Vice President Joe Biden will mount a stout defense of the Obama administration's commitment to the nuclear test ban treaty today, vowing to pursue its ratification as part of its comprehensive non-proliferation and nuclear security agenda.
An administration official provided a preview of Biden's remarks but would not release excerpts from the speech. His setting will be an auditorium at the National Defense University; his audience will include academics, arms control activists, diplomats, members of Congress and senior military officials.
The United States is one of six nations to have signed but not ratified the treaty, which took effect in 1996. President Clinton endorsed it, but the Senate, in 1999, declined to back him. It fell 19 votes short of the 67 needed for ratification. 44 specific states are required to sign and ratify the CTBT before it goes into effect. Of that group, nine states have not yet done so, with six, not five, of those states, including the U.S., signing, but not ratifying, and three states -- India, Pakistan, and North Korea -- neither signing nor ratifying.
In April, President Obama asked Biden to lead the effort to push the treaty through the U.S. Senate.
Designed as an overview of all things nuclear, the headline will be the speaker more than the speech: Biden, as a senator, was a strong non-proliferation advocate and has credibility within the arms control community. He will take ownership of a nuclear policy that includes a significant increase in spending on stockpile management, a sensitive subject.
The official said that Biden's speech "builds" on the speech that President Obama delivered in Prague last year, within which he endorsed the goal of "global zero" -- a world without nuclear weapons -- but acknowledged that the U.S. would maintain its nuclear weapons arsenal as a deterrent.
Biden will describe the final states of the administration's START follow-up arms reduction treaty with Russia, will outline the goals of the soon-to-be-released Nuclear Posture Review, will preview the 40-nation Nuclear Security Conference that the U.S. will host in April, and will outline efforts to push for an end to the production of fissile materials.
"An important point the VP will make is that nuclear lab scientists tell us they have learned more about our nuclear weapons with non-explosive testing than they learned in decades of explosive testing in the desert," the official said of the test ban treaty.
"He will also say that all reasonable concerns raised when the CTBT was considered in 1999 have been successfully addressed." The U.S. has not tested a nuclear weapon since 1991, when then-President George H.W. Bush issued a moratorium.
To allay concerns that politics is driving the administration's decisions, Biden will announce that the administration has commissioned two studies - a National Intelligence Estimate and a National Academy of Sciences study - to inform their CTBT efforts.