Stratcom Broadens Dialogue on Changing Nature of Deterrence
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb., April 3, 2013 No one can accuse Air Force Gen. C. Robert Kehler, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, of seeking out “yes men.”
The Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Alabama pulls into Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton, Wash., after returning from a patrol. Recognizing the continuing importance of nuclear deterrence, U.S. Strategic Command is striving to increase dialogue and understanding about other forms of deterrence in light of 21st-century threats. U.S. Navy photo by Chief Petty Officer Ahron Arendes
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
For the past four years, he has hosted an annual symposium near the Stratcom headquarters here to shed new light on the whole concept of deterrence -- and how the command strives to provide it on behalf of the Defense Department.
Getting those far-flung views was relatively easy during the Cold War, when the discourse filled lecture halls and library shelves around the world.
Deterrence was pretty straightforward at that time: attack the United States or its allies, and you risk a devastating counterattack. Recognition by both the United States and the Soviet Union of the consequences -- mutually assured destruction -- is considered a key factor in preventing the Cold War from escalating into an outright conflict.
But while nuclear deterrence remains vital to U.S. security today, Kehler said, it’s not enough to protect the United States against the range of threats it now faces.
Stratcom’s primary mission objective is “to deter strategic attack on the U.S., our allies and partners by making anyone who might contemplate such an attack recognize that they will not achieve their goals and will pay an extraordinary price if they try,” he told Congress earlier this month.
Providing that deterrence is no longer a “one-size-fits-all” proposition, he explained, and has to be tailored to each individual threat and challenge.
“In practice, 21st-century deterrence encompasses a wider range of complementary tools”,” the general said: nuclear, conventional and nonkinetic capabilities; limited missile defenses; and unfettered access and use of space and cyberspace. And reflective of the U.S. emphasis on “whole-of-government” approaches to national security challenges, he said, it also includes “soft power” contributions from across the interagency spectrum.
How to bring this all together is heady stuff, and opinions vary widely in how to provide this 21st-century form of deterrence.
It’s a subject that Kehler and his Stratcom staff focus on every day, working in lock-step with their military and U.S. government partners to maintain strong deterrence that protects the United States and assures its allies and friends, Stratcom officials said. Yet ironically, officials here note a dearth of the kind of discussion that flowed freely when the challenge was so much less daunting.
So Stratcom is actively stirring up debate and soliciting diverse viewpoints as it strives to shape an approach to deterrence for now and into the future, Pat McKenna, Stratcom’s plans evaluation and research division chief, told American Forces Press Service.
The command sponsors an annual symposium that brings together hundreds of experts from the military, government, industry and international realms and academic leaders to delve into the subject. Stratcom also sponsors an annual writing contest to encourage critical thinking among students and professors at senior military colleges, as well as civilian colleges and universities, on the theories of strategic deterrence and how it is applied.
The Gen. Larry D. Welch Writing Award is named to honor the former Strategic Air Command commander who went on to become the Air Force chief of staff and, after retirement, president of the Institute of Defense Analysis.
The goal of these efforts is to stimulate discussion that generates a deeper understanding of the issue, McKenna said.
The upcoming symposium, scheduled for July, will include several keynote speakers and panel discussions that highlight the full spectrum of viewpoints.
“What we strive to do is bring those alternative points of view together in a public forum and invigorate the debate,” McKenna said. “We want this to be a catalyst to push that debate along and get a robust discussion going on so we can examine many of the issues.”
Delving into the issue helps to provide insight into what promotes deterrence and what doesn’t, and how seemingly positive approaches can backfire if not applied correctly, he said. The discussion enlightens leaders at Stratcom and across the Defense Department and U.S. government as they strive to achieve deterrence in a changing geopolitical environment, he added.
“The symposium engenders and reinvigorates the debate so we can understand those issues,” McKenna said. “And understanding the diversity of opinion on the subject is important as not only Stratcom, but the U.S. government as a whole strives to implement policies and procedures to achieve their objectives.”