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Vice President Biden addressed the administration’s nuclear agenda at the National Defense University February 18 in Washington.

Vice President Biden addressed the administration’s nuclear agenda at the National Defense University February 18 in Washington.

18 February 2010

Biden Discusses U.S. Nuclear Agenda, February 18, 2010

(Outlines plans for preventing nuclear weapons spread)

By Merle David Kellerhals Jr.
Staff Writer

Washington — Vice President Biden says the United States will do everything in its power to keep nuclear weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists or spreading to states that do not already have them.

But Biden also emphasized that the United States recognizes that as its own technology improves, researchers are developing non-nuclear ways to deter potential adversaries without relying on the nuclear weapons deterrence that characterized the Cold War period of the 20th century.

“The spread of nuclear weapons is the greatest threat facing the country and, I would argue, facing humanity,” Biden said in a February 18 speech at the National Defense University in Washington. “And that is why we’re working both to stop their proliferation and eventually to eliminate them.”

“But until that day comes, we have to do everything in our power to maintain our national arsenal and make sure it’s reliable,” he added.

Biden outlined the plan for implementing President Obama’s nonproliferation and nuclear security agenda, and also addressed budget needs and other efforts to support the president’s vision of reducing nuclear dangers worldwide.

In April 2009 in Prague, Obama laid out a vision for protecting the United States from nuclear threats, but also made clear that he was seeking a world free of nuclear weapons. Biden said the Obama administration is working to strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and to gain ratification in the U.S. Senate for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which was designed to keep emerging nuclear states from perfecting their arsenals and prevent rivals from pursuing more advanced weapons systems.

In his speech, Biden said nuclear research laboratories and the Defense Department have been developing capabilities like an adaptive missile defense shield, conventional warheads with worldwide reach and other systems that will enable the United States to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in its national security arsenal.

Obama asked Congress for $7 billion in the fiscal year 2011 federal budget to maintain the existing nuclear stockpile while also modernizing the U.S. nuclear infrastructure, which includes U.S. research and development laboratories operated by the U.S. Energy Department. The request represents a $624 million increase from the current fiscal year’s budget, which runs from October 1, 2009, to September 30, 2010, and includes spending an additional $5 billion for those projects over the next five years.

“This investment is not only consistent with a nonproliferation agenda, we argue it’s essential to pursue a nonproliferation agenda,” Biden said. “Guaranteeing our stockpile, coupled with broader research and development efforts, allows us to pursue deeper nuclear reductions, without in any way compromising our security.”

One of the most significant factors in nuclear weapons research by the United States has been its ability to conduct testing through the Stockpile Stewardship Program, which does not require underground, atmospheric or underwater explosions, Biden said. The program was launched 18 years ago by President George H.W. Bush when he signed a nuclear-testing moratorium enacted by Congress.

The United States and Russia are negotiating a new arms agreement that would succeed the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START I, which expired December 5, 2009. Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev tentatively agreed in July 2009 to seek a new treaty that reduces existing arsenals to between 1,500 and 1,675 warheads each. Talks paused during December 2009 for the holidays and resumed late last month in Geneva.

Under Secretary of State Ellen Tauscher told reporters recently that the two sides are quite close to reaching an accord.

Biden said that the president will host a Global Nuclear Security Summit April 12-13 in Washington to advance his goals of securing all vulnerable nuclear materials within four years. “It’s a very high priority. We cannot wait; we cannot wait for an act of nuclear terrorism before coming together to share the best practices and raise security standards,” he said.

And in May “we will participate in a Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference. We are rallying support for stronger measures to strengthen inspection and to punish cheaters,” Biden added.

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