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Presented at U.S. Strategic Command’s Strategic Deterrence Symposium - The Nuclear Security Enterprise and Our Strategic Deterrent

July 29, 2009

Good afternoon.  Let me begin by echoing so many other speakers and thanking STRATCOM for organizing this symposium, and all of you for being here.

In his Prague speech, President Obama charted a new course for the United States.  Like President Reagan before him, he spoke of a long-term glide slope to zero nuclear weapons.  But he also made clear that, “[a]s long as these weapons exist, the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary, and guarantee that defense to our allies . . .”

In pursuit of this agenda, there are two efforts currently underway – both of which will have major implications for the U.S. nuclear deterrent and for the infrastructure we employ to support that deterrent.

First, as was discussed this morning, the Nuclear Posture Review will provide the necessary requirements that NNSA will use to shape our nuclear security infrastructure.  Second, of course, is the START Follow-On effort to reduce the size of U.S. nuclear forces in parallel with Russian reductions.

Negotiating a START Follow-On Agreement is an important demonstration of our commitment to fulfilling our obligations under Article VI of the NPT. However, as our stockpile gets smaller, it becomes increasingly important that remaining forces are safe, secure and effective, and, to mitigate future technical and geopolitical risks, that our nuclear infrastructure is responsive.

Over the coming months, President Obama will be advancing his program to bolster U.S. leadership in reducing global nuclear dangers and achieving strengthened nonproliferation.  Because of our core capabilities, NNSA and the Department of Energy will play a critical role in this effort.

Throughout the history of the U.S. nuclear weapons program, the scientists and engineers at our labs and plants have developed and sustained a very unique set of skills and capabilities that service a broad array of nuclear security needs.

However, while maintaining and modernizing our nuclear stockpile forms the core of their work, it is these people and the skills and capabilities they provide that form the foundation for a broader agenda. Specifically:

  • They provide support to international efforts to control warheads and fissile material;
  • They provide support to the intelligence community on foreign nuclear weapons programs;
  • They allow us to work effectively with our international partners on the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism;
  • They enable us to assess potential terrorist nuclear designs to inform our capabilities and to render those warheads safe through disarmament;
  • They support the development of nuclear forensics capabilities to identify the origin of terrorist devices and thereby provide means to deter state transfers to terrorists of warheads and materials;
  • They provide nuclear incident response and consequence management;
  • And, of course they provide R&D to:
  • Detect nuclear warheads/materials being smuggled;
  • Detect proliferant activities; and,
  • Strengthen capabilities for treaty monitoring and warhead transparency.

In a sense, our job is much more than Stockpile Stewardship; it is the stewardship of a science and technology base that can respond to a wide array of national security concerns.

Maintaining our nuclear stockpile forms the core of our work, but that core also provides the foundation for ongoing nonproliferation and threat reduction programs, and this cannot be overlooked.

It is essential that we retain these core capabilities and broaden and deepen their application to a wider range of security issues beyond nuclear weapons.

Moving forward, the nuclear security infrastructure has to reflect that reality.

In so doing, the common linkages connecting U.S. nuclear force posture, nuclear threat reduction activities, nonproliferation, nuclear counterterrorism, and arms control and disarmament will be strengthened, global security will be advanced, and our nation will be stronger and safer.

Let me comment for a moment about our physical infrastructure.  Our plutonium and uranium facilities need to be replaced.  World class scientists and engineers deserve state of the art facilities. 

General Chilton asked this morning, how should the practice of deterrence change in the future? That is a great question.  In keeping with our Yogi Berra theme, he once said: “If you ask me anything I don’t know, I’m not going to answer.”

However, I will say with confidence that the “practice” element of any problem in the future will likely involve the application of advanced technologies.  This is best described in a story.

When we created the ASCI program 15 years ago, it was about the challenge of maintaining our stockpile without testing.  It still is. But we would never have imagined at that time that we would use this capability to help address our satellite problem – and, for that matter, many other pressing national challenges.

My main concern with respect to infrastructure and deterrence – the topic of this panel – is that we must continue to modernize, advance and exercise our technical capabilities. We must replace old, expensive, large Manhattan Project-era facilities.  And, finally, we must recruit and retain the best scientists and engineers in the world.

In other words -- to borrow another Yogi quote --  15 years from now, I want the NNSA Administrator to be able to say “We have deep depth.”

U.S. Strategic Command Deterrence Symposium, Omaha, Neb.