"I greatly appreciate your very swift response, and your organization's work in general. It's a terrific source of authoritative information."

– Lisa Beyer
Bloomberg News
August 27, 2018
Arms Control and the 1992 Election
Share this

In this issue of Arms Control Today, the Arms Control Association continues its tradition of providing a forum for the major presidential candidates to present their views on some of the most pressing security and arms control issues of the day. Since 1976, this tradition has provided both ACT readers and the public at large the opportunity to learn in detail the opinions, ideas, and plans of those who seek the office of president.  In this fifth presidential forum in Arms Control Today, we have expanded both the scope and the number of questions to be addressed by the candidates.  Their responses, we believe, will help focus the national debate over critical security and defense questions that are all too often left unanswered during the “sound bite” wars of modern presidential campaigns.

In February, ACA submitted nine questions to each of the major candidates for president.  Here we present the responses from Democratic candidate Bill Clinton and the incumbent, President George H.W. Bush.

Democratic Response: Bill Clinton

ACT: What should the United States be doing to reduce the nuclear risks potentially posed by the collapse of the Soviet Union?

Bill Clinton: No national security issue is more urgent than the question of who will control the nuclear weapons and technology of the former Soviet empire. Those weapons pose a threat to the security of every American, to our allies, and to the republics themselves.

There are three key parts to this problem: (1 ) ensuring that responsible authorities maintain control over the nuclear weapons of the former Soviet Union; (2) preventing the migration of former Soviet nuclear weapon scientists and engineers to work on Third World nuclear weapon programs; and (3) aggressively pursuing further reductions in nuclear weapons on both sides. The Bush administration has been slow to react on all three counts. In fact, Congress had to step in and fill the vacuum in U.S. policy when Sam Nunn (D-GA) led the effort in the fall of I 991 to earmark $400 million in the Fiscal Year 1992 defense budget to help the former Soviet Union dismantle some of its weapons.

The United States should take the lead in the West in making clear to the new republics that have Soviet nuclear weapons that the continuation of Western aid is conditioned on their actually ceding control over those weapons to either Russia or to a responsible authority of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

I support American leadership in any coordinated Western effort to support the cadres of Soviet nuclear scientists and engineers, for at least a limited time, to dismantle Soviet nuclear weapons or in developing relevant technologies that will help the Soviet economy. For a tiny fraction of what the United States had spent on nuclear weapons, the West can make a major contribution to securing the peace that the end of the Cold War promises us.

The United States should also move soon to begin negotiations with Russia that seek to reach quick agreement on substantial further cuts below the levels provided in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that currently awaits Senate ratification. Fewer nuclear weapons means fewer weapons vulnerable to misuse.

ACT: What approach would you take to further reductions and limitations on nuclear arms, beyond those contemplated in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and last fall’s reciprocal nuclear cutback initiatives?

Bill Clinton: With the end of the Cold War, we can safely make fundamental revisions in U.S. targeting policy and doctrine that have driven so much of U.S. strategic force developments in the past. By drastically reducing the “target set” and adjusting our deterrence policies to fit the real world, we can move to substantially lower numbers of weapons.

Weapons reduction proposals should continue to be guided by an emphasis on stability, but stability for the new age. In addition to moving toward weapons with fewer warheads, we should also put a premium on weapons that can be more easily controlled by central authorities. As president, I would seek a ban on mobile, land-based missiles and a ban on land-based missiles with more than one warhead.

ACT: In the new environment, would you cut the defense budget more than is now planned? If so, by how much? Are there specific systems you would cancel, or others you particularly support?

Bill Clinton: Any discussion of defense spending must necessarily look at what we want our defense posture to defend against. I believe a prudent set of coherent, integrated reductions across force structure, procurement, and research and development can maintain a strong defense posture for the United States. I would emphasize systems and forces that are more relevant to the types of conflicts we are likely to face in the future than those we have faced in the past. President Bush’s $50 billion reduction in a $1.5 trillion, five-year defense budget is inconsistent with the implications of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War I would reduce the five-year budget by a net of at least $50 billion more, with further cuts possible if current favorable trends in the international climate continue. This net figure would include some increases in areas that I believe are not being adequately addressed by the Bush administration.

First, we should stop production of the B-2 bomber. I would make significant cuts in Strategic Defense Initiative funding, while fully funding theater missile defense and preserving the option of deploying a limited, ground-based defense for the United States. I would make major cuts in research and development for new nuclear bombs, maintain a force of 10 aircraft carriers rather than 12, further reduce our forces in Europe, and make some reductions in our intelligence resources that are directed toward the former Soviet Union.

At the same time, I would integrate the lessons of Desert Shield and Desert Storm into our defense planning. As part of this, I would step up production of fast sealift ships, which Desert Shield showed was a critical weakness for the United States, and enhance our airlift modernization through procurement of the C-17.
We need to plan for the conflicts of the future, not those of the past, and as president I would ensure that our force posture reflects tomorrow’s security needs.

ACT: What additional steps would you take to reduce the danger of nuclear proliferation?

Bill Clinton: We must do more to stop the threat of weapons of mass destruction from spreading. We need to clamp down on countries and companies that sell these technologies, punish violators, and work urgently with all countries for tough, enforceable, international nonproliferation agreements.

I would follow a two-track approach in dealing with the proliferation problem. First, I would learn the lessons of what went wrong that allowed Iraq to get as close as it did to achieving a nuclear capability and Pakistan to achieve its capability, and would strengthen International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards to reflect these lessons. I also would seek from Congress legislation that would bar imports of goods and services from those foreign companies that knowingly provide direct or indirect support for the nuclear weapons programs of non-nuclear-weapon states.

The second track would be to seek much greater cooperation and support for the use of economic and related leverage in discouraging countries seeking to acquire nuclear weapons. For example, Japan and South Korea should be extremely concerned about the prospects of a North Korean bomb. I would coordinate a coherent international response that provided strong economic incentives to North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapon efforts and to open up its facilities for inspection, and severe economic penalties for failure to do so.

ACT: Do you believe that the global trade in conventional weapons should be restrained, and if so, how would you pursue that goal?

Bill Clinton: Our experience with Iraq has demonstrated that a failure to come to grips with conventional arms sales carries with it a very high price tag in terms of instability, conflict, and the tragic human loss, vast property damage, and high financial cost of the measures needed to apply to regional conflict. A Saddam Hussein who was denied the quantity and quality of weapons that were available to him in the international arms bazaar might not have invaded Kuwait, might have been easier to pressure to leave, and would certainly have been easier to dislodge by force.

A coordinated international approach to this problem is required, one that addresses the demand for such weapons as well as their supply. Unilateral restraint by the United States can at best achieve only modest results. On the demand side, the United States should encourage the policies adopted by some donor countries and the World Bank in tying aid levels to the amounts spent by a country on arms. Where needed, economic sanctions could also be considered in certain circumstances. On the supply side, the United States should negotiate with the major supplier countries on limiting such sales. Initial negotiations could focus on the most militarily significant weapons, the ones with the greatest offensive orientation. As success is achieved in these areas, follow-on negotiations could address overall arms sales levels with an eye toward achieving sharp reductions. Other approaches are certainly possible, but the key imperative is to begin the process, something that the Bush administration has failed to do.

ACT: What would your approach to the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) and the Antiballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty be?

Bill Clinton: We need to bring a healthy dose of reality to the SDI program, a quality that it sorely lacks today. Our SDI program should be geared to the real threats we face today and are likely to face in the future, not the fevered rationalizations of a weapons program in search of a mission. I fully support the development of a defense against tactical ballistic missiles to provide protection for limited areas abroad, such as selected U.S. troop deployments as in Desert Shield and Desert Storm, or key areas of tactical or strategic military significance, as Israel was during the war.

I would keep open the option of deploying a limited single- site, ground-based defense in the United States. This would not require the wasteful levels of SDI spending that the administration is requesting.

The ABM Treaty has well sewed U.S. security interests since it was ratified 20 years ago. I would only consider modest changes in it that clearly enhanced U.S. security interests and were negotiated in good faith with Russia after full consultations with our NATO allies. At present, such changes are not needed.

ACT: Do you support a comprehensive ban on nuclear testing, or other testing limits?

Bill Clinton: Yes. A comprehensive test ban would strengthen our vital efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons to other countries, which may be our greatest future security threat.

I believe we should consider a CTB in a two-step process: through further reductions in the testing threshold of the Threshold Test Ban Treaty and a cap on the number of tests permitted annually at levels well below present practice. Such experience in this reduced testing environment should demonstrate that the dangers conjured up by opponents of a CTB about testing limits were groundless. With this experience under our belts, assuming no major surprises in the international environment, we could then proceed quickly to a full, comprehensive test ban.

ACT: What role should the United Nations play in dealing with regional conflicts and regional arms control?

Bill Clinton: In the same way that multilateral banks serve to share the economic and political burdens of international financial assistance, the United Nations can play the same role in addressing regional conflicts. Although not perfect, the Desert Shield-Desert Storm experience was a useful model for future U.N. actions. The Security Council should be encouraged, under U.S. and other Western leadership, to adopt necessary measures running the spectrum from verbal through economic to full military action if warranted to deal with regional unrest or regional conflict. While the United States must continue to reserve the right to exercise unilateral action under some circumstances, we should seek to make maximum use of the United Nations to meet our security objectives now that it has been freed from the shackles that hobbled it during the Cold War. I have suggested, for example, that we explore the idea of a U.N. rapid deployment force.

Likewise, the United Nations has a greater role to play in regional arms control than was true during the Cold War. The U.N. registry of arms sales is just a start. The United Nations can be an appropriate forum for getting regional adversaries to enter into a dialogue, and then negotiations, to restrict the numbers and kinds of weapons they acquire. Such steps are not a substitute for measures that address the underlying issues that are the heart of the conflict, but these steps can complement such measures and serve to facilitate the fundamental negotiations.

ACT: Are there other major arms control priorities that you would pursue?

Bill Clinton: I believe that our efforts in nuclear proliferation should be expanded to address the problem of nuclear delivery. The continuing fascination of the Reagan and Bush administrations with weapons of mass destruction delivered by ballistic missile has obscured the more likely reliance by new nuclear states on aircraft, cruise missiles, trucks, and other nontraditional means of delivery of such weapons. The tragic loss of 240 U.S. Marines in Lebanon in 1983 shows that a determined adversary can employ decidedly “low-tech” means to attack targets that the United States highly values. Early establishment of a tough and effective global ban on production and use of chemical weapons under the Chemical Weapons Convention should also be an American priority, as well as controls on space weapons like antisatellite weapons that could threaten U.S. access to and use of space.

Republican Response: George H.W. Bush

ACT: What should the United States be doing to reduce the nuclear risks potentially posed by the collapse of the Soviet Union?

George Bush: The United States is actively engaged on a broad front to reduce the risk that the dissolution of the Soviet Union could lead to nuclear accidents, unauthorized use, or proliferation. We have made clear to all the independent states that no more than one nuclear-weapon state should emerge from the former Soviet Union, and that all the non-Russian republics should join the Nonproliferation Treaty as non-nuclear-weapon states. We are also working actively with the independent states to prevent the spread of nuclear material or technology. In that respect, I would point particularly to the establishment of the International Center for Science and Technology and our assistance to the independent states to establish effective export control regimes consistent with democratic, free-market economies.

In my nuclear initiative of September 27, 1991, I called on the Soviet Union to join us in discussions and cooperation on nuclear command and control, safety, security, and dismantlement. Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev accepted that idea on October 5. Thus, contacts in this area were well underway when the Soviet Union dissolved.

We have welcomed the independent states’ agreements in Alma-Ata and Minsk on nuclear command and control arrangements, and on the timetable for nuclear weapons withdrawals to predismantlement storage facilities. The United States is near agreement on several initial projects for assistance, using funds under the Soviet Nuclear Threat Reduction Act of 1991, to ensure the safe and secure transportation, storage, and dismantlement of nuclear weapons.

ACT: What approach would you take to further reductions and limitations on nuclear arms, beyond those contemplated in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and last fall’s reciprocal nuclear cutback initiatives?

George Bush: I strongly believe that the next step in nuclear arms reductions should be an agreement to eliminate all multiple warhead (MIRVed) ICBMs. By eliminating the most threatening strategic systems, such an agreement would build on, and greatly advance, the process begun in START both to reduce strategic forces and to restructure
them to enhance stability Under the agreement I propose, the United States would eliminate our entire Peacekeeper force and reduce the number of warheads on each of our Minuteman UI ICBMs from three to one. In my State of the Union message on January 28, 1991, I also announced major additional steps that we would take as part of an overall agreement to eliminate all MIRVed ICBMs. Specifically, we would reduce by about one-third the number of submarine-launched ballistic missile warheads that we planned to deploy under START, and reorient a substantial number of our strategic bombers to a primarily conventional role. The net result of my proposal would be to lower the actual number of nuclear weapons in our strategic forces by about 50 percent below planned START levels, If Russia agrees to this approach, we would be willing to discuss possible subsequent reductions in our strategic forces.

ACT: In the new environment, would you cut the defense budget more than is now planned? If so, by how much? Are there specific systems you would cancel, or others you particularly support?

George Bush: Three years ago, foreseeing many of the remarkable changes which have since occurred in the world, my administration developed a new, comprehensive defense strategy. That strategy was designed to be responsive to an uncertain future and yet allow us to reduce our forces by 25 percent, without creating a hollow force. Those reductions are already taking place, at a pace that will avoid destroying the quality of the force that performed so magnificently in Desert Shield and Desert Storm. The budget that I have just submitted proposed savings of $50 billion over the next five years in addition to the savings already planned.

Since the beginning of my administration, we have terminated 100 weapons programs. Many of the divisions that kept the peace in Europe throughout the Cold War have been deactivated. We are retiring 100 ships and cutting back 10 fighter wings. In the next five years, we will reduce U.S. active forces, reserves, and civilian support by a full one million people. We will close 500 military installations worldwide. By 1997, U.S. defense spending will be at 3.4 percent of gross national product, the lowest it has been in 50 years. Further budget reductions below these dramatically reduced levels would threaten the ability of our forces to protect U.S. national security interests around the world.

ACT: What additional steps would you take to reduce the danger of nuclear proliferation?

George Bush: I have given the highest priority to reducing the danger of nuclear proliferation. We are working hard to reduce the risk that the breakup of the Soviet Union could spur the spread of nuclear weapons, materials, or technology. We will continue to advocate universal adherence to the Nonproliferation Treaty and seek its indefinite extension at the 1995 extension conference. The North Korean nuclear program constitutes a grave security threat in North Asia, and it is of the utmost importance that North Korea accept International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and bilateral inspections of its nuclear program and fulfill its agreement with South Korea to establish a nuclear-free peninsula. I have given particular priority to my Middle East arms control initiative, which has several nuclear elements, including a call on all countries in the region to forswear acquisition or production of fissile materials. We also must ensure that all Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and capability to produce such weapons, are destroyed in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 687. We support the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in South Asia, and have called upon India and Pakistan to join with China, Russia, and the United States in a five-party conference that would address the South Asian proliferation problem.

We have recently witnessed significant successes in nuclear nonproliferation. Argentina and Brazil have reversed longstanding positions by adopting full-scope IAEA safeguards and taken steps toward bringing the Treaty of Tlatelolco into force. The Nonproliferation Treaty has been joined by South Africa, most of the “front-line” African states, China, Lithuania, and Estonia. Prance has also committed to join. The 27-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group has just agreed to establish a multilateral regime to control exports of “dual-use” technologies, technology and equipment which could be used to develop or produce nuclear explosive devices as well as for peaceful purposes. Despite this progress, Jam firmly committed to seeing that much more is done to reduce the danger of nuclear proliferation.

ACT: Do you believe that the global trade in conventional weapons should be restrained, and if so, how would you pursue that goal?

George Bush: Yes I do. That applies especially to conventional arms transfers that fuel offensive military ambitions or destabilize regional balances. To that end, the United States cosponsored the U.N. resolution to create a global arms transfer registry which would provide the openness and transparency to expose emerging imbalances before they become critical.

Further, through my Middle East arms control initiative the five leading suppliers of conventional arms to that troubled region—the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China—have agreed to observe common guidelines of restraint and to exchange information about arms sales.

The most effective restraint against destabilizing arms buildups is a government’s sense of security within its own borders. Arms transfer freezes artificially imposed from the outside can undermine that sense of security. Indeed, U.S. arms transfers are designed to enhance the security of our friends and allies while promoting regional stability. They do so in several ways: by deterring aggression against friends and allies, by reducing the likelihood that U.S. forces will have to be employed directly in regional contingencies, and by increasing the ability of U.S. forces to operate jointly with regional forces—a key element to the success of the coalition forces in the Gulf War.

ACT: What would your approach to the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) and the Antiballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty be?

George Bush: In my State of the Union speech last year, I outlined a new direction for the Strategic Defense Initiative, to develop Global Protection Against Limited Strikes (GPALS). This new concept was designed to respond to significant changes in the strategic environment—a receding Soviet threat combined with the increasing threat of missile proliferation—as well as to the enduring requirement to protect the United States, our allies, and our forces overseas from accidental, unauthorized, or rogue nation ballistic missile attacks.

The system we seek to deploy has three elements: ground- based interceptors to protect the United States; theater defenses to defend our forward deployed forces and our allies; and global space-based sensors and interceptors, to provide the worldwide and layered defenses necessary to protect against even limited attacks.

In late January 1992, Russian President Boris Yeltsin proposed that the United States and Russia cooperate in the area of global defense against limited ballistic missile attack. This landmark departure from previous Soviet policy offers the promise of real cooperation with the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union as well as with our allies in ballistic missile early warning and protection.

ACT: Do you support a comprehensive ban on nuclear testing, or other testing limits?

George Bush: My administration remains committed to a step-by-step process for further limits on nuclear testing. The amount of nuclear testing we conduct has been steadily going down. Moreover, the nuclear initiatives that I announced last September and in this year’s State of the Union message will reduce the size and nature of the U.S. nuclear deployment worldwide, to make it smaller, safer, and more stable. Those changes in our nuclear forces could have some impact on our nuclear testing program.
Nevertheless, nuclear deterrence continues to play a critical role in U.S. national security strategy. As we reduce our nuclear deterrent, we must ensure that it remains credible and safe. The United States tests only as clearly required for our security and to ensure the reliability; safety, security, and survivability of our nuclear deterrent.

My State of the Union proposals and the implementation of my September nuclear initiative, including the safe and secure dismantlement of the nuclear weapons to be eliminated, remain my highest priorities in the area of bilateral nuclear arms control. These extraordinary moves to reduce and better control nuclear stockpiles deserve our closest attention.

ACT: What role should the United Nations play in dealing with regional conflicts and regional arms control?

George Bush: The United Nations has a vital role to play in supplementing regional efforts to maintain regional peace and security. The past few years have seen a growth in this role in settling regional conflicts, as parties or regional organizations turn to the experience and capability of the United Nations. U.N. missions in Namibia and Nicaragua helped create the conditions for free and fair elections and the establishment of democracy. Coalition action authorized by the United Nations liberated Kuwait, and the United Nations is destroying Iraq’s ability to destabilize and threaten its neighbors. We have high hopes that new U.N. missions in El Salvador, Cambodia, and Yugoslavia will bring peace to these lands racked by civil war

The United Nations can also play an important role in regional arms control. We believe that the United Nations can usefully act as an information repository, as with the U.N. regional disarmament centers and the recently established U.N. Register of Conventional Arms.

ACT: Are there other major arms control priorities that you would pursue?

George Bush: A major priority of my administration has been the conclusion of a total ban on chemical weapons, an effort I have been pressing personally for years. We have taken bold, positive steps to renounce the use of chemical weapons for any reason, including retaliation, and to commit unconditionally to the destruction of all our chemical weapons, as a spur to persuading the world to sign up now to a total ban. American leadership is making this ambitious goal achievable, and I am hopeful that we will see a convention concluded this year.

We have been equally vigorous in trying to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention’s (BWC) prohibitions on those terrible weapons. At a conference to review progress in achieving the BWC’s goal last fall, the United States was successful in achieving agreement to a number of proposals to increase adherence to the BWC and make its measures more effective. We continue to press the international community to do everything practicable to shore up this vital international standard.
I am proud of the role this country plays in leading the fight against these weapons of terror, as well as against the spread of nuclear weapons and missiles. We will give the highest priority and put increased emphasis into global efforts to reduce and control proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.