2010 Strategic Deterrence Symposium - Keynote By Dr. James Schlesinger

By Dr. James Schlesinger, Chairman of the Board, The MITRE Corporation | Omaha, Neb. | Aug. 11, 2010

Dr. Schlesinger: Thank you for that flowery introduction. [Laughter] I warned her not to make it too flowery, because if she did so I would respond by recalling this funeral that occurred in a small southern town in which the preacher engaged in his eulogy and he went on and on, and as he went on and on the widow got more and more nervous because of the flattering eulogy. Finally she reached out to one of her sons and said, "Go up and look and see whether that's your father in the box." [Laughter]

I was talking to General Chilton about old says in SAC and how when that red telephone rang everyone got nervous; but we live in a much calmer world these days. And we meet at STRATCOM, earlier the home of the Strategic Air Command, and that change of name indicates that the elements of the mission have changed, reflecting a change in the balance of forces.

The disestablishment of SAC came after the collapse of the Soviet empire and the substantial Soviet Warsaw Pact threat to Western Europe.

SAC was basically nuclear. It was nuclear in its heart, as General LeMay would have told you. Even when it took on conventional operations as it did in Southeast Asia, when it was flying B-52s out of Guam, it was really quite nervous, and that expressed concern about the deviation of focus from its nuclear mission which was to deter the Soviet Union.

But the essential mission of STRATCOM has not changed, as the title of this seminar suggests. The essential mission remains deterrence, and deterrence is indispensible if we are to avoid major war.

SAC's motto was "Peace is our profession" and that sometimes earned some scorn from the left, given the means for preserving the peace. But it continues to be the relevant motto for STRATCOM. "Peace is our profession."

The deterrence offered by STRATCOM is essential for the avoidance of major war.

Now we find that the conventional forces can carry a much larger share of the load of deterrence than we felt during the Cold War. There is a reduced reliance on nuclear weapons. Some of the responsibilities for deterrence have passed to regional commands. STRATCOM capabilities reinforce what the regional commands do. And I would remind you that despite public and congressional thought, that strategic is not synonymous with nuclear.

Even in the Cold War conventional forces played a much larger role in deterrence than is frequently understood. But there is now much more heavy reliance on conventional forces for deterrence than there was during the Cold War.

This is complicated because our goal in the Cold War was basically protecting Western Europe against what was seen to be an overwhelming conventional threat from the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. That's a subject that I shall return to later, because it has been transformed with the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The military balance has changed, and as a result, the nuclear strategy of forces have been radically altered. The number of weapons that we field has been reduced by 75 percent since the end of the Cold War, and 90 percent since the height of the Cold War in terms of weapons displayed during the Johnson years.

Nonetheless, despite its shrunken role, nuclear forces remain crucial for deterrence. The nuclear forces, I see the press state "why are we spending all this money on nuclear forces when they are never going to be used?" That is the purpose of nuclear forces -- to deter attack, to maintain the peace.

The nuclear forces continue to be crucial for preventing attack with weapons of mass destruction on the United States, its allies, its bases overseas, and its interests. And as long as those nuclear forces are there, they are used every day, they are not forces on which we spend large amounts of money and never are used.

Let me turn to my second topic which is where we stand today in light of the Nuclear Posture Review. And what is bound to it, new START. These are coupled together.

New START is in a sense a reflection of the new posture review and the new posture review in a sense anticipated new START.

Let me say that the new posture review turned out to be far better than I feared, and I figure it was thanks to the Department of Defense that put up a fierce resistance to some of the forces in the administration that would have cut more deeply. And, I might add, thanks not only to the DoD in Washington, but to our military commands, including this one.

In the campaign of 2008 President Obama stated that he would reduce our strategic forces to the lower level permitted by the Moscow Treaty which had the low level of 1700, so that the cut of our forces to 1550 is a modest cut and something that we can live with.

The beauty of the Nuclear Posture Review comes in the form, first it says that deterrence is essential for the foreseeable future.

Secondly, it supports the triad, and with 1550 strategic delivery vehicles we can actually sustain the triad. Marginally in some respects, but we can have a triad that is impressive.

Thirdly, and this is critical, we're not talking about unilateral cuts. We are going down bilaterally and we will not cut unless the Russians cut at the same time.

So it is something of a gift that the NPR turned out to be as strong as it is.

There is some questioning of new START which of course is linked to the Nuclear Posture Review, some opposition. And I think that in part this opposition has nothing to do with the new START agreement itself, although I think it will be ratified, assuming that the administration proceeds with the modernization program for the nuclear laboratories and for the nuclear infrastructure, and that the Senate does its usual job of examining all of the details, verification, missile defense issues that have been raised in an exaggerated way. In my view the opposition, the questioning of new START is primarily due not to the details of the treaty itself, but of the concern about what comes next.

The administration has talked about an immediate follow-on to new START. I think that the Russians provide us with some protection -- one of the great advantages of arms control is that the negotiations go on endlessly. And the Russians have indicated that they're going to stick with this treaty for the next ten years. So it's not clear to me that there is going to be the hoped-for follow-on.

So that's part of the problem. The rest of the problem, as I see it, in terms of the opposition is concern that all the rhetoric which is included in the new posture review about a world without nuclear weapons. I don't know whether this is lip service by the Department of Defense, but I don't think there's anyone here that is going to admit it if that's the case. [Laughter].

My third topic is where are we headed? Are we actually going to see a world without nuclear weapons? This is the vision of many people, and I remind you that the dividing line between vision and hallucination is never very clear. [Laughter]. What one has to bear in mind is the failure of memory. Americans are not noted for their recall of history.

So let us take us back to the early days of NATO, from the time of the failure of the Lisbon Conference, 1952, in which the European states indicated that they would raise 100 divisions to provide conventional defense against the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, which led, that failure led to the Eisenhower New Look Program in which the emphasis on the protection of Western Europe depended upon nuclear retaliation in the event of an invasion.

In brief, the United States and the NATO alliance back there in the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s treated nuclear weapons as the great equalizer as we looked out at the Soviet Union with its Warsaw Pact allies for which we gave intelligence full credit for the size of their forces even though the motivation may not have been altogether there for the support of the Soviet Union.

Now that the United States has conventional superiority we've come [out of] that and we would prefer that others play by the rules that our conventional superiority permits us. In short, we hope that they will fall in with our greater conventional capabilities and go along with a world without nuclear weapons.

But many of them think the way we did during NATO days, and think in terms of nuclear weapons, indeed the quest for nuclear weapons is providing the great equalizer for superior conventional forces. Amongst them, of course, perhaps most prominently is Russia itself. The Russians have changed their doctrine to the early use of nuclear forces. Indeed just last week, just last month we saw an exercise in Russia which wound up with a nuclear strike within Russia itself, allegedly in a wargame against a group of separatists and a nuclear weapon was used on Russian soil.

We do not see much support in Russia for moving towards a world without nuclear weapons. I can only read a few quotes, but General Yuri Baluyevsky, who was a leading figure in the Russian military establishment, said "The situation of U.S. conventional superiority won't change in the near future, and Russia will hardly catch up with the United States for a while. That is why Russia reserves the right to use nuclear weapons." There's not much there about no first use. [Laughter].

President Medvedev himself says, "Today we have no need to further increase our strategic deterrence potential, however, the potential of nuclear weapons as a defining condition for Russia to conduct an independent policy and to preserve its sovereignty, a policy aimed to maintain peace and prevent military conflict."

I could go on with these kinds of quotes, but it's plain that the Russians now take the position that we did in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s with regard to the great equalizer.

Think of Pakistan. Pakistan is militarily inferior in conventional forces to its great rival India. The likelihood of the Pakistanis being willing to look to the future of a world without nuclear weapons is pretty low. And India, looking across to Pakistan armed with nuclear weapons, is likely to go the same way.

As I read the French policy under President Sarkozy, there does not seem to be much in the way of seduction for the notion of a world without nuclear weapons.

China, which has been building up, does not seem to be inclined to go in that direction.

I mentioned Israel, which according to rumors in the press has a nuclear capability. [Laughter]. I won't ask Mr. Schnurr to confirm or deny on this particular -- [Laughter].

I think when he talked this morning he did not indicate that he thought that missile defense capabilities was a complete deterrent in and of itself. But Israel at least so far as I've been able to see, regards a nuclear capability, assuming that it has one, as the ultimate protection in what is a tough neighborhood according to our discussion this morning, and it's likely to remain tough.

And as long as relations between the U.S. and Israel remain under something of a cloud, I don't think that the Israelis, if they have a nuclear capability, are likely to give it up.

North Korea. We have paid and paid and paid with North Korea over the years. Each time they have broken the agreement. So if we want to pay more to North Korea for agreeing to a world without nuclear weapons we can do that, and we'd probably have the same results.

And I might finally add, al-Qaida and other terrorist groups which can get nuclear weapons design from the internet do not seem to have given up their mission to acquire nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction.

What would it be like if we actually got a world without nuclear weapons? I remind you, the fewer the nuclear weapons, the greater advantage in cheating. Hiding away a few weapons.

The understanding of how to build nuclear weapons cannot be expunged from the mind of man, or the availability of information on the internet.

I think it is conceded, in fact it was stated in the Nuclear Posture Review, that in a world without nuclear weapons if we were able to get there, almost everybody now possessing nuclear weapons would have a breakout capability, even if they were not cheating. And I can think of no better formula for nuclear instability than nations all with breakout nuclear capabilities, which they had to break out on the rumor that some other state has just broken out.

So all in all, it does not seem to me that this is going to be our future. And I might add that when the Congressional Commission report stated quite simply that "The conditions that might make possible the global elimination of nuclear weapons are not present today, and their creation would require a fundamental transformation of world political order." I do not anticipate such a fundamental transformation of the world political order, and I think that the kinds of elements that would go into such a transformation would not likely make the American public happy.

Thank you very much.


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