Secretary Kerry has vocally supported using negotiations to combat nuclear proliferation. As a senator, Kerry worked to secure nuclear materials in post-Soviet Russia and assisted with the START Treaty. Since his appointment in January, Kerry has consistently pushed for negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Kerry recently noted that “There is time to resolve this issue, providing the Iranians are prepared to engage seriously.” Secretary Hegel has also worked to reduce the specter of nuclear weapons. Prior to becoming Secretary of Defense, Hagel worked with Global Zero, a nuclear-reduction advocacy group, to draft proposals that would reduce the US arsenal. While with Global Zero, Hagel pushed for unilateral cuts by the US, utilizing B-52 bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) solely as conventional weapons and relying on US submarines (SSNs) as the remaining element of the nuclear triad.
Unconfirmed appointments Moniz and Brennan have a diverse record on nuclear issues. Moniz served under the Clinton administration as a special negotiator for the Department of Energy. During this period he was tasked with helping Russian officials secure nuclear materials. On the other hand, Brennan has stated, yet not publicly proved, that Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon. While Iran’s nuclear activity is extremely suspicious there is no guarantee that they have taken the plunge to get a bomb. Many observers have stated that Iran’s goal is to get all the material needed for a bomb, but remain one screw twist away from actual capability.
With these four individuals it can be assumed that there are at least as many motivations. I’m extremely interested in how John Kerry and Chuck Hagel have drawn their conclusions regarding nuclear weapons. Both are Vietnam War veterans and served during an era which nuclear-armed countries never used their weapons, yet were drawn into long, grueling national liberation conflicts. I have heard the theory that nuclear weapons embolden national leaders to make poor foreign policy decisions. I wonder if this factors into the worldview of Kerry and Hagel? Furthermore, as the past 12 years have demonstrated, nuclear weapons do not deter modern threats which include low level provocations such as North Korea shelling South Korean islands or non-state actions such as the Malian crisis.
As for Moniz and Brennan, it seems as though their views on nuclear weapons stem from nuclear technocracy and short-term geopolitical necessity. Moniz is a an astute Washington insider who wants a smooth-running energy regime for the US. In addition to biomass and renewable energies, Moniz has a desire to see nuclear energy safely used and regulated. His view would also encompass assisting new members to the nuclear club manage their nuclear waste and therefore halt the production of weapon-grade plutonium before it could occur. Brennan is a holdover from the Bush administration and his successful appointment would signal the continuation of short-term counter-terrorism operations. Brennan’s nomination to CIA director was actually postponed until Obama’s 2nd term due to his connection with torture under the Bush administration. Though the CIA is tasked with predicting, and often thwarting nuclear activity, it is plausible that under Brennan these activities will be focussed on non-state actors and the states that often sponsor them.