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Gen. Dempsey's Remarks at the National Guard Symposium on Mutual Security Cooperation

By As Delivered by General Martin E. Dempsey, Washington, D.C.
GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY: (Applause.) Please have a seat. Thanks. Thanks for that introduction, Craig. And as you begin to think about ending your career – you’re not out of the woods yet, by the way – I want to publicly thank you for your great leadership. And you’ll go down in history as the first National Guard member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, so well done.

Walking in here, I took a look at the title of the conference and it had the word “enduring” in it – “Enduring Partnerships.” And I have to tell you, in my life, I love the word “enduring” because I don’t get much of it. (Laughter.) You know, things are changing and have changed and will continue to change so rapidly that anything that we can label enduring seems to me to have intrinsic value for us. And so I think figuring out how to apply that word more often I think is maybe philosophically what I would suggest as an important part of your conference here.

This is the 20th I guess – no, 37 years ago today, the State Partnership Program was born. And I don’t know enough about the history of it to tell you whose idea it was –

GEN McKINLEY: General Conaway, right here.

GEN. DEMPSEY: No kidding? Well, I’ve got to tell you, General – back to enduring. Of all the things I think – no, I don’t mean you. I don’t mean you personally – (laughter) – although you’re looking good.

But of all the different programs that I’ve seen kind of come and go through the years, this one has truly reaped benefits – you’d probably admit – far beyond probably what you initially conceived. That’s great stuff. And, you know, we are certainly eager to continue that.

And it is 20 years ago. I had a moment in history – you know, I like to do the “this day in history” thing. And the 37-years-ago historical moment was the docking of a U.S. and Soviet spacecraft together, you know. So there’s kind of an image of partnerships. But then, 20 years ago is when the State Partnership Program came about.

You know, the partnering in general – whether you’re partnering with nations, other nations or whether you’re partnering with, you know, your own services – you know, this all Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine, Coast Guard, Active, Guard and Reserve – it’s not always easy. I mean, I think we have to admit that partnering takes work.

I’ll give you a short little personal example that I think I’ve got a pretty good partnership with my wife of 36 years. But I remember when I was in Desert Storm in 1991, she wrote me a letter. You know I’m a student of literature as well and English grammar. So she wrote me this letter and I didn’t know exactly how to take it because there was a phrase in it that went something like this: I’m so miserable without you, it’s almost as though you were here with me. (Laughter.)

Now, you remember, back in ’91, in Desert Storm, some of you remember, you know, there was no way to get to a phone. You couldn’t text. There was no Skype. It took me – you know, I had to send a regular mail letter back and forth to figure out if she was sending me a particular message or, you know, if I should take something from that. It just turned out to be a bad slip of the pen – thank God.

But it does point out I think that partnering takes work. And, you know, those of you that are in the business of having established all these partnerships, well done on both sides, on all sides. And we certainly want to keep at that.

So let me tell you a little bit – I know that Kath Hicks, who was here moments ago, talked to you about, you know, what we’ve been working on to revise our defense strategy. Let me give you a couple of personal insights into that.

I’ve talked a little bit about – maybe a lot about the fact that we’re in an increasingly competitive environment, which is to say that, you know, nation-states used to pretty much have a monopoly on the top end technologies related to lethal force and military instruments. You know, I think it’s pretty clear to everybody that nation-states no longer have that monopoly. And what that does, of course, is it increases the risk, you know, in ways that I think we all need to continue to talk about and think about and interact about.

But what that does, of course, is it also presents a bit of a security paradox. And this is a source of constant discussion with us as we look at this new strategy. The paradox is that, although human violence is at an evolutionary low, the capability to dispense violence is at an evolutionary high.

And that’s a paradox because on the one hand, you know, you would suggest that the need for defense and militaries and capabilities and capacity – capability, what do you want to provide, and capacity, how much of it. You could make the case because of these evolutionary low levels of violence that you could take some risk in those terms. But in taking that risk, you’re probably going to get the future wrong. And that’s the balance I think each of our nations are trying to strike in a new fiscal environment.

So that’s where this all comes in, I think – you know, the idea that the major powers, who used to be able to do more or less anything they thought they needed to do, more or less by themselves, I think will increasingly find that they need partners now, not just because partnering is an intrinsic good, but because they literally need to forge partnerships so that nations are able to confront these kind of decentralized networked, syndicated, technologically capable foes on their terms so that we’re not faced with trying to do all of these things ourselves. You know, I think it’s really a modest investment for a pretty substantial return.

So, you know, we’ve got real, long enduring – there’s that word again – partnerships in places like Europe, and what I hope we can do as part of this conference and beyond is think about how to widen those horizons, find new ways to engage with partners, not with permanent presence but with rotational presence – exercises, state partnership programs and the like.

And we’ve got some pretty good examples of being able to do that, even where we sometimes find ourselves disagreeing with nations about certain things.

So, I mean, I had General Makarov with me last week. And as you know, our partnership with Russia is very important. It’s very important to the nation. It’s very important to me personally. And there are some things we just disagree about, but there’s also some things we very much agree about – counterterrorism, counternarcotics, counterpiracy, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

So I think that finding some points where we agree on things and then building on that and partnering is probably really what our new strategy calls for.

And with that, by the way, comes another important element that I talk about often, and that’s trust. We have over the course of many decades built that kind of trust with your European allies. NATO only holds together because of the trust relationship that exists among the 28 nations. But I think we have to do that same kind of outreach to build that fundamental foundation of trust elsewhere.

And that really gets at what you all do with the State Partnership Program. I mean, you know, your TAGs [The Adjutants General] and CHODs [Chiefs of Defense] with whom they partner, have sometimes grown up together since they were majors in a way that, frankly, the active component – we can’t do that because of the way we move about, the way we change from job to job.

But you can leverage that kind of almost lifelong or career-long relationship. And I think that’s really important because what you get in the State Partnership Programs is you get both width – you know, the breadth, if you will, of the relationship, but also the depth of it. You know, you can partner at echelons, at ranks, and watch that evolve over time in a way that actually does achieve that word “enduring.”

So I did note that 58 of the State Partnership Programs are outside of the Asia-Pacific, not surprising. I mean, we’ve been focused elsewhere. And I think one of the challenges I’d like to lay on the table here today is to think about how we now match the rebalancing to the Pacific, to the Asia-Pacific, with a rebalancing as well of state partnerships. But I leave that to you to wrestle about with.

So I don’t know how Kath Hicks described exactly the rebalancing, by the way, but I’d like to – I’d put in my own terms in a way that I’m able to kind of grasp. So I’d like to share that with you.

I think it’s a matter of three “mores” – more this, more that, and more something else. And here they are: more attention, which is to say intellectual bandwidth. You know, we just haven’t paid as much attention to the Asia-Pacific over the last 11 years for reasons that are obvious, so more attention and the application of human capital to the issues that we find emerging in the Asia-Pacific region.

More engagement, especially with rotational forces and I would suggest to you including the State Partnership Programs.

And then more quality, putting more of our best equipment into the Asia-Pacific where heretofore has been largely committed into the Middle East and the issues that we’ve been confronting there.

So let me close my remarks and then ask you for your questions by citing an Arab proverb: one hand can’t clap. And I actually – I love images like that because – there’s a companion piece that a guy named Fred Franks used to use, which is, you can’t roll up your sleeves and wring your hands at the same time. And, obviously, what I’d rather see us do is roll up our sleeves than wring our hands.

The challenges that face us, all of us, are remarkable really, remarkable in both their – the number and the complexity. But I do think that getting through those challenges both requires the hard work that comes in rolling up your sleeves and also through partnership.

So to all of you that are here as our partners, thank you for that. Help us see ourselves better. Help us understand the issues that you face better, because I think in understanding comes progress, and so my compliments to all of you.

And I’d be happy to take your questions. (Applause.)

Yes, sir?

Q: Good morning, General Dempsey. My name is John Finney. I’m from the National Guard Bureau. And, sir, I’m wondering if you could please share with us this morning any lessons learned in terms of partnership and cooperation that you observed from the operation in Libya last year when we had the Arab League endorsement, the U.N. endorsement and then a coalition of partners from the region and outside the region carrying out this joint mission. From your perspective, do you see any lessons learned that you might be able to share with us? Thank you, sir.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, absolutely, with the caveat that there are no templates; and some you have heard me say this before. Somebody will say, you know, why don’t you just take that template and apply it to Syria. You know, there are no templates here. But there are some, as you described it, lessons learned and maybe even some principles.

I think that what we saw in Libya very positively was an international mandate supported by our strongest alliance, which is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, but with genuine Arab interest and participation. I mean, I see that our Jordanian defense attaché here – notably Jordan, for example – not exclusively Jordan.

So you had this kind of triad that I think allowed the world to coalesce around that particular problem. Now, you know, in trying to – again, back to no templates, the Syrian issue – we’ve haven’t had that kind of coalescing around this single issue.

So that’s – I think one lesson is that, you know, we are – we’re far more capable when we can find that kind of agreement about the issue at hand and how to resolve it.

You know, the other – the other lesson for me – that’s kind of on the positive side. On the other side, the challenge side, I think we probably exposed some shortfalls in capabilities, whether it was ISR – intelligence surveillance reconnaissance – whether it was tankers to sustain operation, whether it was precision guided munitions – you know, we saw some of our allies reach a point of critical shortage probably too quickly.

So, you know, we’ve been engaged in NATO to try to capture the lessons learned and then work to overcome them. And that’s why you hear things in NATO, for example, about this initiative called Smart Defense. And we’re working to make sure we really are smart about it and that it’s not just an excuse to cut defense budgets.

So, on the one hand, you know, you had this evidence of a – you know, the triad of a major alliance, the international community, and then genuine participation of the regional stakeholders. On the other hand, we did have some capability shortfalls. And then, in the middle of all of it, it was about – this is not going to surprise you – about relationships.

I mean, what allowed us to get through those – to build that alliance and then also to get through the shortfalls was the fact that people who had worked with each other – particularly in NATO, by the way, through the years – were able to – you know, to get around the table and sort this thing out based on relationships, but also relationships in the region. That’s how the regional stakeholders came together. So, you know, it wasn’t perfect; nothing ever is. But I would say those are what I carried away as the major lessons learned.

Yes, sir.

Q: Good morning, General Dempsey. General Lowenberg, adjutant general of Washington. Thank you, sir, for including us in the visit that you hosted with General Tanasak from Thailand recently.

With the national military security strategy transitioning in part with a focus on Asia, which you’ve addressed, Asia and the Asia-Pacific region has no mutual defense counterpart to NATO. What do you see as the synergy opportunities for the State Partnership Program and the combatant commanders’ theater security activities with organizations like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations? And what could the State Partnership Program do to build the capacity for countries in Asia to respond to catastrophic humanitarian disasters? Thank you, sir.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah. Well, I think the second part of your question is probably a little easier to get after and it’s more closely in my lane, if you will, in terms of where we can bring – you know, where we can bring our influence to bear in a positive way with the authority to do. So humanitarian assistance, disaster relief is a great example of that.

And that was the centerpiece of our conversations with my counterpart from Thailand and as well when I traveled around the Asia-Pacific region about a month ago, to include, you know, the potential establishment of a center of excellence for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. So there’s energy behind that.

You probably know that Cobra Gold, the upcoming exercise, will have HADR [Humanitarian Assistance, Disaster Relief] as a centerpiece. And I think – so I think that’s the first step. That’s the step we agreed upon when I was in the region. Let’s make HADR the centerpiece of Cobra Gold. Let’s see what – you know, how much interest we can generate, how much cooperation we can generate, and then build upon that. And I think as we build upon that, I think it kind of begins to open the windows and allow you to see through them on what’s possible in expanding the State Partnership Program to leverage that.

The larger issue of a cooperative security apparatus in the Pacific is one that I’m obviously interested in, but I think we’ve got some distance to travel before we’ll find an appetite for anything like a NATO structure in the Asia-Pacific. And, of course, as we do that, we’ve got to be very careful about what signals we’re sending.

You know, we’ve all said that our rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific is not about containing China. In fact, I’ve said publicly and I really believe it – which is good news for you I think that I actually say what I believe. (Laughter.) But I’ve said that the greatest risk of, you know, a future confrontation with China is in our absence from the Pacific, because, generally speaking, when we can be present – and we are a Pacific power – when we can be present, when we can partner, reach out to each other, identify those areas of common interest, identify those areas of friction, and then have a relationship that’s transparent enough to deal with those on a person-to-person, human-to-human relationship basis, that’s generally when we’re able to – you know, to head off, if you will, or avoid miscalculation and misperception.

So, you know, I would certainly like to see ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] become more than it is today, but, you know, again, they’ve got to come to that conclusion. That’s not our responsibility, although we should certainly be supportive of and encouraging in that regard. Thanks.

What else? Yes, sir. They’re whispering to each other. They’re collaborating on a question. We’re not getting a question? OK. Who else? You guys are easy today. Yes?

Q: Since nobody else is going to speak up. I’m Tom Niblock. I’m with the State Department, sir.

I’ve been very interested in all the discussion about the regionally-aligned brigades and think that there is enormous merit in that. But I was also struck by your comments about endurance and about the relationships of sort of rising through your profession from major to major general, which is the case with many of the officers in this room.

I’m wondering if the National Guard brigades have a comparative advantage in this respect so that the regionally-aligned brigades are not so much named brigades where the name of the brigade endures, but where the names within the brigades endure over time. Maybe if you comment about –

GEN. DEMPSEY: It’s an interesting point. And in my brief time as the chief staff of the Army, we were, you know, examining any number of options for this idea of regionally-aligned brigades, which I too – I share your enthusiasm for it because I think it’s developmental. It’s not just practical and it doesn’t just help us, you know, examine the future uses of our force structure, but it also means that your young men and women are, you know, being challenged to think differently, to learn, to continue to learn.

And, you know, I’ve said from the start of my tenure as chief and now chairman that what will get us through this period of uncertainty and complexity, of fiscal change is in fact our ability to keep learning and keep developing the young men and women in the ranks so that they’re inspired – inspired to serve. If we lose that, I think we’re in serious trouble.

So, to your point, when I was the chief, we looked at a couple of different models for regionally aligned brigades. One was plant a flag and rotate the people through not in the ARFORGEN [Army Force Generation] process, but rather through individual replacements so that notionally a young or woman graduating from the military academy or from ROTC or, for that matter, coming through the ranks as a non-commissioned officer could expect to have repetitive assignments back to that same geographic region, you know, dedicate their lives to understanding – deeply understanding a region, not kind of touching it and then going someplace else. That was one model.

The other was to align the brigades in the ARFORGEN cycle, whether, by the way, they were active brigades in the cycle or Guard brigades in the cycle. And I think that’s the process that Ray Odierno and the Army has essentially selected. And either model would work, and – but I agree with you that the National Guard brigades need to be part of that so that they can leverage the relationships.

You know, now, that will complicate ARFORGEN. Having been, you know, part of the ARFORGEN model, you know, it is – and, by the way, because, you know, our BOG [boots on the ground]-dwell optimum is one to two years – is one to four, not years, but the Army Guard is one to four, so, you know, it would be hard – it will be harder, not impossible, but harder to align it. But I do think it’s a point I’m sure the Army is examining.

What else?

Q: Good morning, General.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Where are you?

Q: I’m up ahead to your right.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Oh, hello, there.

Q: Good morning to everyone. I’m Gillian Bristol, the ambassador of Grenada to the United States. And it’s a thrill to be with all of you and certainly an honor to hear you, General, this morning.

And I want to start by thanking everyone in the National Guard and the U.S. DOD also for their continuous and enduring partnership with my country and the region of the Caribbean, for those of you who are not sure yet where Granada is.

I know some of you have been probably working and whatnot, but you need to come on holiday as well. (Laughter.) And the general is going to bring you to the sunny shores of Grenada where the temperatures outside today as hotter here than they are in that tropical belt. And we have the trade winds and nice seas, so come on down.

But to my point, on a serious note, General, the – as you know very well, for the Caribbean Island nations, security and defense are probably closer than they are for many bigger nations. Our security challenges are what concern us more and for us they’re multidimensional in nature and scope. They range from everything having to do with natural disasters, the environment, social factors, policy and politics and economic factors.

How do you see our partnership with the United States, with the National Guard, with the defense abilities and capabilities that you have here being strengthened in the more practical aspects of our security challenges?

We have had tremendous cooperation. I want to underscore that. We’re certainly very appreciative of it. But to place it more squarely on the ground for everyone here, in Grenada we don’t have a defense force. What we have is a police force. And that police force is responsible for everything that armies do, without the weapons, without the same capabilities, without the same hat, but they are integrated. So – I mean, they do from customs to FIU [Financial Intelligence Units] to all the police – the policing things – immigration, you know, and Coast Guard. They do it all. We don’t have planes yet, but, you know, we’ll accept a few on the training.

You know, very recently, under the CBSI [Caribbean Basin Security Initiative], the United States facilitated Grenada’s security capacity by a gift of two Coast Guard ships – boats, and although that is wonderful, because that really goes to the heart of one of our challenges, which is illicit trafficking through our waters of drugs and weapons. So how do we increase that and make the processes for doing so less complicated than they are? Thank you very much.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, I do see some of my teammates from the Department of Defense and the Department of State here.

In terms of processes, you know, I think we could have a conversations – and do, by the way – always have conversations about how to streamline processes, everything from foreign military sales to technology transfer, you know, and everything in between. And that conversation is ongoing because it has occurred to us that if we are to live up to our new defense strategy, which values partnerships more than it has in the past, then we have to be willing to open the aperture a bit more than we have on intel sharing and all the things that I just mentioned.

So those processes are in place. I wouldn’t suggest to you that they will happen overnight. I mean, there’s a lot of work to be done, but I assure you that that work is being done.

Secondly, in terms of, you know, our interest in the southern hemisphere and our southern borders and our island partners, I think that some of what you just asked to – that you aspire to have happen, a broader relationship, I think will happen as we regain some capacity from being totally consumed, you know, deploying repeatedly and often into the Middle East, and as we have additional capacity now, it will be the instinct of the services to want to use that capacity. You know, nobody wants to have all of this capability sitting around. And so both active, Guard and Reserve I think will be clamoring for the opportunity that comes with partnering.

So I don’t think you’re going to have to ask – I don’t think it will be a request that will fall on deaf ears. The question will always be how do we prioritize? And I think that as that capacity generates – the commander of SOUTHCOM, for example, or NORTHCOM, will certainly have a stronger voice at the table than they’ve had before when – you know, I mean, was the commander of CENTCOM and, you know, I would ask – every day I think I would ask for something else. And, you know, whether it was – I think I had 96 percent of the world’s inventory of ISR and I used to, you know, complain that – where’s the other four percent, you know? (Laughter.) So I wouldn’t say General Mattis is quite as – he’s not quite as greedy as I was probably, but, you know, we’ve had a huge appetite for resources in the Mideast. And as that begins to – it will never go to zero. We don’t want it to go to zero. It will be somewhat diminished.

But, look, I mean, let’s face it – we still have some enduring – there’s that word again – interests with our partners in that region of the world and we will meet those, but it won’t consume the entire capability. And, therefore, with some of that generated or regenerated, I think – I don’t think you’ll have any trouble at all finding an interest and an appetite to do more in this hemisphere in particular.

GEN McKINLEY: We have time for one more question.


GEN McKINLEY: One more.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Who’s got it? I’m not leaving until I get a question. (Laughter.) OK, Kelly.

Q: Chairman, thanks very much for your great support of this program. You more than anybody know the challenges we face fiscally, not only as a department, but also as a nation.

How do you see the State Partnership Program maybe being leveraged on a shoestring budget which this year is only $12 million – how do you see the department viewing a program like that to have that low-cost, small footprint, and being able to give and provide the rotational forces that you so talked about? Do you see the department having an appetite to increase the program?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, I do actually. And I, you know, I haven’t – you know, I don’t even have – I mean, this is this blinding flash of the obvious. I don’t even have the ’13 budget locked yet. As you know, it’s still uncertain. We’ve made our submission. The Congress of the United States with its authority to do so is now, you know, marking it and we will get it back at some point, and then I’ll know where I’m starting from. And then we have the – you know, the shadow, specter or the Sword of Damocles – you know, pick your metaphor – for sequestration. And we’ll have to – you know, we’ll have to deal with that. I’m counting on the Congress of the United States to de-trigger it. And if they do, I’m sure that, you know, we’ll take the foundation of the ’13 budget and we’ll be able to do a better job of predicting out.

But the point about – you know, I accept the fact that after 10 years of war, there would be – historically there’s a contraction of resources. We just have to watch – and that’s my job, by the way, among others – but watch to see that we don’t contract beyond the point that we can meet the nation’s needs from a security perspective – that we continue to, you know, make sure that the nation is immune from coercion, as I’ve described it, in any domain. So I think where I stand right now is in a pretty reasonable place, but I do have some concerns.

Now, to your point, what about this program in an era of – with the new fiscal environment, what will happen in an era like this is that the value proposition of programs will be more scrutinized, and they should be. I mean, you know, after 10 years of largely unconstrained resources – I mean, you’re never unconstrained, but we were certainly closer to unconstrained five years ago than we are today. But in that era, I think we probably would have to concede that, you know, it wasn’t as critical to have a business case for a particular program.

And I think what you’ll see now is that programs will have to you know, will have to have clear outcomes, very clear metrics, and a value proposition so that we can make sure we use the nation’s resources – make the best use of the nation’s resources. In that environment, I think that the State Partnership Program will compete very favorably.

And, you know, in this year’s budget submission, ’13, although it didn’t grow – you know, one of the ways to look at what happened this year was if something was funded at previous rates, that was actually growth because everything else was going down.

So the things that we protected in the budget, whether it was State Partnership Program, our commitment to cyber, the growth of Special Operating Forces, you know, particular technology investments – if they weren’t cut, that was a big deal in this budget. And generally speaking, it was – not generally speaking, it was mapped to the new – at that time new defense strategy. And so building partner capacity was a foundational element of the new strategy, therefore the State Partnership Program.

But I do think it will continue to compete favorably. For one thing, it’s been around 20 years. It is enduring. It is value added. It is measurable in its value. And I think in that environment, it’s in pretty good shape.

OK. Well, listen, I appreciate the opportunity to chat with you here today. It’s great to see the defense attachés and ambassadors and all of you in uniform, whether it’s the uniform of the United States or the uniform of other nations. And you have my commitment that we will continue to work together to try to stabilize this very uncertain security environment.

Thanks very much. (Applause.)