Republican presidential candidate Elizabeth Dole sketched a world bristling with nuclear threats yesterday and said her top priority, if elected, would be development of missile defense systems for the United States and its allies.

Dole delivered what was billed as her third major address on foreign policy to a standing-room-only audience at the College of Charleston in Charleston, S.C. As she has in the past, she charged the Clinton administration with weakening the nation's defenses and underestimating the menace of rogue nations.

"Instead of developing a strategic framework for our nation's security," she said, "surveys and focus groups determine our foreign policy."

Dole's speech was the latest sign that the specter of nuclear war could return to the national debate after a decade on the wane. The subject has appeared in other recent speeches by Republicans; last week, Texas Gov. George W. Bush called for a missile defense system and pledged to spend $20 billion on new weapons research.

For Dole, the nuclear threat is the thread connecting the pieces of a tough, internationalist foreign policy. She warned that the United States is vulnerable to devastating attack, denounced two major arms control treaties, called for heightened security in U.S. nuclear labs and endorsed continued engagement with China and Russia.

"China and North Korea can deliver bombs on Hawaii and Alaska," she said. "Even our mainland is vulnerable. . . . Some hostile power could launch short-range missiles from ships off our east and west coasts and target 145 million Americans."

Her response: "We will develop and implement national and theater missile defense systems. Once and for all, Americans will be defended from foreign attack. Indeed, there can be no higher priority for any president."

Dole said it is time to abandon the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which restricts the development of defensive systems. And she condemned the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which is pending in the Senate, saying that it would undermine the deterrent value of the U.S. nuclear stockpile.

Rogue states such as North Korea should not be treated as equals, Dole said. Dealing with China, however, will require a great deal of nuance. Dole described a "two-track approach to foster democratic reform" in China. The political track would involve meetings with key leaders to promote reform, while the economic track would attempt to open up China through increased free trade. At the same time, she would urge Congress to increase aid to Taiwan.

Although Dole blasted the Clinton administration policy toward China, it was not clear--except in a few details--how her approach would differ from current U.S. policy.