US Senator Ted Kennedy slams Bush on non-proliferation and endorses Kerry on nuclear containment

Publish date: June 25, 2004

Written by: Charles Digges

WASHINGTON—US President George Bush has turned back the clock by a matter of years the US efforts to stem the spread of nuclear weapons and has contributed through his polices toward making the world a more dangerous place, said Massachussetts Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy in an interview at a non proliferation conference in the US capitol.

News Analysis

A member of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, and a long standing anti-Bush liberal, Kennedy called the last four years of nuclear policy under Bush “a constant flirtation with nuclear disaster" that has rejected a "half century of success" in nuclear deterrence and steps toward disarmament.

Kennedy also stumped hard for his fellow Massachusetts democratic senator and presidential candidate, John Kerry, who he said would make “preventing nuclear terrorism an absolute priority for himself and for his administration and America’s allies.”

A spokesman for the Bush re-election campaign rejected Kennedy’s assertions, calling the senator an "attack dog for Kerry."

CTR presence in a Kerry White House?
Kennedy also said that Kerry had pledged to appoint a cabinet level official “whose sole responsibility is to prevent nuclear terrorism and who as direct access to the president.

This last plug for Kerry has a special place in the heart of most Cooperative Threat Reduction, or CTR, officials and other nuclear experts interviewed here earlier this week at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s International Non-proliferation conference. According to one threat reduction official, “a cabinet level official dealing with CTR issues has been on our wish list for a long time.”

“But whether or not this person would have any real authority is a different question,” said the official, who spoke with Bellona Web on the condition of anonymity. “You can move the bureaucratic boxes around, but who is really going to have access to the president?”

While Washington threat reduction officials are remaining mum about who they would to see in the White House come November 6th, it is clear that Kerry, along with little help from his more powerful friends, is trying to position himself as the true nuclear non-proliferation candidate against the back ground of Bush’s lacklustre record in this area, arms control and nuclear disarmament officials interviewed at the Carnegie conference agreed.


One June 1st, Kerry pledged that, were he elected, he would commit $30 billion to cleaning up Russia’s Cold War legacy within four years—a stretch of a promise given that efforts the efforts of CTR and European nations over the past 12 years have managed to secure only some 37 percent of Russia’s fissile, weapons-grade nuclear material. Nonetheless, Kerry’s sweeping gesture toward intensifying threat reduction efforts have put CTR’s friction with the current administration on the election agenda.

In his wider address to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Non-proliferation Conference held here on Monday and Tuesday, Kennedy faulted Bush for "encouraging new arms races, neglecting arms control and ignoring the truly threatening nuclear weapons developments in North Korea and Iran and the loose materials that could be readily available to terrorists."

2002 Moscow Treaty ‘not much of a treaty at all’
Kennedy also highlighted the ineffective and widely ridiculed “Moscow Treaty” of 2002, under which Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin singed a deal to reduce the number of warheads on so-called “hair-trigger” alert to between 1,700 and 2,200 from the US’ current 6,00 and Russia’s 5,500 by the year 2012. In reality, this treaty provides for the reduction of those warheads on hair trigger alert to at most 2,200 while allowing both nations to maintain thousands more warheads in ready status. The treaty three-page treaty also outlined nothing about decommissioning or verification schedules, theoretically making it possible for both sides to amass a total of some 30,000 strategic and tactical nukes prior to 2012.

“We must revitalize nuclear arms reductions—the need did not end with the Cold War,” said Kennedy. “The Moscow Treaty must be strengthened by making its 2,200 warhead limit an honest limit, not 2,200 warheads deployed and thousands more at the ready.”

“An arms control treaty that doesn’t actually require the parties to destroy weapons—or the missiles and the bombers that deliver them—isn’t much of a treaty at all.”

The Iraqi distraction impacts CTR
Kennedy said the administration’s focus on Iraq—where no weapons of mass destruction, or WMD’s, have been found—and its unwillingness to work with other countries "has been a serious setback for our non-proliferation policy, and may very well have made al Qaeda terrorists even more determined to find a way to make a nuclear attack on America."

He called for more spending on the Nunn-Lugar program to purchase insufficiently secured nuclear materials from the former Soviet Union, and for a harder line on Pakistan, whose leading nuclear scientist, A.Q. Khan, recently admitted selling secrets on the international black market. Kennedy said that this sent a message to the world that "if you’re a friend, you will not be punished for trading in nuclear arms. If you’re Iraq, we will punish you, whether you really have nuclear arms or not."

The Iraq issue has also, according to one threat reduction official, undermined any claim on further bids to secure weapons of mass destruction in Russia, and that the Bush administration’s decision to promulgate the notion that Iraq was pursuing a nuclear weapons programme—contrary to evidence from American and British intelligence—and found nothing to support that theory, will make it that much harder for US threat reduction efforts in Russia to obtain the European support these efforts need.

“You can only cry ‘wolf’ once,” said the official. “Even though Russia does have WMD’s that its want cooperatively to destroy with US help, and everyone knows that, anything Bush says about the terrorist threat posed by Russia’s arsenal will sound like exaggeration.”

America’s new nuclear race
Kennedy also vowed to continue his fight against the Bush administration’s proposals for a new generation of tactical nuclear weapons, so-called bunker busters. He called the administration’s plans an impediment to persuading smaller nations to give up their nuclear ambitions, quoting Mohammed ElBaradei, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, as saying, "there are some who have continued to dangle a cigarette from their mouth and tell everybody else not to smoke."

“A mini-nuke is still a nuke. The use of a low yield weapon could still cause a humanitarian, diplomatic, economic and environmental calamity,” said Kennedy.

“Our military has no need of these weapons—they’re being developed exclusively for the hawks in the White House and the Pentagon who insist we need nuclear weapons that are more usable. What world are they living in? How can any sane person today possibly want nuclear weapons that are more usable?”

The Bush-Cheney response
Terry Holt, spokesman for the Bush-Cheney campaign, disputed Kennedy’s claim that the administration hasn’t worked hard enough to secure loose nuclear materials in a telephone interview.

"Senator Kennedy ignores that the Bush administration has fully funded Nunn-Lugar proposals and it also is working with the G-8 nations to come up with proposals to end the spread of nuclear weapons," Holt said. "The Bush administration has put nuclear proliferation front and centre in its relationship with G-8 partners."

Holt also accused Kennedy of working in concert with the Kerry campaign, trying to damage Bush by making charges that are too inflammatory to come from the candidate himself.

"John Kerry has appointed Ted Kennedy to be his attack dog, and Kerry and Kennedy share a world view that’s out of the mainstream of the American people," Holt said. "Neither John Kerry nor Ted Kennedy understands the threat this country faces in the global war on terror. This goes back to the fight against the Soviet Union. Neither Kerry nor Kennedy understood that peace through strength was the way to fight communism."

Kennedy, for his part, blasted the Bush administration for abandoning the commitment to nuclear disarmament that he believes reduced the tensions of the Cold War, referring to his brother, President John F. Kennedy’s efforts to cut nuclear arms after the Cuban Missile Crisis.

"Surviving the brink underscored in my brother’s mind the necessity of cooperation, even with the most difficult adversary, so that no American president would ever again be faced with the same impossible dilemma.”