Kerry: Don’t Take Chuck Hagel Seriously

Secretary of state nominee downplays secretary of defense nominee's support for massive nuclear reductions

Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.) minimized secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel's support for the eventual abolition of nuclear weapons during confirmation hearings for secretary of state Thursday.

Hagel was one of the five members of the Global Zero Nuclear Policy Commission, which called on the U.S. to cut its nuclear warhead supply to 900 strategic weapons by 2022 and eliminate all land-based ICBMs.

"When that initiative sort of first came out and we began to hear about the potential of the people who said let's get no nuclear weapons, I sort of scratched my head," Kerry said after being asked by Sen. Bob Corker (R., Tenn.) about Hagel's role in the group. "I said, ‘What, how's that going to work?' because I believe in deterrence."

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"But the whole point is they're not talking about today's world," Kerry said.

"It's a goal. It's an aspiration—and we should always be aspirational," he continued. "But it's not something that could happen in today's world, and nor could any leader sit here or in any other chair and promote to you the notion that we ought to be cutting down our deterrent level below an adequate level to maintain deterrence."

"I don't think Sen. Hagel is sitting there–or he's going to go over to the Defense Department and be a proponent (of Global Zero)," he went on to say. "I think Sen. Hagel is realistic about it."

The Washington Free Beacon has reported on the potential problems Global Zero could create for Hagel's nomination:

Six senators with home-state nuclear bases or membership on the Senate Armed Services Committee said they are either opposing Hagel’s nomination or questioning his judgment for backing the international anti-nuclear movement. Hagel is among some 300 international and national public figures supporting the group’s stated goal of seeking "the elimination of all nuclear weapons."

"The Department of Defense’s mission is to deter war and protect the security of our country," said Sen. John Barrasso (R., Wyo.), whose state is host to a major strategic missile base that would be eliminated under Global Zero’s plan to cut all land-based ICBMs. […]

The concern is bipartisan. Newly elected Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D., N.D.) said through a spokeswoman that she expects to put forth questions on Hagel’s nuclear weapons views during the confirmation process.