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New Threats Demand New Approach to Deterrence, Defense

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 30, 2006 – The old concept of mutually assured destruction -- the idea that a nuclear attack would have such devastating consequences that neither the United States nor its foes would dare launch one -- isn't enough of a deterrent in today's strategic environment, a senior defense official told Congress yesterday.

"The new strategic environment requires new approaches to deterrence and defense," Peter Flory, assistant secretary for international security policy, told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee's strategic forces subcommittee.

The country's strategic deterrence no longer rests simply on its ability to inflict devastating consequences on potential foes. To deter state and non-state actors and deny them their objectives, the country needs "a more discriminate approach and a broader range of options and capabilities, including both offenses and defenses," he said.

In the event those measures fail, then the United States must be able to respond "with overwhelming force," Flory told the senators.

Flory reported progress in DoD's plan for transforming its strategic forces, as outlined in the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review. The review, issued after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, called for reductions in operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads and the a new triad of offensive strike systems.

"This new triad is designed to transform our strategic capabilities to deal with an uncertain future, and it reflects new thinking about the meaning and purpose of U.S. strategic capabilities," Flory said. The triad includes nuclear, non-nuclear and non-kinetic capabilities able to strike precisely at long ranges, active and passive defenses, and an enhanced responsive defense structure.

When fully implemented, the new triad will provide capabilities and options against a wide range of potential adversaries, including those "whose values and calculations of risk gain and loss may be very different from and, in many ways, harder to discern than those of our past adversaries," Flory said.

Marine Gen. James Cartwright, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told the panel the triad will be underpinned by a robust command and control system and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and planning capabilities. These "allow the use of this triad and the integration of its capabilities in a more holistic fashion than maybe has been the case in the past," he said.

But the Nuclear Posture Review was just a starting point in transforming U.S. strategic capabilities and concepts, Flory told the panel. Since its release, elements throughout DoD have worked together to develop detailed implementation plans and operational concepts.

To date, DoD has:

  • Assigned new missions to U.S. Strategic Command: global strike; reintegration of missile defense; space operations; integration of command, control and communications; and the DoD lead in combating weapons of mass destruction;
  • Fielded initial ballistic capabilities at Fort Greeley, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., and more cooperation and participation in the U.S. missile defense program; and
  • Reduced U.S. nuclear forces, with goals of reducing operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 3,800 by 2007 and between 1,700 and 2,200 by 2012.

But more progress needs to be made in fielding prompt conventional capabilities for global strike, transforming a Cold War nuclear arsenal to meet new challenges and revitalizing the U.S. nuclear infrastructure, Flory reported. "We're working hard to make greater progress in these areas, to realize the full potential and the broad mix of capabilities called for in the NPR," he said.

The 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review validated these efforts, Flory told the panel. It noted the need to tailor deterrence for each individual adversary, to speed up the fielding of global strike capabilities, and to make more cuts in the strategic nuclear force structure.

Although the posture review calls for reduced reliance on nuclear weapons, Flory said such weapons will continue to play a critical role in deterring a wide range of threats, including chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons, as well as large-scale aggression.

"A nuclear weapon is still a viable part of our inventory, but ... one size does not fit all," Cartwright said. What's needed, he said, is "a weapon that will give a broader and potentially more appropriate choice" when confronted with unanticipated, fleeting and often elusive targets that don't stay in one place very long.

He urged Congress to approve the fielding of a conventional warhead on the Trident missile, which will provide deterrence previously offered only by nuclear weapons. "This conventional prompt global-strike capability will be a credible choice that will offer the nation a broader set of tools to confront the enemies we face today and in the future," Cartwright said. "And we believe it's essential to offer this choice for the nation."

Contact Author

Biographies:
Peter Flory
Gen. James Cartwright, USMC

Related Sites:
Quadrennial Defense Review



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