Thursday, February 18, 2010

An Urgent Situation - Let's Deal With It Tomorrow

Today, Vice President Joe Biden gave a speech to the National Defense University titled “The Path to Nuclear Security: Implementing the President’s Prague Agenda.” Biden is, of course, referring to President Obama’s April 2009 speech in Prague in which he promised to “seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”

Biden had plenty to say about non-proliferation and preventing terrorists from acquiring nuclear material or nuclear weapons. Those things are certainly important, and I applaud the administration for taking a strong stance on the issues, but it’s not enough to get us to a world without nuclear weapons.

Some of the main points - paraphrased below - the vice president got across on nuclear disarmament are shocking and disappointing:

• We will take concrete steps toward a world without nuclear weapons, but we’re not seeking their elimination right now;
• We still need to rely on nuclear deterrence, and we’re also increasing our conventional weapons superiority by spending billions on missile defense and creating conventional warheads with worldwide reach;
• Until the day eventually comes to eliminate nuclear weapons, we will do everything necessary to maintain our arsenal;
• We want to spend $7 billion in 2011 to maintain the nuclear stockpile and create new nuclear warhead production capacity in the United States;
• The technicians who look after our nuclear arsenal today are the ones who will safely dismantle it tomorrow;
• We are committed to sustaining our heavy bombers and land and submarine-based nuclear missile capabilities.

After reading his speech, I just have to ask: if nuclear weapons are so dangerous (they most certainly are), why aren’t our technicians dismantling our nuclear arsenal TODAY? Why are we waiting until tomorrow?

While unilateral nuclear disarmament is a non-starter, the Obama administration has ample opportunity to initiate multilateral negotiations for the phased, verifiable, irreversible elimination of all nuclear weapons worldwide. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in May is one such opportunity. Continuing to rely on nuclear weapons while implementing small steps to “strengthen the non-proliferation regime” just isn’t going to cut it.

The vice president goes on to say, “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.” Again, Biden demonstrates the urgency of nuclear abolition but fails to commit to it. Implicit in his statement is that nuclear weapons are currently in the “right” hands: the United States, Russia, France, China, United Kingdom, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.

Biden concludes by saying, “The awesome force at our disposal must always be balanced by the weight of our shared responsibility.” He forgot the last part of the sentence: “…to dispose of all nuclear weapons around the world immediately.”

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