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Gen. Dempsey's Interview With Charlie Rose (PBS)


CHARLIE ROSE: General Martin Dempsey is here. He is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He succeeded Admiral Mike Mullen in October 2011. General Dempsey serves as the president’s principal military adviser. He’s a key voice on the U.S. mission in the Middle East and the impending drawdown in Afghanistan, though our effort has been set back in that country in recent days after a U.S. Army sergeant was accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians. Afghan President Hamid Karzai accused the United States also of failing to fully cooperate with the investigation.

[Video clip of President of Afghanistan]

HAMID KARZAI: This has been going on for too long. It is by all means the end of the rope here.

WOMAN [Reporter]: End of the road?

KARZAI: The end of the rope. This form of activity, this behavior cannot be tolerated. It’s past, past, past the time.

[End of Video clip]

ROSE: After meeting with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta earlier this week in Kabul, President Karzai demanded that American troops be withdrawn from villages and confined to major bases. He also called for transferring security responsibility from U.S. coalition forces to Afghan soldiers by next year. Meanwhile, the Taliban announced they were suspending any negotiations.

I am pleased to have General Dempsey at this table at this time.

GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff]: Thank you.

ROSE: Good to have you here. What do we know about this awful thing that happened in Afghanistan to these civilians?

DEMPSEY: Well, we know it’s an awful thing that happened. And we know that we’re committed to conducting an investigation and finding out what caused this young man to do what he is alleged to have done. And … but I have to say – I mean, we also have to be aware of the fact that we’ve had probably [800,000] or 900,000 men and women rotate through Afghanistan. And they’ve served honorably. They’ve done the right thing. They’ve maintained their sense of discipline. So we also want to keep this in perspective.

ROSE: It is an important point to make, and it does not reflect on all the people there who’ve been trying to do their job as they see best and also trying to serve their country and work in the interest of other people. But it is something that hurts the United States’ effort in Afghanistan. Tell me how it hurts and what it does to the mission.

DEMPSEY: Well, look, the Koran burning incident, there were images of dead bodies being desecrated that have all kind of converged at a particular point in time. And we have to be introspective and try to learn what the last 10 years of war have done to us as a profession, and we’re doing that. But in terms of whether it’s hurt the war effort, our goals and objectives remain the same as they have been. And I think that Afghans, Afghan leaders, the Afghan people understand that, but their outrage at a particular instance is understandable.

ROSE: But on the face of it, if Karzai says, the president of Afghanistan says, you know, I want you to pull NATO forces back to the barracks, if in fact the Taliban – whatever negotiations were taking place – suspends those, that does in fact impede by definition, does it not?

DEMPSEY: Well, let me separate the two.

ROSE: Okay. DEMPSEY: So let me talk for a moment about President Karzai’s statement. First of all, we’re not entirely sure that’s exactly what he said or what he meant. And what I mean by that is that’s been muddled with other conversations we’ve had about night operations. So he has for some time told us how deeply he wants to put Afghans in the lead in night operations.

ROSE: Because he believed there’s collateral damage that kills Afghans?

DEMPSEY: I think it’s a combination of his belief that there is collateral damage in those night raids, but also in his desire to demonstrate sovereignty. And, you know, that’s kind of an understandable instinct for a head of state.

But I think it’s clear – it should be clear no one wants to put Afghans in the lead more than we do when they’re ready to be in the lead. And that’s the conversation we’ve been having. There are places even today where they’re in the lead. We think that by next year the number of places where they’re capable of leading will increase dramatically and that there will be a milestone of sorts in ’13 as we hit a tranche – NATO’s term – for transition of provinces.

So something will change in ’13. Don’t forget we’re part of an alliance and so our NATO partners and other contributing nations have to be consulted. So something will change in ’13. But we remain committed to delivering the objectives of Lisbon, which, by the way, President Karzai agrees with and which, by the way, their Loya Jirga which they held just a few months ago agrees with.

ROSE: Do you believe that they will be prepared to accept the responsibility by 2014?

DEMPSEY: Well, I’ll tell you what I do believe, and this is from my most recent visit there. I think that when given the opportunity to leave and the enablers to do so, because there are some capability gaps, but when given the opportunity to do so, they actually do better than we think they will. And, importantly, they perform better than I think they think they can.

So this – we’re plowing new ground really with Afghanistan, trying to build its sense of nationhood and trying to link together these disparate groups to have a sense of national identity. So to answer your question, I do think we can deliver the Lisbon objectives, transition to Afghan lead with us in support, by ’14.

ROSE: And prevent the Taliban from achieving power that they had in Afghanistan before the 9/11 attacks?

DEMPSEY: Yes, with the caveat I suppose that there will always be places in a country of that size, with a population that diverse, where there are areas that are remote beyond our ability to imagine them in this country where there will be from time to time it seems to me challenges to the Afghan security forces and to the central government. But what we seek to put in place is the ability of the Afghan government when confronted by that to deal with it.

ROSE: Any conversation about Afghanistan has to include Pakistan. That’s why the president had an Afghan-Pakistan review.

DEMPSEY: Sure.

ROSE: Is there any progress there in getting the Pakistani government to not be a staging ground for Taliban who go across the border?

GEN. DEMPSEY: As you know, they’ve been involved in – they’ve had some domestic political issues they’ve been sorting through. So I think the best thing we’ve done over the past several months – you know, the incident occurred on November 26th and here we sit on March the 16th.

I think the best thing we’ve done is we’ve not conducted our engagement with them with a microphone. We’ve communicated with them directly. We’ve communicated with them privately. We’re back in close contact with them along the border. We have been in conversations about our mil-to-mil relationship, about our foreign military sales, about some of the common challenges of terrorism. And they have asked to be given time in their parliamentary process to have some internal discussions about what the new relationship might be. But I’m personally optimistic that we can reset the relationship in a way that meets both of our needs.

Now, will we ever to our satisfaction find that the Afghan safe haven for terrorist groups is reduced to our satisfaction? And the answer is probably not. Part of that may be Pakistani will – I mean, that’s to be determined. Part of it is probably their capability. Again, that’s a very long stretch of what has traditionally been lawlessness. And I believe they will do the best they can, but it may not be enough for us. ROSE: You believe they will do the best they can?

DEMPSEY: I do. Yes.

ROSE: You believe that they are prepared to do whatever they can to stop the Haqqani group acting in North Waziristan?

DEMPSEY: Using your words, to do whatever they can within their means and capability – I think they will. But make no mistake about it – you know, the Haqqani network is a perfect example. It’s been there for 20 years. It is intertwined into the society of that part of Pakistan.

ROSE: And has a relationship with the security services, most people believe.

DEMPSEY: I think that’s probably accurate. And I think it’s intermarried. And I think it will be extraordinarily difficult – by the way, I’m not a Pakistan apologist. I’m very – my counterpart, General Kayani and I are Leavenworth classmates and have had what I think are potentially the most candid, frank, pointed conversations about our challenges of any of the leaders with whom I interact.

ROSE: Well, does it convince you that he really does intend to do everything he can?

DEMPSEY: I will accept that description – everything he can.

ROSE: And what limits him from doing more?

DEMPSEY: I think there’s a couple of things that limit them. It’s a nation of 170 million people with mind-numbing economic challenges. They still believe that India poses their greatest existential threat, although we’ve been pulling them closer to our view, which would suggest that terrorism is as much a threat to them as it is to us. And, you know, he’s got some internal issues he has to manage politically. You know, you’ve seen the same reports as I have about their internal domestic politics, and it’s challenging. And so, yeah, I do think that General Kayani, when we have our conversations, I think that he will do what he can, which may never be what we would like.

ROSE: He was very upset when he found out that bin Laden was on Pakistani territory and had been killed by American forces.

DEMPSEY: He was, and I believe sincerely. Now, it doesn’t mean that there may not have been others in the country that were witting but we have – from my personal understanding – have never found any evidence to that, that there would be some who were witting of it. It’s just hard to believe.

ROSE: Yes. Hard to believe that he didn’t know or hard to believe that they knew?

DEMPSEY: Yes. Hard to believe that somebody didn’t know, but that said, we’ve never found out later.

ROSE: And then they personally assure people that they knew like you they did not know.

DEMPSEY: That’s correct.

ROSE: Do you believe Pakistan is stable?

DEMPSEY: I do believe Pakistan is stable today. I do think there are some trend lines that would be concerning for both them and us in terms of the migration of various terrorist groups. And, again, I think their economic forecast is what probably gives me the greatest cause for concern.

ROSE: It’s dire?

DEMPSEY: It is dire. I mean, from certainly – my understanding of the term “dire,” it’s a fairly dire economic condition. And, of course, that exacerbates some of the problems they have with an extraordinarily large population that is growing rapidly and elements of religious extremism operating in parts of the country. So you put – if you thread that all together, it does make for a very challenging future.

ROSE: Let me go back to the killing of those civilians in Afghanistan.

DEMPSEY: Sure.

ROSE: It has been reported that the man who was accused of this, the sergeant, is back on American territory being held here?

DEMPSEY: I cannot confirm that as yet. I will tell you that he has been removed. It’s been reported he’s been removed from Afghanistan.

ROSE: To Kuwait first it was said.

DEMPSEY: Through Kuwait and inbound to the United States where he will be placed in pre-trial confinement.

ROSE: He has a right to a speedy trial I assume. Would you expect that that will take place as soon as possible and as soon as you can allow it to happen as long as he gets due process?

DEMPSEY: Yes. I think absolutely.

ROSE: Is it in the interest of this to come to some kind of justice?

DEMPSEY: It is in the interest of – it’s in all of our interest to make sure he gets a speedy trial. But it’s also part of our system that we have to have the right amount of evidence before he could be tried. And, you know, accumulation of evidence in an environment like Afghanistan as you might expect is pretty challenging.

ROSE: What is our mission now?

DEMPSEY: Our mission as articulated in the Lisbon objectives, articulated by the collective body of NATO is to ensure that – as you described, that Afghanistan is no longer a safe haven for terror operations in the future. We also want to leave Afghanistan with a government that is capable of providing for its own security and that over time that security can lead to economic development.

ROSE: Do we know where Mullah Omar is?

DEMPSEY: No.

ROSE: We do not know?

DEMPSEY: I don’t know where Mullah Omar is.

ROSE: If anybody knew in the United States, you’d know.

DEMPSEY: I might be among those who know, but I don’t know.

ROSE: And why is that?

DEMPSEY: Well, if Mullah Omar has any sense – and one might expect that he does, given the fact that he’s been elusive – he would have seen what has happened to –

ROSE: Osama bin Laden.

DEMPSEY: – a rather significant number of his former peers. Yes.

ROSE: So we also don’t know where Osama bin Laden’s colleague is either.

DEMPSEY: No. But make no mistake about it – the original group that we refer to as al Qaeda core –

ROSE: Right.

DEMPSEY: – has been dramatically reduced.

ROSE: Meaning that your assessment of what – the struggle against terrorism is what?

DEMPSEY: Well, we always refer to al Qaeda and associated movements because I think it’s important to note that although al Qaeda’s, let’s call it, stock in the world of extremism has been affected, has kind of waned. It hasn’t been entirely defeated, but al Qaeda’s stock has waned. But the movement now evidenced in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in places like Yemen and in the Horn of Africa in places like Somalia, we think those organizations have an ability, because it is the 21st century and they can network, have the ability to pass information, pass, you know, goals and objectives, and even exchange money, ideology, and people.

ROSE: Iran, you said you expect they’ll act like a rational government.

DEMPSEY: Well, what I said was – and that was actually – that drew a lot of attention –

ROSE: Yes.

DEMPSEY: – but I said they were a rational state actor. But importantly, I also said, doesn’t mean they’re going to act reasonably. And I think the difference issue is back to my English background, I suppose. But the difference between rational and reasonable is an important point here.

ROSE: You choose words carefully.

DEMPSEY: I choose words very carefully.

ROSE: And so rational meant to you what?

DEMPSEY: Rational meant to me that there is an evident pattern of behavior that this regime has followed since the Islamic Revolution that first and foremost expresses their intention to remain in power and to preserve the regime, and that based on that there are some things that we know they will respond to. That’s a rational actor.

ROSE: Would you have said the same thing about Saddam Hussein?

DEMPSEY: Yes, I think I would have actually.

ROSE: Did he act rationally?

DEMPSEY: Again, there was a pattern – and in fact, there was even a potentially more discernible pattern of behavior by Saddam Hussein, but again, this is not to condone their behavior. It’s not to consider them reasonable.

ROSE: Or consider their behavior, what they do to their people even reasonable by any –

DEMPSEY: That’s right. No. That’s right.

ROSE: The fact is that Saddam Hussein had a warped judgment as to what the United States would do. He made a gross misjudgment about us.

DEMPSEY: Yes, I agree with that.

ROSE: And do you think that Iranians are capable of making a gross misjudgment about what the United States and the Israelis might do?

DEMPSEY: I do.

ROSE: So they could get it wrong and suffer the consequences.

DEMPSEY: They could get it wrong and suffer the consequences.

ROSE: Where do you think we are as a result of the discussions that took place, A, between you and Israeli military and political leaders, and between the Israeli prime minister and President Obama?

DEMPSEY: First of all, just to assure you, we’re in constant contact with our Israeli counterparts. In fact, on Monday I’ll be meeting with General Benny Gantz, who’s my counterpart, for the third time. And I’ve been the chairman for six months. And –

ROSE: For the third time you’ve been the chairman for six months.

DEMPSEY: That’s right.

ROSE: Once over there and –

DEMPSEY: That’s right. And so we’re in contact constantly. And I would describe – I would describe our present position – that’s what you asked me – this way. We don’t disagree in terms of intent. We disagree in terms of time. And as you know, we –

ROSE: Help me with intent. You don’t disagree with –

DEMPSEY: We don’t disagree in terms of intent. We both – we both have expressed the intent that we will do – that we’re determined to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapon.

ROSE: And to do what’s necessary. All options are on the table.

DEMPSEY: All options are on the table. And it’s a matter of time. And in our view, our current path, which is based, as you know, on economic sanctions, building an international coalition and diplomatic pressure, as well as military preparedness, we think we have the time to do that.

ROSE: And what kind of timeframe is that?

DEMPSEY: Well, I won’t put too fine an edge on that because that would –

ROSE: But, I mean, some people say it’s six months.

DEMPSEY: Well, you’d have to understand, I think –

ROSE: It’s 2012.

DEMPSEY: Yeah. Again, it’s time not necessarily measured in terms of months or years, but in terms of our ability and capability to collect intelligence, to see if they cross any thresholds.

ROSE: You have also said that an attack might have terrible consequences not just for the Iranians. What would be the fallout of an attack?

DEMPSEY: Well, I mean, clearly it would depend upon Iranian response to that attack and you know, you –

ROSE: And our preparation.

DEMPSEY: Sure. And whether or not they would do something extraordinarily destabilizing like attempt to close the Straits of Hormuz or something like that.

ROSE: Wouldn’t they have to try something for their own sense of –

DEMPSEY: Well, I don’t know. I mean, again, remember back to my – our original point. I mean, if they’re rational, then I think they will be very calculating on their response. And you know, we’ve got – we’ve run some excursions on possible Iranian reaction, but I wouldn’t expose them here on your show, unfortunately.

ROSE: Well, I would respect that. There is also this with respect to the Iranians. Are they giving advice to the Syrians?

DEMPSEY: Yeah. I don’t have any particular reason or intelligence to assess that they’re giving them advice, but they are supporting them. I mean, Syria has been a long time client.

ROSE: With arms –

DEMPSEY: Sure, and they’re shipping arms. So they are certainly supporting the Assad regime as their client, their outlet into that part of the world, and I think they would be expected to continue to do so.

ROSE: What’s the difference – and you have expressed this before – between some kind of military action against Syria in contrast to military action against Libya?

DEMPSEY: Well, a number of things as we’ve continued to study this. And we stay on top of the emerging issues, the evolving situation on the ground, but I mean just in terms of geography, size of the country, the demographics of the country, the military capabilities of the country, vastly different challenge. And the lack of a coherent opposition, although – although, you know, we’ve tried to find a way to engage with some kind of coherent opposition with –

ROSE: You’ve tried to find a coherent opposition –

DEMPSEY: Sure.

ROSE: – meaning an opposition that is cooperating and coordinating.

DEMPSEY: Exactly so. So that there is something on which to build and something on which – something to support with an idea of a potential outcome. I mean there are some 100 or so subgroups inside of Syria that are competing in some cases or just operating independently to try to coalesce, but they haven’t been able to do so at this point.

ROSE: Why not?

DEMPSEY: Well, it’s a good question and I don’t know whether it’s – I’d have to do – I’d have to study a bit more about Syrian history, Syrian – I mean this – there are reasons. And you know – and it always behooves us to understand these issues before we try to solve them. But at this point, you know, Secretary Clinton met with the Syrian National Council in Tripoli. We’ve taken steps to try to assist the opposition in becoming more coherent. But to this point, it’s not possible for us to identify –

ROSE: Two of the things you don’t have is one a U.N. action and, two, you don’t have necessarily the Arab League action, do you?

DEMPSEY: Well, the Arab League has condemned Assad, has called for him to step aside.

ROSE: But has not asked for –

DEMPSEY: But has not asked for any intervention.

ROSE: Either air cover or anything else.

DEMPSEY: No.

ROSE: And those are essential steps. I mean, if you look for some kind of rules of engagement here, that would be an essential step. Those three things, one –

DEMPSEY: The United States can –

ROSE: – U.N., B, Arab League, C, some kind of coordination among the people you are trying to help. DEMPSEY: The United States can always act in its own self defense and for its own vital national interests, should those be declared in this case. But it’s also very clear that to produce a useful, enduring outcome, it’s always better to do that as part of a coalition. And history has taught us that earlier.

ROSE: But what point do you say history demands we do something, even though the conditions that we would like to see are not there? These are atrocities beyond the scope of us being able to tolerate as members of the human community.

DEMPSEY: That could happen. And as you know, my personal responsibility is to be prepared to provide the President of the United States, Secretary of Defense, National Security Council, to provide options for any number of contingencies.

ROSE: My understanding you’ve already done that.

DEMPSEY: We have – we – as you’ve heard me testify probably, we have been working on estimates of the situation, intelligence estimates, all the things that would be necessary in order to take planning to the next level. But we have not yet planned in detail any particular military option in Syria.

ROSE: While I’m in the region, Egypt. Now they’ve had parliamentary elections. Both moderate Islamists and more radical Islamists did well in the elections and in combination, they had some 50 percent of the vote, I think.

DEMPSEY: Right.

ROSE: That worry you?

DEMPSEY: Well, it doesn’t worry me until I see how they distribute power. And what I mean by that is – again, I’ve been to Egypt. I’ve been in contact probably four or five times with my counterpart, General Sami Anan. We’re eager to – we were holding back on our foreign military fund for them because of the issue with the nongovernmental organizations. We’ve moved beyond that. We’re starting to now kind of restore what has been a very longstanding traditional mil-to-mil relationship. So on the military side, I do think they’re a very important player in the future of the region, in particular.

ROSE: They have the largest army in the region.

DEMPSEY: They do. And they become more important if Syria does tumble, because when Syria tumbles, you then have – you have a Sunni majority government in Damascus that kind of completes an arc of Sunni Islam and standing off kind of against the Shia world. And that’s –

ROSE: And in Iran and in Iraq.

DEMPSEY: That’s right. And though it’s not clear to me that Iraq wants to – in fact, it is clear to me that, as I sit here today, Iraq does not want to be a surrogate of Iran, but nevertheless, there’ll be pressure to do that because of their common religious background. The point being that when you have this kind of arc of instability is probably a good way to put it, Egypt becomes a really important player in this. So it’s really important for us to build – to continue to build the relationship with the emerging Egypt. Now that said, as we watch them distribute power among the various factions that form a coalition government, I think we’ll get some insights into what they intend to be in the future and they haven’t done that yet.

ROSE: With respect to Syria, are things getting worse on the ground for the – I mean, is the government getting stronger?

DEMPSEY: I wouldn’t describe the government as getting stronger. I would say what the government has done is they have – they’ve deliberately decided to escalate the amount of violence that they’re willing to impose against their own people. So they’ve used increasingly heavier weapon systems for example. I don’t think that in the end game makes them stronger. Here’s why I say to that. You know that Syria is approximately 70 percent Sunni. That’s the part of the population that’s now being oppressed by the central government. And though the central government may for a period of time oppress them, suppress them, I don’t think that 70 percent majority will ever again be content to be part of some sense of Syrian nation. I think that what Assad has done guarantees his eventual demise, though it may take longer than we would like.

ROSE: Because there were early expectations at some point, three, four, five months, I must say. And you think it may take longer than that.

DEMPSEY: It might. And that’s because some of his loyalists – I mean, he controls the army officer corps. He controls – there’s a republican guard, as there was in Iraq, that protects the regime. So that’s remaining loyal to him. So it may take longer, but I think his actions have guaranteed his eventual downfall.

ROSE: In Bahrain, you have a different circumstance, obviously. But at the same time, you have a majority of Shia who are not in power.

DEMPSEY: That’s right.

ROSE: Can that – can that continue?

DEMPSEY: Well, I don’t know. I mean, that’s – that – isn’t that the mystery of the Arab Spring? I mean, what has – the genie is out of the bottle. And I think to the extent that the central government, with whom we are closely allied, by the way, in Bahrain –

ROSE: And have a base –

DEMPSEY: Sure, yes. The extent to which they can reform in the face of these demands, I think that this doesn’t necessarily have to go the way of Syria.

ROSE: On balance, Arab Spring is a good thing.

DEMPSEY: Yes, on balance and in the long term, but I think we’ve all acknowledged that in the near term, it will be a – it will be somewhat destabilizing.

ROSE: Destabilizing.

DEMPSEY: Yes.

ROSE: In terms we would not know a strong government that is in place and there’ll be a competition for power.

DEMPSEY: That’s right, yes.

ROSE: And that’s destabilizing.

DEMPSEY: Yes, and as long as it’s a competition of ideas, which is the conversation I had inside of Egypt – the kind of competition they should be fostering is a competition of ideas, not a competition for power.

ROSE: Have we been doing well in the competition of ideas in that region?

DEMPSEY: Yes, well, I think we’ve been doing better than we think. You know, I think that publicly – I mean – look, I’ve lived in that part of the world for – for seven years or so on and off. And what is said publicly is always vastly different than what is said in the privacy of a – (inaudible) – session – or not a – (inaudible) – session, but a session of friends. And I think that we are still admired. But I think that they – that that part of the world is – in some ways is critical of what we’ve done because it’s been destabilizing, even though it’s worked to the benefit of the majority in most cases.

ROSE: You mean the Iraqi war and other things.

DEMPSEY: Yes, sure. And – you know – so I think they’re unsettled and I think that we’re an easy target for their feelings of victimization. But I think we actually do quite well when – among the more introspective over there and the more educated.

ROSE: I mean, you would hope that most of what could happen would be there would be an openness to the competition of ideas and also some openness to the idea of economic development, which might play a positive role.

DEMPSEY: Sure, yes. Look, I mean – when you look at where they like to travel or where they like to engage, where their militaries come to learn about being a professional force, they come here. At any given time, for example, in America, we have [300] to 500 officers of the Egyptian military.

ROSE: Can I move to China for a second? What does it mean to say that we have redeployed our sense of engagement?

DEMPSEY: What we’re doing is rebalancing our effort, our military effort into the Pacific. And we’ve never left the Pacific – this is not a pivot. It’s not a reemergence. It’s not a new manifestation of –

ROSE: There’s no resetting of the relationship.

DEMPSEY: No. This is about us, after 10 years of being consumed in the Mideast. And when I say consumed, that’s not just resources, it’s intellectual bandwidth. We’ve been consumed in the Mideast, and what you’re sensing from us is the desire – well, more than a desire, is the intention of rebalancing ourselves so that we can be mindful of the shifts in demographics, economics, and military power, which are all shifting to the East.

So what you’ll – this will emerge over time. This isn’t a light switch. You know, today we’re interested in Europe, tomorrow it’s the Mideast, the day after tomorrow it’s the Pacific. This is more about how to rebalance ourselves intellectually in the development of leaders, in our force presence, in our engagement.

ROSE: And is it redefining the nature of power in that region, in a sense, in terms of relationships at all?

DEMPSEY: Well, it will, I think. Any time – the Heisenberg Principle – any time we touch something, we affect its outcome. So I mean – and we are mindful of that. That as we rebalance, we have to both assure our traditional allies. We also have to be alert for opportunities with new and emerging allies, and we’ve got to develop a relationship with China.

ROSE: Do we have a very strong relationship with the Chinese military?

DEMPSEY: We have a relationship that is – with – with which both sides are content at this point. And we’ve got a commitment, reinforced recently by the visit of the Chinese vice president here to Washington. So we have a – we have what I would describe is a modest mil-to-mil relationship right now. And it varies by service. You know, the Navy, Air Force, Army, Marines each have their own particular context with their counterparts. But we all share the common aspiration to increase our mil-to-mil engagement.

ROSE: Do we assume that they will be the largest military power at some time?

DEMPSEY: We haven’t projected that they will do that. And the reason is – China appears to be this monolithic, homogeneous kind of world actor, and they’re anything but that. I mean as you – I’m sure you well know. I mean internal to China, they’ve got enormous economic challenges, enormous domestic challenges, as you would expect in a country of that size and that breadth. And some of those internal domestic challenges will over – they have to – they have to sustain them, as I understand, their 8 percent growth rate in order to continue to maintain the standard of living they have, let alone raise it.

ROSE: And if they have projected it, that’s about where it’s going to be –

DEMPSEY: That’s right.

ROSE: – for 2013.

DEMPSEY: That’s right. So – I mean, look, I personally believe China’s principal military objectives are to sustain the growth of their economy. Now –

ROSE: Now, what does that mean? Their military objective is to sustain their economic growth.

DEMPSEY: Right. And therefore, I think you will find them interested – we have found them to be very interested in the global commons, freedom of navigation. As you know, although they have stated publicly they don’t have any expansionary aspirations, they also have some very clear stated interests in their near seas, in the First Island Chain. I mean their strategy is very well articulated, very clear, as is ours. And to this point, we’ve been able to work with them and not –by the way, not just bilaterally, but also we’ve been working with regional partners.

But this will take – this is why we need to rebalance ourselves in terms of our intellectual bandwidth into the Pacific, because we do need to think our way through how to ensure that we find common ground with China as it continues to grow, because it will.

ROSE: When you think about cyber warfare, does it alarm you?

DEMPSEY: It does. It alarms me on a couple of fronts. It alarms me because I know what we can do. And we can’t believe we’re the only ones in the world with the capability and intellect to figure out what’s possible in cyber.

Secondly, it’s clearly – whether you believe in Moore’s Law or some other law, it’s pretty clear that information technology is growing exponentially and we are becoming incredibly dependent upon it. So most of our critical infrastructure is enabled by the internet. And – I mean, look, even in the financial markets here in New York, logarithmic, algorithmic trading. There’s more algorithmic trading than there is people holding up paddles on the floor.

ROSE: Not even close.

DEMPSEY: And so as a nation we have become extraordinarily dependent upon the internet.

ROSE: It affects electric grids and everything else.

DEMPSEY: It affects everything. And therefore, if we are that dependent on that capability, then I’m alarmed about our ability to protect it.

ROSE: Are you surprised that an English professor at West Point became chairman of the Joint Chiefs?

DEMPSEY: I’m surprised that I became chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

ROSE: And you were an English professor.

DEMPSEY: I was actually, yes.

ROSE: Is good training for leadership in the military?

DEMPSEY: You know, I found it to be an extraordinary preparation for me. I mean, it just – I’ll give you an example. I’ve just read – I don’t know if you’ve read Stephen Greenblatt’s new book “The Swerve.”

ROSE: Not only that, he was here to this table having a wonderful conversation about it.

DEMPSEY: No kidding. Yes. So you know, I was thinking through what he describes as that moment, the rediscovery of Lucretius on the nature of things and what an enormous change it made in the way we interacted – the impact of religion on our lives. I mean it just – it was a very persuasive book. And I often – I wonder to myself in the context of that what is it about our particular period – our moment in history that will be that swerve. And by the way, it could be something in cyber.

And so the study of literature, which is the study of how people lived, contrary maybe to history, which is, as Finley Peter Dunne, a humorist in the late 19th century said, history is the study of what civilizations die of. Literature is the study of what civilizations live of. I think the study of literature has helped me approach some of these really complex problems that we are facing.

ROSE: Thank you, sir.

DEMPSEY: Thank you.