ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN: Well, good afternoon. I hope I can live up to that, particularly to Jimmy Durante piece of it. And I want to thank Secretary Shultz, Secretary Perry, Secretary Kissinger, Sen. Nunn, Minister Brown and everyone else who has taken time to really focus on this because I really do believe this is a critical, critical subject and there has not been a lot of focus on this in recent years.
It, from my perspective, was a gap in the – sort of the enthusiasm, the glee, the joy that occurred from the Western perspective when the wall came down. And we have – at least, I believe we find ourselves in a position where we’re struggling with what deterrence is and can be in the 21st century.
So I really do appreciate the opportunity to be here. And I’m also mindful of the depth and the breadth of the experience here in this room. As current and former high-government officials, secretaries of state, defense, senators, you’ve been rightly recognized as the very architects of our national security. So I’m humbled, encouraged and thankful for your continued service and your continued leadership because we need it. And we are all in your debt for the decades of leadership that you have provided.
I think, Mr. Secretary, one of your staffers noted that between you and Secretary Kissinger, Secretary Perry and Sen. Nunn, there are over 200 years that have been spent thinking about the use, deterrent effect and elimination of nuclear weapons. Today I bring a little more than 40 of those years to bear of my own thinking on the topic off and on, though to be honest, some of those years were spent on visiting some of the greatest ports in the world.
So I make no pretense of expertise, but I do have the microphone here for a few minutes. And what was it that Mark Twain used to say? “The less a man knows, the bigger noise he makes and the higher salary he commands.” By that measure, you’re in for a real treat this afternoon.
Truth is, I’ve been giving the topic of deterrence a great deal of attention since assuming this office. And it’s my view that we haven’t paid enough attention to it nor have we adequately resourced it. Deterrence today – and I don’t have to tell you this – is tougher and more complex. More than one nation can now reach out and touch us with nuclear missiles. Americans are potential targets of terrorism wherever they travel. And regional instability in several places around the globe could easily erupt into large-scale conflict.
Yet we’ve done precious little spadework to advance the theory of deterrence. Many, if not most of the individuals who worked deterrence in the ’70’s and ’80’s, the real experts at this discipline – they’re not doing it anymore. And we’ve not worked very hard to try to find their replacements.
Let me tell a brief story from my own experience: I went to a brief college - a war college course, in 1989 and there was an air force lieutenant colonel who'd been in the air force about 20 years. And we had two or three sessions with him on deterrence. I couldn’t imagine someone knew any more about the subject than this individual who had spent his whole career on deterrence and nuclear weapons. I mean, it was one of those things that just made your head hurt sitting in class. We don’t have anybody in our military that does that anymore. And not unlike the nation, and in fact, even the globe, we’ve let those skills atrophy – and, I think, to our detriment.
Back then, in the ’89 timeframe, it was as if we all breathed a collective sigh of relief when the Soviet Union collapsed. We said to ourselves, well, I guess we don’t need to worry about that anymore. We were dead wrong. The demands of deterrence evolve, and as Dr. Oppenheimer once opined, “The atomic bomb made the prospect of future war unendurable. It has led us up those last few steps to the mountain pass; and beyond there is a different country.”
Frankly, the country beyond Oppenheimer’s mountain pass is significantly different than what most of us imagined prior to the end of the Cold War. I won’t bore you with the history, particularly since many of you wrote that history. But suffice it to say that even as often and as quickly as things change, most nuclear arms agreements between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union have two elements in common: the realization that a lack of understanding invites instability through uninformed and unconstrained reposturing of nuclear forces, and a common desire to improve bilateral relations.
For example, perceived missile and bomber gaps led to the SALT talks, which produced the ABM Treaty and an eventual, albeit temporary, freeze on arms production, all within the backdrop of détente. The ebb and flow of politics and history have made such agreements the products of exquisite timing, requiring a so-called “alignment of the stars” to succeed – as some of my Valley friends from down south might say – while other efforts were doomed to fail.
A flood of Soviet troops into Afghanistan dissolved support for SALT II in the United States, whereas the fall of the Berlin Wall and later the Soviet Union may well have hastened the signing and ratification of START.
Today, we lack a similar treaty with Russia. In fact, we haven’t had one for almost a year now. But the arms buildup in the aftermath of SALT II’s disintegration highlights the necessity for some sort of understanding, some sort of verifiable reduction and monitoring regime.
And I don’t want to sound like too much of a caricature of my Southern California upbringing, but I think the stars I mentioned earlier have aligned once again. Consider this: President Obama committed to the pursuit of a nuclear-weapon-free world and an agenda to reset the U.S. and Russian relationship. Russia has a vested interest in combatting the export of terrorism and heroin from Afghanistan, where we all – where we are also engaged in costly but critical combat operations.
The world economic situation and outlook have forced governments worldwide to reexamine expenditures, with a particular emphasis on defense budgets. I think these converging interests laid the groundwork for Presidents Obama and Medvedev to sign the New START treaty this spring. And as I have said – and I know to a certain extent I’m preaching to the choir – its ratification and implementation is the right thing to do because we actually took the time to do it right.
And I want to recognize extraordinary work of so many in that regard, particularly Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller who is here with us today. And I was with Rose a lot of these negotiations and she did – she and her team did extraordinary work.
The New START treaty allows us to retain a strong and flexible American nuclear deterrent. It strengthens openness and transparency in our relationship with Russia. It also demonstrates our national commitment to reducing the worldwide risk of nuclear incidents resulting from the continuing proliferation of these most dangerous weapons.
I am convinced that New START, permitting us as it does 1550 aggregate warheads and the freedom to create our own force posture within that limit, leaves us with more than enough nuclear deterrent capability for the world that we live in. I am convinced that it preserves the strength resident in our nuclear triad and that it retains our flexibility to continue deploying conventional global-strike capabilities.
I’m also convinced that the verification regime is as stringent as it is transparent and borne of more than 15 years of lessons learned under the original START treaty. There will be 18 inspections annually, a mixture of both deployed and nondeployed strategic systems, and we’ll be working much harder to share data concerning the numbers, locations and technical characteristics of systems subject to the treaty.
In other words, we’ll know a lot more about Russian systems and intentions than we do right now. And as I have said many times in many different contexts, in this fast-paced, flatter world of ours, information and the trust it engenders is every bit as much a deterrent as any weapon we deploy. It’s what I don’t know and what I can’t see that makes me nervous.
So I believe, and the rest of the military leadership in this country believes, that this treaty is essential to our future security. I believe it enhances and ensures that security, and I hope the Senate will ratify it quickly.
There is, as you know, a separate but equally distinguished cohort that opposes ratification of the New START treaty. Typically they talk about missile defense, pointing to the preamble language that accepts an unspecified interrelationship between nuclear weapons and defensive systems. They say this gives the Russians what they want: no serious effort by the United States to develop and field such systems.
There is nothing in the treaty that prohibits us from developing any kind of missile defense. And the president has made it clear that we have every intention of furthering those goals. We couldn’t possibly be more open about it or about why we are doing it. To wit, we’ve already shared a great deal of our missile defense plans, policy and programs with Russia and have promised to continue to do so in order to assuage their fears.
Insomuch as the success of deterrence is defined by the absence of attack, I believe Russian adherence, to date, to the tenets of New START indicates acceptance of our current and future missile defense plans, despite public conjecture to the contrary in both the Eastern and Western hemispheres.
So way in the conclusion of this last chapter in the U.S.-Russia nuclear arms saga, we have the opportunity to peer further into Oppenheimer’s country beyond the mountain pass. And we would be well-counseled to review our climb to this point when we consider a rising nuclear power like China. The greatest lesson I think we can apply from our experiences with Russia to China is that in the realm of nuclear arms. Transparency of strategy and clarity of intent – issues which have concerned me about China specifically – go a long way towards promoting stability.
To paraphrase Secretary Kissinger: In deterrence, the assessment of risk becomes less precise in the face of unprecedented destructiveness. In a world with an unfortunately increasing number of nuclear-arm backers, there is precariously little room for error in that assessment. And in light of the U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpile reductions, a lack of understanding about China’s strategy and intent forces new consideration about our security commitments to our allies.
And I would say the same about Iran, although in that case there is very little doubt, indeed, of their intent to further destabilize an entire region and, thus, the entire globe. I’m hopeful that our military relationship with China will grow following Secretary Gates’ visit to Beijing next year. And in doing so, both parties can gain the insight they need to minimize any error in their risk assessments.
And I remain somewhat hopeful that the diplomatic and economic leverage being applied to the Iranian regime will render from it a more responsible and productive approach to their role in the Middle East. The sanctions are beginning to bite, but thus far, I’ve seen no retrenchment from their declared path of nuclear weaponization. This bodes ill for their neighbors, and ultimately, it bodes ill for the Iranian people who must labor and live under the jackboot of a government that has chosen isolation over engagement, conflict over cooperation and extremism over moderation.
Indeed, as much as our experience prepares us to engage other rational state-based competitors, it leaves us desperately wanting a philosophical framework for dealing with terrorists armed with WMD.
The world faces a complex and adaptive network of radical and violent ideologies that binds disparate individuals, movements, organizations and even states. And while not all extremist groups share the same goals or ideology, they do retain sufficient autonomy to make their own strategic choices, which, in my mind, makes them vulnerable to some form of coercion and perhaps even deterrence.
In contrast to most states, violent extremist groups are more prone to expand, regress, splinter or die. Early in their lifecycles, they struggle to survive by recruiting members and acquiring resources. Choices are made by elites who tightly control the use of violence primarily for symbolic or opportunistic reasons.
During growth, where most of these groups currently linger, formal structures form as leaders try to overcome the difference between what they want and individuals actually do. Decision-making pressures grow as leaders seek to accommodate a wider array of stakeholders. We see some of this with the Taliban in Afghanistan who still desire to govern and who continue to reach out to al-Qaida and other like-minded groups for aid and assistance.
This fact coupled with the increasing pressure being applied by NATO and Afghan forces helps explain why some of them – though not the very senior leadership – are seeking preliminary talks with the Karzai administration. They want power and influence. They want legitimacy.
As groups like this or like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza integrate with and become part of government they will start losing nonstate status. The closer aligned the group is to the state or the more governing responsibilities it assumes the more susceptible it is to influence. That’s why I’ve always believed that the ultimate solution in Afghanistan is political not military.
Individual terrorists, however, are often another matter because by the time someone makes the decision to commit an act of terrorism our deterrent has already failed. The weapon of choice be it a suicide vest, an airplane or a weapon of mass destruction is just a matter of availability. To really deter terrorism at that level, the conditions that led a person to that decision point must be addressed.
Attacking the humiliation, the hopelessness, the illiteracy and abject poverty which lie at the core of the attraction to extremist thought will do more to turn the tide against terrorism than anything else. We can continue to hunt and kill their leaders and we will.
But when a person learns to read and he enters a gateway toward independent education and thought he becomes more capable, more employable and enjoys a sense of purpose in his life. He will understand the Quran for what it is and not merely what his mullah says it is – who’s equally uneducated. He can raise his children to a higher standard of living than the one he knew – an aspiration shared by parents around the world. And his wife will help him prevent the despair that might lead a child of theirs into the arms of al-Qaida or the Taliban.
These accomplishments delegitimize the terrorist ideology, replacing the fear they hope to engender with a hope they fear to encounter. Now, that is a deterrence of a truly strategic nature. This isn’t dreamy “pie in the sky” thinking. My friend Greg Mortenson has lived it in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan as he documented in two books. His story about the elders who keep the Taliban from burning down a village merely by standing in front of it lasts only a few pages but it speaks volumes.
To be sure, in places where terrorists have had free reign as they did in Iraq and continue to do so in parts of Afghanistan, today security is necessary but it is not sufficient. Ultimate solutions cut across the realms of diplomacy, intelligence, economics and social progress. No clear-cut line divides these pursuits anymore and none should. They demand a working relationship between host nations, alliances, international organizations and volunteer groups alike.
Indeed, relationships at every level from personal to institutional are critical to success – but particularly in a crisis. Even during the darkest days of the Cold War the U.S. and Soviet Union maintained a diplomatic relationship. And that relationship brought the world back from the brink during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Conversely, today, we have almost no relationship with the world’s most threatening, aspiring nuclear states: Iran and North Korea. That alone is cause for concern.
And that’s why I spend so much time with Gen. Kayani in Pakistan – a country where we abandoned back in 1990. It is why I conferred so regularly with Gen. Makarov during the new START negotiations and why I sat cross legged at shuras with Afghan elders in the Panjshir Valley. Relationships are vital. And while it is good to have friends on Facebook and I’m up to 13,000 now, but there’s no substitute for actually being there.
The value that underpins any relationship – working, adversarial or otherwise – is trust. Our allies and partners can trust we will stand by them at bad times and good. We will pursue treaties that allow us to trust but verify among nuclear-armed nations. And our enemies should trust that they will be held accountable for any attack against our nation, our allies or our interests.
Trust requires credibility and credibility is built on reliability. This applies to our national will as much as our conventional or nuclear forces. The best way to ensure reliability is through the regular exercise of sustainable procurement and life-cycle practices for both hardware and personnel.
Admittedly, this is an area where we’ve been improving and frankly, there was plenty of room for improvement. We cancelled programs that were simply unaffordable such as the F-22. We de-MIRVed all of our Minuteman III missiles, simultaneously making our arsenal more difficult to attack while decreasing the cost and difficulty of maintenance and we assured the long-range help of our nuclear stockpiles by incentivizing careers at the Department of Energy for young engineers. And I might add here that despite claims to the contrary we have remained and will continue to remain committed to nuclear-infrastructure modernization. We must do that.
We have been credible enough up to this point in history but that is no reason to rest on our laurels. And as I said, we need a new model. So as I look to the future I have to do the math. Deterrence is said to be based on a rational calculus of costs and benefits. But I graduated near the bottom of my class at the Naval Academy so I prefer it to see – see it as a multiplication problem as opposed to calculus.
In that equation deterrence is our total national capability, not just our nukes times our national will to engage times a potential adversary’s perception of that capability and will. And if my math is right, and I think it is, there’s every reason to believe the U.S. remains a good friend to our allies and a formidable foe to our enemies and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Ladies and gentlemen, I want to thank you for everything you’ve done, everything that you continue to do in the service of our nation and I’m honored to have had the privilege to speak with you today and I look forward to your questions. Thank you. (Applause.)
Q: Adm. Mullen, I just wanted to express my appreciation to you. People who know the details, he mentioned how much he did engage with his counterpart, Gen. Makarov, and it was an extraordinarily effective intervention – the two of them at various times on negotiations – so a word of appreciation.
And as you look further down the road, you’ve furthered your relationship with Gen. Makarov recently with a number of visits. You met with him but also among you subordinates they’ve been meeting with their Russian counterparts. So how do you see that military-to-military relationship developing form here on out?
ADM. MULLEN: The relationship that I see is, quite frankly, a direct by-product of the relationship between our two presidents and both of them had worked it hard. I’m at a point now where I can routinely call him if I have questions and he me. And in fact, we’ve actually, recently, started a very robust set of staff talks where – so it isn’t any longer just the principles it is now some of my most senior officers who are – who have established a relationship across a whole host of issues.
And I’d go to Sen. Nunn and I think that the criticality of including Russia in the Euro-Atlantic security architecture – and certainly in another way my lane of security is absolutely critical. And I’ve been inside NATO on a lot of this as well, as NATO tries to figure out what its relationship with Russia is going to be. And I think it is something leaders have to continue to focus on for many, many reasons in terms of the overall assurance of security in ways globally and certainly in the areas that we have both focused on for many, many years.
Q: Adm. Mullen, what do you think of the prospects of the ratification of the START Treaty? And what do you think citizens can do?
ADM. MULLEN: What do I think?
Q: What can we do to enhance the prospects?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, as always, I mean, you can certainly recommend yourself to your congressman or your senator on what to do – your senator, very specifically.
It’s difficult to predict, Secretary Perry, how this is going to come out. I know it’s a priority for the president. It’s something that I’ve said time and time again. I’m very comfortable with every aspect of it to include the reductions.
We have plenty of military capabilities, preserves to try at – invests in the nuclear infrastructure which we needed to do. There’s some $80 billion or so over the next decade for there to invest in there. It isn’t all just about investing and upgrading our facilities because we need to invest in our young people. We need to invest in our intellectual capacity and capability in this area, as well, and I think there’s a lot of opportunity there.
And I spoke specifically – the missile defense issue, the global-strike issue. You know, from a military perspective, I’m very comfortable with the treaty and, quite frankly, so are my counterparts.
So I really think it’s critical that we move forward. We are coming up – in December, it will be one year without anywhere to verify no connection to the Russians in these. As was pointed out earlier, the two of us have 90 percent of the weapons in the world.
There’s a responsibility from my perspective tied to that, that we all have. So I’m actually – I mean, I’m hopeful that it will be ratified as soon as possible.
Q: (Off mike.)
ADM. MULLEN: Probably the most significant argument I’ve seen against it that is out there has been the missile-defense piece. I mean, as I participate in this there’s nothing that I see in any way, shape or form which jeopardizes our ability to develop missile-defense capability and we’re doing that. I mean, we haven’t slowed one bit since we’re engaged in this treaty.
The issue of global strike, the issue of verifications – we work very hard on verification. The number of inspections, the exchange of data and it is very robust and it’s robust, in particular, in the world that we’re living in. This is not 1991, this is 2010 and that we would adjust the verification regime, given where we are with the numbers, made all the sense in the world to me. But it gives us – and we’re exchanging data that we’ve never exchanged before.
So I’m very comfortable – I’m very comfortable with that. Those, I think, are the three areas that are of big concern.