Senator Chuck Hagel, nominee for Secretary of Defense, appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee and his leadership on the issue of nuclear disarmament came under immediate fire from a few Senators. In particular, Senator Hagel’s work with Global Zero and his co-authorship of the Global Zero U.S. Nuclear Policy Commission of May 2012.
The attacks claimed the report’s recommendations, if implemented, would impair our ability to deter a nuclear attack. Throughout over 6 hours of hearings, the opposition to Hagel’s nomination attempted to represent the report as advocating for unilateral disarmament. Unfortunately, it is not surprising to see a Congressional Hearing take words out of context in order to make a political point. Let’s be clear, however, about what the Global Zero report says and does not say with regards to nuclear disarmament.
This report lays out a common-sense guide to illustrate how the United States can make pragmatic moves to lessen the risk posed by nuclear weapons. Let’s take a look at some of these proposals and you can be the judge whether they represent a radical departure from the mainstream of political thought on the urgent need for nuclear disarmament:
A multilateral negotiation process that expands beyond bilateral treaties with Russia to include the other 7 nuclear weapon states in reducing nuclear arms and securing vulnerable fissile materials.
Potentially maintaining a fleet of 10 ballistic missile submarines instead of an expanded fleet of 14. Proposals to replace our current fleet would consume ¾ of the Navy’s budget and is far beyond the need to maintain a minimum level of deterrence.
Continued bilateral reductions between Russia and the United States to bring their nuclear arsenals down from their current levels.
These proposals were co-authored by radicals like Ambassador Richard Burt, Ambassador Thomas Pickering, General (Ret.) Jack Sheehan, and General (Ret.) James Cartwright. The bipartisan consensus among national security leaders is that nuclear disarmament is not simply a desirable outcome, but also a necessary and urgent course of action. In the face of Congressional concern over the budget, pragmatic recommendations over the reduction of spending on Cold War era programs should be welcomed.
If we are to have a national discussion on nuclear weapons, let us be grounded in the scientific and medical reality of the impact of these weapons. Our current nuclear arsenal of around 5,000 nuclear warheads far exceeds any reasonable understanding of the levels required for a minimum level of deterrence. In a 2012 report on a scenario of a limited nuclear war between India and Pakistan, Physicians for Social Responsibility discussed the conclusions of studies that showed how 100 Hiroshima-sized nuclear devices would put 1 billion people at risk from starvation and death. There is nothing suggested in the Global Zero report that would put us even close to losing the ability to cause massive global damage with our nuclear arsenal. It is a testament to how far we must still go that we are continuing to debate long settled debates on the absurdity of maintaining a nuclear force as large as the United States’ and Russia’s.
Video - At 3 minutes 25 seconds, Senator Kelly Ayotte discusses the Global Zero report