Stratcom Provides ‘Tailored Deterrence’ Against Threats
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 4, 2013 Ask just about anyone, even across the military, how U.S. Strategic Command supports U.S. national defense, and chances are they’ll tell you it’s the “nuclear command.”
Air Force Gen. C. Robert Kehler, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, explains the need to tailor deterrence to the broad range of threats confronting the United States and its allies and partners during an address to the Air Force Association Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla., Feb. 23, 2012. DOD photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Air Force Gen. C. Robert Kehler, Stratcom commander, finds himself educating people wherever he goes -- public citizens and senior military members alike -- about what’s arguably the least-understood U.S. combatant command.
“Stratcom has been in existence for a long time, and its fundamental responsibility has remained the same through all that time,” Kehler said during an interview with American Forces Press Service. “That fundamental responsibility is to deter our adversaries, to assure our allies and to prepare to execute military options if, in fact, deterrence fails.”
But how the command goes about that mission today is far different from in the past, when its sole responsibility was nuclear deterrence, he explained.
“While my No. 1 priority as long as nuclear weapons exist would be to deter a nuclear attack on the United States and our allies with a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent force, there are other things that concern us today as well,” Kehler said.
During testimony before the House and Senate armed services committees last month, Kehler described unprecedented volatility across the globe: actions by violent extremists, increasing cyber activity, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, North Korea’s nuclear activities, the civil war in Syria and the rise in Russian and Chinese military capabilities among them.
All, he said, have the potential to escalate into major security concerns for the United States.
So over the past eight years, the Defense Department has expanded Stratcom’s responsibilities to encompass more mission areas that affect every combatant command.
Stratcom now is also the global synchronizer for ensuring space, cyberspace, missile defense and intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities across the military. Kehler also serves as the Defense Department’s point man for combating weapons of mass destruction -- which, in hands of violent extremists, he said, pose the No. 1 threat to the United States.
“Our fundamental mission has remained the same, but it is about deterring a strategic attack that is broader than a nuclear attack,” Kehler said. “The tools that we would use to do that are broader and more inclusive than ever before in our history.”
Last year, Stratcom implemented its first deterrence campaign plan to better coordinate and align these tools. The goal, Kehler explained, is to ensure they provide the broadest deterrence possible against threats to the United States, its interests and its friends around the world.
He’s quick to point out that “one-size-fits-all deterrence” died out with the Cold War.
“The fact of the matter today is that the Soviet Union is gone,” he said, and the adversaries and potential adversaries the United States faces today have different objectives, different decision-making processes and different capabilities.
“They are not the same, and therefore, you cannot deter them all the same way,” Kehler said.
Deterrence today is a complex blend of activities and capabilities that need to be tailored to each individual threat, he said. It includes activities across the combatant commands and among U.S. allies around the world and across the interagency spectrum, particularly within the State Department.
“All of those things work together today in the deterrence calculus,” he said. “It’s a very complex set of considerations, but it is what we have to do. One size no longer fits all.”
Kehler disagrees with those who argue that nothing can deter some of adversaries who threaten the United States today, particularly violent extremists. “I certainly don’t think you deter a violent extremist with a Minuteman missile out of Montana,” he said. “But I happen to come down on the side of the view that everyone is deterrable. The challenge is figuring out how.”
So more than ever before, Stratcom relies on the intelligence community to provide better understanding of potential adversaries, as well as ways to influence their actions. “This gets back to some fundamental issues for us about being able to understand our adversaries better and understand our mission context better,” Kehler said.
“It is about being able to take this multitude of tools that Stratcom has been given, because that is why we were given them: to try to come up with these tailored ways of applying these tools so we achieve the deterrence benefit.”