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April 20, 2021

King Expresses Concern for Russia’s “Escalate to Deescalate” Military Strategy

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) and U.S. Navy Admiral Charles Richard, Commander, United States Strategic Command highlighted nuclear weapons as the “essence of deterrence” in an exchange on U.S. national security strategy with Russia. During the discussion – which came during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee – Senator King expressed grave concern over Russia’s “escalate to deescalate” policy, which prompted Admiral Richard to share his perspective that Russia’s policy is more like “escalate to win”.

SENATOR KING: “One of the scariest terms I’ve heard recently is ‘escalate to deescalate’ which I understand is a stated policy of the Russians in terms of tactical nuclear weapons in order to shock everyone into backing off. Is that something that concerns you in terms of our relationship to Russia and their relationship to nuclear weapons?”

ADMIRAL RICHARD: “Senator, yes. The short answer is yes. Actually it may be thought of more as ‘escalate to win,’ but not to mince words. And so the whole idea here is for that and anything else they consider doing to show that that won’t work. That the costs that we could impose are greater than what they may gain by attempting that strategy. That is the essence of deterrence…”

SENATOR KING: “…The fundamental strategy here, and for a lot of people, we’ve gone 25 to 30 years and not thought too much about nuclear weapons, but the whole idea is that those other countries that have nuclear weapons know that we do too, and that we have the capability to inflict enormous damage on them if they use the nuclear weapons. That theory of deterrence has worked for 70 years. I take it from your comments that you believe modernization is critical to maintaining the credibility of the deterrent. It’s not a deterrent unless your adversaries believe it will work. Isn’t that the essential case for modernization?”

ADMIRAL RICHARD: “Absolutely. Fundamentally, a deterrent is not credible unless the opponent or the other side does the calculation and comes up with we can either deny that – missile defense is a good example of it – or we can impose a cost. It doesn’t have to be a nuclear cost. We are thinking very hard. We are the only nation that can go all domain, worldwide. I applaud the Secretary’s efforts at improving cross-domain deterrence. But, in the end, given the threats that we face, there has to be a nuclear component to it, because we don’t have a combination of other things yet that can deter that…it’s the only weapons system that you don’t have to pull the trigger on for it to work. The mere destructive potential system changes the way people think, it changes the decisions they make.”



Additionally, Senator King and General James Dickinson, Commander, United States Space Command, examined the options ahead for better deployment of satellites in space to protect national security, but also economic networks and informational/mapping capabilities for the public. During his questioning, he sought confirmation that a “redundant” approach to satellites – having many satellites in orbit, rather than a smaller configuration – would provide a stronger approach to national security and continuity of communications.  General Dickinson agreed with Senator King that a cyberattack on the nation’s satellite fleet would be a likely tactic from a military foe, but that a “constellation” of units in space would provide a “redundant, resilience capability that would be difficult to degrade.”

In addition to serving on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator King serves as chair of the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces and as a member of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee. Senator King is also recognized as a leading voice on national security and foreign policy issues – beyond his committee work, he serves on the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, the Senate North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Observer Group, and the Cyberspace Solarium Commission. 

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