That’s what Adm. Cecil D. Haney, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, told about 250 defense contractors, defense employees, military officials and academics attending the 2016 Strategic Deterrent Coalition Symposium on Tuesday at Crowne Plaza Albuquerque.
“We’re fast approaching the point where having an effective nuclear deterrent will be put at risk,” without those steps, he said.
In his current post, Haney – who has commanded submarines, sub groups and the U.S. Pacific Fleet – is responsible for preventing strategic attacks against the U.S. and its allies.
The event was sponsored by the nonprofit Strategic Deterrent Coalition, dedicated to education of decision-makers on the importance of a “valid nuclear triad” – strategic bombers, land-launched missiles and submarine-launched missiles – according to its board president, Sherman McCorkle.
Haney presented an overview of the world’s “strategic environment” which he said may be at its most precarious point in history – in large part because of the actions of Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and extremist groups such as the Islamic State and al-Qaida.
Russia poses a threat just by virtue of the size of its nuclear arsenal, which it continues to modernize, but it’s also improving its conventional military forces, maintaining a significant quantity of non-strategic nuclear weapons and aggressively pursuing new war-fighting technologies, he said.
Coupled with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric and “destabilizing actions in Syria and Ukraine,” Haney cautioned that “Russia must understand that it would be a serious miscalculation to consider nuclear escalation as a viable option.”
North Korea continues to undermine regional stability by conducting nuclear tests and advancing its ballistic missile technology, Haney said.
Iran’s continued involvement in Middle East conflicts and development of ballistic missile programs and cyberspace capabilities require vigilance, particularly if there are any shifts in Iran’s nuclear ambitions, he said.
And the United States is part of an international campaign against violent extremist organizations groups “seeking to destroy our democratic way of life.”
To effectively keep adversaries and potential adversaries in check, America must maintain “a safe, secure, effective and ready nuclear deterrent.”
All three legs of the “nuclear triad” must receive the considerable investments to ensure their long-term viability, he said.
“Today, our stockpile is the oldest it’s ever been, with the average age of a (nuclear) warhead at 27 years and growing,” he said.
The nation’s national security labs – like Sandia, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore – are key to ensuring the viability of the nuclear arsenal.
Despite the challenges, Haney said, “U.S. Strategic Command is a ready force capable of delivering comprehensive war-fighting solutions.”