- The Washington Times - Friday, February 19, 2010

The Obama administration will move ahead with Senate ratification of a treaty banning nuclear tests that was voted down by Republicans more than a decade ago, Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. said Thursday.

In a speech setting out the administration’s arms-control agenda, Mr. Biden also said the United States will continue to pursue President Obama’s call for the elimination of all U.S. nuclear arms, but defended spending $7 billion in the coming year to repair an aging arsenal.

The administration is close to reaching a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia, and is nearing completion of a review of U.S. nuclear weapons forces, Mr. Biden said at the National Defense University.

“Our agenda is based on a clear-eyed assessment of our national interest,” Mr. Biden said. “We have long relied on nuclear weapons to deter potential adversaries. Now, as our technology improves, we are developing non-nuclear ways to accomplish that same objective.”

Non-nuclear weapons development includes the administration’s plan for an “adaptive” missile-defense shield and conventional warheads “with worldwide reach,” he said.

“With these modern capabilities, even with deep nuclear reductions, we will remain undeniably strong,” Mr. Biden said.

On ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, known as the CTBT, Mr. Biden said that gaining Senate approval for the pact is part of the administration’s efforts to limit the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Biden said the CTBT was negotiated in the 1990s in an effort to stem the spread of nuclear weapons.

However, the treaty was voted down - but never completely defeated - by the Republican-led Senate in 1999. Critics argued at the time that the pact would undermine national security by encouraging nuclear proliferation while preventing the United States from ever conducting tests that may be needed to ensure the reliability of the deterrent arms.

“We are confident that all reasonable concerns raised about the treaty back then, concerns about verification and the reliability of our own arsenal, have now been addressed,” Mr. Biden said. “The test ban treaty is as important as ever.”

On Capitol Hill, a spokesman for Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Mr. Lugar is opposed to any test ban treaty ratification before the administration presents its new START deal.

“Sen. Lugar’s view is that in the arms-control arena, the first thing we need to see up is the START treaty and we need to deal with that,” said Andy Fisher, Mr. Lugar’s spokesman.

Mr. Biden said the unilateral moratorium imposed by President George H.W. Bush 18 years ago remains in place and nuclear weapons have been maintained through a program known as Stockpile Stewardship, which checks the weapons without underground tests.

An aide to the vice president said CTBT ratification is not the centerpiece of the administration’s arms-control agenda. “We’re not naive about where things are and how difficult it would be to get it passed,” the aide said, noting that it is not likely that the ratification would be sought before a strategic arms treaty is presented to the Senate.

The vice present said the U.S. nuclear complex, a nationwide network of costly storage facilities, laboratories and other facilities, was “neglected and underfunded” for the past decade.

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