U.S. Democratic and Republican Party Platforms Disagree on Trade and Arms Control

The 1996 Republican party platform, adopted at the party’s convention in San Diego in August, provides a detailed critique of the Clinton administration’s national security policy. It also promises a number of initiatives under a Dole presidency, including stricter U.S. export controls.

In its most specific statement on export policy, the platform asserts: “Our technological edge is at risk not only because of the Clinton Administration’s refusal to sustain an adequate investment in defense modernization, but also its virtual abandonment of national security-related export controls. Acquisition of technology by aspiring proliferators of weapons of mass destruction has been irresponsibly facilitated.”

The document goes on to pledge that a Dole administration will protect America’s technological superiority by (among other steps) “ensuring that the Defense Department has a key role in approving exports of militarily critical technology, and restoring the effectiveness of export control regimes.”

The platform charges that terrorist states have “made a comeback” in the past four years, singling out North Korea, Iran, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, and Cuba. It calls for a program to reduce threats from these regimes, including “imposition and enforcement of sanctions, banning investment, and leading our allies in effective policies.” In its discussion of U.S. policy toward Latin America, the platform endorses the Helms-Burton Act, which allows U.S. nationals whose property was nationalized by the Castro government to sue the current owners or beneficiaries of their former holdings.

With respect to China, the platform states only that “our relationship with the Chinese government will be based on vigilance with regard to its military potential, proliferation activities, and its attitude toward human rights, especially in Hong Kong.” The document does not discuss China’s most-favored-nation status; GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole endorsed continuing MFN for China earlier this year.

Dole’s economic plan, which he released in August, touches on another issue related to exports: the future of the Commerce Department. Dole’s plan includes breaking up the department to help pay for his promised tax cuts. The plan assumes that this step would free up some $15 billion in savings over six years. Many agency functions would be transferred to other Federal agencies, although Dole has not provided details.

The Democratic Party platform on foreign policy and defense is mainly devoted to enumerating the achievements of the Clinton administration. The platform states, for example, that “Four years ago, the North Koreans were operating a dangerous nuclear program. Today, that program is frozen, under international inspection, and slated to be dismantled.”

The platform does not explicitly address export controls. However, it strongly emphasizes nonproliferation: “Strengthening our security also requires an aggressive effort against weapons of mass destruction–nuclear, chemical, and biological–and their means of delivery. From the nuclear weapons programs in iraq and North Korea to the Sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway, our nation has seen that this threat is clear and present. To meet it, we must seize the opportunities presented by the end of the Cold War to cut weapons of mass destruction stockpiles while working to prevent lethal weapons and materials from falling into the wrong hands.”

The platform endorses the Clinton administration’s “policy of steady engagement to encourage a stable, secure, open and prosperous China,” without mentioning China’s most-favored-nation status. It also calls for immediate ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention [CWC], which it charges has been “too long delayed by the Dole Senate.”