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SPEECH | July 27, 2022

2022 Deterrence Symposium Opening Remarks

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                                  

27 Jul 2022

Location: La Vista, Nebraska

Event:  2022 Strategic Deterrence Symposium - Opening Remarks

Adm. Charles Richard, commander of U.S. Strategic Command: Thank you. Thank you very much. The old guy been doing this for a long time. So, good morning. It is a great pleasure to see everybody. John, thanks for that wonderful kickoff for this. I'm looking forward to a really fabulous symposium. John mentioned 13th time back in business. Haven't done one of these since 2019 face-to-face. Well, as a submariner, virtual is not all bad. There are certain advantages to it. But there is no substitute for being face-to-face, and I'm glad we have the opportunity to do that again.

Upfront, I want to thank all the people who worked so hard to get us to this point, going to work hard to complete this thing, and excited about what we're going to be able to accomplish. John mentioned, there is a vast amount of talent and experience assembled in this room for today and tomorrow between government, military, academia, international, and as he mentioned, 15 countries. Established experts in our fields, and it's the beginning of the next generation of deterrence leaders that we are going to need for our collective security.

I do want to reemphasize something John just said, though. It is only 600. It is only 15 nations. I am reminded that at one point, this nation, United States, invented the entire RAND Corporation to do nothing except think about Strategic Deterrence theory. We are going to need an equivalent level of national and international effort to think our way through the challenges that we are facing at this moment. So, I appreciate the time and dedication to this event. It's really important what we're about to do.       

We're going to, in the panels and keynotes later today and tomorrow, examine aspects of evolving deterrence. I think the good news with this is, one, remember STRATCOM is a global warfighting command. 150,000 people who are dedicated to the Department of Defense's highest priority mission: Strategic Deterrence. Which means what we talk about here, the ideas we come up with can be immediately translated into practice. We have the people that are able and responsible to do that, so this effort can directly couple in to better defense of the Nation and our Allies. We need to continue to improve our understanding of deterrence dynamics. And when I say dynamics, remember I'm an engineer. So those of you that have an engineering or science background, remember that statics and dynamics course you took back as a freshman in college? I'm talking about that kind of dynamics.

Because we are in the business of influencing other people's decisions and that is a very dynamic process. We want to update, inform, and operationalize the department's approach to Integrated Deterrence. As we all know, that is the centerpiece of the National Defense Strategy, and a key point that I think cannot be made enough about that. I am the third STRATCOM commander in a row who has called for the concept of Integrated Deterrence. I applaud where Secretary Austin is taking the department. It is an essential step forward, but it is key to understand that Integrated Deterrence must have as a part and be underpinned and backstopped by your nuclear deterrent. That if you don't do that, Integrated Deterrence as a concept doesn't work at all. If you do do that, it is by far the best way to resolve political levels at the lowest possible level of violence. And so, this will support our mission and we need to continue to forge a vision for 21st-century Deterrence.

Hey, a lot has changed since the last time we met here. It is a very rapidly changing security environment. Now look, I have been saying for about two years now that this nation hasn't had to seriously consider the implications of competition through crisis and possible direct armed conflict with a nuclear capable opponent in nearly 30 years. When you unpack that, the implications of that are profound.

Unfortunately, over the last two years, much of that is manifesting in real life. We are seeing things that we have not had to deal with from a security environment in decades. Because we talk about we're in right now a security environment that is a three-party nuclear peer dynamic. We have never had to before deter two peer nuclear-capable opponents at the same time who have to be deterred differently. This just works different. We still have a lot of work to do in my opinion, and even how the basic theory works in how we're going to go accomplish that. We have come far enough to know, I know what it's not. I know that a three-body problem does not devolve into two simultaneous two-party problems. It is far more complicated than that. So at least we know where we have to go to find some of these answers.

I do think of this in some cases, from a physics standpoint. Remember STRATCOM is the proud parents of Space Command, so we retain significant space expertise. There are plenty of passively stable, two-body orbital regimes that you can go into. There are exactly zero passively stable three-body orbital dynamics you can go into. And that may give us a clue of the way you have to actively stabilize the three-party problem in space, and it'll give us a clue of where we may have to go in our Strategic Deterrence piece.       

I do know this. Business as usual is not going to work anymore. The way we have traditionally looked at things, doctrine, et cetera, all needs to be laid on the table and reexamined for the changed assumptions that underpin it. The staff gives me all these kind of cool blue cards, but there's just one point I want to make here that, and my number one thing I want us thinking about is, I think are generally accepted understanding of escalation control or managing escalation is flawed because it doesn't contemplate doing that against an opponent who can escalate to any level of violence that they choose to in any domain worldwide with any instrument of national power. When you change that assumption, it changes the dynamic completely, and restraint alone in regional execution of conventional military operations is no longer sufficient to maintain Strategic Deterrence. We have a lot of work to do to test, debate, and operationalize that idea.

Hey, let's go over what's going on in the world a little bit. We are witnessing very thinly-veiled, active nuclear coercion by Russia, and it is continuing. It was not a one-time event. I cannot get through a week without yet another reference to Russia's strategic and non-treaty accountable nuclear capabilities. That is unhelpful. That is unnecessary. That is irresponsible. But it still is.

So we haven't been in a dynamic like this 30 years. Actually, I would take you further back, '73 Yom Kipper War maybe, people make references to the Cuban missile crisis. I'll tell you, that I don't think we have ever seen rhetoric on this level. I don't recall that being a part of the Cold War. We didn't do that back then. And so, how we think our way through that is very important.

We are watching a lot of things that we have been debating in what I would call academic environments now play out. So we just are watching the largest dual-capable missile strike in history. Russia has chucked over 2,000 dual-capable, guided weapons into Ukraine. So it's an interesting conversation to talk about "are dual-capable system stabilizing or destabilizing", we need to do that. But it's another thing to go look in the real world. What did we do? How did we react? What did we think? Because it's actually happening in real life right now.

And based on where they are, I assess that their reliance, the salience of nuclear weapons for Russia is only going to go up. They have very little choice otherwise. Remember what they have, 80 something, six, five, 8% modernized on a very capable stack of strategic forces, the treaty accountable piece. Over 2,000 non-treaty accountable. And the piece I want us to get past in a lot of cases is simply doing these order of battle comparisons. They have this number, we have that number. It's the delivery systems. It is the diversity that they have, scores of dual-capable systems, all of which have to be accounted for in our decision calculus.

And they're testing more stuff, right? We're about to see a hit parade of three novel weapon systems, Sarmat ICBM, wicked good thing that they're getting ready to do their second test on, nuclear powered nuclear tipped cruise missile, a nuclear powered nuclear tipped underwater unmanned vehicle, hypersonic. You know the drill, right? Russia never saw nuke it didn't like. They are adding in and evolving policy on the use of nuclear weapons against conventional threat. We see their partnership with the PRC.

So across the board, that is a challenge to us that is playing out in real life every day. I do want you to know, for those of you that don't often see or hear from STRATCOM, my command has been at battle stations since about January in crisis action mode, making sure we are closely watching the events in Ukraine, advising my Secretary and Chairman, and making sure that we have thought through the right posture and way to approach the situation that we have, so we can maintain Strategic Deterrence.

So China, I think we all know China is in a strategic breakout right now. I'm fond of saying that's not a talking point. That is not just something we say at speeches. We formally informed the Secretary in September of '21 of their strategic breakout, breathtaking expansion of their nuclear and strategic capabilities on top of what, I think we're more familiar with, they're doing with their conventional.

I guess the point here is it's not slowing down. We don't know what the end point is, and it is fast. An order that I have given to my command and with respect to the intelligence community, whatever they tell you in terms of how long it's going to take China to do something, divide by two, maybe three, and you'll actually be closer to what they're actually going to do. Hundreds of new ICBM silos. Road mobiles, they're turning those out like sausages over there. Jin-class ballistic missile submarines, they have a true air leg now, early warning, nuclear command and control, higher readiness. I still don't think we fully thought through the implications of the fractional orbit bombardment system that ends with a hypersonic glide vehicle. I haven't even gotten to their substantial dual-capable theater forces.

Look, it just adds up to me to be inconsistent with a no first-use policy and an implied minimum deterrent strategy. I think that's a force that's being built to be able to confront and coerce other nuclear-capable peers to achieve their objectives. So both of them are stressing and undermining the international rules-based order that we live with.

It's important to remember... I mean, that sounds cool. That has a very nice Pentagon ring to it, the RBIO. The whole purpose of the RBIO was put in place by nations at the end of World War II for the purpose of preventing great power war. We never wanted to have that again. This is the things we put in place to achieve that. It is still a necessary goal. That's why it's worth protecting.

So I want you to think of, as we talk about what STRATCOM does, a way to think about my mission is to set perhaps the ultimate permissive operating condition, such that we can better enable peace inside the world. Every O plan in the U.S. Department of Defense and every other capability we have rest on an assumption that Strategic Deterrence is holding. We used to not even state that assumption. We're at least acknowledging it now. But nothing else we have is going to work the way it is designed if I and my command fail in our mission. We have to be held responsible to explain how we will do that depending upon what the scenario is.

Know that we measure formally in a pretty rigorous analytic process the risk of strategic deterrent failure every day. We do strategic deterrent failure, we do nuclear deterrent failure. Those are two separate things. They're related. I'm in crisis action mode right now relative to the situation in Ukraine. And this thing is maturing pretty nicely to be a good guide for what we have to do to keep the peace.

One thing we're proud of at STRATCOM is that we're home to what I would call the critical mass. There's very little operational deterrent expertise left in the Department of Defense, left in the nation. We simply haven't needed it for the last 30 years. We think of ourselves as the keepers of the flame in some respects. But even we don't have that much. We are scaling to provide for what our direct responsibilities are, but I need you all's help in terms of scaling this more broadly across the department and across the nation. We have to continue to build this. We have to anticipate the challenges that we're going to have in all domains.

We're trying awfully hard. We have an academic alliance. I think many of you all are familiar with it over 70 universities that we are partnered with to encourage academic work in this area. It continues to expand. We have developed an analytic agenda, a campaign, if you will, of key questions, things that we think need to be researched, some of which we are pursuing with our resources, some of which we are pursuing with others that are willing to help us. Again, I'm looking for ways to grow this. So this body of knowledge that is needed for our defense is sufficient, accurate, and up-to-date. Lots more to be done there.

So understanding the implications of 21st-century deterrence requires, in my opinion, just greater levels of enterprise-wide engagement. This event is an opportunity to take a step in the right direction to go accomplish that. A great catalyst for concepts and ideas.

So once again, thanks for coming to the symposium. Take pride in the fact that I think your efforts are very much contributing to the peace. What we do, level partnership, collaboration, critical to meeting the challenges. We got to ask hard questions. We got to speak very frankly if we're going to get to the root of this, and I'm really looking forward to the upcoming discussion. So, let's get started.