Vice-President Biden Squares the Nuclear Weapons Budget Request with the President's Nobel Peace Prize

March 12, 2010

Vice-President Joe Biden, in a major policy speech last month, sought to establish that the 2011 Administration budget request for nuclear weapons is needed to implement the long-range goal of a nuclear-weapons-free world pledged by President Obama in Prague in April 2009.

Speaking at the National Defense University on February 18, Biden summarized the President's agenda as one that would "take concrete steps toward a world without nuclear weapons, while retaining a safe, secure, and effective arsenal as long as we still need it."

As he recalled the Cold-War conviction that nuclear weapons must be a central feature of a policy of deterrence, Biden said that this position is shifting. New technological developments make it clear that there are "non-nuclear ways to accomplish that same objective," such as the adaptive missile defense shield and conventional warheads with worldwide reach.

Now, at the same time, many are following the series of meetings on nuclear weapons control that are under way or will occur in the near future. The U.S. and Russia resumed negotiations on March 9 in Geneva for a follow-on to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) that will prescribe further cuts to both nuclear arsenals. Then on April 12 and 13, Obama will host a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Summit seeking to secure the world's loose nuclear material. In May at the United Nations, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Five-Year Review will take place. Finally, there is renewed interest for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which the U.S. has signed, but the Senate did not ratify in 1998. It remains to be seen how the various negotiating parties will reconcile the increased budget for nuclear weapons with the U.S. nuclear-weapons reduction claims.

According to Biden, the $7 billion funding request supports these larger undertakings. He said, "This investment is not only consistent with our nonproliferation agenda; it is essential to it."

The budget request includes amounts for new and modernized facilities, such as the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Facility, and the restoration of some 2000 jobs lost between 2006 and 2008 at the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories. Biden concluded that this budget will make possible the realization of the last element of President Obama's agenda, ratification of the CTBT.

The budget request for nuclear weapons is some 14% higher than for 2010, continuing a pattern that started in 1998 at about $4 billion that has continued to rise, though at an irregular rate, over the past 12 years.

Republican Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona voiced support of the budget, saying it was "a definite improvement over previous years."

Hans M. Kristenen, of the Federation of American Scientists, observed that "[t]he budget signals that the price for the START follow-on agreement with Russia and Senate certification of the [CTBT] is additional money for nuclear weapons modernization and production facilities."

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