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Deciphering Biden's Speech on Nuclear Policy

7:58 AM, Feb 19, 2010 • By MICHAEL ANTON
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But one previously reported retreat from longstanding policy appears not to be in the offing.  Several reports have stated that the NPR would recommend getting rid of one leg of the so-called “nuclear triad” of ICBMs, SLBMs, and nuclear capable long-range bombers.  The latter was the leg believed to be on the chopping block.  Yet in the section of the speech on the NPR, the vice president specifically announced “a commitment to sustain our heavy bombers and land and submarine-based missile capabilities, under the new START agreement.”  I suppose this could be carefully worded: he didn’t say “nuclear capable” heavy bombers. But then he didn’t apply that qualifier to the missiles either; he must know full well that everyone who heard or reads the speech will just assume that the reference is to nuclear forces.  Hence, if the administration really does intend to take away the bomber force’s nuclear role, the above sentence would have to count as at best deliberately misleading.  In any case, outright elimination of long range bombers, whether nuclear or conventional—a move that some feared—appears to be off the table.  And that is another piece of good news. 

The big issue, however, still looms.  The administration has talked a lot about nuclear policy this month, and has talked some sense.  But it continues to dodge the one issue that matters most—and not just to its critics but to the political success of its own ambitious nuclear agenda.

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