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Published February 08, 2013, 10:54 AM

Hoeven Warns Against Expedited Nuclear Disarmament

The United States’ strategic nuclear triad of land-based missiles, bombers and nuclear-armed submarines has served the country well but may be threatened, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., told a Washington, D.C., audience this week.

By: Chuck Haga, Grand Forks Herald

The United States’ strategic nuclear triad of land-based missiles, bombers and nuclear-armed submarines has served the country well but may be threatened by President Obama’s support for global nuclear disarmament and today’s nagging budget pressures, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., told a Washington, D.C., audience this week.

Hoeven also cited as worrisome defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel’s support for the nuclear disarmament advocacy group Global Zero, which favors eliminating the land-based leg of the triad: about 450 nuclear-armed Minuteman 3 ICBMs in silos in western North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming.

Hoeven spoke Wednesday at an annual seminar sponsored by the Air Force Association, the National Defense Industrial Association and the Reserve Officer Association.

He said a nuclear triad is the most effective strategy to preserve peace in a dangerous world, especially as Iran seeks to develop nuclear weapons capabilities and North Korea looks to expand that country’s weapons potential.

Hoeven said that maintaining the nuclear triad takes less than 3 percent of the Defense Department budget and is “the most cost-effective part of our defense,” an important consideration given the country’s budget problems.

While the threat of a massively armed Cold War-era Soviet Union is history, Hoeven said the country must still maintain an effective deterrent against an array of other threats.

“Though (nuclear missiles) have never been fired, their persistent presence and global reach protect the United States by reassuring our allies and deterring our adversaries,” Hoeven said, according to a release issued Thursday by his Washington office.

As of March 2012, the U.S. nuclear deterrent amounted to 1,737 warheads assigned to 812 active ICBMs, submarine missiles and bombers, according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, which describes itself as a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization seeking “to strengthen global security by reducing the risk of use and preventing the spread of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.”

In his address Wednesday, Hoeven noted that North Dakota hosts Air Force bases at Grand Forks and Minot, the latter controlling major elements of two legs of the triad: 150 ICBMs and a fleet of nuclear-capable bombers. Hoeven and other members of the state’s congressional delegation have sought for years to protect the bases from mission reduction or closure, in part because of the likely economic impact on host communities.

“To say we treasure those bases … would be an understatement,” Hoeven said.

No early cuts

The so-called New START treaty with Russia, which took effect in 2011 and is to last through 2021, aims to reduce the number of strategic nuclear missile launchers by half. It also provides for gradual reductions in deployed weapons and increased on-site inspection and verification.

Hoeven expressed concern that President Obama would seek to make additional unilateral reductions in U.S. nuclear forces. He advised against making reductions called for under the treaty ahead of set deadlines and urged that the triad’s balance be maintained throughout any reductions.

Hoeven had raised concerns about Hagel’s nomination early in January, including that he was “particularly concerned about Sen. Hagel’s support for additional major reductions in U.S. nuclear forces, which I believe puts the United States at a severe disadvantage in a still-dangerous global military environment.”

In a defense of Hagel written by two U.S. ambassadors and two retired generals and published on Global Zero’s website www.globalzero.org, the authors insist that they and Hagel “are not unilateralists” but support “bilateral, negotiated, verifiable U.S.-Russian arms reductions, to be followed by multilateral negotiations, bringing other key countries into a serious, verifiable process of reductions.”

“Chuck Hagel’s and Global Zero’s views on nuclear weapons are in the U.S. national security interest and squarely in the mainstream. Continuing with Cold War nuclear weapons policies is not.”

Global Zero describes itself as an international movement for the elimination of all nuclear weapons.

Launched in Paris in December 2008, the movement includes “300 eminent world leaders and more than 400,000 citizens worldwide,” and has developed “a step-by-step plan to eliminate nuclear weapons.” An affiliated international student movement has more than 100 campus chapters in 10 countries, according to the movement’s website.

Its mission, according to the site: “Global Zero members understand that the only way to eliminate the nuclear threat — including proliferation and nuclear terrorism — is to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, secure all nuclear materials and eliminate all nuclear weapons: global zero.”

Global Zero representatives did not respond Thursday to a request for comment on Hoeven’s remarks.