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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

American Forces Press Service

Stratcom Chief Outlines Deterrence Challenges

By Terri Moon Cronk
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, July 11, 2014 – Strategic deterrence in the 21st century is complicated, challenging and vastly different from that of the Cold War, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command said yesterday.

Navy Adm. Cecil D. Haney said extremist organizations, significant regional unrest, protracted conflicts, budgetary stresses and competition for natural resources could have strategic implications for the United States and the world.

"While terrorism remains the most direct threat to our nation -- particularly weapons of mass destruction -- we are also dealing in advances in state and nonstate military capabilities across air, sea, land and space domains, and cyber security," the admiral told an audience at the State Department's George Marshall Conference Center.

Some nations continue to invest in long-term modernization with strategic capabilities, he added, some are replacing their older systems, while others are modernizing based on their perceived need in the geopolitical situation. He cited India, Pakistan, Russia, Iran, North Korea and China as examples of nations developing modern military capabilities.

When Russia recently invaded Ukraine and overtook Crimea, Haney said, Russian troops also exercised "their strategic ability, not just their conventional capabilities." On May 8, he said, "Russia conducted a major strategic force exercise involving significant nuclear forces and associated command control six months from the last one. And I don't mean just moving it around. I mean demonstrating firing each part of their associated arsenal."

While adversarial threats grow against the United States, the nation still retains the strategic advantage, he said, although potential adversaries are moving quickly in their development of destructive capabilities.

"While we have improved and increased our cyberspace capabilities, the worldwide threat is growing in sophistication in a number of state and nonstate actors," he said. "As we monitor developments, we must not lose sight of nation states and non-nation-state actors [that] continue to have goals of obtaining proliferation," Haney said. "As long as these threats remain, so too does the value of our strategic capabilities to deter these threats."

The Stratcom commander emphasized the importance of the U.S. nuclear triad.

"Each element of the nuclear triad has unique and complementary attributes in strategic deterrence," Haney said. "As we look at ballistic missiles and air response capabilities to the survivable leg of our submarine capability to the heavy bombers, the real key is integration of all three that make a difference in the deterrence equation for any country that would want to take us on. And it works."

Haney pointed out that while the United States has sought to have a world free of nuclear weapons, those weapons still have a role in strategic deterrence and in the foundational force, "until we can get rid of them."

"We must continue to lean forward with arms-control agreements while continuing to provide assurance and deterrence," he said. "As a nation, we must create strategies and policies to deal with this diverse, multidisciplinary-problem world we live in, because we have to deliver strategic stability and effective solutions in a conscious manner, given today's fiscal environment."

Haney urged students in the audience to challenge traditional thinking.

"Successful 21st-century strategic deterrence lies in our understanding that this is not about a Cold War approach," he said. "It's about understanding that deterrence is more than nuclear."

And while U.S. nuclear weapons are just as salient today as in the past, Haney said, "it's understanding that what our adversaries are willing to risk requires deep understanding."

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