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Gen. Dempsey's Remarks at the National Press Club

By As Delivered by General Martin E. Dempsey
Washington, D.C. — GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY: (In progress) – really. And let me compliment you and thank you for your leadership, you know, service in government today when at times it can feel like a four-letter word. But it’s vitally important for the country. So my compliments to you all on your leadership, and I look forward to our conversation today.

TIM CLARK: Thank you, General. I thought we’d get started with – (inaudible). We seem to be at a turning point in military affairs. We’re nearly through two expensive wars. We’re radically shrinking the Army and Marine Corps footprint abroad – force. We’re reducing the headcounts in those two services. We’re newly emphasizing our role in Asia and the Pacific. We’re facing reduced budgets that constrain our ability to follow the old doctrine of the two-war – the two-war doctrine. And we surely need to recapitalize our arsenal. So in the context of all of this, I thought I might ask you to begin by telling us what your principal goals are as chairman.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, with that kind of prelude to the question, I think my principal goal is to stay alive today. (Laughter.) Yeah, I mean, look, you framed the challenges pretty well. I tell – I tell folks that on my watch, whether it’s two years or four, I will oversee the three transitions: a transition from a force that is in constant motion deploying to one that still deploys because the world is going to be the world it is for a while. But we will have more of the force at rest. And our challenge is to continue – we have to recap it, we have to kind of rekindle some lost skills, maneuver, if you’re a ground man. And we’ve got to keep those kids inspired, you know. The kids that have been sitting on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan with more authority than I had as a colonel are – we can’t just bring them back to Camp Lejeune or bring them back to Fort Hood, Texas, tell them to march back and forth to the motor pool and have a nice time of it.

And the second transition is bigger budgets to smaller budgets. And I don’t – you know, I don’t think anyone – if anyone in this room would venture to tell me where this will all sort out here by the end of the year I want to talk with you – (laughter) – because there’s about three or four different excursions that I think could occur. But the point is, you know, bigger budgets to smaller, 10 years of relatively unconstrained resources to a next decade of constrained resources. How constrained? I don’t know. But we’ll figure it out. I mean, you know, there’s history here. There’s a whole bunch of reasons that I’m pretty confident we’ll figure it out. Some of them – I mean, the fact that you’ve taken on leadership at this particular point for your country as we had in uniform is part of the answer to that, by the way.

The third transition is a transition of about 120,000 young men and women into civilian ranks from the uniform ranks. And that means a much – a really important linkage to the Veterans Administration and other organizations that will help young men and women who have served their country migrate into the private sector. So those are – those are three huge transitions.

One other point, when people say, I mean, OK, we got all that, but what – you know, what is it – if you were to rate your – you know, you’re kind of – if you’re at the end of your tour and you look back and you say what is it you really want to be known for: I want to be known as the chairman who got the people piece of this right, because I firmly believe that if we get the people piece of it right, we get the – you know, we keep the right leaders, we continue to invest in them, manage our talent, you know, all of the – all of the things we talk about related to people, then we’ll be able to deal with the uncertainty.

And if we get – if we don’t get the people right, the rest of it won’t matter. I mean, we might have – we might get the equipment right, the organizational design right, modernization right, but if we don’t get the people right, we’re going to put the country at risk. So that’s – (inaudible).

TIM CLARK: Sure, yeah. That’s a great start. And it leads into another question about the role of ground forces. We’re cutting 80,000 soldiers and 20,000 Marines by 2017. The Army will still be at 490,000, as I understand it – that and the Marine Corps at 182,000, which is still bigger than 9/11 – than pre-9/11 – excuse me – pre-9/11 – still a big force.

So my question is, what are they expected to do? You alluded to not just marching around – and I have a question about that, too, on a domestic basis – but put another way, under what circumstances might we need a large deployment of ground forces?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, one of the – one of the ways we – one of the ways that I’ve intellectually framed Joint Force 2020 – what we’re trying to do, by the way, you mentioned 2017. That’s too close for me to really pin the nation’s aspirations to it. By the way – so let me finish that sentence. So 2020 is really the horizon I’m looking at. You might say: Why 2020? Well, if I am the chairman for four years, there will be four POMs submitted – ‘13-’17, ‘14-’18, ‘15-’19, ‘16-’20. So we’re going to build the force of 2020 on my watch. Whether I do it deliberately or whether I back into it, we’re going to build the force of 2020. So that’s my time horizon.

We jump to 2020, we kind of try to decide what the nation will need, and then build towards it with four opportunities to adjust as we submit those four POMs. So the POM we just submitted, ‘13-’17 – which, by the way as you know, is not yet – I don’t yet have a ‘13 budget finalized, it is the first swing at that. And I’m going to take three more swings along the way.

But this – the idea of looking at 2020 is an idea that rests on the fact that the military has, it seems to me, two responsibilities. It has to – it has to protect the nation from coercion – that’s the way I’ve been talking about it – because it avoids then is there any particular threat that is more important than others? Sure there is. But ultimately, we have to – we have to protect the nation from coercion, whether that’s coercion on the high seas, coercion in cyberspace, coercion on land.

And the second thing we’ve got to is we’ve got to be able to provide the nation’s leaders with options. So we can’t afford to become a niche force, which some nations in the world, by the way, have migrated their defense establishments to where they’re kind of niche capability. We’re a global power. We can’t be a niche force. So I’ve got to have the ability to provide capability, provide options on land, on – in the air, on sea and under the sea, and in cyber. And that’s the force we’re trying to build.

TIM CLARK: So let me see, a lot – a lot of effort went into, over the past decade, the development of the counterinsurgency doctrine –

GEN. DEMPSEY: Mmm hmm.

TIM CLARK: -- that we’ve used in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Is that still relevant now, given what we see by way of likely future threats?

GEN. DEMPSEY: You know, first of all, counterinsurgency – the counterinsurgency tactics that we’ve adopted, the doctrine, as you described it, is really kind of subordinated through stability operations. So you know, this is not a – warfare is not an either-or proposition, especially on land.

And so let me give you an example of why it is absolutely still relevant. When we crossed – (inaudible) – in 2003 to deploy to Iraq, what – whether we realized it or not, the front end of that formation that was fighting its way to Baghdad was conducting traditional, classical, conventional offensive operations. The flanks were conducting traditional defensive conventional military operations – offense, defense. And the back end of the formation, as we passed through the various Iraqi cities along the way, were immediately migrating into stability operations. We were looking around for local leaders to empower. We were trying to see if we could find residual local security forces.

So you know, it’s kind of a false dichotomy to say we’re either going to agree to do stability operations or not. You don’t – you don’t get a vote in that regard actually. You know, I mean, I guess you would if you were the Huns – (laughter) – you know, Attila the Hun – go in, kill everybody, ruin – you know, rape, pillage, plunder, steal stuff off the walls, take it back to your country and hang it on your walls. We – you know, that’s not who we are.

So given that, you know, we’re not in the business of simply punishing people, we are going to always have some responsibility for offense, defense and stability. And we got to make sure that as we go forward, we retain – you know, that doesn’t drive – that doesn’t drive structure necessarily, but it drives intellectual bandwidth. We can’t lose that intellectual bandwidth that we’ve developed over 10 years.

TIM CLARK: Mmm hmm. So in recent years – I want to ask you a question about recruiting and people who are going to come into the force. It’s kind of related to what we were talking about. In recent years, people who’ve entered the Army and Marine Corps expected to go to war, and that’s what they did by and large. What are the new recruits going to be told to expect? And will there be career path changes in our all-volunteer force, given the fact that we are not now fighting wars?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, first of all, I might have to push back on the idea that we won’t be fighting a war. We won’t be fighting the war with such commitment of so many – the amount of resources that we’ve committed up till now. And by the way, that could change tomorrow.

But if we see, you know, the glide path in Afghanistan that we anticipated, then your point is accurate, which is there’ll be fewer soldiers and Marines deploying for that kind of conflict. Special operating forces OPTEMPO will be about the same. I think our air OPTEMPO will be about the same. I think our naval OPTEMPO will be about the same. Army and Marine will go down a bit. So your question about what is it that keeps their fire lit – and I think it’s two things. I think – three, really. I think, number one, we’ve embarked on a campaign to renew and refresh our understanding of what it means to be in a profession – not in an occupation, but in a profession with all of the tenets that are applied and that young and women of today who, by the way, are pretty good.

I mean, you know, I don’t what you think of them, but I think they’re really – you know, they’re a little distracted on occasion, you know. If – I saw some young people in the back who are probably listening to me with one ear and one eye and texting or post – or changing their Facebook status with the other ear and the other eye. (Laughter.) But that’s who they are. I mean, you know, so – you know, they have a lot broader depth of knowledge, maybe not as deep as some of you who appear to be – at least from a distance, to be somewhat my age. But they’re terrific. They’re terrific young men and women.

And I think they generally – if I had to describe a particular characteristic, I think they are eager to belong to something, you know, because maybe our communities today are not as – and because – somewhat because of technology, you know, we tend not to be – belong to things as early as maybe you and I did in our lives. I think the military is something we can give them to which they could hook themselves and, in so doing, belong to something and feel good about that part of their life for however long they choose to serve. So it’s this profession, number one.

Second, we’ve got to – we’ve got to find new and creative and innovative ways to train and develop them in an era of a changing fiscal environment. Now, can we do it? Yeah, we can. Those same people back there, by the way, are probably all – probably all have an avatar that is some – in some way linked to some massive multiplayer online roleplaying game, World of Warcraft or something, right? I won’t ask you to acknowledge that, but, you know, millions – tens of millions, hundreds of millions of people – young people in this country and around the world are linked into these roleplaying games. And I think – the point I’m making here is I think that technology will provide a bit of a key for us in how to continue to train and develop them in an era of constrained – and then the last thing is development.

I said development is part of training, but you asked if it will change some of our career patterns. I hope so, you know, because, you know, if we don’t, it means we’re not learning. And if we don’t learn, I think that that’s another formula for a failure. So that, you know, how do we manage our talent – you know, we – when I was a chief, we were looking at the possibility of lateralizing re-entry, looking at different models for professional military education, looking for different ways to fundamentally, again, inspire these young men and women who tend to feel entrepreneurial.

That’s another characteristic, by the way, of that generation. That is to say, you probably heard the statistic that by the time a young man or women today is 34, 35 years old, they’re likely to have three or four jobs. That doesn’t make them nomadic or, you know, gypsylike, although some of them might have a bit of that in them. But what it does – what it does make them is kind of inquisitive; that’s a good thing. It makes them ambitious; that’s a good thing. And it makes them entrepreneurial, and that’s a good thing.

So the question is how can we – and I don’t have the answer, but the question we’ve got to answer is how do we take those qualities and invest them into our personnel policies. That’s hard, by the way. Breaking some of these – breaking the – I don’t know if anybody here works in the world of human resources, but breaking personnel paradigms is the hardest thing I did or failed to do as the Army chief.

TIM CLARK: So one thing caught my eye that you said in – I believe, in Thailand. You were recently abroad there.

GEN. DEMPSEY: That’s – by the way, that’s a bad metaphor, you know. You can’t – something caught your eye that I said or – (laughter) – (inaudible) –

TIM CLARK: (Off mic) – something that I – something that – something that I read you said caught my eye – (laughter) – something that I think you said while you were in Thailand –

GEN. DEMPSEY: (Off mic.) (Laughter.) If you were Navy, you would say, pull up; you’re about to – you know, you’re about to – (laughter) –

TIM CLARK: It was that you don’t want people coming back from the current wars, quote/unquote, “sitting around in places like Camp Lejeune or Fort Polk.” And you cited engagement in the – you seemed to be talking about office corps – officer corps engagement in the Pacific – in the Asia-Pacific region. So it seemed to me you were suggesting that these ground troops and maybe others would be deploying over there as part of their education. Is that right? And is that part of the development plan? And if so, does it apply only the officer corps, or also enlisted people?

GEN. DEMPSEY: No. Well, one of the most interesting initiatives that the Army is pursuing with the 38th chief is regionally aligning brigade combat – regionally aligning brigade combat teams. So we have a fourth-generation model. It’s a progressive readiness model. And as a – very much similar to the air expeditionary force model and of course the way that [Carrier Strike Groups] are in a progressive readiness and deployment model for the Navy. So, you know, you’re in a reset phase, you’re training, and then you’re deploying.
And one of the interesting initiatives in the Army is to adopt that paradigm and then to regionally align the brigades. So you might say that in this particular cycle, this brigade will be – will be offered to the commander of USAFRICOM. And the unit will know that as it forms. And about a year later or so, it will deploy – it won’t deploy to AFRICOM, but it’ll be available. So it’ll kind – it’ll – not kind of – it’ll inform their training; it’ll inform their leadership development; it’ll inform kind of their cultural development.

And then I wouldn’t say you’ll ever see us deploy a brigade to Africa because, you know, the continent itself wouldn’t want that footprint. But I could certainly see small units supplemented or augmented or complementary of JSETS from Special Forces Command so that we can both engage, which is within itself a good thing, but also develop, which, for me, is actually the greatest benefit of all of it.

TIM CLARK: (Inaudible) – so we’re going to have 490,000 soldiers in uniform in – after the reductions. How many of those will be actually stationed abroad at any given time? We’ve got troops in Korea and Japan and so on.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, as you know, we’ve already taken a decision to reduce the footprint in Europe by about half. I’m talking Army now, and some Air Force as well. The footprint in the Pacific won’t change. The one that – the one that we’re trying to see our way forward with currently is the Mideast footprint. You know, we’re very heavily invested not only in Afghanistan, but in the Gulf itself, as they – you know, as they hedge against uncertainty vis-à-vis Iran. And so that part of it, I’m not clear about yet, because it’ll depend on how the way ahead is – begins to expose itself with regard to Iran.

So, you know, I mean, look, I think for the most part the expectation when a young man or woman comes into the service is that, you know, they will deploy every couple of years to do something. It could be a training exercise, engagement activity; it could be a fight.

TIM CLARK: Let’s turn to Afghanistan for a second. Real estate prices shot up in Kabul after NATO announced that it was going to pony up $4 billion a year for continuing work with security forces.

GEN. DEMPSEY: For the security – yeah.

TIM CLARK: But still – and so that was encouraging, but still the Taliban, some of them operating from outposts in Pakistan, remain a serious threat. And I just thought I would ask you how you assess prospects for success, however that might be defined, in Afghanistan?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, from the military, you know, there’s a – there’s a – there’s any number of lines of effort – economic, diplomatic and so forth. But you know, from my – in my lane, which is the military line of effort, I think you articulated the way forward well, which is we have to build a credible, capable, self-sustaining, eventually, Afghan security force that can protect the sovereign government, and, to the greatest extent be it possible, protect the people, while hardening itself against what will likely be a persistent challenge, because of the safe haven in Pakistan.

So what does that mean? Well, this commitment that you talked about in Chicago was not only a financial commitment of about $4.1 billion, but also a commitment for – in our case, for a strategic partnership, which seems to me to be – should send a signal not only to the Taliban, but other entities that have an interest in Afghanistan. And we’re not just going to – you know, we’re not kind of – 31 December ‘14, we don’t shut off the lights and go home.
And this should be – so the combination of that commitment to the security forces and an enduring partnership, and we don’t know how big that partnership will be yet. I mean, we honestly don’t. We have to see how this thing evolves. We’ve got two years to decide that. And – but I think the combination of that long-term commitment and the financial commitment should put us in a good place with regard to Afghanistan.
You know, I don’t think Afghanistan will be ever entirely absent challenges. I mean, one could – you know, metaphors are worth – analogies are actually, you know, risky, because circumstances are so different. But, you know, Afghanistan could look somewhat like Colombia someday, which I think is an enormous success of our foreign policy and military engagement, because the central government of Colombia is in control of the country, with the exception of a few pockets of the FARC. And they continue to press the FARC, and eventually, I think, the FARC will find that – a political – become a political arm more than a military arm, and I think Afghanistan will evolve in somewhat similar fashion.
TIM CLARK: Do you anticipate that U.S. and other NATO forces will remain in Afghanistan and some – (inaudible) – small number, whatever number for a foreseeable future?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, the security partnership agreement calls for a long-term relationship out through 2024. There’s ongoing work now on trying to define what that will be. I don’t think there will be large numbers in place, because I do think that the Afghan people themselves will aspire to greater control of their own future. But I certainly think in terms of, you know, training, advising, and partnering, engaging, I do think we’ll have some – we’ll have some presence there.
TIM CLARK: Let’s talk about Pakistan for a minute. As you know, on June 7th, Secretary Panetta said the United States was reaching the limits of its patience with Pakistan after the attack on Forward Operating Base Salerno, where a bunch of people died in an attack attributed to the Haqqani network. At the same time, Pakistani is chafing about the losses they’ve suffered in our drone attacks, about not being informed about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. So how would you assess the state of our relations with Pakistan and the importance of that relationship, or Pakistan itself, to the future political health of Afghanistan?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Pakistan is our most complex relationship. I mean, there’s no – there’s no softer way to say that. But it’s an important relationship. So, you know, I work at it. I work at it a great deal. Probably touch that relationship or some aspect of it a couple of times a week. I met yesterday with the ambassador to – Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, Ambassador Sherry Rehman, to, you know, talk about some of the issues that we confront.
I want to make it clear, by the way, though, that – because the end of your question – we often tied our relationship to Pakistan directly and almost exclusively to the impact on Afghanistan. That’s true. I mean, there’s no question that our ability to achieve the outcomes we have established for ourselves in Afghanistan will be impacted by that border with Pakistan. However, you know – so I want to remind ourselves, and I remind others, that we have an important relationship with Pakistan because of Pakistan. So this isn’t all about, we need Pakistan because of Afghanistan. I think we need a positive relationship with Pakistan because of Pakistan. It sits in an extraordinarily important geostrategic location, you know, in a very challenging part of the world. It’s got – you know, it’s got a – it’s got huge internal challenges that could have caused it to fail, and no one believes that a failed Pakistani state is – would be a good thing for the world, let alone the region. And so we do have to have a relationship with Pakistan. It’s complicated; it’s complex; right now it’s trouble, but I – you know, as I said, we’re all – you know, General Allen, General Mattis, myself – I mean, all of us are engaged to try to restore it, to try to reset it, to make it more positive and to get after the issues that confront us both.
I mean, you might not know this, but since 9/11, there have been roughly 44,000 deaths in Pakistan, 14,000 of them military-related to a war against – internal for them, internal insurgencies and terrorists. 14,000 military have been killed in the fight. So they – they haven’t been sitting outside much. They also haven’t been doing enough against the Haqqanis, and I was very clear about that. And so this relationship is worth – it’s worth the effort. But we’re at a – and – but we’re in a pretty low point right now.
TIM CLARK: So one aspect of the relationship that interests me is the fact that they have closed, have they not, the key road that allows us to both bring stuff in and take stuff out as we draw down in Afghanistan. How big a problem is that?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, operationally, it’s not a – it’s not a problem, meaning, you know, we’ve got a Northern Distribution Network, we’ve got the finest, most robust, most flexible air force ever in the history of the world, and, you know, they tear it in pretty quick. And, you know, our days of supply haven’t gone down, because it’s had no operational impact on our military operations. There have been some effects on foreign military sales equipment – their frustrated cargo sitting in Karachi right now that we might have to retrograde and bring in in another fashion, intermodal. It is costing us more money, and that’s the point of friction; it’s costing us a lot more money. And, of course, you know, I’ve also said that that extra cost, should be – should – we should find some way to recoup that extra cost.
And by the way, it’s not just affecting the United States; it’s affecting our NATO partners as well. So yeah, those things aren’t holding up. They are – (inaudible) – hopes to contribute to a positive outcome in Afghanistan.
TIM CLARK: Let’s turn to Asia and the Pacific. You have said, earlier this month in Thailand – I read that you said – (laughter) – quote, “As a student of history and a student of economics, I suggest that the world’s economic power, and the world’s military power and the demographic issues are migrated to the Asia-Pacific region.” You’ve also said that our presence there will help promote stability and, in an interesting phrase, I thought, you said, “Our absence will be the destabilizing influence.” So I’d like to ask you to expound on that a little bit.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, well as to the former, you know, the demographic and economic and military shifts, that, you know – I don’t take any credit. That’s a blinding flash of the obvious, you know. And that’s just the way the – that’s just what the world is doing, you know, demographically, economically, militarily – the power bases are shifting to the Pacific.
But for the latter part, I really do believe as we’ve studied – as we went through this new strategy that we developed over the course of the fall, it did occur to me that as we looked to, you know, possible, possible outcomes. So we looked at several excursions in our strategy development on whether we should rebalance, and if so, to what extent, and what could be the intended and unintended consequences. And, of course, one of the unintended consequences could be that China would conclude that we were trying to contain.
On the other hand, the more persuasive argument to me was that our absence could send a signal that we didn’t care, when, of course, we do. And if we didn’t care, that could lead to miscalculation, and it could certainly lead to the calculation on the part of our allies and partners in the region, some of whom are treaty allies, that we were fundamentally allowing a vacuum to be created into which others – other nations, notably China, of course, could fill. So we actually concluded – and I think correctly, in this analysis – that it was – it would be our absence that would be the destabilizing influence rather than our active engagement, so that we were clear about our intentions. And our intentions are not hegemonic, they’re not imperialistic, they’ve never been. As I said in Thailand, you know, I don’t wander around the Pacific with a rucksack full of little tiny American flags, you know, trying to throw them down Clark Air Force Base or Subic Bay or wherever it happens to be, but rather, I want – I want our partners to know that we’ve been to the Pacific, we were distracted for about 10 years – war will do that do you – but that given the capacity we’re starting to regenerate now, that we intended to re-engage in a more, I think, positive and proactive way in the Pacific.
And that message resonated pretty well. And by the way, even at Shangri-La, the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, the Chinese representative there was actually quite measured about it, as I think they are. And so I really do believe that the – that our absence would be the destabilizing factor, not our presence.

TIM CLARK: So let me ask you, if you can, to quantify a little bit for us what this shift means? I know that additional naval vessels are going to be stationed out there. I don’t know what’s entailed in terms of basing and so on, but can you sort of quantify a little bit? I appreciate it.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Sure. Yeah. I can give you – I – you know, people remember things in threes. So let me give you three things; they all begin with more, M-O-R-E.

It’ll be more attention, more attention in Pacific then we’ve paid in the past 10 years. Think of it as intellectual manhood.

I mean, I’ll give you an example. We do a weekly VTC with John Allen in Afghanistan. We do a weekly VTC with Jim Mattis and – for the CENTCOM AOR. We haven’t been doing a weekly VTC with PACOM. Now, I don’t know if we do need a weekly VTC with PACOM, but we need a drumbeat to where the SECDEF and I and the – and the OSD staff and the joint staff, you know, kind of get their head into the issues in the Pacific.

Another example: We learned early on in the – in the Mideast that we needed to build some real deep cultural awareness. So we formed a group. We picked 400 men and women, and we put them into this program called AfPak Hands, Afghanistan and Pakistan hands. It’s been enormously beneficial. They served in the joint staff for a while. They were over in Afghanistan for a while. They served in Pakistan and WFP. They come back to the Pentagon. And that’s – they – fundamentally, they immerse themselves into that region, and they learn the issues far more deeply than we typically do in two- or three-year assignment sites.

We need to do that for the Pacific. So we’re beginning to form now a Asia-Pacific hands program. Those are – that’s sort of the shift of intellectual bandwidth. And that’s what I told my Pacific partners. I said the first thing you’re going to see is not a change in our footprint. You may never see that, actually. But what you will see is more attention.

OK, second one is more engagement, so – not necessarily with basing: I think our basing – with the exception of the re-posturing of the Marine Corps, which we’ve been working on for years, I think our basing status is pretty good in the Pacific. You know, we’ve been asked at Shangri-La with the Singaporean government that we’re going to manage – carefully chosen word – four littoral combat ships out of Singapore. They’re not going to be based there, not going to plant a flag, but they’ll be managed out of Singapore to be available to do engagement activities and port calls and get into places where a larger warship wouldn’t be able to get in the Pacific. So that’s more engagement.

The third one is more quality, so our best ballistic missile defense technology, our best whatever it is, our – you know, our best ships, our best aircraft, fifth-generation aircraft, F-22 in Guam and other places.

So, you know, more attention, more engagement, more quality.

TIM CLARK: So Secretary Panetta has said that the Defense Department needs to “invest in new technologies” – this is a quote – “invest in new technologies that will help us build a stronger power projection in the Pacific.” What’s he talking about?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, at this point I think he’s just challenged us to figure out what he’s talking about, although, you know, we do know that there is three – look, there is three capabilities that we have today that didn’t exist 10 years ago in the way they exist today.

One of them did exist, but it’s far more capable. That’s special operating forces. You know, they’ve quadrupled in size. They’ve increased in capability exponentially. So we’re now working to determine how – what to do with this capability called special operating forces, how to better integrate it with conventional force activity and, in so doing, make ourselves more capable.

The second one, of course, is ISR, you know. And this is Predator, but not the classic armed Predator, but more the – it’s not just Predator; it’s all those capabilities we have to suck up SIGINT, EMINT, I mean, all the units, all of the – all of the intelligence issues we dominate. And we want to continue to dominate those. And so continuing to invest in that technology and improve it is the second of the three.

And the third, of course, is cyber. And we are continuing to learn about not only cyber capabilities but cyber vulnerabilities. And then both inside the military but outside the military, we’re trying to be a voice for what that means, again, in 2020. But I mean, it means a lot right now today.

So when he says investing in those capabilities that will continue to allow us to dominate, those are the three most notably.

But I would caution all of us, this is not a reprise of the famous Revolution in Military Affairs where we came to the incorrect conclusion that we could trade manpower for technology – or technology for manpower, I should say. And then – because, you know, quantity does have a quality all its own. So what we got to do is find that balance between investing in technology, investing in manpower and not – you know, not become enamored of shiny outfits.

TIM CLARK: It strikes me that there is sort of a new way of doing business in some settings, probably small settings. Special ops, see, these are the three things that you mentioned, special ops, cyber and drones. And that combination – light footprint, in and out quickly – seems to me to be a new way of operating that’s coming to the fore. Is that – was that a correct way to think about – (inaudible)?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, yeah, against the – a certain target set. I mean, again, it depends on what the nation wants as an outcome.

So, you know, if you want to – if you want to work your way down a list of high-value targets, high-value individuals, key leaders in the network, then the three capabilities you just described are the perfect tool for that.

But, you know, if you want to at some point maintain the capability to change your regime, to provide a humanitarian corridor, to – I mean, you know, peace enforcement, mass atrocity response – I mean, you know, again, this is about building a force that’s capable of providing options.

TIM CLARK: Let’s turn to the budget for a minute. The Joint Chiefs awhile back – and I interviewed Mike Mullen about this and others on this stage – used to be talking about setting the amount we spend on defense as a kind of percentage of the GDP. They mentioned 4 percent back in those days. At the same time defense spending has been climbing faster than inflation in constant dollars. And so what’s the right way to look at it? What do we need? What – how do you evaluate what the right size would be? Let me ask you independent of political factors, and NATO also, given the current question mark.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Did you just ask me to make a comment independent of political factors? (Laughter.)

Q: Yes, because I know you think, you know, just about the welfare of the nation.

GEN. DEMPSEY: No. (Laughter.) But look, that’s not possible. I mean, you know, I tell people, in the acronym pol-mil, I’m the dash, you know? I mean, look, that’s what the chairman does is he – and that – by the way, that’s not politics in a pejorative way; that’s how does the – how does the military fit into the larger aspects of government, not as an entity or special interest group all its own.

So I have thought about this a lot, and you know, I think, as you probably have either read what I’ve written or heard what I’ve said, you might – (laughter) – you might know that I believe that the military has to contribute to helping the nation solve its economic woes. So it would be inappropriate, it seems to be, for the uniformed military, who argues that it is – it serves the people of the United States, to kind of fence or, you know, Heisman Trophy off the fact that the nation has some economic challenges.

At the same time I’ve got – the other obligation I have with the chiefs is to keep the force in balance. And that’s where I want to focus on answering your question.

So we took the Budget Control Act number, $487 billion, and we mapped it – you said, what does it have to be able to do? We created a new strategy. We mapped the budget to it. And we submitted a budget that touched all of the levers that a service chief has to manage the budget, which include, of course, manpower costs; it includes MILCON; it includes operations, maintenance, training, modernization, force structure.

And in so doing, you saw that we advantaged the Navy a bit, because our strategy calls for a more – a bigger maritime presence. I say “advantaged.” Everyone was affected, but we advantaged the Navy and the Air Force, the – and then the Marines and then the Army, in that order, because of the – what we saw the world requiring in 2020 – not dramatically, you know, but I want to assure you, it wasn’t just a salami slice.

And then the second thing we did is we did take some hard decisions about things like compensation, health care, the ACRC mix, and we passed it across. And then in comes the rest of the story, which of course is that Congress – (inaudible) – by the Constitution, are charged with raising and sustaining the force. Now, they’ve made some adjustments to it. The point I want to make is in order for me to understand, you know, what is the right number, I’ve got to understand how much freedom I have to touch all of those letters, because – I’ll give you just one other example of that.
Sequestration – the problem with sequestration, besides the magnitude of it, is the mechanism, which, of course, is a salami slice against all accounts in the first year, and then it levels off. But also, you have heard that OCO is now scored against sequestration. So OCO, the cost of fighting the conflict in Afghanistan and in the broader Gulf, will be affected by sequestration. Well, I – you know, I have to – that’s a bill I have to pay. So if there’s money taken out of the 88.5 billion (dollars) that we say we need for OCO, I’m going to have to take money out of the base and invest it in – you can’t not pay those bills. So OCO will touch it, but the money is coming from someplace, and that is the base.
Secondly, there’s talk about exempting manpower in OCO. You’ve probably heard that. Is that the humane thing to do? Absolutely. Who wants to furlough, fire, you know, pink-slip, you know, on the 1st of January of, you know, tens of thousands of workers? The problem is now what you’ve done, fundamentally, to the service chiefs, especially – and you’ve also said, thou shalt not brag – so now what you’ve done is you’ve limited the places where that money can come from. It can’t come from manpower, it can’t come from infrastructure, and it – and it – and you have to reinvest in OCO. And what’s left is operations, maintenance and training and modernization, some of the big-ticket modernization items. But that’s it. There’s no – there’s no hidden – I don’t have a mattress, you know, to lift up the edge of and reach in and grab money. It’s got to come out of those accounts. And that – the problem with that is it begins to hollow the force. So – and that’s not a hollowness that I’ve created; it’s one that’s been imposed because of the constraints on where you can take the money. So if we’re given the opportunity to balance this budget, the force will become smaller, but it will maintain its capability. If certain imposed levers are denied, we’re going to hollow the force. It’s as simple as that.
TIM CLARK: So one aspect of the sequestration that interested me was the fact that they – that defense contractors under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Act will have to notify their workers 90 days –
GEN. DEMPSEY: 60 to – (inaudible).
TIM CLARK: – 60 to 90 days before the sequestration takes effect. And obviously, that would diminish their capabilities if they have to start laying off people and so on. Is that a concern?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah. And what it means is that by about September, if this uncertainty lingers, it’ll have an effect.
TIM CLARK: And I suppose it would have a political effect, but we won’t get into that. (Laughter.)
Do we need another base – a round of base closings – BRAC, another BRAC?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, yes. I mean, and we’ve said that when we did our 13-17 submission. We – you know, if we’re going to – if the budget is going to constrict – which it is; I mean, history tells us that – then yeah, I think that we ought to have the courage as a nation to determine what infrastructure – you know, we ought to have the courage to take the harder decisions so that we retain that which we need and no more than which we need so that we can continue to invest in the force where we need to invest in it.
TIM CLARK: Is Congress a frustration as you try to make intelligent cuts, as with the Air National Guard cuts that Congress apparently denied you, and other steps that Congress does not want you to take?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Are you kidding me? (Laughter.) No, look. (Laughter.) No, I really mean this. The Congress of the United States, by the Constitution, is the institution that is charged with raising and maintaining. Their oversight, their activities are absolutely consistent with their constitutional authorities. And so how can I – you know, how can I be anything other than supportive and collaborative of that?
TIM CLARK: I have a question about the links between drones and cyber warfare, OK? There have been a lot of debate about public revelations concerning our military’s use of drones and of offensive cyber weapons, in the latter case, notably, the Stuxnet virus that took out the centrifuges in Iran. And some say these are damaging leaks; some even say they verge on treason. Other say we would be better off as a nation if we had a better public understanding of what the doctrine is that underlies the use of these kinds of weapons. And I wondered whether you would address that and tell us a little bit where you come down on it.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, I’ll tell you where I come down on that, as I come down on the side of that which I control, which is – or “control” is not the right word, but that which – for which I am responsible, and that is the Title 10. So Title 10 is those activities that are not covert. And so the use of the uniformed military for military operations, I always advocate disclosure and consultation and transparency with the American people because in my view, if it’s important – if something is important enough to commit a member of the Armed Forces, who sign up to be – to protect and defend the people of the United States – if it’s that important, we ought to acknowledge we’re doing it.
But there’s another side of this that’s not Title 10, and that’s not in my particular area of responsibility. But for Title 10 activities, I always advocate – you know, look. There’s always exceptions. We’ve got special compartmented programs because of certain technologies that we wouldn’t want to expose to – not to the American people, but rather to our adversaries. But those can be handled as a one-off. As a general – as a general statement, though, I believe Title 10 activities should be transparent.
TIM CLARK: So one other question, cyber-related. Stuxnet – that played a very significant denigration of their capabilities. It was done, according to what we read, by us and the Israelis. And so if we had a similar attack on us that, say, took out a vital part of our infrastructure or whatever, would we see that as an act of war?
GEN. DEMPSEY: That question comes up a great deal, you know. There’s kind of a hierarchy of activities in cyber. There’s the distributed denial of services, which is just somebody overwhelming a website and therefore denying access to it. There’s intellectual property of technology theft, which, by the way, is enormous. And then there are acts against that are destructive in nature. For example, you mentioned – well, then there’s literally theft, where some particular capability might exist to actually, you know, steal – collapse a financial market. And then there is the attack on critical infrastructure.
First of all, the declaration of something as a hostile act would be certainly a matter of consultation by the national security staff. So we haven’t, you know – we haven’t, at this point, provided a menu of conduct that would rise or fall to that level. But I certainly – if you’re asking me my personal opinion, I certainly think that if someone were to attack the critical infrastructure, the power grid of the United States of America, and destroy it, it certainly would rise to the level of a hostile act in my view.
TIM CLARK: We’re winding down. We have about five minutes. I’d like give you a chance to talk a little bit about military families. You talked about reforming military compensation and benefits to produce a more affordable system. That’s part of – you’ve talked about trying to deal with the stigma of mental health problems that arise in the armed services. What are your concerns about military families, and how are you doing in terms of supporting them?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, you know, when you ask young men or women to deploy four or five times – three, four, five times, which is absolutely common these days, we do take on a certain obligation to help and to support them, not only when their spouses are absent, but throughout that service. I mean, it is – it is – it’s sort of – the fabric that holds the profession together is trust. I mean, if you had to pick one value that defines the military professionally, you could – you know, of a menu of 10 or 12 of them that we typically espouse, or 7 that sit on an Army dog tag someplace – the thing that holds it all together is trust, you know: trust in the man or woman to your flank, trust to your leadership, trust that somebody back there is going to be taking care of your family if something happens to you. So I mean, that’s a moral obligation, and so we have to continue it, and we have to continue it in an era of declining resources. And that is going to be a challenge.
I think the answer, by the way, is to take – look, over the last 10 years of relatively unconstrained resources, we’ve had a thousand flowers blooming out there, you know. If someone had an idea, it was pretty easy to resource it. And so my point is that we’re kind – we’re probably over-resourced right now in some of that, and I think it’s incumbent on us to take a look at those services we’re providing and then prioritize them and – on the basis of metrics, which ones are producing the most positive outcomes? Rack and stack them, and we’re going to have to draw the line. And as long as we stay in contact with the force as we do it, so they know what we’re doing and why and get their feedback, I think we’ll be OK.
And as for how we’re doing today, I think we’re doing well, but I’m never – you know, you can’t ever be complacent about that. So this is all about trust. But as we go forward, we’re going to need their help to determine what’s most important so we can resource it.
TIM CLARK: So let me ask you a final question. I wonder whether you would reflect for a minute or two on what you see as the qualities of leadership that are needed among people who are serving our country, both in uniform and in the civilian ranks of government.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah. Well, there is good – you know, rattling off a list of abstractions; let me try to do better than that. I mentioned trust. There is no other more important – there is no other more important quality in a leader. If he or she doesn’t have the trust of – especially of subordinates, but also of peers and seniors, then we don’t need them. I mean, it comes down to that. And you know, that has become even more apparent over these last 10 years. The last 10 years have exposed, in very positive ways, I think, some of the – some of the more important attributes.
Second, I would say, to steal a phrase from Einstein, passionate curiosity. Einstein said once, you know, I’m not really that smart – you know, right – but he did say, I am passionately curious. And the point there is – I think again, one of the lessons of the last 10 years of the war is that the best leaders are those who recognize that continuing to learn is a vital characteristic, not just because of the cycle of technology, but – or the cycle of available information, but maybe even just the opposite of that: important to learn about interpersonal relationships in a way that I think maybe we sometimes have ignored – so passionate curiosity.
And then to use that passionate curiosity, you better be adaptable, you know. I mean, I signed up to come in, and I chose armor, and I kind of – you know, back to your point about career paths, I kind of knew what the career path – I didn’t think I’d be the chairman, for God’s sakes, but I did think I might be a tank battalion commander someday. And that was a fairly proscripted path, almost to the month and year. Well, certainly to the year, almost to the month. I don’t think that’s the world that this generation of leaders will encounter. I think their career path is going to be far less predictable. And again, I say, at least I hope so, because if we try to – you know, what we’ve done – think – I’m going to give you another image here that you can hear. (Laughter.) But if you think about what we’ve done over the last 10 years of war is we – if you think of a rubber band, we kind of really stretched out the rubber band. You know, shame on us if we let it go and contract to the same shape it was before, because then, frankly, I think we’ve got some problems.
So I would just highlight those three: trust, passionate curiosity and adaptability. And if we can – if we can develop those attributes and then reward them, back to personnel systems and promotion boards and selection boards, if we can find a way to invest those and then measure them and reward them, we’re going to be fine.
TIM CLARK: Thank you very much for meeting with us today, General Dempsey.
GEN. DEMPSEY: All right. Thank you. (Applause.)