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
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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is a former contributing editor at The Atlantic