- The Washington Times - Monday, October 4, 2004

In last Thursday’s debate, the two presidential candidates were asked what represented “the single most serious threat to the national security of the United States.” To most observers, the Democratic and Republican contenders seemed to agree: the spread of nuclear weapons.

The seeming agreement on that point masked, however, some fundamental differences between Sen. John Kerry and President Bush on the question of nuclear weapons and their proliferation — particularly into the hands of terrorists. If this danger is indeed our most serious threat, the American people had better understand the full significance of the choice for dealing with it facing them a month from now.

The difference may be summarized as that between Mr. Kerry’s orthodoxy of the Left — with its reliance on arms control treaties and the “carrots” of agreements with would-be proliferators, affording them access to nuclear information and materials — and Mr. Bush’s post-September 11 realism. Examples of the contrasting policies that flow from these divergent attitudes include:

Unilateral disarmament? A cornerstone of the Left’s nuclear nonproliferation strategy is to control America’s arsenal. Its ascendancy during the last 12 years has meant the U.S. has not introduced a new nuclear design for the better part of 20 years; has not validated its existing designs in the only certain way, namely an underground nuclear test, in more than a decade; and has been hobbled on research and development to provide the means, if needed, to attack targets of growing concern — notably, facilities deep under ground for producing and storing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs).

Mr. Kerry said in the debate “It doesn’t make sense” for “the United States to pursue a new set of nuclear weapons” including “bunker-busting” ones. He declared “I am going to shut that program down” to “make it clear to the world we’re serious about containing nuclear proliferation.”

At best, this is a prescription for unilateral U.S. restraint. It is more accurate to say, however, that — given the corrosive effect of obsolescence on the safety, reliability and credibility of our aging nuclear arsenal — it amounts to unilateral disarmament. As such, it is of a piece with the Kerry voting record in the Senate. For 20 years, the senator has embraced a succession of harebrained initiatives including the “nuclear freeze,” cuts in American nuclear programs and their delivery systems and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Fortunately, his positions have been consistently rejected by a majority of his colleagues. (Not surprisingly, Mr. Kerry rated a “zero” in the Center for Security Policy’s just-released National Security Scorecard.)

By contrast, the Bush administration has formulated a Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) that envisions maintaining the effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear stockpile by retiring older weapons and modernization, restoring the critically important nuclear industrial base and introducing anti-missile and other defenses against nuclear attack.

Ronald Reagan called this approach “Peace through Strength.” It may not be a sufficient condition to today’s nuclear threats, but it is certainly a necessary one.

Rewarding proliferators? Mr. Kerry insists he wants to negotiate directly with North Korea in hopes of persuading it to give up its nuclear arms. This even though his advisers and others in the Clinton administration conclusively established the futility of this exercise in previous bilateral deals struck with Pyongyang. Such deals left the latter with the capability to build the handful of nuclear weapons it now is believed to have deployed — and perhaps others it says are on offer to those with the cash to buy them.

Even worse, Mr. Kerry and his running mate are willing to reprise this dismal experience with another nuclear wannabe, Iran. They profess a willingness to give Iran what North Korea got on its own — weapons-usable nuclear fuel. Messrs. Kerry and Edwards say they want to “test” whether the mullahs are being truthful about wanting nothing more than nuclear energy — as if the falsity of this claim is in any doubt. Should the mullahs, like Kim Jong-il, actually want weapons, we are told the Democratic ticket would lead the world in imposing economic sanctions on the Iranian regime.

President Bush has already shown Iran’s friends (notably, Russia, China and the Europeans) are more inclined to enable than punish Iranian nuclear ambitions. The Kerry-Edwards plan would only facilitate the former. Mr. Bush understands the folly of that. He is giving the U.N. a chance to resolve this danger but recognizes regime change is likely once again to be the only way to prevent it from metastasizing.

Securing Russia’s “Loose Nukes”? Mr. Kerry claims he will outdo President Bush at getting the former Soviet Union’s nukes and other WMD under control, apparently by throwing more U.S. money at the problem. Unfortunately, the Russian government seems not nearly as worried about the proliferation threat posed by such weapons — even in the face of its own terrorist menace. Otherwise, Russia’s new oil windfall would surely be used to secure its arsenal. The Bush realists recognize that, as long as this is the case, Mr. Kerry’s posturing about an accelerated solution is more loose talk than real relief from Russia’s loose nukes.

Wishful thinking about curbing proliferation through unverifiable treaties, fraudulent negotiations and sweetheart deals with despots has done much to bring us to the point where, today, proliferation is such a foremost concern. Do we really want — or can we really afford — as Mr. Kerry is wont to say, “More of the same”?

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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