The Candidates on Nonproliferation – Part 3
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 is being said about nonproliferation and WMD policy in the 2016 election.
I’m spending even more time on campaign sites to see what the 2016 election looks like for nonproliferation.
This time, I’ll take a look at top Democrat contenders. In contrast to the Republicans, most Democrats support the Iran deal, and generally tend to favor international arms control regimes.
In the Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton named loose nukes among the paramount threats to the US. This issue is commonly understood to hinge on loose radiological material from the former Soviet Union (which is notoriously poorly controlled) and other states maintaining poor control of their nuclear weapons. The Associated Press recently released an investigation into the Moldovan nuclear black market and Islamic extremists. She has also strongly endorsed the Iran deal, and has a unique role in the debate, having helped to implement sanctions and launch negotiations with Iran as former Secretary of State. The Politico story linked notes that she was more hawkish than Obama on Iran in the past. (Her support of the Iraq War in Congress has been a recurring talking point for opponents). Now, though, their views seem to be pretty closely aligned. Hillary’s national security issues page also leans heavily on her experience at the State Department (in addition to being pretty relentlessly on-brand). Among the usual issues- ISIS, Russia, Israel, the Iran deal- is a very interesting one: “Highly contagious diseases are a constant threat. Warmer and drier conditions caused by global climate change, along with our increasingly interconnected world, enable germs to spread more quickly across the globe. America must remain vigilant and do more to prevent and contain outbreaks.” This is an uncommonly specific stance, and is placed alongside cyberattacks and climate change to make up an emerging threats triumvirate. So far, though, there hasn’t been much elaboration on actual policy options to combat this threat, or what makes it a defense issue versus, say, an international development one.
In 2009, Bernie Sanders echoed President Obama’s call for “a world without nuclear weapons.” While this obviously hasn’t happened, Sanders released a statement calling for an end to the production of weapons-grade uranium and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons. In March of 2015, Sanders cosponsored a bill to reduce American spending on nuclear weapons by $100 billion over 10 years (in grand Congressional naming convention, the Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditures Act, aka SANE). A House and Senate version have been introduced, but are part of a much larger budget fight. Sanders’ issues page supports the Iran deal, though it interestingly says the “agreement is not perfect,” but ultimately concludes that it is a far superior option to military action. As usual, Sanders officially gives his support to Obama and Secretary of State Kerry’s negotiations. This page also does the thing where a first-person snippet introduces a long set of third-person position statements, but the personal statement highlights Sanders’ votes against the first and second Gulf Wars. This casts him pretty clearly as anti-military intervention to prevent proliferation, but with the caveat that it remains an option. There is also a separate, editorial-style section on just the Iran Deal, which offers more detail about uranium and centrifuge reductions. Once again, it calls war “the last option.” Much of Sanders’ campaign so far has hinged on economic and social issues, however, and he even said in the most recent debate that climate change is the most pressing national security threat. When looking for threats to security, Sanders mostly looks beyond weapons of mass destruction.
Martin O’Malley’s foreign policy issues page is a speech to the Truman National Security Project but at least there’s a transcript. O’Malley also waxes wonkish, specifically calling out two agencies: “What enhanced roles might institutions like the Defense Threat Reduction Agency or the Centers for Disease Control play in looking over the horizon—to alert us earlier to emerging threats?” He also mentions Ebola, but frames it as a development issue, linking epidemics with poverty- a contrast to Hillary’s casting it as a vaguely-defense issue (but mentions military and development teams in the same breath, implying the same convergence of development and defense issues we’ve seen in general). O’Malley also calls out nuclear proliferation as a threat to be stopped, and endorses negotiations with Iran. In an interesting, specific policy turn, he highlights the need for better human intelligence, part of an apparent strategy to highlight how the different parts of the foreign policy bureaucracy should, ideally, work together. O’Malley’s political history is mostly absent of debate on WMD and proliferation policy, as he’s worked mostly at the state and local level. This hasn’t stopped him from developing an issues-centric foreign policy platform, giving a laundry list of issues in Time, among them nonproliferation and pandemics.