Nuclear Security Caucus

By General C. Robert Kehler | Washington, D.C. | Aug. 14, 2012

General Kehler: Good afternoon, everyone. Let me thank Representatives Fortenberry and Terry for the invitation to speak to the Nuclear Security Caucus today. In particular, there are a lot of real privileges of being a general officer. One of them, of course, is we get to work with and lead our country's best young men and women and in particular, we get to stand in front of crowds like this and people applaud for things that we do when actually we are accepting that applause on their behalf because it is our young men and women in uniform that really do the work. They're the ones that show the bravery and courage every day, and they are certainly the ones that have made a commitment to serve in the armed forces of the United States when that's a voluntary thing to do.

So while I thank you for that very warm welcome, I'll tell you that I will accept your applause on their behalf because it is really those young men and women that deserve that applause.

I will tell you that this forum that you're having today comes on the heels of Strategic Command's 4th Annual Deterrence Symposium which was held in this conference center just last week. We had attendees from the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Japan, and several other nations as well as quite a range of nuclear policy experts, government officials and many others interested in the subject.

So today, since this is the Nuclear Security Caucus that is hosting this meeting, let me offer my perspective on deterrence, particularly how it applies with our nuclear forces, as well as the nuclear enterprise in general and also our responsibility for countering weapons of mass destruction.

Of all the important missions assigned to the United States Strategic Command none is more important than our responsibility to deter strategic attack on the United States, our allies, and our partners. In our lexicon we boil this down to two key words -- deterrence and assurance. Deterrence and assurance have been part of the national security lexicon for well over half a century, and for most of those decades strategic deterrence focused almost exclusively on the threat of using U.S. nuclear capabilities to deter a massive nuclear or conventional attack on the United States or our allies. During the Cold War such an attack would come from the Soviet Union.

Today I would argue that this "one size fits all" of the strategic deterrence passed with the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union. Strategic deterrence and assurance remain relevant concepts today but we are shaping those concepts for a broader array of individual actors, each with their own context.

Shaping our strategic deterrence approaches -- some would call this tailored deterrence -- is not an easy task. Such an approach requires a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of these actors and their decision processes, a robust understanding of the threats they pose, and more flexibility and speed in our strategy development and in our [planning]. To be sure, deterrence is still about influencing actors' decisions. It's still about a solid policy foundation. It's still about possessing credible capabilities. It's about what the U.S. and our allies as a whole can bring to bear in both a military and non-military sense towards a potential adversary.

But deterrence today is a broader concept that encompasses a wider array of complementary tools, both nuclear and strong conventional forces, perhaps non-kinetic forces, limited missile defense, unfettered access to use of space and cyberspace, and in all areas modern capabilities that are both resilient and sustained. Deterrence planning [and force] must fit today's global security environment. An enormously complex and uncertain world that still includes nuclear weapons and nuclear armed space. Some of these states are modernizing their nuclear arsenal.

Such planning must consider a range of other issues -- the threat of proliferation of nuclear weapons and delivery systems, the growing potential for disruption or attacks through cyberspace, and the danger of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of violent extremists.

This is the context for today's strategic deterrence challenges, and for the nuclear deterrent force that continues to play a critically important but not exclusive role in our deterrence posture and planning. This is a force that must remain strong and credible. It's a force that must be backed by a solid industrial base, for both the delivery systems and weapons themselves. And it's a force that must continue to be staffed with highly trained and experienced men and women with perfection as their standard.

The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, or the NPR, recognized the need to maintain such a capable force, for modern infrastructure, as long as nuclear weapons exist, even as counter-proliferation and nuclear terrorism move to the top of the policy agenda.

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates summed it up when he said, and I'll quote, "As long as nuclear weapons exist, the United States must maintain a safe, secure and effective nuclear arsenal, maintain strategic stability with other [inaudible] nuclear powers, deter potential adversaries, and reassure our allies and our partners of our security commitments to them."

This year the President and Secretary of Defense released a new National Defense Strategy entitled Priorities of the 21st Century. This document also maintains that the existence of nuclear weapons anywhere in the world means the United States must have the ability to deter with nuclear weapons.

This new strategy document sounds a similar theme as the NPR. Here's another quote. "We will be [inaudible] nuclear forces [inaudible] under any circumstances to confront an adversary with the prospect of unacceptable damage both to deter potential adversaries and to assure U.S. allies and other security partners that they can count on America's security commitments."

Nuclear forces continue to play an important role in the NATO alliance as well, in both the Deterrence and Posture Review and the May Chicago Summit NATO affirmed that nuclear weapons remain a core component of NATO's overall capabilities for deterrence and defense alongside conventional and missile defense forces.

To be sure, with each milestone I've just cited, the United States and recently the NATO alliance committed to creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons. The New START Treaty which has been in force for over a year is a visible commitment to that goal. The United States has also taken steps to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in defense planning.

But the central deterrence message endures. As long as these weapons exist the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrence force. This is the United States Strategic Command's charter and our top priority.

So for the remaining few minutes let me offer my perspective on the state of our nuclear deterrence force and where we're headed.

First, while nuclear weapons will always represent a unique, relevant and powerful deterrent capability, this is not your father's deterrent force. We've witnessed an impressive 67 year period with neither nuclear war nor a great power war. During this time we regularly adjusted our nuclear capabilities to match the global environment. Since the end of the Cold War we significantly altered our nuclear force strike [inaudible] posture and we continue to review force structure and posture to ensure they add to our national security needs.

Tied to nuclear buildup, we had more than 30,000 nuclear weapons of all kinds. We believed and subsequent Russian revelations have confirmed, that the Soviet Union had similar numbers [inaudible]. Since the end of the Cold War in 1992 we reduced the number of ballistic missile submarines; converted four Ohio Class submarines to carry conventional cruise missiles only; confirmed that the B-1 is a non-nuclear bomber; removed all dual-capable bombers from nuclear alert; eliminated the Peacekeeper intercontinental ballistic missile; and substantially reduced the Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile force by over 50 percent; and are in the process of transitioning the remaining missiles to one instead of several warheads. We also withdrew numerous weapons from abroad. We deactivated entire classes of weapons and dramatically reduced our overall nuclear stockpile. In total, our stockpile is down more than 75 percent from the day the Berlin Wall fell. These are significant changes.

At each decision point along the way, the U.S. currently accounted for potential attacks on deterrent capability and strategic stability. The end result is a substantially smaller force but one in which our confidence remains in the ability to deter adversaries and assure allies. I believe our pathway has been extremely successful and has enhanced our national security. Equally important, we must continue to maintain strategic stability in some future crisis. That is [inaudible] today's force.

The Triad of ballistic missile submarines, intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear capable heavy bombers with their supporting aerial tankers continues to serve us well. It does so by providing complementary and important capabilities [inaudible].

The obvious ones are the ones we always cite -- survivability, promptness, flexible. Taken together those attributes create insurmountable problems to any would-be adversary as well as for providing crisis stability. The Triad continues to provide the President with a flexible range of alternatives to meet our deterrence needs and respond to emerging threats, crises, surprise and [inaudible].

The Triad also forms a key component of a hedge strategy against any future technical failures or geopolitical change.

Keeping our flexibility cannot be overstated when dealing with today's changing world.

Moving forward to sustain a strong nuclear deterrent force we will continue to support modernization and sustainment of the delivery systems, specifically a new ballistic missile submarine and a new long range bomber and refueling tanker, and we're conducting an analysis of alternatives for a new intercontinental ballistic missile.

In addition, we intend to continue with weapon life extension programs, stockpile surveillance, nuclear complex infrastructure recapitalization, naval reactor design activities, and upgrades for our nuclear command and control [inaudible] system.

That's quite a "to do" list [inaudible]. Our nation's current fiscal needs make those not [the best]. The proposed FY13 budget sustains these essential investments and will in fact keep the nuclear deterrent force able and ready if called.

But all the elements of the nuclear enterprise, and most with a potential for refining or inadequately investing in our nuclear weapons complex itself. Without the infrastructure to maintain our aging stockpile, the modular components that were never envisioned to be used for decades can guarantee weapons reliability and confidence in an era without nuclear explosive tests, all concepts I was speaking about are moot.

Our weapons are aging and we face the continued challenge of aging physical structure and erosion of maybe the most important part of the enterprise, the intellectual human capital that supports it.So as I testified before the Armed Services Committees earlier this year, we simply must protect [inaudible] investments in stockpile certification, warhead life extension, and infrastructure recapitalization. These investments are central to the new defense strategy. Without them, maintaining the long term credibility and viability of the nation's nuclear deterrent cannot be possible.

Let me make several quick points before I close.

First, as I mentioned earlier, the Nuclear Posture Review elevated the prevention of nuclear proliferation, nuclear terrorism to the top of the policy agenda. The National Security Strategy states that there is no greater threat to the American people than weapons of mass destruction, particularly the danger posed by nuclear weapons, by violent extremists, and their proliferation to additional states.

Deterrence is a big part of nuclear security, but so too are efforts at countering weapons of mass destruction. You can think of deterrence and countering weapons of mass destruction as two sides of the same coin. We extract our unique responsibilities for combating weapons of mass destruction. It is our job to synchronize global planning across all of the combatant commands, to improve our interagency relationships and to advocate for essential combating weapons of mass destruction capabilities. That's a relatively new responsibility for us. But through our semi-annual Global Synchronization Conferences we've highlighted the need to improve coordination, to expand foundational intelligence and information-sharing across the Department of Defense and the rest of the government. This coordination assists in [inaudible] deter and address these emerging threats.

We began our efforts in 2005 with the establishment of STRATCOM's Center for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction. This center is responsible for coordinating acts across the Department of Defense and the rest of the U.S. government. In February of this year we stood up the new Joint Force Headquarters to help us with this task. That supportive headquarters is responsible for developing and fielding capabilities that are essential to help combatant commanders deal with WMD problems. That's another big mission for us and one that we are working with great urgency.

Finally, we're working with the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Staff and the military services to finalize and synchronize the Department's efforts to fully implement the [inaudible] limits of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that will have to be completed by February 2018. That seems like a long way off, but in fact it isn't very far away. So don't start [inaudible] yet, but I can tell you that we are very interested in making sure that we have taken all the time we need to safely and with security make the adjustments in the Nuclear forces that are required to comply with those [central] limits by 2018. I know we're making great strides even though we have much to do, and we'll be there well in advance.

So in conclusion, I would just remind all of you that deterrence has evolved and changed over the course of the nuclear [inaudible]. It continues to do so and in my belief it will continue to do so.

That said, nuclear weapons occupy a unique place in global security defense. No other weapon can match their potential for prompt and long term damage and for overall strategic impact.

Now I believe the good news is that the threat to start a nuclear war has receded by almost any measure. Certainly the likelihood of nuclear war between the United States and Russia or China is the lowest I've seen since I joined the United States Air Force over 37 years ago. Nuclear weapons in U.S. and Russian arsenals have declined dramatically. We do not view the Russians or the Chinese as our enemies. Deployed U.S. nuclear weapons are not targeted against any country. But the capability for a short notice nuclear attack against the United States still exists in the world. Therefore it's strategically necessary for STRATCOM to maintain the capability to deter if possible and respond if necessary against any adversary that would contemplate such an attack, as long as nuclear weapons exist elsewhere in the world. STRATCOM will be a leader in maintaining safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent.

Thank you again for an opportunity to address this roundtable. Unfortunately I have to make my exit due to other scheduling constraints, but I appreciate the efforts of the Nuclear Security Office to continue to bring these issues to the public. These are important issues, national issues for all of you to be familiar with. And I must say I am encouraged by the level of national attention that these issues are getting and they are fully being addressed maybe for the first time at this level and depth since the end of the Cold War.

Thanks for your interest and I look forward to continue to serve at STRATCOM. Thank you very much.