Stratcom Chief Discusses U.S. Nuclear Deterrent Force
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 30, 2012 Air Force Gen. Robert Kehler, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, described the shaping of the nation’s nuclear strategic force in the current global environment during remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations here today.
“Really, of all the important mission responsibilities assigned to the United States Strategic Command by the president, none is more important than our responsibility to deter a strategic attack on the United States and our allies and partners,” Kehler said.
Deterrence and assurance “have been part of the national lexicon for well over half a century, and for many of those decades, strategic deterrence focused solely on leveraging U.S. nuclear capabilities to deter a massive nuclear or conventional attack on the U.S. or our allies,” he said.
Kehler noted the era of “one size fits all” deterrence passed with the end of the Cold War. In today’s world, some regimes, such as those in North Korea and Iran, as well as terrorist groups are said to be seeking to acquire nuclear arms and possibly other weapons of mass destruction.
“Strategic deterrence and assurance remain relevant concepts today, but we are shaping those concepts toward a broader array of individual actors, each with their own unique context,” the general explained. What Kehler called tailored deterrence requires a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of today’s multi-faceted threats and the decision-making processes of threatening regimes and groups.
“To be sure, deterrence is still fundamentally about influencing an actor’s decisions,” Kehler said. “It is about a solid policy foundation, it is about credible capabilities, it is about what the U.S. and our allies, as a whole, can bring to bear in both a military and non-military sense."
Kehler pointed out deterrence planning and forces must fit today’s unique global security environment, which he described as an enormously complex and uncertain world that includes nuclear weapons and nuclear armed states “where several of those nuclear armed states are modernizing both their arsenals and their delivery systems,” he added. “The threat of proliferation of nuclear weapons and delivery systems, the growing potential for disruption or attack through cyberspace and the danger of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of violent extremists.”
Kehler said this is the context for today’s nuclear deterrence and pointed to the Nuclear Posture Review which recognized the need to maintain a capable force and modern infrastructure for as long as nuclear weapons exist.
The general quoted the remarks of former Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates: “‘As long as nuclear weapons exist, the United States must maintain a safe, secure and effective nuclear arsenal to maintain strategic stability with other major nuclear powers, deter potential adversaries, and reassure our allies and partners of our security commitments to them.’” The new U.S. defense strategy released in January contains similar language, Kehler said, but noted “This is not your father’s nuclear-deterrent force.”
The United States has witnessed an impressive 67-year period without nuclear use, Kehler said, noting the nation has regularly adjusted its nuclear capabilities to match U.S. national security needs in the global environment. Some of these adjustments made over the years, he said, include reduction of the number of ballistic missile submarines, conversion of four Ohio-class submarines to carry conventional cruise missiles, and affirmation of the B-1 bomber’s non-nuclear role, among other changes.
“In total, our [nuclear weapons] stockpile is down 70 percent from the day the Berlin Wall fell. These are significant changes. At each decision point along the way, the U.S. carefully accounted for potential impacts on deterrent capability and strategic stability,” he added.
Kehler said the end result is a smaller force still capable of deterring adversaries and assuring allies of U.S. capability to maintain strategic stability in a future crisis. He also noted President Barack Obama’s Fiscal Year  Budget “continues to sustain the essential investment to keep the nuclear deterrent force able and ready to do its job.”