Close Encounter

February 19, 2010
Some of you may have read my blog post about my serendipitous celebrity run-in with Justice Sonia Sotomayor while purchasing cucumbers at Eastern Market this fall. Yesterday, as the Legislative Assistant for Arms Control, I was afforded the opportunity to attend Vice President Joe Biden's speech entitled "The Path to Nuclear Security: Implementing the President's Prague Agenda."

Vice President Biden delivered his speech at the National Defense University, a higher education institute that trains military and national security personnel. I was already excited to see another political celeb in person, but I was hardly prepared for how up-close-and-personal I would be with the Vice President!

As an invited guest of the White House, I cleared security in minutes, received a personal escort to the auditorium, and was invited to "sit anywhere in the second, third, or fourth rows" - what a treat! I promptly seated myself in the second row.

Taking in my surroundings and securing a clear view of the dais, a White House staffer affixed the Vice Presidential seal to the podium. The audience was an incredible commingling of military personnel (the officers seated ahead of me in the first row were having a great time taking group photos), long-time NGO non-proliferation advocates, and political employees. Within minutes, the Vice President and Defense Secretary Robert Gates emerged, paused for a photo-op, and took to the stage. Secretary Gates pointed out other notables in attendance, including Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Cartwright, and then welcomed Vice President Biden to begin.

With a brief bit of humor (after stumbling over the word "statesmen," he went on to ad lib: "many statesmen have walked these grounds before me - and all of them have pronounced 'statesmen' better than me!"), the Vice President briefly touched on the history of the United States nuclear program, noting "that the past century's defining conflicts were decided not just on the battlefield, but in the classroom and in the laboratory."

Arriving at the apex of his address, the Vice President laid out the Administration's agenda for nuclear arms policy, which is consistent with President Obama's goals outlined in Prague last April:

    • The negotiation of a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia,
    • The strengthening of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which aims both for nuclear powers to pursue disarmament and the prevention of non-nuclear states from achieving nuclear capability; and
    • The Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), with the goal of preventing terrorist groups from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Vice President Biden noted the importance of preventing North Korea and Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons through the implementation of strict sanctions. Further, he emphasized the President's intended $7 billion in FY 2011 budget for maintenance and modernization of our nuclear stockpile. For me and many others, this announcement was seemingly incompatible with the strong commitment for the United States to lead and pursue the cause of a world free of nuclear weapons. To that end, the Vice President made the following remark:
"As both the only nation to have used nuclear weapons, and as a strong proponent of non-proliferation, the United States has long embodied a stark but inevitable contradiction. The horror of nuclear conflict may make its occurrence unlikely, but the very existence of nuclear weapons leaves the human race ever at the brink of self-destruction, particularly if the weapons fall into the wrong hands....The awesome force at our disposal must always be balanced by the weight of our shared responsibility."
Looking to the future, these three treaties will shape arms control policy for the United States and the entire world. Will you be watching and speaking out to see and influence what happens? I know I will!

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