Presidential Candidates Detail Their National Security Beliefs

Times Staff Writer

Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, known to many voters as a staunch opponent of the Iraq war, enthusiastically supports missile defense development and declines to back a proposal to ban weapons in space.

Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, a Dean rival for the nomination who voted last year to support the U.S. invasion of Iraq, flatly opposes the Bush administration’s controversial plans to begin deployment of a missile defense system in Alaska and supports a multilateral ban on space weaponry.

Despite such differences, the major Democratic candidates appear united in opposition to President Bush’s initiative to start research on new types of “bunker-busting” and “low-yield” nuclear weapons.

Those are among the positions gleaned from a survey of the Democratic candidates on national security issues, one of the most comprehensive so far in the campaign.


The survey, by the Council for a Livable World, a Washington group opposed to Bush defense policies, is scheduled for public release today.

The survey underscores that while Iraq continues to dominate much of the debate among the candidates, other significant national security issues could factor into the 2004 election.

One activist warned that the Democratic candidates should not ignore such issues as missile defense and control of nuclear weapons.

“The lesson for 2004 that I hope all Democrats have learned is they’re going to have to grapple with these issues, whether they want to or not,” said John Isaacs, executive director of Council for a Livable World.


The picture of Dean, the former Vermont governor who is now the Democratic front-runner, that emerges from the survey is more nuanced than the dovish image that some have of him because of his stance on Iraq.

Asked whether he supports or opposes a Bush plan to begin deploying a nascent missile defense in 2004, Dean accused the current administration of rushing an untested system into the field. But he added: “Effective missile defense will be an important part of a Dean administration’s national and homeland security strategy.”

Dean praised President Clinton’s moves toward a ground-based missile defense for the United States, “on a timetable that would ensure the deployment would be capable of actually responding to an attack.” He pledged to “integrate missile defense into an overall national and homeland security effort which provides real defense for Americans at home and our forces and friends and allies abroad.”

Asked his position on an international ban on placing weapons in space, Dean declined to endorse the proposal.


“Technological development in space will continue and we should not reduce the technological advantages that our military enjoys by prohibiting the use of space for military activities,” he wrote.

Currently, the U.S. military relies on satellites for intelligence, communications and other functions. Analysts say the Pentagon, under Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, is exploring a military expansion in space, a shift in emphasis from past administrations.

Elaborating on Dean’s position, spokesman Jay Carson said Wednesday that the candidate was concerned about broadly worded arms-control proposals that could curtail current space operations. But Carson acknowledged that Dean’s positions on space and missile defense belied his reputation as a national security liberal.

“People have, since the beginning of the campaign, tried to pigeonhole him into an ideological box,” Carson said. “None of these boxes actually fit who Gov. Dean is.”


Among other major candidates, Kerry, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and former Gen. Wesley K. Clark responded to the survey. Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri did not, and he declined a follow-up request from the Los Angeles Times for answers.

Kerry flatly opposed the Bush plan on missile defense, without endorsing a scaled-back alternative. He also supported an international ban on space weapon deployment and an increase in funding for a program to peacefully dismantle nuclear weapons from the former Soviet Union.

He urged negotiations with North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program and attacked Bush plans for nuclear-weapons research in the United States. “I oppose the U.S. beginning a new nuclear arms race by building nuclear bunker-buster bombs that are not necessary to achieve our missions,” he wrote.

Edwards supported developing missile defense “to ensure that America will be protected in the event diplomacy and prevention fail.” He did not explicitly reject the Bush plan. On space arms control, he wrote: “America should be a leader in keeping weapons out of space.”


Lieberman supported Bush’s first steps on missile defense, saying “any defense in the face of a nuclear missile attack is worth having.” But he supported a “universal and verifiable ban on permanent weapons in space.”

Clark did not answer the space question. He opposed the Bush missile defense plan but indicated he could support programs to protect the country against ballistic missiles.

A long-shot candidate, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio, staked out the most fervently leftist positions in the field, calling for nuclear disarmament and other initiatives to scale back the military. Former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois and activist Al Sharpton of New York did not respond to the survey.