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May 27, 2008

McCain’s Nonproliferation Policy—It’s a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
Posted by The Editors

Our guest poster, Jon Wolfsthal is one of the best non-proliferation experts out there.  Here is his reaction to Senator McCain's speech today.

John McCain’s speech on nuclear weapons seems to adopt the narrowest of lenses in dealing with nuclear weapons.  Moreover, his proposals – many of which might sound good – don’t match up with other things he has said on nuclear weapons, on Russia, on Iran and suggests he doesn’t really get the complexity of these issues.  Lastly, the tone may be better, but many of the proposals—not to mention his language choices—are right out of George W. Bush’s play book.  This may be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but it is still a wolf.

  1. He wants to work with Russia on arms control and tactical nuclear weapons, but he also wants to kick Russia out of the G-8.  Not sure how you get them to play nice on nukes after you kick them in the teeth.  Also, Bush adopted a loose standard on counting nuclear weapons and verification.  Will McCain (who is now working with John Bolton – father of Bush arms control dogma) be any better?
  2. I applaud his desire to get tactical nuclear weapons out of Europe, but if we pull nuclear weapons out of Turkey as Iran advances its nuclear program, they are not going to have increased confidence in NATO and the US.  This speech, and the references to it, will send shock waves through Europe and and a McCain Administration would start in a hole.
  3. He does not walk away from the new “reliable replacement warhead” being pitched by the Bush administration.  Lots of wiggle room for him, left there on purpose, I would guess.
  4. Why is only the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) going to review nuclear policy?  Where are the experts on nonproliferation, diplomacy, history, etc?  This is the same line the Bush administration gave.  In May of 2000, standing in front of Secretary Kissinger and other republican heavy-weights, then-candidate Bush said he would reduce nuclear weapons to the lowest number consistent with U.S. security.  Sound familiar?  McCain’s statement is almost an exact quote.  The JCS has set the current floor on reductions.  The President sets the war guidance for the level of nuclear weapons, and leaving it to the JCS is a recipe for the status quo.
  5. Did anyone else notice that McCain did not repudiate the policy of regime change? I know why Iran and North Korea want nuclear weapons.  Reducing ours will not get them to change their course.  Of course, singing “bomb bomb Iran” to the tune of “Barbara Ann” won’t do it either.  Is McCain really suggesting cutting our nukes will lead others to reduce theirs?  It’s the broader policy that needs changing, not just the number of nukes.
  6. Coming out of left field (or from pander-ville) is the remark about international nuclear storage.  It is possible that Russia might build a storage facility for countries in East Asia, but McCain seems to be suggesting some other country is going to accept our huge (the world’s largest) stock of spent fuel and that this might be a way to avoid opening the spent fuel repository in Yucca Mountain, Nevada.  Talk about pandering.  Who does he think is going to take our nuclear waste?  Even if someone would take it off our hands, the stuff contains about 100,000 weapons worth of plutonium that must be dealt with.  Does McCain really want to export that to a country poor enough to want into the nuclear waste storage business?
  7. Either you are for the ban on nuclear testing or you are not.  The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is the most studied arms control agreement in history.  It has been verifiable since the 1960s.  McCain voted against it.  To play the “let’s study it again” dance is too cute by half.  If the President does not support it, it is not going to happen.  Also, McCain seems to be suggesting we should re-open the agreement for new modifications.  That is the fastest way to kill it.  He also talks about limiting testing.  We want to ban testing.  We have more nuclear expertise than anyone – why we would want to make the world safe for others to test nuclear weapons is unclear.  Obama and Clinton have said they are for the CTBT and plan to fight for its ratification.  McCain has not.  The rest of the world – including the states we need on our side to deal with Iran and North Korea – are embarrassed that we have not ratified it.

McCain’s speech is a feeble attempt to try to tie all Republicans and Democrats into the failures of the Bush administration nuclear policies.  Before 2000, the US was on the right track.  The regime needed work, but was sound – more states had given up nuclear weapons and weapon programs in the 1980s and 90s than had begun them.  Now that track record lies in ashes – because of the Bush Administration approach, backed by a Republican Congress that killed the CTBT and sought to restrict funding for nuclear security efforts during 2000-2004. McCain is promising more of the same.


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I believe that McCain's position on kicking the Russians out of the G-8 and building the missile defense system in Eastern Europe will only make the Russian expand their nuclear arsenal because nuclear weapons are much cheaper than conventional forces. Also I wonder how McCain's harsh policies towards Russia will play with the French and the Germans, who dependent on Russian oil and markets for economic growth. As with the Indian-Russian relationship, McCain does not realize how close other nations are towards Russia and it is the US position on expanding NATO. kicking Russia out of the G-8, or creating a new alliance of democracies, that is out of sync with reality.

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