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Biden nuke speech preview

When Vice President Joseph Biden takes to the podium Thursday to give a major policy speech on nuclear weapons policy, he will have two goals: setting the stage for a long string of nonproliferation events this spring, and setting the record straight on his boss’s nuclear vision. Barack Obama‘s administration is taking active steps to ...

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Getty Images
Getty Images

When Vice President Joseph Biden takes to the podium Thursday to give a major policy speech on nuclear weapons policy, he will have two goals: setting the stage for a long string of nonproliferation events this spring, and setting the record straight on his boss's nuclear vision.

Barack Obama's administration is taking active steps to combat what they see as false narratives being put out by the Republicans when it comes to nuclear policy. Obama is not advocating unilateral disarmament, as many conservatives have alleged. The White House also seeks to defend itself against the perception that Republicans are somehow inherently stronger on nuclear issues. And lastly, Biden wants to dispel the notion that the goal of zero nuclear weapons is some naive, liberal pipe dream that ignores current and future threats.

When Vice President Joseph Biden takes to the podium Thursday to give a major policy speech on nuclear weapons policy, he will have two goals: setting the stage for a long string of nonproliferation events this spring, and setting the record straight on his boss’s nuclear vision.

Barack Obama‘s administration is taking active steps to combat what they see as false narratives being put out by the Republicans when it comes to nuclear policy. Obama is not advocating unilateral disarmament, as many conservatives have alleged. The White House also seeks to defend itself against the perception that Republicans are somehow inherently stronger on nuclear issues. And lastly, Biden wants to dispel the notion that the goal of zero nuclear weapons is some naive, liberal pipe dream that ignores current and future threats.

"He’s going to lay out what are the challenges that we face and explain why engaging in a mutual process of reducing our reliance on nuclear weapons, reducing their numbers, in conjunction with other states, in conjunction with international fora and institutions, all help toward achieving those goals," said one administration official previewing the speech to The Cable on background basis.

Biden will also tout the administration’s proposed $600 million increase for maintaining the nuclear stockpile in its fiscal 2011 budget request as evidence that the Obama administration is strong on nuclear issues. The official said that despite loud rhetoric, the Bush administration underfunded these accounts.

"The speech is to further expand on the budget request and to key up the series of rapid-fire events that will be occurring this spring," the official said.

And a busy spring it will be. The administration is gearing up for a push on the soon to be finalized START follow-on treaty with Russia, the defense of its budget request in Congress, the nonproliferation conference in Washington in April, and the Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference in May.

Biden’s speech, which will be given at the National Defense University after being postponed due to snow, will build off of an op-ed the vice president wrote in the Wall Street Journal last month.

No real news on either the START negotiations, missile-defense deployments, or the soon-to-be finalized Nuclear Posture Review is expected. Nor will Biden discuss new efforts to build civilian nuclear energy plants. "That’s completely separate," the official said.

Under Secretary of State for Arms Control Ellen Tauscher said in a speech Wednesday that the NPR is expected to come out in early March, a little later than the March 1 deadline previously announced and much later than the original Dec. 1 deadline.

Nonproliferation advocates are encouraged by the Obama administration’s actions thus far on nuclear disarmament, but worry that the NPR will not fundamentally reframe how America views the use of nuclear weapons, as they would hope.

"We’ve been told to expect a modest document," said Stephen Young, a senior analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists. "The president has recognized that nuclear weapons are now a liability rather than an asset. They create more problems than they solve. He can make us more secure by changing how the United States and the rest of the world think about nuclear weapons."

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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