Biden Throws Down The Gauntlet And Sets Stage For Test Ban Ratification Push

Biden-KissingerVice President Biden has an important op-ed today in the Wall Street Journal. In it, Biden firmly addresses one of the main arguments used by conservatives to oppose arms-control efforts, namely that the US nuclear stockpile is too unreliable to make further reductions. In response, Biden says the Administration is committed to reverse the previous decade of funding shortfalls in nuclear stockpile maintenance and will dramatically increase the budget for these programs:

Among the many challenges our administration inherited was the slow but steady decline in support for our nuclear stockpile and infrastructure, and for our highly trained nuclear work force. … For almost a decade, our laboratories and facilities have been underfunded and undervalued. … The budget we will submit to Congress on Monday both reverses this decline and enables us to implement the president’s nuclear-security agenda. 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.

This should address the stated concerns of conservative GOP Senators who wrote a letter last month worrying about the state of the nuclear stockpile in the face of future cuts in the nuclear arsenal. In other words, conservatives argue, reasonably enough, that if you have fewer nukes then we have to be sure that the remaining nuclear weapons are good to go. The problem however, is that instead of focusing on expanding resources to programs that maintain the reliability of our remaining nuclear weapons, prominent conservatives in the Senate stamp their feet demanding that we start building new nuclear weapons. This is like instead of taking your perfectly fine car to get a tune-up, you just decide to buy an entirely new one. It’s wasteful and unnecessary.

Numerous studies have pointed out that there is no need to build a new nuclear warhead or test nuclear weapons as long as there is adequate funding to maintain the nuclear stockpile. Biden’s increase in funding will ensure that, as the Arms Control Association notes, “the United States can continue maintain a reliable arsenal without resuming nuclear testing or building newly-designed nuclear warheads.”

Yet many conservatives prefer just to pretend these studies don’t exist. Senators like Jon Kyl (R-AZ), want to build new nuclear weapons and want to conduct new nuclear tests and pledge to fight tooth and nail against ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Many are predicting that because of this opposition, CTBT will go nowhere in the Senate, as it needs 67 votes. But with still 59 Democrats, and with Republican non-proliferation advocates like Senator Dick Lugar, not to mention the Senators from Utah and Nevada that have a strong opposition to ever testing nukes again, there is a fighting chance that this treaty could get passed. Importantly, Biden didn’t walk away from it and included CTBT ratification as part of the Administration’s core nuclear security agenda in his op-ed:

Our budget request is just one of several closely related and equally important initiatives giving life to the president’s Prague agenda. Others include…and pursuing ratification and entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

Instead of shirking from the fight, the Administration should plow forward and push the CTBT, because as former Republican Senator from Utah, Jake Garn, wrote today in the Deseret News, “Ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty will make our country safer.”