The Enduring Role of US Nuclear Weapons

Tuesday, February 3, 2015
12:00 PM - 1:30 PM

Encina Hall (2nd floor)

Due to the combination of a great response and our space constraints, this event is now full. We regret that we cannot accept any more RSVPs.

Lunch and seating are reserved for our registered guests.


Abstract: On April 5, 2009, President Obama stated his intent to seek "...the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons". He is not the first US President to state such a desire (President Reagan, among others), and he acknowledged that the goal "will not be reached quickly--perhaps not in my lifetime". President Obama proposed reducing the number and role of nuclear weapons in US national security strategy as key steps toward achieving this goal.

While such a world is appealing, nuclear weapons remain woven into the fabric of US national security strategy as the ultimate guarantor of US and Allied security. Originally constructed by the US to end a war, the unique physical and psychological power of nuclear weapons rapidly made them a political tool to prevent or constrain conflict in the ensuing decades of the Cold War. United States foreign policy was underpinned by deterrence and assurance concepts that were both based on nuclear weapons and that defined their primary roles.

To be sure, the strategic context for nuclear weapons has changed since the end of the Cold War and the threat of sudden massive nuclear attack has receded. Significant reductions have been made to the deployed US nuclear force, the weapon stockpile, and the very specialized industrial base that supports it. Modifications have been made to employment concepts. New concepts of tailored deterrence have emerged that include highly capable US conventional forces, limited missile defenses, and space and cyberspace capabilities. 

But nuclear weapons continue to influence the security relationships and behaviors between major nations, and the primary deterrence and assurance role of US nuclear weapons remains at the foundation of US national security. Recent global events remind us that other nations continue to value the influence their nuclear weapons provide and, absent a viable replacement, US nuclear weapons will be needed for a very long time to come. Sustaining a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent will be a challenge that has to be met.   


About the Speaker: General C. Robert "Bob" Kehler is the 2014-2015 Lee Lecturer at CISAC.

Prior to his retirement in December 2013, he was the Commander of United States Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.  In that role he was directly responsible to the Secretary of Defense and President for the plans and operations of all U. S. forces conducting global strategic deterrence, nuclear alert, global strike, space, cyberspace and associated operations.  While in command, he crafted and implemented critical elements of policies and plans to deter strategic attacks against the U.S. and its key allies, and led a joint team of over 60,000 military and civilians to 100% mission success in multiple, high-stakes global operations.  He also integrated Department of Defense (DOD) activities for global missile defense, combating weapons of mass destruction, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance.  His forces directly supported combat operations in Southwest Asia and North Africa.

General Kehler’s military career spanned almost 39 years of service that included important operational and staff assignments.  He was one of a very few officers to command at the squadron, group, wing, major command, and combatant command levels, and he had a broad range of operational experience in Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), space launch, space control, space surveillance and missile warning units.  Before taking command of Strategic Command, General Kehler commanded Air Force Space Command where he organized, trained, and equipped over 46,000 professionals conducting mission-ready nuclear missile, space, and cyberspace operations.  In that role, he designed the Air Force’s inaugural blueprint, operating concept, organizational structure, and personnel program to meet rapidly growing cyberspace challenges. 

His staff assignments included tours with the Air Staff, Strategic Air Command, Air Force Space Command, and the Joint Staff.  He was also assigned to the Secretary of the Air Force’s Office of Legislative Liaison where he was the point man on Capitol Hill for matters regarding the President’s ICBM Modernization Program.  As Director of the National Security Space Office, General Kehler integrated the activities of a number of DOD and Intelligence Community organizations on behalf of the Undersecretary of the Air Force and Director, National Reconnaissance Office. 

He entered the Air Force in 1975 as a Distinguished Graduate of the Pennsylvania State University R.O.T.C. program, has master’s degrees from the University of Oklahoma in Public Administration and the Naval War College in National Security and Strategic Studies, and completed executive level programs at Carnegie-Mellon University, Syracuse University, and Harvard University.

General Kehler’s military awards include the Defense Distinguished and Superior Service Medals, the Distinguished Service Medal (2 awards), Legion of Merit (3 awards), and the French Legion of Honor (Officer).  He wears Command Space and ICBM Operations Badges.  His other honors include the Thomas D. White Space Award (recognizing outstanding contributions to space) and the H. H. Arnold Award (for the most significant contribution by a military member for national defense), both presented by the Air Force Association. 

General Kehler serves as a Trustee of the Mitre Corporation, is on the Board of Directors of the Inmarsat Corporation, and is Chairman of the Board of BEI Precision Systems and Space Company.  He is a Distinguished Alumnus of the Pennsylvania State University, where he also serves as a member of the Advisory Board for Outreach and Online Education.  A Senior Fellow of the National Defense University and an Associate Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, he has testified before numerous Congressional Committees and has spoken widely on matters of national security.  His articles have appeared in The Naval War College Review and Joint Forces Quarterly.  Time permitting; he enjoys playing the guitar, golf, and target shooting.