Hagel’s own nuclear views, even his involvement with Global Zero, was expected to be tested in the hearing. What seemed to surprise the nominee on Thursday, however, was the obsessive focus by conservative senators on the May 2012 Global Zero U.S. Nuclear Policy Commission Report, which Hagel co-authored.
In fact, at the time of the report's release last year, Global Zero presented retired Gen. James E. Cartwright, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as its chief author.
The report does present a laundry list of "illustrative next steps [that] are possible and desirable." The report repeatedly uses the phrase "illustrative steps" to refer to the actions it is, indeed, recommending. Among those steps Hagel and his co-authors put forth is unilateral reductions, though cautiously.
"The less good approach would be to adopt this agenda unilaterally. A strong case can nevertheless be made that unilateral U.S. deep cuts and de-alerting coupled with strengthened missile defenses and conventional capabilities would not weaken deterrence in practical terms vis-à-vis Russia, China or any of the more plausible nation- state challengers that America may confront in the years ahead."
Ranking Member Jim Inhofe (R-OK) asked, “Why would we want to unilaterally disarm ourselves of nuclear capability?” and questioned Hagel’s support for “Global Zero or whatever that group -- the organization was.”
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), seemed more informed and led most of the questioning, saying he was “more than a little troubled by the report that you participated in.”
“As I read the Global Zero report that you co-authored just last year, less than a year ago,” Sessions said, “you called for the elimination of all ICBMs, all tactical nuclear weapons, most of the bombers from -- I think 67 B-52s eliminated, leaving only 18 bombers and 10 submarines. So instead of 700 delivery systems that was part of the New START, it looks like you're down to about 28 delivery systems. So this is a dramatic -- I want to introduce -- a dramatic concern.”
Hagel said the report makes no recommendations, rather lays out long-term goals.
“Global Zero has been very clear on this. Their effort is in line with every major national leader in the world, including President Obama, to continue to try to make an effort to reduce our nuclear warheads.”
But Sessions was unsatisfied. “I would just say the vision stated in your Global Zero report, I believe, is likely to create instability rather than confidence and stability, create uncertainty in the world among our allies and our potential adversaries. And I do not believe it would meet the goal that you said not to weaken our ability.”
On Friday, Hagel’s co-authors -- Cartwright; Amb. Richard Burt; Amb. Thomas Pickering; and retired Gen. John J. Sheehan -- responded, saying, “Any suggestions that our positions on nuclear weapons are unilateralist or would somehow weaken the United States are wrong and irresponsible.”
The authors argued they believe disarmament would take decades and hold views clearly in the “mainstream.”
“Beyond the President of the United States, support for this goal is widespread among experienced, respected leaders from across the political spectrum -- including the hundreds of political, military, diplomatic, and national security leaders from the United States and around the world who are part of Global Zero.”
Read the entire statement here.
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