As Georgetown readies for the influx of prospective freshmen this weekend, another individual is conducting a college tour of his own — Admiral Cecil Haney, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command.
USSTRATCOM, one of the nine unified combatant commands under the Department of Defense, is responsible for the United States’ strategic capability through facets such as cyberspace operations, joint electronic warfare, and intelligence and reconnaissance. The four-star admiral is also the shepherd of the country’s nuclear deterrence force.
Keir Lieber, a professor in the government department and School of Foreign Service whose work focuses on nuclear weapons and strategy, met Haney at a conference in Omaha, Neb., where the latter expressed his interest in visiting college campuses. Haney’s visit to Georgetown follows on the heels of trips to Stanford University and the University of Nebraska Omaha. He delivered a lecture on 21st-century deterrence to Professor Matthew Kroenig’s introduction to international relations class Thursday.
He spoke with The Hoya about his outreach initiative, the state of the United States’ nuclear arsenal and the impact of current events.
In your lecture, you outlined an interest in visiting colleges and connecting with students. What sparked this interest?
The interest I had actually stimulated some thinking of how our country at large is not looking at thinking about, on the world stage, this coalition of events and the various threats we have. A lot of concern over lots of articles in various publications that sort of have these great theories of nuclear weapons that we have in our arsenal today, these cold war relics, without a balanced approach.
That we have to strive for a world free of nuclear weapons is a good thing that I support, but we have to do it in a balanced approach or we’ll lose strategic stability. Seeing so many unbalanced products out there really caught my attention to stimulate more discussions. There is no more fertile ground than college campuses. Then I wanted to be able to not just have any college campus but be able to have some of these universities like Georgetown that have in-depth faculty and students that are very interested in international affairs, international relationships, balance of power and those kinds of things.
Is this focus on a Generation Z deliberate or formalized initiative, or is it just out of personal interest?
It was only something to connect to the young folks in the audience. In some regards, I’m not very big at stereotyping any group but to use that to look at the dimension between those giants like Kissinger, et cetera, and the giants we need to have from this generation going forward.
Could you outline the vital importance of nuclear weapons today?
Nuclear weapons today provide us a nuclear deterrent and assurance capability that is important, given the fact that we have other nations that have nuclear weapons. Also from the assurance side, providing that nuclear umbrella we have agreed to with other nations so that we can have less nations deciding their own nuclear capability.
And aside from this deterrence and assurance, can nuclear weapons play additional roles on the world stage to elicit different things?
I would say that nuclear weapons are first and foremost about the business of strategic deterrence. It’s about maintaining strategic stability and not just with nuclear weapons by themselves, but with strategic capabilities. As I mentioned, space and cyberspace have a role to play in this regard. But it’s part of whole government strategic deterrent and assurance activities that by themselves require that whole government kind of approach in order to be successful.
What would you identify as threats where deterrents might fail?
It’s the unthinkable, but we would not want deterrence to fail first and foremost. If deterrence fails, we would want the conflict terminated as early as possible and in our favor. So consequently, the business of having that capability to go about deterrence first is also to remind any adversary that would want to escalate their way through a conflict in the nuclear kind of extreme circumstances that they won’t get the benefits they aim to achieve. That restraint is a much better option.
What is the most likely scenario in which the United States would use a nuclear weapon?
First and foremost, the actual order to use a nuclear weapon in air is one that can only come from the president of the United States. I’m very careful not to hypothesize how his decision calculus would work in those cases. I would say it would be a waiting decision first and foremost, as it was when we look back in our history of the utilization of the atomic bomb in World War II. I hope we don’t have those kinds of circumstances in the future if we use our deterrence and assurance mission correctly.
What constitutes your biggest priority on a macro scale and what is your day-to-day focus?
Well, day-to-day and macro is to provide deterrence and to deter strategic attacks against the United States of America or its allies and provide the president options if deterrence fails. Clearly we don’t have that latter on a day-to-day basis but maintaining the readiness of the strategic forces, whether they’re in the nuclear part of my business line, the space or cyberspace part, missile defense et cetera and those mission areas to ensure the readiness is there in order to support our overall joint military operations.
Do you find yourself on a day-to-day basis focusing more on cyberspace, electronic warfare, or another priority?
On a day-to-day basis for example, I start my morning [at 7 a.m.] in the morning operations and intelligence brief that covers the world, in particularly strategic activities in the world and all of my mission areas that are relevant. It also covers the readiness of my operational forces and capability in terms of things. And then of course you have immediate priorities but those may be associated with some exercise that I may be working to do with my associative forces and capabilities or support that I provide to the other combat and commands.
How would you describe the attention given to the state of the nuclear arsenal programs since the end of the Cold War?
I would say one, here in 2014, we had several things occur. One that was a very good one was a real deep look at the nuclear deterrent enterprise, and that’s all the various things that support this particular mission through service capabilities associated all the way down to the equip part that supports our nuclear and strategic missions.
With that, in our budget to reprocess, there was a recognition that things had to be supported in order to have a safe and effective capability well into the future. We had those associated deliberations and the associated support in recognition that this is an important mission for our country, for homeland security et cetera.
In talking about the modernization of the arsenal, what would you describe is a necessary scope for modernization, and to what extent should the United States devote funding to just pure maintenance?
First, for my organization, as I indicated during the discussion, we have been operating a lot of our capability well beyond its design life when it was first created. It’s a good thing in terms of the American ingenuity, to know what went into those systems and our ability to also improve the longevity of some of those systems — the various platforms or the submarines aircraft and the intercontinental ballistic missile.
We have been able to do life extension programs and have initiated some on our warheads as well as the business of ensuring we have surveillance programs. They are also in the process of making sure this business works — that it is safe, secure and effective. But, like most things, they eventually time out and we have to replace the stuff before it times out. That’s why part of the modernization is in one case, the survival leg of our deterrent capability of submarines. We have to start the work that replaces those submarines so as these we have today decommission, we have a replacement form so we continue to have that survival leg. That’s just one of the modernizations examples.
How would you balance modernization and maintenance?
Well, the balance here is you have to sustain the capability that you have but you can’t just run it to death, you can’t fly airplanes and just continue to fly them, you have to take and run them through a maintenance period in order for them to continue to last the lifespan you desire as best you can, before they will still eventually time out. The modernization period is important because they either provide you better capability or give you a renewed insurance policy if you will that will last you many more decades to come beyond where this existing capability will time out. So both are important because if you don’t sustain what you have to get to the point where the new modernized equipment can come online without having a gap. A gap in this kind of capability will have a major impact to strategic stability.
In a 2009 speech in Prague, President Barack Obama stated a commitment to disarmament. How does this commitment affect the also-stated commitment to deterrence and modernization?
In 2009, when President Obama gave the Prague speech, he stated clearly that the goal was to have the world free of nuclear weapons. He also articulated that the likelihood of it occurring in his lifetime was not very high at all and that as long as the world was not free of nuclear weapons, the United States of America would have a safe, secure and effective nuclear arsenal. That latter piece is often not included in the first piece and it’s important because it’s not that long of a paragraph that that’s part of the whole president’s statement instead of cookie-cutter-ing it up in bite-size chunks.
What steps, considering the commitment to disarmament in some form was articulated, are being taken to eventually reach that?
Well, when you look at, and I don’t know if you saw the one slide I had in there that showed the number of nuclear warheads we had in our stockpile over time, and we had over 30,000 back in the late sixties, and today when you see how we have reduced that in every area, whether it’s the number of warheads, number of submarines, number of bombers, number of intercontinental ballistic missiles, we have decreased the numbers. In fact, we’re working diligently, and we’ll get there for the new start treaty limits, which were required to be there by 2018. The piece I emphasize is that we have continually over time done reductions, but part of this requires arms control agreements that are verifiable, that are not unilateral so that we can maintain strategic stability as we come down in numbers.
How would you describe Russia’s compliance with New START and how does this affect the United States?
Russia has completely complied with the treaty. This treaty allows us to do a number of inspections on them per year and inspections on our capability per year and they go on throughout the year and have not been impeded whatsoever on either side so far. They’re complying [with] the New START Treaty. It’s the [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces] treaty that they have violated and we are hoping that they will come back on board in compliance with the INF and treaty.
How does this violation of the INF treaty affect the U.S.’s plan and response?
Well, as in any overall negotiation, number one to identify the problem and number two continue discussions with Russia over getting them back on board associated with treaty compliance. While at the same time ensuring that the rest of the world understands where they are, Russia as a nation state, and we would hope they would respect the international norms by the treaties they have signed up to be a part of. The real question and I don’t know the answer to it would be, “Why did Russia walk away from this treaty?” and then, “What are they planning on doing with this kind of capability in the future?” Too early to tell at this point.
In terms of the nuclear umbrella, in terms of extending protection to allies, how credible is this umbrella and how sustainable is it today with the shifting alliances with the new treaties and things like that?
The credibility of our strategic deterrence and our insurance umbrella we provide our allies is fully on board and implemented today. We’re not taking any shortcuts in that regard even as we work toward our New START treaty requirements, those we take into account as we move through those particular deliberations.
In terms of the U.S.’s program of deterrence in Asia, as China expands its power protections and its influence in the region, how does that credibility sustain itself?
China as a nation has grown economically and they’re in the process of also modernizing their overall military capability. Our hope in the various mechanisms working with China is that they will rise to the level on the international stage as a responsible actor, and that requires a certain bit of transparency associated with intention as well as capability. As we have been in the western Pacific arena for years, our allies and partners, we have five of our seven treaty allies are in the western Pacific area and as a result we take those commitments seriously, and we will continue to work with our allies and partners as we continue to work with China quite frankly on a policy level.
Should a deal be reached with Iran, what do you think the effectiveness would be and how would it change strategic anticipation?
First and foremost, we have, as a country, worked this P5+1 framework, which as I mentioned during my remarks I’m encouraged by that, to get Iran as a responsible player in the international community. It’s really up to Iran whether or not Iran will work within this framework in order to have an agreement that can be, again, verifiable and they have to be committed to that going forward.
That framework was obviously reached by diplomatic negotiations. Did you have any input?
This framework is led by, as you’ve seen on TV and everything, Secretary [John] Kerry. The secretary of state has been at the forefront associated with this. My job is associated with providing strategic deterrence capabilities and that’s clearly not an area in my lane. Iran is not in the area of responsibility of another geographical combatant command.
Cyberspace, especially today, and you mentioned this extensively, is hailed as both a modern frontier and a realm of modern warfare. How much of a shift have you seen in terms of addressing threats on the cyber front, and how weighted now is your work in cyberspace?
As you many have seen, building our cyberspace capabilities and capacity was my fourth listed priority of the six shown up there today. It’s been there throughout my tenure as the combatant commander of strategic command. It was also listed on my predecessor’s priorities in terms of things. As such we have worked not just in terms of investment in the building of talent, but also in terms of ensuring we’re organized so that we can work efficiently and effectively in defending the Department of Defense information network and to be able to be responsive to the needs of our country. My sub-unified command, U.S. Cyber Command, works across the board with other interagency partners associated with that mission.
Of the priorities of strategic command, what would you identify as posing the greatest challenge to tackle?
In execution of all of them, the biggest challenge right now facing our country is how we deal with the Budget Control Act in terms of how we fund our military apparatus at large given the complex, dynamic and uncertain security environment we’re in right now. Getting that piece figured out, so that we can look to have stable funding and the necessary funding we need so we can continue to work to protect our democratic values and our way of life in this country.
Given your responsibilities, what keeps you up at night?
First and foremost, when you work as hard as I do and you finally get horizontal, you’re asleep at night. But as I mentioned here, it’s multidimensional. First and foremost, that we as a country work to have the ability to be able to have the necessary defense capabilities we need given the threats that are upon us and that we will have a deliberate approach to funding the defense, and I don’t mean just the Department of Defense, but all those other things that ensure our homeland security and ensure the safety of our citizens abroad, and our commitments to our allies and partners is very important as we look at a whole laundry list of complex issues that we’re about.
Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.