Obama and Romney Both Get Failing Grades for Their Nuclear Weapons Policies

What's to come?
Oct. 3 2012 7:30 AM

Bombing the Test

Obama and Romney both get failing grades for their nuclear weapons policies.

President Obama speaks at the UN General Assembly meeting on Tuesday in New York City.
President Obama speaks at the UN General Assembly meeting on Sept. 25, 2012 in New York City

Photograph by John Moore/Getty Images.

This article arises from Future Tense, a project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State University that explores emerging technologies and their implications for policy and society. On Oct. 9, Future Tense will host an event on the presidential election and science and technology policy. For more information and to RSVP, visit New America’s website.

It is the home stretch of election season, and with the conventions completed, the Democratic and Republican campaigns are each gearing up for the finish line. By now the platforms of each campaign and each candidate are fairly well staked out. But what are the candidates and their parties saying about science and technology issues? Frustratingly little—and what they are saying is sometimes frustratingly out of touch.   

Take ScienceDebate2012, a project that posed 14 specific questions to the Obama and Romney campaigns. (I have been involved with ScienceDebate for many years.) Mitt Romney’s responses to the 14 questions were much more comprehensive than his colleague John McCain’s were four years ago, and indeed were on the whole more detailed than Barack Obama’s. For me the biggest surprises were:

  1. Romney admitted there that the world is getting warmer and that human activity contributes to that warming. Nevertheless, he repeats the some of the misinformation that has been promulgated about climate change: that there is a lack of scientific consensus both on the extent of the human contribution and on the severity of the possible risks associated with climate change. The former is definitively out of touch with reality. The latter is less so. The severity of the effects of climate change are indeed model dependent, but no one doubts that the possible risks are huge. The question is whether one is willing to take the risks, aware of what they might be. In any case, while he doesn’t get perfect grades for this, it is markedly better than the 31,000-word Republican Party platform, which mentions climate change in only one sentence, criticizing Democrats for considering it an issue of national security.
  2. Barack Obama talks about space policy. But his plans to sponsor human space flight seem unrealistic, given both current budget constraints and disorder at NASA. Nevertheless, this is better than the 70-page Democratic Party platform, which does not mention space policy a single time.

While the candidates’ responses to our 14 questions were clearly designed to demonstrate serious consideration to science issues, the party platforms were not, and the omissions and obfuscations are glaring. The two most remarkable statements I found were in the Republican platform, which argues that our oil and natural gas reserves can provide a bounty “for many generations to come.” Even more surprising was this claim: “Experience has shown that, in caring for the land and water, private ownership has been our best guarantee of conscientious stewardship, while the worst instances of environmental degradation have occurred under government control.”  


But perhaps the most significant area not covered by the 14 Questions, and one of the most urgent long-term technological challenges facing our nation and the world, is the problem of nuclear weapons. Here there is a clear divergence between the goals of the two parties. The Democratic platform explicitly recognizes that reliance on nuclear arms is a strategic chimera and that a reduction in nuclear weapons should be a central goal achieved by international treaties where possible, including signing on to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The Republican platform, by contrast, focuses on modernizing our strategic nuclear arsenal and promotes missile defense as a key strategic tool, criticizing the Democratic administration for laxness in both areas.

But recent news suggests that neither party’s positions regarding nuclear weapons strategies are fully tenable.  


The World

The Budget Disaster that Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

How Movies Like Contagion and Outbreak Distort Our Response to Real Epidemics

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

Everything You Should Know About Today’s Eclipse

An Unscientific Ranking of Really, Really Old German Beers


Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.


The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Can Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu Pull Off One More Louisiana Miracle?

  News & Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
Oct. 23 2014 11:51 AM It Seems No One Is Rich or Happy: I Looked
The Vault
Oct. 23 2014 12:02 PM Delightfully Awkward Studio Action Shots of Players, Used on Early Baseball Cards
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 12:01 PM Who Is Constantine, and Should You Watch His New Show?
Oct. 23 2014 11:45 AM The United States of Reddit  How social media is redrawing our borders. 
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 23 2014 7:30 AM Our Solar System and Galaxy … Seen by an Astronaut
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.