Sen. Levin tribute to Sen. Ben Nelson

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Mr. President, there are few issues we deal with on the Armed Services Committee in which the stakes are so high or the policy questions so complex as in dealing with our nation’s strategic forces and capabilities. The fearsome power of our strategic weapons, the urgency of avoiding mistakes, the difficult strategic calculations they require, the advanced technologies involved, all of these combine to make strategic forces complicated and of paramount importance.

It has also been the signature issue for Senator Ben Nelson during his service on the Armed Services Committee. Chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee since 2009, Senator Nelson has long been one of the Senate’s most thoughtful voices on issues related to our nuclear arsenal, space programs, missile defense and other strategic issues. As he prepares to leave the Senate, we are losing an outstanding contributor to our nation’s strategic thinking and decision-making.

Certainly the presence of Offut Air Force Base and U.S. Strategic Command in Senator Nelson’s home state give him first-hand evidence of the importance of these issues. And appropriately, he brings a common-sense Nebraska viewpoint to our consideration of them.

Senator Nelson’s efforts were important to the Senate’s 2010 aproval of the New START treaty, a significant step forward in our nuclear arms reductions efforts. He made it clear in that debate that he is a firm believer in the need to ensure that the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons laboratories are modernized and able to support the existing nuclear stockpile so that we do not have to return to nuclear testing.

His common-sense approach has been especially noticeable in issues involving management of the nuclear weapons laboratories as they balance the science behind stockpile stewardship and meeting day-to-day problems with the deployed nuclear forces.

As Chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee, he has helped ensure strong oversight of and support for the development, testing and deployment of effective ballistic missile defenses, including the Phased Adaptive Approach to missile defense in Europe that is already providing protection for our forward deployed forces, our allies and partners against Iran’s current and emerging ballistic missiles.

He has been an advocate for improving our deployed and planned homeland ballistic missile defense capabilities, including efforts to understand and correct the problem that led to a flight test failure of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system in December of 2010. In this regard, he has supported rigorous and operationally realistic testing of our missile defense systems.

Of course, strategic issues are not Senator Nelson’s only concern. On the Armed Services Committee, before he chaired Strategic Forces, he was chairman of the Personnel Subcommittee, demonstrating a keen understanding of the issues and a deep concern for the men and women of our military and their families. He has been a tireless advocate for the National Guard and for Nebraska’s farm families, and a fighter for working families across America, advocating for a reasonable minimum wage and for important workplace protections. And he has been among our most passionate voices for an end to the partisan gridlock that has marked Washington, and the Senate, for far too long.

None of these issues are simple. All of them are vitally important. Senator Nelson’s thoughtful, careful contributions have without question made our nation safer, made our military forces more effective, our use of precious taxpayer dollars more effective. He has earned the respect and affection of the people of Nebraska, and he will be sorely missed on the Armed Services Committee and in the Senate. Barb and I wish all the best for Ben and Diane as they continue their efforts to serve their state and our nation.