Mullen Urges New Methods of Deterrence

PALO ALTO, Calif., Nov. 12, 2010 — The Unit­ed States needs to devel­op new ways of look­ing at deter­rence for the 21st cen­tu­ry, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today.
Dur­ing a speech at Stan­ford University’s Hoover Insti­tu­tion, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said he wants to take the lessons of the past in nuclear deter­rence and apply them mov­ing for­ward.

The world faces a com­plex and adap­tive net­work of rad­i­cal and vio­lent ide­olo­gies that bind dis­parate indi­vid­u­als, move­ments, orga­ni­za­tions and even states, Mullen said. 

“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,” he said. 

Hamas, Hezbol­lah, the Tal­iban and al-Qai­da can be deterred by the threat of retal­i­a­tion in one form or anoth­er under this idea, Mullen said. But anoth­er form of deter­rence may be far more effec­tive in coun­ter­ing threats, he added. Small extrem­ist groups or indi­vid­u­als can be deterred, he explained, but it will require be a long-term effort And a new form of deterrence. 

“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,” the chair­man said. “We can con­tin­ue to hunt and kill their lead­ers, and we will. But when a per­son learns to read, 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 tells him it is, who is equal­ly une­d­u­cat­ed,” Mullen con­tin­ued. “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.” 

Edu­ca­tion, devel­op­ment and good gov­er­nance dele­git­imize the ter­ror­ists’ ide­ol­o­gy, Mullen said, “replac­ing the fear they hope to engen­der with the hope they fear to encounter.” 

“Now that is a deter­rence of tru­ly strate­gic nature,” the chair­man told the audi­ence – and, he added, it’s possible. 

“To be sure, in places where ter­ror­ists have had free reign as they did in Iraq and con­tin­ue to do in parts of Afghanistan today, secu­ri­ty is nec­es­sary – but it is not suf­fi­cient,” the chair­man said. “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.” 

The world can take lessons from the past, Mullen said, not­ing that he believes the Unit­ed States can apply lessons from expe­ri­ences with Rus­sia to Chi­na, for exam­ple. In the realm of nuclear arms, he said, trans­paren­cy of strat­e­gy and clar­i­ty of intent – issues that have con­cerned U.S. offi­cials about Chi­na – go a long way toward pro­mot­ing sta­bil­i­ty. In deter­rence, the assess­ment of risk becomes less pre­cise in the face of weapons of unprece­dent­ed destruc­tive­ness, Mullen said. 

“In a world with an unfor­tu­nate­ly increas­ing num­ber of nuclear-armed actors, there is pre­car­i­ous­ly lit­tle room for error in that assess­ment,” he said. “And in light of 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.” 

There is no doubt that Iran wants to pos­sess nuclear weapons to fur­ther desta­bi­lize the Mid­dle East, Cen­tral Asia and the entire globe, Mullen said. And an upcom­ing vis­it to Chi­na by Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates may lead to bet­ter under­stand­ing of the risk climate. 

“I am 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,” he said. “And I remain some­what hope­ful that the diplo­mat­ic and eco­nom­ic levers 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,” he con­tin­ued, “but thus far, I have 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.” 

Trust is key to all rela­tion­ships, the chair­man said. 

“Our allies and part­ners can trust we will stand by them in bad times and good,” he said. “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.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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