By: Robert Gard Jr. and Terry Lierman
Despite the partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill, there is at least one area where Americans of all political stripes agree: The United States needs a smarter, more cost-effective national security strategy. The president has assembled just the right team for the job. The next four years present a unique historical opportunity for President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to craft the modern, 21st-century defense policy and program that Americans want.
Two-thirds of Republicans and 90 percent of Democrats believe defense spending is too high, according to a 2012 study by the Stimson Center, the Center for Public Integrity and the Program for Public Consultation. Study participants favored major defense budget reductions, including on average, a 27 percent cut to spending on nuclear arms. Americans, while polarized on many issues, agree on the need to shift away from bloated budgets, outdated methods of combat and Cold War attitudes.
Now, to an unprecedented degree, leaders on both sides of the aisle share these views. Obama has surrounded himself with some of Washington’s most engaged and creative foreign policy thinkers. Kerry and Hagel were longtime national security heavyweights in the Senate; and, as Vietnam veterans, they bring a distinct perspective, particularly regarding when American soldiers should be sent into harm’s way. Biden is a seasoned foreign policy expert who has been a leader on Afghanistan, arms control and other national security issues.
This all-star team is in the right place at the right time, because U.S. national security strategy is at a critical crossroads. With one war over, another one winding down and a budget crisis forcing the Pentagon to reshape itself, the time is ripe to bring our defense policy in line with fiscal and strategic realities.
A good place to start rebalancing our priorities is U.S. nuclear weapons policy, an issue about which Obama, Biden, Kerry and Hagel are deeply knowledgeable. Respected national security experts on both sides of the aisle agree that the world has changed since the Cold War. A large and extremely expensive nuclear arsenal is poorly suited to respond to the threats we face today and the types of wars we conduct. In fact, our outdated nuclear posture is detrimental to national security, because it encourages Russia to maintain a similarly bloated force and perpetuates the risk of a catastrophic accident. That’s one reason a bipartisan group of retired high-ranking national security officials including Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn, George Shultz and William Perry argued in 2007 that moving toward a nuclear weapons-free world would have a “profoundly positive impact on the security of future generations.”
Our oversized nuclear arsenal is a perfect example of the anachronistic thinking that continues to dictate military strategy and spending. By rethinking an outdated nuclear posture, Obama’s team can deliver a much needed one-two punch: make the U.S. and the world safer, and free up billions of dollars for higher-priority defense programs, such as counterterrorism and cybersecurity.
Leaders of both parties believe the United States has far more nuclear weapons than it needs to respond to any conceivable security threat. Moreover, nuclear reductions would demonstrate to the world that America is committed to nuclear nonproliferation. Finally, right-sizing the arsenal would save billions of dollars. In an era of fiscal austerity, addressing nuclear weapons spending should be at the top of the priorities list.
The next four years will require critical and creative thinking about how to reduce our reliance on nuclear weapons, reshape military spending, and, more broadly, rethink America’s role in the world. The American public has long been ready for this change — and the time has come to reap some of the benefits of the end of the Cold War. Now the president, vice president, and Secretaries Kerry and Hagel must provide the leadership to make this a reality.
Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Robert Gard Jr. is the chairman of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and a former executive assistant to two secretaries of defense. Terry Lierman serves on the board of directors of the Council for a Livable World. He previously served as a staffer on the Senate Appropriations Committee and in the House of Representatives.
via Opinion: President Obama has the team to modernize national security | POLITICO.com.