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Hillary Clinton Must Speak Clearly on Nukes

14 years ago, I pressed her husband on issue

Arnie Alpert

The only time I met Bill Clinton was after his commencement speech at the New Hampshire Community Technical College in Stratham in 1993. I was in a field near the campus entrance, waiting behind a rope line in hopes of catching a glimpse or grabbing a handshake with the new president. My goal was to urge him to suspend plans to resume nuclear weapons testing. The memory returned to me while I stood behind a rope at a Canterbury orchard two weeks ago, hoping to talk to Hillary Clinton about nuclear weapons.

The issue is as important as ever. Since 2001, we have been governed by a reckless administration that pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, sought the production of a new generation of nuclear weapons, and adopted a doctrine that endorses first-strike nuclear attacks. There is little doubt that the Bush-Cheney nuclear doctrine is in part responsible for the conclusion other nations have made that they, too, would be stronger if they had the Bomb and could threaten to use it.

If we hope to restrain the proliferation of nuclear weapons and prevent their use, we need a president who will step back from the ideology of pre-emption and first-strike nuclear attacks. We need to de-escalate the arms race and move toward global elimination of nuclear weapons as we pledged to do in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This position is now endorsed by Henry Kissinger, George Shultz and Sam Nunn, who have written, "Reassertion of the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons and practical measures toward achieving that goal would be, and would be perceived as, a bold initiative consistent with America's moral heritage."

Hillary Clinton's views are unclear. On the one hand, she voted against funds for a new generation of nuclear weapons and opposed Bush's abandonment of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. On the other, she has implied on more than one occasion that the United States should consider a nuclear attack against Iran by saying "all options are on the table." In addition, she said on Aug. 2, "Presidents since the Cold War have used nuclear deterrents to keep the peace, and I don't believe any president should make blanket statements with regard to use or nonuse."

Hoping to ask senator about nuclear weapons, I walked to New Hampshire Public Radio as she wound up her interview Oct. 11. Secret Service officers in the doorway told me that I was in a "federal security zone" and that I would not be permitted to remain or speak to the senator.

That afternoon, I went to Canterbury, where Clinton had scheduled an appearance at Hackleboro Orchard. Holding signs that said "Take Nuclear Weapons Off the Table" and "Nuclear Threats or Abolition?" I stood with two friends by the road as the senator's motorcade went past. Then we walked up the hill to the orchard. The senator did not call on me during her question-and-answer session and turned away before she reached me along the rope line.

Others have had more success. Hilary Kane, a Concord High student, asked Clinton about nuclear weapons at the Canterbury event. The senator said she supported nonproliferation but implied she would not initiate arms reductions until other countries did so first. The next week at the Manchester YWCA, Michelle Cunha of New Hampshire Peace Action asked Clinton if she would take nuclear weapons "off the table" with regard to Iran. "Yes, I will," the senator said. Anne Miller, also of New Hampshire Peace Action, asked Clinton if she would pursue nuclear weapons abolition. The senator said she would and called Miller's attention to her upcoming article in Foreign Affairs.

But Clinton's Foreign Affairs article still leaves the question open. The senator writes that if "Iran does not comply with its own commitments and the will of the international community, all options must remain on the table." She reasserts her support for the Comprehensive Test Ban and nonproliferation. She even refers to the statement by Kissinger, Shultz and Nunn but characterizes it as an endorsement of "reducing reliance on nuclear weapons," an interpretation that falls far short of the former officials' call for "a world free of nuclear weapons."

We are left, still, with the question: Sen. Clinton, will you turn away from threats to use nuclear weapons and call for their abolition?

When I met her husband outside the community college in Stratham 14 years ago, I grabbed him firmly by the hand and asked if he would end U.S. nuclear testing. The president's response was vague, but a month later, he said he would continue the moratorium on nuclear tests and work for a comprehensive test ban.

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Arnie Alpert

Arnie Alpert

Arnie Alpert is a longtime nonviolent action trainer in New Hampshire. He blogs at

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