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Hyten Discusses 21st Century Strategic Deterrence

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U.S. Strategic Command priorities center on providing a strategic deterrent, providing a decisive response if deterrence fails, and carrying out missions with a combat-ready force, Stratcom’s commander, Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten, said today.

Hyten said those priorities are his vision as commander of Stratcom, when he addressed the Hudson Institute, here. The Hudson is a think tank and research center dedicated to nonpartisan analysis of U.S. and international economic, security, and political issues.

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Those priorities apply to each of Stratcom’s missions: to provide tailored nuclear space, cyber, mobile strikes, missile defense, electronic warfare and intelligence capabilities for the nation and U.S. allies, he said.

Nuclear Deterrence

The purpose of U.S. nuclear deterrence is to prevent nuclear attack on the United States, and it works, Hyten said, adding, “every day we are preventing nuclear attack on the United States.”  

Have we convinced our adversaries across the world to give up nuclear weapons? Hyten asked, adding, “the answer is no.”

The United States has not come under strategic attack in any of the areas that are under his command, which is the whole point of having deterrent capability, Hyten said.

He pointed out Defense Secretary Jim Mattis this morning said, “The strategic deterrent mission is the most important mission in the Department of Defense because we have to prevent fighting a war that we know we can't win. So, we have to prevent fighting.”

Combat Ready

“[To] do that we have to be powerful and ready,” the general said. “And that means we have to have a combat-ready force.”

And a combat ready force does not just apply to the nuclear mission, he noted.

“The nuclear piece is quite easy to understand,” Hyten said. “If the United States is attacked, we will respond.”

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Hyten said as war happens, it might extend into space. “Some adversary may push it there, he said.

“And so the response and how it's different than the nuclear side is the response in the recommendation I give the president of the United States. If we get attacked in space I may not recommend a response in space,” he said.

“Because that may not be in our best interests,” Hyten explained. “I will recommend a strategic response of some kind. But [it] may be conventional and may be in cyber, and it could be any number of things because it's just war and war requires a response to an adversary and if an adversary is extending something in a space, then we have to figure out how to defeat that adversary -- not to defeat cyber.”

Engage the Public

Hyten encouraged the audience at Hudson Institute to start engaging in the public debate, not just about nuclear deterrence, and not just about missile defense.

“That's where it starts,” he said, “but this [is the] broader issue of what is deterrence in the 21st century, how do we deter our adversaries and how do we deter strategic attack, which is broader than just the nuclear capability.”

(Follow Terri Moon Cronk on Twitter: @MoonCronkDoD)

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