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Reshaping the Heart of the Nation's Deterrence Paradigm

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 2, 2003 – During the Cold War, deterrence was at the heart of American strategy. The nuclear weapon triad of land-based missiles, bombers and submarine-launched missiles deterred the Soviet Union from attacking the United States and its allies.

In 2003, the Soviet Union is gone, Warsaw Pact nations are joining NATO, and the greatest threats facing the United States and its allies come from asymmetric sources.

The strategic environment of the 21st century is more complicated than it was during the superpower confrontation. Weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them are proliferating. Terrorist groups are cozying up with rogue nations.

Is there a place for the policy of deterrence in the 21st century?

Yes, said Adm. James O. Ellis Jr., commander of U.S. Strategic Command. Ellis spoke at the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis and U.S. Navy-sponsored Fletcher Conference here today.

Ellis said that all legs of the traditional nuclear triad remain relevant today, but the missions, duties and tools have expanded. The definition of deterrence is still the prevention of aggression threatening the United States, its allies and friends and vital interests. "Strategic deterrence causes adversaries not to take radical courses of action by maintaining a decisive influence over their decision-making," he said.

A new, broader range of capabilities is needed if the military is to provide leaders with basic deterrence, Ellis said. These include worldwide situational awareness and the ability to quickly strike any adversary anywhere on the planet.

Ellis said the words of Abraham Lincoln in his 1862 State of the Union address are particularly apt today. "The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. As our case is new, so must we think anew and act anew," he quoted from Lincoln's address.

The STRATCOM commander does not subscribe to the idea that the new threats of terrorists and rogue states cannot be deterred. "They can be, and general concepts of deterrence still apply," he said. "It is our ability to define what new adversaries value, or more importantly, what outcome they wish to avoid at all costs that needs attention."

He said the United States must arm itself with a new set of tools more suited to deterrence in the 21st century security environment. In January, President Bush assigned four new missions to Strategic Command, headquartered at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.: They are global strike; integrating DoD information operations; global missile defense; and global command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

"Each of our missions have deterrent dimensions and place the U.S. Strategic Command side by side supporting our regional combatant commanders," Ellis said. "We are beginning to reshape the heart of our nation's deterrence paradigm. We are studying ways to deny terrorists and rogue states the benefits they seek -- to see the issues in their terms be they societal, religious, cultural or personal. If they are convinced we can deny those benefits to them, we may be effective in deterring future threatening acts."

He said traditional deterrence and these new missions may work on rogue states "especially those who retain some rational beliefs."

Ellis sees great promise in information operations. He said the concept includes everything from electronic warfare and military deception to psychological operations and operation security. It is not just computer network attack and computer network defense.

The global missile defense system is designed to convince an adversary it is futile to launch a limited missile attack on the United States, its allies or its forces stationed around the world. The first operational system will be on line in 2004, Ellis said. The command will continue to make improvements on the concept in the years ahead.

"Deterrence only has credibility to the extent that we back it up with capability and determination," Ellis said. "Today, the United States Strategic Command continues to be uniquely positioned to support deterrence through its cohesive package of both new and legacy missions."

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