The US has called for dialogue with both Russia and China on nuclear armaments as well as on boosting mutual transparency and building confidence to mitigate risks that he said are rapidly expanding.
“Even before we get after specific numbers [of further arms reductions] just the conversations are important, the transparency, the confidence-building. [I] would really like to have those types of conversations with China,” Strategic Command Chief Adm. Charles Richard said during a webinar at the Brookings Institution.
The Strategic Command is responsible for US’ nuclear deterrence, using nuclear weapons-capable submarines, intercontinental ballistic missiles and strategic bombers. The two nuclear-armed countries that have displayed aggressive behaviors are China and Russia.
Richard said the non-treaty accountable weapons would make a “good starting point” for a conversation with Russia following the extension of the New START accord. China has so far rejected all US attempts to engage it in nuclear arms control talks.
“One thing you can say about the US and Russia, even all the way through the Cold War as tense as that was at certain points we talked all the way through and there was great value in that.
So starting the communications, bringing the threat down to mutual benefit towards an ultimate goal of elimination on this class of weapons I think is a good path to go down,” Richard said.
Richard noted that that the US strategic deterrence is “fully mission capable,” but admitted that risks are on the rise.
“The threat is expanding rapidly and, in particular, it’s China. China has hit some sort of what I would describe as an inflection point or an acceleration with their strategic nuclear capabilities that I describe as the strategic complement to the conventional growth,” he said.
“We have never before as a nation had to deter two pier nuclear-capable competitors at the same time… And that is a very different stack of dynamics particularly the fact they have to be deterred differently,” Richard said.
The scenario of a sudden all-out nuclear attack against the United States is “very unlikely,” but warned against complacency.
The bolt out of the blue is very unlikely because we made it unlikely. We took actions, we literally invented the ballistic missile submarines to provide a survivable second-strike, invented launch-under-warning and launch-under-attack capabilities,” Richard said.
“Competitors are deterred from doing that. So I just invite caution as we think our way through this. If we are not careful we could actually go make it likely again… if we forget why it’s unlikely today,” he said.
Richard emphasized that he has “fabulous confidence” in the command and control capabilities of the US nuclear forces and their resilience to potential cyberattacks.