a lot of experience with those kinds of offices and the drug czars and various others; and they tend not to work very well.

In terms of how the State Department should be organized itself, Senator Obama had nothing to do with the reorganization that was carried out in the 1990s and then again in, I think it was, 2005. But Steve Biegun and I both were involved in the first one of those. I have personally come to believe that folding the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency into the State Department was a mistake, essentially because of the way the State Department has treated it. Policy will vary from administration to administration. But institutions do make a difference.

So this is again a personal response; it’s not something that Senator Obama has addressed. But I think it’s something that needs to be revisited. I’ve been terribly disappointed by the further eclipsing of arms control in the State Department and by the department’s inability to welcome and promote and retain the kind of technical expertise that arms control and nonproliferation depend on. So I’d look at that question again.

BIEGUN: There’s a lot to reflect on from those years, John, when we worked sometimes together, sometimes on opposite sides of issues. One lesson I would take away – and this really goes to answer the question on organizational charts – this is nothing that is particularly wise, I don’t think – organizational charts simply are not going to guarantee any outcome. It has to be the presidential priority. In fact, the White House coordinator on nuclear terrorism has to sit at the desk. It has to be a high priority for the president of the United States, whoever he or she is. I do think that we are at that point where we can almost have certain confidence that that will be the case with the next president of the United States, whoever it is.

I also think that that message has to emanate through the organizations that are in place, whether it’s the National Security Council and the national security advisor, how that person prioritizes their time, as well as the State Department. But I’d also raise a very important area that I think needs to be energized and tremendously active is also the intelligence community. Adequate and confident intelligence in the state of nuclear weapons programs in countries around the world—our ability to efficiently and effectively share that intelligence with some of the people and organizations who need to act, like the International Atomic Energy Agency—are going to be critically important for our ability to stop proliferation.

Well, we are well past the point where the United States alone can take on this issue, if we were ever at that point. The United States has to look to gear its governmental bodies to the closest possible cooperation with allies and with international organizations around the world. That includes our diplomacy but it also includes our intelligence and, again, to repeat where I started, it includes the president of the United States making this a high priority for themselves.

KIMBALL: Thank you. We have a question about the fissile material cutoff treaty, which is the proposal that has been around for quite some time to have a global halt to the production of highly enriched uranium, plutonium that can be used to make nuclear weapons. The question is: “Both candidates have expressed support for a fissile material cutoff treaty. Senator McCain has expressed support for a fissile material cutoff treaty; Senator Obama for a verifiable fissile material cutoff treaty. The question is, is this verifiable? Also, how would the next administration break the impasse on multilateral talks that have not started on the FMCT, as it is called, for some time? And how would they propose to bring in Pakistan and China and India into such a ban?”

BIEGUN: There are a variety of initiatives and opportunities on the diplomatic calendar, not limited to the FMCT, in which the United States needs to fully throw itself with its allies. My hope would be that one way to break the impasse on this would be for the United States to take an all-enveloping approach on issues of nuclear proliferation, including the agenda that we take to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference, including the FMCT, including also the leadership that the president of the United States certainly in my book, hopefully President McCain of the United States, is taking domestically, in order to demonstrate the United States’ continuing commitment to the reduction of nuclear weapons around the world.

I don’t therefore expect that peace and cooperation will break out all over the world. In fact, there are many countries, and particularly the ones that we’re most concerned about, for which no U.S. action would likely change their thinking or change their ways. That’s though ultimately not what is going to have to be the highest priority for our approach. We’re going to have to build the strongest possible international consensus. We’re going to have to invigorate not only our own leadership but support and invigorate the leadership of our allies in all of these issues.

Now, does that produce an FMCT specifically to the question? There’s a proposal on the table that I think could be easily be taken up. It really is the argument over the verifiability. But it’s one that I think the United States is going to have to weigh in the context of a broader arms control and nonproliferation approach. On the downside risks of a verification regime is that it potentially could have the ability to further spread technologies versus the upside risk of the United States gaining action on this critical priority, which is the cutoff of the flow of fissile materials. I would hope that we can resolve this quickly. Like I said, there is a proposal on the table that is very close, verifiability issues, if we can get around it. I think Senator McCain would be very eager to move forward.

KIMBALL: Steve, just to clarify that, the proposal you are referring to is the proposal the Bush administration has forwarded to the Conference on Disarmament? That’s the one you’re referring to?

BIEGUN: Yes.

HOLUM: Yeah, I think first, as to Senator Obama’s position, he’s made clear that he’s in favor of negotiating a verifiable fissile material cutoff. The countries that the questioner mentioned are crucial to that process. That in turn puts you in the context of an international negotiating forum, which has been, to say the least, very sleepy and unproductive over the last dozen years.

I think the key there—and it takes presidential leadership as well as a concentrated negotiating strategy—is to break this concept that has broken down, that has really held up the Conference on Disarmament on linkage. We want to pursue a fissile material cutoff. Other countries say, well, you can do that; but only if we start negotiations on an outer space treaty or some other pet agenda item. The way we have proceeded, for example, with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, is when the political will was exhibited, U.S. diplomacy was fully engaged and active around the world to say this has got to be a priority. You need to set aside your other pet projects. I still think it’s possible to proceed in the Conference on Disarmament with this. I think the treaty has to be verifiable or it’s not going to be trusted.

KIMBALL: Thank you. I think we’ve got time for a couple more quick questions. Then, I’ll give both of you a chance to wrap up. We have several questions relating to how the United States should deal with the nuclear capabilities of India and Pakistan. One question is simply: “What is your candidate’s stance on dealing with the nuclear capabilities of India and Pakistan?”  (Laughter.) That’s pretty straightforward.

And another question, noting that each of the two candidates voted in 2006 for final passage of the legislation for the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal, that the deal is stuck because of domestic Indian disputes at the moment, and that the U.S. legislation requires that if the United States trades with India and India tests, the United States would cut off nuclear trade with India, asks: “Does your candidate support such a cutoff if India tests?”

So those are the two questions. One more broadly about how to deal with India and Pakistan, which are outside the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and are continuing to build up their arsenals. Another specifically, on the testing aspect of the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal?

HOLUM: Well, should I go first? One of the advantages of pursuing global regimes is that you have the possibility of social pressure, if you want to use a simple term, global pressure to bring in countries that have remained outside the various regimes. That’s one of the reasons why I think a fissile material cutoff that covers us as well as others can have an impact, and why the diplomacy for the test ban treaty’s ratification and entry into force has to be pressed on a global basis.

That said, India and Pakistan are linked, obviously, by geography. But they are different questions. Senator Obama, as you indicated, did support the authorizing negotiations of the peaceful nuclear cooperation arrangement with India, in significant part because he believes we need a broad strategic relationship with a fellow democracy that has not been a disseminator of nuclear technology and materials elsewhere in the world, which is a condition that obviously does not apply to Pakistan and the AQ Khan network, which has been one of the most horrendous sources of proliferation in recent years.

At the same time, he supported that authorization after his amendments were adopted to make sure that fuel supplies were limited to what would reasonably be used in civilian nuclear power reactors and connecting the agreement to a continued testing moratorium. He also supported other amendments that strengthened the nonproliferation aspects of the agreement. He hasn’t yet made a judgment on the deal. As it’s been negotiated, it may not happen that the proposal will be submitted to the Senate or to the Congress, because of the objections within the Indian government, as well as the complications in the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

In the case of Pakistan, our first priority needs to be to work with them to make sure that their nuclear arsenal is protected and that the sad experience of the past in terms of technology and other transfers is not repeated. I don’t see any prospect of a nuclear cooperation agreement with Pakistan.

KIMBALL: One final question before we go to closing comments, which comes back to some of the earlier discussion at today’s Arms Control Association session on the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Both candidates have expressed an interest in pursuing the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons. Senator Obama has put it in other words; I can’t quite remember how he put it. But would your candidate renew the unequivocal commitment of the United States and the other nuclear weapon powers, made in 2000 at the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty review conference on the elimination of nuclear weapons? That could be a simple yes or no answer, if you like.

BIEGUN: I don’t know the text as described. But Senator McCain is definitive in his statement that this is the direction he’ll take the United States. I’d be happy to look at the text if the person wants to show it to me. But he gave his citation quoting Ronald Reagan. So rather than quote that document, I’d rather stick with the quote that he cited in his speech. But that’s the direction he’ll go.

HOLUM: I’d take the same view with regard to Senator Obama. I hesitate to adopt something that I’ve probably forgotten the exact terms of.

KIMBALL: Well, I want to thank you both for taking that rapid-fire series of questions from our expert audience. We have a few minutes left for each of you, beginning with Steve, please, to make any closing comments or any remarks that weren’t covered in the discussion that you feel are important to explain to the audience about what a President McCain would do to strengthen the nonproliferation effort?

BIEGUN: Thank you. Thank you, Daryl, and thanks to the Arms Control Association for your leadership and your support and sometimes criticism over the years. I also thank you all for listening patiently today and giving fair thought to both John’s presentation and mine.

Let me start where I started, which is the vital importance of experience in this election and the role that experience should play in you making your choices, and the American people more importantly and more broadly making their choices. The president of the United States wears many hats. The president of the United States is the leader of a political party. The president of the United States is the president of this great country. The president of the United States is a leader, the leader of the free world. The president of the United States wears many hats and must constantly be conscious of the fact that he or she wears those many hats.

A leader of a political party has to be willing to stand up when the most activist and vocal base in the party is pushing in a certain direction, but the president of the United States knows otherwise. When Bosnians were being massacred after the collapse of Yugoslavia, it took a leader like John McCain to stand up and fight isolationist voices in his own party and call on the American people to support President Clinton, of the other party, in an important act of international intervention to end terrible slaughter. It takes courage for a leader to stand up against the prevailing wisdom or the prevailing view of their political party. But also, a leader has to be able to lead their party in the right direction.  Senator McCain has that ability in the context of the Republican Party.

The president of the United States has to be willing to look at the American people and tell them the honest truth about the difficulties and opportunities that face us in the world today. But as they are looking at that voter, whether it’s a voter who has voted, whether it’s a primary voter, whether it’s a general-election voter, they also have to be cognizant of the fact of their third role as leader of the free world, as a leader of global consequence.

When you look at voters in New Hampshire and tell them that you’ll go into Pakistan and bomb tribal areas if you have to, to get a terrorist, but you haven’t spent any time developing your relationship with the government of Pakistan to build a position of trust, to build a position of communication, to build a relationship where you can disagree or go through the pretense of disagreeing when something happens like this to preserve the political niceties of governing in Pakistan; when you leap forward like that without looking in your rear-view mirror and then the next day you want to go to that government and talk to them about the security of their nuclear weapons program, don’t expect a great result.

When you look at a voter in the state of Ohio and you promise to them within six months you’re going to pull out of NAFTA, and you haven’t looked in your rear-view mirror and noticed that that’s actually a very important agreement to our friends in Mexico, and more so to the Canadians whose support we’re going to need in every element of our national security, whether it’s border control or whether it’s pushing positions in international bodies. You have to be cognizant that you’ve got that position.

When you look a voter in the eye and you say that the Bush administration has outsourced U.S. diplomacy to those, my word, feckless Europeans on Iran, you’ve outsourced to the Europeans as if that’s somehow a fault to trust those untrustworthy Germans and Brits and French in negotiating the end to Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and you don’t think through that six months later, you might be sitting down with those same three countries to try to bring purpose to that negotiation, it betrays a lack of experience.

A president has to have a 360-degree awareness. It’s something that Senator John McCain has developed over a lifetime of service to the country in the armed services and in the United States Senate. When he talks to a voter, he knows he’s talking to the world. When he takes an issue like nuclear proliferation or nuclear security, he knows that he is taking an issue that isn’t just inherently important to the security of our people but to everybody around the world. If they don’t sense that their security is as important to us as our security, then we’re going to have a very hard time getting them to the table to cooperate.

Now the good news. The good news is that there is a large middle on this issues that has clearly come out, not only in the context of this discussion, but also in the context of the speeches and statements of the two candidates for the president of the United States. I’d hazard to guess that we’ve probably encompassed 90 percent of a common agenda here. It’s the 10 percent margins on the side, some of it will be process; some of it will be substance. But there is a broad agreement. I, as an American, take great comfort in that.

Senator McCain is anchored in the institutions of government. He’s not, by anyone’s definition, a captive of them. As much as the Obama campaign wants to run against George Bush, John McCain is not George Bush. Anybody who thinks so hasn’t spent time with the two gentlemen. Anybody who thinks so has to suspend belief about everything that Senator McCain has done and stood for, including his run for presidency in the year 2000.

Senator McCain knows that these ideas need collaboration inside our political system. He knows that we need to reach out to Democrats and Republicans alike. He has a proven record on issues of national consequence, of not only reaching out but of successfully achieving a result. Senator McCain doesn’t take up this task lightly. He understands the consequences of running for president; he understands the huge and awesome duty and challenges that come with that office.

He is a tremendous leader. He is someone I know personally and someone with whom I’ve, as I said, had the chance to work with for 20 years. It will give me great pleasure, and I would welcome anyone who wishes to join me, in voting for him in November. So thank you all very much.

HOLUM: In summing up, I’d just like to make two broad observations about the forthcoming campaign and election. The first is that one of the results has to be a sharp change next January in our approach to the spread of nuclear weapons. The Bush administration has had an ample chance to test its own strategy, one of rejected arms control, neglected global regimes, and defective enforcement. It hasn’t worked.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. We went to war, as you’ll recall, in Iraq over nuclear weapons, at least that’s what we thought. Famously over the smoking gun in Iraq not turning out to be a mushroom cloud; but of course, there weren’t any there. It turned out that the sanctions and inspections, however imperfect, were working.

But there are nuclear weapons right now in North Korea, a capability built up while we’ve been bogged down in Iraq. Whereas they previously had enough plutonium for one or two weapons, now they have enough to test, use, or sell. In a very few years, there might be nuclear weapons in Iran as well.

Last December, our intelligence community concluded that Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons program, leading many to believe that the danger had receded. President Bush tried to counter that impression, making the case that the threat was still growing in Iran because they were pursuing their enrichment programs and he was right. I recall Tom Friedman observing at the time that some things are true even if George Bush believes them. (Laughter.)

As you know, the technology for a crude weapon is comparatively easy. The hard part is the fissile material, which is why as both senator and presidential candidate, Barack Obama has focused like a laser on such issues as loose nukes and nuclear smuggling. On the material, Iran has been steadily moving ahead.

A world in which either of these countries had deliverable nuclear weapons would be dramatically more dangerous. It’s also not hard, of course, to imagine either of these countries transferring nuclear capabilities to other countries or to terrorists. So we simply cannot afford not to turn the page on an approach that has failed.

My second point is that for that very reason, it would be far better if this were not an issue in the 2008 presidential campaign but rather if there could be a bipartisan consensus on how to proceed. I have been encouraged that this appears to be one of those areas in which Senator McCain, despite his close relationships with the Bush administration as a senator on these issues, has as a presidential candidate been edging away from President Bush. Steve has been galloping away.

I read his recent speech on the subject closely, as I know many of you have. There are a number of points that coincide with positions Senator Obama has taken, including of course his dream that we share of a nuclear weapons-free world. Here’s an idea. What if both candidates pressed to include that position in their party platforms at this summer’s convention? It would also be great if some of the hazy areas in Senator McGovern – or Senator McCain’s speech – (laughter) –

BIEGUN: There you go again, John. (Laughter.)

HOLUM: This was a critical one. It would be good if some of the hazy areas in Senator McCain’s speech could be made more specific. For example, replacing phrases like “seriously consider” with “support,” and commit not just to take another look at the comprehensive test ban, but push for its ratification and entry into force. It would also be great if the idea of talking to such countries as Iran without preconditions could be seen not as an opening to score political points but as a potential opportunity for progress against grave national security threats.

I’ll keep watching for those developments, but in the meantime, you know in considerable detail what Senator Obama believes, how he thinks about these issues, and who he is: a leader with the unique potential to transform the nation’s international approach, capture the imagination of people around the globe, and help us confront looming dangers and achieve a safer world. 

Thank you.

(Applause.)

KIMBALL: Thanks to both of you. Thanks to both John Holum and Steve Biegun for your time and to both campaigns for making you available as representatives. This has been a really excellent discussion. I hope it’s not the only discussion we have over the next five months on these issues. Let it just be the start.

I just want to note that a full transcript of today’s events, including this one, will be available on the website of the Arms Control Association, which is www.armscontrol.org. For Arms Control Association members, we have a meeting beginning in about 10 minutes in the back room. I want to thank our audience and our speakers again. This session is closed.

END

Posted: June 15, 2008