WASHINGTON: Plans to strengthen conventional U.S. military equipment and warheads will allow the United States to draw down its nuclear arsenal while maintaining deterrence, Vice President Joe Biden said today.
Biden outlined the Obama Administration’s nonproliferation and nuclear security plans at the National Defense University here to an audience that included National Security Advisor retired Gen. Jim Jones and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates.
Biden noted that the Quadrennial Defense Review and the Ballistic Missile Defense Review, which Gates released two weeks ago, call for further strengthening of the military’s preeminent conventional forces with capabilities such as an adaptive missile defense shield and conventional warheads that have worldwide reach.
“With these modern capabilities, even with deep nuclear reductions, we will remain undeniably strong and in a position to defend our interests against all our enemies,” he said.
Until then, Biden said, “We have to do everything in our power to maintain our arsenal and make sure it’s reliable. At the vanguard of this effort, alongside our military, are our nuclear weapons laboratories.”
President Barack Obama has proposed $7 billion over five years to reverse years of declining budgets for maintenance of the nation’s nuclear stockpile and related facilities, which are becoming a national security threat, Biden said.
The administration is reviewing its nuclear posture and has come to “broad and deep consensus” on strengthening the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty that soon will be sent to Congress, Biden said. The “basic bargain” of the treaty is that nuclear powers will pursue disarmament and non-nuclear states will not acquire such weapons while gaining access to civilian nuclear technology, he said.
Now 42 years after its initial signing, “the consensus is fraying” among world leaders to sign on, Biden said.
“It’s time,” he said, “for us to reinforce this consensus and to strengthen the treaty for the future.”
At the same time, Biden said, the administration is increasing sanctions against nations like North Korea and Iran for attempting to procure nuclear weapons. The administration also is calling for a ban on the production of fissile material that can be used to produce nuclear weapons, which the vice president said, “won’t be done easily.”
A third piece of the administration’s nonproliferation agenda is a comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons testing, which Biden said “is designed to keep emerging states from perfecting arsenals and preventing others from getting there.”
Nonproliferation policies are as important today as they were during the Cold War, Biden said. “It’s very easy to recognize the threat posed by nuclear terrorism,” he said. “But we must not underestimate how proliferation to a state could be destabilizing in an entire region – regions critical to us, to our security – and may very well prompt the neighbors in that region to feel that they have to garner nuclear weapons themselves.”
Speaking of the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty, Biden said, “We’re absolutely confident that all reasonable concerns raised about the treaty…, concerns about verification and reliability of our own arsenal, have now been addressed.”
Obama is to host a national security conference in April to discuss eliminating nuclear waste material in four years, Biden said. Obama also is slated to host a nonproliferation treaty review conference in May.
“As both the only nation to have ever used a nuclear weapon, and as a strong proponent of nonproliferation, the United States has long embodied a stark but inevitable contradiction,” Biden said. “The horror of nuclear conflict may make its occurrence unlikely, but the very existence of nuclear weapons leaves the human race ever at the brink of self-destruction, particularly if the weapons fall into the wrong hands.”
Speaking to the government and military leaders in the room, Biden said, “The awesome force at our disposal must always be balanced by the weight of our shared responsibility. Every day, many of you help bear that burden with professionalism, courage and grace. Together, we will lead this world toward a world of less reliance – ultimately, no reliance – on nuclear weapons.”