The modernization of the US nuclear arsenal (a major force in New Mexico’s economy, with two large weapons labs located here) may be emerging as the issue du jour in the DC discussion about Chuck Hagel, the Obama administration’s pick to be Secretary of Defense.
The Senate ratified the New START treaty in 2010 only on the condition that President Obama would carry out a nuclear modernization program. Yet Hagel was a commissioner on a May 2012 Global Zero report on modernizing U.S. nuclear strategy, force structure and posture. Not only does that report not fully support the president’s commitment to nuclear modernization but it also advocates the assumption of extreme risk to our national security, including possible unilateral nuclear disarmament. Given the premises and conclusions of the Global Zero report, how can we in Congress be confident that he will carry out the modernization efforts required to maintain the effectiveness of our nuclear deterrent?
Writing at Foreign Policy, veteran national security beat reporter Kevin Baron reports that “Team Hagel” has already launched its counter-offensive:
“Team Hagel is planning a full scale defense of the senator’s record on nuclear issues,” said an official close to the confirmation team. “Some have wrongly suggested that he wants to unilaterally close America’s nuclear arsenal. Nothing could be further from the truth. He firmly believes in a strong nuclear deterrent as long as we face nuclear threats.”
Expect this issue to have some traction in the upcoming hearings over Hagel’s nomination. In the past, the Obama administration has protected its flanks from attacks charging that it is soft in this area by bolstering funding for the labs, but as the federal dollars grow scarce, that has proven increasingly difficult to do.