On the Button: Talking nuclear policy with GOP candidate McCain


First, my apologies to all of the loyal readers out there who have missed their substantive discussion on the issues of the 2008 race for the presidency.  Yours truly has been swamped with work from his various other functions here at your friendly neighborhood public service broadcasting company and with campaigns slowing down a little, I haven’t been updating this blog as often as I’d like.

My hope is to get back into it with the ferocity, snark, tenaciousness and links, links and more links, that you’ve come to know and love.

So welcome back to my dozen or so readers.  Buckle up and get ready for the ride.  And remember – Pennsylvania is shaping up to be quite a battleground for November so WHYY – its reporters and its entire community – will be well positioned to bring you some decent firsthand accounts of the candidates and their many, many visits.

Introducing a new feature here at Y-Decide 2008: One The Button – Your guide to the foreign and national defense policies of the candidates for president.

In our first episode we bring you a bit from last week about John McCain’s foreign policy from the New York Times’ political blog, The Caucus:

At a speech in Denver he shared the broad outlines of his nuclear security policy, including his intention to rewrite an arms control agreement with Russia to “reduce our nuclear forces to the lowest level we judge necessary.” The Times’s Elisabeth Bumiller notes that Mr. McCain’s speech served a dual purpose: to distance himself from the Bush administration on its approach to Russia and nuclear weapons and to establish himself as a more experienced candidate on national security issues compared to Democratic Senator Barack Obama.

One point on which Senators McCain and Obama as well as Hillary Rodham Clinton all agree is the need to bring “peace and security” to the troubled Darfur region of Sudan. The three candidates signed a joint statement to be released today by the Save Darfur Coalition.

It appears that McCain is seeking to tone down the cowboy rhetoric that he found it necessary to use while he was campaigning for the Republican nomination (ie Bomb Iran, etc.).

From the left, we get plenty of responses as to whether McCain’s policies actually fit with his stated goal of seeing nuclear weapons “banished from the face of the earth.”

William Hartung at the TPMCafe separates the rhetoric from the policy:

For starters, it is clear that McCain’s “dream” of a nuclear free world is a distant one. Before embracing Reagan’s vision, he spoke in much more limited terms, of “a world in which there are far fewer such weapons than there are today.”

McCain stuck with his tough talk about North Korea and Iran — including the suggestion that “the use of force may be necessary,” if only as a last resort — in ending Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

McCain endorsed a new arms treaty with Russia, but failed to explain how his plans to exclude Moscow from attending meetings of the G-8 group of industrialized nations and to deploy missile defense components in Poland and the Czech Republic would set the groundwork for such discussions, rather than just antagonizing Russia to the point that its leadership won’t want to negotiate any major deals with Washington.

McCain seemed to soften his opposition to a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty, a measure he voted against in the Senate in 1999; but he clung to the opponent’s rhetoric about its “shortcomings.”

McCain also endorsed the U.S.-India nuclear deal, a civilian technology sharing arrangement that could free up energy and resources for India to expand its nuclear weapons program, even as it undermines the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and gives countries like Iran the ability to talk about Washington’s double standards when it comes to nuclear development.

Positive elements of the McCain plan include seeking a cutoff on the production of new fissile materials (plutonium or enriched uranium that can be used to make nuclear weapons), and for some sort of verification regime to monitor U.S. and Russian nuclear forces akin to that established under the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which runs out in 2009.

So, McCain’s nuclear posture is a decidely mixed bag.

If Hollywood has taught us anything, it’s that any nuclear disarmament policy that doesn’t include putting all of the world’s nuclear missiles into a giant net and hammer tossing that bundle into the sun is just a lot of talk.


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