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Senator Sam Nunn On the Nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense

Sam Nunn

Co-Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, NTI

Chairman Levin, Ranking Member Inhofe, Members of the Armed Services Committee – I am honored to join John Warner in presenting our friend, Chuck Hagel, to the Committee and recommending that Chuck be confirmed as our nation’s 24th Secretary of Defense.

I think it is worth noting that 68 years ago this month John Warner enlisted in the Navy to fight in World War II.  This was the start of his great career of public service, and I’m proud to be here with John today.

Mr. Chairman, I think that it should also be noted that you and Senator McCain have effectively guided this Committee in its important role as a compelling voice for a strong and effective defense.  Together you have managed to pass authorization bills, even during contentious times, and I thank you both for your dedicated service to our nation.  I am confident, Mr. Chairman and Senator Inhofe, that you will continue this tradition.

I believe that our nation is fortunate to have a nominee for Secretary of Defense with the character, experience, courage and leadership that Chuck Hagel brings to this position.

First, Chuck is acutely aware that even in an age of rapid technological advances, our military capability and effectiveness depend on the quality and morale of the people who serve our nation in uniform, as well as the families that support them.  Chuck received two Purple Hearts in Vietnam, and when he returned home, he continued to fight for veterans and active duty military personnel.  He knows that our people are our strongest asset.

Second, Chuck’s experience in Vietnam shaped his life and his perspective.  War for Chuck Hagel is not an abstraction.  I am confident that, if confirmed, he will ask the hard and the smart questions before sending troops into battle.  Chuck Hagel knows that the United States has vital interests that are worth fighting – and dying -- for.  He also knows that war should be a last resort, and that our nation must effectively use all of our tools, not just our military, to protect our important interests. 

Certainly, there is a tension in these values, but it is a tension that we should welcome in the thought process and in the advice that our Secretary of Defense gives to our Commander in Chief and to Congress.

From our service together on the Defense Policy Board, I know that Chuck has a very clear worldview, and that it aligns with the mainstream of U.S. foreign and defense policy and with President Obama.  Chuck Hagel believes that we must build and preserve American strength as a force for good in the world.  He realizes that protecting our interests requires strong allies and friends and strong American leadership.

Third, Chuck has the depth of experience and the leadership skills required to handle this tough job.  There is certainly no shortage of security challenges around the world, as this Committee knows.  A large and impressive group of former cabinet officials and public servants from both sides of the aisle have said that they trust Chuck Hagel with this important responsibility – and I strongly agree.

Fourth, on the fiscal side, I am confident that Chuck will be a powerful advocate for a common-sense approach, both within the Administration and here on Capitol Hill, regarding fiscal challenges to the defense budget.  He understands that our defense capabilities are being threatened on two budget fronts:

  • Sequestration – with its damaging, across the board, up-front budget cuts; and
  • Rapidly rising costs within the department’s budget, including but not limited to health care, personnel and retirement costs.

Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, I believe that Chuck will work effectively with this Committee and Congress in meeting these budget challenges while protecting our people and our capabilities, and while ensuring that the United States has the strongest military in the world.

Chuck Hagel was a soldier and a senator, but he has also been a highly successful executive in both the public and private sector.  He built a successful company from the ground up.  He is a man who knows how to prioritize and make tough decisions.  He will listen to and consider carefully the views of our military and civilian leaders and guide them as necessary.

Fifth, I believe that Chuck Hagel will be a balanced and responsible voice on nuclear weapons policy.  President Reagan said it often and said it well – a nuclear war cannot be won and must not be fought. 

Mr. Chairman, as the Committee knows, the risks of a global nuclear war have been substantially reduced since the breakup of the Soviet Union, but with nine nations possessing nuclear weapons, with nuclear weapons-usable material and knowledge spread across the globe, and with terrorists ready to use a nuclear weapon if they manage to buy, steal, or make one, we face enormous risks that a nuclear weapon will be used if proliferation continues in countries like Iran and North Korea.  If we do not secure nuclear material and weapons globally, the odds of use go up even more.

Six years ago, George Shultz, Bill Perry, Henry Kissinger and I made the argument that we should reduce reliance on nuclear weapons as a vital contribution to preventing their proliferation – keeping them out of dangerous hands and ultimately ending them as a threat to the world.  Two-thirds of living former secretaries of state and defense and national security advisors have agreed with the vision and the steps that we outlined, including substantial work on verification and enforcement.

Mr. Chairman, I hope that all of the members of the Committee and the Senate will read the recent statement by four credible and experienced Americans – Ambassador Tom Pickering, Ambassador Richard Burt, General James Cartwright and General John Sheehan – about their work with Chuck Hagel on nuclear weapons. 

They make it clear that:

  • They oppose unilateral moves, they support bilateral negotiations, and they support verifiable U.S.-Russian arms reductions, to be followed by multilateral negotiations, bringing other nuclear weapons countries into a serious and verifiable process of reductions. 

In closing, there are many essential characteristics and values that a Secretary of Defense should possess in our dangerous and challenging world.  Let me name a few:

  • First, someone who is well-informed, has an open mind, engages in critical thinking, who is capable of – and who seeks out -- independent thought;
  • Second, someone who sets aside fixed ideologies and biases to honestly evaluate all options and then provides his or her candid judgment to the President and the Congress;
  • Third, someone who pays attention to people with the best ideas – regardless of their party affiliation.

No one is perfect, but Chuck Hagel comes as close as anyone I know to having all of these qualities.  

Mr. Chairman, Senator Inhofe and members of the Committee, I served for 24 years on this important Committee.  I recognize that much has changed since I retired 16 years ago.  I continue to believe, however, that every major problem we face today requires the best input from both political parties to contribute to the solution. 

I believe that Chuck Hagel will seek that input.  I urge his support by this Committee and his confirmation by the full Senate.

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Sam Nunn introduces Secretary of Defense nominee Chuck Hagel before his confirmation hearing in the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Global Security Newswire

Produced by National Journal