WASHINGTON — In a joint statement, both of Nebraska's U.S. Senators on Wednesday blasted President Barack Obama's talk of reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal as “shortsighted policy” that would “create unnecessary strategic risks.”
During a high-profile speech in Berlin, Obama called for reducing U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles by one-third.
It's a move sure to spark intense debate about the country's approach to its nuclear weapons and it comes just as Chuck Hagel makes his first trip back to Nebraska since he was nominated as defense secretary early this year.
The former two-term GOP senator is set to deliver a speech today at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and stop by U.S. Strategic Command tomorrow for briefings and remarks to the troops.
Located at Offutt Air Force Base south of Omaha, StratCom is responsible for overseeing the nation's nuclear arsenal.
Obama has long stressed the importance of reducing the world's stockpiles of nuclear weapons, but Wednesday's speech still drew swift criticism from some Capitol Hill Republicans.
Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., said that while the Cold War is over, nations such as Iran and North Korea are sill hoping to build their own nuclear stockpiles.
“This announcement ignores the fact Russia has not complied with previous arms control treaties and that changes to our nuclear arsenal should not be made through executive fiat,” Johanns said. “The Administration owes it to the American people to explain how this impacts our national security and that of our closest allies. Simply put, now is not the time to draw down our defenses or weaken any part of our nuclear triad.”
Hagel faced tough questioning about nuclear disarmament during his confirmation hearing. He was asked repeatedly about a May 2012 Global Zero report he helped co-author that was focused on nuclear arms reductions.
During the hearing, Hagel quoted Ronald Reagan saying that nuclear weapons ultimately must be wiped off the face of the earth. But he also said that they had been important in keeping the peace.
“I am committed to maintaining a modern, strong, safe, ready and effective nuclear arsenal,” Hagel said during his confirmation hearing. “America's nuclear deterrent over the last 35 years has played a central role in ensuring global security and the avoidance of World War III.”
Hagel also emphasized that any reductions had to be accomplished through bilateral negotiations with Russia and in consultation with Congress.
Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and was one of those grilling Hagel.
During her weekly conference call with reporters Wednesday, Fischer said she thought Hagel's comments at the hearing meant he backed the current level of the U.S. nuclear stockpile.
“I felt that he was giving support, or at least tentative support, at the hearing for our current status under the New START treaty and also for the triad,” Fischer said.
She also suggested Nebraska reporters should press Hagel on his position during his trip to the state.
“He made some comments during his confirmation hearing,” Fischer said. “Did he change his opinion? If so, why did he change his opinion?”
Pentagon press secretary George Little said Hagel has not changed his view.
"The secretary has been perfectly clear and consistent that we will maintain a credible nuclear deterrent, retain the nuclear triad and ensure that our nuclear weapons remain safe, secure and effective," Little said.
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