Republican presidential candidate John McCain earlier today gave a landmark speech on the responsibility to engage more seriously in disarmament. Given the two Democrat frontrunners have already explicitly leant their weight to the vision, this is the clearest indication yet that nuclear disarmament has now achieved the mainstream – and it is now out of touch to oppose it. McCain has clearly distanced himself from the record of the current Administration:
If you look back over the past two decades, I don’t think any of us, Republican or Democrat, can take much satisfaction in what we’ve accomplished to control nuclear proliferation… No problem we face poses a greater threat to us and the world than nuclear proliferation.
There were a number of remarkable features of this speech, given the Republicans’ recent record on arms control. McCain emphasised the importance of the bipartisan approach:
The truth is we will only address the terrible prospect of the worldwide spread of nuclear arms if we transcend our partisan differences, combine our energies, learn from our past mistakes, and seek practical and effective solutions.
He emphasised the role of international cooperation:
It is a vision not of the United States acting alone, but building and participating in a community of nations all drawn together in this vital common purpose… We must strengthen existing international treaties and institutions to combat proliferation, and develop new ones when necessary… The United States cannot and will not stop the spread of nuclear weapons by unilateral action. We must lead concerted and persistent multilateral efforts. As powerful as we are, America’s ability to defend ourselves and our allies against the threat of nuclear attack depends on our ability to encourage effective international cooperation.
He outlined his support for a larger and more powerful IAEA, for international fuel banks available to those that renounce their own enrichment and reprocessing facilities, and an international repository for spent nuclear fuel.
He signed up to the vision of a nuclear weapon free world:
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… Such weapons, while still important to deter an attack with weapons of mass destruction against us and our allies, represent the most abhorrent and indiscriminate form of warfare known to man.
He talked of an early nuclear posture review, with deep cuts the intention:
I will seek to reduce the size of our nuclear arsenal to the lowest number possible consistent with our security requirements and global commitments. Today we deploy thousands of nuclear warheads. It is my hope to move as rapidly as possible to a significantly smaller force.
While clearly unwilling to turn his face against all new warheads, he says:
I would only support the development of any new type of nuclear weapon that is absolutely essential for the viability of our deterrent, that results in making possible further decreases in the size of our nuclear arsenal, and furthers our global nuclear security goals.
…and then goes on to explicitly rule out the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator.
In contrast to the current Administration, he understands the need to continue the verification measures at the heart of the START arrangements with Russia:
we should be able to agree with Russia on binding verification measures based on those currently in effect under the START Agreement, to enhance confidence and transparency.
…and the need to work rapidly towards the abolition of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe, and to collaborate with Russia over missile defense, and sharing early warning data. He also committed to increasing Cooperative Threat Reduction funding.
He supports the establishment of a fissile material treaty, and the further development of the Proliferation Security Initiative. But perhaps most remarkably, given the politics of the issue in Washington and having opposed ratification in 1999, he advocates
taking another look at the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, hinting that technical developments may have been sufficient in the meantime to win sufficient confidence and support in Congress.
This is a speech that represents a clear departure not only from the current Administration, but also John McCain’s past record. It is a landmark for those working towards the mainstreaming of multilateral disarmament and in opposition to unilateralism and the modernization of nuclear forces.