The Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee today questioned the value of the nation's nuclear arsenal, putting in motion efforts to cut the numbers and costs of missiles and bombs that are part of the Pentagon's "nuclear triad."
Previewing today's Pentagon announcement on what weapon systems will be cut, delayed or eliminated in the upcoming budget, Sen. Carl Levin said the nation needs to rethink its nuclear force created during the Cold War.
"The Cold War is over. I just think there's a way over-reliance and cost that goes into our nuclear weapon system," he said at a media breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.
Later, he went further, suggesting that the arsenal is useless. When talking about an arcane Senate procedure, he raised nuclear weapons again. "It's like the nuclear weapon, it's totally useless. It can't be used except to accomplish some other goal, then it's used, used to deter."
Levin has questioned the number of nuclear weapons in land-based missile silos, long-range bombers, and submarines before. But his comments are more meaningful now as the Pentagon prepares to cut costs and as it faces even more budget reductions if Congress and the White House can't come to an agreement on a pending budget deal.
"I've always believed that nuclear weapons are way overdone, we have way more than are needed to carry out their mission. Their mission can't be to use them. They can only be to deter, or to achieve some form of deterrence," he said. [Special Ops Forces Study to Be Part Spy, Part Gumshoe]
The recent leadership change in North Korea, however, has renewed the military's focus on nuclear weapons, especially as that country has increased military operations.
But Levin said that is silly. "People point to North Korea. North Korea would be deterred by the prospect that if they used the nuclear weapon, they would be immediately wiped out," he said. And he questioned any use by North Korea against South Korea because the regime's "sole purpose in life is to stay in power."
Plus, he added, it wouldn't take many nuclear weapons to eliminate North Korea. "I don't know if would take one or two to deter them from threatening to use a nuclear weapon," said Levin.
However, he won't be pushing for killing one of the legs of the triad. "I'd much rather focus on overall numbers, say there are way more than we need and try to find ways that are achievable to reduce the numbers and reliance on nuclear weapons," he said.