U.S. STRATCOM Commander Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten spoke about the importance of space, nuclear and missile defense modernization at an event held by the Mitchell Institute in Washington D.C. on Tuesday.

General Hyten first explained the role of the U.S. Strategic Command, which is “a global warfighting command whose mission areas include nuclear, global strike, space, cyber, missile defense and electronic warfare and more,” though the General emphasized that the nuclear aspect of that list is their number one priority.

Hyten then explained that STRATCOM is the “most global” of all U.S. military commands, with a dominion that stretches from the ocean floor to 2,300 miles above the earth’s surface and a roster of nearly 184,000 men and women he claims represent the best and brightest America has to offer.

“‘Peace is our Profession’ is the motto for all 184,000 people, and those priorities apply to every element of this command,” the general said. “But nuclear is still the backbone, and it has to be our top priority.”

The general did, however, add a caveat to their peace-based motto, adding that if another nation attacked the United States, “we will respond … with overwhelming power in a way that will ruin your day and make it so you will never attack United States of America. That is the ultimate strategic deterrent.”

According to General Hyten, the advent of nuclear weapons has gone far in reducing large-scale conflict around the globe by making such massive wars so incredibly destructive, they’ve become unpalatable to world leaders.  The entirety of the Vietnam war, for instance, resulted in 58,000 American casualties – which however horrific, still amounted to only “two days worth of casualties in World War II.”

That’s what our nuclear weapons have done for the world,” he added. “They don’t eliminate conflict — conflict will exist as long as humans exist. But what they have done is kept major power conflict off the world stage. They’ve kept that huge death and destruction from happening when you have major power conflicts that get out of control. It’s kept world wars from happening. That’s the primary reason that we have to have nuclear weapons.”

His statements about the importance of America’s nuclear arsenal led directly to calls for updating and modernizing America’s nuclear infrastructure.  A number of reports in recent years have depicted the nuclear arm of the U.S. military as outdated and in dire need of refit, though the immense expense associated with such an undertaking has resulted in slow progress, despite other nations developing nuclear weapons, and missile defense systems, that are increasingly competitive with our own.