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SPEECH | July 27, 2017

2017 Deterrence Symposium Closing Remarks

Gen. John E. Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM): A great couple of days. 

I think the first thing I have to do is just make a caveat.  So these comments reflect my thinking and the thinking of the United States Strategic Command, and there are no caveats. (Laughter)  

The first thing I need to do is I need to thank Maj. Gen. Nina Armagno and the J5 team.  You’re a new J5, been here a month.  Getting all this credit.  So I hope the one thing that tells you is that you inherited a pretty amazing team.  A really amazing team.  Thank you to the whole J5 team. 

The other thing I need to do is, -- [Maj.] Carrie Zederkof, come up here a second. 

I don’t know if you’ve watched the last two days, but there’s been somebody up here every time with all the complicated names, complicated introductions, complicated backgrounds, all that stuff, and she was flawless.  She was spectacular.  So I think she deserves a thank you and a round of applause from all of you.  

It’s also great to be back in the CenturyLink Center.  This is a great place to hold a conference.  Thank you to all the staff that are around the room for hosting us.  It really was a great symposium.  A great two days.  A lot to think about and a lot to discuss.  And you know, one thing about me is that I don’t get two days to just think and discuss very often.  So the fact that we had two days just to think, to discuss and to push the envelope a little bit.  I want to thank you for that, because I learned a lot. 

I cannot tell you how much I value the unconstrained opinions and perspectives.  And I do feel like sometimes people hold back.  You should not hold back.  This is an open discussion.  This is one of the most important topics that we have as a nation, one of the most important topics we have as a group of countries, a group of like-minded nations.  We need to be open and not hold back on those discussions.  

It was great to see the sheer number of folks that are here.  The breadth of experiences in the room.  Our allies and partners providing expertise.  Governments, think tanks, academia, members of our own Academic Alliance.  It really is fantastic to have the collective participation here in one room. 

Perhaps most importantly to me, we also have a number of younger participants here.  I had the pleasure to meet some of you at breakfast yesterday; meet some of you throughout the symposium.  And not that I don’t like you old guys, Frank, but I really love spending time with the young folks.  Because, well, the one thing in common that you and I have Frank, we’re about done.  We are.  Whether we want to admit it or not, we’re about done.  And the job will be taken over by the young people in this room.  To see the energy and excitement and interest and study that is going on with the young people in this room is just truly remarkable.  I loved the Buffet panel, the younger panel.  I like all panels to be honest with you. I learn something from everybody, but the younger panel in particular.  I loved it because each of them I probably disagree with more than any other group of people on the stage.  

As I went across the stage I thought to myself, I’m getting more and more energized saying ‘no, you don’t get it, no, that’s wrong.’  And then I realize a lot of that’s just because I’m old and looking at it through old eyes.  And the more I think about what you say and the more you challenge me to think about what I think, is unbelievably important.  So I hope, Dave in particular, I hope to have continuing debates and discussions with you because it’s really important to do that.  You really do challenge my thinking, and I want to thank you for that. 

I also want to thank the media in the audience here.  The media never gets thanked any more.  You know, everybody chuckles when I say that.  But I tell you what, people in America, people around the world need to be smart in these complex issues, and it’s really the media’s job to tell the story.  To tell the story good and bad – – It impacts the perception.  It impacts the perception of our allies, it impacts the perceptions of our adversaries.  And Ambassador [Sarah] MacIntosh, [permanent representative to NATO council, U.K.], told us how important it is not to let misunderstanding become miscalculation.  So the media has an incredible privilege and responsibility to help the public understand.  So never underestimate the value of what you guys do, and know that I don’t underestimate you.

My deputy, Chas Richard, Vice Adm., United States Navy.  He and I grew up in the same area, northern Alabama.  He jokes that as a kid he and his friends would wonder if they were being targeted by the Russians.  A little dark, really.  He went on to be a nuclear submariner.  But he says it was a mark of prestige.  And he and I grew up doing duck and cover drills in elementary school. We did, we remember it well.  It was commonplace for us. But it’s something our children have never experienced.  And I’m not sure what good ducking under a table really does in case of a nuclear attack.  But I’ll tell you what it did do.  It made everybody aware of the threat that was out there.   

So for the past 70 years, our deterrent forces have been successful in preventing nuclear conflict and been successful in preventing major power conflict.  Many people in this room have had a critical role in preventing that major power conflict, but sometimes I wonder if we’ve been a little too successful because some of our nation, some of our citizens have a hard time seeing the critical role that nuclear weapons play in our world today. 

Yesterday in the second panel discussion, Bruce Turner [acting principal deputy assistant secretary of state] from the State Department discussed the U.N. treaty for the prohibition of nuclear weapons that’s being worked on currently.  While containing the spread of nuclear weapons and arms control agreements are important for strategic stability, especially in the way one of our panels defined it and that was a great definition. 

I challenge every one of you to think about what a world without nuclear weapons really looks like.  Because you know exactly what it looks like.  It looks like the world before 1945.  The world before 1945 had two world wars, and in those two world wars tens of millions of people were killed.  Tens of millions of our citizens were killed.  Think about the sheer brutality of World War I and World War II and think about the world with nuclear weapons.  

So in the past two days we’ve had some really stimulating ideas, stimulating concepts, thoughts from a range of professionals, discussions presented were insightful, very diverse views on deterrence and assurance in today’s crazy environment.  I’m impressed with the passion and commitment that everybody brought to the discussion.  And if you recall, importantly, there wasn’t a single speaker that stood up and said the United States can do this all alone.  They’ve all emphasized that we need to work together as allies and partners, and it’s one of our biggest strengths that we have and our adversaries do not. 

Deterrence in the 21st century has to be an international approach.  It has to involve our allies and partners.  It requires close cooperation and integration and also understanding of the different thoughts and differing perspectives on certain issues.  Our international participants over the last two days have given us insight on their views involving the strategic environment, and that insight is enormously helpful.  These discussions help us understand how we come up with an allied approach for deterring and responding to our adversaries.  It’s important, because this is a multi-polar world.  It’s about the adversary, not the domain, not the region, but about the adversary.  We have to tailor our approach to each unique adversary and each unique situation.  

Now as an aside, as I said that, I have one big question from the last two days that I really don’t have an answer to, and I’m very concerned about it.  It’s how do you say the word adversary?  Is it adversary or adversary or – when it came up, I first thought it was an American/European problem.  And then today the Canadians and the Americans were using adversary.  I’m going what the heck?  So I’m thinking now it’s an Alabama problem, Chas.  Because it’s like theater.  Adversary.  So clearly, we’ve been saying it wrong our entire lives. But I’m really very confused about how you say that word, so – I’m not going to ask the Canadians, I’m not going to ask the Brits.  CQ [Lt. Gen. Brown deputy of Central Command] if you can help me later, just to clarify how you can say that word. 

But I tell you what, yesterday’s panel on the implications of responses to our adversaries on limiting nuclear use.  We discussed Russia’s destabilizing doctrine on what some call escalate to de-escalate.  I really hate that discussion.  I’ve looked at the Russian doctrine. I’ve looked at Russian writings.  It’s not escalate to de-escalate, it’s escalate to win.  Everybody needs to understand that. 

Now it was a good response or a good debate from the panel about what an allied response should be to a nuclear attack.  What weapons should we use?  If it’s nuclear, what’s the appropriate yield we should have? 

Remember why it’s important to take all this into account.  We should be debating the message, we should be communicating to the targets that underpin that message, and the targets are our adversaries.   

Next year I’m going to make a point of having more senior military representatives on the panels because for one thing, we see this problem differently.  We see this as a problem of war.  Our first job as military officers is to prevent war.  That’s our first job.  But if that fails, our job is to win the war.  Not to escalate or de-escalate, but to win in a way that is advantageous to our country and our allies when the war is over.  That’s what our job is.  And when you think about winning, you think about using all the capabilities of the nation and all the instruments of national power and all of our allies’ powers in order to permit or in order to allow the United States and our allies to win the war and put the world back in a place that is better than it would be otherwise. 

When you think about winning, you think about it in a different way.  And that’s the one thing that I struggled with on some of the panels, because we had very good discussions.  And guess what?  Escalation and de-escalation is a critical calculation in any recommendation I would ever make to a President of the United States.  It’s a critical element of any recommendation to ever make to your leadership.  And it will be.

But the real question your leadership will ask and my leadership will ask is what does it take to win and end this war in a way that is successful for us?  And we have to think about it this way.   

I grew up in the Air Force.  The Air Force motto is to Fly, Fight and Win in Air, Space and Cyberspace.  It’s not to fly, fight, escalate or de-escalate. It’s not to fly, fight and escalate.  It’s fly, fight and win.  That’s what we train our military officers to do.  We train to think strategically.  We train ourselves to think about the broad problems across the entire spectrum of the issues, but the job is to prevent war and if the prevention fails, win.  And that’s compared to the priorities of the U.S. Strategic Command that I talked about in my earlier remarks.  Because what are the priorities, above all else we will provide you the deterrence to prevent war.  If deterrence fails, we will provide decisive response.  We will win.  And we’ll do it with a combat-ready force.  That’s how military people think.  

That’s why the vision I was talking about earlier in my remarks is so important.  One warfighting team delivering integrated, multi-domain combat effects, whenever and wherever needed, to make sure that we can prevent war and win if war does come. 

One step in advancing this integration is to normalize the way we operate in space and cyberspace.  There were some interesting discussions about space and cyberspace in this panel, but we never really got the integrated view.  We kept looking at it in the space stovepipe, the cyber stovepipe, the nuclear stovepipe, and we never really got into the integrated approach.  A lot of people tried to walk up to it, but we never really got into that. 

One thing I’ll tell you about space and cyberspace, is the more we treat them as just places, the better we are.  Because every time we talk about a cyber operation or a space operation or a satellite, things like that, you think about the thing.  There’s all kinds of laws that come into play.  But if it’s just a place, just like air, land and sea, we have rules about how we conduct operations.  And the rules are focused on an adversary and what we can do in order to counter that adversary.  What we can do in peace time, what we can do in war time, what we can do in conflict.  All those things are actually fairly easy to understand when you think about them as a place.  But when you think about them as cyber stuff and space stuff, the problem becomes very complicated. 

So we have some challenges.  That’s to be expected.  Deterrence is hard.  This is really hard stuff.  But the one thing I’m confident about is we’re going to meet those challenges head on.  There’s no doubt.  The people I get to work with make sure that that’s true.  The soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines in this command, 184,000 strong, we have the best and brightest in America and we have the greatest allies in the world. 

My biggest concern, and I want to spend some time with this, is can we go faster and stay ahead of our adversaries? 

Several panels discussed this directly and completely over the last couple of days, but I believe it’s fundamental to our deterrence. 

Somewhere along the line we have lost the ability to rapidly adapt and go fast.  The good news is I know we can do it.  I know it because we’ve done it before. 

In 1957, a small group of airmen in Inglewood, California, came up with the idea for a three-stage solid rocket ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile], the Minuteman I.  The Minuteman I was started in 1958.  The United States Congress gave $140 million in 1958 to begin that program.  It took three years.  From 1959 to 1964 the United States Congress appropriated an additional $2 billion, and in 1964 the United States deployed 800 ICBMs.  Three-stage solid rocket motors with a 200 meter error basket [circular error probable].  Eight-hundred missiles in five bases around the middle of the United States.  Five years.  The first missile was tested in ’61, the first deployment was in ’62. In four short years it went from approval to the field, three years later, in ’65, 800 at Malmstrom [Air Force Base, Montana], Ellsworth [Air Force Base, South Dakota], Minot [Air Force Base, North Dakota], F.E. Warren [Air Force Base, Wyoming], and Whiteman [Air Force Base, Missouri].  That $2.14 billion is about $17 billion in today’s money.  So let’s compare it to the way it is.  

We have some industry partners in here.  And this is not a slam on industry or the acquisition community or the requirements community.  It’s not a slam on the Pentagon process. It’s not a slam on the Congress.  It’s actually a slam on every one of us.  And everyone should be paying this attention because we’ve all become part of that problem.  

Because the GBSD [ground-based strategic deterrent] program, the public number put out last year in current year dollars is $84 billion, and for $84 billion we’ll get 400 missiles, we’re projecting initial operational capability in 2029, and a full operational capability somewhere around 2035 – 15 years before we get missiles, and what are those missiles going to be?  More than likely three-stage, solid rocket ICBMs.  That we had to invent in 1958.  We had to invent what a missile would look like.  And we had to invent what the command and control was.  None of that has to be invented.  So how did we get to the point where it takes four times as long and four times as much money to build half as much capability? 

I’ve worked with industry.  I know it’s not there.  I see the talent that we have in industry.  I see the talent we have everywhere in this country.  I’ve worked with Congress.  I see the commitment to our nation.  So how is it that we can’t go fast enough to stay ahead of the threat?  

We can fix it. It’s all up to us.  We’ve just got to get the authority and responsibility in the right place.  The guy that built that program was a guy named Gen. Bernard Schriever.  A hero in the Air Force space and missile business.  But Gen. Schriever was one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met.  He also wasn’t the guy that really ran the Minuteman I program.  It was a colonel by the name of Sam Phillips, who gave the responsibility and authority to deliver that capability, and Sam Phillips became famous.  But he didn’t become famous for the Minuteman I.  He became famous because in 1963 NASA called Gen. Schriever and said we need somebody to run the Saturn V program for Apollo.  And who he gave them Sam Phillips.  And Sam Phillips was the guy that ran the Saturn V.  And he ran the Apollo program and got us to the moon by the end of the decade.  

We went to the moon, ladies and gentlemen.  How is it that we can’t seem to go fast anymore? 

So today all our modernization programs, every one of them, delivers just in time.  All the programs have started – the next submarine, the next ICBM, the next bomber, the next air-launched cruise missile.  They’ve all started.  Nuclear command and control modernization started.  The nuclear weapon program modernization started.  But they all deliver just in time.  Just in time is not good enough.  This is about strategic deterrence.  This is the most important mission we have.  We need to move these things to the left and make it affordable.  We have to get back to the basics.  We have to get back to the way we used to do business.  We have to get back to energizing Americans to think about it.  Our nation’s deterrence relies on it and that means our allies deterrence relies on it as well.

So whether you’re one of the younger participants here who just started working deterrence, or you’re a seasoned professional that’s dedicated your life to this field, I hope you take from this conference some new ideas.  And I hope you’re able to take some time and engage in discussions when you get home, and broaden and advance our understanding of deterrence in the 21st century and talk to the people around the places that you live.   

For industry, how do we leverage innovation and technology to enhance deterrence?  How do we go fast?  How do we streamline the processes to get there?  You need to be talking to your congressmen and your political leaders about how to do that as well.

To the media, how can we invigorate a national discussion around strategic deterrence?  How do we clearly convey our message and mitigate misunderstanding and miscalculation?  

For our military, for our interagency partners, for academia, how do we achieve a decisive, coordinated and integrated response across all our commands, all our government agencies and our allied nations?  What needs to be done to effectively integrate across domains to achieve the effects we have to do in real time? 

So I hope you’ll all leave ready to talk, ready to publish, ready to expand the discussion about strategic deterrence.  I hope you look at integrating our capabilities that take our deterrence forward in the 21st century.  It is a multi-polar, multi-domain world.  

Quite often we use these key words and phrases, but rarely do we dive into the deeper discussion of what it looks like and what we really have to do.  Do your part to broaden the international debate and the discussion. 

So I want to thank you for investing your time and resources to attend this really amazing event.  Thanks to my folks, not just to the J5, but across the entire command.  They did an amazing job of putting this together. 

I hope to see each and every one of you, and maybe some more, here back in Omaha next year, 27-28 July 2018 where we’ll deepen our conversation about what 21st century deterrence really means.  

So I appreciate every one of your attendance, your involvement, your expertise and your passion.  Thank you very much.