Jeb Bush Claims Nuclear Deterrence Works, Opposes Iran Deal

Judy Elliott on September 03, 2015
Judy asked Jeb Bush if he supports spending $1 trillion on a new generation of nuclear weapons. Bush said he supports the nuclear "triad" and pivoted to a denunciation of the Obama administration's agreement with Iran. Judy suggests the US needs to get back on track toward multi-lateral nuclear abolition if we hope to stop additional countries from going nuclear.

At the Amherst NH parade on July 4 I had a brief conversation about nuclear weapons with Jeb Bush.  When he said he didn't know much about the trillion dollar nuclear expansion plan, I offered to provide him with details. 

I followed up two months later, at a September 3 town meeting in Laconia, New Hampshire, where I gave him a report from the Arms Control Association, "The Unaffordable Arsenal."  I asked him again whether he supports the $1 trillion spending plan to upgrade our nuclear warheads as well as the triad of submarines, bombers, and missiles that deliver them. He responded that he supports the triad and the concept of nuclear deterrence, which he believes kept the U.S. safe during the Cold War. He went on to say he was more concerned about Iran and then other Middle Eastern nations developing nuclear weapons. He believes the Iran deal gives that country the ability to develop such weapons.

Deterrence is the threat that we will launch nuclear weapons against any nation that attacks us. There are terrible problems with this strategy. For deterrence to be credible, we actually have to be ready to follow through on that threat, causing millions of immediate deaths, followed by billions more deaths due to fallout, famine, and destruction of economic, communications, and medical capacity.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that deterrence means risking destruction of life on earth. No nation has the moral right to maintain an arsenal that can do this. And even if the perverse logic of deterrence is accepted, the fact remains that current nuclear arsenals, according to a report by General James Cartwright, Chuck Hagel, and others, “vastly exceed what is needed to satisfy reasonable requirements of deterrence.”

Here is a transcript of my conversation with Gov. Bush:

Judy: Governor Bush, I am still really worried about nuclear weapons. The US still has about 5000 nuclear weapons in its arsenal, many of them are still on hair trigger alert, about 450. And yet there is a plan to spend another trillion dollars on nuclear, [a] new fleet of nuclear submarines, a new fleet of nuclear bombers, and new warheads. I think it’s going to be really profitable for the weapons makers but no so for our security. So I want to … but what I brought some information on it [that] you asked me for, I brought it back.

Jeb Bush: Exactly. We’re back to the next town hall, so we’re glad that you did that.

Judy: I’ve got it for you, but I want to know whether you support this plan to spend a trillion dollars on nuclear weapons.

Jeb Bush: I haven’t seen what the costs are. I’m sure you’re going to give me information so I can read your side of the story. I do think that we need a nuclear deterrent. I think we need the triad. It’s created in the post-World War II, the Soviet Era, it’s created a deterrent that has kept us safe. My biggest fear as it relates to the threat of proliferation of nuclear weapons doesn’t relate to the traditional US-Russia relationship, although that’s gotten a lot worse in the last few years. It’s the proliferation of nuclear weapons that may come because of the Iranian agreement. And that one we don’t have any sway over, that one we don’t have necessarily the same kind of relationship that emerged in the post-, in the Soviet Era, and now the post-Soviet era. To me the biggest threat is that Iran is an asymmetric threat, an existential threat to countries in the region and they perceive it that way. They see this radical Shiia country supporting state sponsors of terrorism organized to take out their countries. They see the United States basically giving a green light for Iran to be a nuclear threshold country. So what are they going to do? They’re going to build the same capability. Instead of having Russia, or Soviet Union in the past, and Russia and the United States against each other where there was mutual assured destruction and it actually saved … you know there wasn’t the kind of conflict that people were worried about. Now we have greater threats because it’s multitude of threats and we have the imposition of terror on top of it. So I’m more worried about that, but I’m more than happy to get your information and I appreciate your coming back. You promised you would.

We need to ask Gov. Bush how the US can prevent proliferation in the Middle East if we continue upgrading our own arsenal. In the 1970 Nonproliferation Treaty, the nuclear weapons powers promised to move towards “cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament” in exchange for a commitment by other countries not acquire nuclear weapons. Clinging to our arsenal means we’re not holding up our end of the bargain. We need to continue asking Gov. Bush and other candidates hard questions about nuclear weapons and deterrence.

And I hope he reads the report I gave him.

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