FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
13 September 2021
Location: US Strategic Command (virtual)
Event: US Strategic Command Deterrence Symposium Fireside Chat
Moderator: (Ret) U.S. Air Force Gen. Norton Schwartz
Panel: Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE)
Sen. Angus King (I-ME)
Adm. Charles “Chas” Richard, Commander, U.S. Strategic Command
SCHWARTZ: Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. Given the behavior of multiple nuclear armed competitors, the trends in their capability development, and the challenging modernization efforts that the U.S. has underway, both the meaning and practice of deterrence are undergoing unprecedented scrutiny. Simultaneously deterring two nuclear powers – Russia and China – each of which require different approaches, and both of which are rapidly improving their nuclear capabilities. It is a challenge that requires fresh thinking and a thoughtful questioning of long held planning assumptions. It also requires a broad view of deterrence. One that integrates not only the tools of military strength, but all of the levers of national power at the president’s disposal as well.
Discussions of nuclear policy, posture and planning have to be fully informed by the efforts to prepare an integrated deterrence concept and paths that lead to strategic stability. To that end, our participants in this Fireside Chat represent a perfect trio of expert voices to help symposium participants better understand the complex issues surrounding today’s strategic challenges. For the next hour, we’ll pose questions to our expert panel and I encourage the audience to forward their questions via chat.
First, allow me to introduce the participants in our Fireside Chat. Sen. Angus King, the chair of the Strategic Forces subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, among others. He's the former governor of Maine and, of special note, co-chaired the recent Cyberspace Solarium Commission, considering how best to defend ourselves against cyber threats.
Sen. Deb Fisher is the senior senator from Nebraska and the ranking member of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Subcommittee for Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security.
Adm. Chas Richard, commander of the United States Strategic Command since November 2019, is a 1982 graduate of the University of Alabama, a former deputy commander at USSTRATCOM. He, most recently led the Navy submarine forces, served as the director of undersea warfare on the Navy staff, and led SSBN Submarine Group 10 at King's Bay, Georgia. Admiral Richard also served aboard the USS Parche, a unique assignment, only a few can include on their resume. We'll begin our session this evening with Admiral Richard's opening remarks.
RICHARD: Gen. Schwartz sir, thank you for that introduction and thank you for your willingness to participate in this fireside chat. Senators King, Senator Fisher, thank you so very much. I can't thank you enough for joining us this evening and bringing your expertise and your experience to this, I think, very important conversation.
Senator King sir, by the way, we're still looking for your paper. We will not give up until we find it, but we have not found it yet. I wanted to update you on that.
KING: Let me know.
RICHARD: Yes sir, and I thank both of you all for coming out to STRATCOM, here, earlier this year, back in April, and your willingness to receive a detailed threat briefing, update on our – how we measure, here at STRATCOM, risk of strategic deterrence failure, nuclear deterrence failure, and our thinking that continues to evolve on what deterrence dynamics looks like.
I'll tell you that I owe you an update on that threat at your convenience. The threat is changing that rapidly that I would have a pretty meaningful update I could offer you if your schedules would permit. What I hope to provide in this conversation is the operational perspective and what we're responsible for doing.
So, I'd ask y'all to appreciate, from a STRATCOM perspective, just a couple of points. One, I want to echo something that Gen. Schwartz said in his opening comments, but it's really profound, is that for the first time in our nation's history, we're facing two peer nuclear-capable opponents, potential adversaries, at the same time. And this is a situation we have never faced in our nation's history and there are enormous implications that we need to unpack and take action on inside that. And we just, we have a lot of work to do to think our way through that.
But I will tell you, one thing, which is business as usual, will not work. That is very clear to us. I can't stress enough, that threat, I went into a lot more detail on it on a session earlier today, so I won't belabor it, but we are witnessing a strategic breakout by China. Nearly unprecedented in history, certainly in their history in terms of their expansion of capabilities. And, I will concentrate on the strategic nuclear pieces of this. This is on top of very impressive conventional space, cyber and asymmetric capabilities. Russia remains the pacing threat, it just methodically continues a very extensive modernization of some significant forces. I will point to the ongoing National Defense Strategy, Nuclear Posture Review, and Missile Defense Review are the ideal mechanisms and opportunities for us to address this changed-threat situation – come up with and make sure we are happy with the strategy that we have to address those threats and then make wise policy posture and capability decisions designed to execute that strategy. I submit, it is going to take a national undertaking to work through the threats that we face today. And so this deterrence symposium plays a key role in that in terms of thinking through, intellectually, academically, and then setting the stage, for us here at STRATCOM, to turn it into operational application with tangible results. So, I look forward to this conversation and the rest of the seminar. Thank you.
SCHWARTZ: Thank you Adm. Richard and, Sen. King, may I ask you for your opening comments sir?
KING: Well thank you general; it's a common occurrence for a senator to have the occasion to speak to an audience where virtually everyone in the audience knows more about the subject than he or she does, but I'm going to go forward anyway, and hope to contribute something useful to this discussion.
The paper that the admiral referred to, I mentioned at a hearing with him several months ago, my senior thesis at Dartmouth in 1966, was on the concept of strategic deterrence in the Cold War. And he set naval intelligence on the path of trying to find that paper and I would love it if he would do so, although, I suspect it would be somewhat embarrassing, but that's what the admiral was referring to.
I agree with the admiral that, and I think we ought to take a moment, to think about the idea of these strategic reviews that are now in the process of beginning. I don't think there's anything more important that we can do right now than to think about and discuss and develop our strategy going forward. One of my favorite quotes from Abraham Lincoln is that they once asked Lincoln what he would do if he were given an hour to split a court of wood. And his answer was, I'd spend the first 15 minutes sharpening my axe. And I think that's a profound observation. Most of us would commence chopping and the thinking part is the sharpening of the axe and that's exactly what I think we're going to be engaged in over the next several years. Clearly, it's a totally different strategic situation than we've faced, well, since World War II when we faced two major enemies on different sides of the world. Now, we have we don't call them enemies we call them adversaries or potential adversaries. But, this is a much different situation than the 70s and 80s in the Cold War when we were dealing with one country.
It's even more subtle than that and that is that we're dealing with two countries with very different histories and cultures, and different motivations and different goals, and so the idea of developing a single strategy to deal with both China and Russia, I think, is a mistake. I believe that one of the fundamental problems with American foreign policy, generally, is a lack of understanding. Almost of a lack of knowledge and a lack of wanting to understand, or taking the trouble to understand, other cultures and histories, and yet, that's the context in which other countries make decisions.
Other countries don't operate the same way we do. They don't think the same way we do. They have different time frames for their decisions so, we need to not only realize we're dealing with two potential adversaries, but we're dealing with two potential adversaries that are different and that may have different goals and different means for reaching them. The best example is, that we have a history of treaty negotiations on these matters with Russia. China doesn't seem interested, at all, in those kinds of discussions. They don't even want to sit at the table and observe so, that's the kind of, that's an example of, what I'm talking about.
The final point that I want to make is, really the fundamental premise of our entire strategic posture in the United States is deterrence. And it may be nuclear deterrence, that's clearly what we're talking about tonight, but it's also conventional. Every several months, I speak at a christening of a navy destroyer at Bath Ironworks and I always say to the audience, the whole point of building this ship is that it would never be used. That it deter our adversaries, make them think twice about striking us and that's the whole idea. And as you mentioned general, in the last two years, I've spent a great deal of time on cyber and that's an area where the concept of deterrence has really not played much of a role. And I think that's one of the reasons we keep getting attacked the way we do.
So, I'm looking forward to the discussion and both in terms of nuclear deterrence in the nuclear strategy, but also the broader concept of deterrence as it applies to what I consider of some of the more serious threats like cyber that we're facing today. So, I'm delighted to be on the panel with my friend Deb Fischer. She and I worked together really well this year and I admire her work and her knowledge of this subject. So, I didn't mean to steal your introduction general, but I'll let you take it from there.
RICHARD: Thank you Senator King and Senator Fischer. Ma'am over to you.
FISCHER: Thank you general and I'm very happy to be here this evening with two people I admire. Adm. Richard, who I believe is the right person in the right place at the point in time we are at right now in looking at our nuclear arsenal, the platforms and his importance that he brings whenever he speaks on these issues.
And it's always wonderful to see my friend Senator King as well. We have worked very well together. I admire him greatly and I look forward to continuing to work with him on these very important issues. To help frame the discussion that we are about to have. I've been asked to provide an update on the way the Senate Armed Services Committee has addressed nuclear modernization in our authorization bill this year. I am very pleased to report that the bill fully supports the sustainment and also the modernization of our nuclear deterrent.
Further, it authorizes significant increases in funding for our infrastructure modernization and also scientific activities at NNSA. The bill includes a number of important legislative provisions in this area and there are two that I would really like to highlight.
First, the bill includes a provision that would re-establish a congressional strategic posture commission. Over a decade ago, the first commission, a bipartisan effort of its co-chairs – [they] were former secretaries Jim Kissinger and Bill Perry – that commission helped to lay the foundation for modernization; that the effort really that we're conducting today – and much has changed since then, I think a restored commission will help congress evaluate the worsening international security environment that was described by Adm. Richard. And it would also give us the opportunity to assess the implications of that rapidly expanding Russian and Chinese nuclear capabilities that we are seeing.
Additionally, this bill includes a provision that expresses support for the GBSD, the ground-based strategic deterrent, and that program is currently under development and it's scheduled to begin replacing the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile by the end of this decade. This program was the subject of significant discussion this year and the committee's very, very strong expression of support, I think, reflects the continued commitment to this modernization program of record that was originally established by the Obama administration.
The bill includes a number of other provisions and is the result of bipartisan effort, led by the subcommittee's chair Senator King. We often have the most active subcommittee in terms of the number of hearings and the briefings held.
You know this is my ninth year in the senate, my ninth year on the STRATFORCE subcommittee, and I can assure you that that is the case again this year. We had a number of hearings and briefings. I think the subcommittee's activity and the debate that we have helps to strengthen the support that we see for nuclear modernization at a time when it's the subject of renewed consideration. We heard from a number of witnesses that represented a very wide spectrum of viewpoints and that, I think, not only informed and educated members of the subcommittee, but also brought us together so that we did reach a good consensus.
I'd also like to note that we led the first congressional delegation trip since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. We went up to Minot Air force Base to view the bomber and the missile legs of the triad and then we also visited Adm. Richard, as he said, at STRATCOM. We traveled with Gen. Brown, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, to do that and, I think, that was another demonstration of the level that we see of congressional interest in, and also growing support, for nuclear modernization. So with that general, look forward to questions from you and from the audience.
SCHWARTZ: Yes ma'am. Thanks so much. If I may direct the first question to Senator King. Most of the modernization debate focuses on weapon systems that make up the triad. How important are other elements such as the NC3 [Nuclear Command, Control, and Communications (NC3)] system and the NNSA [National Nuclear Security Administration] that is the Department of Energy nuclear complex sir?
KING: Well, I think we ought to quit referring to it as a triad and [start] referring to it as a quad because I think nuclear command and control is of equal importance. If we can have great bombers missiles and submarines, but if we can't communicate with them, if the president is cut off from them, if they're under attack from a cyber-attack, then they may as well not be there at all.
So, I am, and Adm. Richard can tell you, I pushed on this when we were out in in Omaha, that command and control upgrading and ensuring the security of the command and control system is absolutely critical. And this is a process, not an end state, particularly, with regard to cyber, there's no such thing as the job being done on cyber. It is a continuing, evolving, complicated and dangerous threat and I can't think of an area where it's more dangerous than in command and control.
And of course, you also mentioned NNSA and their important work in research because, again, technology doesn't stop and our adversaries are certainly not stopping. The admiral's been quoted as saying, what China's doing is breathtaking and I think that's absolutely accurate. They're doubling their fleet of nuclear weapons, but beyond that, they're building the most modern and newest nuclear weapons. So technological development is important as well so it can't be just missiles, bombers, and submarines. It's got to be command and control, and it's got to be cyber protection, and it's got to be technology developed.
SCHWARTZ: Thank you. Senator Fisher, any elaboration on that topic?
FISCHER: You know, I would like to touch on a couple points, especially the NC3 system. I believe they're extremely stabilizing. We just returned today from our August recess and I was able, about a week ago, to attend a gathering in Omaha, Nebraska with members of STRATCOM who were there. We had a number of military there. We had business people in Omaha, a number of CEOs [Chief Executive Officers] from businesses across the nation, and then the discussion was on the importance of having an effective NC3 system and the importance of recognizing that having a modern, robust system is stabilizing.
On the other hand, when you look at a weak NC3 system, that's going to have the opposite effect. So, if adversaries believe they can defeat our NC3 systems in a disarming first strike, possibly, then we have a risk that deterrence failure goes up. We lose the value of deterrence in a case like that. So, I think we need to continue to stress that I agree with Senator King's comments also on NNSA, I think our nuclear infrastructure must be modernized.
Our warheads, they entered [the] stockpile during the Cold War. We replace some of it through life extensions, but we continue to rely on those legacy components. And we need to make sure that we have really what we need and we have to see more work happen in that regard.
SCHWARTZ: Thank you ma'am. Adm. Richard, anything to add?
RICHARD: Well, one, let me endorse, from an operational standpoint, what both Senators King and Senator Fischer said and I applaud your leadership on this issue. Senator King is exactly correct; having forces doesn't do you any good if you don't have any command and control for the forces and, conversely, having command and control doesn't do you any good if there's nothing to command and control. So, you need all of this.
The weapons complex isn't discussed as much as it should be and it is more than the outputs of the weapons complex. It is that infrastructure and that human capital that enable us to produce the capabilities necessary to accomplish the mission. And, it is important that a lot of that infrastructure is very old. It's a consequence of the way we have delayed our recapitalizations, that in some cases, we are facing decisions as a nation that, if we get them wrong, it's unusual in a bureaucracy, we can't come back in a couple of years and fix that, even for unlimited money, and it's the weapons complex, in particular, that's sort of hitting that wall first.
And without that underlying infrastructure, and that underlying talent base, human capital, then we will eventually no longer be a nuclear power and a great power. So, all of this needs to be looked at in terms of the decisions and the investments. It's all part of our strategy.
SCHWARTZ: Thank you so much. Senator Fischer, a question for you please. How would you assess support for nuclear modernization plans both within the Department of Defense, looking from the outside, and of course within the Congress, from the inside.
FISCHER: I think, when we look at where we are right now with congress, I think we're going to continue to see support for nuclear modernization. You know, I mentioned that in my opening comments, I think it's based on the work that we've seen done, the analytical work that's been done, in the decades since the modernization effort began, there's been a lot of studies that have been performed across multiple administrations, both Democrat and Republican, estimating costs looking at different alternatives reconsidering some of the decisions that have been made.
And I think, all of those studies have validated the modernization program of record. And as our systems continue to approach their end of life, and evidence of aging becomes ever more visible, I think that only strengthens the case we have for modernization. That's not to say that there isn't a debate every year, because every single year there is a debate about this, and support is not unanimous.
And I think that just highlights that we have to continue to advocate for modernization. It's easy to take nuclear deterrence for granted because we've been so successful at it, and also because a nuclear war just seems like such a remote possibility, but I think it's incumbent upon us to make the case on why modernization is so important.
SCHWARTZ: Any thoughts on this Senator King?
KING: Well, I was interested, and somewhat surprised this year, when we had our markup of the defense bill in the full committee because I expected more debate and discussion and there really wasn't much this year. There was virtually, no – I don't believe, any amendments to change the recommendations of the subcommittee on these on these issues. Now, there may be something that comes up on the floor, but I think there's widespread recognition that the modernization is a necessity.
The problem is that we're modernizing all three legs of the triad at once. I call it, "the pig in the budgetary python," where we've got this huge level of expenditure, and one of the problems with the federal budget is, we don't have a capital budget. The payment for a clerk in the Department of Agriculture is treated exactly the same way as an investment in a nuclear submarine that'll last 40 years. And so, we're having to fund what are really capital investments ,that will last 30, 40, or 50 years – out of current operating [budgets] and that's just one of the anomalies of the of the Federal budget. But, I think people understand, and even at the level of the modernization, I'm sure you've seen the charts that show that as a percentage of the federal budget and as a percentage of the defense budget – this is even with the modernization "pig in the python" – it's not an exorbitant share of the budget. I don't remember the figure off hand, but it's relatively small compared with the overall budget. So, I think all of those reasons have contributed to the fact that, this year anyway, we didn't really have much controversy, which was, frankly, I expected.
SCHWARTZ: Understand, Adm. Richard, anything?
RICHARD: Well, what I'd add is, I applaud Congress, and particularly these two senators, the Senate Armed Services Committee in particular, senator services Canadian in particular for their leadership on this topic.
Having an opportunity to fully provide a threat briefing, fully provide, from an operational standpoint, what the consequences of these decisions are that we are facing operationally. A key one, I think it's important to remember is, that every operational plan in the Department of Defense, and every other capability we have, hinges on an assumption that strategic deterrence, and in particular nuclear deterrence, is holding and so that way, it is put in the proper perspective that, in order to enable everything else the Department of Defense does, this mission set has to do it correctly and set the conditions to allow the rest of the Department of Defense to do its job.
And so, we appreciate the opportunity, both on The Hill and inside the Pentagon, to be able to show what we're up against and the consequences of the decisions that we face.
SCHWARTZ: Adm. Richard, a question from Adam Cobb, America arguably is having an isolationist turn to some degree; how do you convince allies of the efficacy and the relevance of extended deterrence and how does one prevent them from, therefore, proliferating?
RICHARD: Well, let me start with that, I think, America's extended deterrence and assurance policies were one of the smartest foreign policy things that we may have done in our nation's history. That benefits us, that benefits those nations, and it produces a safer world.
I will say I get apprehensive sometimes that the value, to both us and the ally, of our extended deterrence and assurance commitments, sometimes gets taken for granted. That's probably at the top of the list of why you would want to be allied with the United States is that we are willing to do that. Such that, like-minded nations can face a threat together. We're almost unique in the world in our ability to go do that.
I myself, frequently interface with our allies and I detect from them that there is no apprehension about the quality or the ability of the U.S. to honor its commitments. In fact, I get the exact opposite from that so I'm very convinced that our extended deterrence and assurance [capabilities] are strong and our allies know that. I want to make sure that it just doesn't get taken for granted in all the other things we do relative to our allies. I very much applaud where Secretary Austin has taken us in this area.
SCHWARTZ: Thank you. Senator Fischer, comments on this?
FISCHER: Extended deterrence is critically important. We have a number of nations that depend upon our deterrence and they do have the technical skills to develop their own nuclear weapons so, extended deterrence, I think, serves our non-proliferation goals and if, as long as we can ensure the commitments that we've made are going to remain credible, those goals are going to be easier for us to reach when we look at the changing threat environment.
That impacts deterrence too; our allies, they see the same threats that we see. In some cases, they view them more acutely. The growth of Russian and Chinese regional systems, it threatens their territories directly in many cases. They experience Chinese and Russian coercion as well and this is another area in which we need to be sure that our nuclear posture is adjusting to ensure that it keeps pace with that changing security environment.
One thing that I'd like to stress, I hope that the Biden administration will be consulting with allies through the NPR process, I think our allies have been somewhat apprehensive about potential changes when we talk about no first-use policy and it's so important that we keep those lines of communication and also trust open and that our allies know that they are valued partners in this process.
SCHWARTZ: Senator King?
KING: Two quick points, one I think you touched on it in your question. Non-proliferation is an enormous issue. My nightmare is a terrorist organization with a nuclear weapon because conventional deterrence, and I would commend to this very knowledgeable group, we need to be thinking about Deterrence 2.0, as it might apply how — the deterrent theory doesn't apply to a small group of people that don't represent a country and don't care about dying. Mutually-assured destruction isn't a factor for them so how do we modify or how do we think through what is our strategy to deal with the nuclear armed terrorist organization. And of course, every country that has nuclear weapons creates a proliferation risk so the fewer that have them, the lower the risk, so I think that's very important.
The other piece is, I went out to the Shangri-La defense conference a couple of years ago and had probably a dozen bilateral meetings with defense ministers and public officials countries all over Asia. What I came away from that is, America has allies, China has customers, and our allies, the fact that we have allies and people whose interests are aligned with us, is an enormously powerful and important part of our national worldwide strategy.
It's something that needs to be maintained and respected and honored because it's, I think, it's one of our most significant asymmetric advantages over either of these countries that we're talking about, neither of whom really have much in the way of allies. They've got people that are afraid of them and people that are dependent upon them economically, but they really don't have much in the way of allies if you think about it. Of course, that raises the whole question of whether they become allies of each other, which is something that merits a full discussion in and of itself.
SCHWARTZ: Yes sir. Senator Fischer, another question for you please. What is your assessment of the future of arms control, which we referred to a bit earlier? What opportunities and challenges do you see?
FISCHER: Well, I think when we look at arms control, there's the challenges: number one, who's going to be involved? We've seen the last two administrations had similar goals to negotiate limits on Russia's non-strategic nuclear arsenal, and then, to bring China into the arms control process as well.
I agree that those should be the right objectives that we have, but both nations rejected those overtures from the Obama administration and also the Trump administration, so I think it's clear that neither of them feel a very strong incentive to negotiate. So, rather than making the same requests in the future and hoping for different results, the Biden administration, I think, should work with Congress to develop a strategy that looks at changing those incentives.
How can we affect the way that Russia and China view the arms control process? I think the relationship between modernization and arms control is often misunderstood. Many times, they're portrayed as contrary goals. For example, some argue that canceling U.S. modernization programs, like GBSD, could maybe inspire Russian/China to do likewise and create an opening for arms control negotiations. But the evidence for that, suggests the exact opposite.
President Obama's secretary of defense, Ash Carter, put it that they have consistently invested in nuclear weapons during the quarter-century pause in the United States' investment, and I find it difficult to believe, if we would take another pause, we'd achieve a different result in it. So, failing to modernize and allowing our forces to age until they become obsolete, I think, that will only make future arms control agreements less likely. So, I think, reducing our deterrent would be the wrong response to the growing threats that we face. I believe it would ensure that we would never be in a position to try and push Russia and China to engage in any kind of serious arms control negotiation.
SCHWARTZ: Yes ma'am. Senator King, your insight?
KING: Well, to me, the greatest problem is that China just doesn't seem the least bit interested. We can't even get China to pick up the phone on a hotline. Literally, we can't develop a serious mil-to-mil relationship to deconflict in case of an accidental conflict in the South China Sea so, and to my understanding is, the prior administration tried to get China engaged in the renegotiation of the START Treaty, the New START, and China just wasn't interested.
So, I think that's a real problem and I don't, frankly, understand it and that's where I go back to the beginning, where I said, we need to try to understand what China is interested in and what's motivating them?
And, I can't leave this meeting without touting a book that I'm in the middle of that I have found the most profoundly enlightening work on the current strategic situation with China. It's called 'Destined for War' by Prof. Graham Allison at the Kennedy School. It's a brilliant a brilliant analysis of the relationship between a rising power and an existing major power. How, in history, that's, generally, led to war unfortunately, but it's also a fascinating insight into the politics and culture and history of China, and Xi Jinping himself, that might help us to inform our policy.
So, I think arms control is an absolutely worthy goal. I agree with Senator Fischer that you have to negotiate from a position of strength, but the problem I see is, the Chinese just don't seem to be even remotely interested and, hopefully, as they find out as they're spending more and more money, and perhaps they'll encounter budget constraints, they may say, well, maybe this is something we should discuss.
SCHWARTZ: Sir, Adm. Richard, a related question that came from Patrick Rhodes was, how does a lack of transparency from the Chinese affect our ability to deter the Chinese Communist Party?
RICHARD: Well, I want to pick up first on what Senator King said in terms of this lack of transparency. With great power comes great responsibility and so, as China develops these capabilities, it would be to everyone's advantage to have lines of communication set up such that we can share how we do business like this.
So, that is step one towards arms control and reducing the threat, is to have communications mechanisms so we understand each other's intent and it lowers the risk of misunderstandings, accidents, and that's good for everybody that's involved. So obviously, not having that makes the deterrent challenge greater.
And I do want to pick up on something that Senator Fischer said. It's STRATCOM's fundamental position on arms controls, we're in favor of it, anything, as long as all parties abide, it's verifiable, and everybody agrees to the terms of what we have agreed to. That's just good for everybody that's involved. I even put my deputy commander on the team for New START to make sure they had the best available operational expertise, in the moment, to help advance those negotiations I had other things I'd rather him be doing out here at STRATCOM, but we thought it was important enough for him to go do that.
But to Senator Fischer's point about divesting a useful military capability in the hope that others would see the wisdom in that and follow, I've had a $500 bounty on an example of that in human history to see if that has ever happened before, and this is across four staffs now, and I have not yet had to pay up right.
So, I may still be wrong, but I'm not sure that has ever happened in human history and I think that should guide our approach to both arms control, and arms control starts at least with a conversation, which is good for all parties involved.
SCHWARTZ: Thank you Adm. Richard. A question for you, is stability possible with a tri-polar three-way nuclear competition? What efforts might the U.S. undertake to maximize stability, to secure stability?
RICHARD: I'll offer that I would put that question at the top, or nearly at the top, of something we have to go think through from a very theoretical level, in terms of, what does three-party – give me a model of a stable three-body political system of all peers and it's actually more challenging than that, because a lot of our strategic stability models are based on a cold war, where the primary strategic effect that was at play was nuclear and that's not the case anymore. There are any number, space, cyber and other ways where you can achieve a strategic impact so I would put that question at the very top of the list in terms of things that we need to go work through theoretically. I do applaud where the Department of Defense and the administration is going in seeking the very conversations we have to have with Russia and China that would enable us to enhance strategic stability.
SCHWARTZ: Senator Fischer, any thoughts on this? On stability?
FISCHER: No, I don't think we know what the answer to the question is, but I think it's extremely vital that we keep in mind how we enhance that stability and I think we are best served by returning to the to the basic fundamentals of deterrence. We need to ensure that we maintain a nuclear posture that presents any adversary with an unsolvable problem and I think that's the best way that we can preserve deterrence in these very uncertain times.
SCHWARTZ: Yes ma'am; Senator King?
KING: Well, I'm going to surprise you and really not have a heck of a lot to add I think. Senator Fischer nailed it just how.
SCHWARTZ: I understand, this one to you [King] from Sandra Fennan, and you've addressed this, but this is an important question, since our nation is facing many challenges, which stress our budget; how do you view the balance of nuclear modern modernization compared with other pressing needs of the nation? It's a fair question.
FISCHER: I'd like to quote Secretary Mattis, who was very fond of saying that America can afford survival. Nuclear deterrence is the number one mission for the Department of Defense. Every secretary of defense has said that. We hear it all the time from combatant commanders, from people within the department. We can afford survival. When we look at the cost of nuclear weapons, I think at the peak, at the end of this decade, nuclear weapons will still be less than seven-percent (7%) of the Department of Defense's budget and only about half that, I believe, is connected to modernization. The rest of it goes to sustaining the current force. So I would encourage everyone to keep in mind that America can afford survival.
SCHWARTZ: Senator King, I doubt you can do better than that, but do you have [thoughts]?
KING: I love the quote from Secretary Mattis. Our entire national security policy rests upon the principle of nuclear deterrence and, you know I think Senator Fischer mentioned earlier, we've sort of lost the imagination about what a nuclear conflict would mean. When I was a kid, we used to have duck and cover exercises and there was a lot people very anxious about a nuclear attack and it sort of receded because deterrence worked. So, I think there's no question that it is the fundamental basis of our national security policy. And if you go back to the Constitution, I mean, governments are constituted in order to keep their people safe; to provide for the common defense is one of the central purposes of the United States government, is outlined in the preamble of the Constitution. So, you know, there certainly are plenty of priorities. But deterring a nuclear attack, there is no higher priority, and there's no way to deter it other than to be able to have your adversary make a calculation that an attack on the United States of America would be catastrophic for them.
SCHWARTZ: Understood; Adm. Richard, let me ask one more question before we do a closing round. And that would be from Bren Wilcott, what will be the biggest challenge to deter two peer nuclear competitors once the triad is fully-modernized? What does it look like over the hill?
RICHARD: So, one you have to get to that point right, and one of the challenges there is moving fast enough. We need to have a sense of urgency in terms of this recapitalization, but once you get over the hill again, it's a dynamic problem. How rapidly can we understand changing deterrence dynamics and then tailor our strategies and adjust? It's not a static thing. We calculate the risk of a strategic deterrence failure every day here at STRATCOM. It is not a static thing that we do so, maintaining our ability to go do that as the threat changes, as technology changes, as national interests change, that'll be the challenge once we set the base with the recapitalized forces.
SCHWARTZ: Thank you and would either of the senators have a supplementary comment on that question?
KING: I'd like to add something. Deterrence really consists of two elements: capacity and will. And pretty much throughout this discussion we've been talking about capacity of modernizing, modernizing the triad, modernizing each leg of the triad, and having a credible deterrent in terms of the capacity that we have. Will has to be part of it. The adversary has to believe that you're willing to use this unthinkable, unimaginable, terrible power if attacked, if they trigger it. So, I think that's it, you know, what presidents say and do in these circumstances, and sort of in general, is enormously important, because we can spend billions on a deterrent, but if we have a president that expresses an unwillingness to use it or skepticism or – I mean, I don't mean that we can't debate strategy and everything like that – but the will to use it, also, is part of the strategy of deterrence.
FISCHER: I agree with Senator King, I am in an alcove, I look like I'm in a witness protection program, I think, right now, the sun is setting, but it is so important that we keep our nuclear deterrence as the highest priority. Everything within the Department of Defense is dependent upon that and I couldn't agree more that it's important to modernize. It is important that we have support from our allies, but also it's important to have support from the people of this country for our nuclear program.
And I have to compliment Adm. Richard; when he was in for his posture hearing as the combatant commander at STRATCOM, I wanted to jump to my feet and give him a standing ovation for the comments that he made from, I don't know, over a year now, I've been saying to him we have to declassify some of the information that we have so that the people of this country have a fuller understanding of the threats that we face and why having this strong deterrence is so very, very vital to our national security.
SCHWARTZ: Yes ma'am; thank you both for your concluding comments. Adm. Richard, a concluding comment sir?
RICHARD: I just want to thank you sir and Senator Fischer, Senator King. A very valuable session. I think these types of conversations are important. I appreciate the opportunity to participate in them and one to keep them up to date in terms of the situation. It is changing so fast right now, when I describe China's rise as breathtaking, I'm not sure that's the right word for it, in terms of just how dramatic this. Gen. Hyten had some comments about that earlier today. In a separate session, he was talking about when you compare that it's going to take us 10 to 15 years to recapitalize 400 intercontinental ballistic missiles going into silos we already own – China's going to do something very similar to that starting from scratch and do it, seemingly, overnight. I worry I am not contributing enough to make sure that these debates that I see are up-to-date. A lot of what I hear out in open press, they're shooting behind the duck in terms of the debates that we have to have. And, we need to go faster, right, or it's not going to matter how good the strategy is, we're simply going to get outpaced. But this is a good place to have those discussions and to go through the consequences of what we face with the decisions that are in front of us now. I thank you all for the opportunity to participate.
SCHWARTZ: Thank you Adm. Richard. Let me just wrap-up really quickly with a vignette if you'll permit me. I was at TRANSCOM some years ago when there was a need to redeploy a Georgian infantry battalion from Iraq back to Tbilisi because the Georgians were threatened by Russian activity on their border, you may recall.
And so we honored our commitment to return the battalion, if needed, to Georgia and, of course, loaded up the C-17s and flew to Tbilisi. When the airplane approached the Georgian border, there was some question about whether the Russians would interfere, and there was some risk perhaps, but in reality, there was the example in my mind for when the nuclear deterrent posture of the United States of America contributed to keeping a commitment to the Georgian government because when those C-17s crossed the border, the Russians did not interfere and the folks in the missile holes in Wyoming and in North Dakota and so on, and the folks aboard the boats and flying training missions on the bombers at the time, they had a part, a significant part, of that mission as well. So admiral, thank you very much for allowing me to participate and to be with two great senators and our very, very sophisticated audience. Thank you again for your time, all three of you this evening. Thank you.
FISCHER: Thank you general.
KING: Thank you general.
RICHARD: Thank you general.