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Obama and McCain on nuclear weapons

leftThe Centre for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation has published a summary of the views of the two candidates in the Presidential election on security issues, including nuclear weapons. McCain has not expressed an opinion on the proposed new warhead, the Reliable Replacement Warhead.  Obama has opposed a "premature decision" on the warhead. McCain has previously opposed ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty but there are signs that his approach may have changed.

World free of nuclear weapons: In 2007, a bipartisan group of senior and former government officials called for moving toward a "world free of nuclear weapons." In their article by that name, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-GA) and former Secretary of Defense William Perry urged the United States to lead an international effort to rethink traditional deterrence, reduce nuclear weapon stockpiles and take other steps toward the longer term goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world.

Obama has been clear in his support of their effort. In response to a Council for a Livable World questionnaire, he promised: "As president, I will take the lead to work for a world in which the roles and risks of nuclear weapons can be reduced and ultimately eliminated."

In a May 2008 speech, McCain also endorsed the concept: "A quarter of a century ago, President Ronald Reagan declared, 'our dream is to see the day when nuclear weapons will be banished from the face of the Earth.' That is my dream, too."

New nuclear weapons: The Bush administration has put forward proposals to build a new generation of nuclear weapons; however, these plans might be seen as conflicting with U.S. efforts to restrain other states' nuclear ambitions. McCain has supported the proposed new nuclear weapons programs. In four key Senate votes from 2003 to 2005, McCain voted to proceed with the work on such weapons. But in his May 2008 speech, he declared: "I would cancel all further work on the so-called Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, a weapon that does not make strategic or political sense." McCain did not express an opinion on another new nuclear weapons program, the Reliable Replacement Warhead. Obama, only in the Senate for the fourth vote, opposed the new weapons. He has not been categorical in response to the Council for a Livable World's queries about his position on new nuclear weapons, responding that he did not support "a premature decision to produce the [Reliable Replacement Warhead]."

Nuclear Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT): One of the longest sought goals of the nuclear age has been a global ban on all nuclear test explosions as an important step to advance nuclear nonproliferation. In 1996, after 50 years of work, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was signed and opened for ratification. However, three years later, the Senate decisively rejected the treaty. Although the United States has not conducted a nuclear test explosion since 1992, the Bush administration has not put the treaty forward for a new vote.

McCain voted against the treaty, stating at the time: "The viability of our nuclear deterrent is too central to our national security to rush approval of a treaty that cannot be verified and that will facilitate the decline of that deterrent." More recently, McCain has committed to continuing the moratorium on nuclear weapons testing that has existed since 1992, and promised to take "another look" at the test ban treaty. Although Obama was not in the Senate at the time of the 1999 vote, he has promised to make the test ban treaty a priority of his first term in office and pledged to work to rebuild bipartisan support for the treaty.

Nuclear non-proliferation: Efforts to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons to additional countries have faltered during the Bush administration. McCain has promised expanded proliferation efforts, increasing funding for American non-proliferation programs, strengthening international treaties and institutions to combat proliferation, increasing funding for the International Atomic Energy Administration and negotiating a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty.

Obama has committed to securing all vulnerable nuclear weapons materials around the world within four years of taking office: "I'll lead a global effort to secure all loose nuclear materials during my first term in office." He has also promised to seek a global ban on the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons and "dramatic reductions" in nuclear weapons stockpiles and a strengthened Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.