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Gen. Dempsey's Remarks and Q&A at the Ambassador S. Davis Phillips Family International Lecture Series

By As Delivered by General Martin E. Dempsey, Duke University, N.C.
GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY: Thanks very much, President Brodhead. I have to tell you, nobody has referred to me as a young man in a long time. I heard you say, you know, “bringing young people back here to Duke University.” So, in the spirit of it, I’d like to declare you not the commander in chief, but rather the supreme allied commander of Durham. (Laughter) So let’s make sure we get the title right in subsequent events.

Ambassador Dave and Kate Phillips, thanks so much for sponsoring the lecture series here. I’m honored to be part of it. And thanks for what you do to encourage thinking and conversation.

By the way, I’d like to characterize this tonight not as a lecture but really as a conversation or a discussion about the topic of strategy because I think – you know, frankly, I think strategy, and particularly in this century and the very complex issues that face us, I think to suggest that someone would actually lecture on it – which is to say try to impart any particular wisdom on it, that might be a bit – might be a bit of hubris.

Peter Feaver’s eight steps in understanding strategy, or myths about strategy notwithstanding – which I thought, by the way, was a wonderful – a wonderful piece of work. President Brodhead, thanks again for what you do here at Duke University.

Professor Feaver, I mentioned you. Thanks for your collaboration over time on – especially on the issue of civil-military relations. You and a couple of others have been enormously helpful in helping me understand that, and my responsibility as kind of the steward of the profession, and we appreciate that deeply.

Michael Schoenfeld, Chris Simmons, Melissa Veterkind – I understand Congressman Dave and Lisa Price are here. And I understand that some members of Senator Kay Bailey – I’m sorry, Senator Kay Hagan’s staff. Kay Bailey Hutchison is another senator, but Kay Hagan’s staff. She’s been a great supporter of the military up there in Washington, D.C.

So I’m not sure, you know, why you’re all here actually tonight because, you know, there is a Duke basketball game at some point in our near future here. And my own recollection of my time at Duke suggests that before basketball games I would find my way not into a lecture hall but rather down to Shooters. (Laughter) So, in fact, if I didn’t have this lecture here tonight I’d probably be back there trying to find my favorite stool. (Applause)

This is actually my first public speaking opportunity since the secretary of defense and I, with the president of the United States, rolled out what was described by the secretary as “strategic guidance.” But as that guidance comes to us, it really takes the shape of an emerging security – or emerging defense strategy. And so, you know, I think it’s a great opportunity for me to try to crystallize my thinking. And I promise you I will leave time at the end of this session, maybe even the majority of the time, to see if we can interact a bit.

I will reflect a little bit about my arrival here at Duke in 1982. Deanie and I drove up – or out over from Fort Carson, Colorado, where I was stationed as a captain. We arrived here. I do remember at the time that Coach Krzyzewski was hanging in effigy, you know, out in the Quadrangle there, and the Chronicle was predicting his pretty eminent demise. So, if any of you were involved in that strategy, you know, the strategy that though you might get rid of Mike Krzyzewski, nice going. (Laughter) I think what he’s accomplished here, not just in basketball – that’s important – has been remarkable.

And it reminds me, by the way, that, you know, in this kind of age of technology and information, you know, kind of the unblinking eye, I wonder – and I wonder, and I’ve always wanted to ask Coach K – you know, I wonder if he would have survived to become the person he was capable of becoming in this environment today.

And it should give us all pause if we think the answer to that is no. And I think there’s a linkage there between that experience and what we’re going to talk about here in terms of our strategy. You’ve got to give a strategy time to succeed, and I’ll speak maybe a little bit more about that in the future.

The other thing I’ll tell you about my early days at Duke is that I had – as part of the English program I had to take a foreign language exam, so I had taken French in high school. And I signed up for French believing that I could, you know, kind of set that requirement off to the side, and then in subsequent semesters I failed the damn thing twice. And, you know, this is like the three-strike rule. The rule was if I failed it the third time I was going to be sent packing. So I got serious about the study of French for a period of time, and ultimately – obviously, or I wouldn’t be here, I suppose – passed the exam.

But, you know, I often thought about that aspect of development, which is to say I don’t know that I had ever failed anything up to that point in time. And as we look at how we develop the young men and women who will eventually have to deliver this strategy that we’re talking about, you know, I think it’s extraordinarily important that we give them the opportunity to see what failure looks like so they can come to the conclusion that it’s not something they like, and also come to the conclusion that with the right attitude and the right work they can actually overcome it.

And so I do worry a bit, again, in the context of the strategy, it’s got to be given time to work, and I think we’ve got to make sure that as we step off to execute it we know there’s going to be mistakes, we know there will be missteps, and we’ve got to underwrite that because I think ultimately we continue to grow and develop mostly through adversity. And there’s plenty of opportunities out there for adversity right now, by the way.

The other thing is that in that same spirit I studied a little bit of William Blake, and I considered myself to be kind of – you know, I was going to be the next renaissance man, at least for our Army. And I studied Blake a bit because I was intrigued by the way he merged the written word with his illuminated manuscripts, and pretty much had decided that I had figured it all out, and spent my whole semester working on what I thought was an incredibly though-provoking and probably doctoral thesis-worthy paper, only to find out that I got a C-plus – a C-minus, actually, at the effort.

And I went to the professor and I said, look, I can live with a C-minus because, you know, I’m here on a scholarship so, you know, as long as I graduate I’m going to be fine, but this actually rocks me back because I really thought – I really worked hard on this. And I’ll never forget, the professor said to me, I’m sure you did. And I said, well, you know, where is the reward in all this? He said, well, we don’t really reward you for the effort, actually. We reward you for the outcome.

And I’ll tell you, you know, that was sort of one of those light-bulb moments for me, that it is some combination of work, but at the end of the day – and that’s especially true, I think, the more senior you become – you’ve got to deliver; you’ve got to produce; you’ve got to achieve the outcome that is necessary in whatever particular line of work you have or you don’t succeed, no matter how hard you do work. And, you know, again, these are kind of life-long lessons that are now applicable in my job.

And the last thing is I chose, because of all – not the last thing I’m going to speak about but the last thing related to my Duke experiences – I chose William Butler Yeats as the poet that I would study and write about and think about. And initially I did it because, frankly, I’m Irish; he was Irish I thought we’d have this kind of mythical linkage and it would be easier and, you know, I could – if I got into trouble I could always quote my grandmother or something and maybe the professor would, you know, take pity on me.

But actually what I learned about Yeats that I didn’t know going into it – that’s another lesson, by the way: Don’t always expect that you know what you’re going to learn when you step across the line. But what I learned is he was probably one of those poets unique in that he changed; he allowed himself to change and to reflect about that change as he moved through his life.

Now, he did some really bizarre stuff at the end of his life but, that said, he was always a man who could understand his time and himself, and he understood in that regard the context in which he was living. That’s the point, see? And that’s the point I want to pull into our discussion about strategy.

Strategy is, at some level, the ability to predict what’s going to happen, but it’s also about understanding the context in which it is being formulated. And then you have to be open-minded to the fact that you’re not going to get it right at the very beginning. You have a certain set of contexts in which you operate. You then apply yourself against that context, which changes the environment and introduces another set of complex challenges. It’s a really fascinating issue, this notion of strategy.

But I want to lay the ground upfront to suggest to you that I think that the development – my development, and I’m sure some of the young men and women out there who are similarly being developed now – to become capable, really of thinking strategically – starts in ways that are sometimes unexpected and actually quite surprising.

OK, so let me tell you a little bit about becoming the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. People say, what’s it like? I say, it’s pretty good, actually, pretty – you know, four-star general, got a nice house, got an airplane. (Laughter.) Angelina Jolie came to my office yesterday. You know, she wanted a little advice about her acting career – (laughter) – and I was happy to give it to her. Actually, she did come to my office but she wanted – you know, she’s quite a humanitarian and she wanted to get up to speed on some of the issues in Africa, and notably in Afghanistan and Pakistan. So we were glad to help her.

But the fact is – I’ll just tell you a little story about Deanie and I. You know, we’ve been married 35 – (3)6, almost, years. So, when I got nominated to become the chairman I was actually serving as the chief, but I had about a two-week period in between jobs and so we decided to ride back to our hometown to see some friends. And we went to high school together.

So we pull into a gas station. And, you know, in the Northeast there are still people that come out and put the gas thing in your car and – you know, they won’t let you do it yourself. But we pulled into a gas station and this guy walks out. It turns out that it was a guy that Deanie had dated in high school just before she dated me. So, you know, I didn’t say anything. I mean, I said hello. I was very polite. Great guy, by the way. But when we got back in the car to drive away, you know, I was kind of feeling my oats a little bit. You know, I’m thinking to myself, hell, yes, you know. (Laughter.)

So I said to her, you know, hon, you know, I don’t want to be boastful about this but you’ve got to feel pretty good about the fact that you chose me and not Bobby. And she looked me dead in the eye and said, hey, listen, pal, if I’d married Bobby, he’d have been the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. (Laughter, applause.) Yeah. I had to concede she was probably right. So the fact that I’m not pumping gas is all Deanie.

I promise you, because there is a basketball game I won’t let these remarks go into overtime tonight, but I do want to start kind of at grand strategy, then – you know, some of the subsets of it, and make some assertions about the topic and then, as I said, get a chance to interact with you about it.

So, grand strategy, you know – and if you – really, if you haven’t read Dr. Feaver’s comments about grand strategy, I think they’re extraordinarily important. And you know, the way I communicate on the issue of grand strategy with my joint chiefs and with my bosses is on – simplistically somewhat, and I acknowledge this – as the integration of the instruments of national power to achieve particular outcomes. So, diplomatic information, military, and economic.

And it is very much the integration and interrelationship of those notably four instruments of national power that do, and must, define a grand strategy. And of the four, you know, frankly, the one that I scratch my head about most often is the “I,” the information – you know, the acronym is DIME, diplomatic, information, military, economic – because I don’t think – even in this most recent work I think there is work yet to be done to understand the impact of information the way it is passed, the way it is absorbed, the way that it is generated that has an effect on our strategic desires and aspirations that we probably haven’t come to grips with.

But we have come to grips fairly effectively, I think, with the interrelationship of the diplomatic, military and economic instruments. And if you’re wondering why this is being – our grand strategy is being renegotiated in terms of outcomes in the face of the nation’s budget crisis, it’s because, truly, we are only as strong as those three pillars – diplomatic, military and economic – can interrelate with each other to achieve a common outcome.

And if one of those pillars is weakened, they’re all weakened. So it makes no sense for us as a nation to have an extraordinarily capable military instrument of power if we are economically disadvantaged around the world. So we’ve got to rebalance ourselves, and that is what I would suggest to you about the issue of grand strategy.

Now, let me ratchet it down a bit and talk in military terms because the application of that grand strategy to achieve particular outcomes in different parts of the world depends on what Clausewitz told us, you know, in the 19th century. Clausewitz said simply that strategy is a triad, and it’s the interaction of ends or objectives, means or resources, and ways.

Now let me tell you how that really works usually, and previously, in our system. In our system we have truly never been denied the means. It has been a great strength of our nation because of our economic well-being, at least through the period of my time in the service, that the means were never a limiting factor in any way. Nor were they necessarily an independent variable in the equation of ends, ways and means.

And so what that means is that we typically spend most of our time thinking about the ends: What is it you’re trying to achieve? And then we applied the means: If we need more, we went to it. And we weren’t forced to really confront the issue of, is there another way to do this?

I think the most important part of the emerging defense strategy and where we’re trying to get between now and 2020 is we are confronting the fact that in a constrained fiscal environment, and given that the ends are changing – but they’re not dramatically changing – we still aspire to be, need to be, and will be a global power. So the ends are not changing much. They’re being reprioritized and shifted, and I’ll mention that in a moment. And the means have changed.

The real question for me to the service chiefs, to the secretary of defense, is how can we look at changing the way we deliver those objectives, given the means available? And, actually, it’s an enormous opportunity – and I’m not being Pollyannaish about this. I promise you that. But I do think there is as much opportunity as liability.

And by the way, we as service chiefs and joint chiefs, we don’t feel victimized by this. This is something that’s actually quite healthy for us in the sense that because we haven’t really had to confront this issue of ways, I think we’ve missed some opportunities in the past. And, look, if we haven’t learned anything over the last 10 years, where we’ve exhausted enormous resources and we’ve put men and women at risk and we’ve suffered great losses to achieve outcomes in the Mid-East and South Asia – if we haven’t learned anything over the last 10 years, shame on us.

And so, what we’ve got to do now is take the last 10 years – what has changed, how have we found ways to accomplish our tasks that were different than they were 10 years ago, and how do we now leverage that to deliver this grand strategy and this emerging defense strategy that I mentioned?

Now, in the context of that I want to mention some continuities and discontinuities, meaning for us to accomplish this we’ve got to recognize the continuities – that is, what is it that will endure – and we’ve got to recognize that there are discontinuities, some of which we can’t even see yet. So let me talk really briefly about some continuities.

First and foremost are American values. You know, sometimes I think we’re a little bashful or reluctant or loathe to remind ourselves of who we are and what we stand for. But I’m telling you – look, I’ve lived in – half of my career we’ve lived in countries – in foreign countries. I’ve interacted with partners. You know the drill. Publicly and in their media they’re not going to say, you know, that we’ve got it all right and they’ve got it all wrong, and we wouldn’t do that either, but I’ll tell you, privately they do understand who we are, what we stand for.

And they do understand that, generally speaking, when we show up, we show up to try to make the situation better, not to make it worse. And that’s for them and for us. And that is a value system that I think provides incredible leverage as we decide how to change from a foundation of strength, not from a foundation of weakness.

The second thing is our U.S. geography. Now, look, you know, it’s not the 19th century and we’re not protected by the two oceans, and we’re darn sure not protected from cyber attack, which of course you know is ubiquitous around us. But I will say that the geography of the United States provides a certain continuity and a certain set of expectations that is a continuity on which we can rely. I will also say that the U.S. homeland is no longer a sanctuary. We are vulnerable. But part of our strategy is of course to understand that vulnerability and to ensure we reduce it or at least lower the risk.

The third, this is our demographics; you know, the fact that we’re a diverse society, that we do have the ability to allow people of different races, creeds, colors and – literally we are a diverse society that provides not only an example but also provides – when we allow it to, provides enormous strength to our nation. And so we’re trying to capture that in our strategy.

The fourth thing that is a continuity is resource competition. It is a fact that as the world’s demographic and economic shift occurs – and, demographically and economically, the world is shifting toward the Pacific. I mean, most of you know if you’ve been in New York City lately you would drive by the U.N. – a big sign up there, you know: Welcome to the world, you know, number 7 billion.

And, by the way, it took 14 years to get from 6 billion to 7 billion, and it will only take 10 to get from 7 billion to 8 (billion). Now, do the math and figure out, you know, what happens as this thing kind of accelerates and we introduce – I mean, even in the most simplistic terms, when you introduce that kind of population growth into the world’s economy, what is it going to mean? So, resource constraints, resource competition is a reality, it is a continuity, and we’ve got to be alert to that.

The fifth thing is, sadly, is violent extremist organizations; that is to say, ideological based. And I won’t pass judgment on any particular kind of ideology on which they base their activities, but there are groups that are networked, they’re decentralized, they’re syndicated, and they act against our national interest around the world. And I would suggest to you that for the period that we’re talking, which is between now and 2020, that is a continuity that we have to confront.

And the final continuity, for the military in particular, is that we are a profession that, simply stated – I just left 400 young faces over in the Bryan Center, the ROTC cadets from all services from the surrounding universities, and if you ever want to – you know, if you’re ever feeling like you’re not sure about where we’re all heading and you’re not feeling so good about the direction of the country or the direction of the military, go chat for a while with some of those young kids and you’ll come out of that experience with a much different feeling.

They’re just terrific – great young men and women who have agreed – who have done – what they’ve done, by the way, is they have sworn an allegiance already – even as cadets they have sworn an allegiance, not to a political party, not to a monarch; they have sworn an allegiance to a set of ideals embodied in our Constitution. We are unique on the face of the planet in that regard. And it is the great strength of our profession and it is a great continuity on which I think we can build.

OK, discontinuities, I’ll just mention them. We don’t have time to talk about them. But, you know, in case you haven’t noticed, there’s this thing out there called the Arab Spring, and it probably exists elsewhere; we just haven’t labeled it.

And so, number two I’ll mention is the Occupy movement. We have to figure out – that’s a discontinuity. You know, what does it mean to – what does it mean to our system of governance?

The third thing of course is North Korean regime change, recently occurred. And that’s a discontinuity that will eventually stabilize, but it’s a – you know, we describe them sometimes as black swans. They manifest themselves at unexpected times and in unexpected ways, and those are discontinuities to any strategy.

The fourth one is information technology. I don’t know whether – you know, there’s some thought out there that information technology has kind of flattened, you know. Others will tell you, no, no, it’s not flattened; we’re just at the knee of the curve and it’s about to – it’s about to increase again exponentially.

I will tell you, if you think about this word called “cyber” 10 years ago and think about it today – 10 years ago if you would have said “cyber” somebody would have said, yeah, yeah, you know, have a nice time; go back to Shooters; have another drink. You know, breathe through your nose; you’ll get over this. And they would have called you a geek. Cyber is now a reality, and it is a reality that has security implications. And it’s a discontinuity because there are the potential for breakout technologies that we have to be very, very alert to.

The last one will make me sound like I’ve potentially lost my mind and given up my roots as a literature scholar, and that is nonbiological intelligence. You probably saw the “Jeopardy!” show where Watson, you know, jousted with the finest that “Jeopardy!” had to offer. If you didn’t see that, there’s a book I would encourage you to take a look at called “The Most Human Human” that talks about the Turing test, which is an annual test pitting computers against humans with a blind – meaning screened-off panel – trying to figure out which one is the computer and which one is the human. And the human has always won, but the computer is getting awful darn close.

And the question becomes, as nonbiological or artificial intelligence increases, what will it mean across all sectors of society, not just the military sector and the things we’re interested in, but economics, education, all kinds of things? And there are many who believe that we’re at the knee of the curve. We’ve been flat for a while and it’s about to spike. Others believe it’s relatively flat. I don’t care which of those two you believe, but there is a discontinuity inchoate – how’s that for a literature word – in that issue, in the issue of nonbiological intelligence that we have to be alert to.

OK, so, strategy; you know, is it hindsight or foresight? There are some who believe that strategy is really written after you sort of see what happened. Then you knit it together and you take credit for a strategy. I don’t think so, but nor do I think – you know, I don’t think it’s an either/or – I don’t think it’s a dichotomy.

I think there are aspects of it that are backward-looking and there are aspects of it that are forward-looking. Is it enduring or opportunistic? Is it something that we publish, spike the ball in the end zone, pat ourselves on the back and leave unattended for some period of time, or is it opportunistic, something that has to be touched and changed? Well, you probably know where I stand on that issue.

Should it be entirely clear or should it actually intentionally introduce ambiguity? Think of some of the nations in the world with whom we deal and think about whether any strategy should be entirely clear – certainly shouldn’t be entirely ambiguous. But I think, again, it’s one of these cases where we need some balance.

Strategy is about context, as I mentioned, and choice. Strategy is about context and choice. And choices have consequences and consequences produce new context. So there is this – it is dynamic, and I think you have to appreciate it, you have to accept it, you have to embrace it. You have to actually force it or your strategy will not be what, in our case, the nation needs in its security forces.

One other word about context because I became really interested in context during my tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. I became interested in context for this reason: I grew up in an Army that was very centralized, very templated, very hierarchical, and I always had the expectation as a young officer that the best information I could possibly receive would come from the top down because the echelons above me always had the best capability to grab information, to gather intelligence, to analyze it, and then to push it to me.

So I was very much in the business of being a – this was all through the Cold War, by the way. I was in the business of consuming intelligence and consuming information and then acting on it. What I found in Iraq and Afghanistan is that the best information I had available to me didn’t come from the top down. Well, hell, I was at the top and I knew I wasn’t producing it. But rather, it came from the bottom up.

And so what I came to realize was that what’s happened over the last decade is that this very hierarchical organization, this very centralized organization, had become – had adapted, in some cases consciously, in some cases because junior leaders at the lower level knew they had to do it – it had become decentralized, distributed, networked, syndicated, and a lot of capability had been pushed to the edge to the point where now the best information comes from the bottom up.

But what I also realized was that we hadn’t changed the way we developed these leaders, so they were kind of doing it on their own. And when I was the chief of the Army I said, OK, look, the environment has changed. We are no longer centralized hierarchical. We are very much now – we’re global and we’re networked and we’re decentralized, and we’ve got to figure out, what are the new set of leader attributes that are necessary in this environment to take advantage of that?

And so we’ve been adapting, over time, our leader development paradigms to get at this issue of context, because the other fascinating thing I’ve learned – and this is true even in the job I’m in now – when you go into a – I’ll just use myself as an example – when I go into a meeting to discuss policy, discuss strategy, discuss operations, plans, whatever it happens to be, he who has the best context generally prevails in the argument, not necessarily who’s got the best facts. There’s a difference. It’s who has the best context in which those facts exist.

And I think one of the challenges of education for this century, and certainly one of the challenges for us in our development of leaders to execute the strategies that we’ve espoused, is we’ve got to develop leaders who can take the facts of the situation, apply context and understand.

You remember, of course, what Einstein said March 14th – same birthday as me. I consider it sort of an omen of some kind. (Laughter.) But Einstein said, famously, if I had an hour to save the world, I’d spend 55 minutes understanding the problem and I’d spend five minutes solving it. I’ll tell you – ladies and gentlemen, I’ll tell you, where we are in – that was true in the mid part of the 20th century; I would say it’s even more true in the 21st century – I think that we spend far too little time – this is a personal indictment – understanding problems before we lurch on and try to solve them.

And so, as we look at how we develop leaders, how – I mean, I’m even in conversation with men and women – men like Tony Wagner at Harvard University, who is one of the leading advocates of a fundamental change to our secondary school education curriculum – to develop leaders who can build context and understand problems before lurching to find the answer. And I think that’s extraordinarily important.

The last thing I’ll mention before I say just a few words about the new strategy and what it means to the nation is this idea of cost as an independent variable. I want to make sure everybody knows, we are not – we, the military, are not being victimized by this budget issue. There are some out there speaking about it in those terms, but as I mentioned to your earlier, we clearly have a role to play – all of us as citizens – in helping the nation address this economic crisis.

I’m not going to be the only one that goes to the altar and puts something in the basket, don’t get me wrong, but I am suggesting to you that we understand that for the nation to overcome its debt crisis and some of the other economic challenges it has, we’ve got to get a hold of costs as an independent variable in the development of our organizations, our training, our maintenance and our modernization programs.

And we will. But I want to make sure you know we’re not being victimized by this. This is something that we, the Joint Chiefs, have embraced as what’s best for America, and we’ll figure it out. But make no mistake about it: Cost is now an independent variable in our decisions about what we will and will not do. And I’ll tell you, that’s probably the first time in my recent memory that that’s been the case.

Cost has always been a variable, but it has not, in my recollection, been an independent variable. And it is. And that’s OK. It’s what faces the nation now, and we will adapt and figure it out. But we can’t underestimate the impact of costs. And maybe that’s what’s among the things that are new in our environment besides learning the lessons of the last 10 years of war. Maybe it’s this notion of costs as an independent variable.

So what about our emerging defense strategy? First I want you to know it’s a real strategy; it’s not just a dusted off, polished off and marginally edited cousin of its former strategies. We’ve made some real choices. We’ve taken real ownership of it. And it’s a strategy that I would describe as based in – it seeks a balance of principle and pragmatism – principle and pragmatism.

It looks out to 2020. So we’ve already decided what we want to do between now and ’17. The budget – the secretary of defense will submit the budget for ’13-’17 at the end of this month, and that will get us through ’17, but the work won’t end. We’re looking to 2020.

You might say, why 2020, the mid-future? Well, what’s so important about the mid-future? Well, really, nobody wants the mid-future. Go to a cocktail party sometime – not that you would ever do that, but if you do go to a cocktail party, see if you can get somebody in a conversation about 2050. No problem. Talk about global warming, talk about demographic shifts, talk about, you know, life on other planets. It’s not hard to get somebody to talk about 2050. It’s just not. Try it if you think I’m wrong about that.

Or get them to talk about what happened today or tomorrow or yesterday. Not a problem. People are very, very tied in, clued in, up to speed, linked-in and connected on the issues of today. But ask somebody about, hey, what do you think about 2020? Crickets. And you might say, why is 2020 so intimidating? It’s intimidating because we actually have the opportunity to shape it, and we’re going to own it.

As the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I will submit, if I’m the chairman for four years, we will submit four budgets, one that covers ’13-’17, one that covers ’14-’18, one that covers ’15-’19. I hope you can do the math and discover that the next one will cover ’16-’20. So whether we intentionally and deliberately build toward 2020, I will be the chairman that delivers, either deliberately or inadvertently – that delivers the joint force of 2020.

And that’s what we need to be thinking about, not what we’re going to do tomorrow of on this one budget, but, rather, what is it that the nation needs in 2020? And we’re working on that a lot. And it’s some combination of changed relationships – relationships between the traditional and conventional military components, the emerging components such as cyber, the lessons of the last 10 years of war, especially special operating forces. It’s a new relationship among the services, potentially.

That gets at what I said earlier, to link the two together about changing the way we approach security challenges, not just by dialing up and down the resources. And I think we’ve got a reasonable chance of doing it. It shifts in geographic priorities. You’ll hear, famously, that we are more interested now in the strategic challenges that are emanating from the Pacific. And, if you like, we can talk about that.

What it doesn’t mean is that we are going to neglect our strategic traditional partners in Europe. It means we have to understand how to engage with them, how to partner with them, how to build their capabilities in a different way than just plopping large amounts and large numbers of U.S. troops on their soil. And we can figure this out. So we will shift our view of where the strategic challenges are emerging, but it’s yet to be determined how we’re going to – how we’re going to react to that. And I will say, there is something powerful about that notion.

You know, the other thing about grand strategy, as Dr. Feaver put in his article, is oftentimes no one pays attention to them unless they end in M-E-N-T. You know, you’ve got to have some little bumper sticker to describe it or people just don’t get interested in it. And yet, the idea of shifting our strategic priorities to the Pacific is probably profound enough for now. Now it’s up to us, those that deliver the strategy, to try to determine what that means.

The two-war construct: As you know, we’ve said for decades – well, really since the fall of the wall and since the demise of the Soviet Union we’ve said we have to be able to fight two nearly simultaneous wars. And we’ve taken that language out. Now, some people say, aha, you’ve taken that language out because now you’re only going to fight one war. No, I didn’t say that, and I would never say that. The nation doesn’t need a military that can only do one thing at a time. The nation needs a military that can do multiple things at the same time based on the needs, and give the national command authorities as many options as possible.

So you might say, well, that’s a cop out; you can’t really do that. And I say, yeah, actually I can. And I can because what we’ve done is we’ve – and, again, you know, this is the English major in me coming out, I suppose – we’ve actually freed ourselves from the tyranny of language associated with a two-war construct.

Now, let me give you one example when I say the “tyranny” of language. So we had this two-war construct that said: Thou must fight two wars simultaneously. OK. So I’m the chief of staff of the Army and I take the two – two potential scenarios. You know, at the time potentially – this goes back several years now. One was Iraq for many years and the other was Iran, and now we’re North Korea. But there was always two scenarios where we said, you must be prepared to fight.

And so, by the accounting rules of force distribution you would apply combat power and then the enablers, and then the enablers would have to make some judgments about, for example, how many days of supply of ammunition do you need? Remember now, tyranny of language, so not much wiggle room. You’ve got to be able to fight two wars conventionally nearly simultaneously.

And by the time you were done with the accounting rules, the Army ended up with – and I’m not making this number up – 264,000 trucks. And you might say, that’s absurd; how did you end up with 264,000 trucks? Three days of supply of ammunition spread out over two conflicts for three days – I said that, three days of supplies, spread out over two conflicts. And it was a mathematical drill.

So there truly was a tyranny to the two-war construct that was fine when the world was like that, and it was fine when resources were not an independent variable, but it’s no longer fine. And so, by freeing ourselves from that tyranny of vocabulary, I think what we’ve actually allowed ourselves to do now is to think differently about how we achieve the outcome both in terms of scope and scale and over time.

And we’re not where we need to be yet. We’ve got distance to travel. But what I am suggesting to you is that by freeing ourselves from the tyranny of that particular language I think you’re going to find us to be a better force in the future. We’ve got to keep it balanced. That means we’ve got to invest in manpower structure, modernization, training, maintenance, equipment and military construction, and we’ll do that. We’ve got to invest in our leaders.

If I had to pick one place on which the strategy will succeed or fail, it will be on our ability to develop leaders to execute it. And so we’ve got to – even in the face of resource constraints we’ve got to redouble our efforts to build leaders, because the reality is no strategy will ever be executed exactly as we’ve written it, and it is the leaders in our armed forces who will adapt it and make it work in whatever circumstance they find themselves.

Let me leave you with something I – I went to a funeral yesterday for one of our very famous generals who – a guy by the name of Donn Starry. He served at the end of World War II, served in Vietnam, became a four-star, ran our Training and Doctrine Command, notably, but probably was credited – for me anyway he was credited with taking the Army of Vietnam and, with a handful of others, turning it into the Army that became the Army we know today. And I think we’re at another one of those inflection points in our history.

But, anyway, listen to what he said about how he kind of gauged what was important in life. And I don’t know how many students we have here, but if you want to think about your future, perhaps you ought to think about it in these terms. I find this extraordinary. He said this:

He said, “I suggest that your life takes on meaning only as the causes to which you attach yourself have meaning, that the greatest value of a life is to spend it for something that lives after it, that in the end up become what you are through some cause that you have made your own. Remember this: In many ways it’s a far higher ideal to live an ordinary life in an extraordinary way.”

And I think – as I sat there yesterday at the service listening to those words, I think it captured what we should all be about, not just those of us who serve in the military but anyone who considers themselves to be a citizen of this great nation in which we live. God bless you all. God bless America. And I look forward to taking your questions. (Applause.)

PETER FEAVER: Thank you. Thank you, General.

We do have some time, and we have microphones down here and in there, and if you would make your way to the microphones if you want to ask a question.

I’ll ask the first question.


MR. FEAVER: You talked about ends, ways and means. Last week when you were speaking about the president’s strategy, you mentioned a fourth-element risk when you said the strategy was about managing risk. Can you talk about what you think is the biggest risk that’s in the strategy? What were the risks that you would want to focus the analytic attention on?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, I will. And in fact, I’m held accountable annually. You probably know this, but annually the chairman – just after the budget submission, the chairman has to submit a document cleverly called “The Chairman’s Risk Assessment.” And it’s against the strategy: Is this budget – will this budget deliver the strategy?

I think about strategy in, I think, two important ways. One is – I mean, one is sort of mechanistic almost, almost mechanical. And that is, you take a look at the likelihood of something occurring against the consequences of it occurring. So, take the easiest example. You know, the consequence of a global nuclear exchange is extraordinary, but the likelihood is actually quite low.

And that allows you then to determine, as we did in the recent New START negotiations, to determine where you are willing to take risk. And that’s true at any point along the spectrum of conflict. So what’s the likelihood of something occurring and what would the consequences be? The other way to look at it for this particular strategy, since we are getting smaller, is that we are taking some risk in time and in capacity.

And I’ll just elaborate very briefly on those two: time, which means it might take us longer to flow to a fight, it might take us longer to finish a fight. And in terms of capacity, which is to say, how often can you use the force, were we to get into another protracted stability operation, the force we’re going to build, the active component of it in particular, would not be capable of taking a protracted stability operation in, because once you get into a protracted conflict you have to rotate people in and out. So this strategy has work yet to be done to mitigate the risk of time and capacity.

MR. FEAVER: Great.


Q: General, thank you very much for your remarks. My name is Steve Kelly. I’m a retired Foreign Service officer who now teaches here at Duke.

You talked in your remarks about continuities that you have to deal with in strategizing, and specifically about the competition for resources. I’d like to ask you about one of those: energy in general.

I know the Pentagon is very focused with becoming more efficient. I think you consume 80 percent of the energy that the federal government in general consumes. I’d like to know what your thinking is on that as a way, moving forward, to save money and work within a smaller budget.

And then related to that is energy and its relationship with U.S. national security; what your take on events in Iran and rioting in Nigeria and the kind of impact that’s going to have on oil supplies for the United States over the coming months or years.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, thank you for sharing your nightmares with me. I share them myself. (Laughter.) I think you might have left off one or two places there but you hit most of them.

There’s three reasons we should be serious about energy. One is it’s the right thing to do. And, you know, I’m not a – you know, I’m not a card-carrying member of Greenpeace but I do recognize that it is the right thing to do for the planet to become more alert, aware and more concerned about energy. The other reason on the other end is cost, as you describe it. I mean, we do consume enormous amounts, and particularly fossil fuels.

But the reason that I’m actually quite passionate about energy and I have made it a focus area for myself is – and I would describe it as “operational energy” – we put – you know, we have, I think – I may be off by a few, but 250 either forward-operating bases or combat outposts in Afghanistan, and every one of those requires a certain amount of power and energy, logistics, and all the things that sustain life in some pretty darn austere places.

And every one of those generally requires us to either drive it in or fly it in or drop it in. We’ve got a quite remarkable system of parachute extraction. But the point is, you know, it’s physical. We’ve got to get it there. And in so doing we put people at risk. We would be far more effective if we could form a brigade combat team that was self-sufficient, that was sort of net-zero in terms of energy consumption.

Every service has a program. I can only speak for the Army’s because I’m most familiar with it. We’ve got five installations in this country that have a goal that by – I think it’s 2015 – I might be off by two years; it might be 2017 – we’ll achieve a net-zero energy consumption goal.

So there’s kind of the garrison aspects of it, there’s the operational aspects of it, and then of course in our programmatics as we – as we put out a request for proposals on a particular vehicle, we are introducing energy into the – we call them key performance parameters.

But – well, look, that’s – you know, all of that is somewhat aspirational. We’ve got to get there. But it is part of the joint force 2020 vision, that we would become – and we’re trying to benchmark it – we would become far more energy efficient.

Now, in terms of energy and its impact on the geopolitical, geoeconomic and the security environment, yeah, I mean, there are those who believe that that is the issue over which – that the traditional and emerging powers are probably going to find least common interest. And so, another reason to try and break this kind of – break this paradox – and it’s also related to what I mentioned to you earlier about, you know, demographic trends as well.

I don’t know if you have a more specific question. I mean, truly – not to be trite – I share your concern that energy could become the issue of the last half of this century.

MR. FEAVER: Down here.

Q: Hey. Well, first of all, thank you for speaking here. My name is Julian Spector and I’m a sophomore at Duke. And I was pleasantly surprised to hear your English background from Duke and I was wondering if you could talk about how the humanities and the English, you know, experience you had there influenced and translated into your subsequent military career.

MR. FEAVER: I think Dick Brodhead planted that question, actually. (Laughter.)

GEN. DEMPSEY: He did, I think, yeah. Either him or Victor Strandberg. I don’t know if he’s here today.

Yeah, I get asked that question a lot, and I – when I came to – when I came to Duke University in 1982 it was like – I might as well have been planted on the moon. Here’s why I say that: You know, I’d grown up in a series of Catholic parochial grammar schools. I went to Catholic high school. I went to West Point. I have never in my life had to think about what to wear. (Laughter.) Am I right?

I got to Duke and I was in a panic. Deanie will tell you. I said, what the hell am I going to wear to school tomorrow, you know? And so I get all dressed up. I’m way over-dressed, by the way. You know, I come here and everybody is walking around in shorts and a backpack, and I stuck out like a sore thumb.

In fact, one of the funny things that happened to me was on the first day of class I looked at – you know, I’m the Army guy so I was doing my intelligence work. And on the listed incoming graduate students it said there was a priest, an Air Force guy, an Army guy, and then there were several other – you know, there were several students who had just graduated and had matriculated straight into their graduate degree.

So I decided I would try to figure out, you know, who – I wonder who the priest is, you know? And so I’m going through this whole thing, and finally I realized everybody else in the class is doing the same damn thing. We’re all trying to figure, OK, which one is the priest? The funny part of the story was I got the most votes as the priest. (Laughter.) I swear to God. And the priest got the most votes as the Army officer. (Laughter.)

So, to your question, it was incredibly broadening. I had not really been confronted – I mean, look, every place I went to school I just described to you, you know, you could label it as – you know, and safely label it as somewhat conservative, and maybe even dramatically conservative.

And I came here to Duke and I was confronted – in a very positive way, by the way – with viewpoints that I hadn’t ever had to confront in the past. That was just in the interaction with my fellow students. And then inside of that I was reading things and trying to understand them, and I felt woefully inadequate.

You know, by the way, the priest was working on his doctorate in literature and, you know, he was quoting all these things from his master’s program and his undergraduate program, and I felt just completely left behind. But I clawed my way back. And it did three things. One, it gave me enormous confidence. Secondly, it really opened my mind to seek – not just accept but seek other ways of thinking about things. And then I think the third thing is it just helps you – it helps you communicate.

You know, you can’t help – when I got to West Point, the head of the department there, speaking to the incoming students, held up a dictionary and the complete works of Shakespeare. And he said, this will tell you what – this will tell you the definition of the words – the dictionary. This will tell you what they mean. And I found that to be extraordinary.

And I have – you know, for the rest of my life I have been an avid reader, and I’m always looking for ways to phrase things in a way that is persuasive. And you heard me say earlier that even in our government, he or she who has the best context prevails. It’s also true that he or she who is most persuasive will prevail. And so it’s helped me a lot. Thanks for asking.

MR. FEAVER: In the interest of time, let’s take two questions at a time. So can you state yours and then you state yours?

Q: Yes. My name is Kemery Eisen (ph) and I served with you, General Dempsey, in 3rd Armor Division a long time ago. I have a question as it relates to the all-volunteer force.

The willingness to serve is going to be based on how well we take care of those that have served. What would be your recommendation and guidance for leaders in the public and private space to help transition soldiers back into the workforce as well as take care of their long-term cares after these wars subside?

MR. FEAVER: And here?

Q: Hi, my name is Elana and I’m a member of the Occupy Wall Street movement. And I actually really identified with the quote that you shared at the end as to how I feel being part of that movement.

And I guess I was really curious to hear – you mentioned Occupy Wall Street as one of the key discontinuities that, if I understood correctly, you feel like the Army – or the military needs to respond to. So I guess I’m wondering why you feel like it demands a military response and what that response might look like.

MR. FEAVER: Occupy Wall Street. I think she misunderstood.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah. Boy, I’m glad you asked that question because if you have any doubt about that, I need to clear it up. (Laughter.) No, I am not in any way advocating a military response to the Occupy movement. (Laughter.) That would have made news.

No, what I’m suggesting is, you know, we say that there’s this thing called the Arab Spring and it has – it has changed the security environment internationally. And what I’m suggesting is that the same kind of technologies have actually produced this thing called the Occupy movement, which is changing the internal political dynamic of this country.

Not necessarily military, but as we look at – you know, it’s almost linked in some ways to your question. You know, how do we make sure that changes in our political climate calculation, that we can preserve the all-volunteer force by continuing to make sure that we get the right kind of men and women off the streets of America? We’re not going anywhere near a military response to the Occupy movement.

Thanks. Does that help? I’m just talking about – when I look at the environment in which we live and in which we have to function, it’s not just about things military. Maybe that’s the way – it’s economics and it’s the political – it’s political change. It’s information proliferation.

And, you know, I’m just trying to figure it because those same kids that might be out there on the street are going to – I mean, think about it this way: So I’ve got these kids who are connected 24 hours a day; you know, the kids who will sit in the middle of a football field with a laptop computer, and they’re by themselves but they’re connected to the world. And then they come into the Army – I’ll just use the Army – and we say, yeah, you can’t do that; you can’t be connected. You know, we’ve got a discontinuity in the way we deal with these kids who come in with a different set of expectations.

I tell people that as the chairman I will manage three significant transitions. The first is a military that has been generally fighting as its principal raison d’etre, and it will go back to being a military that continues to fight but also has to train and is deploying less.

The second major transition is bigger to smaller budgets. And, you know, who knows what “bigger” means and “smaller,” but I can tell you that the trend line is pretty clear.

And then the third transition is, because we’re going to get smaller, we’re going to transition, you know, tens of thousands of young men and women who have been in the military into civilian life, and it’s our obligation to manage their transition. I’ll just give you one example of what we’re trying to do.

We’re working with the Veterans Administration, Secretary Shinseki, and we’re trying to think of transition not as an episodic event at the end of your service – so, you know, the last six weeks, you know, we fill your head full of all the transition stuff. We have you write a résumé. We’re actually trying to think of transition – when you come in the service and you say, I agree to serve, we’ll start to do things that will prepare you to transition out, even if you never do.

But we’ve got to take it – we’ve got to look at it as a continuum, not as an episodic event. And, by the way, we’re having a lot of luck and a lot of help partnering with business, industry and academia. I mean, there’s some great opportunities for kids to use their GI Bill.

MR. FEAVER: I’m afraid we’ve run out of time so we won’t be able to take more questions, but you’ve started a conversation and I’m happy to report we’ll be continuing this conversation all semester long. We’ll have another Phillips Lecture at the end of the semester and continue it there.

And you’ve proven to us that in our business of strategy, you never really go out of business. There’s always a need for more. And thank you for what you’re doing. Thank you for your service, sir. (Applause.)