In August 2007, Council for a Livable World submitted seven critical questions on national security issues to all declared presidential candidates from both parties. At the time, that list included Sen. Joseph Biden, now the presumptive Democratic Vice Presidential nominee. Take a look below for insight into Sen. Biden’s views on critical foreign policy issues, from nuclear weapons, to Iraq, to policy with Iran and North Korea.
Question #1 – Reducing Nuclear Weapons Stockpiles
A January 2007 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Senator Sam Nunn, and former Secretary of Defense William Perry called for moving toward a “world free of nuclear weapons” and urged the United States to lead an international effort to reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles. Do you support or oppose their proposal?
JOSEPH BIDEN: Support
The WSJ op-ed is a vitally important statement. It defines a new center in American politics, where realist conservative Republicans and tough minded Democrats find common ground. It reminds us that America must listen to the concerns of other countries regarding nuclear weapons if we expect their cooperation in preventing proliferation. Some parts of the op-ed may prove difficult in practice – I look forward to the authors’ follow up conference this fall to hear them talk about how they would implement their ideas and I’ve invited all four to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Question #2 – New Nuclear Weapons
Do you support or oppose researching, building, and possibly testing a new generation of nuclear weapons, including the so-called Reliable Replacement Warhead?
JOSEPH BIDEN: Oppose
I support the Stockpile Stewardship program to maintain the reliability of our nuclear weapons. I also support changes at the margin to improve their reliability. But the RRW concept has been hijacked by people who would push the envelope of changes that can be made without new nuclear testing and the Department of Energy is using it as an excuse for maintaining a wastefully large nuclear weapons establishment. We should scrap RRW and go back to first principles: how many nuclear weapons do we really need? How can we most efficiently maintain their reliability, with no testing unless a catastrophic failure in those current weapons forces us to make changes that require new testing to certify repairs? How can we reduce the status that accrues to nuclear weapon, while maintaining enough weapons to deter an attack? Only when we answer these questions can we consider any changes to current weapons designs.
Question #3 – Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty
Would you make a Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty a priority of your first term in office?
JOSEPH BIDEN: Yes
I led the fight for CTBT ratification in 1999 and I will lead it in 2009. But securing 67 votes in the Senate won’t be easy. We must convince doubters of the reliability of our weapons. And we must find a means of assuring that any undetectable cheating will not pose a military threat to the U.S. We can’t wish these issues away. As President, I will work to resolve them so that the next Senate debate on CTBT produces a better result.
Question #4 – Firm Date for Withdrawal from Iraq
Do you support or oppose setting a firm date for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq?
JOSEPH BIDEN: Support
I support transitioning our troops in Iraq to a much more limited mission, to get them out of policing a sectarian civil war and to refocus them on targeted counter-terrorism operations, training Iraqis and force protection. If we do that, we should be able to begin withdrawing combat forces not necessary for the limited mission by the end of the year, and get all combat forces not necessary for the limited mission out by next spring. But while getting most of our troops out of Iraq is necessary, it is not enough. We also have to have a plan for what we leave behind so that we do not trade a dictator for chaos. If that happens, we may get our kids out, only to send their kids back in. I have proposed a detailed plan that offers the possibility of leaving behind stability in Iraq, based on the reality that Iraq cannot be governed from the center absent a foreign occupation or a dictator. My plan is a little like what we did in Bosnia. It would separate the warring factions into regions, as Iraq’s constitution call for, with a limited central government to distribute oil revenues and oversight by the U.N. For those interested in the details, please go to my website: www.joebiden.com.
Question #5 – Space Weapons
Do you support or oppose a multilateral international ban on placing weapons in space?
JOSEPH BIDEN: It Depends
I support a ban on any weapons in space designed to cause damage on the ground, to supplement the existing ban on space based nuclear weapons. I also support a carefully crafted ban on destroying or disabling another country’s satellite. But we must guard against treaties that could ban space stations or require international inspection of space payloads. I doubt that a ban on a space based missile defense would be approved by the Senate.
Question #6 – Nuclear Non-Proliferation Efforts
Do you support or oppose proposals for a major expansion and acceleration of nuclear non-proliferation efforts, including the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program, designed to ensure that weapons of mass destruction and their essential ingredients around the world are secured and accounted for as rapidly as possible?
JOSEPH BIDEN: Support
I have been a leading supporter of non-proliferation programs since 1991 and I have worked to protect and increase their funding, broaden their scope and relieve certification requirements that diverted them from the mission of dismantling WMD capabilities, securing dangerous materials and finding productive careers for former WMD personnel. Right now, I am pressing for improved IAEA safe guards at nuclear facilities; improved capability to determine the origin of nuclear materials so that we can bring deterrence into the 21st century; increased funding for ex-weapons scientists in the FSU; repeal of Nunn-Lugar certification requirements; destruction of chemical weapons in Libya; a program to allow Iraqi ex-weapons scientists to come to the U.S. (instead of Syria or Iran); a fund for implementing future nuclear agreements with Iran or North Korea; and increased funds for the very important low end of non-proliferation: buy backs of handguns and automatic weapons in troubled countries.
Question #7 – Direct Negotiations with Iran and North Korea
Do you support or oppose direct negotiations with Iran and North Korea that would include incentives for Iran not to build nuclear weapons and North Korea to eliminate verifiably its nuclear weapons program?
JOSEPH BIDEN: Support
The United States should never be afraid to talk to anyone. They can help us make very clear to both countries what they stand to gain by doing the right thing and what they will forfeit or risk if they do not. They also make it more likely our partners will stand with us for tougher action if diplomacy fails. Direct talks could add to, not take away from, larger negotiations like the 6 Party Talks with North Korea and the EU3 talks with Iran. Let our adversaries choose confrontation to practical cooperation.