WASHINGTON - Vice-President Joe Biden said on Thursday the U.S. must spend significantly more to ensure the readiness of American nuclear warheads even as the president presses an agenda to rid the world of those weapons.
Biden was making the case for the big jump in spending so that scientists can make certain the aging U.S. nuclear stockpile remains ready for use, if needed, without test explosions.
The new administration budget allocates $7 billion for scientists and laboratories that maintain warhead readiness - an increase of about 13.5 per cent and one of the largest in the next spending plan. The 2011 budget also calls for spending an additional $5 billion on those projects over the next five years.
The administration spending plan, he said, should ease objections in Congress, which has blocked ratification of the 1996 U.N. Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The U.S. has abided by the pact without formally agreeing to sign on.
Even through a decade of spending cuts for the National Nuclear Security Administration, Biden said, "our labs know more about our arsenal today than when they were able to explode weapons (in tests)." Biden said the increased spending to insure readiness without testing also makes certain the U.S. nuclear force remains a credible deterrent as Washington wraps up negotiations with Russia on a treaty to replace the now-expired START agreement. The pact produced a big reduction in nuclear weapons on both sides.
President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed in July to cut the number of nuclear warheads each country has to between 1,500 and 1,675 under a new treaty.
The 1991 START pact expired in December.
Monitoring existing weapons and pumping more money in the NNSA "allows deeper nuclear cuts" without harming readiness, Biden said in a speech at the National Defence University in the capital. He was introduced by Defence Secretary Robert Gates.
Biden further argued that a replacement START pact and a new world focus on the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty would give the United States even stronger moral backing for its attempts to punish Iran over its nuclear program.
Obama had hoped the new START agreement could be headed for Senate ratification by April when he has called for a White House summit on nuclear-proliferation.
The Obama White House is preparing to seek a 4th round of U.N. sanctions against Iran, which has increased enrichment of uranium to levels that could produce fuel for a nuclear weapon.
Past sanctions resolutions have had little effect because Russia and China have fought the inclusion of strong penalties for Iran. Both nations have a veto in the U.N. Security Council and have threatened to use it to block stricter penalties.
Now, with Obama's focus on eventually ridding the world of nuclear weapons and engagement with Moscow on a new START agreement, the Russians appear to have moved into the camp of the Americans, British and French - the other veto-holding Security Council members - who are pushing strong sanctions.
It also is expected that China, heavily dependent on Iran for fuel and deeply invested in the Iranian oil economy, may sign on to a resolution calling for heavy penalties since it no longer has the cover of Russia.
Beijing is not thought to want to stand alone as the other four members of the Security Council move against Iran, even though Iran claims its nuclear program is for electricity generation.