In an important speech yesterday Vice President Biden pushed for rapid action on the President’s nuclear agenda. Biden spoke at the National Defense University and was introduced by Secretary of Defense Gates, sending a strong message that the military is firmly in support of moving full speed ahead on the President’s nuclear agenda. As Biden put it, “we are all on the same page” and that “even with deep nuclear reductions, we will remain undeniably strong.”
Biden laid out an ambitious agenda, which notably called for the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The Vice President also emphasized that there is clear bipartisan support among foreign policy experts for this 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…During the 2008 Presidential campaign, both the President and Senator McCain supported the same objective. We will continue to build support for this emerging bipartisan consensus like the one around containment of Soviet expansionism that George Kennan inspired. Toward that end, we have worked tirelessly to implement the President’s Prague agenda.
On CTBT, Biden explained that “explosive testing damaged our health, disrupted our environment and set back our non-proliferation goals” and he affirmed that the past concerns that prevented ratification of the treaty in 1999 have been addressed, as technological advances make testing unnecessary. Biden explained:
Our labs know more about our arsenal today than when we used to explode our weapons on a regular basis. With our support, the labs can anticipate potential problems and reduce their impact on our arsenal. Unfortunately, during the last decade, our nuclear complex and experts were neglected and underfunded… That’s why earlier this month we announced a new budget that reverses the last decade’s dangerous decline. It devotes $7 billion to maintaining our nuclear stockpile and modernizing our nuclear infrastructure.
The speech presents a clear challenge to conservatives in the Senate. There is steadfast support from the military and widespread bipartisan support among serious foreign policy officials and experts (including Secretary of States for Reagan, Nixon, and George W. Bush) in support of eliminating nuclear weapons. Yet conservatives in the Senate, led by Senator Jon Kyl, appear determined to torpedo this effort, with Kyl even advocating for nuclear testing and building more nuclear weapons.
The key question is whether conservatives in the Senate motivated by an obstructionist political strategy and an extremist foreign policy vision are able to unite their party around blocking this agenda. In other words, this will demonstrate if they are the party of Powell or Palin.