The Candidates on Nonproliferation – Part 1

By Greg Mercer

I initially set out to write this as a candidate-by-candidate look at what the 2016 crop had to say about an issue near and dear to Biodefense students’ hearts: nonproliferation.  As it turns out, though, not many candidates have well-developed stances on highly specific policy issues (or any issues, depending on how serious a candidate we’re talking about) more than a year from the general election.  Lucky for us though, there’s been a major nonproliferation news event to drive the foreign policy debate: the Iran nuclear deal.  So this is a rundown of what’s been said and being said about nonproliferation and WMD policy in the 2016 election.

So over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to take a look at what the 2016 election looks like for nonproliferation.  I’m learning a lot about the way candidate’s structure their websites.  And no, I don’t want to donate.

I’ll start first with the Republicans.  There are 15 of them right now (plus a handful of fringe/joke candidates).  Some of them have extensive platforms, others don’t.  Most of them don’t have much to say about nonproliferation.  Fair.  But the Republican Party is unified, though, in its stern opposition to the Iran nuclear deal, as evidenced by the recent attempt to block the deal in Congress.  What the candidates think about nonproliferation is also likely a function of the faith they place in the UN and international institutions.  Those who trust those mechanisms will probably push treaties as the best counterproliferation tool.  Those who don’t will probably call for strong deterrence.


Marco Rubio: 

Marco Rubio lumps defense and foreign policy together in this video staged to look like an interview, where he says that he aims not to make America popular, but safe, and pledges to rebuild the military.  He doesn’t talk about deterrence or proliferation in that video, but he does devote two entire sections of his “Issues” page to the Iran deal, and he alludes to nuclear proliferation in his hour-long talk at the Council on Foreign Relations (helpfully, the website provided a transcript): “The president’s proposed deal with Tehran will likely lead to a cascade of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and could force Israel to take bold action to defend itself, making war with Iran even more likely.”  This interesting statement links the Iran deal with going to war with Iran (backing up Israel in an all-out war is a foregone conclusion, it seems).  Huh.

It’s safe to say Marco Rubio is anti-Iran deal, but right now he hasn’t spoken extensively about nonproliferation efforts beyond advocating for American strength in the international community.


Jeb Bush:

Thanks to some name association, Jeb Bush tends to get asked about the Iraq War frequently.  The war did have quite a lot to do with nonproliferation, given the controversy (at the time) of whether or not Saddam Hussein possessed or was attempting to develop weapons of mass destruction.  Jeb has praised his brother’s actions (although he’s said that “knowing what we know now,” he would not have gone into Iraq).  Jeb is still thinking about Iraq, because his defense issues section is titled “Defeating ISIS.”  Fair enough; that’s pretty direct and avoids Marco Rubio’s blog-like setup that made me comb through three different pages.  (I think the content of the page was cobbled together from a few different sources because it switches back and forth between “ISIS” and “Islamic State,” and if you’ve read me before you’ll know that’s fascinating to me.)  On this issue page, Jeb links the Iran nuclear deal with Iran’s support for Assad and Hezbollah, and more or less explicitly promises to dismantle the deal, if elected.  He doesn’t have much else to say about nonproliferation.


Ted Cruz:

Ted Cruz’s website offers “proven record” sections instead of “issues” pages.  While they’re mostly bullet points on things he’s said in the past, it’s not a recycled speech so that’s nice.  Among the ways Cruz plans to create a “stronger, safer America,” Cruz specifically notes his opposition to the Iran deal.  Cruz also links ending sanctions with locking in military action as the only way to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and calls on all of the candidates to promise to repudiate the deal.  So far, that’s not a controversial stance among Republicans.  He’s also agreed that the Iraq War was a “mistake.”  Cruz has little else to say about nonproliferation, but he’s taken a stance on another interesting biodefense issue: He authored legislation to give military service members deployed to provide aid during the 2014 Ebola outbreak the same tax benefits that service members in combat zones receive.  So far, both the House and Senate versions of this bill have only been referred to their respective committees, but it’s an interesting point that hasn’t seen too much discussion.

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