Fang Zhe/Xinhua/Photoshot/Newscom

Former Senator Chuck Hagel’s (R–NE) strongly held belief in getting rid of U.S. nuclear weapons is ever more troubling, especially in light of new global developments.

Earlier this month, North Koreayet again defied the international community when it conducted its third nuclear test. In response, seven in 10 South Koreans would now support re-introducingU.S. tactical nuclear weapons to their country, according to the survey conducted by the Asian Institute for Policy Studies. In addition, 66.5 percent agreed thatSouth Korea needs to develop its own nuclear weapons capability.

Senator Hagel signed off on the Global Zero Commission report, which recommends lowering the number ofU.S.nuclear weapons to 900 total, with only half of them actively deployed. It also recommends that allU.S.nuclear weapons be de-alerted and allU.S.short-range weapons withdrawn fromEurope.

These steps would have disastrous consequences for U.S.national security and allied assurance, because a credible and moral nuclear weapons policy requires more nuclear weapons. During Senator Hagel’s confirmation hearing, he not only failed to properly distance himself from the Global Zero Commission report but also misled the Senators about the report’s content.

A nuclear arsenal suited for the challenges of 21st century would allow for a targeting policy that is consistent with protecting and defending what the U.S. values—life—and credibly threatens what U.S. adversaries value—survival of their own leadership and means of internal oppression and external attack. At lower levels of operationally deployed nuclear weapons,U.S.decision makers would have to threaten civilian populations, because they would not have the capability to destroy hardened military targets.

U.S.nuclear weapons programs and the infrastructure supporting them are already facing difficulties stemming from years of neglect and underfunding, and the situation will only be worse under sequestration. The next Secretary of Defense should be a strong advocate for nuclear weapons, because they will continue to serve critical national security objectives, such as deterring adversaries from attacking or coercing theU.S. and its allies.

In Senator Hagel, the nuclear weapons complex would not have the strong advocate it now needs more than ever.