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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

American Forces Press Service

STRATCOM Commander: Safe, Reliable Deterrence Critical to Defense

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 21, 2007 – As the United States works to reduce its nuclear weapons stockpile, it must ensure it has enough safe, reliable weapons -- both nuclear and conventional -- to deter against the threats it faces, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command told the House Armed Services Committee today.

Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright joined the commanders of U.S. Northern Command, U.S. Transportation Command and U.S. Southern Command during a hearing on the fiscal 2008 National Defense Authorization Budget request.

The threats facing the United States -- whether from conventional nation-states, rogue states, extremists, or even cyber-terrorists -- are broader than ever before, he noted. That’s driven the entire military, including STRATCOM, in an effort to “define a deterrent strategy for the 21st century and the capabilities necessary to lend credibility to that deterrent,” he said.

Cartwright reported solid strides toward meeting objectives of the Moscow Treaty, which sets limits in both the U.S. and Russian active nuclear stockpiles. Both counties are ahead of the schedule leading to 2012 in drawing down their stocks, he said.

The U.S. goal, Cartwright said, is to have the “lowest number of nuclear weapons for national security.”

But while moving forward to carry out mandates of the Moscow Treaty, “we need to increase our other capabilities as alternatives and replacements for the drawdown of the nuclear weapons that we have in our stockpile,” Cartwright told the committee.

The current stockpile is being refurbished “to ensure the weapons that we have are the safest they can be for the people who use them and handle them, that they are as secure as modern technology will allow us to make them, and that they are reliable,” he said.

He cited progress under way in developing a reliable replacement warhead to sustain the country’s nuclear weapons stockpile for the long term without underground nuclear testing. Cartwright has described that system, now entering its second study phase, as a key component in transforming the aging Cold War nuclear weapons stockpile.

A key feature, he said, is that the reliable replacement warhead requires no new delivery vehicle.

“This is taking my 1966 Mustang and making sure that it has got four-wheel disc brakes, it’s got seat belts, it’s got all of the things that it ought to have to be responsible, to maintain control over and be able to use and develop these weapons in a safe, secure way,” he explained. “That is our intention with the reliable replacement warhead.”

Once fielded, the system will ensure the United States can respond to both technological and political surprise while reducing its current stockpile of nuclear warheads, Cartwright said.

The general cited a gap in existing defense capabilities that weigh heavily on a nuclear response.

“Today, if something happens quickly and we need to respond quickly, the only choice we have in a global capability is a nuclear weapon,” he said. “That is unacceptable for the range of threats we are going to face in the future. We need a conventional capability (more appropriate to other scenarios).”

Another factor in a credible defense is a balanced offense-defense capability, he said. “Offense is not always the right answer, and it is usually where you don’t want to end up,” Cartwright said. “What we want to be able to do is to drive this to a nonconfrontational issue.”

A defensive capability gives the United States the ability to defuse threats before they escalate, he said.

Cartwright pointed to proliferation of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, noting that the country must be able to discourage adversaries from using them. “How do you make the governments who have them think twice about using them … and about the effect they are doing to have?” he said.

Similarly, the United States must be ready to deal with the proliferation of cruise missiles, particularly in light of their increased sophistication. Cartwright said STRATCOM is convinced the best defense isn’t a system dedicated specifically to cruise missiles.

“You want to leverage the lessons that we’ve learned and the capabilities in command and control and sensor management that we’ve learned in ballistic missiles and apply that to cruise missiles rather than building a separate system,” he said. “And that is the path that we are on.”

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