One issue we didn’t hear very much of during the 2008 Presidential campaign was nuclear policy, largely because both Senators Obama and McCain almost entirely agreed with each other. In fact, McCain called for dramatic nuclear cuts, a new START treaty, and ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
At the University of Denver in May 2008, John McCain laid out his nuclear policy in a speech that could have just as easily been given by President Obama:
the Cold War ended almost 20 years ago, and the time has come to take further measures to reduce dramatically the number of nuclear weapons in the world’s arsenals. It’s time for the United States to show the kind of leadership the world expects from us, in the tradition of American presidents who worked to reduce the nuclear threat to mankind.
Based off his comments in 2008, one would expect John McCain to be largely supportive of the Nuclear Posture Review and the New START treaty. But this is 2010 and McCain is doing some serious backtracking on his once mavericky forward-looking approach to nuclear weapons.
McCain it seems has joined forces with nuclear weapons-hugger Jon Kyl (R-AZ) in criticizing Obama’s nuclear efforts. In February, McCain signed on to a letter with Jon Kyl and Joe Lieberman, which held that the three would oppose the treaty if the Russians issue an entirely symbolic unilateral statement on missile defense. Such a stance is merely a smokescreen to disguise opposition to the treaty, since a unilateral signing statement would have no practical impact whatsoever, as the Russians could withdraw from the treaty with or without ever having issued a statement. McCain’s new skepticism contradicts his past stance as an advocate of getting a new START agreement. McCain said in 2008:
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.
McCain’s vote may be critical to the ratification of New START in the Senate and his new stance is a significant reversal that may delay ratification, at least until after the Arizona primary in August.
Now McCain is attacking the just released Nuclear Posture Review. Yesterday, McCain jointly issued a statement with Kyl that criticizes a nuclear posture review, that as Marc Ambinder noted, doesn’t have “all that much that Republicans can complain about.” Despite the fact that the Obama administration has already pledged massive increases in funding for the nuclear infrastructure, the statement raises concerns about the state of the nuclear arsenal and demands even more nuclear pork be lavished on the labs:
Moreover, the amount of money committed to this in the FY11-15 budget window – the $5 billion budget transfer referenced by Defense Secretary Gates, spread over five years – is woefully inadequate.
Funny that in an entire speech on nuclear weapons in 2008, McCain never mentioned his concern over the state of the nuclear arsenal, despite the Bush administration was funding our nuclear infrastructure at much lower levels. As Ambinder points out:
No one would have anticipated that the administration would be spending a billion dollars a year to modernize its stockpile. The folks who actually do this stuff requested more money, and they got it — a lot more.
Furthermore, while McCain, as did Obama, pledged to maintain the nuclear force during the campaign, he didn’t state his support for building new nuclear warheads in his 2008 nuclear weapons policy speech. But this seems to be one of the main demands of Kyl and may shape up to be the issue that Republicans will try to make Obama cave on in exchange for supporting the treaty. Building new warheads, essentially building new nuclear weapons, is both completely unneccessary and would be widely seen as the US backing off its disarmament commitments – commitments that the McCain of 2008 firmly supported.