LA VISTA (NEBRASKA EXAMINER) — Americans who view the world through a post-Cold War lens where the United States stands alone as the world’s great power are accepting a new reality: one with more players.
The assertiveness of a rising China and the aggression of a declining Russia complicate U.S.-led efforts to deter bad actors, military and academic panelists said Wednesday.
They addressed remarks to 600 people from 15 countries who gathered in Sarpy County for U.S. Strategic Command’s 2022 Deterrence Symposium on how to prevent and limit global conflicts. Those attending included military members, defense contractors, academics and government officials.
One recurring theme was the idea that the Department of Defense needs to do more to let the American public know that great power competition is back, 30 years after the fall of the Soviet Union.
StratCom’s commander, Adm. Charles Richard, acknowledged the challenge of recalibrating U.S. national security thinking toward deterring two powers, along with smaller actors.
“We have never had to before deter two peer nuclear-capable opponents at the same time who have to be deterred differently, and this just works differently,” Richard said. “I do know this: Business as usual is not going to work anymore.”
Many speakers, including Retired Lt. Gen. Thomas Spoehr of the Heritage Foundation, highlighted the role that investments in nuclear and conventional weapons systems play in deterrence.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine and Chinese interest in Taiwan and the South China Sea loomed over the conference, as did the weight of loose Russian talk of using nuclear weapons.
Richard said StratCom, which is headquartered at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, is “at battle stations,” in part because of Russia’s actions, including “thinly veiled nuclear coercion.” He called those statements “irresponsible” and “unnecessary.”
“What previously in some cases had been thought to be a theoretical or highly improbable event has actually been demonstrated in real life,” Richard said.
Deterrence in a multi-polar world requires coordination, said Melanie Sisson of the Brookings Institution, an academic panelist.
For StratCom, that means making sure U.S. leaders and allies are thinking about the proper “capability, capacity and posture” for deterrence, including the role of nuclear forces.
Richard, in an interview, said adding Sweden and Finland to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization would strengthen NATO’s deterrent capability. The two nations have applied for NATO membership in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“I think that makes NATO stronger,” Richard said.
Richard addressed recent reporting about Chinese-bought farmland near U.S. military bases and Chinese telecommunications equipment on some cell phone towers near American missile silos.
Observers have questioned a Chinese purchase of 300 acres of farmland near Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota. Reuters has reported that Huawei technology was used on cell towers near nuclear missile silos in Nebraska and other states.
Efforts to influence command and control of U.S. nuclear forces are how adversaries act, Richard said, but StratCom and others are working to stay ahead of those efforts.
He credited American intelligence services and others working to protect important military assets from cyberattack for making sure the military understands more about threats they face.
“The nuclear command and control system is not static, and it is operated like a weapons system,” Richard said. “We’re quite good at it, and it changes over time.”
Richard said continued spending on modernizing U.S. nuclear forces is vital, because the weapons underpin and backstop “every other thing we do … to defend the nation.”
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