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January 13, 2022

King Urges Pentagon Nominees to Maintain a Strong Nuclear Deterrent, Keep Options Open

Senator King stresses the “hair on fire challenge” facing nation as adversaries develop hypersonic weapons

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine), Chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, today pressed top Pentagon nominees on the United States’ nuclear posture and the need for a strong nuclear deterrent. King asked Dr. Celeste Wallander – the nominee to be Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs – her thoughts on how a “no first use” policy for nuclear weapons would affect America’s national security by restricting America’s defense capabilities voluntarily and unilaterally. In response, Dr. Wallander stated that a “no first use” policy would not be in the national security interest of the United States, damaging relations with allies who rely upon American support and protection, while also harming non-proliferation efforts.

Senator King: “Dr. Wallander, you heard earlier in this hearing, Dr. Plumb testify that he thought that the adoption of a no first use policy in the current nuclear posture review would not be in the national security interest of the United States. Do you agree with that conclusion?”

Dr. Wallander: “Yes, I do Senator.”

Senator King: “Second question, how would the allies react to the adoption of a no first use policy? Particularly Japan and some of the Asia-Pacific allies.”

Dr. Wallander: “Senator, I thank you for the important question. That is a fundamental reason why I do not support a no first use declaratory policy because I believe it would create concerns about the credibility of American defense commitments to our allies, in addition to possibly undermining the credibility in the eyes of our adversaries.”

Senator King: “And it could provoke some of those countries to adopt their own nuclear weapons which is going in exactly the opposite direction that we want in terms of non-proliferation, isn’t that correct?”

Dr. Wallander: “Senator, yes I agree, that is another reason.”


Later in the hearing, Senator King urged Dr. John Plumb – the nominee to be Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy – to ensure the Department of Defense is better adapting to the growing threats of hypersonic weapons.

“I’m very worried that we’re behind the curve on hypersonics. We’re way behind the curve on hypersonics,” said Senator King. “Do you agree that this should be an urgent matter both in terms of the development of an offensive deterrent capacity but also defensive capacity, because I don’t think any of our missile defense systems can cope with a 7000 mile-an-hour maneuverable missile?”

Senator, thanks for that question, I agree that we are challenged by hypersonics defensively, and from an offensive standpoint, at least from public reporting, it certainly appears that we are behind and need to focus on this challenge,” responded Dr. Plumb.

“Well I hope this is a hair on fire challenge, Dr. Plumb, and I really appreciate your answer,” concluded Senator King.

As Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Subcommittee on Strategic Forces – which oversees the United States’ nuclear arsenal and posture – Senator King has worked to enhance the United States’ nuclear security, strengthen our nuclear deterrent, and stop the spread of these devastating weapons around the globe. Last year, he convened a hearing of top nuclear experts to talk through the strengths and weaknesses of U.S.’s current nuclear posture. During the hearing, he pressed witnesses on topics including nuclear modernization, deterrence, and the role of nuclear weapons in protecting America’s allies worldwide. Senator King recently expressed concern about the emerging threats of Russia and China’s development of “nightmare weapon” hypersonic missiles. Following reports of a potential Chinese hypersonic missile test earlier last year, Senator King stated that the “U.S. cannot lag in this development or allow for blind spots as we monitor the progress of our competitors.” 

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