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Gen. Dempsey's Interview at the Wall Street Journal's CEO Council

By As Delivered by General Martin E. Dempsey
The Four Seasons Hotel, Washington, D.C. —

JOHN BUSSEY: Well, General Dempsey, thanks very much for joining us. You heard a lot about leadership in our last session. It seems to be THE topic here in Washington. Everybody seems to be searching for it. We have a room full of CEOs. They manage 5 million employees. You alone have 2 million in uniform. So I figured you do more performance reviews than they do. (Laughter.) We thought we’d come to you.

So did Chris Christie get it right? It’s smarts, loyalty and the people that you hire, and then the courage to make a decision? Is that what leadership is?

GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY: Well, I think those attributes – first of all, by the way, thanks for being here. Congratulations for being here. It’s an indicator that you actually want to think about something that ought to be all of our kind of our core if we’re in those positions where we migrate to the top of our organizations. Just the term “leadership” is actually quite exhilarating in some way, isn’t it, and intimidating. But, yeah, sure, I think those attributes are right.

But there’s others, and I – he made mention of, you know, being true to yourself, I think. And so for me there’s other attributes I would add – I would add to that list.

For example, how many of you know the name of the young man or woman who served your table tonight? Anybody know? Anybody know who served – who brought your meal or poured you a glass of wine and – it happened to be Eunis at my table. I don’t know where he is. Eunis is from Morocco, 29 years old. He pointed out to me that Morocco is the first nation in the world to recognize the United States of America.

So I think there’s something for me in trying to get to know people and touch them at every level. It gets harder where you are, by the way. It gets harder where I am, but not impossible, and particularly in this age of social media and other things. So, you know, maybe a little humility doesn’t hurt on occasion for a very senior leader.

Trust. I didn’t hear the – I think that the governor alluded to trust, but for our profession trust is really the – it’s really the gold standard. You can’t exist in our profession. You don’t walk out of a forward operating base in Afghanistan unless you have a certain level of trust for the men or women to your left or right, your leadership, your guidance, your medics, your chaplain. And by the way, you mentioned 2 million men and women in uniform. It’s probably 2.4 active, Guard and Reserve, but you add to that about 3 million family members who we also feel a responsibility for.

MR. BUSSEY: So where does responsibility fit into this equation?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, you know, I think it is – if trust is kind of the gold standard of what it takes to be a real leader in the military, then I think responsibility and its kissing cousin accountability are probably right there as well.

And, you know, we’ve had a few missteps here recently that we’re trying to overcome – missteps that I attribute to 10 years of frenetic, really, activity. And I think we forgot a little about how we balance character and competence. We began to value competence. By the way, you can’t have either/or, actually. You know, you don’t want a leader in a combat zone who’s really a man of great character but can’t fight his way out of a paper bag, but nor do you want, you know, the ultimate warrior god who isn’t a man of character.

MR. BUSSEY: So these are CEOs of enterprises, of businesses. The military leads people into harm’s way. But making – putting that distinction aside, are the attributes of a good leader roughly the same or different between the military, being a CEO of a company or being a schoolteacher?

GEN. DEMPSEY: I think the – I think there’s always a baseline of attributes that are exactly the same. I think probably – I mean, I get asked this question all the time. Why are you you? Can’t we go get – can’t we outsource you? Sure, go ahead. You know, some days on Capitol Hill I’m absolutely ready to do that. (Laughter.)

But, you know, I do think – let me say this. We are a profession and – which is to say that it’s – that we commit ourselves what we like to believe is to an uncommon life, and that we accept by becoming a member of the profession to live to a certain ethical – and ethos, really. So it’s not just about special skills and attributes. It’s also about a particular ethos. In our case, it’s serving the people of the United States and ensuring the common defense, or in the way I describe it is keeping the country immune from coercion.

But it’s a profession and – which requires certain things of us: continuing education, a renewal of our commitment to that. It’s an up-or-out – you know, we’re an up-or-out organization.

And so I don’t know how it all works inside of your businesses or your occupations. And some of you may actually describe yourself as a profession. But the one thing I would tell you – and it’s become apparent to me in my job – you’re not a profession just because you say you are. You have to earn it and re-earn it, in particular, our relationship with the American people. We have to continue to earn it.

MR. BUSSEY: So let’s do a quick survey here. How many of the CEOs in the audience have military service? Can we just put hands up? General, can you help me with a percentage?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Happy Veterans Day. Happy Veterans month.

MR. BUSSEY: So what does that look like to you?

GEN. DEMPSEY: A dozen?

MR. BUSSEY: Three, four, five, six, seven, eight, 9, 10, 11 or so? Eleven. So maybe 10 percent of the – of the group here?

There was a recent study done by the University of Texas. Let me tell you what it said about CEOs who have military – military background. And for those of you who don’t there will be age waivers outside later on that you can – that you can pick up.

GEN. DEMPSEY: They really don’t need that.

MR. BUSSEY: So this is out of – this is out of the McCombs School of Business. This says firms who – so they looked at CEOs who had military background and CEOs who didn’t and here are the – what they discovered the difference is between the two: Firms whose CEOs have a military experience are less likely to be sued in class action lawsuits, restate financial statements. They’re less likely to backdate options. They’re less likely to engage in earnings management. And they are less likely to use tax havens. Interestingly, they are also more likely to pay more tax. They have a 1 (percent) to 2 percent higher effective tax rate.

Now, this academic reached conclusions. I want to hear yours first. Why is that? What is it about the military background that caused that sort of evident behavior in the CEOs?

GEN. DEMPSEY: You’re killing me. I mean, you want me to opine about why we’re more ethical than they are, and they’re out there? (Laughter.) Look at them. They can hear us. (Laughter.)

You know, I don’t know – I don’t know where the data comes from. And by the way, you know, many of the most ethical, responsible, admirable men and women I’ve ever met are in sessions like this, who do so much for not only their own organizations but Wounded Warriors and Gold Star Families and – you know, I don’t want to opine about what makes us different or what makes you different.

I think it’s more useful to us to see where we have common ground. And I think where we should – and I think and I sense where we do – have common ground is in caring about the future of our country. I mean, that’s why you’re here, I think, and why you’re engaging with civilian, political and military leaders to figure out, what are we going to do? Because, you know, the title here, “Leadership in a Dangerous World,” that’s really true.

So I’m going to dodge that one. (Laughter.) Yeah.

MR. BUSSEY: So while you’re dodging, here’s what the academic said –

GEN. DEMPSEY: Oh, here we go.

MR. BUSSEY: – “further validating our use of military experience as a proxy for respect for rules, authority and societal values.”


MR. BUSSEY: So they followed the rules.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, I like to think we follow the rules, but on occasion we don’t. And when we don’t, we hold people accountable.

And, you know, remember I mentioned, though, we – probably other than the medical profession, I think our continuing education program for leaders in the military is second to none, really. And, you know, we – as I said, we try to renew our commitment to being part of a profession at various intervals along the way. And then secondly, I do think there’s something extraordinary about being given the responsibility for people’s lives. That should cause us all pause and put everything else we do in perspective.

And so I’ll accept that part of our uniqueness, which gives us some balance in both physical courage and moral courage that may be unique in our profession.

MR. BUSSEY: So there were miscalculations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Was that – was that a failure of leadership or was that something else?

GEN. DEMPSEY: You know, I – we’re – the book hasn’t yet been written, actually, and particularly in Iraq, as you see them struggle with, you know, what we – the opportunity we gave them.

Is it a failure of leadership? Sure. I think, you know, at some – at some level I think we have to look back and acknowledge what we – what we didn’t know and maybe should have before we took the precise actions we took.

On the other hand, look, I mean, once we were engaged in it, the leadership demonstrated at every level, and in particular at the lower levels with those captains and sergeants and villages and towns and districts, and even today in Afghanistan, where they are – they’ve become so committed, so captured by the experience of trying to make the lives of Iraqi children and Afghan children better. You know, even if they do make the odd misstep, it’s pretty hard to be critical, for me, having seen the effort they’ve made.

MR. BUSSEY: So you’ve written a great deal on this topic –


MR. BUSSEY: – and have said that it’s kind of critical to running the armed forces. And you said that you – that you read a great deal on it as well. Are there – are there people who have written, on the topic of leadership, books that you look back on and say that this is really kind of worth sharing with others? Are there two or three great writers on the subject?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, I – you know, it’s funny – it’s funny you used that phrase, is there – are there two or three great writers? There’s no Shakespeare of leadership out there, as far as I – as far as I’ve been able to tell. And so I read broadly, and I read voraciously, and I read both fiction and nonfiction.

So – by the way, some of the – I think some of the better – maybe the best books about leadership available today are written for the business community, for developing leaders in business. And I mean, I could rattle them off, but I don’t want to be accused of necessarily advocating any one in particular. But there are some good ones out there.

And then on the –

MR. BUSSEY: Rattle a couple off.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, I mean, I’m a big fan of “Managing the” – I don’t want give you the authors; you’ll have to Google it, but you can. So “Managing the Unexpected” I found to be a – you know, it left some echoes.

And I read, by the way, to see if I can produce some echoes for myself later, when I confront issues.

“Starfish and the Spider,” about the difference between hierarchical and decentralized organizations.

On the fiction side, I don’t – I don’t think I’ve ever found a better work of fiction that describes leadership than “Once an Eagle” by Anton Myrer, about the World War – the period between World War I and World War II.

So I think it’s a matter of –

MR. BUSSEY: Why is that? Why that?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, because the conceit that he sets up is comparing a leader – he turns out to be a West Pointer – who – which pains me – turns out to be a West Pointer in the book – who, with all the advantages, begins to feel entitled about leadership, and he rises through the ranks. And then the parallel is a man named Sam Damon – this guy’s named Courtney Massengale; this guy’s Sam Damon – and he rises through the ranks from the enlisted ranks, battlefield commission, kind of struggles his way through, and watching him struggle his way through, and he makes some mistakes along the way and – but his – and learns from those mistakes and becomes the better of the two leaders, I think – well, not “I think.” He does become the better of the two leaders.

MR. BUSSEY: So putting the policy issues aside in Washington –

GEN. DEMPSEY: Really? (Laughter.)

MR. BUSSEY: What’s wrong – what would you advise – what is the leadership prescription that the players, the actors in Washington need now to get through the gridlock?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, first of all, because of my role within the administration and within the department, that’s well beyond my responsibility. But if you’re asking citizen Dempsey, not General Dempsey, I think that the issue of relationship-building is actually what seems to me to be the key to success. And I – you know, Governor Christie talked about building relationships, reaching across the aisle, you know, doing things that will cause people to try to find some common – some common ground.

I don’t know – you know, I’ve spent most of my career outside of Washington, so I can’t speak, you know, with any – with any clarity or nostalgia, as some do, about the old days. I suspect the old days were pretty much like these days; it just wasn’t played out in the social media and in 24/7 news coverage.

But I do think that the key will be at some point when things are – reach such a state that, you know, I think the nation will demand it. And I don’t know when that occurs.

MR. BUSSEY: We’re not at that now with the government shutdown?

GEN. DEMPSEY: I don’t know. You know, I – you know, I keep – I keep an eye on my own force, those 2.4 million men and women, to make sure that they have the kind of clarity, as much clarity as we can give them, as much certainty. I tell people that, you know, we, the military, we actually – we don’t have a reputation for it, but we really do embrace change. We are nothing like the – I joined the military in 1970 at West Point, almost 40 years now, and the military I joined then is nothing, I mean nothing like the military today. In fact, the military we have today is nothing like it was in 2003, nothing. You – I mean, you’ll recognize unit insignias and patches and some of the equipment, but it’s a very different military.

So what I tell people is, you know, we embrace change, but we do a considerable disservice to those young men and women who serve if we live in perpetual uncertainty. And we’re living in a bit of what I would describe as perpetual uncertainty.

MR. BUSSEY: Karl Eikenberry, former commander in Afghanistan and also our former ambassador to Afghanistan, wrote an op-ed in another national newspaper – we like to call it “Brand X” – saying that, look, if you examine the military culture now, as changed as it has over the last couple of decades, it’s become increasingly divorced from the rest of society. Saw 10 percent of people raise their hand here; 20 percent of Congress has a military background. Used to be in the mid-70s back in the mid-’70s. Instead, what you have now is kind of a family business, what he called the military caste, the sons and daughters of those in the military, going into the military, and the rest of citizenry says, you know, it’s their job to go off and fight our wars.

And from that, he argues, comes a lot of negative things, including misjudgments on the political side about what conflicts to get involved with. And he’s suggesting a selective amount of drafting go on, targeting particular, you know, groups of highly able individuals to bring them into the military, to re-engage the citizen soldier. Does that idea, to somebody who manages an all-volunteer Army – does that resonate at all?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, we haven’t thought about it in those terms, although I did read that study and the suggestion, for example, by Stan McChrystal about universal service. And we are looking at the potential in the future of kind of lateral exit and re-entry, possibly.

But to your point about selective service, I don’t know how many of you are aware, but only one out of four young men and women in America between 18 and 22 can get in the United States military, one out of four. Now, none of us should be very proud of that, but if you went to a selective service, if you’re not going to lower the standard, you’re going to get about the same – you’re going to get about the same people you would get. I mean, one out of four isn’t a huge population from which to draw.

Secondly, I did grow up in a draft Army, my first – well, I guess, five years or so, was in a conscript Army. And there were some – there were more holes in that selective service system than there were holes in a nice Emmenthaler Swiss cheese – I’m sitting with a Danish fellow here from – who lived in Germany.

My point is, I would never sign up for any process that would lower our standards or that would – that would be so hard to implement that – and would have so many ways of avoiding service that we would end up with a lower-quality military. The reason I’m such an advocate of the professional all-volunteer force now is because that’s what the nation needs. It needs a force that stays as well-trained as it can be because the world doesn’t hang around waiting for you to get – you know, get your act together when something goes badly.

MR. BUSSEY: You’re not worried about what Eikenberry was talking about, that it’s gotten separated from the rest of citizenry of America?

GEN. DEMPSEY: You know, do I worry about it? Sure I do. In fact, I spend a lot of time – another thing about – by the way, another leader attribute I’d – I would encourage you to consider is a – I have a – what I call a campaign of learning and a personal campaign of learning. I have a colonel that I hired who stays with me, and once a week for at least a two or three-hour block, he exposes – he allows me to be exposed to business or industry or academia or something I don’t know anything about. So I was out at a – at a rapid prototyping center out in California last week; I was at Goldman Sachs the week before that; I was – I may have visited some of you on occasion.

But anyway, the point is, as I go around and connect with people, there is a deep appreciation of military service, maybe not a deep understanding of it. But I’d rather strap on that as a challenge than change the nature of the all-volunteer force.

MR. BUSSEY: So while you were out in California, you were also talking about changing the compensation program, possibly, for the military.


MR. BUSSEY: There’s the sequester, there’s talk of general cuts in Defense spending, and yet, you also describe this era as, while there aren’t major conflicts, perhaps the most dangerous period in your lifetime in America, because of all sorts of non-state actors, as we’ve seen.

So budget cuts and sequesters and compensation change is changing the military, and yet, that national security concerns that you have – where are you going to lead the military? Where do you want to take this organization while you’re still chairman of the Joint Chiefs over the next five – to build it out so that it’s capable of addressing those concerns over the next five to 10 years?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, I mean, this could take, you know, the next 20 minutes, not the next 9:32 here. But so I’ve got four focus areas I talk about: One, we got to achieve the national objectives we currently have established for ourselves: rebalancing to the Pacific, finishing our work in Afghanistan and – I mean, you – I could list those for you.

Secondly, it’s – I got to build Joint Force 2020. By the time I leave this job, we will have submitted four budgets, the last of which will cover the period Fiscal Years ’16 to ’20. So we’re either going to back into ’20 – 2020 – or we’re going to shape it. And I’d rather shape it than back into it. And we can talk about what that force might need to look – to look like.

Third, a recommitment to the profession: After 10 years of being extraordinarily busy and fighting two wars, it’s time for us to be introspective about who we are as a – and how do we connect with the American people and how do we see ourselves? And then the third – fourth one is keeping faith with American military – the military family – active, Guard, Reserve, families, veterans, gold star families and so forth.

Now, just one last – one point about keeping faith, people sometimes think it’s about making sure that I continue to argue for better pay, better compensation, better health care, better retirement. That’s part of it, or at least adequate pay, compensation, health care and retirement. It’s also about making sure they’re well-trained, well-led and well-equipped. And if we don’t get our manpower – look, it’s a bit of a business for me at my level. If I don’t get the manpower costs under control then the institution will suffer irreparable harm in modernization, training and readiness.

MR. BUSSEY: Some of that instability and some of that concern, state and non-state actors, very much pertains to the Mideast.


MR. BUSSEY: And I’m wondering if you could kind of just walk us through the big picture on the Mideast. It seems that perhaps more unstable than ever. We have legacy in Iraq of what looks to be kind of dissolution in some regards, Iran’s effort to get a nuclear weapon. Syria demands and desires for the U.S. to have some kind of role there, we’re just not sure how to untangle that role. And yet, at the same time, very firm commitments to an ally in the region, Israel. The big picture on the forces that are shaping your decisions and your thinking on the Mideast?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah. So the Middle East, and let me include in that probably North Africa – Mideast, North Africa. Three things I would suggest to you. One is the – a changed relationship between the governed and the governing. So what – you know, I think books will be written for the next several years about what is this thing that we kind of optimistically described as the Arab Spring several years ago. And it’s many things, but it’s certainly the relieving of pressure that was – that was being brought to bear by dictators on societies that had – that had been suppressed for many, many decades.

And so you have a changed relationship between the governed and the governing among a populace that doesn’t know what to do with it, frankly. And so I think it’s a bit naïve to think that in the first generation of that change we would move somehow from dictatorship to – you know, to democracy, certainly, but maybe not even all the way to representative government.

MR. BUSSEY: Blue thumbs of the first – (inaudible) – notwithstanding.

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, look it’s a step, but it’s a step. So it’s a changed relationship between the governed and the governing that I think will take, you know, a decade or more to finally settle.

Secondly, it’s being played out in a – in an environment where there’s a – somewhat of an internal struggle within Islam for control. And it gets at the Sunni-Shia schism – it’s a fault line. And right now, the fault line runs from Beirut to Damascus to Baghdad. And players on both sides are trying to influence the actions in their favor. And then the third factor is – what that creates is ungoverned space. Or, if not ungoverned, governed less than we would like to be governed. And in that ungoverned space migrates extremists.

So you’ve got this changed relationship between the governed and the governing, this internal conflict within Islam – in some cases which is more prominent than in others, but it’s prominent throughout the region – and then that Arab Spring was hijacked, in many ways, by these extremist organizations on both sides of that Sunni-Shia schism, and it makes for a very volatile, complex, long-term challenge.

MR. BUSSEY: What do we do –

GEN. DEMPSEY: I don’t know. (Laughter.)

MR. BUSSEY: – if the charm offensive of Iran goes awry, Israel wants to buy refueling planes from us, you know why –


MR. BUSSEY: What are our obligations to Israel in the face of what still looks to be an intractable Iran?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, I feel like we have a deep obligation to Israel because of, I mean, a matter of history, but also a matter of what they bring to the region. You know, they bring an example of what could be. You know, if we had one of my Israeli counterparts sitting here today, they would tell you that most of the Arabs living in Israel have a better life than the Arabs living in the rest of the region. Now, that’s true –

MR. BUSSEY: But if Israel loses faith in the negotiation process and decides to bomb Iran, where is the U.S. military? Where’s the U.S. in that equation?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, we have some – we have some defined obligations to Israel that we would meet. And that’s why we’re in constant – constant – contact and collaboration with them.

But you know, my counterpart and I have talked about the fact that there’s also a strategic opportunity for Israel. There’s no state right now that’s threatening Israel, as there was just 10 years ago. I mean, Egypt’s unstable, Syria’s unstable, Jordan is struggling. So – and not that Jordan was a threat to Israel in the first place, but the point is, Israel’s got a strategic opportunity, and I think they are beginning to think themselves about how to take advantage of it.

MR. BUSSEY: You wrote a letter to Carl Levin, at his request, this summer outlining possible things that the military – U.S. military could do to support rebels in Syria. None of them looked like very good options. Have any of those options improved, in your mind? Would you be able to find the right people to arm? Would you have the confidence that the weapons weren’t getting to the wrong people?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, even in that letter, the options were described as scalable, which is to say, you know, the top-end option, which would be if you wanted to topple the regime and do so through the imposition of a no-fly zone or seizing chemical weapons yourself, that’s what got all the headlines. But any of those options is actually scalable.

I worry that – and have said so – that we might have more confidence in our ability to limit conflict. You know, history’s against those who think they can limit conflict. Some of you may know that on the 10th of November, 1964, Robert McNamara declared that we would never send combat troops to Vietnam. And I’m not sure how some of you think that worked out, but it wasn’t one of the greatest predictions ever made in the history of American statesmanship.

MR. BUSSEY: Right.

GEN. DEMPSEY: So, look, my obligation is to articulate options and articulate risk. And then those who we elect make decisions about which options they’re interested in based on the risks that we would accrue. Are the options getting better? No, I don’t think so. I think they’re probably becoming more complex. But again, to my way of looking at it, that was absolutely predictable.

MR. BUSSEY: Abe in Japan wants to change the constitution to be able to create a more robust military, presumably to offset a rising China. Is that something that is – you would endorse? Would you see that as kind of a valuable development in Asia, or is that just going to accelerate the existing arms race?

GEN. DEMPSEY: No, I don’t – you know, it’s to be determined, but I do think we have – for some time, we have encouraged Japan to match its economic power that it brings to the international community and to the region with some extended military capability that could be integrated into regional architectures not to threaten any particular player in that part of the world, but rather, to make us a more capable alliance. And so –

MODERATOR: Are the territorial disagreements there manageable, or is this going to aggravate them?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, the territorial issues are manageable if all of the parties to them continue to behave as they are, which is to say, responsibly, mostly through law enforcement with the occasional misstep. But, you know, that’s where we, I think, can provide our influence and our – and our assistance in continuing to encourage a diplomatic solution.

And, you know, look, the Chinese have a much different view of time than most anybody else, and I think, as long as we can continue to encourage both sides to be patient, I think there is a chance that over time, diplomacy might make a difference.

MODERATOR: So we have a few minutes for questions from the audience. Yes, Dan Yergin, right here.

Q: General Dempsey, my question follows from a question that John just asked you about the Middle East.

GEN. DEMPSEY: And what? Did I avoid it and you’re re-engaging me or what?

Q: Well, it’s a kind of, fill in the footnotes here.


Q: Obviously, the U.S. energy position has changed dramatically in the last five years. Does this – and a lot of talk about whether this changes U.S. strategic interests – is there any clarity in your mind yet as to whether it does and how it does or doesn’t?

GEN. DEMPSEY: I wouldn’t describe my feelings about it as in any way clarifying, although I will tell you that as we take a look at long-term – probably beyond 2020, we do think there will be – there will be – that our energy independence, if that’s ever entirely possible, will change the dynamic in – notably in the Mideast, but also Europe. Probably not as much in the Pacific, by the way, in our – in our current assessment.

In fact, I mentioned I was at Goldman Sachs last – a week ago – Friday, and that was the topic. We had two topics. One was the future of energy security and the national security implications, and they’re going to run a conference, by the way, in April. I’m not inviting you to it; I can’t, but it – they’re asking some very good questions about what changes may accrue if energy policy is changed to allow this breakout to occur. And then the other one was cyber, by the way. We had a pretty rich conversation about cyber threats.

MODERATOR: Yes, please. Over here.

Q: General Dempsey, question about – it appears that with the amount of resources and energy we’re spending in Middle East that we’re not getting as much financial benefit from it than some of the other allies who have spent far less or committed far less are getting, you know, better opportunities – taking advantage of the financial arrangements and opportunities – how do you see that? Is that – is that – is that in line with your strategy or is that something that we need to rethink about going forward?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, it’s pretty hard to answer that question. I think you’ve answered – I think you’ve – at least, you’ve shared your opinion with me on the answer to that question. (Laughter.)

Yeah, look. I’ve seen it even in my own experience. I spent two full years, from ’05 to ’07, building the Iraqi security forces with American taxpayer dollars, and then there was a point in time where they went off to Russia to procure some weapons on their own. You know, I think that we do better at that than you might think, not as well as you might like.

And I think it’s reflective of who we are as a nation that we don’t hold people ransom to our assistance. And, you know, I’m more proud of that than I am disappointed in it, and I think it just takes some big, solid diplomacy to convince – I mean, look. We’ve got some close allies who are considering procuring weapons systems that wouldn’t be interoperable with us. By the way, that’s the leverage we have. You normally can’t appeal to them on the basis of good will. I’ve found that doesn’t go very far. (Laughter.) But if you can show them that by buying a different system they can’t be interoperable with us, then generally they come around.

MR. BUSSEY: Yes, please.

GEN. DEMPSEY: By the way, and the point is that most people actually do – would rather be like us than anyone else. We’re still the ally of choice across the world, and it’s one of the things we should seek to preserve as we go forward.

Q: General, you observed that the military force today is nothing like it was in 2003.


Q: Can you describe those differences?

GEN. DEMPSEY: Sure. I’ll give you a couple of images, maybe.

In 2003 I was a division commander in Baghdad. I had roughly 32,000 troops there, kind of a traditional tank division with some appendages, some paratroopers and some military policemen and cavalry scouts. And almost everything we did came through me. So if you were a young captain on the streets of Baghdad in those days, you waited for the division staff to give you the information you needed so that you could then apply yourself across the city.

Today – so my – the image here would be everything was top-down. Anything of value to you came from the top down. We’ve almost flipped that on its head entirely. It’s now most things of value come to us from the bottom up. And we’ve changed our systems in order to allow that, our communications systems. We’ve empowered – you would describe it as empowering the edge. So a captain now, in a combat outpost in the Pakistan border in Afghanistan, probably has as much access to national-level intelligence and local intelligence as I did as a division commander. It’s phenomenal, really.

My worry, by the way, is we’re going to bring that force back that has been – you know, has been allowed to shape things and to be leaders and have both responsibility and authority, and we’re going to bring them back. And if we don’t find a way to continue to inspire them, they’re going to go work for you (gestures toward audience). (Laughter.) So I got to worry about that.

MR. BUSSEY: Another question? Yes, please.

Q: Hi, General. Thanks for coming. We’re convening a group tomorrow to talk about cybersecurity. How bad is it out there?

GEN. DEMPSEY: You know, I’ve found that it’s not helpful when the chairman uses words like “crisis” or “meat axe” or, you know, these really powerful adjectives. But we are vulnerable, make no mistake about it.

My job, by the way, through the cyber assets that I control, is to defend and protect my network, the military network. The problem is my military network depends on your network. So 90 percent of what we do is shared in the – you know, across the Internet with commercial. And as you know, there’s some problems with incentives for cybersecurity for information sharing that I think we have to break through.

We’re really vulnerable. And I would simply say to you, I know what we can do, and we’re not – this is back to Governor Christie – we’re not the only smart guys on the planet.

MR. BUSSEY: We haven’t talked about Afghanistan. So after 2014, can Afghanistan live without ISAF and the United States?

GEN. DEMPSEY: After 2014, Afghanistan can live without a ubiquitous presence of U.S. military forces in their country. They can’t live without any. And importantly, they can’t live without the financial support that we’ve made both on the military side, but also at the – in Japan, at a donors conference, that the – that we made to them economically.

So the real question that I – that we are grappling with is what size – you know, most people think, what size presence should the United States leave there in order to maintain security? That’s actually, to me, the wrong question. It’s what size force does the United States and the contributing nations need to leave there to guarantee that the money we’ve all committed to Afghanistan will continue to flow, because if security deteriorates to a point where – I think it’s $6 billion a year or so has been committed to the economic side of Afghanistan from the international donors.

If that money dries up or if the money dries up that we’re providing, along with donors, then they can’t survive. This really comes down to what will it take to guarantee that the commitments we’ve made monetarily will continue to be realized.

MR. BUSSEY: The Defense Department’s identified China as a primary concern over the next generation. What in Asia concerns you from a national security standpoint?

GEN. DEMPSEY: I would be – so there’s a couple things. One is, I worry more about a China that falters economically than I do about them building another aircraft carrier, to tell you the truth. I think we can find our way forward with them militarily. I don’t think – it will be competitive, and at times it will be contentious, but it doesn’t have to be confrontational. So there’s that aspect of it.

And then you’ve got – someone mentioned the territorial disputes. I – you know, I think the potential for miscalculation is certainly there. And there’s – you know, you look back at history. Miscalculations with major powers who are kind of emerging on the scene is normally a problem.

And then I should have probably mentioned right from the start North Korea, because North Korea is the rogue nation, with some confidence, we believe, nuclear weapons, and the intent to find a delivery mechanism that could reach out across the region and potentially to the United States. So I actually worry more about a provocation from Korea that escalates than probably anything else that I deal with on a daily basis.

MR. BUSSEY: That problem’s not contained by China?

GEN. DEMPSEY: China is – I believe is working to influence. “Contain” is a strong word. I think China is trying to influence the DPRK into a more moderate behavior regionally.

The problem of course is that they’re still so opaque, the leader himself is so young and so inexperienced, and we have these cycles of provocation. We happen to be in a cycle, you know, where the provocations are absent right now, but we’ll see. You know, the – if the provocations continue, the fear, of course, is that those being provoked, notably the Republic of Korea, will tire of being provoked, and it’s a very dangerous – it’s still very dangerous there.

MR. BUSSEY: General Dempsey, thanks very much.

Please join me in thanking him. (Applause.)

GEN. DEMPSEY: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.