May 16, 2022

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The head of the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), who is tasked with overseeing U.S. nuclear operations, cautioned earlier this month that there is a “real possibility” of nuclear conflict with China or Russia.

Writing for the U.S. Naval Institute’s online magazine, STRATCOM Commander Admiral Charles Richard stated, “Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Department of Defense (DoD) has not had to consider the possibility of great power competition, crisis, or direct armed conflict with a nuclear-capable peer. Unfortunately, the current environment no longer affords us that luxury.”

“Faced with Russia and China’s growing threats and gray zone actions, the United States must take action today to position itself for the future. We must start by acknowledging that our most fundamental assumption—that strategic deterrence will hold, even through crisis and conflict—is going to be tested in ways not seen before” Richard continued.

“Unfortunately, our opponents invested in nuclear and strategic capabilities designed to constrain U.S. actions, test our alliances, and, if necessary, escalate past us—to include nuclear use,” he said adding that: “There is a real possibility that a regional crisis with Russia or China could escalate quickly to a conflict involving nuclear weapons, if they perceived a conventional loss would threaten the regime or state. Consequently, the U.S. military must shift its principal assumption from ‘nuclear employment is not possible’ to ‘nuclear employment is a very real possibility.’”

Richard seems to view accepting the possibility of nuclear confrontation as the initial step needed to maintain America’s strategic advantage. He wrote that the second step is to view competition as an ongoing matter, instead of one which results in an “end game.”