In his April 2009 Prague speech on a vision of a world free of nuclear weapons, President Obama vowed to purse a number of steps to reduce the dangers posed by nuclear weapons. “As long as these weapons exist,” the President added, “the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary, and guarantee that defense to our allies.”
Vice President Joe Biden takes to the page of the not-so friendly Wall Street Journal op-ed page today to outline how the Obama administration’s upcoming Fiscal Year 2011 budget, which will be released next week, will allow the U.S. to maintain a strong deterrent into the future…
Recent reports have suggested that the Administration is about to propose a 10% increase in the nuclear weapons budget. The Vice President confirms these reports:
To achieve these goals, our budget devotes $7 billion for maintaining our nuclear-weapons stockpile and complex, and for related efforts. This commitment is $600 million more than Congress approved last year. And over the next five years we intend to boost funding for these important activities by more than $5 billion. Even in a time of tough budget decisions, these are investments we must make for our security. We are committed to working with Congress to ensure these budget increases are approved.
Biden’s op-ed comes on the heels of last week’s Four Horsemen op-ed which also makes the case for a renewed commitment to our nuclear laboratories and infrastructure. Like the Four Horsemen, Biden echoes many of the concerns expressed by the bipartisan Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States about the state of the U.S. nuclear infrastructure. He writes that “our laboratories and facilities have been underfunded and undervalued,” placing particular emphasis on “the growing shortage of skilled nuclear scientists and engineers” and “the aging of critical facilities.”
Nick Roth over at ANA provides a good overview of how this money is likely to be spent. Expect increased funding for stockpile surveillance, new facilities at Los Alamos and Oakridge, and nonproliferation, and substantial funding for the newly-created Stockpile Management Program.
I think Biden’s op-ed serves a number of different purposes.
First, the op-ed responds to Republican demands, these days expressed in the context of the Obama administration’s efforts to negotiate a new nuclear reductions agreement with Russia, that the U.S. must modernize its “nuclear deterrent.” While Jon Kyl has repeatedly twisted what both the Strategic Posture Commission and the Defense Authorization Act call for on this front, the administration no doubt seeks to demonstrate that it will keep the arsenal up to snuff, and that it views increased funding for the nuclear enterprise as a necessary step to secure Republican support for a new arms control agreement and the CTBT. As one administration official put it on background to Politico’s Laura Rozen:
the op-ed can be considered the opening salvo in an Administration effort to reframe the debate on U.S. nuclear weapons policy in advance of key developments this spring: the budget release next week, which Biden previews, completion of the Nuclear Posture Review, the anticipated signature and ratification of a Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty [START] follow-on agreement with Moscow, two key nuclear summits in Washington in the spring, and laying the groundwork for eventual Senate consideration of the comprehensive nuclear test ban convention, the CTBT. He cited White House concerns that critics have been unchallenged on these issues for too long.
Second, while the op-ed expresses (overblown?) concerns about the state of our nuclear laboratories and facilities, it notes that we can continue to maintain our nuclear arsenal without testing, and says nothing about a need to produce new warhead designs or give existing warheads new military capabilities. The evidence that we can continue to rely on existing stewardship and life extension programs to maintain our nuclear weapons is overwhelming.
Finally, the op-ed reaffirms the strong bipartisan support that exists for President Obama’s nuclear security agenda. Hopefully the names “Kissinger” and “Schultz” continue to be part of just about every pitch the administration makes in support of this agenda going forward.