U.S. Vice President Joe Biden did an excellent impression of Chicken Little with his January 29, 2010 opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal titled, The President's Nuclear Vision. The subtitle would seem to be a prelude to the soon-to-be-released Nuclear Posture Review - "We will spend what is necessary to maintain the safety, security and effectiveness of our weapons" (read "BLANK CHECK with which to maintain our nuclear deterrent").
In one breath the Vice President refers to how "President Obama laid out a comprehensive agenda to reverse the spread [of nuclear weapons], and to pursue the peace and security of a world without them." In the next he states in no uncertain terms that, "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."
If you are confused after these two seemingly contradictory statements, the next one should clear things up:
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.If you don't think it can get any worse - IT DOES! Biden goes on to paint a gloomy picture of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, infrastructure, and weapons labs. Here are some of the key phrases:
...slow but steady decline in support for our nuclear stockpile and infrastructure, and for our highly trained nuclear work force... growing shortage of skilled nuclear scientists and engineers and the aging of critical facilities... our nuclear complex requires urgent attention...The Websites for Los Alamos, Sandia and Lawrence Livermore Paint a different picture of the state of the nuclear workforce and its work on the nuclear stockpile and other areas. As for infrastructure, plans to upgrade "critical" facilities have been in the works (and funded) for some time (Y-12 National Security Complex for example). Biden's concerns about "facilities that date back to World War II" ring hollow when one reads that Los Alamos has been demolishing old buildings and doing site cleanup thanks to generous funding from President Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Yes, there have been cuts in recent years to the workforce at the weapons labs, but those cuts were in keeping with changes in U.S. nuclear weapons strategy; as the size of the nuclear arsenal has been reduced, so has the size of the complex that made and now maintains the arsenal. We simply do not need the massive complex that once supported 32,193 warheads and bombs (at its peak in 1966). That being said, the cuts have been small in relation to the overall size of the weapons labs, and their weapons budgets have actually remained steady over the past five years.
As for "confidence in our nuclear arsenal" - the government's own (and highly respected) JASON panel has studied the nuclear warhead Life Extension Programs and found them to be working quite effectively, and has also estimated credible lifetimes for Plutonium (and other) pits already in service to be between 85 and 100 years.
Our nuclear weapons labs are not, as V.P. Biden states, "a national treasure." It is time to blow away the smoke and smash the mirrors; the nation's nuclear weapons complex is not about to crumble to dust, nor is it running on empty. And we certainly do not need to pour more money into it at a time when we are approaching the most important Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in history (May 2010). It is time to send every signal that the U.S. is prepared to move towards disarmament (of course not unilaterally), and calling for "increasing investments in our nuclear arsenal and infrastructure" is not the way to do so.
Rather than demonstrating the President's broad vision articulated in Prague, Biden's WSJ opinion piece indicates a nuclear tunnel vision, a vision that if implemented, will neither "serve our security", nor help us move toward a nuclear weapons free future. We can and must spend our money more wisely.
Watch for an opportunity to sign a petition on this subject in the coming week.
Read Vice President Biden's January 29, 2010 opinion piece at The Wall Street Journal.