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SPEECH | Sept. 17, 2021

2021 US Strategic Command Deterrence Symposium Opening Remarks

Edited for Clarity

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                                                                                                       13 September 2021


Location: US Strategic Command (virtual)

Event:  US Strategic Command Deterrence Symposium Opening Remarks

BG Weidner: Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen, and welcome to the 12th annual United States Strategic Command Deterrence Symposium built around the theme of Great Power Conflict. My name is Brig. Gen. John Weidner, the Deputy J5 for Plans and Policy at United States Strategic Command, and I’ll be your master of ceremony for today’s Deterrence Symposium.

Like last year, COVID restrictions, unfortunately, required us to modify the symposium to a virtual format. This is the first of a six-day symposium spread out over this week and next. Today’s panel will explore the topic of cultivating our nation’s intellectual capital to address strategic threats, and will be followed by a Fireside Chat with Senator Angus King of Maine, Senator Deb Fischer of Nebraska, United States Strategic Command Commander Admiral Chas Richard and will be moderated by former General Norton Schwartz, former Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force.

Before turning the microphone over to Adm. Richard for his opening remarks, let me make a few administrative comments. Today’s panel is scheduled to end in a little over 2.5 hours from now. We’ll then take a break at the end of the panel and ask that you stay online with us, during that break so you can participate in the fireside chat. The moderator for today’s panel and fireside chat will introduce each speaker and offer them a chance for some opening remarks. Following these remarks, the moderator will then begin asking panel members questions that will include questions submitted by you, the audience. You can submit your questions through the virtual platform anytime during the presentation using the question box on your screen, but I recommend you begin submitting questions during the opening remark question so that moderators will have them available to begin asking the questions.

Also, please identify who you are directing your question to, to help the moderator address them appropriately. Now, nearly 800 people have registered for this symposium, so we’re likely to receive more questions than can be answered in our limited time. Therefore, your questions will first go to an inbox at our control center here in Omaha where a team of USSTRATCOM representatives will quickly filter and correlate those that we believe are some of the most compelling questions. That team will then forward those questions to the moderator, and the moderator will then pick the questions that best address the flow at that moment in the panel discussion.

With that said, let’s officially begin the 2021 USSTRATCOM Strategic Deterrence Symposium

It's my great honor and privilege to introduce Adm. Chas Richard the commander of United States Strategic Command, which is one of 11 combatant commands within the Department of Defense. He most recently served as Commander of Submarine Forces Command in Norfolk, Virginia. Other assignments include: Deputy Commander United States Strategic Command Director of Undersea Warfare with duty at the Pentagon, Deputy Commander of the Joint Functional Component Command for Global Strike at U.S. Strategic Command, and Commander of Submarine Group 10 at King's Bay, Georgia.

Adm. Richard, thank you so much for joining us today.

Adm. Richard: Thanks John for that very kind introduction, and it's great to be here with everybody today as John indicated having to do this one in a different format. COVID restrictions. Do miss seeing everybody come out to Omaha when we do these in person there's a lot of advantages to doing that, but there are also advantages to doing it this way. Very pleased to see 800 people joining in on this, and I do think, overall or most fundamentally, it's important that we keep these conversations going. I want to acknowledge and applaud the work that's done here. Hey, they're not only very important incubators, if you will, to foster broader strategic deterrence thought. I mean I can walk these things back in history and show some of the work that went on here then inspired work here at STRATCOM that has led to better strategic deterrence and better defense of our nation and our allies, right. That we are looking to operationalize the work that we do here and then bring it into our day-to-day operations.

I also want to applaud where Secretary Austin and the leadership and the Department of Defense are taking us in the effort to re-think how the joint force in the nation should execute globally integrated deterrence. I think that it is a vital concept going forward in terms of acknowledging what has changed in the way that we can no longer look at our nation's security threats solely through a regional focus. These challenges are global they spread across many domains to include space and cyber and for us to maintain the standard of deterrence that we have historically, we are going to have to improve on our ability to globally integrate all instruments of national power, all elements inside the Department of Defense. Recognizing that there is this larger whole of all of the nation's capabilities that we're going to have to have to be successful in maintaining strategic deterrence and to address the chain situation and the great power competition that we're in.

And that's probably, you know – kicking this thing off some points I'd like to make to sort of help frame up and shape how we think, at least give you an idea of what I'm thinking. One is the national security environment has changed, and it has changed profoundly in my opinion. So, not only the Department of Defense doesn't have the luxury of picking and choosing the threats that we're going to defend against. We have an obligation to defend our nation and our allies against all the threats that we face. So not only do we have to maintain deterrence and defense against terror threats – we have had some recent events that have reminded us the importance of doing that – but we also are now faced with a situation where we have to deter two peer nuclear-capable competitors at the same time who have to be deterred differently, and we have never faced this situation in our nation's history before.

When you start to unpack the actual implications of what I just said they are very profound and a lot of them get after the very core of our academic understanding of how we accomplish that mission. The threat that we're doing this against that causes me to make that statement is changing rapidly. You may have heard me before say, just recently, that we are witnessing a strategic breakout by China. Business as usual will not work given the rapid pace of change that China is doing with its forces. I've used the term breathtaking before to describe it and I'm not sure that that fully captures the magnitude of what we're witnessing. I'm only going to talk about the strategic nuclear aspects of this, but I think we're all well familiar with their explosive growth in conventional, space, cyber, and other asymmetric capabilities.

Keep those in the back of your mind and then add in the piece that I'm going to talk about here in a second. It's a pretty impressive laundry list: rapid expansion and solid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missile silo numbers, road mobile intercontinental ballistic and regional ranged missiles, Jin Class submarines, ballistic missile submarines, capable of continuous at sea deterrence, bringing in a new missile capable of ranging continental United States from protected bastion in the South China Sea. Completion of a true triad with the addition of an air leg, they're H-6N bombers with air launch ballistic missiles, intermediate range capability – impressive work in hypersonics, and that's that just gets after the laundry list of stuff. Much higher readiness conditions headed to very soon a launch under warning, a launch under attack capability. High readiness in forces that we haven't seen before, developing what I would describe as true nuclear command and control capability. Skip echelon rethinking their whole approach to how they command and control their forces. And then there's pieces that I don't think get discussed enough: infrastructure support, the industrial base of their weapons development and weapons production capability, their ballistic missile defenses. I found it very interesting saw an open press report of one of their businesses over there that's involved in the nuclear work that China does talking about a four-fold increase in business in just one year as another indicator of just how fast and just how big this is.

Look, I have said before that it doesn't matter why China is doing this. That tends to be the first "Hey why is China doing all this?" And I've said it doesn't matter why they're expanding it. And of course it does, and I'll tell you in a second why. But in some respects it doesn't. The idea that once you have the capability what matters is what they can do with it. That’s what an operator is going to think about first and that's what STRATCOM is responsible for. And fundamentally what it enables, now, is China to execute any plausible nuclear employment strategy.

If you go back in their history they truly were no first use minimum deterrent of strategy posture forces size to accomplish that, that's just no longer true. And they now have the capability to do any plausible nuclear employment strategy, and that's part of why I say this is a strategic breakout. The moving from minimum deterrent to anything that they want to do constitutes in my mind part of the justification for why I say that. But maybe it is important to go back a little bit and go, “Well, why are they doing that?” In my opinion, although I think I can back it up, is I think of this as the final brick in the wall of a military designed to confront a peer nuclear-capable opponent, in other words us, the United States, and be able to coerce them.

 And coercion is something that nuclear forces have been used for throughout history. We don't do that, but others have done it to us, and I think this is the final they have – China has correctly figured out that you cannot coerce a peer nuclear capable opponent from a minimum deterrent posture it simply does not have the flexibility to allow you to do that and if you were to try to attempt it the person you're trying to coerce has much more flexibility has much finer degrees of risk that they can take and they will ultimately prevail.

So, that's China, and when I say that they're no longer a lesser included case that has some very practical implications to the capacity and the capability that our nation will need to maintain strategic deterrence. Lesser included case, in my mind, means if you go back and look how we have sized our strategic forces in the past, once you set the capability and capacity, you needed to execute our strategy against the pacing threat, which historically has always been Russia, you had sufficient residual capability to handle any other third party they were simply a lesser included case. That is no longer true, and that will be an important point, I think, for us to remember as we go through the reviews like the Nuclear Posture Review is that the requirements that we are modernizing against were set about five or six years ago in a much more benign strategic environment where it was a valid and a good assumption that China was a lesser included case. That’s no longer true and we're going to have to think through what are the implications of that.

Now I'm going to shift to Russia. I've been talking a lot about China simply because there is a lot to report. It is changing rapidly, and it is momentous what they're doing. But Russia, in the meantime, has continued very methodically on a very extensive complete recapitalization of their considerable strategic forces. They’re still the near-term pacing threat at least for now. They have recapitalized over 80 percent of their nuclear forces, probably closer to 85 percent, and we've almost I'm probably not doing enough justice talking about this enough. They have very formidable strategic forces – 85 percent of it is new: new ballistic missile submarines, new ballistic submarine missiles, new road-mobile, new silo based intercontinental, new command and control, new warning, new crews, improved bombers, and so across the board and what you might think of as classic strategic deterrent forces they are on pace to pretty much complete as they intended to in not too many years from now.

They’re at 85 percent I'm at zero. Add to this the novel things that Russia is doing. I think we're familiar with nuclear-powered nuclear-tipped cruise missiles nuclear-powered nuclear-tipped underwater autonomous vehicles. They’re quite proud of their capability. This steer on hypersonic cruise missile that you've heard about in the news recently. And several others represent asymmetric novel threats that I'm required to deter against. 2 000 non-treaty accountable nuclear weapons I think sometimes we're very dismissive of that. That somehow that doesn't count or something like that. That is a formidable threat to the region to many of our allies and to the continental United States directly that cannot be ignored.

Evolving policy on their use of nuclear weapons. They’re very up front in the way their doctrine envisions potential first use under certain conditions, and just like China considerable counter-space, cyber capabilities that threaten NC3 [nuclear command, control, and communications] and our critical infrastructure more broadly. And then I'll add they are now collaborating with China, in some degree on their large-scale exercises and in other areas and so I add that up and I don't want to be dismissive of North Korea and other threats that are out there. I have to deter them too is we're not about to enter uncharted waters, we're there. So, and I –there's a number of very fundamental assumptions that we have made over the last 30 years that really are no longer valid, and we need to work through the implications of that.

One of those is we have just not faced competitors potential adversaries like Russia and China in 30 years. an example of that: both Russia and China have the unilateral ability, they can do it whenever they want to if they perceive the stakes of an issue are high enough, to escalate a conflict to any level of violence they choose in any domain that they choose in any geographic area worldwide. They can do it at any time and they can do it with any instrument of national power. We’ve just not faced competitors that can do that, and I think it causes a number of commonly held approaches that we have inside the joint force to simply no longer be valid. And one of my favorite examples here is our understanding of escalation control and how we might approach that in a crisis or a conflict. And I think a lot of our thinking is based on facing opponents where we always had a higher setting of the rheostat we could go to if we so chose. that's no longer true requires us one I think to be very humble about that in terms of what the limits of that are, and then two how our approaches might have to be.

There's another piece that I get a little apprehensive about because we haven't had to seriously, as a joint force, think through the implications of competition through possible crisis and direct armed conflict with a nuclear capable opponent in like 30 years. I mean rewind the clock a little bit. After the fall of the Soviet Union success in Desert Storm, we achieved a national security environment where I would argue that the risk of a strategic deterrent failure and in particular the risk of a nuclear deterrent failure was low. It was not zero but we had a number of permissive domains that we could operate in as we chose to.

The national security situation caused us to focus, rightly so, on the pursuit of violent extremists and terrorists. And in some ways we started taking for granted and forgot all the things that we had to do from a strategic deterrent standpoint to get us to that environment to begin with. Many of those assumptions are no longer valid, and we need to not forget how we got there and what we have to do in response to that. A great one that is new, and I think this symposium will be an ideal opportunity to advance our thinking on this. In general, deterrence theory doesn't really account for a three-party problem how you do deterrence with three peer nuclear-capable competitors inside that. Cold war was very much a two-party competition. Yes, there was some third party there's a little bit of theory that accounts for that. But, not anywhere on the magnitude of what we're gonna have to do now, and not when strategic effects can be much broader than simply nuclear in terms of what could possibly be done in cyber, possibly be done in space, critical infrastructure, information domain, role of allies and partners. All of that, I think, requires a very critical re-look.

For many years a lot of our intellectual capacity has rightly been focused elsewhere. Now I had been saying that a question in terms of did we even have enough intellectual capacity in the nation to address the strategic challenges that we faced, and I was kind of pleasantly reminded by the staff here at STRATCOM, that actually we still have a considerable amount of fact that there's so many on this very conference that we're having as evidence of that. But we do have to do some work to perhaps get ourselves organized better pull it together and better utilize the capabilities that we do have. So I am looking forward to the panel discussions and the other work today to get after that.

Don't forget as you do this, one thing I would ask in the back of everybody's mind is STRATCOM will certainly be looking for this. I am looking for things that I can operationalize. What is the way that I take very good theoretical work and then practically apply it in the real world? An example that I like giving here is – I'm very fond of saying that strategic deterrence is most important mission in the military it's our number one priority, but it isn't until you operationalize it that the true import of what I said becomes apparent to a lot of folks.

An example of that is every operational plan in the Department of Defense and every other capability that we have carries an implicit assumption that strategic deterrence and in particular nuclear deterrence is holding. So if STRATCOM can't accomplish its mission, nothing else in the Department of Defense is going to work the way that it was designed. I don't want us taking that for granted or not recognizing that. Not such a big deal for the past 30 years. It’s fixing to be a very big deal I think because I think strategic deterrence is going to get stressed in ways we haven't seen in a long time.

So here at headquarters we're working very hard on this, we are literally rewriting operational deterrence theory. We’re trying to include concepts or ideas in terms of linkage. If you're going to integrate deterrence you've got to understand how it's all put together. The idea of non-linearity inside a deterrent spectrum and others and we're asking some very hard questions of ourselves and inside the department. But, I do offer we can't do this alone. This is a national effort and I applaud y'all's willingness to participate in this. I want you to know that this is very important work that we're doing. We appreciate the chance to really attack this from multiple aspects, viewpoints, and a very broad approach to this. as a way to help foster that we've put together 15 command directed research questions – that sounds pretty good command directed right though – I just thought they would be good questions that we would uh offer, and they're on our academic alliance website we're going to push them to social media now and uh and I do applaud what I think and I should say that I think it's this is a particularly good time to be working this as the nation is in the middle of a National Defense Strategy Review, a Nuclear Posture Review, and a Missile Defense Review. These are the ideal, that's what they're designed for is to help us work through this. In fact, China's growth is so great that had we not been in the middle of an NPR, I would have called for one because I think the magnitude of the change in the threat from China alone would have justified it.

So, I welcome challenges, discussion, debate. We have always operated that way all the way back through the cold war. Now should be no different and I applaud y'all's willingness to entertain these very difficult issues that confront us now. So, looking forward to the rest of the symposium, and starting off, I'll see y’all again, some of you with the Fireside Chat later this afternoon.

BG Weidner: Thank you, Adm. Richard.