Vice President Joe Biden's op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, justifying a $5 billion-five year increase in the budget for nuclear weapons stockpile management, can be seen as the opening salvo in an administration offensive to re-frame the debate surrounding the role, purpose, and effectiveness of U.S. nuclear weapons in advance of the release of the Nuclear Posture Review and Senate ratification debates on a START follow-on agreement and the nuclear test ban treaty. For months, old school Cold War conservatives have been able to push the narrative that Democrats are content to let U.S. nuclear weapons wither into obsolescence in pursuit of a faulty vision of unilateral disarmament.
The reality may be different. As the Biden op-ed points out implicitly, the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile and infrastructure, e.g. the physical plants, and especially the skilled technical workforce, necessary to maintain a robust nuclear weapons posture has been allowed to erode over the past decade, largely, Biden claims, under the willful neglect of the Bush administration.  That the Obama administration is willing to fund major new investments in our stockpile and infrastructure, in a political moment that calls for budget austerity elsewhere, demonstrates the importance it is placing on this issue.
 
Another point -- Republican senators like Jon Kyl say that the modernization of the nuclear stockpile and infrastructure really means building new nuclear warheads -- and if you don't do the latter, you are letting our nuclear deterrent go to hell.

Biden -- who has spent more time working on non-proliferation issues than any other subject save Iraq as VP, and who is a decided opponent of building new warheads -- is sending a message to Kyl: this administration will not go down the path of new nuclear warheads that promise new military capabilities, because a) we don't need them and b) it undermines our efforts to get the rest of the international community to get tough on countries like Iran, North Korea, and Syria.
 

"We have a good story to tell, and for too long we were quiet," a senior administration official said. "It's also time for Senate Democrats to rise to the challenge and reinforce this message."

Fascinating point: it took a Democratic president and a Democatic Congress to modernize the stockpile. The Bush administration's efforts in this regard failed. It remains to be seen how and whether the administration ties this achievement into a larger narrative about nonproliferation and national security.

More elements of the Obama nuclear security plan will be unveiled Monday -- budget day.

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