PALO ALTO, Calif.: 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.”