2010 Strategic Deterrence Symposium - Opening Remarks

By General Kevin P. Chilton | Omaha, Neb. | Aug. 11, 2010


Good morning everyone, and thank you Senator Nelson. That's I think the kindest and warmest introduction I've ever received. My mother hasn't been writing you, has she? [Laughter].

I really appreciate you, Senator, taking your time from your very busy schedule. The Senate is on recess now, and really when our Congress goes on recess it's not much of a recess. It means they go home to work as opposed to work in Washington. For you to carve out time from your very busy schedule to join us today, I really appreciate. And I've greatly appreciated over the years the dedicated support you have provided for the men and women of STRATCOM who, as you say, strive to do the business of the country every day, and providing global security for America. That's why we come to work every day at STRATCOM and we're certainly proud to do that mission for the United States. Again, thank you Senator, for joining us.

General Helms, the 2nd Annual Strategic Deterrence Symposium. General Helms, this is no small feat. It takes vision and leadership to pull this together and I want to compliment you and your staff on all the hard work they have done over the past year to bring us all together again this year for our second annual symposium. Last year's symposium was quite the hit, and I think as a testament to that we have such a wonderful turnout today and also such a wonderful list of speakers and panel members. That doesn't happen by accident. It happens because of leadership and vision, and I compliment you and thank you for doing this. How about a round of applause for General Helms and her team?


We are most honored to have with us again this year dignitaries from across our country and around the globe. In addition to the senior leaders from our government and the Defense Department and other U.S. agencies, we're honored to have distinguished visitors from Australia, France, Israel, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Russia, and the United Kingdom join us. We're very grateful for your participation and attendance at this symposium.

I'd like to extend thanks in advance to the Qwest Center. I think you'd agree the venue is spectacular. I've toured the building, the facilities set up. I think you'll be most comfortable here. We have a great partnership with the Qwest Center for our symposiums. They are great hosts down here. It's really about relationships and the relationships we not only have with this institution but the relationships we have with Omaha, the citizens of Omaha, the business community of Omaha and Bellevue and the surrounding communities of Offutt Air Force Base. These relationships have been building for more than 60 years. Nurturing, strengthening and enduring generation after generation.

That's a large part of why we're all here this week -- to mature relationships that we've enjoyed for years; to nurture relationships that are growing; and to lay the foundation for building new ones.

And just as importantly, we are here to listen and share ideas and yes, debate, and in the course of that learn from one another.

Will Rogers who was a famous American humorist and social commentator once said, "A man only learns in two ways. One, by reading; and the other by associating with smarter people."

Now Will said that before the advent of television. I don't think he'd change the comment today. [Laughter].

All my life I've tried to do a little bit of both -- read, study, and hang around with smarter people. I hope the Deterrence Symposium offers each and every one of you just a little bit of that over the next couple of days.

Last year our inaugural event was driven primarily by a recognition that we more or less skipped a generation of focus on the study of deterrence. Strategic deterrence is certainly always on our mind at U.S. Strategic Command, and this year, fortunately, it's been on the minds of many others as well. We've seen several new books written and a host of articles and papers published this past year on the theory and practice of deterrence in the 21st Century. I believe this is a positive sign.

One of those authors is here with us today, Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Troy Thomas, the author of a paper entitled "Coercing Violent Non-State Actors". His submission will be recognized tomorrow as the winning submission in our inaugural Deterrence Writing Award that we're going to present tomorrow at the symposium -- something we have initiated since last year and intend to continue to challenge writers at the War College to submit papers for in the future. So we'll make that presentation to Troy tomorrow. I also want to recognize the runner-up, Major Jason Vationi, and to all those who submitted essays and articles.

For those junior officers that are here in the room that have yet to go to War College, when you get there, they're going to ask you to write a paper. I guarantee it. Why not write one on deterrence? It's a rich area. And hopefully you can take some good notes today and stimulate some interest and we'll see even more and better papers submitted for next year's competition.

To say that strategic deterrence has been on our mind at U.S. Strategic Command would be a bit of an understatement. In fact it has practically defined our year at STRATCOM. We've been intimately involved in efforts such as the Nuclear Posture Review, the Ballistic Missile Defense Review, and supporting our negotiators for a new START. Congressional hearings in both Houses and numerous questions for the record have given us ample opportunity to explain and advocate for the body of this work.

I'm extremely proud of our STRATCOM team, of the close working relationships we have with our DoD partners, and I certainly appreciate the dedication and diligence of our elected representatives and their staffs and their support to fund the programs that we believe are necessary to not only ensure our nation's security today but in years to come.

For those of you who were here last year, you may remember that I began the symposium by asking a couple of questions during my opening remarks. First, I asked how should deterrence differ today from the past? Followed by, what role do nuclear weapons play now and in the future?

These questions generated some great dialogue, lively debate and discussion over the course of the symposium, and I think perhaps even raising more questions, which I think is a good thing. Questions are good, especially when addressed by a pool of talent like we have assembled here today. So it should come as no surprise to you that I shall begin this morning to challenge you with a few other questions to maybe tee up the conference today and over the next couple of days.

My questions are formulated on the examination of several changes that have occurred since the end of the Cold War. For one, and close to home at STRATCOM, there has been a rise of a new operational domain -- cyberspace. And the growth in dependency and importance on another operational domain -- space.

Now if you accept the notion that attacks on either our space or cyberspace assets could be detrimental to not only our military operations but indeed our way of life in America, then I'd ask can we apply deterrence theory? Apply deterrence theory to deter attacks in these important domains?

Another area where we have seen dramatic change in the last 20 years is in the growth of our conventional warfighting capabilities. From advancements in stealth technology, precision-guided munitions, improvements in command and control that have been dramatic in the last ten years, missile defenses that are now being deployed, and concepts for the development of conventional prompt global strike weapons. In this context how do these capabilities play in the deterrence equation?

Further, what are the roles of the other elements of national power, and how can they be brought to bear in a coordinated fashion to deter?

Yet another change we are faced with is in the geopolitical environment. The bipolar backdrop of the Cold War deterrence strategy has evolved into a multi-polar world with varying threats posed by multiple actors with various levels of stakes in the game. In light of this, what adjustments do we need to make in our practice of the art of deterrence in the 21st Century environment?

And lastly, as we proceed down the path toward a smaller nuclear arsenal, what are the essential things and considerations that we must ensure that we do that will allow us to continue to deter along the way?

These are just a few of the questions that I think we need to be asking. There are certainly many more. I challenge you, our audience, to challenge our panelists with your questions during the Q&A sessions during the symposium.

Over the course of the next two days let us all resolve to challenge the rationale of previous paradigms, examine their applicability to today's global environment, and explore ideas that might provide an umbrella for an uncertain future that will certainly have its stormy days.

Now can you imagine anywhere else that you'd rather be than right here in Omaha, Nebraska at the Deterrence Symposium right now? I can't. Well, maybe at a Dodger baseball game for me. A good game. That would be one where the Dodgers actually win. [Laughter]. Maybe at a Cornhusker football game, maybe. But when it comes to intellectual stimulation, this is absolutely the place to be not only in Nebraska and Omaha today, but in the United States of America. I thank you all for coming to be a part of it.

We have a lot of ground to cover, so at this point I think I'll find my way off-stage and make room for our first panel. But ladies and gentlemen, buckle up your seatbelts because we're certainly in for an intellectual roller coaster ride over the next couple of days. Get your questions ready. Open your ears and your minds, and let's go to work.

Thanks again for being here. We at U.S. STRATCOM hope you enjoy your stay in America's heartland, and I sincerely hope that you leave here better equipped to engage in the ongoing dialogue with a broader understanding of the complexities of waging deterrence in the 21st Century. I'm certain that I will.

Thank you again, thank you General Helms for putting this altogether, and I look forward to a great symposium.

God bless you all.