Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy: A Conversation with HPSCI Chairman Mike Turner

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This transcript is from a CSIS event hosted on June 20, 2024. Watch the full video here.

Heather Williams: Right. Good morning. Thank you all for joining us. I’m Heather Williams. I’m the director of the Project on Nuclear Issues, affectionately known as PONI, here at CSIS. And we are really excited to have you join us today for a conversation with Congressman Mike Turner, Chairman of the House Permanent Subcommittee on Intelligence.

I’d actually like to begin by first thanking Chairman Turner for so much of his time. Immediately before this event, he spent an hour meeting with the PONI nuclear scholars who are also in the room today. And this is a group of next-generation nuclear experts. And Chairman Turner kindly shared his views on a lot of – a lot of the issues that we’re going to hear more about, along with some professional advice. And so just really grateful for all the time that you’ve given us today.

Before we begin today’s event, I do need to share with you our building safety precautions. Overall, we feel secure in our building. As a convener, we have a duty to prepare for any eventuality. I will be your responsible safety officer at this event. And please follow my instructions if the need arises. And finally, please familiarize yourself with the emergency exit pathways. They’re probably going to be behind you or at the sides there.

So PONI and the Aerospace Security Project are really honored to have Representative Michael Turner with us today to talk about a variety of strategic challenges, including the Russian ASAT threat, along with the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. foreign policy. And I know all of you in this room know, this conversation is coming at a really important moment for U.S. policymakers as they face crucial decisions about nuclear modernization and also about the future of arms control and the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. foreign policy. But also, the American public is reengaging with nuclear weapons in a way that we really haven’t seen since the Cold War. So, this is a very important moment for this conversation.

The 2023 bipartisan Strategic Posture Commission highlighted a, quote, “sense of urgency” – a sense of urgency around strategic issues. And just before we start the conversation, I want to highlight three of those. First is the sense of urgency around the U.S. nuclear enterprise and modernization. The Strategic Posture Commission report found that current modernization plans are, quote, “necessary but not sufficient.” And they recommended the current modernization program should be supplemented to ensure U.S. nuclear strategy remains effective in a two nuclear peer environment.

More recently, just a – just a week or two ago, National Security Council Senior Director Pranay Vaddi stated that absent a change in the trajectory of adversary arsenals, we may reach a point in the coming years where an increase from the current deployed numbers is required. The report also called for the U.S. to address concerns from allies regarding extended deterrence, where there’s an ongoing debate among allied countries on their nuclear options and the credibility of the U.S. deterrent.

A second important trend from the Strategic Posture Commission report is about the worsening security environment and adversaries’ build-up of strategic systems. While America prioritized arms control and nuclear reductions, our adversaries moved in the opposite direction and took advantage of that moment. To highlight just one example, which the Chairman was involved in reviewing, was the Russian ASAT threat, which the administration acknowledged could be a violation of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty. China continues to expand its nuclear arsenal, including production of fissile material, and the Department of Defense anticipates China’s nuclear arsenal will reach 1,000 operational nuclear warheads by 2030.

A final topic requiring a sense of urgency is in the search for solutions, potentially to include arms control. After a meeting in November of last year, China has declined for follow-on talks with the United States on this topic, and Russia has backed out of several arms control commitments, including suspension of the New START treaty, violations of the INF Treaty, and de-ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. So overall, these raise really important questions, many of which are time-sensitive, on the role of U.S. nuclear weapons in foreign policy and strategy. And that’s why we are so thrilled to have Chairman Turner here today to offer his insights and thoughts, to include the potential role for the IC in addressing these new strategic challenges.

To quickly go through Chairman Turner’s biography, Congressman Michael Turner was first elected to Congress in 2002. In Congress Turner is a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee and has previously served as the lead Republican of the Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee, as well as the Strategic Forces Subcommittee. The subcommittees oversee Army and Air Force acquisition programs, all Navy and Marine Corps aviation programs, nuclear weapons, missile defense, and space systems. After serving on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence since 2015, Congressman Turner was elected as the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The committee has oversight of the nation’s 17 intelligence agencies. He was the president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, and he now serves as the vice chairman of the Defense and Security Committee of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. An additional fun fact about Chairman Turner is that he was mayor of Dayton, Ohio, during the Dayton Peace Accords. So, bringing a lot of expertise is an understatement to today’s session.

But this will be moderated by Kari Bingen, who is director of the Aerospace Security Project and senior fellow at the International Security Program here at CSIS. Representative Turner will provide his keynote address followed by a fireside chat with Kari and questions from the audience. If you would like to submit a question you should have a QR code either on your chair or there’s a giant one right behind me. Please just scan this on your phone and submit questions and Kari will field them as they come in.

So, with that, Chairman Turner, I’d like to turn it over to you for your remarks. Thank you. (Applause.)

Representative Michael Turner (R-OH): Well, thank you, and good morning. I want to thank CSIS for giving me this opportunity, for Kari Bingen to be leading this and for her leadership on the issue of nuclear weapons and the risks that our nation faces.

The Space Age began when Russia launched Sputnik in 1957. The eyes of the world turned to the sky and wondered how space and technology would now change life on Earth. The Space Age will end when Russia launches its nuclear anti-satellite weapon into orbit. General Saltzman, chief of staff of the United States Space Force, has referred to the potential launch date of Russia’s nuclear anti-satellite weapon as day zero, because from that day no one can count on space the next day. From that day forward, the assumption on Earth must be, in order to preserve our economic, social, and military structures, that we must have an alternative to space.

Right now, there isn’t one. Trillions and trillions of dollars and time that we don’t have will be required to build duplicative and redundant systems just to preserve what we have accomplished in the Space Age. For some things, no alternative exists. The United Nations Outer Space Treaty – entered into force in 1967, signed by the Russian Federation, the United States, and the United Kingdom – declared, “States shall not place nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial bodies or station them in outer space in any other manner.” The treaty was entered into based upon the promise to mankind of advances on planet Earth that might arise from the exploration and utilization of space. The signatories could not have imagined a world of today where agriculture, medicine, commercial transactions, communications, maritime navigation, international security, and even our ability to tell time is space-dependent.

Similarly, we cannot imagine a world not space-dependent. On day zero, at the end of the space age, we will have to. The Biden administration, only after having been challenged by a group of bipartisan members of the House Intelligence Committee, reluctantly declassified that Russia is developing a nuclear antisatellite weapon intended to be placed in orbit in outer space. No additional information has been released.

News reports have speculated that the weapon is past development, it exists and is preparing to launch. Additional news reports have speculated that Russia already has a satellite in orbit as a test. First phase of Russia’s antisatellite nuclear weapon system. Without confirming or denying the accuracy of any of these reports, the questions they raise must be answered by the Biden administration immediately, regardless of Russia’s timing or the possible immediate impact of this evolving threat. This crisis is the Cuban Missile Crisis in space. And the administration is failing. The advances that mankind has made during the space age are at risk, and the administration is sleepwalking into an irreversible day zero.

Dr. Plumb, former assistant secretary of defense for space policy, testified before the House Armed Services Committee that Russia’s antinuclear satellite – Russia’s nuclear antisatellite weapon, if detonated in low Earth orbit, would indiscriminately decimate all satellites within low Earth orbit, and would render that orbit in space unusable for likely at least a year. Mankind would be unable to repopulate low Earth orbit satellites during this period, and manned space exploration would be deadly. This threat would mean that our economic, international security, and social systems come to a grinding halt. This would be a catastrophic and devastating attack upon Western economic and democratic systems. Vladimir Putin knows this. Checkmate.

Day zero can be avoided. Imagine how different the world would have been if President Kennedy had allowed Khrushchev to place nuclear weapons in Cuba. Europe would not be free. The United States would have been too fearful to challenge Russia and Europe with nuclear weapons just off the coast of Florida. Just as Khrushchev could have held the United States hostage with nuclear threats from Cuba, Vladimir Putin will hold the world’s space assets hostage to counter attempts to stop him from reassembling the Soviet Union.

There is precedent for Russian-United States nuclear weapons control treaties, to include the dismantling of destabilizing weapons, inspection regimes, and prohibitions against deployment. But such treaties are negotiated through strength, something the Biden administration seems incapable of showing. In order to avoid day zero, the Biden administration must immediately declassify all known information concerning the status of Russia’s nuclear antisatellite weapons program. Vladimir Putin thrives in secrecy. Putin’s plans and weapons programs must be fully disclosed by the administration and understood by the world. In addition, the United States and its NATO allies must join together to declare the resolve to enforce the U.N. Outer Space Treaty. I call on the Biden administration to do so.

There are risks in confronting Russia. The Biden administration is incredibly reluctant to take any action that would appear to be escalatory. However, Russia is the escalatory aggressor. Escalation has already occurred. Now the United States must stand with our allies to stop day zero and preserve space as the U.N. Outer Space Treaty intended, for the betterment of all mankind. Thank you. (Applause.)

Kari A. Bingen: Chairman Turner, those were incredibly sobering remarks for all of us. I do want to start out by saying that I was fortunate to work with you for many years on the House Armed Services Committee and when you were chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee. And what really struck me was how often you were right in the middle and leading on tackling really tough issues, complex issues – missile defense, New START, nuclear modernization – and I always appreciated your and the committee’s bipartisan approach.

You took your briefings together, you took your trips together to get firsthand knowledge, and you were voracious in consuming information to make sure you really had all aspects of the issue understood.

And I’ve seen you take that same approach with the House Intelligence Committee, and we’ll talk more about what the intelligence committee is doing. So, I will start on the Russia nuclear anti-satellite threat, but we’ll also cover nuclear deterrence, other international security issues, and the Intelligence Committee’s priorities.

I will remind everyone here in person scan the QR code if you have questions, and for folks online go to the event web page and you can also submit questions there.

So, again, incredibly sobering remarks about day zero. You see all the intelligence, all the threat assessments. Russia has long had an ability to detonate nuclear weapons in space via their ballistic missiles.

What makes this threat today different and why is it so significant, and why did you take that unusual step back in February to raise this serious national security threat? You took flak from members in your own party, from the other side of the aisle. Why did you do that?

Rep. Turner: Well, first off, I want to begin by thanking Kari because in addition to being an incredible expert on all of these issues you have always been a mentor and an educator on these issues. It’s great that you’re here at CSIS because you’re continuing that. Thank you for including me and to be able to have a dialog and a discussion about these issues.

One of the aspects of your work is not just the policy that you’ve helped to effect, but the fact that you really want to educate others to ensure the dialogue on nuclear weapons and deterrence. I mean, this is the greatest destructive force known to man and the fact that you advocate for, you know, knowledge, understanding, and policy debates really is extraordinary. So, thank you for doing that.

First off, there’s bipartisan, you know, overwhelming work of the House Intelligence Committee to call on the administration to make public that this threat was emerging. The fact that it took the House Intelligence Committee to do so I think shows you some of the – really, the waste of time that the administration has had – the fact that they don’t have a response to this.

You’ve raised the issue of that, you know, Russia could take an ICBM and explode it into space and, perhaps, destroy that the satellites that are there and, you know, why is this different.

Well, it’s different enough that they are undertaking to do this, right? The administration says that they’re developing this and what I call on them is to tell the world what is the status of this, and development – does that mean that this is drawing on a – you know, on a drafting board?

Does this mean this is a research project in a lab? Does this mean that it’s something in a manufacturing facility? Does it mean that there’s nuclear warheads that have been created? Is there a satellite? Is there a missile?

All of these are the natural resulting questions from the administration and they’re avoiding this discussion because they’re avoiding having to admit that they’re not really doing anything.

The outcome that was different in the Cuban missile crisis is that we had President Kennedy. We need leadership by the administration, and we certainly need a dialog worldwide to understand and call out, really, what are the Russians doing and what should the response be.

Ms. Bingen: Well, and that leads into my next question here. There is likely exquisite intelligence sources and methods involved in collecting this kind of information. So, you’re calling for the declassification of intelligence.

What are – and you just highlighted some, but what are some of the specifics that the American public, that policymakers and others, need to understand? What are we missing? But then also how do you weigh that against protecting those sensitive sources and methods?

Rep. Turner:

 Right. This should not be permitted to go into orbit, period, and the administration does not even have that on their to-do list. Part of informing what would be the to-do list is the issue of what is this – what do they mean by development, that Russia is developing an anti-satellite nuclear weapon?

Now, obviously, you know, they’ve been engaged with the intelligence committees and, certainly, we’re aware of what this evolving threat looks like. The administration, though, I believe is reticent to have the discussion because they don’t want to admit that they’re not doing anything, and we are sleepwalking into what will be an irreversible day zero effect.

The aspect of this being in space is not just, well, it’s there in space; it’s not destructive unless they use it. No, it’s destructive on day one – as General Saltzman said, day zero, which is the next day, because suddenly we will not be able to count on any of the systems that are there. And if we can’t count on those systems, we’re going to have to construct alternative systems or literally it would be catastrophic economically, militarily, communication, to society.

Ms. Bingen: So given everything you know, you think there are ways to convey more information about this program without revealing sensitive sources and methods.

Rep. Turner:


Ms. Bingen:

  1. OK. And then all of this leads into the question of: Now what? So, we have this insight. The U.S. government has sought to increase international pressure on Russia with other international partners – a U.N. resolution in April sponsored by the U.S. and Japan reaffirming the Outer Space Treaty, which Russia vetoed, and China abstained. So, you know, the question, I think, now becomes – and you were hinting at this – is, what actions do you think we are going to be willing to take to uphold the Outer Space Treaty and prevent this from happening?

Rep. Turner:

 Right. So, I liken the administration going to the U.N. Security Council on this issue as the principal of a school going to the student body to have a labor dispute with their teachers. The aspect here is that the administration needs to exert leadership. We have allies. We have – I mean, the understanding by the world of what this weapon means and what its outcomes would result in needs to be discussed by the administration as they garner what would be worldwide support in opposition to Russia placing a nuclear weapon in space in violation of the space weapons treaty.

Ms. Bingen: China now has a lot to lose in space. Is there room for us to work with China and perhaps others?

Rep. Turner: Absolutely. I don’t think – I don’t think that the administration has done enough to inform, which is why I’m calling for the administration to inform both our other adversaries and allies as to what this threat is. You can’t garner support for something that you’re not discussing, and I firmly believe that the administration is avoiding discussing this topic because they don’t want the gap between what they should be doing and what they are doing to be publicly discussed.

Ms. Bingen: Well, if I think about the DIME framework, we’re pursuing diplomatic and international pressure options. Are economic sanctions on the table? Should military options be on the table? You oversee intelligence capabilities. What should be on the table here?

Rep. Turner: Well, I think all of it. I think – the biggest sign, I think, would be – I mean, this is so catastrophic. Secretary of Defense Austin took – you know, in front of the Armed Services Committee said this would be catastrophic. Well, if this is catastrophic, there should be someone every day in the administration that gets up to make certain that this isn’t occurring. And there is no one who has that responsibility. And there’s no one who’s executing that to-do list. This is something they’re aware of. This is something that they’ve informed us that Russia is undertaking. But this is not a priority of the administration. This needs to be a priority.

Ms. Bingen:

 And how well is the intelligence community, I guess I’ll say, postured to understand the intricacies of this threat?

Rep. Turner: Well, I think enough so that the administration was willing to come forward and say that Russia is developing an antisatellite nuclear weapon. I mean, the administration has confirmed this. This is not speculative. This is not something that people are, at this point, having differing opinions. There probably are differing opinions as to what needs to be done, but that’s the dialogue that we need to be having. What should be done? And the administration is not having that debate within itself, or with the American public, or worldwide with our allies.

Ms. Bingen: 

 Well, and it’s interesting, as chairman of the Intelligence Committee, I just think you see – you see everything. You have this global picture of the security environment. This is obviously one very sobering and consequential threat here. But there are a lot of other things happening in the world, I’m assuming, are consuming a lot of folks’ bandwidth as well. So, you know, how do you – if you can take a step back for us and look at that global security environment, what else are you worried about? But then also, how do you see this threat in the context of everything else happening right now in the Middle East, with China, technology advancements, et cetera? 

Rep. Turner: Well, I don’t know. I think I’d start with if there’s something that’s going to touch every human being on the planet, that’s probably something that should be at the top of the list. And I think that’s one that I think the administration, in focusing, needs to understand that there should not be tolerated that this be in orbit. I honestly think that there may be portions of the administration who believes that we can tolerate this in space. As General Saltzman said, you can’t tolerate this in space because the next day, day zero, you have to assume that none of the space capabilities that we have are available the next day. And you’re going to have to plan for alternative uses, alternative sources, which we – which we don’t have. Which is what I mentioned in the speech, you know, trillions and trillions of dollars and certainly time we don’t have.

But there are threats, obviously. You look at both on the nuclear side – China increasing its nuclear weapons inventory, North Korea doing the same, Russia fielding exotics, which – and both China and Russia moving to hypersonics. Even in the nuclear threat that’s not space, you have the capabilities gaps between what the United States is currently doing and what our adversaries are certainly doing. And that creates a vulnerability. And then, of course, you have the conflicts of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, and Israel-Gaza, and the, really, Iranian influence with Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Houthis, that all needs to be addressed with respect to Iranian aggression.

Ms. Bingen: It’s interesting, to your point here, in some respects it shouldn’t surprise us that Russia is doing this, given all the other modernization efforts it has underway in its nuclear forces – whether it be the cruise missile, the undersea vehicle, the ICBMs. You know, why not space? But, man, it’s at the extreme end of the space threat spectrum

Rep. Turner: Right. If you take Avangard, their hypersonic; Skyfall, their nuclear weapons cruise missile that orbits the Earth; Poseidon, the underwater unmanned missile that can surface, with the intention of destruction of coastal cities; all of those would have been not even imaginable 15 years ago. But it certainly shows, as you were just indicating, an intent on the part of Russia to significantly invest in nuclear weapons capabilities. And we need to be able to respond.

Ms. Bingen:

 And if I can pivot a bit here to talking specifically on nuclear modernization, you know, I would observe there are few members of Congress that really understand nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence. How do you explain this to other members of Congress, of what those threats are, why do we need to modernize our nuclear weapons and infrastructure, and what really is at stake?

Rep. Turner: Right. I think, you know, the most common analogy that people use is just your own personal vehicle. You know, I have a 1964 Cadillac convertible. I wouldn’t use it to commute every day. You upgrade, you look to increase technology, if you think of how many different iPhones you’ve thrown away and replaced. But yet, we look at decades-old technology as our nuclear weapons deterrent and assume that, you know, we have a nuclear weapon, we don’t – we don’t need to modernize. Well, of course we do. They decay. Their capabilities and their technology age. And our adversaries’ capabilities increase, which results in vulnerabilities.

It really should be a continuous process, not something we park in a garage and come back decades later and say, let’s kick the tires and see what needs to be done. If, you know, we have the resolve that nuclear weapons are necessary in order to deter our adversaries, and certainly our nuclear adversaries, then in that commitment it’s going to require that we invest and we modernize.

Ms. Bingen: And when I think about it, that nuclear deterrence really is the foundation for our conventional forces and other decisions that we make in our security apparatus. So, on modernization, we’re fortunate at CSIS to have a phenomenal group of junior scholars. So, I’m going to weave in a question here from Joseph Rodgers.

In its final report, the bipartisan Strategic Posture Commission established by Congress concluded that the existing nuclear program of record, which is – which is the current modernization program that’s being pursued, is necessary but not sufficient. Can you share some congressional perspectives on this “necessary but not sufficient” conclusion? What investments are needed? And what pace of activity is needed?

Rep. Turner: Right. So go back to the iPhone again. You know, when you – when you get a new iPhone, you’re increasing the functionality. You’re not just getting one that works better or that is going to do the same things only more reliable. Our modernization is really looking at our nuclear weapons, the inventory, as doing the same things and only, you know, modernizing it to make it do those things better but not looking at additional things that we need to do. Now, one thing that was really interesting about the nuclear posture commission is that they, really also looked at our need to have an enhanced missile defense capability, because we have not availed ourselves of missile defense as a part of the overall equation of deterrence and defense, both with modernization and with missile defense on a defensive capability, having our adversaries question whether or not they’re even able to hit their target

Ms. Bingen: Well, and you – in both your roles on the Intelligence Committee as well as Armed Services for a long time, you’ve been out to the nuclear weapons labs, the production facilities, strategic command. What is your view of the state of the weapons complex and the industrial base where we’re at right now to deliver? And you know, some of these modernization programs that are running behind schedule over cost, can our nation afford what’s ahead of us here in modernization?

Rep. Turner: Well, I mean, obviously, we can’t afford not to.

Ms. Bingen: Yeah.

Rep. Turner: But you know, certainly, the systems that we have now are working. We have deterrence. We have nuclear weapons capabilities that are deterring our adversary, and that’s – adversaries – and that’s, of course, why. You know, we don’t have people in – looking to have conflicts with the United States.

But at the same time, they’re looking at the next 10, 15 years of how do they change that calculus where their capabilities increase vulnerabilities as we stay stagnant. And that delta, that change of our adversaries’ capabilities, we’ve not – I mean, you and I have not lived in a world where Russia and China had greater weapons capabilities than we have had. That’s a scary place to be. And that’s why the Nuclear Posture Commission called on that we need to do more than we’re doing, because if we’re running in place and our adversaries are running a marathon we’re currently losing.

Ms. Bingen: Well, and you know – what we didn’t have before that you’re really seeing now is it’s this two-peer nuclear challenge, is China from a few hundred to, what, a thousand, 1,500 trajectory that they’re on with their nuclear forces. How well postured is the intelligence community to collect and analyze on these threats – the two-peer challenge, perhaps the risk of opportunism by one of the parties? How do you look at the IC’s ability here?

Rep. Turner: Well, my serious concern, which you and I have discussed, is the issue that the capabilities that Russia and China are seeking are what we’d call first-strike capabilities, capabilities where it would cause them to change their calculus and look at whether or not they could undertake an attack on the United States which would prevent us to have an ability to respond and that would significantly diminish our ability to be able to deter them by having those first-strike capabilities.

But I think on the intelligence side, what’s really important is that there’s a lot of things that publicly we know; we’re just not having the public discussion. Right now, anyone can pull out their iPhone and they can Google “Chinese ICBM missile silo expansion,” and you will get a space picture of the silos that China is building to put in new nuclear weapons. Then, if you Google “U.S. response to China’s expansion of nuclear weapons,” you’re not going to find anything that’s going to be helpful. That’s where our dialogue and discussion need to be. That’s why it’s so important what you’re doing here at CSIS is taking actually what is occurring, saying it needs to be placed in the dialogue so that we can have a policy response, and then in that, you know, real action on the part of the United States to respond to these threats.

Ms. Bingen: Yeah. I want to shift to the topic of extended deterrence. And you do a lot of engagement with our allies and partners. You are – you were the president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and still heavily involved in a leadership role there. I don’t think, you know, if you look at the broad American public, that we fully – or, fully appreciate the concept of extended deterrence. And the premise is that our allies don’t develop nuclear weapons, you know, we don’t proliferate nuclear capability, in exchange for us extending a nuclear umbrella to them. So with all of the threats that we’ve discussed – with China, with what North Korea’s doing; you know, it has even been striking to see South Korea and Japan start having a bit of a nuclear dialogue here – how – in all your discussions, how confident are our allies and partners in our nuclear umbrella? How is their thinking shaping our nuclear policy, shaping what – how Congress is viewing these issues?

Rep. Turner: So, we had this discussion with your nuclear scholars here at CSIS, and what’s interesting is, is, you know, you have to – you have to go to the next step on what extended deterrence policy was.

So extended deterrence was where the United States, through its nuclear umbrella, said: We will cover other allies who don’t develop nuclear weapons and provide them our umbrella. If they’re attacked, we will – we have – we will pledge both in defense and our nuclear umbrella as a response if they do not develop nuclear weapons themselves. The intention was not just that our allies not develop nuclear weapons, although we were being for nonproliferation. That certainly was a win that our allies not become nuclear states. But it was also intended to be a disincentive for our adversaries to expand their nuclear weapons, because if our allies – those who are on our team – built up their nuclear weapons, the thought was that our adversaries would have to build up their nuclear weapons. And so, you would have this proliferation not just with our allies, but our adversaries would have more because they’d have to counter-deter both us and our now-nuclear allies.

The problem is that that didn’t happen. China is expanding. Russia is expanding. North Korea is expanding. Iran is continuing to march toward the ability to make a nuclear weapon.

So the extended deterrent umbrella has failed to cause the response from our adversaries that we intended and has been because of the enormity of the expansion, as you just described – that the multiplication that China has undertaken in its expansion has caused our nonnuclear allies to then wonder would the United States utilize its nuclear weapons as a deterrence umbrella to protect them, and I think it’s a valid question for them to have as they look to, now, what is an increasing threat from – as South Korea looks not only at North Korea but also at China.

Ms. Bingen: Well, and then that leads into the topic of arms control and risk reduction. New START expires 2026. China thus far, I think, has declined arms control talks with the U.S.

So what is the future of arms control and do you see a path forward for bipartisan consensus not just on, I’ll say, arms control and strengthening nonproliferation but perhaps like New START originally struck is there was this greater deal or compromise between, yes, we will undertake arms control in New START; at the same time we have a need to modernize our nuclear deterrent.

Do you see something like that playing out here, going forward?

Rep. Turner: I mean, Ronald Reagan’s life – excuse me, Ronald Reagan’s line of peace through strength is not just a political slogan. The reality is that you’re never going to get anyone to the bargaining table, whether it’s in a business transaction or nuclear weapons negotiations, where they don’t believe – if they don’t believe that they have anything to gain from you.

You don’t sit across from someone to negotiate where you believe that voluntarily, unilaterally, the other side is already giving up what you might want from them and that’s the situation we’ve placed ourselves in.

We have – Russia and China are expanding their nuclear weapons. They’re expanding their nuclear weapons capabilities. We have something we want from them. But they don’t believe that we have either the will or the interest or the means currently to undertake going in any direction, even expansion, that would be a benefit to them to restrain us, and so we’re stalled in any opportunities for nuclear weapons reduction negotiations.

I am for arms control. It has proven to work. It has concluded many times. You know, as I said in my speech the dismantling of a destabilizing weapons inspection regime so that – you know, we had numerous individuals both on the Russian and the American side who knew each other well and knew their facilities well. All of that has gone by the wayside and, certainly, we’re less safe because of it.

Ms. Bingen:

 And to your point on Reagan, President Reagan also believed that we could pursue a nonproliferation agenda, an arms control agenda, but do it through, as you said, a position of strength while also making sure that we had a strong nuclear deterrent.

Here’s an interesting question from another one of our junior scholars, Lachlan MacKenzie: Nuclear myths – what is one misperception about nuclear weapons or nuclear risks that you wish you could clarify for the American public?

Rep. Turner: I truly believe that the American public think that we have a missile defense system in place that is operational and would defend us against China and Russia and, unfortunately, as we’ve gone through the Obama administration and then the short term of the Trump administration to the Biden administration you have policies that have been anti-missile defense.

Remember, missile defense when it was first proposed by Ronald Reagan it was viewed as escalatory, that it was destabilizing, and that your adversary would think we need more nuclear weapons because you have missile defense – that it wouldn’t work and that it was too costly.

Well, what we’ve seen is it’s actually de-escalatory, not escalatory. We saw that in Iran shooting 300 missiles at Israel that we worked collectively with them using missile defense technology to take those down.

Imagine if Israel had been at the receiving end of 300 missiles the response that would have had to have gone to Iran. Instead, it was de-escalatory. It works. You can see in every aspect of what we have proven in technology. You and I worked on that on Capitol Hill including with the deal with Israel for shared technology for the Iron Dome.

And then, of course, the cost is proven in that you don’t have the destructive force that you’re able to eliminate through missile defense technology.

Ms. Bingen: And that was a great point that the Strategic Posture Commission in a bipartisan manner emphasized as well, was to recommend we expand our missile defenses not just against the strategic missile threats, but also these more coercive cruise missiles and other threats that can now target the homeland.

Rep. Turner: We can protect the homeland, and we should.

Ms. Bingen: NATO. So, you’re a senior leader in the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. NATO Summit will be in D.C. in a few weeks, marking the 75th anniversary. Can you share your thoughts on where NATO is at today, where it needs to go in the future. And I’m going to weave in a question from the audience, from Natalie Grishin, the Ukrainian Culture Association of Ohio. Got to get the Ohio piece in here: Thank you, Chairman Turner, for a clear and to-the-point presentation. What do you think the White House administration position on the Ukraine path to NATO should be in the coming NATO Summit? So maybe just also hit on your assessment of the situation Ukraine, and where that goes from here.

Rep. Turner: This is an exciting NATO Summit, because the success of the summit has already occurred before everybody convenes. And that success is the expansion of NATO to include Finland and Sweden, and the fact that they will be at the table full members, which shows the failure of Putin’s policies of attempting to push NATO back. He’s actually pushed people into NATO. Both Sweden and Finland come to NATO with some of the highest levels of military capabilities of all of the NATO countries. So they’re increasing the capabilities of NATO.

Their joining and sitting at that table I think is a reflection of really the success of NATO as an alliance and the failure of Putin’s aggression, and the real calculus that there is a risk here. Sweden and Finland didn’t join NATO because of Ukraine. They joined – Finland and Sweden joined NATO because they knew that other countries were next. And that’s why we’re supporting Ukraine. That’s why we need to continue to support Ukraine.

I think at this summit, there should be just a, you know, recommitment to the Bucharest statement. In Bucharest, the NATO stated Ukraine will be a member of NATO. That is the strongest statement – both Georgia and Ukraine received that – strongest statement that NATO has made in aspiring nations that want to join NATO. And that, I think, is a – is a standing commitment by NATO. And you’re seeing it in the billions of dollars of weapons and capabilities that are being provided to Ukraine to defend itself against Russia.

Ms. Bingen: And you were one of the leading voices on the Hill articulating the need to pass that legislation to ensure that Ukraine does receive the security assistance and munitions from the United States and others. So, thank you for that.

Technology and emerging technology. Several areas are emerging. We’ve talked space. There’s cyber, hypersonics, AI, biotech, all with warfighting and intelligence community benefit, but also with security risk, when you look at what, perhaps, China is doing in these areas. So how do you think about these technologies and what the intelligence community needs to do to maintain its advantage?

And I’m also going to weave in that – a question from Alexander Givin on nuclear: nuclear weapons have shaped how conflict is perceived and conducted since their conception. So how do you see artificial intelligence and cyber interacting with nuclear weapons? So broader emerging technology question as well as nuclear with AI and cyber.

Rep. Turner: Right. So, AI is one of the most important developments because of what it is able to provide as an analytical capability and assistance. I had an opportunity to sit with Henry Kissinger just shortly before he passed. And he was – he had just written a book the year before on AI. He was still continuing to publish on artificial intelligence. And he was talking about the importance of AI in strategic planning.

But he went the next step to say, as policy we should never implement AI where there’s not a requirement that AI inform us of how it’s coming to conclusions that it’s doing, that it’s – that it’s offering to us, or the advancement of human knowledge will stop, and computers and machine learning will advance. He was very adamant about that connectivity. And I think the human element in utilizing AI is going to be incredibly important. And I don’t think AI should ever be used with respect to any decision making with respect to nuclear weapons, or even as we look to the prosecution of conflicts. Obviously, strategy, the assessment, discernment, it’s going to be incredibly important. But decision making should remain with the human factor.

Our biggest threat in AI is that our adversaries get there first. China, with its surveillance society where it has implemented this surveillance culture to be able to further suppress its population, has attempted to export that. They’ve also coupled that with cyber efforts to access and download data to get an understanding of other countries, populations, and their activities. The utilization of AI for an authoritarian regime is probably the biggest threat that we have seen in the longest time to mankind and to the issue of freedom and liberty.

Ms. Bingen:

 Really appreciate that. In other technology areas, hypersonics. And I don’t want to steal your thunder, but you and I have talked about this. But as it relates to Title 10, which is Department of Defense authority, and Title 50, which is an intelligence community authority, you are one of the few members that see that total picture. So, when we’re looking at these different technology areas, what concerns you about red? What is blue doing about it? Talk to us about, I guess, some of the tension that you see there, but also how do you bring greater integration across Title 10, DOD, and Title 50, the intelligence community?

Rep. Turner: Right. So further on your description, you know, on the intelligence world side we look at our adversaries. What are our adversaries doing? On the national security and defense side, we plan what we’re going to do. Sometimes those don’t match, and the information doesn’t get from one side to the other. And there was a period, obviously, where we were much more advanced than our adversaries. So, the – an understanding of what adversaries were doing was important, but at the same time it didn’t inform the gap between our capabilities and theirs.

And that evolution of that gap, that identification of it, is, I think, embodied most in the – in the issue of hypersonics, where the United States was vastly ahead, technology was stolen, China and Russia now have hypersonics programs fielded. Hypersonic weapons are in the hands of our adversaries. We do not have, currently, a hypersonics weapon that has been delivered or even capable of being deployed. And this is public. If you look at what you know that our adversaries are doing in hypersonics, and then what you know the United States is doing, even if we accomplish everything that we have on the drawing board tomorrow in our hypersonics programs, we still fall short of where they’re currently performing.

And so that needs to be resolved as to never, you know, allowing ourselves again to be setting – first off, abandoning a program, and then setting the bar lower than what we know our adversaries are already capable of. And this is – I think, if there was one thing that occurred in the last several years of China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, that’s probably the most haunting that people should focus on is – and we all got to see it. President Xi is standing next to Vladimir Putin. He went to Moscow to show his support of this, you know, unlimited friendship, of no limits with Vladimir Putin.

And what we would call a hot-mic moment, where they’re not doing their presentation, but the mic is open, President Xi is caught. And he says to Vladimir Putin, what we are bringing about – we, meaning them together – is a change that hasn’t happened in 100 years. Pause on that for a second. We know what happened 100 years ago. That’s World War I and World War II. That is the fight between authoritarianism and democracy. And that’s what they’re saying. They’re saying, we, together – they want to re-prosecute the conflict between authoritarianism and democracy. And they believe that they will win. They certainly can win if we don’t rise to the occasion of making certain that they do not have capabilities for which we cannot respond.

Ms. Bingen: And you just had that happen again this week with Vladimir Putin visiting North Korea with Kim Jong-un. So, the question comes from Rachel Oswald at CQ Roll Call: How worried should the U.S. be, that Russia may now provide North Korea with technological assistance to improve North Korea’s long-range ballistic missiles and their ability to directly target the United States?

Rep. Turner: Well, that they have that ability now. Certainly, the cooperation between Russia and North Korea would enhance their ability to do so. I think we’ve all sort of felt intuitively that China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, are working together in both their development of capabilities and in their threats to the United States. These symbolic meetings, I think, are – should allow us to focus on this is a threat that has already been occurring. 

Ms. Bingen:

 And I’m going to just jump around here with some additional questions from the audience. This is from one of our aerospace interns here at CSIS, Annalise Johnson, who happens to be an Ohio State University student: How do you foresee continued sanctions against Russia affecting their space and nuclear program? And then what level of engagement with Russia should the U.S. strive to have?

Rep. Turner: This is a great question, because the question is: Would sanctions significantly impact Russia’s path, as stated by the administration, for developing a nuclear antisatellite weapon? Well, I think we should certainly try. I think we need to try every – you do not hear the administration saying this is such a red line, this is such a change and catastrophic dynamic that places at risk all of the accomplishments that we have in integrating space in the economy, our international defense, our communications, that that red line is so great that we are going to implement an additional regime of financial restrictions, of sanctions, and even look to what are we going to do with our allies in NATO to make such a strong statement as to have Russia understand that this is – this is not something that is going to be accepted.

Ms. Bingen: OK. And you briefly mentioned Iran at the outset here, but I want to come back to this. Paul Tervo from the Institute for Science and International Security: Iran’s recent IAEA-confirmed expansion of its nuclear enrichment plants, the Institute for Science and International Security estimates that the time it would take for Iran to now produce a nuclear weapon has been reduced dramatically, under a third of a month. So how do you think Iran’s capacity and capability here will influence Middle East policy going forward?

Rep. Turner: Well, really, all roads lead to Iran when you look at the instability in the – in the Middle East: their franchises – Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthis; areas in which they have challenged, you know, Saudi Arabia, our other allies; and what we’ve seen, of course, in the conflict that has unfolded with Israel. These still relate back to the destabilizing effect of Iran, and it needs to be countered by the administration.

Ms. Bingen: This is a question from Polly Keim from the National Nuclear Security Administration, NNSA. This is interesting: What do you think we should conceal versus reveal to assure allies and deter adversaries? And I recall we’ve had these discussions in the space domain as well as others is, you know, under what circumstances would you reveal a capability versus, obviously, protecting the exquisite nature or the performance of that system. So how do you think about conceal versus reveal?

Rep. Turner: Well, intelligence is gathered so you can impact the outcome; it is not so we be casual observers. If you’re not using intelligence to impact the outcome, the intelligence has no value. We’re not doing intelligence merely to inform ourselves. And in this instance, you know, as I’ve called for the administration to declassify the status of this program, there’s no risk to means, methods, and techniques to actually call Russia’s program as to what is its stage in development. And then from that we can inform: What is our to-do list? What do we need to do? What do our allies need to do? How do we need to work together as the world, Western economic community to address this?

Ms. Bingen: Well, and then a question from Ajay Gokul, who’s a McHenry fellow pursuing a master’s at Georgetown University: What role does India play here? So how can the U.S. leverage India to play a constructive role, particularly on the nuclear proliferation or nuclear nonproliferation front? You know, they have an interesting historical relationship with Russia, but also increasingly adversarial relationships with China and with Pakistan. These are all nuclear states. So, what role do you see India playing going forward?

Rep. Turner: Well, I do think is important, because if you look at India and if you look at Africa, their development has occurred not because they went back and put in infrastructure that we had in the ’70s and ’80s; it’s because they jumped forward in infrastructure and technology. Their ability to establish communications systems, economic infrastructure, energy, all of it is dependent upon space. Africa and India today are what they are today because of space. If space – if the space-age advancement ceases to exist, Africa and India will become isolated.

Ms. Bingen: I want to come back to your role as Chairman of the Intelligence Committee. A great credit to you and to Ranking Member Himes for your Beyond the SCIF series, where, rather than do everything in classified form you’ve both been very deliberate about getting out publicly to talk about things that the committee is concerned about.

Related to that, I want to hit on this issue of, I’ll say, trust in the intelligence community. You know, in recent years there’s been this drumbeat of media reports and commentaries that suggest that trust in the intelligence community has eroded, and frankly trust in U.S. national security institutions writ large. I got to see the best of what the military intelligence community is doing. I know you’ve seen plenty of that in your role. So how do you think about how can we build trust in our intelligence institutions given the vital security role that they play?

Rep. Turner: Right. Well, we give our intelligence community exquisite tools that have great risks if they are used against the American public and can be destabilizing to a democracy. Of the things that we have seen, and certainly of the discourse that we’ve had in the public of the most egregious violations, they’re largely resident in the Department of Justice and in the FBI, which are not an intelligence community generator but intelligence user. And I do think we need significant focus on reforming the way in which the Department of Justice and the FBI marry themselves and utilize intelligence.

When we did the renewal of the Foreign Surveillance Act Section 702, we put in 54 reforms targeting largely DOJ and FBI and their utilization of intelligence, and making certain that the court system is involved in those oversight, and that they are restrained and restricted. That is going to be a continuing issue. And I think the American public see it as they look at the news stories that clip by them, that both in inequality in the manner in which justice is pursued, but also in the manner in which this information is utilized. And that is a real issue.

Ms. Bingen: And you just passed your intelligence community – your Intelligence Authorization Act, your IAA, out of committee. So, congratulations on that. You mind just spending a minute here talking about the committee’s priorities? But also, you’ve hinted at there are some broader intelligence community reforms that your committee might be tackling.

Rep. Turner: Right. I think, well, one of the biggest concerns that we all have right now is the administration’s reticence to share intelligence with allies. Ukraine has been forced to fight Russian aggression on their own soil with one arm tied behind their back. The administration has been slow to give them the type of lethal weapons that can make a difference on the battlefield. Very slow to give them authority to actually use those within Russia to attack systems that are actively sending missiles and attacking Ukraine, but also the weapons infrastructure where they’re quadrupling their output of missiles to attack Ukraine. And they’re hesitant to provide intelligence as to what Russia is doing within Russia for Ukraine.

In the beginning, the administration refused to give Ukraine any intelligence as to where the Russians were – where the Russians were in Ukraine. The House and our Intelligence Committee had to push. The administration ultimately changed their position. And the effect was so dramatic that they ran to the microphone to claim credit for changing their own policy. So instead of acknowledging that the policy was wrong, they wanted credit for the change on the battlefield as a result of them lifting their own restrictions.

Ms. Bingen: So, I know we’re running out of time here. I want to end – well, we’ve had a pretty sobering conversation across a whole range of issues. I want to end on a bit of a note of optimism here. Earlier this morning you talked to our next-generation nuclear scholars here at CSIS. So, I’m curious what you told them, what do you want these young scholars thinking about as they embark on their careers? And, you know, nuclear weapons, nuclear antisatellite abilities, these are pretty dark subjects to talk about. What makes you then optimistic about our future going forward?

Rep. Turner: Right. Most nations, when they talk about a vulnerability, or they talk about an adversary, talk about actually actions against an adversary. For us, it really is a to-do list. As we look to what our risks are, we have to inform our to-do list and then accomplish it. Russia’s economy is the size of Italy and, yet, it dominates our defense policy discussions as to whether or not our huge economy and ingenuity and capability will even be applied to respond to some of the things that they’re accomplishing.

We have great capability and, as long as we do the to-do list, there’s nothing we’re going to be able – not be able to accomplish. There are many nations who have wish lists. We have to-do lists. We just have to fill out the to-do list and get to work.

Ms. Bingen: And you have a phenomenal group of young nuclear scholars that want to engage in these issues and work on them for the betterment of security, going forward. So –

Rep. Turner: They’re incredibly bright. It was amazing to see not just what they’re currently doing but what they want to do in the future, and their questions were so incredibly informed.

The next generation coming up, especially since they’ve seen what has been occurring, are absolutely dedicating – dedicated to a strong United States because they know it translates into freedom and liberty, and without it we’re all at risk.

Ms. Bingen:

 Well, Chairman Turner, thank you so much.

I will say it is very rare for us to get the chairman of a full committee to CSIS, not just to do this kind of public discussion on a whole range of topics but also for you to spend time with our young scholars. So, thank you for that.

Thank you for bringing greater awareness and urgency to the Russian nuclear anti-satellite threat. It is absolutely a day zero – I mean, we are back to the 1950s if this does go forward and the threat that it poses is just incredibly grave.

So, thank you very much for your leadership and all that you are doing on the Hill internationally and in educating the American public.

For folks here in the audience we will have a lunch reception out in the foyer here, so it’s an opportunity to network and to continue the conversation.

Again, Mr. Chairman, thank you.

Rep. Turner: Thank you. (Applause.)