Former Senator Chuck Hagel (R–NE) will begin his nomination hearings before the U.S. Senate today. The Associated Press reported that if the Senate approves him, he will be the first Secretary of Defense to have publicly advocated that the U.S. get rid of its nuclear weapons, possibly even unilaterally.
In 2009, Hagel told Al-Jazeera, “How can we preach to other countries that you can’t have nuclear weapons but we can and our allies can? There is no credibility, there’s no logic to that argument.” He is also a co-author of the radical Global Zero report.
President Obama has not been as overt as Hagel, but he has made statements such as “we can already say with confidence that we have more nuclear weapons than we need.” On what evidence was this statement made? None, actually.
There has yet to be a completed study on what the national security of the U.S. actually requires of the nuclear force. Which means both Hagel and the President have this in common: They have placed getting rid of nuclear weapons at the top their national security priorities—ahead of avoiding nuclear war.
Does eliminating nuclear weapons mean the world will be a more peaceful place? We can look to history. The world has already experienced “Global Zero.” Defense expert Keith Payne explained this to Senators in a July 2012 hearing on the subject:
Humankind was at the nuclear zero “mountaintop” from the beginning of history until 1945, and that condition often was ugly and brutal on a scale not repeated since 1945, thanks at least in part to nuclear deterrence. Simple prudence suggests that we not put US strategies for nuclear deterrence at risk in a quest to go back to that mountaintop we so desperately sought previously to leave.
General Brent Scowcroft, who endorsed the reductions of New START when tied to the modernization of the U.S. nuclear deterrent, noted that “given the clear risks and the elusive benefits inherent in additional deep cuts, the burden of proof should be on those who advocate such reductions to demonstrate exactly how and why such cuts would serve to enhance U.S. security. Absent such a demonstration, we should not pursue additional cuts in the mistaken belief that fewer is ipso facto better.”
There has yet to be such a demonstration. The Senators would be wise to ask Hagel what evidence he has to support his speculation that cutting the U.S. nuclear force would make Americans safer, especially when there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary.