Air Force General John E. Hyten, Commander of U.S. Strategic Command, spoke at the Military Reporters and Editors annual meeting on Friday, taking the opportunity to address the importance of modernizing America’s nuclear arsenal.

According to the General, the United States already possesses “about the right numbers” of nuclear warheads, but the outdated technology we’re relying on to use them presents a threat to their ability to truly serve as a nuclear deterrent.

“Deterrence will always be cheaper than war, and there is nothing more expensive than losing a war,” the general said, quoting from Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein.

According to Hyten, modernizing America’s nuclear weapons will require a minimum of six percent of the current defense budget, but that only about three and a half percent is currently earmarked for the effort.

“We have to increase [spending] somewhere between 2.5 and 3 percent,” he said. “That leaves 94 percent of our defense budget to do the things we have to. When you think of the survival of our nation — and I think that is the most important reason we have a military … the backstop of all of that is the nuclear enterprise.”

In Hyten’s mind, nuclear deterrence makes up the backbone of America’s formidable defenses – using their existence as an argument for a post-nuclear world being better than one without nuclear weapons at all.  The United Nations recently proposed a treaty that would ban all nuclear weapons the world over, arguing that our planet and its people would be safer if the weapons didn’t exist.  Hyten disagrees, recounting the world prior to nuclear weapons, and reminding those in attendance of how bloody it could be.

According to the General, he’s often presented the question, “can you imagine a world without nuclear weapons?”

“And the answer is yes, I can imagine a world without nuclear weapons,” he said. “In fact, I know what a world without nuclear weapons looks like, because we had a world without nuclear weapons until 1945.”

He went on to ask the journalists present to recount the six years that led up to America’s decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan.

“In those six years, the world in conflict killed somewhere between 60 million and 80 million people,” he said. “That’s about 33,000 people a day, a million people a month.”

He conceded that the world today could be seen as “horrible” but that there has not been another situation that could come close to resembling the brutal loss of life of those twilight years of World War II, adding that although the we have seen plenty of conflict since in Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, none of these contemporary conflicts could hold a candle to “the level of carnage” the world experienced prior to the nuclear age.

“They prevented the kind of wanton destruction that you saw in World War II, and somehow the world has stayed that way.”

Despite his position that nuclear weapons have actually served to prevent large-scale bloodshed, that prevention is dependent upon diverse and capable strike capabilities that make attacking the United States with another nation’s nukes a futile enterprise, ensuring the obliteration of an attacking nation through hardened counter-strike platforms.

“The submarines are the most survivable element of it; the ICBMs are the most ready; the bombers are the most flexible,” he said. “When you put those pieces together, it gives our nation the ability to withstand any attack and respond if we are attacked, which means we won’t be attacked.”


Image courtesy of the U.S. Air Force

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