Hagel's Call for Nuclear Disarmament Has Been Mainstream Since Reagan

In fact, it is hard to find a former senior security official who does not believe that we can drastically reduce our nuclear force. Many current senior policy makers share this view. Take, for example, Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee and will run Hagel's nomination hearing. He wants to cut the nuclear weapons budget, and says, "We can have significant reductions ... and stay secure," and we have had "an over-reliance on nuclear weapons in the last 20 years."

Opponents of Hagel's appointment like to point to two people mentioned as alternatives to Hagel, former Undersecretary of Defense Michele Flournoy and current Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. They will be far more open to big nuclear budgets and big arsenals, Hagel critics hope. Sorry: Both have long shared Hagel's views. They were part of a working group that drafted a plan in 2007 for reducing nuclear threats that included the recommendation that "the U.S. and the other NPT nuclear weapons states ... should commit themselves to the goal of a world without nuclear weapons and to pursuing practical steps that would lay the groundwork for moving toward that goal."

Their report also called for the rapid Senate approval of the nuclear test-ban treaty. It suggested the U.S. "explore means of increasing warning and reaction times including by lowering alert rates of their strategic systems," and consider "an operationally deployed force of fewer than 1,000 nuclear weapons." *

This level is very close to force of 900 total weapons recommended by the Global Zero report that Hagel co-authored with former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James Cartwright, former Supreme Allied Commander General Jack Sheehan, and former Reagan nuclear arms negotiator Richard Burt, among others. Hardly a radical bunch -- or a radical notion. They passionately defended their report in a January 28 statement saying, in part, that support for the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons "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."

None of these people would have spoken out if they thought that reducing the nuclear arsenal, winning Senate support of the nuclear test ban, or moving steadily towards our legal obligation to eliminate nuclear weapons would pose risks to our national security -- or to their careers.

The truth is that these are all common sense and commonplace positions, part of any national-security policy for the 21st century. It is the nuclear hawks that are outside the mainstream; Chuck Hagel is solidly within it.

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* But wait, there's more. The 2007 report, "Reducing Nuclear Threats and Preventing Nuclear Terrorism," by the National Security Working Group, was done under the direction of Wendy Sherman, now under-secretary of state for political affairs, and Robert Einhorn, now special advisor to the secretary of state for nonproliferation and arms control. The drafters of the report were former Assistant Secretary of Defense Graham Allison, former Assistant Secretary of State Robert Gallucci, Vice President Al Gore's former National Security Advisor Leon Furth, current Assistant Secretary of Defense Kurt Campbell, Flournoy, and myself. Again, deep in the mainstream.

The report was endorsed by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former National Security Advisor Sam Berger, Gen. Wesley Clark (retired), current Chief of Staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Bill Danvers, Sen. Tom Daschle, current National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, former Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg, current Under Secretary of State Tara Sonenshine, current Special Assistant to the President for European Affairs Elizabeth Sherwood Randall, President Clinton's former Chief of Staff John Podesta, and former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry, among others. They all endorsed the report in general though no necessarily each specific recommendation.

Presented by

Joseph Cirincione

Joe Cirincione is president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation. He is the author of Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons.

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