The Wall Street Journal, January 29 2010
We will spend what is necessary to maintain the safety, security and effectiveness of our weapons.
By JOE BIDEN
The United States faces no greater threat than the spread of nuclear weapons. That is why, last April in Prague, President Obama laid out a comprehensive agenda to reverse their spread, and to pursue the peace and security of a world without them.
He understands that this ultimate goal will not be reached quickly. But by acting on a number of fronts, we can ensure our security, strengthen the global nonproliferation regime, and keep vulnerable nuclear material out of terrorist hands.
For as long as nuclear weapons are required to defend our country and our allies, we will maintain a safe, secure and effective nuclear arsenal. The president's Prague vision is central to this administration's efforts to protect the American people—and that is why we are increasing investments in our nuclear arsenal and infrastructure in this year's budget and beyond.
Among the many challenges our administration inherited was the slow but steady decline in support for our nuclear stockpile and infrastructure, and for our highly trained nuclear work force. The stockpile, infrastructure and work force played a critical and evolving role in every stage of our nuclear experience, from the Manhattan Project to the present day. Once charged with developing ever more powerful weapons, they have had a new mission in the 18 years since we stopped conducting nuclear tests. That is to maintain the strength of the nuclear arsenal.
For almost a decade, our laboratories and facilities have been underfunded and undervalued. The consequences of this neglect—like the growing shortage of skilled nuclear scientists and engineers and the aging of critical facilities—have largely escaped public notice. Last year, the Strategic Posture Commission led by former Defense Secretaries William Perry and James Schlesinger warned that our nuclear complex requires urgent attention. We agree.
The budget we will submit to Congress on Monday both reverses this decline and enables us to implement the president's nuclear-security agenda. These goals are intertwined. The same skilled nuclear experts who maintain our arsenal play a key role in guaranteeing our country's security now and for the future. State-of-the art facilities, and highly trained and motivated people, allow us to maintain our arsenal without testing. They will help meet the president's goal of securing vulnerable nuclear materials world-wide in the coming years, and enable us to track and thwart nuclear trafficking, verify weapons reductions, and to develop tomorrow's cutting-edge technologies for our security and prosperity.
To achieve these goals, our budget devotes $7 billion for maintaining our nuclear-weapons stockpile and complex, and for related efforts. This commitment is $600 million more than Congress approved last year. And over the next five years we intend to boost funding for these important activities by more than $5 billion. Even in a time of tough budget decisions, these are investments we must make for our security. We are committed to working with Congress to ensure these budget increases are approved.
This investment is long overdue. It will strengthen our ability to recruit, train and retain the skilled people we need to maintain our nuclear capabilities. It will support the work of our nuclear labs, a national treasure that we must and will sustain. Many of our facilities date back to World War II, and, given the safety and environmental challenges they present, cannot be sustained much longer. Increased funding now will eventually enable considerable savings on both security and maintenance. It also will allow us to clean up and close down production facilities we no longer need.
Our budget request is just one of several closely related and equally important initiatives giving life to the president's Prague agenda. Others include completing the New START agreement with Russia, releasing the Nuclear Posture Review on March 1, holding the Nuclear Security Summit in April, and pursuing ratification and entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
We will by these initiatives seek to strengthen an emerging bipartisan consensus on how best to secure our nation. These steps will strengthen the nonproliferation regime, which is vital to holding nations like North Korea and Iran accountable when they break the rules, and deterring others from trying to do so.
Reflecting this consensus, Sen. John McCain has joined the president in endorsing a world without nuclear weapons—a goal that was articulated by President Ronald Reagan, who in 1984 said these weapons must be "banished from the face of the Earth." This consensus was inspired by four of our most eminent statesmen—Messrs. Henry Kissinger, William Perry, Sam Nunn and George P. Shultz.
Some critics will argue that we should not constrain our nuclear efforts in any way. Others will assert that retaining a robust deterrent is at odds with our nonproliferation agenda. These four leaders last week in these pages argued compellingly that "maintaining high confidence in our nuclear arsenal is critical as the numbers of these weapons goes down. It is also consistent with and necessary for U.S. leadership in nonproliferation, risk reduction and arms reduction goals."
This shared commitment serves our security. No nation can secure itself by disarming unilaterally, but as long as nuclear weapons exist, all nations remain ever on the brink of destruction. As President Obama said in Prague, "We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it."