Dianne Feinstein

Commencement Adress: USC Law School - May 18, 2003

Dianne Feinstein
May 18, 2003— University of Southern California
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Thank you very much, Dean Spitzer and Jenna (Jenkins) and Rebecca (Furman) for your leadership in the school and what I suspect will be a leadership role in your community in the future. And all you graduates out there: don't make it too difficult to collect that $21,000 for scholarships. This is the first time I've ever seen it done - so I hope it's successful. In preparing these remarks, I tried to keep in mind something that I heard once. Probably, many graduates here today don't know that much about Hubert Humphrey. But in my mind he was a great U.S. Senator; he was also Vice President of United States. One day he was about to give a speech and his wife Muriel said: "Hubert, just remember you don't have to be eternal to be immortal." So I am going to try to say what I have to say in a relatively short period of time. Forty years ago, President John F. Kennedy delivered a commencement address at American University. In that speech he spoke about a "strategy for peace." At that time the world was symmetrically divided between the Soviet and the American camps. Both sides had nuclear missiles targeted at the other in a kind of nuclear standoff. Well, with the disappearance of the Berlin Wall and demise of the Soviet Union those two camps broke apart. Many people may think: "Well it is a safer world today." But we now face asymmetric threats that are not contained by geography or political borders. We no longer fear the threat of an all-out nuclear war. Yet the likelihood of a nuclear, chemical, or biological attack has increased. But President Kennedy's remarks still warrant careful reflection as we continue this global war on terror. "What kind of peace do we seek?" he asked that day. "Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war. Not the peace of the grave or the security of the slave. I am talking about genuine peace, the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living, the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children - not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women - not merely peace in our time but peace for all time." Now, in my decade in the Senate, I don't believe our world has faced a more precarious time than we face today in the global war on terror. So these words stated so eloquently by our 35th President should be recalled and considered. At other times, I might have chosen to challenge you on a more personal level, urging each and every one of you to "make a difference" in the world - to put your divot back. Or, I might have tried to introduce some levity with a bad lawyer's joke of which there are many, I might tell you. Or, perhaps I might have used a popular song, as I did at the Stanford commencement - my alma mater in 1993 when I quoted that great country singer, Garth Brooks, and challenged the graduates: "To chance the rapids and dance the tides." Well, today I am not going to give that kind of speech because September 11th has changed everything. The world today is a different place. And the wounds that 9/11 left on Americans have created massive scar tissue in the American psyche which has enabled us to think and do what we would not have previously even contemplated. And given the extraordinary moment in which we are all living I feel compelled to share with you my concerns about American foreign policy and national security. In the aftermath of September 11th we demonstrated clearly and forcefully that the United States will avenge any attack on our soil. We have shown that those who were killed at the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon and in a field in western Pennsylvania will not have died in vain. And in Iraq, the United States has moved forcefully to rid the world of a heinous dictator who posed a serious threat to peace and security in the Middle East. But now it is imperative that the United States restores its relationship with the world. It is imperative that we work closely with our long-term allies and international institutions to knit a world peace that can not happen through the actions of the United States alone. To my mind, of all the myriad challenges facing the United States, none is greater than national security. In the wake of 9/11, the White House has articulated a new, and in many ways, revolutionary approach to U.S. foreign policy. So different in fact, that a couple of weeks ago, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright told those of us in the Democratic Caucus of the Senate: that in all of American history there has never been a greater difference in American foreign policy and national security than between the Clinton Administration and this Bush Administration. Indeed, I believe that our country now stands at a decisive crossroad. And I stand before you today, to express my concern about the future. I think President Bush is right when he says that the greatest threat facing the United States lies in the global proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and terrorist access to those weapons. But, by adopting a policy of unilateralism and preemption, by moving away from international institutions, by increasing U.S. reliance on nuclear weapons, the Administration may actually encourage the proliferation we seek to prevent and continue to lose both friends and allies of long standing. After 9/11, there was an immediate show of support for the United States by the rest of the world. The French newspaper Le Monde printed a headline "We are all Americans now." But the United States has lost much of this good will since then. Both in the way the Administration has approached the war in Iraq and because of a growing perception that this Administration's attitude is one that America always know best, doesn't listen to her allies and is perceived by others as increasingly arrogant. This unilateral approach and strategy stands in sharp contrast to a successful bipartisan tradition born out of World War II - a tradition of supporting a world ordered by law, with capable international institutions and reciprocal restraints on action. In the long run, I deeply believe that this new strategy will undermine U.S. security and will make the world a more dangerous rather than a safer place. And today, I want to share with you my concerns about major changes taking place in foreign policy and national security. In 2002, right after 9/11, the Administration released a series of policy documents and strategies. One of them was called the Nuclear Posture Review. Despite subsequent efforts to downplay the document's significance, it represents, in my view, the beginning of a new era of nuclear contemplation and the possible use of nuclear weapons in the future. This policy document posits that certain events might compel the United States to use nuclear weapons first, and even against non-nuclear states and it dangerously blurs the line between the use of conventional and nuclear weapons. News reports on the Nuclear Posture Review specifically discuss situations in which the United State would engage in a first use of nuclear weapons. These include "a North Korean attack on South Korea, or a military confrontation over the status of Taiwan." It addresses contingencies in which the United States might use nuclear weapons - not in retaliation for a nuclear strike on the United States, but to destroy enemy stocks of chemical or biological weapons. And it calls for the development of a new generation of U.S. nuclear warheads, including low-yield or so called "mini-nukes." This past Wednesday, at a Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee meeting, I asked Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld about the Administration's request for funds for a study of the development of something called the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, a low-yield nuclear weapon. He said, in essence, that it is just a study and did not mean the Administration planned to develop or deploy these weapons. But the President's Congressional allies have added $15 million for research and testing of this nuclear bunker buster to the 2004 Defense Authorization bill which will be on the floor of the United States Senate tomorrow. This bill would also repeal a 10-year-old prohibition on research and development of low yield nuclear weapons. This, too will be on the floor of the Senate this week. And some of us will try to repeal the repeal. The bill would also authorize $6 million for research of other advanced nuclear concepts and $25 million to resume, if necessary, the nuclear testing program. And it would lessen the time it would take to prepare to conduct a nuclear test from three years to 18 months. The United States has not conducted a nuclear test since 1992, and such testing is actually barred by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which the United States signed in 1996. Where I am going with all of this? Where I am going is that what we are seeing is a quiet, but major shift in American policy. We see all these pieces, a study here, research and feasibility there, a resumption of testing. But when you connect the dots, a very disturbing picture begins to appear. Wheels are beginning to turn to develop a new generation of nuclear weapons. We do not know how these issues will play out on the floor of the House and the Senate. But the likelihood is that they will be approved. The development of low-yield nuclear weapons offers the United States, I believe, no decisive military advantage, but it has potentially grave international repercussions. Does anybody believe that if the United States were to develop such weapons, other countries would not follow? Would that make the world safer? I think not. In fact, this Administration seems to be moving toward a military posture in which nuclear weapons are considered just like other weapons. Their purpose is not simply to serve as a deterrent. But they would be a usable instrument of military power, like a tank, a fighter aircraft, or a cruise missile. At the same time, the Nuclear Posture Review expands the countries cited as possible targets. Mentioning that "North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Libya are among the countries that could be involved in immediate, potential or unexpected contingencies." Now, I would not defend any of these regimes. But with the exception of North Korea, none are nuclear powers. These contingencies really point to a first use of nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear state. Previous administrations of both political parties, when faced with an uncertain world, have made ambiguous public statements about the United States reserving the right to consider all options without any specificity as to which option, or under what conditions. This ambiguity has served this nation in good stand. But today, two new policy initiatives together cite contingencies for the preemptive use of nuclear weapons or the use of nuclear weapons in retaliation to a non-nuclear attack. In this day and age, a first use of nuclear weapons, tactical or otherwise, by our country should be unthinkable. And responding to a non-nuclear attack with nuclear weapons, not only violates a central tenet of just war and United States military tradition; it is simply unacceptable. Indeed, at a time when the United States brands as evil certain countries based in part on their pursuit of nuclear arms or weapons of mass destruction, we must be careful as we consider our own options and contingencies regarding nuclear weapons. The United States has the finest volunteer professional military in the world and the most sophisticated weapon systems in the world. So sophisticated that a missile launched from a destroyer or a cruiser 900 to 1,000 miles away can strike a single story in a building and do no damage to the rest of that building. This should enable us to meet any challenge. In his commencement address at West Point in June of 2002, the President called upon all Americans and I quote: "to be forward looking and resolute, to be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and defend our lives. If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long." And this theme was further developed in the National Security Strategy, published in September of last year, which argues that "the United States can no longer solely rely on a reactive posture as we have in the past..." It goes on to say: "We cannot let out enemies strike first, the greater the threat, the greater the risk of inaction - and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves." Now, I agree with these statements. I believe that as a tactical matter, there may be situations where the United States may have to strike first against an imminent threat. However, by creating a specific presumption strategy, and by adapting the concept of imminent threat to threats not fully formed or to cases where one day a foreign government may be a threat to the United States, we set an example for others which may well come back to haunt us and I believe will lead to a less stable and a more dangerous world. Now, why am I telling all of you this? I am saying it because we are at a kind of crossroad. And the question has to be - will the United States recommit our nation to the achievement of workable democratic structures for international law and international institutions and norms of behavior and conduct that others are willing to accept? Or will we turn away from the successful bipartisan tradition of supporting a world ordered by law and instead pursue a unilateralist and a preemptive path? I deeply believe that the United States is heading into unchartered territory without adequate reflection or consultation with Congress and our allies. So it's time to raise the warning flags. And I begin to raise these flags here today in hopes that you bright, young, potential lawyers will join me in speaking out against renewed nuclear activity in whatever form it may take. As we set a future course for this nation, we should remember that the hallmark of America's national security flows from who we are, not just what our military can do. Our strength emanates from our moral stature and our belief in truth, justice and in freedom. If the long term goal of our foreign policy is to help build a world where we have more allies than adversaries, more friends than enemies, and more prosperity than poverty, a doctrine of unilateral preemptive military action when combined with renewed nuclear development, will most certainly work against that goal. The voices of reason and restraint can still prevail. And what happens, I believe, over the next several weeks and months could well define how this great nation is perceived for generations to come. So this is a sober address for a bright, young law school class. And I hope as you go into the world, as you raise your families, as you put your divot back into your community, as you become articulate and moral attorneys for a given cause, that you will also realize that this great nation needs your guidance. It needs your participation, because the thing about a democracy is that no one can take it for granted. The bricks of a democracy are not only cement and mortar, but they need constant tending by an informed electorate. So, go out there be great lawyers; care about your community, put that divot back, and "chance the rapids and dance the tides." Thank you very much.