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Presidential Aspirants Split Over Defense

'88 Candidates and the issues: National Security: One in a Series

September 27, 1987|ROBERT C. TOTH | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — None of this year's Republican presidential hopefuls stand as squarely against arms control agreements with the Soviets as the right wing of their party, nor as forcefully in favor of increased military spending as President Reagan, a Times survey of the major presidential aspirants shows.

And as for the Democratic contenders, while they are clearly more enthusiastic proponents of arms agreements than the Republicans, their positions also reflect the party's gradual shift away from utopian solutions to the nuclear arms race. Unlike a generation ago, when many Democrats called for "disarmament," for example, the current crop of hopefuls is merely endorsing "arms control."

Divided on Party Lines

But while aspirants of the two parties appear to be converging on arms control, they remain split over some other critical national security issues.

Thus, in response to the Times survey, every Democratic hopeful came out against the space-based missile defense system that Reagan calls his Strategic Defense Initiative, while every Republican declared himself in favor of it.

Some important differences emerged between aspirants of the same party. Among Republicans, for example, former Secretary of State and Army Gen. Alexander M. Haig Jr. flatly opposed the Administration's policy of escorting tankers in the Persian Gulf, while Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas did not endorse it outright.

And among Democrats, Sen. Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee was closer to the Administration than to his fellow Democrats on nuclear testing, defense spending and the Persian Gulf tanker escort. He emerged as the clear maverick of the Democratic herd.

The hopefuls outlined their views earlier this month in responses to a Times questionnaire on seven sets of issues. Their positions on the six other groups of issues--Central America, fiscal policy, trade, AIDS, domestic spending programs and the social issues--will be published in subsequent installments of this series.

Of the 13 major contenders now seeking or considering seeking their party's nomination, only the Rev. Pat Robertson failed to take positions on most of the national security issues surveyed by The Times. In a brief response to The Times' questions, his headquarters said he is "currently finalizing policy statements" on arms control. The Republican aspirant's responses on other questions were too general to be examined in detail.

The responses by hopefuls of both parties reflect a nationwide shift of public opinion away from the hard-line defense posture adopted by Reagan, who has referred to the Soviet Union as an "evil empire."

Reagan's 1980 election marked the peak of a decade-long trend toward public support of greater defense expenditures after the Vietnam War. His predecessor, Jimmy Carter, was elected after promising a $5-billion cut in military spending, but Carter was never able to carry out his pledge.

Reagan promised to rebuild U.S. strength, but he also attacked the State Department for putting too much trust in arms control negotiations. He charged that naive American diplomats had been outfoxed by wily Soviet negotiators who cheated on arms agreements, and he promised to begin a new arms buildup that would give the United States a "margin of safety" over the Soviets.

But now, as Reagan moves toward a new arms agreement with Moscow and his third summit with a Soviet leader, none of the Republicans in the 1988 race could avoid a positive nod toward arms control.

New York Rep. Jack Kemp, the most conservative of the leading GOP contenders, told The Times that the U.S. stance in arms control talks "should be guided by realism and a firm understanding of the nature of the totalitarian adversary." But at the same time, he added that "the United States must pursue agreements with the Soviet Union that serve to strengthen the United States and protect our citizens."

Among the Democratic hopefuls, stopping new weapons technologies has become a popular new goal. Illinois Sen. Paul Simon said he wants to "stop the introduction of new, destabilizing weapon designs," and Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis wants to "halt development of new, exotic destabilizing technologies."

Strategic Defense Initiative: Republican contenders unanimously favored SDI, which is popularly known as "Star Wars," and some of them supported the program even more vigorously than Reagan.

SDI, for which the White House has asked $5.8 billion for next year, now consists of research and some testing of an anti-missile defense system. Some research is based on established technology such as rocketry and radar, while the most promising work aims at developing laser and other exotic beam weapons that would be stationed in space.

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