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Hagel’s Support for U.S. Nuclear Disarmament: Why the Senate Should Care

12:50 PM, Jan 17, 2013 • By ROBERT ZARATE
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·        Completely eliminate “B-52” long-range bombers from nuclear missions, by dismantling them or diverting them to other non-nuclear missions.  The U.S. Air Force currently deploys roughly 76 B-52H bombers for nuclear missions at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, represented by Democratic senator Mary Landrieu and Republican senator David Vitter; and at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, represented by Republican senator John Hoeven and Democratic senator Heidi Heitkamp.

·        Reduce the number of “B-2” strategic bombers with nuclear missions.  The U.S. Air Force currently deploys 20 B-2A strategic bombers at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, represented by Republican senators Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill.

·        Slash four “Ohio-class” submarines armed with sea-launched nuclear missiles, and delay plans to replace it with a new and modern class of submarine.  Although the U.S. Navy maintains 14 Ohio-class submarines, two are generally kept in overhaul, leaving 12 operating subs in the world at any given time.  Seven submarines are based in Bangor, Washington, represented by Democratic senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray.  And five subs are based in Kings Bay, Georgia, represented by Republican senators Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson.  Moreover, just as the Ohio-class submarines were manufactured in Groton, Connecticut, represented by Democratic senators Richard Blumenthal and Christopher Murphy, so will the replacement subs for the Ohio-class.

The sweeping recommendations of Hagel’s co-authored Global Zero report were forcefully rejected by the U.S. military’s Strategic Command, which oversees the command and control of the nuclear arsenal.  As Air Force Gen. C. Robert Kehler, who heads U.S. Strategic Command, told reporters in August 2012, “Regarding the Global Zero report, in my view we have the force size, force structure, and force posture today that we need for our national security needs.” 

As senators and their staff prepare to examine Hagel’s nomination to the Pentagon, it is critical that they closely and carefully scrutinize Hagel about the implications of his public proposals to slash the U.S. nuclear arsenal for their states—and, most importantly, for America’s national security. Understanding these implications are all the more important, given that President Obama still has not fully lived up to his 2010 promise to Congress to modernize the U.S. nuclear deterrent, the ultimate guarantor of America’s national security.  What’s troubling is that Senate confirmation of Chuck Hagel as the next secretary of defense almost certainly assures that the president never will.

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