An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.


SPEECH | July 29, 2015

Deterrence Symposium Opening Remarks

Good morning, welcome and thanks so much for being here and thanks for making the journey to what we consider to be the Heartland of America here in the greater Omaha area and what a rich opportunity to “Explore Deterrence Concepts in this Complex World” we live in. It truly is a pleasure to be here with you this morning and my job is to “prime the pump” for some of the deep and intellectual dialogue that I know you will have today and tomorrow during this symposium. Before I get started how about a round of applause for our newly promoted Major General Clint Crosier, my director for plans and policy, and his J5 team for their efforts in putting this symposium together.

You can tell he’s a brilliant general officer just by the way he introduces his boss. Anyway those of you in this sport know we are here for a purpose and you also know that deterrence isn’t easy, deterrence is hard.  If it was easy I’m sure most of us would have perhaps done a better job at deterring our kids some time ago from some of the activities they participate in sucdoayh as having these electronic gadgets attached to their faces or social media posts we would rather they didn’t participate in. Some of us might even be guilty of saying “it’s not a battle worth fighting.”

Well strategic deterrence is a battle worth fighting and is why these forums are so important. I’m really thrilled to have such a diverse and talented audience here today. I can’t tell you how much I value unfettered opinions and perspectives and it’s just so great to see the sheer number of folks here and your breadth of and experience, including our Allies and Partners and our international experts; Congressional staffers and members of our government; think tanks; academia, including members of our Academic Alliance. This is a new program we’ve assimilated here at U.S. Strategic Command to connect us with a variety of different colleges and universities, not just the ones you would suspect here locally in terms of  University of Nebraska, but also places like Stanford and Georgetown; the University Affiliated Research Centers (at least two are here in the audience); and industry and of course the media. So it’s fantastic to have your collective participation here.

Perhaps most importantly, we also have a number of young folks here. Some who have presented their ideas as part of Project on Nuclear Issues (PONI), there are four students who have had summaries of their work on display throughout the day and will be available on  “posters” during the break. We also have a few people from our operational units here with us. Will these strategic warriors stand up and be recognized? Thank you for what you do every god-given day. I hope as a group you will engage these young leaders because these strategic warriors, these young thinkers are our future as we go forward.

So with the time I have remaining, I would like to share with you my thoughts on how I view the challenges we face in today’s global security environment and what considerations we must have as we address the spectrum of conflict and escalation control.

Let me start with the global security environment. In her book -- “Nuclear Deterrence in the 21st Century,” Thérèse Delpech, a French strategists wrote: “One of [our] most important tasks is to keep humanity within the boundaries of acceptable historical experiences.” As we approach the 70th anniversary of the world entering the nuclear age, and given a global strategic and security environment that is more diverse and uncertain than at any time in our history, it is especially important to keep that thought at the forefront of our efforts.

While we continue to work toward the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons--through efforts such as the New Strategic Arms Treaty--we are challenged with a number of concerning strategic trends around the globe. Nation states continue to develop and modernize their nuclear weapons capabilities. Nuclear and non-nuclear nations are prepared to employ cyber, counter-space, and asymmetric capabilities as options for achieving their objectives during crisis and conflict, and new technologies such as Hyperglide Vehicles are being developed to complicate our sensing and defensive approaches. These advanced capabilities are being proliferated to our adversaries -- or potential adversaries -- and are becoming increasingly more mobile, more hardened, going further underground which is further compounded by a lack of transparency.

Some nation states with nuclear capabilities - and those aspiring to have said capabilities - are not behaving in accordance with international norms. One can argue they are working below the threshold that would ordinarily propel the international community to take action. For example, Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea, the ongoing activities in Ukraine, and selective compliance with treaties and accords; China’s activities in the South China Sea regarding land reclamation projects as China is rapidly developing and demonstrating its military capabilities. North Korea’s menacing rhetoric and claims of strategic capabilities going intercontinental are increasingly problematic and increasing global tensions. We are all aware of the Iranian issue since it is front and center today.

These concerns are further complicated by an operational environment that is flanked with violent non-state actors, including some who have expressed desires to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Terrorist groups demonstrate through barbaric behaviors that they understand no boundaries and lack respect for international norms.

Deterring a strategic attack on theUnited States of America and our Allies is U.S. Strategic Command’s number one priority. Our adversaries -- and potential adversaries -- must understand that they cannot escalate their way out of a failed conflict; that they will not reap the benefits they seek; that our nation is prepared to manage escalation using all elements of national power; and that restraint is always a better option.

So I ask you, given the complexities-- is our strategic deterrent approach adequate and are we doing enough to anticipate change and confront uncertainty? History has shown we haven’t always done well with our predictions, making our mission of deterrence that much harder, especially in this era of multi-dimensional threats and actors. So I would argue that we must improve our capabilities and refine our approaches to support an effective 21st century deterrent.

While our foundational nuclear capabilities underpin strategic deterrence and assurance at large, our nuclear deterrent is more than the platforms and warheads that compose our nuclear triad. To have a credible, safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent, we must also ensure we have the appropriate intelligence and sensing capabilities to give us those early indications and warnings of threats coming against the U.S. or our Allies including -- but not limited to -- missile launches and bomber threats and the ability to communicate and provide the President options should deterrence fail.

Given the potential strategic effects of attacks in space or cyberspace, we must be ready to address a conflict that extends into these domains too, while deterring the interest of adversaries from going there.

To be effective, then, we must address this across the spectrum of adversarial challenges and across the spectrum of conflict. So I think it’s important that we spend time to better understand the “Spectrum of Conflict” involving adversaries with nuclear weapons capabilities. To understand this better, I’ve had personal discussions with some of the world’s best strategic thinkers, including 3 of the 4 Horsemen (Shultz, Perry, and Kissinger) on how best to illustrate and define this problem set, including some of you in the audience Because this work is still in progress.

Now this slide is a simplistic - and I repeat, simplistic - illustration because in reality we can’t look at this linearly. It is much more complex than a two-dimensional depiction can illustrate, but it does show how conflict can occur at any point, at varying degrees of intensity, and with more than one adversary in multiple domains.

Figure: Spectrum of Conflict with Nuclear Adversary
Figure: Spectrum of Conflict with Nuclear Adversary

In peacetime, this starts with friction, tensions, and misconceptions that can result in a conventional conflict, that may include hybrid warfare, counter-space and cyberspace attacks. Once a conflict starts, though, it gets messier than depicted here. Please envision something better than this; webs and lattices of vertical and horizontal escalation. With adversaries with nuclear weapons capabilities this might also include nuclear provocations and demonstrations. To prevent extreme circumstances, I would argue we must deter in peacetime and our peacetime activities have to  shape the environment before crisis and conflict and they must dissuade our adversaries from considering the use of cyber, outer space or counterspace or nuclear utilization resulting in a strategic attack.

So, we must consider deterrence activities to be part of a continuum requiring diligence throughout the spectrum. To do so requires us to have a deeper understanding of our adversaries such that working with our whole of government and international community at large we can successfully develop off-ramps to de-escalate friction points and/or de-escalate a conflict at the lowest intensity level.

De-escalation of course is not easy. It requires us to not only work closely with our Allies and Partners but it requires a full whole of government approach that includes diplomatic, informational and economic considerations alongside military options.

So how do we think about this?   How do we develop the appropriate off-ramps to deter further violent, egregious activity by influencing the adversaries’ decision making so that we de-escalate in our favor? Are we thinking about our actions from the perception of the adversary? How do we know our intent is understood?

Understand again that this slide has to be considered in a multi-dimensional fashion and there is of course one for how the adversary views and perceives it, how our Allies and Partners view and perceive it as well as how we view it. In the end though the adversary must understand they cannot escalate their way out of a failed conflict and they will not receive the benefits they desire and restraint is a better option.

So to address complex deterrence in the 21st century, first we must address the threat environment holistically and take tailored approaches. We must - again I repeat it - have a deeper understanding of our adversaries and potential adversaries and this requires investment in foundational intelligence. We must know the range of strategic threats each pose to the United States, to our Allies and Partners so that we can better anticipate new threats and developing situations.

Second, our actions must ensure that our adversaries and potential adversaries do not doubt our resolve and our readiness. Yes, the United States is committed to maintaining a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent force, we’ve seen this as emphasized in a number of our strategic documents including the Quadrennial Defense Review, the Nuclear Employment Strategy and the President’s budget that was submitted for 2016 supports many of the necessary improvements.   We also retain the right to respond to an attack in space in a manner of our choosing as spelled out in the 2011 National Security Space Strategy. We are committed to resilient networks that defend against cyber-attack, as spelled out in the 2015 Department of Defense Cyber Strategy and as Secretary Carter said in his speech at Stanford, we will “provide offensive cyber options, that if directed by the President, can augment our military systems.”

U.S. Strategic Command is executing our deterrence and assurance campaign plan 24/7/365 days throughout the year, seeking to reinforce the cost and benefit of action versus restraint. And at U.S. Strategic Command, we are working diligently to maintain and update corresponding plans that are keeping pace with emerging threats and synchronizing those plans of course with our other combatant commands. We are also working hard to foster strong relationships with interagency partners and with our Allies, through a number of exchanges including participation in tabletop exercises and other training opportunities.

Finally, as we grow more into our understanding here we have to also grow the next generation of strategic thinkers. These complex issues require talented people, whether serving in our all-volunteer force, in our government, as an industry partner, or within academia, and as leaders we must ensure we are developing the talent that will assume the mantle. They are our next Brodies and Kissengers. We are relying on their innovative approaches, their forward thinking, their ability to comprehend and dissect difficult problems, and their questioning attitudes to get at this now and in the future. This is required to preserve not just our democratic way of life, but the foundational aspects of international norms.

Ultimately, our future is dependent on those who provide meaningful thought, to include the unthinkable - to consider the effects of a major cyber-attack that can have a significant impact on our country’s or an allies critical infrastructure, or attacks in space that prevent use of our space-enabled capabilities and all that we depend on from space, or the use of nuclear weapons.

I know today you will engage in some challenging topics and questions. Such questions that I have already mentioned, but others such as how can we improve deterrence and extended deterrence; can we restore deterrence if it fails in one or more domains; how do we keep this discussion front and center; how do we decrease the appetite for other countries to develop nuclear weapons; and are we doing the right things to encourage strategic stability?

As Henry Kissinger has said in his testimony to Congress earlier this year, “Existing international order itself… is being redefined,” but I am confident in you and our future leaders to work answers to these questions and to address today and future strategic challenges.

I was to thank you for investing time and resources to attend this very important forum and I want to thank each and every one of you for what each and everyone one of you do for our nation every day. I appreciate your attendance, your involvement and your expertise, and I know we will all benefit from our collective experience.

I also want to particularly thank those speakers and the panelists that will participate during this forum.

So let’s get underway, shall we?

Thank you.