“We’ll engage Russia to seek further reductions in our nuclear arsenals,” he said.
Sad to say, his timing may be wrong. Reaching any new agreement with Moscow will be a problem. But that won’t compare with what Obama would face from some Senate Republicans.
Just listen to what was said at Tuesday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing before the party-line vote — Democrats, yes; Republicans, no — to confirm the nomination of former senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) to be secretary of defense.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the ranking minority member of that panel’s subcommittee on strategic forces, said, “We are facing and going to be debating the nuclear posture of the United States a great deal” because he had heard Obama would be seeking to reduce numbers.
Then Sessions added: “It does not totally surprise me, because I believe he comes out of the anti-nuclear left.”
He also noted that Hagel was one of five signers to a study on U.S. nuclear policy sponsored by Global Zero, which calls itself an “international movement for the elimination of all nuclear weapons.”
The study said it presented “an illustrative U.S. nuclear force structure” that in 10 years could be an “alternative deterrence construct for the 21st century.”
It lays out some “illustrative” possible future steps over the next decade, including reduction of U.S. nuclear warheads to 900 — 450 deployed but in a non-alert status and requiring a day or two to become launch ready. The other 450 in reserve would be deployable within weeks or longer. In addition, there could be elimination of land-based ICBMs. Such a step would halt the possibility of the ICBMs being launched on an erroneous warning or the possibility they would be a target of an enemy’s first strike.
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), who had sharply questioned Hagel on the Global Zero study during the confirmation hearing, referred Tuesday to the suggested elimination of land-based ICBMs and said, “with the North Koreans testing, with Iran marching toward a nuclear weapon, that’s a deep concern that our secretary of defense less than a year ago would sign onto a report that would state that position.”
While Hagel’s part in the study was the Republicans’ focus, no one pointed out that the study group’s chairman was retired Gen. James Cartwright, former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who also headed the Strategic Command from 2004 to 2007 during the George W. Bush administration. Another signer was retired Gen. Jack Sheehan, a former NATO commander, along with two retired U.S. ambassadors, Thomas Pickering and Richard Burt.
Nor did anyone note the current posture, or what it will be in 2018. That’s when the 1,550 warhead limit of the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) kicks in.