Offutt Air Force Base, Neb. —
Q: Well, I think a lot of us were sort of wondering if you can kind of give us a sense of sort of where we are with the threat from North Korea? You know there's been quite a lot of speculation about the extent to which their capabilities has advanced, how imminent that threat is. If you could just walk us through that.
General John E. Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM): So I think I've been pretty consistent all year in pointing out that as fast as their technology is advancing, it's always been a matter of when, not if, they were going to have that capability. Now they've demonstrated a very large nuclear capability. They've demonstrated a long-range ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] — an ICBM that can range into the United States. They've — now they've flown over Japan. They've flown over one of their neighbors.
They've demonstrated at least an incline trajectory which you'd have to do it so you start walking into that. They haven't put everything together yet. You still haven't seen everything put together, but I'll just stay with what I said to Congress, what I've said multiple times. It's just a matter of when, not if.
Q: Can you give us a little more refined timeline, in your own view?
Gen. Hyten: No.
Q: Years or months?
Gen. Hyten: I can tell you that when we built our capabilities, this was the hard part. We created the whole range in the Pacific, Kwajalein Atoll, to watch those pieces coming in, to characterize the re-entry vehicle, make sure the re-entry vehicle could survive. We had significant underground testing, we had significant above-ground testing. When we did it, we did it pretty fast though. We did it in a fairly short amount of time, measured in less than a couple years.
I always point out that General Schriever was given the task of building the first intercontinental ballistic missile for the United States and he started in 1958 and in 1964 we had 800 ICBMs deployed at five bases across the country all with live nuclear weapons on board. All with nuclear command and control, all built in five years, so it can be done.
But, whether they have the ability, I don't have any insight into that. I can just look at historical examples and say, it could be in months or it could be in years.
Q: But right now, at this moment, you don't think they have a reliable capability to range?
Gen. Hyten: They've not demonstrated a reliable capability to deliver a nuclear weapon on an intercontinental ballistic missile. We haven't seen that yet.
Q: And when you say it's only a matter of time, sir, is that what you mean? It's only a matter of time before they're able to?
Gen. Hyten: Before they figure it out.
Q: Put it all together, do you think?
Gen. Hyten: Its physics and engineering. And the thing about North Korea is they're testing rapidly. The best way to learn is to test and that's what they're doing — quickly.
Q: Does the fact that it was a hydrogen bomb matter?
Gen. Hyten: Yes. It's the change from the original atomic bomb to the hydrogen bomb for the United States changed our entire deterrent relationship with the Soviet Union. It changes the entire relationship because the sheer destruction and damage you can use with a — you can create with a weapon that size is significantly of a concern not just to Strategic Command but it should be a concern to everybody in the free world.
It should be a concern to the people in the neighborhood, which is Japan and Korea, as well as China and Russia. That's the neighborhood that North Korea's in. To have that kind of weapon go off in your neighborhood would be very concerning to me. But it's concerning to me because if they build a delivery capability to do that, then that has the ability to destroy a city.
Q: General, do you believe that you have the ability to deter the North Koreans?
Gen. Hyten: Do I have the ability to deter the North Koreans? I believe I have the ability to deter — that's a — that's kind of a false statement. You kind of put me in a trap there for a second. I don't deter anybody. The United States deters nations. And I think the United States has the ability to deter an attack on our country, because of the deterrent capability that we have, so we can deter a nuclear attack.
So, you have to walk into — do we have the ability to deter North Korea from developing capabilities that could potentially threaten us? That's a different question. But do I have the ability — do I, U.S. Strategic Command, have the ability for the United States to deter an adversary from attacking the United States with nuclear weapons? Yes, because they know the response is going to be the destruction of their entire nation.
And I think that does provide a very powerful deterrent.
Q: General, if I could go back to Phil's question for just for a quick moment. To see if I heard correctly, were you confirming that North Korea — it was a hydrogen bomb? This latest...
Gen. Hyten: It was — it was — I'm not confirming, I'm just saying that the size of the weapon shows that there was clearly a secondary explosion. So the size...
Q: Is that the definition though?
Gen. Hyten: To me, it's the definition.
Q: That's the signature.
Gen. Hyten: So I can't confirm, because I'm not a scientist, I'm not anything. All I can do is look at the size, and make an assumption. But I can't confirm what it was.
Q: And then on a separate topic, you know, because of all the multiple launches and tests, there's been renewed discussions to whether there should be small tactical nukes used as a deterrent against North Korea. Could you share your views about this as a potential deterrent capability?
Gen. Hyten: I don't think there's anything such as — I think the term tactical nuclear weapon is a misnomer. It's actually a very dangerous term to use, because I think every nuclear weapon that is employed is a strategic. There's only been two deployed in history. The next one that's deployed will be a strategic weapon. It won't be a tactical weapon. And to call it a tactical weapon brings into the possibility that there could be a nuclear weapon employed on the battlefield for a tactical effect. It's not a tactical effect, and if somebody employs what is a non-strategic nuclear weapon, or a tactical nuclear weapon, the United States will respond strategically, not tactically, because they have — they have now crossed the line. A line that hasn't been crossed since 1945.
Q: General, when you're talking about deterrence, the deterrence mission, the deterrence messaging, if you go back years, was always focused on Russia. What, if anything, needs to change in terms of the way you communicate, or the United States communicates, with deterrence, specifically with North Korea?
Gen. Hyten: So, I think that's a big challenge for our country right now, because somehow, the deterrent debate in our country seems to end with 1,550 deployed nuclear weapons under the New START treaty. Somehow, that deters all our adversaries, and that's not the world we live in today. It is the starting point for any deterrence equation, but it's not the end point. The end point is the world that we live in, and the world that we live in is multi-polar and multi-domain. We have to worry, not just about attacks that could hurt this country in the nuclear realm, but we have to worry about large-scale conventional attacks, as well as space and cyber attacks that could seriously damage this country. So, you have to put all those domains together, and then you have to consider about the — you have to consider the multi-polar world that we live in too, because the action of one nation impacts many nations. It's not just the United States and the Soviet Union, it is many.
Is there something going on?
Staff: I'm sorry to interrupt, but schedule-wise we need to...
Q: Can I ask for one clarification, if you don't mind? Just to — it will take a second. Just on the -- your statements about you can't confirm that that nuclear test was an H-bomb, but you say it was a two stage weapon...
Gen. Hyten: I say it was large...
Q: You said it was two stage.
Gen. Hyten: I said that there was a secondary event, and so that was a large event. And so I...
Q: Oh by secondary does that mean the collapse?
Gen. Hyten: Correct. So the — when I look at the — the thing that size, I as a military officer, assume that it's a hydrogen bomb. I have to. I have to make the assumption of what I saw equates to a hydrogen bomb.
Q: What you saw, meaning?
Gen. Hyten: I saw the event, I saw the indications that came from that event, I saw the size, I saw the reports. And therefore, to me, I’m assuming it was a hydrogen bomb.
Gen. Hyten: I have to make that assumption as a military officer, because my job is to figure out how to respond to those events. Now, whether it was or not, or whether it was something else, I'm not a nuclear scientist, so I can't tell you, this is how it worked, this is what the bomb was. I can't tell you all those things, but I can tell you the size that we observed and saw, tends to me to indicate that it's a hydrogen bomb, and I have to figure out what the right response is with our allies, is to that.
Q: The size is over 100 kilotons? Is that...
Gen. Hyten: I won't say the number, but it was significantly larger than anything we've seen before.
Staff: Sir, thanks again for taking the time.
Q: Yeah, thank you for the time.
Gen. Hyten: I had the understanding you had questions about the reorg? About what...
Q: If you want to talk about it, sir, I'd be happy to hear it.
Gen. Hyten: Okay.
Q: Thank you though.
Gen. Hyten: It's very good to see you guys.
Q: Thank you.
Q: Thanks for explaining also why that's all so important.
Gen. Hyten: You bet. Hope you had a good day.
Q: Thank you, sir.