Except in times of war or an overseas crisis, Americans vote on domestic
issues--not foreign policy--and this year seems no different, despite strife in the Middle East and a terrorist attack on a US. warship near Yemen. Though the Republican ticket has attempted to paint dramatic diffeences, many of the defense and foreign policy positions of both parties are similar. "They have a lot in common.
They say similar things on Iraq and rogue states. They're strongly pro-Israel
and pro-trade. They both support American leadership and engagement," says Lee
H. Hamilton, a former chairman of the House Foreign Affairs
Committee who is now director of the Smithsonian Institution's Woodrow Wilson
Surveys show that the public would rather have the administration focus on
problems at home rather than be a "global policeman," but they do think the country
must maintain its military power and remain engaged with other nations.
the U.S. government spends about 16 percent of its budget on defense, down from
about 50 percent in the early 1960s, and the number of troops on active duty is
also about a third less than at the end of the Cold War. In contrast, less
than 1 percent of the budget is spent on foreign aid, compared to 2 percent in
1975 and 4.5 percent in 1965.
The debate this year has centered on the question of how to keep the military prepared for
21st century conflict, and in what way the country should go forward with development of a missile defense shield. Neither Bush nor Gore questions the rationale for a missile
defense system, despite the criticisms of some experts who think the shield is unnecessary and
unworkable. This is in marked contrast to Green party candidate Ralph Nader,
who says of missile defense: "It doesn't work, even according to the physics
community... [An enemy] could bring a nuclear bomb in a suitcase -- so what are
we gonna do, have a $500 billion suitcase defense system?"
Bush and Gore differ on nuclear arms reductions: Bush's proposals for
unilateral reductions in nuclear armament is a marked departure from the historical stances of both parties on this issue. Both Bush and
Gore also agree that service conditions for military men and women should be
improved, but do not agree on what the military's position should be on gays.
Both candidates present themselves as the best defenders of the nation's armed
forces and defense, with Bush accusing the Clinton/Gore administration of weakening the
military by not providing it with enough funds and resources. "If called on by
the commander-in-chief today, two entire divisions of the Army would have to
report 'Not ready for duty, sir,'" Bush said during his address at the
Republican National Convention. Defense Secretary William Cohen, a Republican, vigorously denied these charges, and was joined by high-ranking officers in the respective services.
Gore has been quick to tout his service as a military journalist in Vietnam,
saying that though he did not face too much danger, "...I was proud to wear my
country's uniform. And my own experiences gave me strong beliefs about
America's obligation to keep our national defenses strong. " During his years
in Washington, Gore helped negotiate arms reduction treaties and favored
the nuclear test ban treaty. In discussing defense issues, he frequently mentions that he voted against the Democratic party
line in some instances: he was for the "Star Wars" missile defense, and he was one of only 10 democratic senators who supported the use of military
force in the Gulf War.
What level of missile defense and nuclear weaponry will best protect US.
Gore believes that a full scale Star Wars-style missile defense system of the
kind proposed by Bush is unworkable and too expensive. He has called for
'limited' missile defense using 100 to 250 ground-based interceptors. Gore
believes America will be threatened by a small 'rogue' state with less
sophisticated ICBMs; a less complex defense is sufficient. He also thinks
Bush's model will provoke Russia and will wreck the Anti Ballistic Missile
Treaty. "The ABM Treaty is the cornerstone of strategic stability in our
relationship with Russia," he has said. At the same time, Gore criticizes
Bush's proposal to unilaterally reduce the number of nuclear warheads as
destabilizing to world peace; all such changes, Gore believes, should be negotiated. (Click for more on Gore's position on missile defense.)
Bush has proposed a much larger system using about 750 ground-based
interceptors deployed at six areas in the US, plus 1,000 space-based
interceptors. This is very similar to the missile shield proposed by his
father President Bush in 1991, known as GPALS, or "global protection against
limited strikes." Bush has said he is willing to defy the Anti Ballistic
Missile Treaty with Russia if necessary. He would also unilaterally reduce the
size of the US nuclear arsenal to the "lowest possible number consistent with
our national security", a notion that goes against Republican policy. He
thinks this is necessary because the Cold War is over. However, he is opposed
to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which would ban all tests of nuclear weapons (and any nuclear explosions) worldwide. The CTBT was ratified by the United Nations General Assembly in 1996; since that time, 160 nations have signed, but the United States has not.(More on Bush's position on missile defense.)
How does the US keep its military ready for 21st century
Gore, while calling for unspecified increases in the defense budget, has
supported the Clinton administration doctrine of paring down the armed forces,
reconfiguring forces to make them more agile and powerful. Gore believes in heavy
investment in the latest technology, and has proposed sweeping investments in
pay raises, housing, childcare, education and healthcare for soldiers and
veterans. He thinks it is disgraceful that soldiers should have to live off
food stamps: "Our armed forces should be commemorated on stamps. They
shouldn't have to use them to buy groceries," he has said. Gore also says the
army should be committed overseas only if use military force is absolutely
essential in America's national interest, there are other allies to share the
burden and the cost is proportionate to the result.
Bush has called for a $1 billion pay raise--as well as better housing and more
training--for soldiers. He has also proposed a $20 billion investment in
research and development, with at least a fifth going towards the purchase of
next generation latest weapons. Bush has been mostly opposed to interventions
of a humanitarian nature in countries and conflicts that be believes are outside the US national interest.
What should be the new administration's foreign policy priorities?
Gore has called for a so-called New Security Agenda "for the global age", enhancing American
security by maintaining a strong defence, building on old alliances, and rejecting isolationism. His foreign
policy priorities include:
Russia: Gore would expand cooperation with Russia, saying "we have
worked hard to help Russia make a transition to a market-based democracy."
Critics, including Bush, say he is too optimistic about change in Russia, which
has not been smooth or beneficial to most citizens.
Debt relief: Gore has vowed to "give the poorest countries a hand up"
by expanding economic ties with Africa, the Caribbean and the Americas, and
cancelling some of their debt.
Israel: Gore has promised to keep up "America's commitment to the
survival and security of Israel," though he has not spelled out any clear policy
Iraq: He favors supporting the mostly overseas Iraqi opposition and
helping them overthrow Saddam Hussein. However, so far they have been
ineffective and disorganized.
UN dues: Gore believes the US should pay the $1 billion it owes the
United Nations and work with international agencies in managing foreign
China: Gore is critical of China's record on human rights and Tibet, but
believes in engagement with China.
Bush, who has been attacked for having very little foreign policy experience,
has greater appetite for unilateral American action overseas than Gore, though
he would intervene in far fewer circumstances. Some of his stated positions
Latin America: Bush has repeatedly stessed improving economic, cultural
and educational ties with Latin American democracies while at the same time
stepping up patrolling of the southern border to stop illegal immigration. (More on Bush's view of "The Century of the Americas")
Cuba: Bush would keep sanctions in place, until the Castro regime
"adopts the ways of democracy". Interestingly, his running mate Dick Cheney
questioned the wisdom of the sanctions as far back as 1988, though he has made
no current statements about the issue.
Israel: Bush is strongly pro-Israel, and supports moving the American
embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, though its status is still being
negotiated. Again Dick Cheney, back in 1982, said of the Mid East conflict:
"Any resolution in this conflict which has lasted for more than 30 years must
include the formation of a Palestinian state," a view which was heretical back
then but which has proved to be true.
AIDS assistance to Africa: Bush is cautious about loans to African
nations to fight AIDS, saying "oftentimes we're well-intended when it comes to
foreign help, but the money never makes it to the people that we're trying to
help." He would rather rally other nations and charities to help.
China: Bush is critical of China which he calls "an enemy of religious
freedom." He would deal with it as "a competitor, not a strategic partner."
UN dues: Bush would not pay the $1 billion in dues to the UN unless
there is significant reform within the UN.
FRONTLINE's report War in Europe looks at the pros and cons of going to war for moral values and
examines what was achieved in NATO's 1999 war on Kosovo.
FRONTLINE's Give War a Chance offers an overview of the evolution of U.S. military
doctrine on when, where and how to employ military might, and a chronology of
recent U.S. military missions.
A Comprehensive Guide from the Council on Foreign Relations
The New York Times Foreign Policy Updates (requires free registration)
The New York Times Defense Issue Updates (requires free registration)
"Dubya's atomic fib" (Salon)
tools for choice ·
are you sure? ·
"Paying Atten-shun to the military's needs" (US News and World Report)
other candidates ·
photo gallery ·
tapes & transcripts ·
web site copyright 1995-2014
WGBH educational foundation