Campaign 2004: The Politics of Arms Control

2004 Presidential Election Special Section

Miles Pomper

In the 2000 U.S. presidential election between Governor George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore, discussions of arms control, nonproliferation, and foreign policy were rare as the candidates chose to focus on domestic issues.

Yet, George W. Bush’s first term as president has been dominated by momentous foreign policy and arms control events from the September 11 terrorist attacks to nuclear crises with North Korea and Iran and perhaps, most centrally, the war with Iraq—the first war launched with the declared goal of ending a country’s efforts to develop and use weapons of mass destruction.

So, as the 2004 presidential elections approach, a serious debate has broken out on the campaign trail about the appropriate role for arms control policies in U.S. national security, particularly when it comes to reducing the threat of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons.

Bush and each of his potential Democratic challengers have written or spoken in detail on such issues as how the United States should reduce the threat of weapons of mass destruction, the best approach to negotiating with North Korea, and the value of researching a potential new generation of nuclear weapons.

Indeed, arms control issues may well take on a significance not witnessed since the 1964 re-election campaign of President Lyndon Johnson. To highlight Senator Barry Goldwater’s hawkish views, Johnson ran the famous “Daisy” television advertisement showing a young girl picking daisies amidst the countdown to nuclear war.

Nevertheless, these issues and the 2004 candidates’ positions on them are not widely known or understood by the public or the commentators who will be covering the race. Given our long-term commitment to public education, as well as the current importance of these issues, this edition of Arms Control Today includes special coverage and reporting on the politics of arms control in 2004.

In this section, Alton Frye, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, analyzes the role that arms control issues are likely to play in the 2004 presidential election. In addition, led by Managing Editor Karen Yourish, our staff has pulled together summary profiles of Bush and the Democratic contenders that outline their views on arms control and nonproliferation issues. The profiles are based on extensive research of the candidates’ records and public statements, as well as background interviews with their key foreign policy advisers.