SPEECH | July 29, 2015

Keynote, 2015 USSTRATCOM Deterrence Symposium

Good evening……. General Kowalski … fellow delegates…..it is a huge honour for me to be invited to speak here tonight ……and I would particularly like to thank the Commander United States Strategic Command, Admiral Cecil Haney, for allowing me the opportunity to do so.

I would like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to the vital work done by US STRATCOM, its senior leadership, the Headquarters staff and the JFCC Components…. for their energy, inspiration and initiative……. both in their execution of the routine day-to-day operational deterrence and assurance mission and through sponsoring a myriad of enriching activities, including this Deterrence Symposium.  When taken together this provides the foundational principles and proper context for the safe, secure and effective delivery of cross domain deterrence capability, which has served to safeguard the continued global peace, security and prosperity that we all enjoy.

I would also like to thank the symposium team and the La Vista Conference Centre for their outstanding organisation and delivering such an impressive event.

And before I start, I would like to give my congratulations and warmest wishes to the Deputy Commander, US Strategic Command, Lieutenant General James “Killer” Kowalski for his forthcoming retirement after giving 35 years of exemplary service to the international community.  We first met during the missile test firing for HMS VIGILANT.  He was the only senior officer who brought his gym bag for the long day at sea, and I was impressed with his unrelenting enthusiasm and energy.  I know that I speak on behalf of everyone here tonight in wishing you and your family the very best for your next adventure, whatever that may be.  We are all humbled that you have been able to make this symposium your last official duty before handing over to Lieutenant General Wilson. Thank you again, Sir, for your service and may you enjoy ‘fair winds and following seas’ in the many years ahead.

Those of you that were here last year heard Mr Julian Miller our Deputy National Security Advisor outline the challenges that faced the United Kingdom.  We were towards the end of a 5 year term of a coalition government and while government policy on the nuclear deterrent was clear, one of the agreed points of departure was the Liberal Democrats were allowed to make the case for alternatives to Trident.  We were also approaching a historic referendum on Independence for Scotland.  Well, they say that a week in politics is a long time; a year therefore is an eternity and the UK is now in a very different place.

Firstly, the Scottish people voted to remain part of a United Kingdom.  Secondly on 7 May 15 the British people returned a single party to power with a clear majority for the next 5 years.  The Conservative manifesto was clear that nuclear deterrence remained an essential part of the UK's security strategy and they would seek to replace the ageing Vanguard class with 4 successor submarines and that they would continue to deploy them operationally in a posture known as Continuous At Sea Deterrence. 

The government also committed to a full Security and Defence Review, a process which they institutionalised in the previous parliament.  This is underway and is due to report in November. 

Another major commitment was made in the Chancellor’s recent budget speech to maintain Defence spending at 2% of GDP fulfilling the pledge the Government made at the Welsh NATO summit and demonstrating clearly that it believes that defence is the first priority of any Government.

Now I am sure that there are those who will criticise and say that the Government are redefining what constitutes Defence spending, but be in no doubt of the significance of this announcement. The UK Government is increasing the Defence budget from next year by 0.5% in real terms through until 2020…. is putting aside an additional £1.5 billion for a Joint Fund to be used by the Armed Forces and security and intelligence agencies……and, above all, is meeting NATO’s pledge to spend 2% of GDP on defence every year of this decade….. we are sending a very strong signal to our allies and adversaries regarding Britain’s resolve and determination to continue doing what is right, and to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our allies to defend our way of life.  It also means that the financial envelope is known before the SDSR which I am sure will lead to a very different analysis.

As far as the Deterrent is concerned, we can expect a Parliamentary approval process leading to a decision next year to commit to the next stage in the Successor programme.  The Government has already committed some 4 Bn pounds on the Successor SSBN programme which is proceeding well.   The design includes a joint UK/US design for a Common Missile Compartment for successor and the Ohio replacement programme and we have already ordered the long lead items such as the first set of missile tubes and the Reactor Pressure vessel.  We have made major investment in the programme to extend the Vanguard class and also to invest in the UK submarine building facility infrastructure at Barrow-in-Furness.  This is a clear sign of our commitment and excellent news for the UK submarine programme.

Back in 2006, when the Government published its White Paper on the future of the nuclear deterrent, the strategic landscape was very different.  At that stage, the government believed that given its inability to predict the future, and the long procurement timescales to replace the components, that it would be prudent to retain a nuclear deterrent.  That strategic picture looks very different now …….and with the opportunity of the SDSR, we are looking towards making a shift in the way that we manage and assesses security threats.

Deterrence is not limited to the realms of nuclear…..nor is it limited to cyber and space…..and it is not constrained to the purely Informational, Economic or Diplomatic response swim lanes.

The UK policy view is that deterrence has to be a comprehensive approach that integrates national and multilateral alliance endeavours and requires all aspects of the international norm based security framework to work and act together.

Deterrence is also not a smooth continuum.  Defence has always been built on a paradox: we prepare for war while what we want to do is prevent it.  Deterrence has to be an integral part of a nation’s defence strategy and the primary role of its Armed Forces.  This requires not only robust and sustained and scaled capabilities, but also assured credibility and timely strategic messaging in order to be fully effective. If we, as a country, or an Alliance, do not believe that we have the capability and the credibility – the resolve to act in that vital moment - how can we expect our adversaries to buy into the concept of deterrence in their strategic calculations?

The way that we communicate the potential to deploy our deterrent capabilities and the credibility – the willingness to take action – is a vitally important element that enhances the deterrent effect.  Above all, our strategic communications must be received and registered in the minds of adversaries and Allies. The messages said, and unsaid, must be clearly understood. This is an area where we can probably nationally, bilaterally and across the Alliance do better, particularly in the face of emerging threats.

UK Nuclear Deterrent
The UK approach to nuclear deterrence is subtly differently to the other  recognised Nuclear Weapon States.  Over the years we have reduced our stockpile and delivery systems to a minimum.

    1. We possess only 1% of the total nuclear stockpile of 17,000 warheads;
    2. We routinely deploy only one platform, an SSBN submarine;
    3. We have only one warhead design;
    4. And we have only one type of delivery vehicle, a Trident ballistic missile, to deploy our UK warheads. 

We also see some enduring principles that underpin the approach to our nuclear deterrent:

    1. Preventing nuclear attack – through strategic deterrence and not nuclear warfighting;
    2. Employing a minimum destructive power;
    3. Maintaining an ambiguity of doctrine and response, but in the context of a strong and enduring commitment to the NATO alliance;
    4. ….and clear operational independence.

Over 46 years and through over 300 patrols, Britain has kept an SSBN submarine at sea providing the ultimate guarantee of security against nuclear attack or nuclear blackmail ….24 hours a day, 365 days a year and I would like to pay tribute to all those involved in sustaining the UK’s longest enduring operation, which we call OPERATION RELENTLESS. It is the submarine officers and ratings, dockside engineers, their families and industry who contribute to the UK’s most visible commitment to NATO and to a Europe that is free and at peace.

As a signatory and one of the three depository states of the NPT, the UK Government remains committed to working towards the shared goal of a world without nuclear weapons.  But it is not the absence of nuclear weapons that is the goal, rather the strategic conditions where they are no longer necessary that is the real prize.  I had the privilege of attending the recent NPT Review Conference in New York to hear for myself the views of those who think now is the time to abandon nuclear weapons and to introduce a ban.  The calls from those who think that the Humanitarian consequences of the use of nuclear weapons are growing louder.  However, none of this is new, and the devastating consequences of the use of even a single nuclear weapon are probably known better by the people in this room than anywhere else.

The NPT is the most universal of the United Nations treaties, yet there remain a small number of states outside it, and one has even withdrawn from it.  Article 6 is the key part and we need to read all of it. 

Article VI
Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.

So how would we mark our homework?  Well, point 1 and 2 are going well, the nuclear arms race has been reversed and we have seen major reductions in nuclear stockpiles by the Nuclear weapon states….. but point 3, general and complete disarmament, is arguably not going so well and it is this aspect that should be the focus of attention.

Collectively the UK and our Allies have made great strides toward reducing the role of nuclear weapons in the Euro-Atlantic region….. However, the current conditions for further disarmament by the UK do not yet exist and so for the time being, at least, we have gone as far as we can toward further reducing our nuclear capability.

Nevertheless, the UK remains committed to the NPT process.   The fact that the 2015 revcon failed to agree a consensus document does not mean the treaty is a failure - the commitment to the 2010 action plan remains.

The world is clearly changing at an astonishing pace…..and we must continue to stand up for the values that we all believe in – the rule of law, democracy, free speech, tolerance and human rights.

In order to achieve this, we must do better at spotting emerging security risks and deal with them before they become crises. We need to draw together, and use, all the instruments of national and Alliance power, so that the sum of our effort is greater than the component parts.

International nuclear relationships
I wanted to highlight the close and vital relationships that we have with our closest nuclear allies. Firstly, the UK has a long standing and enduring relationship with the US, which is centred around shared values.               

Our relationship with the US is a deep and close one that we exercise through the 1958 Mutual Defence Agreement and the 1963 Polaris Sales Agreement.   Over the years, I have seen this relationship grow ever stronger especially in the nuclear area.  This relationship continues to deepen and, for example, we are engaged in a joint CMC programme.

Secondly France - I wholeheartedly welcome President Holland's speech on 15 February regarding their nuclear deterrent in which he reaffirmed the close cooperation with the UK.  We have signed a 50 year agreement with France to build and operate strategic facilities - project Teutates.  I look forward to enhancing both those relationships in the coming years.

Nuclear Threshold
The gap between our understanding of nuclear and non-nuclear deterrence has been increasing for many years.  We need to think about this carefully as, perversely, this could lead to the use of nuclear weapons being more likely, especially as our adversaries continue to see a continuum between conventional and nuclear.  At the very least, we need to understand what the conditions for crossing the threshold are…..so that we understand what messages are being communicated.

We should also guard against thinking that there is a linear relationship between employing conventional and nuclear capabilities.

There must continue to be a gap between high-end conventional capabilities and nuclear capabilities in order to ensure that all parties in a conflict are aware of the implications of crossing the threshold into nuclear use. But that gap must not be so large as either to lower the threshold whereby nuclear use may be currently contemplated or question the credibility of nuclear deterrence. This is an important aspect that NATO's strategic communications needs to address with Russia.

We must continually assess our deterrence criteria – and we must always ask ourselves have we got it right? Do our adversaries believe that we have the resolve to act? As I mentioned earlier, the strategic landscape continues to evolve.

Russia is, among other things ……modernising its nuclear forces, is actively commissioning a new class of SSBN submarines, is preparing to deploy a variety of land-based ICBM classes and is planning to reintroduce rail-based intercontinental missiles.  We are also seeing consistently worrying Russian nuclear rhetoric and bluster and increasing Russian out of area operations, and other more significant regional actions all of which are not helpful to achieving good international relations. 

Meanwhile, North Korea has carried out three nuclear tests, has threatened a fourth test, and has carried out ballistic missile tests in defiance of the international community.

Regarding Iran, we, of course, welcome the recent deal, but remain realistic about its prospects …it is not a panacea to all of the region’s issues….. we have zero tolerance towards proliferation…and, of course, we will continue to work closely with our international partners to encourage Iran to play a transparent and constructive role in regional affairs…particularly in the struggle against violent Islamist extremism.

It is, nonetheless, a step in the right direction toward achieving the goal of a Middle East Zone free of weapons of mass destruction.

Cyber & Space Deterrence
Turning to Space & Cyber issues, firstly we do not view these as distinct domains:

    1. Cyber and Space are integral to modern military capabilities and operations.
    2. They are also integral to our modern globalised interconnected way of life.
    3. We face serious threats from both these areas and their effects could be rapid, severe and cascade widely.
    4. Overall, we cannot afford to regard these as distinct domains.

What we need to do, is adopt a full-spectrum deterrence approach:

    1. Deterrence theory is broadly about “imposing costs” and “denying benefits”.
    2. So we need to think about how we can use the various means at our disposal to change the adversary calculation.
    3. In this context, along with other responsible nations we are considering the application of deterrence principles in the evolving areas of Space and Cyber.

We also need to consider what I would call the current western dependency on its interdependencies:

    1. For example, our technological dependencies might look to some like an asymmetric vulnerability.
    2. If an adversary can hope to use cyberspace and space to undermine our capabilities, they may seek to defeat us using non-nuclear and non-kinetic means.
    3. Denying that aim is potentially a form of deterrence.

Overall, our ability to influence is becoming harder; and the pace of modern full spectrum operations is likely to be much higher. 

    1. Our nuclear deterrence posture has been developed over decades; it will similarly take time to refine our approach to deterrence and the capabilities we need in newer domains.
    2. Specific challenges: both cyber and space are more “congested” environments; it can be hard to understand and importantly attribute activity.
    3. Technology (and therefore the nature of the threat) is changing rapidly and incidents can unfold at great speed (but architectures and systems can still take a long time to develop).
    4. What is clear is that we will need to work closer with our Allies and partners on these issues.

Concluding Remarks
In closing, I would like to highlight just a few things………

The first is to reaffirm the vital importance of events like this symposium, which gives us the ability to exchange and debate views around the critical subject of Deterrence and Assurance. This is a pressing issue given that the global order and security context is becoming more complex, with the scope and significance of modern security threats straining our current doctrine and potentially our will as a community to take action.

My second point is that our politicians and policy makers must operate within balanced budgets…..this means that we have to base our defence investments and security decisions on robust evidence and clear principles and objectives. This now has to recognise the broader, full spectrum nature of the modern security paradigm that today and long into the foreseeable future will have to address the existential threats that persist and are growing, plus a range of more nuanced non-nuclear and non-kinetic scenarios.

My third point draws on something General Dempsey has highlighted on many occasions……. in that the global community is seeing increasingly improved conditions for growing numbers of people, worldwide. The progress made by mankind, over only relatively recent times, relies on the continued peace, security and economic prosperity of every nation and we must therefore continue to take collective responsibility in order to maintain and protect this rule based global order if we are to be able to enjoy the freedoms and benefits that we have become accustomed to and risk taking for granted.

My final, and probably the most important point, is that we need to remember and recognise the men and women in our respective militaries and their civilian counterparts, both in government and industry, that work so diligently and hard to protect all our nations.

There are some who believe that we place our nuclear deterrent in a glass box, only to be broken in case of emergency.  I fundamentally disagree and believe that nuclear weapons have prevented war between the major powers for over 70 years and they continue to feature every day in the calculus and decisions reached by our adversaries. 

It is due to the dedication and total professionalism of our people who deliver this vital capability, that we are able to stay safe each and every day and I commend them all for their service.

Thank you for your time.