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"The Arms Control Association’s work is an important resource to legislators and policymakers when contemplating a new policy direction or decision."

– General John Shalikashvili
former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Presidential Election Forum: The Candidates on Arms Control

Since 1976, Arms Control Today has offered presidential candidates an opportunity to articulate their views on arms control and security issues by responding to an Arms Control Association questionnaire. In this issue, ACT presents its seventh candidates forum, featuring the Republican nominee, Texas Governor George W. Bush, and the Democratic nominee, Vice President Al Gore.

Arms control has emerged as a front-page issue in this year's campaign, and with President Bill Clinton's September 1 announcement that he would defer a deployment decision on missile defense to the next administration, the 2000 election has taken on even greater significance.

The next president will face crucial security choices, not only on national missile defense, but also about the future of arms control itself.

The following are the candidates' responses to the 12 questions posed by ACT.

ACT: Should the United States deploy a national missile defense (NMD), and what factors should influence the decision? If the United States does need an NMD, would you proceed with the proposed limited system, or would you change the program's architecture?

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

The Clinton-Gore administration at first denied the need for a national missile defense system. Then it delayed. Now the approach it proposes is flawed—a system initially based on a single site, when experts say that more is needed. A missile defense system should not only defend our country, it should defend our allies, with whom I will consult as we develop our plans.

Gore: I agree with the president's decision to defer the decision to deploy a national missile defense for the next administration. The United States faces the real possibility that countries such as North Korea or Iran will succeed in acquiring weapons of mass destruction [WMD] and ballistic missiles able to deliver these weapons at intercontinental range.

The limited national missile defense system which the Clinton-Gore administration has under development is meant to be deployed in a timely way and is explicitly designed to handle the type of threat that we could expect if our estimates are realized and we have to face a small number of deployed ICBMs with WMD warheads.

The president's decision allows time for additional testing of our NMD system. I welcome the opportunity to be more certain that these technologies actually work together properly. As the president said, there are 16 additional intercept tests already scheduled. One could decide to proceed with deployment at any point along that process, once fully convinced that the technologies are ready.

ACT: Are you prepared to go ahead with an NMD that violates the ABM Treaty without Russian agreement on amendments? Should the United States consider Russian President Vladimir Putin's proposal for cooperation on a limited missile defense to counter the threat from so-called rogue states?

Bush: If elected president, I will offer Russia the necessary amendments to the ABM Treaty so as to make our deployment of effective missile defenses consistent with the treaty. Both sides know that we live in a different world from 1972, when that treaty was signed. If Russia refuses the changes we propose, I will give prompt notice, under the provisions of the treaty, that the United States can no longer be a party to it.

President Putin's suggestion regarding U.S.-Russian cooperation in the area of missile defense was encouraging because it was an acknowledgment of the need for missile defenses. We should give President Putin the benefit of the doubt, and his proposal may be an opening for discussion. Under the mutual threat of rogue nations, there is a real possibility the Russians could join with us and our friends and allies to cooperate on missile defense systems. But there is a condition. Russia must break its dangerous habit of proliferation.

Gore: I would be prepared to work hard to persuade the government of the Russian Federation to modify the ABM Treaty. And I would also look for very creative approaches for joint U.S.-Russian responses to a threat that can be aimed at either one or both of us.

But, at the end of the day, I would not be prepared to let Russian opposition to this system stand in the way of its deployment if I should conclude that the technologies are mature enough to deploy and are both affordable and needed. I would also work to persuade the Chinese that a U.S. NMD system is not intended to threaten them and to allay the concerns of our allies.

ACT: Do developments in North Korea (e.g., the North-South Korean summit, North Korea's reaffirmation of its moratorium on the testing of longer-range missiles, and its apparent willingness to give up its missile program altogether in exchange for financial and technological assistance) open the door for a diplomatic resolution to the North Korean missile threat; and, if successful, how would such a resolution affect U.S. missile defense plans?

Bush: Developments at the summit between the leaders of the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea were encouraging. The summit did not resolve critical security issues—such as Pyongyang's massive conventional threat to the Republic of Korea and American troops stationed there, or North Korea's nuclear program and its development and export of ballistic missiles. But the apparent moves toward greater openness by the communist leadership in Pyongyang represent a major success for [South Korean President] Kim Dae Jung and the people of South Korea. It will be important to watch closely whether North Korea follows through on its promises.

Gore: I am hopeful that the recent summit between the North and South Koreans is the beginning of a process of reconciliation that will bring freedom, economic prosperity, and eventually a reunification on terms that spread economic and political and religious freedom throughout the peninsula. If that happens, it will have a profound impact on the role that North Korea now plays in the debate over nuclear weaponry.

It is possible that North Korea will at some point change their intentions and remove this threat. We should be alert to such possibilities, but they are not in our grasp at this moment.

ACT: What arms control policy should the United States have toward China? Should a U.S. national missile defense be designed to counter China's strategic missiles in addition to those of the rogue states, and if not, how would you convince China of this so as to avoid an arms buildup by Beijing and loss of its cooperation on other arms control matters, including non-proliferation?

Bush: Russia, our allies, and other nations of the world—including China—need to understand our intentions. America's development of missile defenses is a search for security, not a search for advantage. The Cold War era is history. Our nation must recognize new threats, not fixate on old ones. On the issue of nuclear weapons, the United States has an opportunity to lead to a safer world—both to defend against nuclear threats and reduce nuclear tensions. It is possible to build a missile defense and defuse confrontation. America should do both.

Gore: The limited NMD architecture we are developing is not intended to threaten China. We need to continue to build a strategic dialogue with China to address their concerns. Over the last eight years, the Clinton-Gore administration has worked with China to address proliferation concerns. The administration won an agreement from China in May 1996 to stop all assistance to non-safeguarded nuclear programs and strengthen China's nuclear export control system. In September 1997, China agreed to halt its nuclear cooperation with Iran. In 1998, the administration secured China's pledge to further strengthen its export regime for dual-use chemicals and related production equipment. The administration also worked successfully to secure China's signature of the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993 and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996. If elected president, I will build upon these efforts and work with China where possible to advance our non-proliferation and arms control goals.

ACT: Do you agree with the intelligence community's assessment that the United States is "more likely to be attacked with weapons of mass destruction from non-missile delivery means (most likely from non-state entities) than by missiles"? If so, how do you propose to defend against these threats?

Bush: The protection of America itself will assume a high priority in a new century. Once a strategic afterthought, homeland defense has become an urgent duty. For most of our history, America felt safe behind two great oceans. But with the spread of technology, distance no longer means security. North Korea is proving that even a poor and backward country, in the hands of a tyrant, can reach across oceans to threaten us. Iran has made rapid strides in its missile program, and Iraq persists in a race to do the same. Add to this the threat of biological, chemical, and nuclear terrorism—barbarism emboldened by technology. These weapons can be delivered, not just by ballistic missiles, but by everything from airplanes to cruise missiles, from shipping containers to suitcases. There is also the prospect of information warfare, in which hacker terrorists may try to disrupt finance, communication, transportation, and public health.

Our first line of defense is a simple message: Every group or nation must know, if they sponsor such attacks, our response will be devastating. But we must do more. At the earliest possible date, my administration will deploy anti-ballistic missile systems, both theater and national, to guard against attack and blackmail.

We will defend the American homeland by strengthening our intelligence community—focusing on human intelligence and the early detection of terrorist operations both here and abroad. And when direct threats to America are discovered, I know that the best defense can be a strong and swift offense—including the use of Special Operations Forces and long-range strike capabilities.

And there is more to be done preparing here at home. I will put a high priority on detecting and responding to terrorism on our soil. The federal government must take this threat seriously—working closely with researchers and industry to increase surveillance and develop treatments for chemical and biological agents.

Gore: As a matter of policy, we should continue our efforts to develop a national missile defense to protect the United States from a small-scale ballistic missile attack. We should also work to block all of the avenues of attack involving weapons of mass destruction. That certainly applies to terrorism. Under the Clinton-Gore administration, annual funding for the FBI's counterterrorism program has grown significantly from $78.5 million in 1993 to $301.2 million in 1999. Last year, the administration unveiled a comprehensive plan to safeguard Americans from the threat of terrorism. We must combine strengthened law enforcement efforts, intelligence efforts, and vigorous diplomacy with a willingness to use military force when necessary to combat terrorism.

Countering WMD terrorism requires disrupting terrorist networks before they are ready to attack. It also means tightening and upgrading airport and border security. We must also improve coordination internationally and domestically to share intelligence and develop operational plans. We must follow a comprehensive national strategy that will involve all arms and levels of our government working together. We should continue to target the sources of terrorist financing and dismantle their support operations and infrastructure. We should also utilize diplomatic pressure to isolate nations harboring terrorists.

ACT: Should the United States pursue further strategic reductions in its arsenal and those of the other nuclear-weapon states through negotiated agreements or unilateral reductions? What level of strategic nuclear warheads do you believe the United States should seek by the end of the decade?

Bush: America should rethink the requirements for nuclear deterrence in a new security environment. The premises of Cold War nuclear targeting should no longer dictate the size of our arsenal. As president, I will ask the secretary of defense to conduct an assessment of our nuclear force posture and determine how best to meet our security needs. While the exact number of weapons can come only from such an assessment, I will pursue the lowest possible number consistent with our national security. It should be possible to reduce the number of American nuclear weapons significantly further than what has already been agreed to under START II, without compromising our security in any way. We should not keep weapons that our military planners do not need. These unneeded weapons are the expensive relics of dead conflicts. And they do nothing to make us more secure.

In addition, the United States should remove as many weapons as possible from high-alert, hair-trigger status—another unnecessary vestige of Cold War confrontation. Preparation for quick launch—within minutes after warning of an attack—was the rule during the era of superpower rivalry. But today, for two nations at peace, keeping so many weapons on high alert may create unacceptable risks of accidental or unauthorized launch. So, as president, I will ask for an assessment of what we can safely do to lower the alert status of our forces.

These changes to our forces should not require years and years of detailed arms control negotiations. There is a precedent that proves the power of leadership. In 1991, the United States invited the Soviet Union to join it in removing tactical nuclear weapons from the arsenal. Huge reductions were achieved in a matter of months, making the world much safer, more quickly.

Similarly, in the area of strategic nuclear weapons, we should invite the Russian government to accept the new vision I have outlined, and act on it. But the United States should be prepared to lead by example, because it is in our best interest and the best interest of the world. This would be an act of principled leadership—a chance to seize the moment and begin a new era of nuclear security, a new era of cooperation on proliferation and nuclear safety.

Gore: As president, I would aim for another round of deep negotiated reductions to levels agreed between the United States and Russia at the Helsinki summit. If the Russians wish to reduce unilaterally below that level for economic reasons, they certainly can and should. But for the United States to go lower requires a thorough re-examination of the official nuclear doctrine which to this point guides our military in its planning. As president, I would initiate such a review and engage deeply in the process.

ACT: What is your position on the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT)? If the treaty is not ratified, should the United States continue the current testing moratorium?

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

Gore: I believe the Senate's rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty last year was an act of massive irresponsibility damaging to the security interests of the United States, and if elected president, I will immediately revive the ratification process and seek to rally the full force of American public opinion behind it.

ACT: Does the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) remain important to U.S. national security, and if so, what priority should be given to sustaining it? What new steps would you take to reduce the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery vehicles?

Bush: If elected president, one of my highest foreign policy priorities will be to check the contagious spread of weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. We must work to constrict the supply of nuclear materials and the means to deliver them by making this a priority with Russia and China. Our nation must cut off the demand for nuclear weapons by addressing the security concerns of those who renounce these weapons. And our nation must diminish the evil attraction of these weapons for rogue states by rendering them useless with missile defense.

With regard to Russia, both our nations face a changed world. Instead of confronting each other, we confront the legacy of a dead ideological rivalry—thousands of nuclear weapons, which, in the case of Russia, may not be secure. And together we also face an emerging threat—from rogue nations, nuclear theft, and accidental launch. All this requires nothing short of a new strategic relationship to protect the peace of the world.

In an act of foresight and statesmanship, Senator Richard Lugar and Senator Sam Nunn realized that existing Russian nuclear facilities were in danger of being compromised. Under the Nunn-Lugar program, security at many Russian nuclear facilities has been improved and warheads have been destroyed. Even so, the Energy Department warns us that our estimates of Russian nuclear stockpiles could be off by as much as 30 percent. In other words, a great deal of Russian nuclear material cannot be accounted for. The next president must press for an accurate inventory of all this material. And we must do more. I'll ask the Congress to increase substantially our assistance to dismantle as many of Russia's weapons as possible, as quickly as possible.

Gore: The NPT is a pillar of our global arms control and non-proliferation efforts. Recognizing its importance, in 1995, I worked to forge an international consensus for a permanent extension of the treaty. Although commitment to the NPT regime is nearly universal, there are steps we can take to strengthen the NPT and to contribute to our non-proliferation goals. We can work toward universal adherence to the NPT and convince states who have not yet acceded to the treaty to do so. We should strengthen the International Atomic Energy Agency's safeguards system. Another priority must be to ratify the CTBT and see that it enters into force. We should also enhance compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention and begin negotiations on a fissile material cutoff treaty. This administration has pursued an aggressive arms control and non-proliferation agenda. In the former Soviet Union, the U.S. has helped deactivate 5,000 nuclear weapons through the Cooperative Threat Reduction program and other initiatives. I am committed to continuing this work and to diminishing the threat of weapons of mass destruction by cutting stockpiles and ensuring that weapons and weapons-grade material do not fall into the wrong hands.

ACT: How should the United States deal with Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and missile programs?

Bush: It is important for the United States and our allies to keep the pressure on Saddam Hussein. We must insist that Iraq comply with the cease-fire arrangement agreed to at the end of the Persian Gulf War. I am very concerned that Saddam Hussein has not been held to the terms of the arrangement. If elected president, I would not ease the current sanctions on Iraq and would continue to insist that inspectors be allowed into the country. I would be helping Iraqi opposition groups. And if I found that Saddam Hussein was in any way, shape, or form building weapons of mass destruction, I would take them out.

Gore: By maintaining United Nations sanctions on Iraq for eight years, the Clinton-Gore administration has worked to prevent Saddam Hussein from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. A Gore-Lieberman administration will work for the resumption of arms inspections in Iraq and to ensure that they are credible and effective. We should maintain comprehensive international pressure on Saddam Hussein until Iraq complies with all relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

ACT: Should the United States try to roll back India's and Pakistan's nuclear capabilities, or should it simply seek to stabilize the nuclear balance in South Asia? How would you implement your policy?

Bush: I've said that our nation should continue its moratorium on testing. America must make it clear that we expect India and Pakistan to refrain from testing as well. It will take leadership by the United States and its friends and allies to help reduce tensions between India and Pakistan and pursue steps to prevent nuclear conflict between the two nations. This coming century will see democratic India's arrival as a force in the world. India is now debating its future and its strategic path, and the United States must pay it more attention. We should work with the Indian government, ensuring it is a force for stability and security in Asia. This should not undermine our longstanding relationship with Pakistan, which remains crucial to the peace of the region.

Gore: India's and Pakistan's 1998 tests were a great source of international concern and a reminder that nuclear non-proliferation in South Asia poses a continuing challenge. Cognizant of regional dynamics and insecurities, we should work with India and Pakistan to guard against a nuclear arms race on the subcontinent. We must persuade them to join the NPT regime and sign the CTBT. A Gore administration will seek to convince India and Pakistan to refrain from weaponization or deployment of nuclear weapons, testing or deploying missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, and further production of fissile material for nuclear weapons purposes.

ACT: With the "globalization" of the defense industry, how would your administration ensure that U.S. national security interests take priority over commercial interests in the export of weapons systems?

Bush: First and foremost, we must strengthen America's intelligence and counterintelligence capabilities to staunch the theft of sensitive military technology at home and identify threats abroad before they arise. The United States must also lead its allies in establishing new, binding rules to prevent the export of sensitive military technology. America must no longer be alone in keeping dangerous technologies and products away from those who do not wish us well.

Gore: Exports of weapons technology or systems should be governed by considerations related to proliferation concerns and a review of threats to our security. We have and will continue to promote responsible arms and technology transfers.

ACT: In general, what is the role of arms control as the world enters the new millennium? What would be the arms control priorities of your administration?

Bush: When it comes to nuclear weapons, the world has changed faster than U.S. policy. The emerging security threats to the United States, to its friends and allies, and even to Russia now come from rogue states, terrorist groups, and other adversaries seeking weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. Threats also come from insecure nuclear stockpiles and the proliferation of dangerous technologies. Russia itself is no longer our enemy. The Cold War logic that led to the creation of massive stockpiles on both sides is now outdated. Our mutual security need no longer depend on a nuclear balance of terror.

While deterrence remains the first line of defense against nuclear attack, the standoff of the Cold War was born of a different time. That was a time when our arsenal also served to check the conventional superiority of the Warsaw Pact. Then, the Soviet Union's power reached deep into the heart of Europe—to Berlin, Warsaw, Budapest, and Prague. Today, these are the capitals of NATO countries. Yet almost a decade after the end of the Cold War, our nuclear policy still resides in that already distant past. The Clinton-Gore administration has had over seven years to bring the U.S. force posture into the post-Cold War world. Instead, they remain locked in a Cold War mentality. It is time to leave the Cold War behind and defend against the new threats of the 21st century.

Gore: Arms control is critical to our national security and will continue to be into the future. The most important arms control priority will be to seek further deep reductions in nuclear weapons with the Russian Federation. My administration will work to secure ratification and entry into force of the CTBT. We will implement an international regime to strengthen compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention. We will also seek to negotiate a fissile material cutoff treaty.