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Concept of Integrated Deterrence Will Be Key to National Defense Strategy, DOD Official Says

While the National Defense Strategy won't be released until next year, it is no secret that the concept of integrated deterrence will play a large part in the document.

Air Force and Polish firefighters examine the underside of an F-15.
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Air Force Staff Sgt. Jacob Heaton provides training to the Łask, Poland Air Base fire department about danger zones and how to approach an F-15E Strike Eagle while it is running in April. The U.S. and Polish military forces work together to build interoperability across all domains.
Photo By: Air Force Senior Airman Madeline Herzog
VIRIN: 210420-F-ZB805-0760


Colin Kahl, the undersecretary of defense for policy, fleshed out the concept during the Defense One Outlook 2022 summit. He said the concept "will inform almost everything that we do."

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III has spoken about the concept since taking office last January. He calls it a new way of approaching deterrence.

Kahl discussed both sides of the concept: integration and deterrence. "In terms of integrated … we mean, integrated across domains, so conventional, nuclear, cyber, space, informational," he said. "[It is also] integrated across theaters of competition and potential conflict [and] integrated across the spectrum of conflict from high intensity warfare to the gray zone."

The concept in this case also means integration of all instruments of national power. Most importantly it means being "integrated across our allies and partners, which are the real asymmetric advantage that the United States has over any other competitor or potential adversary," Kahl said. 

A soldier maintains watch in a jungle.
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Army Capt. Will Nogueras, a Florida National Guard team leader, maintains surveillance during Tradewinds 2021, Camp Seweyo, Co-operative Republic of Guyana in June. Tradewinds 2021 is a U.S. Southern Command sponsored Caribbean security-focused exercise in the ground, air, sea and cyber domains, working with partner nations to conduct joint, combined and interagency training focused on increasing regional cooperation and stability.
Photo By: Army Spc. N.W. Huertas
VIRIN: 210622-Z-RH401-0244


While deterrence has been the heart of U.S. defense policy since the Cold War, it has a different meaning as part of integrated deterrence, he said. "We need to think about deterrence differently given the existing security environment, and the potential scenarios for conflict that we're trying to deter," Kahl said. "We at [the] Department of Defense need to have the capabilities and the concepts to deny the type of rapid fait accompli scenarios that we know potential adversaries are contemplating, so they can't make a rapid lunge at our partners and allies before they believe the United States can show up."

The United States must be able to deny those scenarios. 

"We also have to make ourselves more resilient because frankly, we know that our adversaries have developed theories of victory, cognizant that they wouldn't do particularly well in a protracted conflict with the United States," he said. "So they don't intend to fight a protracted conflict. Instead, they intend to blind us and deafen us and slow us down."

Information operations against the United States may cause the United States to turn inward focused on domestic matters, he said. "We have to make our systems and our networks and our critical infrastructure much more resilient, so that they can ride out early attacks on those networks that are aimed to prevent us from moving forward to defend our allies," he said. "Resilience will be a major theme."

Ukrainian president and senior naval officers in a line in front of a ship.
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers remarks during the Ukrainian Navy day part of Exercise Sea Breeze 2021, July 4, 2021. Exercise Sea Breeze is a multinational maritime exercise co-hosted by U.S. Sixth Fleet and the Ukrainian Navy in the Black Sea since 1997. Sea Breeze 2021 is designed to enhance interoperability of participating nations and strengthen maritime security and peace within the region.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Trey Fowler
VIRIN: 210704-N-DO281-1536


The nuclear deterrent remains important. "The secretary has spoken about the need to continue modernizing the nuclear triad to make sure that we have a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent as the ultimate backstop," Kahl said. "But we'll also develop additional capabilities."

Finally, the whole alliance system is crucial to integrated deterrence. "We have to work alongside our allies and partners so that our adversaries know that they're not just taking on the United States, they're taking on a coalition of countries who are committed to upholding a rules-based international order," Kahl said.

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