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Decoding Biden

The vice president's opening gambit.

10:35 PM, Jan 29, 2010 • By MICHAEL ANTON
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But now there is talk that it may rise again under a different name.  Proponents have always insisted that the RRW is not tantamount to designing a wholly new weapon.  It would not be an advanced leap forward like our last new warhead, the W-88, was in the 1980s. Rather it would be built according to engineering principles so well established that it would not need to be tested—an essential point, since no party to this debate is advocating lifting the United States’ self-imposed moratorium on nuclear testing.  Moreover, it would not require the creation of any new fissile material, thereby allowing us to continue to work toward completion of the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (currently being held up by Pakistan). 

Thus, reading between the lines, one begins to suspect that the administration is quietly dangling a carrot.  We’re all for stockpile maintenance, the op-ed says, and leaves vague exactly what that means.  But the Gang of 41 knows what it wants, and the White House knows too.  There is no way that (say) Jon Kyl, the Senate’s leading Republican on nuclear issues, will read this and conclude that the White House has addressed all his concerns. 

The White House also knows that it can’t get even half of its arms control agenda this year so long as the Gang sticks together.  This piece is therefore properly understood as the opening gambit in a bid to try and strike a deal: Ratify START (a likely prospect in any event) and the CTBT (extremely unlikely, to say the least) and we will find a way to do the RRW under some different name.  Something more than Life Extension (the current program for stockpile maintenance) but less than a “replacement.”  Can’t call it that! 

It’s a bold and ambitious serve.  What will be the return?

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