NEW YORK —
The United States is the world’s indispensable nation, but that status is not guaranteed and military leaders must continue to look for new, innovative ways to maintain U.S. leadership in the future, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said Nov. 29 in New York City.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford told members of the nonprofit think tank, The Center for the National Interest, that while the U.S. military can meet the challenges of today, the security environment can change quickly. “My responsibility is to ensure that my successor in 2025 is as confident about our competitive advantage, then, as I am here tonight,” he said.
The chairman discussed the “four-plus-one” model the department uses to look at future capabilities. The “four” are Russia, China, North Korea and Iran. The “one” is the threat of violent extremism. He said it is a “useful framework to inform our planning, our capability development and our assessment of operational and strategic risk.”
Russia is a nation that has done much to enhance its military capabilities and is using them, Dunford said. “I’ve seen now Russian operational patterns that I haven’t seen since I was the captain on one of the amphibious ships in the Mediterranean in the mid-1980s,” he said. “It’s striking, the difference in their operational patterns.”
Russian, Chinese Military Modernization
Russia has modernized military systems that pose a direct threat to the United States and its allies, including long-range conventional strike and nuclear capabilities, as well as the full array of space, cyber, electronic warfare and maritime capabilities, the chairman said.
Russia’s military modernization must be seen in context with its political moves in Georgia, Ukraine, Crimea and Syria, Dunford said. “In my judgment, Russia’s operations and capability development, coupled with asymmetric doctrinal strategic approaches, are designed to counter U.S. naval power projection capabilities and undermine the credibility of the alliance,” he said.
China is another country with the will and funding to build a better military, the chairman said. “Chinese budget expenditures are fairly opaque, as many of you know, but by some accounts they’re spending as much as 7 percent of gross domestic product on military capability development, and that’s been going on for some 10 years,” Dunford said.
To put that in context, NATO nations strive to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense, Dunford said. “It’s clear that China has embarked on a significant program to modernize and expand its nuclear enterprise, along with its power projection, space, cyber, ballistic missile and air defense capabilities,” the general said.
China, like Russia, is trying to minimize the U.S. ability to project power, Dunford said.
North Korea’s Nuclear Program
North Korea has a nuclear program, and is trying to shrink weapons to place them on intercontinental ballistic missiles, the chairman said. North Korea also is working on space and cyber capabilities, he added.
“Those capability developments, combined with an unpredictable and an irresponsible regime, certainly have our attention,” the general said.
Iran is trying to become the dominant nation in the Middle East, he said. “I often say that the regime’s major export is malign influence,” Dunford said. “Iran supports terrorist organizations while modernizing their array of maritime, ballistic missile, space, cyber and cruise missile capabilities. In addition to destabilizing the Middle East, Iran threatens freedom of navigation along critical commercial maritime routes, routes that people here in New York depend on; they just don’t know they depend on them.”
The United States must also confront violent extremism, Dunford said. “Violent extremism is a transregional threat, and we’re continually working on our ability … to disrupt potential threats to the homeland and to our allies, and also to dismantle their capabilities wherever they emerge,” he said.
The United States leads the counter-Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant coalition, which is having significant success against the terrorist group in Iraq and Syria, Dunford said.
“In a little over a year,” he said, “we’ve significantly reduced the territory they hold, we’ve limited their freedom of movement, we’ve gotten after their resources and significantly reduced their resources, and we’ve disrupted their ability to plan and conduct external operations against the homeland.”
This military success has undermined ISIL’s narrative and aura of invincibility, Dunford said.
“I think we’ve made similar progress in degrading ISIL capabilities in West Africa, in Libya, as well as in Afghanistan,” he said. “But while a lot of work remains to be done, and I am by no means complacent about the threat, I think it’s clear that we have momentum against the Islamic State, which is just one permutation of violent extremism.”
This fight may be a generational battle, Dunford said, and it will require all aspects of government.
“Military forces can disrupt attacks against the homeland, we can dismantle the capability of the Islamic State, and we can build indigenous capacity,” he said. “But military forces cannot address the underlying conditions to defeat extremism.”
All these threats have implications for the joint force, the general said. One is the force requires a balanced inventory of capabilities. The United States cannot prepare for one threat or another: it must prepare for all, he said. Therefore, he added, the U.S. cannot indefinitely delay military modernization.
“Finding the right balance between meeting today’s operational requirements and ensuring that we have the force our nation will need tomorrow is a tough balance,” Dunford said. “That’s why we require predictable and sufficient funding to meet our partner requirements, restore the readiness that has been degraded over 15 years of war, and modernize the force for the future.”
Another implication is the need for the joint force to better integrate all elements of national power, the general said. “Due to our competitive advantage, I believe a conventional conflict with a state actor is less likely in the near future, but the absence of conflict should not be, in my view, confused with peace,” he said. “While we tend to have a binary perspective of the security environment -- that is, we’re either at peace or at war -- state actors like Russia, China and Iran have a much more nuanced view. They operate in in a manner that avoids our strengths and takes advantage of our weaknesses.”
Competitors favor strategies that go right up to the edge of conflict, but don’t cross the threshold, the general said. “Advancing our national interests in the 21st century requires that we fully understand that dynamic, and we develop integrated intergovernmental and alliance responses,” Dunford said.
There is a military dimension to this, but it is broader, the chairman said. “Were we not to change how to do business, in my view, we will continue to view ourselves at peace while our potential adversaries … and certainly our adversarial competitors advance their national interests on a day-to-day basis,” he said.
Adversarial competitors are not bound by the same framework that binds the United States, he said.
Character of War
There’s also a need for global integration of U.S. military capabilities, the general said. “While the nature of war as a violent clash of wills in pursuit of political objectives doesn’t change, the character of war is changing in a rapid and fundamental way,” he said.
Technological advances, cyber capabilities, the reliance on space, and ballistic missile developments have all affected the way the American military fights, the general said. “In today’s strategic environment, decision space has collapsed, and so our decision-making processes have to keep pace with the speed of war today,” Dunford said. “And in my judgement, we have some work to do in that regard.”
Any conflict will probably cross regional lines and occur in many places simultaneously, the general said. “In the past, our strategy was focused on regional stability and security, and we assumed that if a conflict broke out we could contain it to a specific region,” he said. “But today, that’s simply not the case.”
For example, the chairman said, a conflict breaking out on the Korean Peninsula likely would expand beyond that region. Missile technology would immediately threaten neighboring nations and cyber capabilities could threaten the globe, he said.
Protecting the homeland, continuing to prosecute the campaign against violent extremism and dealing with multiple threats around the world “is going to require a much greater degree of integration across the Department of Defense than we’ve had in the past,” Dunford said.
“The need for understanding and knowledge that supports decision-making and resource allocation at the speed of war has profound implications of command and control,” he added
Today’s U.S. military needs to be prepared to deal with a number of complex, multi-domain, transregional challenges, Dunford said.
“And, we’ve embarked on a journey now to optimize our planning construct, our command-and-control architecture, and our processes to achieve that full integration,” he said.
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)