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Vice President Biden’s Nuclear Weapons Speech

Vice President Biden gave a major policy speech today on nuclear weapons (full text here), discussing the administration’s nuclear weapons agenda, their funding request for nuclear weapons, and key steps towards a nuclear weapons free world, like ratification of the New START agreement and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Much of the speech reaffirmed the Obama administration’s commitment to steps toward a nuclear weapons free world. Biden noted the bipartisan support for this nuclear security agenda:

Our goal of a world without nuclear weapons has been endorsed by leading voices in both parties. These include two former Secretaries of State from Republican administrations, Henry Kissinger and George Shultz; President Clinton’s Secretary of Defense Bill Perry; and my former colleague Sam Nunn, for years the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Together, these four statesmen called eliminating nuclear weapons “a bold initiative consistent with America’s moral heritage.”

During the 2008 Presidential campaign, both the President and Senator McCain supported the same objective.

He also highlighted the importance of two key treaties: New START and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The New START agreement between the US and Russia to reduce both of our nuclear arsenals is expected to be announced within several weeks. Biden made the case for why the US Senate should ratify the CTBT and ban all nuclear test explosions:

During the Cold War, we tested nuclear weapons in our atmosphere, underwater and underground, to confirm that they worked before deploying them, and to evaluate more advanced concepts. But explosive testing damaged our health, disrupted our environment and set back our non-proliferation goals.

Eighteen years ago, President George H.W. Bush signed the nuclear testing moratorium enacted by Congress, which remains in place to this day.

Under the moratorium, our laboratories have maintained our arsenal through the Stockpile Stewardship Program without underground nuclear testing, using techniques that are as successful as they are cutting edge.

With the Vice President speaking out, this is an opportunity for us to mobilize and take action. Send your senators an email or give them a call and let them know you support these treaties. You can look up your senators’ contact information on Peace Action West’s website under “Your Congress.”

At the same time, Biden sought to defend the $7 billion the administration has requested in funding for the nuclear weapons complex next year. While some spending to specific programs that safely maintain our nuclear weapons as we work to reduce them makes sense, a large chunk of that funding goes to unnecessary new facilities that do not contribute to that goal. Instead, funding for a new plutonium pit facility (the bomb core of a nuclear weapon) would enable more production of new pits. Should the US decide to produce new nuclear weapons in the future, the infrastructure to do so would be in place. At the same time, funding these facilities sends the wrong message to the international community about our priorities. Biden acknowledged the large, proposed spending increase is controversial:

Some friends in both parties may question aspects of our approach. Some in my own party may have trouble reconciling investments in our nuclear complex with a commitment to arms reduction. Some in the other party may worry we’re relinquishing capabilities that keep our country safe.

While there is broad bipartisan support for reducing our nuclear weapons stockpile alongside Russia, the push to ratify the CTBT is expected to be challenging. David Shorr’s blog post “Test Ban Treaty — Golden Opportunity for Republican Bipartisanship” takes stock of the current political climate:

Yet, modern bipartisanship, unfortunately, is a game with moving goalposts. It’s like the domestic political equivalent of the neoconservative approach to international negotiations — instead of give and take, conservatives want all take and no give. As a result, the center of gravity for compromise has moved steadily rightward. When it comes to arms control, Ronald Reagan’s policies look so moderate on the contemporary political spectrum that they would certainly come under scathing criticism from today’s right wing.