On Monday, President Obama announced the nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel for the position of U.S. Secretary of Defense. Hagel previously served two six-year terms in the Senate, as the Republican representative for Nebraska from 1997-2009.
His nomination has proven highly controversial in Washington, with members of both the Republican and Democratic parties questioning Hagel’s stance on high-profile issues such as Israel and Iran. How those debates will develop remains uncertain. However, if his nomination is confirmed, it seems likely that Hagel’s term as Secretary of Defense would inject some interesting – and undoubtedly controversial – perspectives into the U.S. nuclear weapons policy debate.
Hagel has been a strong supporter of the Global Zero movement, and has previously called for significant cuts in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. In 2007 Hagel, alongside then-Senator Barack Obama, put forward the “Nuclear Weapons Threat Reduction Act of 2007” – a bill aimed at providing “sustained United States leadership in a cooperative global effort to prevent nuclear terrorism, reduce global nuclear arsenals, stop the spread of nuclear weapons and related material and technology, and support the responsible and peaceful use of nuclear technology”.
Hagel has, in the past, voiced support for significant reductions to the defense budget: a question at the forefront of the current public spending debate in Washington, D.C. Whether he would dial back on this as Secretary of Defense, and how much political room he would have to act on cutting defense budgets is another question. But if he were to do so, it seems likely that he would put U.S. nuclear weapons spending under increased scrutiny.
On Iran, Hagel has been criticized for his position opposing further sanctions and advocating instead for opening up communications with the Iranian government. Given the U.S. role in the P5+1 process, we can expect to see Hagel grilled by lawmakers and the media on how he sees U.S. policies towards Iran shaping up over the coming weeks.
It is still unclear whether his nomination will survive the Congressional wrangling. And, given the constant balancing act of D.C. politics, it is too early to tell what the concrete impact of a Hagel-led Pentagon might be – including what his stance would be on U.S. nuclear weapons policies in Europe and how his approach would develop on broader international dialogue.
But, if Hagel becomes Secretary of Defense, it could yet be a shot-in-the-arm for President Obama’s nuclear reduction policies and the Prague vision.
A bio on Sen. Hagel can be found here.
-These are the personal views of the author.