March 08, 2022

Warren to Pentagon Official: U.S. Nuclear Policy Should Be Developed by Asking Tough Questions, Not Formulated in an Echo Chamber

Warren: “We must reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our defense strategy. It's dangerous and it results in a staggering amount of spending, more than $630 billion over the next decade..”

Video of Hearing Exchange (Youtube)

Washington, D.C. — During a Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) hearing, United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) questioned Admiral Charles A. Richard, Commander of the United States Strategic Command, about the process of the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) which the Biden administration is expected to release later this month alongside its National Defense Strategy (NDS) and budget submission for fiscal year 2023. At the exchange, Senator Warren expressed concern about the NPR process and highlighted how the Pentagon has repeatedly pushed out and obstructed efforts for more rigorous analyses of the U.S. nuclear posture. Senator Warren previously requested DOD to review alternatives to the ground-based strategic deterrent, which would cost $264 billion.

Last year, Senator Warren and Representative Adam Smith (D-Wash.) Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee reintroduced the No First Use Act to establish laws to prevent the United States from using nuclear weapons as a means of warfare first. In November 2021, Senator Warren spoke on the Senate floor in opposition to the National Defense Authorization Act and called on Congress to take a close look at the Pentagon’s budget.

Transcript: To receive testimony on United States Strategic Command and United States Space Command in review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2023 and the Future Years Defense Program
U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee
Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Senator Elizabeth Warren: Last year, you testified before this committee that you hoped the Nuclear Policy Review would include looking at the wide array of capabilities we have in our arsenal, including space and cyber. In other words, our ability to deter adversaries is not only about nuclear weapons that we have, it's also about conventional weapons and other areas of strength. And it sounds like the adoption of integrated deterrence that will be part of this review does precisely that. Was Strategic Command fully consulted and able to fully participate in the Nuclear Posture Review Process?

Admiral Charles A. Richard: Senator, first, I want to endorse the idea of integrated deterrence. 

Senator Warren: Good.

Admiral Charles A. Richard: STRATCOM and previous commanders have been calling for this, the idea that you use every available instrument I’m not -- beyond the military, to best deter your opponent and resolve political issues at the lowest possible level of violence. So, we are strongly in support of that. Second, is to understand though that nuclear deterrence in particular is a part of integrated deterrence. They're not different things. In fact, it must, if you don't have the nuclear piece inside of it. The rest of integrated deterrence doesn't work because your opponent might be able to--

Senator Warren: So, forgive me for interrupting Admiral. I understand this, I'm just asking a question about process. Was Strategic Command fully consulted and able to fully participate in the Nuclear Posture Review Process?

Admiral Charles A. Richard:  STRATCOM was fully involved–

Senator Warren: Good.

Admiral Charles A. Richard: – in the regular posture review process up through the Secretary of Defense. I had plenty of opportunity to tell the Secretary personally. We led portions of the Nuclear Posture Review, but beyond that, ma'am, I don't know.

Senator Warren: Okay. Now, as we discussed last year, the nation's nuclear policy is up to the President and the Secretary. And the goal of a Nuclear Posture Review is to rigorously examine options to determine the proper role for nuclear weapons in our national security strategy. So Admiral Richard, do you agree that the Nuclear Posture Review benefits -- let me put it this way, from hearing a wide variety of views to make sure that we are developing the smartest possible policy?

Admiral Charles A. Richard: Senator, yes, and my responsibility inside that is to offer the operational implications to each of those wide range of views.

Senator Warren: Okay, and do you think our nuclear policy should be informed by objective technical analysis?

Admiral Charles A. Richard: Ma'am, we, we provide a lot of that objective technical analysis.

Senator Warren: So, you think it should be--

Admiral Charles A. Richard:  Yes.

Senator Warren: Should be informed by technical analysis and a broad variety of views. We're in agreement on that? 

Admiral Charles A. Richard:  Yes, ma'am. 

Senator Warren: Good. You know, I'm looking forward to reviewing the Nuclear Posture Review when it's released, but the reason I'm focused on this is because I have concerns about the process that produced it. 

Over the past year, the Pentagon has repeatedly pushed out and obstructed efforts to have more rigorous debates and analysis to support this review, and I just want to give one example of this. The ground based strategic deterrent is a $264 billion program. 

I requested that DOD contract with a respected group of outside experts to determine the technical feasibility of extending the Minuteman III Program instead of just buying expensive new weapons. 

I was then told that the DOD didn't have the contract authority to do so and that's just simply not true. It appears DOD simply didn't want to do a study that might show that a massively expensive nuclear spending program wasn't actually necessary. 

Now, my view on this is no secret: We must reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our defense strategy. It's dangerous and it results in a staggering amount of spending, more than $630 billion over the next decade, but no matter what you believe about these weapons, our nuclear policy should be developed by asking tough questions, not formulated in an echo chamber. 

So, thank you very much. Mr. Chairman. 

Admiral Charles A. Richard:  Senator, can I suggest that I look forward to the Nuclear Posture Review being published so you can see exactly how and what it concluded, but I will add, thank goodness we have ICBMs right now, I'll explain more in closed testimony.

Senator Warren: So, I'm glad that you're looking forward to seeing the report as I said, I am as well. But my whole point is that if we don't have a process that includes alternative points of view, a widespread point of view, than the product that comes from it is too likely to come from an echo chamber instead of being fully informed and that's what troubles me. 

Admiral Charles A. Richard: Yes, ma'am. 

Chairman: Thank you.