Jeffrey LewisBiden p0wns CTBT Ratification, Maybe

Yesterday, I tweeted some big news from the Carnegie Conference:

DepSecState Steinberg announced that Biden will be responsible for overseeing START Follow-on and CTBT ratification.

I had heard rumors to that effect — hey, he is the former Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, it would be weird if there weren’t rumors — but I was surprised that Steinberg announced it as a done deal.

The announcement drew headlines in the Washington Post (Biden to Shepherd Test Ban Treaty Vote and Boston Globe (Biden to oversee administration’s nuclear nonproliferation effort).

Now, I am wondering: Was it a done deal? I observe that none of the stories include background quotes by anonymous officials explaining that the decision process or talking about what a great guy Joe Biden is or how perfect he is for the job — both of which are undoubtedly true. “Biden aides” told Walter Pincus “they could not confirm when it will be officially announced.”

This doesn’t really seem like a roll-out to me. Thoughts?


  1. David Culp (History)

    The Washington Post could only get quotes from former Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger opposing the Obama administration’s push for the CTBT.

    Weinberger has been dead for three years.

    This is going to be an interesting debate.

  2. Cheryl Rofer (History)

    I saw Pincus’s piece last night and wondered if that was what I really heard in Steinberg’s talk. IIRC, I wrote his words down as exactly as I ever manage to do when I’m taking notes. I made a mental note to check that part of my notes when I write them up. Haven’t done that yet.

    As I’m recalling it, the statement was more along the lines that Biden would be involved, more indirect, not a full roll-out.

    I’ll be writing more about the conference, but today is a travel day.

    Good to see you there, Jeff!

  3. Heather (History)

    I caught that quote not only in Steinberg’s speech, but also in Daryl Kimball’s opening to the CTBT break out session, in which Biden’s leadership seemed a foregone conclusion and didn’t come as any big surprise to the panel members.

    I wasn’t quite comfortable with Pincus’s description of the 1999 debate, however. If you ever have some spare time and like reading the Congressional Record, check it out: Biden dominated the debate and demonstrated deep knowledge of the issues. From his perspective, the CTBT was defeated because of partisan politics and not based on its merits.

  4. Stephen Young (History)

    Exact quote from Steinberg:
    “As a measure of the president’s continuing commitment to this vital nonproliferation agenda, he has asked Vice President Joe Biden to help lead the administration’s nonproliferation
    efforts. The vice president will lead the conduct of a comprehensive review of the complex technical, military and diplomatic issues surrounding the comprehensive test ban treaty and develop a strategy to secure its ratification. To protect the American people from the threat of nuclear terrorism, the vice president will lead the effort to meet the president’s goal of securing sensitive nuclear materials around the world in four years.”

    So, it’s a tad confusing – Steinberg first says “help lead” NP efforts but then says “lead” CTBT efforts, so I think overall it will end up the VPs baby. But I have inside knowledge.

    Transcript is available on the Carnegie website:

  5. Stephen Young (History)

    Sorry, I meant “don’t have inside knowledge.” Does that qualify as Freudian?

  6. Stephen Young (History)

    Also, those I’m sure sweet tweets are still missing – you’ve got a huge tweet gap, much more real than the missile gap.

  7. Sascha LHX

    Hi Jeff,

    I don’t know whether you were watching Iranian nuclear ceremony on PressTV, but head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization just said Iran has achieved testing centrifuges with SWU of 6 to 7 kg/a ! (given the translator was correct) What’s the significance of this?

  8. Sascha LHX

    Sorry SW is apparently 5-6.

  9. MWG
  10. pz (History)

    Think of it this way, the Iranians now need 20% as much time to enrich a significant quantity as they did before, assuming they build as many centrifuges. Or they can build only 20% as many machines and take the same time (I’m assuming that an IR-1/P-1 type machine really does 1 SWU per year and that this new machine and the old one will have the same reliability).

    This is not good. On the other hand, it may also not be true (yet). 5-6 SWU/yr is a pretty capable machine compared to the usual Developing World technology.

  11. Daryl Kimball (History)

    Yo, dude. Why is ACW wasting space wondering if Steinberg’s news about Biden taking a lead role in the President’s CTBT effort is real (it is) rather than paying attention to the most important speech on nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation by an American President since June 10, 1963? Obama’s Prague speech might be worth a mention and a bit of discussion. My thoughts are on the ACA Web site.

  12. J House (History)

    They will all feel very good about themselves getting START restarted, signing the CTBT, etc., but what does it have to do with motivating Iran and NK to give up their nuclear potential?

  13. J (History)

    Part of the confusion here may be that Steinberg’s actual remarks deviated from his prepared remarks. That explains why State has not yet released a formal copy of Steinberg’s speech and we are all reduced to reading the Carnegie unofficial transcript.

    My read: of course the VP will play a strong role in CTBT efforts, but his precise role is yet to be parsed out. Even if he takes the lead, expect the announcement of a “CTBT coordinator” who will own the issue on a day-to-day basis — something that a guy who also heads the Middle Class Taskforce and is overseeing the stimulus spending simply cannot do.