“Do You Support Arms Control?” Questions for the Candidates

Congress has a lot of power when it comes to U.S. nuclear weapons policy – they decide to fund (or not to fund) things like new nuclear weapons programs, initiatives to help reduce the amount of nuclear weapons, missile defense programs, the list goes on and on.

To help you help us get the candidates talking about nuclear weapons-related issues, we’ve compiled a list of issues and questions to ask candidates and use when you interact with them.

You can also use these issues and questions when talking with the media, editorial boards, writing letters to the editor or submitting questions for debates.

1. Abolition of Nuclear Weapons

A January 2007 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State George Schultz, former Senator Sam Nunn and former Secretary of Defense William Perry called for a “world free of nuclear weapons� and urged the United States to lead an international effort to reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles. They argued for a multilateral, verifiable plan with strong enforcement mechanisms. They stated: “Nuclear weapons today present tremendous dangers, but also an historic opportunity. U.S. leadership will be required to take the world to the next stage -- to a solid consensus for reversing reliance on nuclear weapons globally as a vital contribution to preventing their proliferation into potentially dangerous hands, and ultimately ending them as a threat to the world.� Opponents of this position argue that in an uncertain world, the United States needs to maintain a large nuclear weapons force to deal with present threats.

Question: Do you support or oppose the Kissinger-Schultz-Nunn-Perry vision of moving toward a world free of nuclear weapons?

2. Nuclear Weapons Use

In 2002, the Bush administration completed a Nuclear Posture Review including possible first use of nuclear weapons against countries without nuclear weapons such as Syria, Libya, Iran and Iraq. The Review outlined scenarios in which nuclear weapons might be used in a confrontation between China and Taiwan or in a conflict on the Korean Peninsula. In March 2005, the Pentagon’s draft of the revised doctrine for the use of nuclear weapons specifically envisioned use of nuclear weapons to preempt an attack by a nation or a terrorist group planning to use weapons of mass destruction against the United States, its troops or its allies. Proponents of broadening the use of nuclear weapons argue that the United States must be more flexible with its use of military force, including nuclear weapons. Opponents argue that such a change in policy would risk blurring the line that has existed for 60 years between conventional and nuclear weapons and that the only conceivable use for nuclear weapons, in accordance with our international commitments, is to deter their use by another country.

Question: Do you support or oppose the first use of nuclear weapons?

3. Building a New Generation of Nuclear Weapons

The Bush Administration has requested funds for moving toward the production and perhaps testing of a new generation of nuclear weapons (the so-called Reliable Replacement Warhead). It claims that our nuclear weapons are old, not sufficiently reliable and not as safe as they could be. Opponents argue that research shows that the components in questions will remain reliable for at least the next 85 years. Opponents also argue that creating new weapons components could justify the resumption of nuclear testing. Such a development would encourage other nations to seek nuclear weapons.

Question: Do you support or oppose building a new generation of nuclear weapons?

4. National Missile Defense

The United States has spent more than $150 billion since anti missile efforts were first launched in the 1950’s, including $107 billion since the mid-1980s. No workable system has yet been produced. While some testing has been conducted, those tests have been thoroughly scripted and not held under battle simulated conditions. Russia has stated that it views attempts to install missile defense components in Eastern Europe as a threat to its security. Proponents argue that the the system will work eventually, and that relying on nuclear retaliation is Cold War thinking. Opponents argue that it makes little sense to spend billions for defenses that won’t work, don’t deal with the more likely threats from terrorists, and could be easily overcome by decoys and other counter measures. Other opponents believe that a missile defense umbrella could lead to the weaponization of space and an international nuclear arms race.

Question: Do you support or oppose the Bush plan to deploy a national missile defense?

Question: Would you continue to fund its research program, even if you oppose deployment at this time?

5. Cooperative Threat Reduction Program

In the former Soviet Union, there are huge stockpiles of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons that need to be consolidated, secured and accounted for, and destroyed. There is a real danger that these weapons or materials will fall into the hands of terrorists or be sold to other countries, groups or individuals. A number of non proliferation programs, including the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, frequently called Nunn Lugar after the two Senators who initiated it, have helped the former Soviet states to dismantle weapons, disband programs, safeguard remaining weapons and material, and prevent Russian weapons experts from working in other nations. In 2001, a commission headed by former Senator Howard Baker (R TN) and Lloyd Cutler proposed spending $3 billion annually for the next 10 years to guard against the proliferation of nuclear weapons and nuclear technology. Others have proposed increased funding to dismantle former Soviet chemical and biological capabilities. Critics balked at the cost arguing that as long as Russia continues to take actions of which we disapprove such as providing assistance to Iran, the U.S. should not pay for the Nunn Lugar program. The Bush Administration is funding all non-proliferation programs at a level of about $1.2 billion a year.

Question: Do you support a major increase in the program as several members of Congress have called for (consistent with the Baker- Cutler report* and other proposals) or do you favor funding the non proliferation programs at about existing levels of funding of $1.2 billion?

Question: OR, do you support cutting the funding for non proliferation programs all together?

6. Nuclear Weapons on Hair-Trigger Alert

Although the Cold War is long over, Russian and U.S. nuclear missiles remain on hair trigger alert aimed at each other for launching within a few minutes. This hair trigger alert heightens the risk of an accidental or unauthorized launch of thousands of nuclear weapons if a false alarm or order error is received at a missile command center. There have been many false alarms and close calls. The deteriorating command and control systems in Russia have increased the risk of accidental nuclear war. Some experts advocate parallel, reciprocal commitments by the U.S. and Russia to eliminate the launch on warning option from nuclear war plans because of the possibility of error. This step would permit more time for national leaders to determine if an attack were truly underway before taking the fateful step to launch retaliatory missiles. A further option is to separate warheads from missiles to slow the launch process. The U.S. already has an invulnerable deterrent on its nuclear submarines. Others argue that we need to remain ready on a moment’s notice to respond to any potential nuclear attack and that de alerting weapons could decrease their combat readiness and deterrent value. They also argue that taking nuclear weapons off hair trigger alert cannot be verified.

Question: Do you support or oppose parallel, reciprocal commitments to remove nuclear weapons from hair trigger alert?

7. Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

In October 1999, the Senate failed to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) designed to end nuclear testing worldwide. However, the Treaty could be reconsidered. The treaty has been signed by 177 countries and ratified by 138. Because the United States and other key countries have not ratified the agreement, the treaty has not gone into effect. The U.S. has not tested a nuclear explosive device since 1992. Treaty supporters stress that a test ban will be a significant impediment to non nuclear countries developing nuclear weapons and that technology can detect violations. Supporters also state that nuclear tests are not necessary to maintain safety for existing nuclear stockpiles. Opponents of the treaty argue that nuclear testing is necessary for maintaining weapons safety and reliability. They also argue that the U.S. should conduct nuclear test explosions as long as it maintains a nuclear force.

Question: Do you support or oppose ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty?

*The Baker-Cutler report (referenced in question 5) concluded that “current nonproliferation programs in the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, and related agencies have achieved impressive results thus far, but their limited mandate and funding fall short of what is required to address adequately the threat [of nuclear weapons].�http://www.seab.energy.gov/publications/rusrpt.pdf