2011 USSTRATCOM Deterrence Symosium - Opening Remarks

By General C. Robert Kehler | Omaha, Neb. | Aug. 3, 2011

General Kehler:

Thank you, Sue, and good morning everyone. Welcome to Omaha.

It struck me just a moment ago when General Desjardins was introduced as the host that you can probably go to her at lunch and ask her to pay for your lunch. I know I will. [Laughter].

This is the third year that Strategic Command has organized and hosted this Deterrence Symposium. This year's symposium will examine 21st Century deterrence challenges, continuing the discussion and analysis that began in 2009.

Looking at the deterrence experts that have gathered this year, I'm expecting another great event marked by reasoned and provocative discussion and debate. I'm very pleased that some of the most knowledgeable experts on deterrence and international affairs from across the country and around the world have joined us in Omaha to address the complex deterrence challenges that we face today. In particular, let me extend a special thanks and welcome to our panelists, our panel chairs and our speakers, particularly those of you who have traveled here from out of town or abroad. Thanks for the advanced preparation you've already devoted to this symposium. We appreciate your efforts and we're looking forward to your presentations, your insights and your contributions.

Before we start those presentations and discussions, there are a few things that I would ask you to keep in mind throughout the symposium, both as background and as overarching issues to address as we consider deterrence in its various aspects and applications in the 21st Century.

As a starting point I think we should consider the current operational environment to provide a clear and common context for these discussions. With that shared understanding we will be better equipped to consider how the concepts of deterrence and its applications are evolving or will need to evolve to reflect the reality of the threats, actors and challenges of the world today.

So let me take a moment to describe our perspective on that operational environment in a bit more detail because I think it's unlike any operating environment we've ever faced before.

Today the international security landscape is marked by protracted conflict, continuous change and enormous complexity. Many of you have heard those of us at Strategic Command talk about the way the operational characteristics of time, distance, boundaries, symmetry and ambiguity have changed dramatically, even over the last ten years.

At the same time we are witnessing extraordinary technological advances, rapid changes in the number and type of actors, hybrid combinations of strategies, tactics and weapons, and of course thanks to space and cyberspace, the ability of both friend and foe alike to span global distances in milliseconds.

As a result, we are facing a different context where space and cyberspace are becoming increasingly intertwined with the domains of land, sea, and air and where different boundaries and operating speeds across those domains place stress on our traditional views of force application and command relations.

Tackling this environment demands faster, more comprehensive awareness, strategic thinking, flexible planning, rapid innovation, and unprecedented information sharing. These are not insignificant challenges and we will welcome your thoughts on them as the symposium proceeds.

Against this operational backdrop STRATCOM's most important mission remains to deter attack, particularly nuclear attack, with a safe, secure, effective nuclear deterrent force. Nuclear deterrence is and always will be our first priority.

But at the same time, the national security environment is now characterized and complicated by other threats that can have potentially devastating effects as well. Of course I'm referring to threats of nuclear, chemical or biological proliferation, particularly in the hands of violent extremists or state proliferators, and other threats like cyber, for example.

President Obama has called terrorist efforts to obtain WMD the most immediate and extreme threat to global security and our own National Security Strategy says there is no greater or more urgent danger than a terrorist armed with a nuclear weapon. The issue is not just about loss of life, but the enduring economic, political and social damage such weapons could inflict.

In the face of emerging threats from WMD, Strategic Command has taken on an expanded mission to synchronize counter-WMD planning across our combatant commands. With this expanded mission combating WMD is now a high priority, along with our historic nuclear deterrence mission. The expanded combating WMD responsibility and the new concerns surrounding space and cyberspace underscore the reality of the operating environment, that the threats and challenges that we face in deterring adversaries are significantly different than the challenges we have faced in the past.

Our approach to deterrence must evolve and it must evolve to reflect the changing nature of our adversaries, the threats they pose, the capabilities we have available, and the actions and signals that will dissuade and deter them.

We've come to realize that there is no such thing as one size fits all when it comes to deterrence. In our view to address the full range of threats as well as the high end existential threats requires an adaptive, diversified approach. That new approach and developing and affirming that new approach is the principle reason why we convened the inaugural Deterrence Symposium three years ago, and of course it's why we're meeting again today.

So I hope you will pose and address the hardest questions over the next day and a half. For example, how do our activities in space and cyberspace relate to deterrence? Is it valid to consider them in isolation or can space, cyberspace, missile defense and other capabilities be combined to form a unified deterrence package of some sort? How do we use all of our capabilities that we have today and in what combinations to address the full range of threats and actors?

I'd love to give you clear, precise answers to all of these, but I don't have them. That's why we invited you. We would like you, and particularly urge you to share your exceptional talents and perspectives as we go forward.

Our discussions should also consider international cooperation and collaboration and what those mean as contributions to a larger and more effective deterrence posture.

Finally, besides forming international coalitions and partnerships, we need to attract and retain the human talent in the field of deterrence to guide us into the future. What can we do to develop and train the next generation of deterrence theorists?

Younger members of the audience will be able to help here. What are we doing right and what are we doing wrong that attracts you regarding this subject of endeavor? What will sustain your interest? What will sustain your enthusiasm as we go to the future?

I encourage all of you -- panelists, speakers and participants -- to engage in active discussion and vigorous debate not only during the panels but on breaks and afterwards. I know many of you in this room. I have been mentored and coached along the way by many of you and I know you don't need much encouragement to participate in a symposium like this, but I would ask that you take particular care this time to make your voices heard because we value all of your perspectives and your contributions.

Let's conduct our discussion along the academic model of open discussion, respectful of others' opinions, open to contrary views, and seeking a path toward improved understanding much like the approach I take with my own staff every day. [Laughter]. That was humor, as I think they would probably validate. [Laughter].

But to promote more discussion I'll ask the more senior members of the crowd, and I guess I'll have to include myself in that these days, to seek out the younger participants, the next generation. Engage them in the discussion as well. Make sure you've made it a point to meet someone here that you have not met before, especially if they look younger than you do, and make sure that they feel like part of this discussion and part of this team.

To conclude, I hope this symposium and our discussions today and tomorrow will mark a continuation of the study and viewpoints on the topic of deterrence and advance that discussion to a new level. If this symposium is to be truly successful, the discussion will not stop here. It will continue beyond the Qwest Center in Omaha, Nebraska, with an expanded network of contacts and experts sharing views, ideas and solutions on how to address these very complicated challenges of deterrence in the 21st Century.

So once again, welcome and good luck over the next day and a half as you engage with colleagues and counterparts from across the country and around the world to debate and discuss some of the most important issues of our day. Let's join together in our search for solutions to 21st Century deterrence challenges.

Thank you very much, and we look forward to the next day and a half. Thank you.