September 20, 2022

ICYMI: At Hearing, Expert Agrees with Senator Warren on the Importance of Transparency Regarding Nuclear Weapons Policy

Warren: “Disclosing this information helps U.S. diplomats make the case to countries around the world that the U.S. is continuing its efforts to reduce nuclear arsenals and it enhances our credibility in calling for other nuclear powers to be equally transparent. ”

Video of Hearing Exchange

Washington, D.C. – At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee today, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) asked Madelyn Creedon, the former principal deputy administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administrator (NNSA), about the importance of transparency in advancing United States national security. 

Senator Warren made reference to the Biden administration’s decision to restore transparency and declassify the number of nuclear weapons the United States has, a reversal of the Trump administration’s policy. 

Transcript: Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing to Examine United States Nuclear Strategy and Policy
U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services
Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Senator Elizabeth Warren: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. There’s no question that we are confronting a challenging security environment. But the justifications we keep hearing for buying nuclear weapons sound like a drumbeat for a new Cold War, which strikes me as incredibly dangerous for the United States and for global security. 

One of the most common tactics used by boosters for more nuclear spending is to rattle off the number of weapons held by our adversaries and to cite projections of how China in particular could increase its stockpile of weapons in the coming years. According to this so-called logic, any time a foreign power is catching up to us numerically, we’re supposed to shovel more money to defense contractors to get our own numbers up.

Ms. Creedon, you have decades of experience working on nuclear weapons policy and of course the size of a country’s nuclear stockpile is one key piece of information. But do you think the best or only way to measure U.S. power is counting our ability to match potential rivals warhead for warhead, launcher for launcher?

Madelyn Creedon – Former Principal Deputy Administrator, National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA): Thank you Senator Warren. As you well know, this is a very complicated question and it goes far beyond just who has 24 and who has 50. At a very basic level, substantial imbalances would be worrisome, but it’s not just about nuclear weapons, it’s about everything that we have. It’s about the whole concept of integrated deterrence and it’s about the quality of our weapons across the board. It’s about the quality of our people, the training of our people, and at the end of the day, we have guidance from a president as to what we hold at risk in a variety of different circumstances and it’s can we meet our own goals and objectives? Can we defend our country and do our allies feel confident in what we have so that they’re safe under the nuclear umbrella? So it’s way more complicated than just numbers.

Senator Warren: I appreciate that answer and I’m concerned that focusing so much on the wrong measure may be good for defense contractors’ bottom lines, but it’s incredibly destabilizing. But there is an area where I think we actually should be doing more talking about the number of weapons we hold – not for the purposes of inviting an arms race, but to avoid strategic miscalculation. The Obama administration took an important first step in this regard when they declassified the size of our nuclear arsenal. Disclosing this information helps U.S. diplomats make the case to countries around the world that the U.S. is continuing its efforts to reduce nuclear arsenals and it enhances our credibility in calling for other nuclear powers to be equally transparent.

Ms. Creedon, when the Trump administration came in, they denied requests to declassify this same information. Do you think that the Trump administration’s decision was helpful or harmful to nuclear deterrence and nonproliferation?

Ms. Creedon: So Senator, I’m very supportive of the declassification of the broad numbers, the total stockpile. Rose and I were in the Obama administration together when many of these decisions were made and so clearly we supported this. I think it is important for transparency. I think it has the potential to reduce some arms racing based out of unknowns, if you will. But, on the other hand, you know, people will do what they want to do. But I still think it’s important for us to be transparent because even though it wasn’t reciprocated during the Obama administration and this administration has done it one more time, I still think it’s important. I mean, we do need to lead in these areas.

Senator Warren: We have to keep in mind that Russia and China don’t trust us, either. And when we hide this kind of information, we only add to their paranoia about our national security strategy. Thankfully, the Biden administration has reversed this harmful Trump administration approach and it has started to put us back on the right path by declassifying the size of our nuclear stockpile. 

So let me ask you one more question Ms. Creedon, would it be helpful or harmful to continue the declassification of this information going forward?

Ms. Creedon: So right this minute Senator, I think it would continue to be helpful on an annual basis. 

Senator Warren: Good, good. You know, some are saying we should go back to the Trump-era policy of keeping this information secret. I think that would be a mistake. When we keep this information classified we give away our ability to pressure other nuclear powers to disclose information about their nuclear weapons. And I see it as, this may seem like a small step, but these are among the small steps that we need to take to rebuild our reputation with our allies and with our enemies. The Trump administration undermined our credibility significantly by withdrawing the United States from the Iran deal and the INF treaty. 

We need to continue to embrace arms control as part of our deterrence strategy. I am very concerned that we are moving the wrong direction when it comes to finding ways to find areas to collaborate on shared interests on nonproliferation. Thank you. Thank you Mr. Chairman.