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WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, participated in a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee with Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford. During his exchange with Senator Fischer at the hearing, General Dunford emphasized the importance of our nuclear deterrent and rejected calls to adopt a “No First Use” nuclear policy. 

A partial transcript of Fischer’s exchange with General Dunford at the hearing is below:

Senator Fischer: General Dunford, do you believe a “no first use” policy improves our ability to deter conflict, and would it be your best military advice to adopt such a policy?

General Dunford: Thank you, Senator. I think the current policy is one that complicates an adversary’s decision making process and I wouldn’t recommend any change to simplify an adversary’s decision making calculus. I also can envision several circumstances where we would not want to remove that option from the president in the future, and I can certainly talk about that in a classified venue. But I absolutely believe the current policy is the right policy.

Senator Fischer: As you know, those who favor reducing the size of our nuclear forces often argue that non-nuclear capabilities can be substituted for nuclear weapons without diminishing our ability to credibly hold targets at risk, deter adversaries, and assure our allies. A report released last September by the Global Zero group repeatedly makes this argument, and claims that cyberweapons – in particular – can be substituted for nuclear weapons. Do you think cyber operations, their effects, and their ability to deter hostile activity is comparable to nuclear weapons? Or, are these extremely different capabilities, and is this idea of direct substitution unwise?

General Dunford: Senator, I don’t believe that cyber capabilities can be substituted for nuclear capabilities, and I think we need to be very careful to maintain a safe, effective, and credible nuclear deterrent on its own. We, as you know, have looked at this through more than three or four administrations in a row. We’ve carefully looked at what does the nation need to do what I described in my opening statement as the most important mission in the Department of Defense and that is to deter a nuclear war. And we’ve concluded that the current construct of the triad with a robust nuclear command and control capability is the most effective way to deter a nuclear war. It is also the most effective way to raise the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons by any potential adversary.

Senator Fischer: And you mentioned that in order to maintain that safe deterrent, we must follow the advice of all previous administrations both Republican and Democrat and all previous military leaders that we maintain that triad?

General Dunford: Yes, Senator. I have participated in two Nuclear Posture Reviews since I’ve been in this assignment and been exposed to the wide body of analytic work that was behind those two Nuclear Posture Reviews that came to the very same conclusion in two different administrations. And it’s very consistent with the military advice that I provided on both occasions.