Democrat Barack Obama warned Wednesday about the danger of "fighting the last war" as he pledged to focus on emerging nuclear, biological and cyber threats if elected president.
Two goals of his administration would be to secure all loose nuclear material during his first term and to rid the world of nuclear weapons, Obama told an audience before a roundtable discussion at Purdue University.
Obama said adhering to nonproliferation treaties would put pressure on nations such as North Korea and Iran. North Korea has tested a nuclear weapon and Iran has an energy program the Bush administration warns could be a precursor to nuclear weapon development.
"As long as nuclear weapons exist, we'll retain a strong deterrent. But we will make the goal of eliminating all nuclear weapons a central element in our nuclear policy," Obama said.
He added, "The danger ... is that we are constantly fighting the last war, responding to the threats that have come to fruition, instead of staying one step ahead of the threats of the 21st century."
Among those joining him for the panel discussion were two potential running mates, Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., and former Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga. Bayh has demurred when asked about running on a ticket with Obama, but he was effusive in his praise of the likely Democratic nominee.
Recalling a trip they made to Iraq together, Bayh said: "He was pragmatic, he was focused, although he was wise enough to oppose that conflict from the beginning because he understood it was a strategic diversion. He's now tough enough to get us out and to do it in the right way, refocus on Afghanistan and Iran and the other real threats that are evolving."
Nunn, a defense expert, is viewed as a senior statesman who could offset the relative youth of Obama, a freshman senator from Illinois. He said he supported Obama's nonproliferation pledge and outlined the challenges Obama would face in the Oval Office as if he were already elected.
During his remarks, Obama paid tribute to Sen. Richard Lugar, a popular Indiana Republican who has focused on nuclear nonproliferation issues for much of his career, working closely with Nunn.
Indiana is a Republican-leaning state that Obama hopes to put it in play in the general election, capitalizing in part on his status as a senator from neighboring Illinois.
Prevention and detection
In addition to his focus on nuclear matter, Obama called for investing in methods to prevent, detect and contain biological attacks. He highlighted a proposal to spend $5 billion over three years to develop an international intelligence and law enforcement infrastructure to stymie terrorist networks.
"Making these changes will do more than help us tackle bioterror; it will also create new jobs, it will support a healthier population and improve America's capability to respond to any major disaster," he said.
Coping with cyber security for an increasingly online world will protect the country's economic and national security assets, Obama said, and he pledged to appoint a cyber adviser who will coordinate government efforts and report directly to the president.
"All of this will demand the greatest resource that America has, and that's our people," said Obama. "In the Cold War, we didn't defeat the Soviets just because of the strength of our arms. We also did it because at the dawn of the atomic age and at the onset of the space race, the smartest scientists and most innovative work force was here in America."
Obama jabbed at President Bush and his Republican rival, Sen. John McCain of Arizona. "Instead of adjusting to the stateless threats of the 21st century, we invaded and occupied a state that had no collaborative relationship with al-Qaida. Instead of taking aggressive steps to secure the world's most dangerous weapons and technology, we spent almost a trillion dollars to occupy a country in the heart of the Middle East that no longer had any weapons of mass destruction."
The event continued the buildup for Obama's upcoming visit to Iraq and Afghanistan as well as Europe. The campaign also released on national cable TV its latest ad, which promotes the national security and foreign policy agenda.