How do you deter an adversary armed with nuclear weapons? Gen. John Hyten, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says the United States should rethink the fundamental “structure” of nuclear deterrence that has remained largely unchanged since Herman Kahn and others grappled with with with it in the 1950s and 1960s. But, he added: don’t discard ground-based intercontinental nuclear missiles, as many in the arms control community have been urging the Biden administration to do.
The U.S. needs to re-examine and possibly broaden what it means by “strategic” and conduct a “strategic deterrence review,” Hyten said this week at separate events hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, or CSIS, and the Air Force Association. The term is historically used to refer to nuclear weapons delivered by ICBMs, sub-launched missiles, and nuclear bombers. But deterring such an attack takes more than offensive weapons; it also relies on vulnerable networks of sensors and communications gear. Hyten said any attack on those should be considered “strategic.”
“Any strategic attack — we can look at an opportunity to respond through any number of domains” — meaning land, air, sea, space, and cyberspace — “that we want to. So when you look across the board at strategic deterrence, you have to look across the board in those broad terms,” he said at the Air Force Association event.