Hey, Candidates: Debate This

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image by Dave Cutler

Five years into the Iraq debacle, national security has been reduced to an election slogan that pairs either pro or anti with war. Meanwhile, important issues such as nuclear proliferation, military escalation with China, and unmonitored, unhinged spending by the Defense Department don’t fuel political chatter or get the talking heads spinning. On a campaign trail paved with sound bites, they hardly merit a mention.

Last year, during the parade of primary debates, Michael Stebbins and his colleagues at the Federation of American Scientists assembled a list of pressing national security questions that voters deserve to hear answered. Though the field has narrowed, the candidates and the press continue to avoid these matters. We’ve still got time before November, though, so if a candidate comes your way, consider posing one of the federation’s questions, which Utne Reader reprints here from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Nov.-Dec. 2007), an indefatigable watchdog of the nuclear and defense arenas.

  • The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty would ban all nuclear explosions for military or civilian purposes. The United States signed the treaty in 1996, but the Senate rejected ratification in 1999. Would you make it a priority of your administration to ratify the treaty?
  • The United States currently has nuclear-armed missiles deployed on high alert, much as it did during the Cold War. Will you make it a priority of your administration to work with foreign leaders to take all nuclear weapons off alert?
  • The Bush administration has been accused of undermining the integrity of government scientific findings to suit political agendas. Whether you believe this to be the case or not, what will you do to ensure that political appointees do not manipulate scientific findings or their dissemination for political purposes?
  • There is now ample evidence of billions of dollars in wasteful spending and fraud at the Defense Department, often through unscrupulous or sloppy contractor practices. What specifically will you do to control such waste?
  • Congress annually waives the legal requirement that the Defense Department balance its books and provide an accounting of defense spending. This is the only federal agency not required to do so. Will you prioritize ending the practice of waiving this obligation and increase transparency of defense spending?
  • The United States has reduced its nuclear weapons arsenal since the Cold War but still plans to retain thousands of these weapons indefinitely and is not pursuing the total elimination of nuclear weapons worldwide. Are you committed to total nuclear disarmament, and what goals will your administration set for engaging the other nuclear-weapon states to reduce the number and role of nuclear weapons?
  • The Bush administration has proposed resuming industrial-scale production of new nuclear weapons under the Reliable Replacement Warhead Program. Will you continue this program?
  • The United States is ill-prepared for any large public health emergency. What specifically would your administration do to prepare the country for naturally occurring public health emergencies and deliberate biological threats?
  • The United States, Russia, and China have all tested space weapons designed to shoot down satellites. What specifically will you do to ensure the protection of space assets and prevent the development and deployment of antisatellite weapons?
  • More broadly, what would you do to prevent an escalation of military competition between the United States and China?

Michael Stebbins is the director of biology policy for the Federation of American Scientists and the author of Sex, Drugs, and DNA: Science’s Taboos Confronted. Excerpted from Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists(Nov.-Dec. 2007). Subscriptions: $48/yr. (6 issues) from 77 W. Washington St., Suite 2120, Chicago, IL 60602; www.thebulletin.org.

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