Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts —
GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY: Well, thanks for the warm welcome, and thank you for the kind introduction. I won’t mention the dangling participle there at the end. (Laughter.)
Good evening. I’ll give a few – about 20 minutes of prepared remarks, because there are actually a couple of themes that I really want to capture and document, and then I look forward especially to the Q-and-A.
And by the way, I apologize for being a little late. I was on the phone with Ted Leonsis, the owner of the Washington Capitals, giving him a little advice about the game tonight with the Bruins. (Laughter.)
Thanks so much for coming out tonight. Deanie and I are really glad to be here. Quite honestly, you wouldn’t be listening to me, I wouldn’t be here, were it not for her. She’s really always been my battle buddy through 38 years of service, 35 years of marriage and 22 moves, but who’s counting?
In fact, I remember early in our married life, on one particularly tough day in our first assignment, in Germany, we’d just moved into on-post housing – and as I said, this was the first in what would become 22 moves – and I came home and I noticed, you know, on the wall – she’d been doing some painting. She was always wont to do painting and wallpapering and things. And I came home and there was a bit of wallpaper put up in the kitchen, and there were a few seams that weren’t exactly properly aligned. There were a few bubbles in the wallpaper. You know, I commented on it. I was kind of annoyed that she didn’t share my disappointment that the job hadn’t been done exactly right. And I told her – I said, you know, the problem, I guess – we were newlyweds – I guess the problem is that I’m a perfectionist and you’re not. And she said, yeah, that’s exactly right. That’s why you married me and I married you. (Laughter, applause.) And so it has been through our married life – (laughter) – but it has been quite a ride.
I can imagine there are probably some more exciting things you could do around here in the beautiful city of Boston on a spring day than listen to me, but I’d also suggest to you that watching the Boston Red Sox is probably not one of them. (Laughter.) I guess you know that I’m a Yankees fan and – I do wish you all the luck tomorrow, opening up at home, at Fenway.
I will – by the way, I will say that when I was the chief of staff of the Army, I contacted a lot of sporting organizations in all different sports – golf and football, baseball. And maybe the best of the bunch, in terms of reaching out to servicemen and -women and their families, are the Boston Red Sox. They’ve got some terrific programs over there. So I reluctantly have become a bit of a closet Boston Red Sox fan.
Well, if I’m still welcome, I would like to thank Dean Ellwood for inviting me back to a place that I’m sure you know is one of our great national prestigious institutions of learning, and many great minds in the field of national security emanate right out of these hallowed walls – Graham Allison, Joe Nye and Ash Carter, Dr. Ash Carter, the current deputy SECDEF, secretary of defense. I work with Ash every day, and I have to tell you, he is as good as they get.
I even have three Harvard guys on my personal staff. I appreciate their counsel. And I know that they appreciate their experience and are very proud of their time here because most of their advice to me in a meeting starts by – with the phrase, “Well, when I was at Harvard.” (Laughter.) So we’ve learned to kind of put up with that (inaudible). (Laughter.)
One of them – by the way, one of the Harvard grads on my personal staff is Captain Fred Kacher. He was student body president here at the Kennedy School. He’s leaving me in just a few weeks go to out and take a destroyer squadron out in the Pacific. He’s – he really a shining example of what a leader schooled in strategy can do for our military.
Our nation, by the way, would be stronger if some of you in this room – some of you in this room are going to follow his example in military service to the country, but however you choose to serve, just serve in some way. You all are blessed by the opportunity to be here. I know you know that, and this is not by way of preaching to you about that, but continue to find ways to give back to this great nation of ours. It really is what makes us great, after all.
I’m a graduate of West Point, which they call the Harvard of the Hudson. You may know that. (Laughter.) Now the difference between West Point and Harvard may not be entirely clear to you, but Harvard tries to cram knowledge into your head. At West Point, we teach boxing, so that we can hit others in the head. (Laughter.) It’s not quite as simple as that, but it felt like that on occasion going through West Point.
But I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this. I mentioned that being a Harvard grad carries lot of weight. When you consider the leaders in government and the private sector that are counted among your alumni, there is indeed a special burden, I would describe it, that comes with being a – to receiving that Harvard diploma, wherever you go. So I hope that you will continue in the footsteps of many of your predecessors by putting the world-class education that you’re receiving to good use in service to your community, your country and ultimately to the world.
Let me say it another way. You were good enough to get in here. Make sure you’re good enough, when you get out, to make a difference in the world.
As some of you might know, I’m a lifelong student of history. The older I get, the more I’ve come to realize that there really are no new ideas; they’re just old ideas that keep manifesting themselves in different interesting ways.
I’ve heard it said, for example, that if you – if you want a new idea, read an old book, and I think there’s probably some truth in that. But that is why I’m interested in history and I like to Google -- thank God we have Google, that – (laughter) – to find out what this day in history might help me understand.
You might like to know that on this day in history, in 1633, Galileo was tried as a heretic. As you recall, he was tried because he was arguing that the Earth revolved around the sun instead of the other way around. And he was convicted, as you know.
Now there’s a lesson here, I think, and that lesson is that the world can frequently be different from the persistent ideas that we have about it.
Great book, by the way, called “The Swerve,” by Stephen Greenblatt, that talks about the discovery of Lucretius’ poem “On the Nature of Things” that fundamentally changed the way notably the Catholic faith was being implemented in society in the – in the early years of Christianity. Worth reading.
In any case, we should always be willing to re-examine our assumptions and to follow the evidence where it leads. And in that spirit, tonight I want to talk to you about our security environment, and by that I mean the world in which we live and the dangers it poses to our safety and well-being.
How we think about security, about the security environment, carries important consequences for our nation and for me, particularly for how we build our military. It drives our budget. It shapes the size and the capability of the force. It affects when and where we send our nation’s sons and daughters into harm’s way. As chairman of the Joint Chiefs, I have a duty to ensure that we see our security environment as clearly as possible. As Galileo found out, seeing clearly can sometimes be tough. Our own inertia can blind us to new truths standing right before our eyes. Our preconceived notions can obscure the weak signals of impending change and those are the most important signals. It’s the weak signals of impending change. And I’ll talk about a few of those tonight.
The tendency, though, to resist new and uncomfortable observations is something to be mindful of as we make decisions about our national security. Every decision, especially national security decisions, are (sic) made in context. I can think of at least four distinct security environments or the context in which those decisions about our security were made in my recent memory. If you think about it, the first of those was the era of the industrial conflict, which characterized our way of war in World War I and World War II. The second would be the dawn of the Nuclear Age and the Cold War that it fueled. And then there was the period between the fall of the Berlin Wall or the end of the Cold War, and 9/11, and finally the period in which we live today.
Now I’ve lived through and witnessed more of this than I’d care to admit, but it has given me the ability to see the context of our current situation a little differently, I think.
Prior to the end of World War II, the capacity for massive and violent destruction was purely the province of states. That is, it took a nation to invade a nation. Military power was rooted in industrial strength.
By the time I was born, nuclear weapons were a game-changing capability that was in the hands of the United States initially but shortly thereafter in the hands of the Russians and the Soviet Union. Although several others eventually joined that club, membership was limited by the high cost of entry and by the nonproliferation regimes that we put in place.
The dangers of this era were very real. The Cuban missile crisis scared the hell out of me when I was a boy. It scared the hell out of everybody else who was alive at the time as well, and many of us remember being in grammar school and having drills where we would dutifully get under our desks and hold our head – hands over our head, as though that was going to make a difference in a nuclear attack. But that said, we went through that process and in some strange way it was part of our everyday life.
Fortunately, we never had to actually experience anything like that, but there was also some strange sense of stability in that nuclear standoff and the Cold War, I think in part because nuclear weapons and the reality of mutual assured destruction was so unthinkable, and it was dealt with or handled by superpowers who could ensure that the conflict didn’t occur.
Instead, in those days, the hotter fights, if you will, were between client states and nonstate proxies. And that’s the point when I began my career in the military as a graduate from West Point and a second lieutenant of cavalry in West Germany in the late 1970s. Now reflecting on that particular part of my life, I would simply say that since no shots were ever fired in that conflict, being part of history’s biggest standoff was actually a successful outcome from my perspective.
The security environment changed dramatically when the Berlin Wall came down. That’s obvious almost to the point of being trite at this point. But the U.S. was left standing as the lone global superpower. It was a time of great confidence in our conventional military power.
I performed duties in Desert Storm, and I can tell you that the outcome of that war was never in doubt. In hindsight, I think the only thing that surprised us was how quickly and how, quote-unquote, “cleanly” we succeeded.
We still had the supreme – this supreme sense of confidence the last time I worked in the Pentagon. The year was 2001. I was a special assistant to General Hugh Shelton, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs at the time. My last day in the Pentagon, I signed out on September 10th of 2001, on my way to Saudi Arabia.
Now tonight I’m sure we have some first years in the audience, and I’m told that first years, for those of us that don’t speak Harvard language, are freshmen. But those first years were – and those first years, those of you who are first years, were 8 or 9 years old on 9/11. Most of you were in the third grade. And for nearly all of your school years now we’ve been – you’ve been part of a nation or you’ve witnessed a nation at war. You’ve watched us confront a very different set of threats than those we faced in 1990s, and you’ve watched us succeed against those threats. Osama bin Laden is dead; al-Qaida, our mortal enemy, is mortally wounded; and we’ve kept the homeland safe. No nation threatens the U.S. position as the world’s pre-eminent military power. And we face no obvious existential threat, now or in the foreseeable future.
So there’s one idea I should purge from your thinking tonight, and that is that we are a nation in decline. We’re not. We’re not a nation in decline.
It goes without saying that our men and women serving bravely in uniform have underwritten our security for generations, and as the nation’s senior ranking officer, I gladly accept all of the credit for our security, but there are other subtle and yet powerful forces in play today. Global trade and economic interdependence are up. Thomas Friedman’s famous “The World Is Flat.” Autocrats are down. The strongmen of the Mideast have succumbed to the Arab Spring. Entire revolutions have occurred without a single shot being fired. And as Harvard Professor Steven Pinker is fond of noting, levels of violence are at an evolutionary low point, the lowest ever for the species. That’s pretty powerful words – lowest levels of violence for the species in history.
Now you might think that with violence at an evolutionary low, that I’d have a pretty easy job. I’ll admit some of the perks being the chairman are pretty good, actually. I have an airplane. (Laughter.) I meet the president a couple of times a week. Not too long ago Angelina Jolie asked to have an office call with me. I’m not making this up. (Laughter.) I thought perhaps she wanted acting lessons. It didn’t turn out to be that. (Laughter.) It turned out actually positively, that she was on her way to do some work in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and wanted some advice, and we actually gave her that, so that she could better perform some humanitarian work.
But in any case, I believe I’m chairman at a time that seems less dangerous but it’s actually more dangerous. That’s the essence of what I describe as a security paradox. Although geopolitical trends are ushering in greater levels of peace and stability worldwide, destructive technologies are available to a wider and more disparate pool of adversaries. Highly accurate ballistic missiles are prevalent in every theater. Bombs made out of fertilizer can defeat and destroy our toughest mine-resistant vehicles. A cyberattack could stop this society in its tracks. And these are real threats that we face today.
What truly concerns me as chairman is that these lethal and destructive technologies are proliferating in two directions. They’re proliferating horizontally across advanced militaries in the world, and they’re proliferating vertically, down to nonstate actors, especially insurgents, terrorist groups and even transnational organized crime. As a result, more people have the ability to harm us or deny us the ability to act than at any point in my life. And that’s the security paradox.
Take, for example, precision-guided munitions. It used to be that we were the only military on the planet that could drop a bomb down a chimney or choose which window to place a cruise missile through. Now dozens of middleweight militaries around the world have that capability.
Electronic warfare is another example of where the comparative U.S. advantage is eroding. Like cloaking in Star Trek, electronic warfare systems offer us “now you see it, now you don’t” capabilities. This is the technology that allows our forces to penetrate deep into enemy airspace. The problem is that our electronic warfare capabilities are no longer so unique. Today, more than 90 percent of the components in our electronic warfare arsenal can be purchased off the shelf from globally sourced commercial vendors. Our potential adversaries’ access to microelectronics means that they can increasingly interfere with the very systems that provide our battlefield edge: our computer networks, our sensors and our precision navigation building.
Now, look, we still have a lot of tricks up our sleeves, but the message is that the margin of error has grown smaller.
So what’s to blame for this dramatic turn of events? Ironically, it’s the same global economy and information revolution that gets the credit for today’s evolutionary low point in violence. The supply chain that gives us our iPads and smartphones gives our potential adversaries the advanced circuits and transistors they need to design truly killer apps. It used to be that military technology was generations more advanced than commercial technology. Now, except in a few specialized areas, the commercial market leads. Technologies once available only in top-secret labs are today just as available in RadioShack and in Best Buy. As a result, anyone with the motivation and the money can design, assemble and field highly advanced, sophisticated weapon systems.
For the first time in history, small groups of determined adversaries or even lone radicalized individuals can wield enormous power and hold us at risk anonymously. With the right computer virus, a single person could destruct – could disrupt life for our entire city – for an entire city and potentially even our entire nation.
So this is the security paradox that we face today, a counterintuitive combination of peace and the potential for violence.
Now, my inner English major can’t help at this point to remind us of the opening line of Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities”: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Sorry, I couldn’t resist a little literary analogy there, a literary allusion.
But before you empty your bank account and head for the hills, let me assure you that all isn’t gloom and doom. We are a country of quick learners and big ideas. We opened up an entire command recently dedicated to cyberprotection just the year before last. Our ability to share intelligence and cooperate across our government, with other agencies of government – that is to say, DOD with other agencies – is really the best it’s ever been, and it needs to get even better. We have some new unmanned capabilities that are truly revolutionary. We’ve got other things working like quantum computing that are truly breakout – have truly breakout potential. And these are just some of the things we’re doing to keep the country immune from coercion. And that’s the job of our military.
But what about tomorrow? The assumptions we use to build the military that I was part of in West Germany and in the sands of Kuwait really no longer apply. Today’s security paradox doesn’t call for a larger or a smaller military. It calls for a different military. It calls for a military that can deter and defeat threats at every point along the spectrum of conflict, from lone individuals or terrorist groups to middleweight militaries packing a new punch and all the way up to near-peer competitors.
In my opening months as chairman, I worked with the secretary of defense and the president to fashion a new defense strategy, guidance that would address the security paradox. This guidance is meant to help our military turn the quarter – turn the corner from a decade of focus on stability operations and find a new way forward to address that wider spectrum of threats.
The new strategic guidance required some tough choices, but I believe the choices are appropriate to the context in which they are made. One of the toughest choices involved had to do with how to manage a smaller budget. Today, our military is adjusting to the reality that cost, in a way that it probably has never been, is an independent variable in national defense. We can no longer meet new threats just simply by throwing more resources at them. For the first time in a very long time, we have to make hard choices about where to put our resources and where to pull them back.
So how does our new strategy balance cost, force structure, mission and risk? We’re choosing to rebalance our force and to focus in the Pacific, in the Asia-Pacific [region]. The explosion of people and prosperity, the shift of demographic and economic power and military power to that part of the world mean that its future and ours – its future and ours are increasingly linked.
Our global presence will stay strong. As just one example, we have a state partnership program with the National Guard. It provides a rotational American presence in 60 countries around the globe. We’re also investing in newer capabilities, including cyber and special operations forces, which give our nation some pretty extraordinary and flexible tools.
This leaner but more capable force for the strategy will be ready to – ensures that we’ll be ready to respond to global contingencies wherever and whenever they occur. The force we’re building really is a force that can win any conflict, repel any threat and protect our interests. And I’ll be very proud to help lead it.
With the pace of development of the threats I described, I believe this force needs to be in place by 2020. Now, that may sound like it’s a long way away, but in reality, the way our budgeting system in this government works, it’s really actually pretty close. We need to start deliberately building the force of 2020 right now, or it will be inadvertently built for us. So getting the joint force of 2020 right is so important that it’s one of four priorities that I’ve established as chairman.
Ultimately, this force must excel at many different missions. Our different services, the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, must rely on each other to achieve objectives and create capabilities that actually don’t exist unless they’re combined.
This force will be regionally postured, but it’ll be globally networked; it’ll be scaled and scoped to demand. It can close on its objective at a time and place of its choosing, and it can produce irreversible and stable outcomes. Finally, it will be a force that provides a degree of security and balance with what the nation needs and what the nation can afford. Doesn’t sound like it’ll be too hard; seems to me that’s a piece of cake. (Laughter.)
In the end, all of the strategy and supporting hardware in the world, though, doesn’t amount to anything if it doesn’t have high-quality leaders to lead it. To this end, I’m especially pleased to note the return of ROTC to Harvard’s campus. We need warrior scholars to help think through the strategic dilemmas we face, leading our force as we respond to those dilemmas. Each of you in this audience has a potential – a potential role to play as a scholar, an analyst, a warrior or, in general, a supporter of the military family.
The security paradox we face today presents a particularly difficult challenge. You know, but challenges are nothing new to this nation. We’ve adapted and reinvented ourselves many times throughout our history. As a nation, we’re not going to lower our ambitions. We are and will remain a global power, capable of acting anywhere in the world at any time. The nation expects no less.
I want to leave you with a story about the USS New York. New York is an amphibious ship – you knew it would about New York, didn’t you? But anyway, the USS New York is an amphibious ship that carries a Marine Expeditionary Unit, and it’s just now been commissioned and is beginning to write its own chapter in our military history.
The ship’s bow was forged from seven tons of steel pulled from the rubble of the twin towers at the World – at the World Trade Center, Ground Zero. This steel, tempered to be stronger than it was before, will carry experienced, war-tested Marines halfway around the world and back. She and her crew will patrol the Mediterranean, the Arabian Gulf and wherever else they’re called, keeping faith with our partners and allies in port calls and conducting exercises or actual real-world operations as needed.
The USS New York is a living testament to our nation’s resilience. Tragedy doesn’t defeat us; it just heartens our resolve. So when I think of the challenges we face and will continue to face, I think of the USS New York. She and her crew are part of the agile and technologically advanced force we’re building. They’re ready to prevail in any conflict. They’re the best this country has to offer. I couldn’t be more proud of them.
And now I look forward to your questions. Thank you. (Applause.)
MODERATOR: So there are microphones in four locations here at the school. There’s one right here, another one up here, one up in there and one down here. And we will take questions. I will – (inaudible) – a good Kennedy School question, especially a good Kennedy School question to a general. And it has three characteristics. The first is you start by identifying yourself. The second is you keep it short, and it contains but one thought. And the third thing is it ends with a question mark. So with that, I’ll start right over here.
Q: Thank you so much for coming. My name is Abduri Sandan (ph), a sophomore here at the college. On behalf of the (inaudible), I would like to ask you, in light of the recent comments made by Ron Paul and other politicians, what do you think the role of political campaigns has on the military, if at all?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, thanks for that question. First of all, it makes me nervous when they run to the microphone. (Laughter.) And to the dean’s guidance, see, the right answer to that in our line of work is “yes, sir.” (Laughter.)
I really do appreciate that question. We had no role in this political campaign or any other. I mean, one of the things that sets our – let me give you an example of that. When I promote someone or commission them, part of the ceremony is we swear an oath to the Constitution. That – by the way, that makes us unique in the world. There are plenty of militaries around the world that swear an allegiance to a particular monarch or to a particular party. But we – our commissioning oath is to the ideas and ideals in the Constitution of the United States. We have no part to play in a military campaign – I mean, in a political campaign.
By the way, I extend that not just to those of us that are in uniform serving at the time, but I extend that into the retired ranks. And that puts me at odds on occasion with some people, but I consider myself and I consider the Joint Chiefs to be the stewards of our profession. And if we’re to maintain the relationship of trust with the – with our client, the American people, we cannot become another special interest group.
MODERATOR: Right over here.
Q: Hi. Thank you, General. My name is Rodriguo Corza (ph). I’m a joint degree student with MIT Sloan and Kennedy.
My question has to do with your thoughts about reassessing the world with Galileo. And sadly, with the evolutionary peace that’s going on, that’s not going on in my country. I’m from Mexico, and since 2006 up till now, 50,000 people have died in the – in the drug war. And to me, I don’t – I don’t see it ending anytime soon. I don’t see success. There’s a $50 billion-a-year illegal industry. The cartels get cash and weapons from the U.S., and everything’s driven up through Mexico. And so my question is can we reassess the assumptions on how to win the drug war and about drug legalization? And where is the proof that it doesn’t work? Because any time any Latin Americans speak about it, the U.S. is quick to slam it down. And you have recently gone to South America to speak to leaders –
MODERATOR: We’re still waiting on the question – (inaudible). (Laughter.)
Q: So that – so that was a question: Can we reassess the legalization of drugs? And the second one was, you recently said to leaders – how are you going to take tactics from fighting al-Qaida to fighting drug cartels?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, OK. So on the question of reducing the demand side of that, that’s not something that I really particularly have any expertise on. On the supply side, I do have quite a bit of expertise in how a military, based on the lessons of the last 10 years of war, can attack a network, because this is a network. And my concern about it – transnational organized crime – is that: It’s criminal. And so other agencies of government generally have the lead, with us in support.
But one of the things we can bring – three things we can bring are expertise on how to attack networks, because that’s what we’ve been doing. Al-Qaida’s a network. The transnational organized criminals that move all of this stuff – and by the way, it’s about 15,000 metric tons a year out of three countries in South America, as you know – and it’s a network of activities along the way that can be purchased to the higher bidder. So my interest in it is – I mean, obviously, I’m interested in the fact that a lot of this – these drugs end up in your country and my country. But I’m also interested in it because that network can move anything. It just doesn’t have to move drugs; it can move a small nuclear weapon at some point. So we know how to attack networks.
Second thing is ISR. We’ve got the best ISR capability in – and that’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
And then third is border control regimens, which we have a good expertise in as well. And when I was in Colombia and in Brazil, that was the foundation of our conversations: not how can we take over this issue as militaries, because it really is a – it’s a – other agencies of government should and are in the lead, but how can we increase our capability to attack these networks? And I’ve made that – I’ve made it clear that as we get more capacity back from Iraq and Afghanistan – (inaudible), some of this is bandwidth; you know, we’ve been pretty busy – as we get more capacity, I think partnering more closely with those nations we just discussed, I think, would be the way to do way to do that.
MODERATOR: Right here.
Q: My name is Vali al-Hamazani (ph). I’m from Pakistan, and I just (inaudible) the Kennedy School. So you mentioned that you’re from the country of quick learners and big ideas, and I’m just wondering whether the sanctioned torture houses that expand out from Karachi to – (inaudible) – since the early 2000s and Guantanamo Bay, which tramples on all international law and Geneva Conventions, fits into this?
GEN. DEMPSEY: To make sure I understood the question, the sanctions – you said, “sanctions,” but then you said “Gitmo” [Guantanamo Bay] in the same sentence.
Q: The sanctioned torture houses that spanned out in the early 2000s and Guantanamo Bay, they just – which tramples upon all international law and Geneva Conventions, where does that fit in in your opinion?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, we are – we are a nation that aspires to be part of international organizations, to be parts of – to be part of international norms. But any nation in the world, when it finds itself threatened, has the authority under national domestic law to defend itself. We – there have been mistakes made along the way. I think those have been well-documented, and I think those have been well-admitted.
The challenge in a – the kind of conflict we’re in right now, when you have someone detained and no one wants them – I mean, we’ve been trying – you – as you know, it’s been President Obama’s plan to close Gitmo for some time. The problem is that you have x number of people detained there, whose – in many cases – countries don’t want any part of them because of the activities in which they’ve been involved. And in other cases, we’re working through now, in fact, military commissions to try to them in our legal system. So that – you’re not going to accept or even be satisfied with any answer I give you in this regard.
I will say, though, that, like any nation, we learn as we go, and also I think you’ll find, though, that we’re about as transparent as we get, as any nation on the face of the planet, when it comes to human rights.
MODERATOR: Right up here.
Q: Taylor Winston (ph). Why doesn’t the Pentagon do body counts on its victims so that we can see what our tax dollars are buying?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Why don’t we broadcast our victims?
Q: No, why don’t we do body counts of our victims? We don’t have an accurate total of how many people we are killing in these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan. Why do you not try and give us some totals of your victims, of our victims?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, I would actually dispute the fact that we don’t document the numbers of our victims. Now, you may be reacting to the fact that some of the international organizations – Human Rights Watch, ICRC – might have different numbers. That’s not a function of us trying to in any way disguise what goes on.
Look, if you’re asking me, you know, is it – is war worth the price and don’t we pay a terrible price? Yeah, absolutely, any man that wears this uniform, any woman that wears this uniform, will tell you that the real tragedy of a war is the loss in particular of innocents that get caught up in it. I can’t answer that. And just like his question, I can’t answer your question here to your satisfaction because the way you asked the question tells me you’ve already made up your mind about the answer. I’ll just tell you we’re doing the best we can.
MODERATOR: Right over here.
Q: Thank you. My name is Sita Gofar (ph). I’m a freshman at the college, and it’s an honor to be able to hear you speak. So I came – a couple months ago, a representative of Barney Frank came to this very podium and in a speech called, “The Emperor’s Got Too Many Clothes On,” he actually argued that we actually spend way too excessively on the military. And he claimed that we could actually reduce military spending by a factor of two or three and actually have no appreciable difference in or compromise in our national security. So I’m just wondering, how would you respond to that? And also, how do we balance fiscal expediency with maintaining our national security?
GEN. DEMPSEY: The last part again – how do we balance what?
Q: Our fiscal expediency, with being efficient with our tax dollars –
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah.
Q: – and maintaining our national security.
GEN. DEMPSEY: To your first question about, you know, where’s the floor? That’s the question. You know, how much smaller can you make it and still have the influence, the prestige and the power around the world that we believe we need?
You probably know that national power is the aggregate of economic power, diplomatic and military power. The economic – our economic leg of that triad has been weakened, and so we have willingly – with the president’s guidance, we have found a way, we think, to balance – to help that and balance what we need. And so we’ve taken a $487 billion cut over the next five years. That really amounts to, depending on how you score it, something between 11 and 15 percent reduced capability.
Now, you might say, well, hell, this – you know, historically after wars, we reduce the size of the force by about 25 percent, so give me 10 percent more. But here’s what you got to balance that against. When we’ve done these contractions after conflict before, we’ve always been entering a period of stability. And I’ve lived through three of them – post-Vietnam, post-Desert Storm, and now this one. My message to you tonight, this strategy or security paradox, we’re not doing this in an era that is less dangerous, we’re doing it in an era that’s more dangerous. And that’s not me trying to sell you on the fact that I want to keep the military big. You know, I’ll give – I give my civil leaders my best military advice; they make decisions. So I think we’ve got it about right for the current climate, but we’ll see what tomorrow brings.
As far as the last part of your question, you’re going to have to sharpen it a little bit for me. I’m an English major, not an economist. What did you mean?
Q: So I guess you sort of answered it, but where, exactly – in your strategy, in your policymaking, how do you go about determining where the line is between, I guess, making sure that we have our national security (inaudible) –
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah.
Q: – strong and, you know, obviously, keeping in mind, you know, our budget deficit and the need to spend our tax dollars –
GEN. DEMPSEY: OK. Well, let me give you the CliffsNotes. Every force has a – it’s an all-volunteer force. You know that. So you have to invest in it to keep it – to develop it over time. And you can’t run it into the ground, because you want them to stay with you through a 20- or 30-year career. So in that context, each force – each of our services have a rotation scheme. I’ll use the Army’s. We have about a third of the force ready at any given time, we have about a third that are training and about a third are resetting. At some level, it comes down to math: what does the combatant commanders tell us they need ready immediately, what can be delayed 180 days, and what can you wait a year or more to get. And that’s how we kind of – we apportion the force. And then we decide how to equip it and train it, and that – you know, there comes your budget. Manpower costs are more expensive in an all-volunteer force.
Q: General, let me take advantage of my being moderator to ask a question, which is: The counterinsurgency manual and the tools that were developed in Iraq seemed to have some real success and were properly, I think, heralded. How have they gone in Afghanistan? And more importantly, how has that adjusted our thinking since that period?
GEN. DEMPSEY: One of the things that we pride ourselves on – and it kind of goes back to the gentleman’s earlier question – we’re a learning organization. And I don’t think you’ll find anywhere along the way where we’ve convinced ourselves we got it exactly right. Secondly, although we have some principles in counterinsurgency, probably most important of which is you have to protect the population and separate the population from the insurgency, there’s no template. And so the template in Iraq doesn’t fit neatly over the template in Afghanistan, for any number of reasons, some of which are the largely ungoverned or less-governed spaces in Pakistan, some of which has to do with the tyranny of time, and geography and distance, and tribal relationships inside of Afghanistan.
So I think what we’re learning, though, is that a third principle is emerging. You know, protect the population, drive a wedge – the third principle is that the local indigenous force can always do it better than you. And so as we get after that third principle now, I think you’ll see as we get from here to December ‘14 in Afghanistan, we’ll put increasing effort behind the development of the Afghan national security force.
One other thing I’ll tell you. And this isn’t, by the way, ducking the responsibility, but the development of the Afghan national security force and the establishment of security is only about a third to a quarter of the challenge. You know, we’ve got to have rule of law – I say “we” – they’ve got to have rule of law, they’ve got to have governance that’s credible and that reaches the people, and they’ve got to have some economic underpinning in order to move ahead. And those – that’s where we’re having a bigger challenge in Afghanistan, particularly in the economic sector.
MODERATOR: Right over here.
Q: Sir, first of all, thank you for coming. It’s an honor to have you here. My name is Ali Nuribayar (ph). I’m a Turkish student and I’m a freshman at the college. My question is going to be pertaining to Iraq. And I was going to ask a professor of mine, but I think that you’ll be the better authority on this matter. (Laughter.)
GEN. DEMPSEY: I want your grade. (Laughter.)
Q: So my question is regarding Nouri al-Maliki’s comments after the U.S. exodus basically – or slightly dismissing the United States. And also we have the growing influence of Iran in the region, especially of the new Shiite government in Iraq.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah.
Q: What do you think is the future for Iraq? What do you see in the long term? Will it uphold its commitment to the United States?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, let me – I’ll answer your question – let me challenge you, because you’re from Turkey. So Assad will eventually fall in Syria; I think that’s pretty clear. I mean, he’ll probably hold on longer than anyone would like, but he has used such oppressive measures that his days are numbered. He’s created an insurgency; it will eventually cost him. And when that happens – this is my challenge to you – when that happens, what you’ve really got is something that the region hasn’t seen in hundreds of years. You’ll have kind of a Sunni arc that runs from Ankara through Damascus to Qatar over to Riyadh, and you’ll have what essentially amounts to a Shia-dominated arc that runs from Tehran to Baghdad, potentially down into a couple of the Gulf countries. I don’t know what that will – I don’t know whether that really becomes more or less stable.
So I’d ask you – I’ll give you my card. I’d ask you to pick through that because it will help me answer the following question; it will also help me understand how to approach Iran, maybe, differently. OK.
But to the statements of the government in Iraq: First of all, I spent two years meeting with Prime Minister Maliki on about a twice-weekly basis working on building the Iraqi security forces. I know almost all of the political figures there and I know the tensions that exist inside: Arab, Kurd, Sunni, Shia; Arab, Persian. I mean, you know, it’s just one of those complex – it’s a Rubik’s cube.
But I’ll tell you this: I think that Iraq will have a better outcome than we think and maybe even a better outcome than they think right now. And I say that because the very tensions we just described are being managed right now politically. You know, the Sunni walked out for a period of time because of some actions that the government took to remove some political figures. But they’re back. So they seem to me to have reached a point where they understand that they’ve got to resolve their differences politically, not militarily. And you know, I – until I see evidence to the contrary, I remain cautiously optimistic about the future of Iraq.
I will say probably for me the seminal moment in coming to that conclusion and sticking with it will be the next time they have an election. We’ll see what happens there with that.
But look, again, back to what we’ve learned and what we should apologize for or not apologize for, we’ve given the people of Iraq and the people of Afghanistan a chance that they haven’t had in my lifetime. And they have to take the opportunity. We’ve given them the opportunity. They’ve got to take it.
MODERATOR: Right here.
Q: My name is Peter Delaroca (sp). I’m a freshman here at the college. And I have a somewhat similar question. I mean, there really isn’t any debate that our military knows how to break states down. But how do we adapt our military force in order to make it able to build states back up, to create order in the countries that we invade?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, the question is should that be, you know, a core competence of the military.
So the military has several roles it plays for the nation. Probably principally, you would like to be a deterrent. So you would like to have sufficient capability and capacity that other nations, organizations and individuals wouldn’t want to take you on because then they would know you have the capability to react.
Second thing that – is when deterrence fails, we have to be able to defeat these threats. And you can’t optimize yourself exclusively – you can’t say, I think I’ll be good at conventional land warfare, high-end, big-maneuver, and I won’t pay any attention over here to low-intensity conflict, stability operations.
So I think it’s a scope and scale issue. And I can tell you that what we’re trying to do now is reconcile your question to how we build the force. And notably, we’re trying to decide, how much force do you have to have in the active component ready today? Because these – the other thing about the conflict today and in the future is it goes a lot quicker than you think. And international pressure builds quicker than it did – has in the past because of the proliferation of information and the economic interdependence that we talked about.
So I – my sense is that the decisive phases of conflict will occur more unpredictably and will terminate and culminate quicker. That’s an instinct I have, unbounded by fact. I just have that instinct about the future. And so what we’re trying to do is wring that out in war games and analysis. And if that turns out to be the case, then it’ll help us understand, what do we have to have ready right now, and what can we have residual in the reserve component. And the reserve component we can draw upon if we get into a situation where we need to do some kind of a nation-building activity. So that’s kind of where we’re headed.
But we can’t give up the possibility that we might at some point again have to do a stability operation or a nation-building activity. It’s just that we have – we’re about to take the decision not to size the force against it because it’s incredibly resource-intensive.
MODERATOR: So we have time for just two more questions.
Right up here.
Q: Hi, I’m Kathleen Carroll (sp). I’m a staff member in executive education here at the Kennedy School. Thank you very much for your service. Three generations of my family served in the Army. And –
GEN. DEMPSEY: You’re welcome to join them. (Laughter.)
Q: (Chuckles.) Oh, no –
MODERATOR: No, she’s not! (Laughter.)
GEN. DEMPSEY: Sorry – (inaudible).
Q: And I was only a few blocks away from the World Trade Center on 9/11, so I’m very grateful. My question is – I think you’ve sort of answered it, but what are your – what is your perspective of the Quadrennial Diplomacy Development Review in the State Department? Some people want to reassert State in the policy.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, I mean, look, I guess because I’m an insider to the process, I can tell you that – I get the question often about wouldn’t we be a lot better if we could really harness this thing called the whole of government and really form different kind of partnerships with, you know, the Department of State, USAID, Homeland Security, FBI – (inaudible) – so here’s my report to you: We’re doing a lot better than – that question has kind of persisted, but the reality on the ground is that we’re doing a lot better than we have ever in my experience. And I think as a – as one of the beneficial offshoots of 10 years of conflict is we’ve actually grown pretty close together.
Now, I do have a concern. And the concern is that as the conflicts – as these conflicts dissipate or diminish, the demand is reduced, I do worry about us kind of going off back into our own little stovepipes and not having the opportunity to be either willing to work together or being forced to work together.
So the question is valid. I think we’re probably doing better than you think right now. But I’m not oblivious to the fact that as we go forward, we’re going to have to stick with this and find other ways to interact with each other, or we will go back to our traditional stovepipes.
MODERATOR: And by the way, we’d actually be honored if you chose to serve. (Laughter.)
Q: Mr. President, I’m Victor Pukin (ph). I’m a software developer originally from Russia, the Soviet Union. In the Soviet Union, I was responsible for algorithms for middle-range missiles, and I happy that they were not really tested. Now I’m – (inaudible) – in Harvard extension school. I have one comment, one question and one statement.
MODERATOR: Well, you get to pick one. (Laughter.) I’d pick the one with a question mark at the end. (Laughter.) So please just the question.
Q: OK. The question is very simple. Do you understand Russian?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Do I understand Russian?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Do you understand Gaelic? (Laughter.) I don’t understand Russian, OK.
Q: And my friends from Russia, general staff, asked me to – for you to know some consensus in Russia on general staff. First – and I’ve – I want to go – your response. And you can ask questions also. It’s not official, of course, but it’s consensus of the officers among the staff. First, Russia will never attack anyone, which has dominated – with the Russians (inaudible). And a second – if you want something from Russia, unfortunately, they all think in their general staff that America is enemy, unfortunately. This is a trope.
GEN. DEMPSEY: America is what?
GEN. DEMPSEY: An enemy, ah.
Q: Unfortunately. I don’t know why – (inaudible) – but that’s the case. But today – don’t want to attack America; don’t want to attack anyone. And they say, we have a lot of stuff – oil, gas, everything. And everything is on sale. So no one need to take it by attacking it. Just can buy it. That’s it. What’s your question? What’s your thoughts about it?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Let me – let me jump up to about 30,000 feet on that question. Look, we have – we have some things on which we’re cooperating incredibly well with Russia. So for example, piracy, the Northern Distribution Network coming out of Afghanistan – so lots of points of common interest. We have a few points where – the Arctic, we’re cooperating. There are some places where were not cooperating as well as we would like, and one of them is ballistic missile defense. That doesn’t make us enemies. It means – it means we’re sovereign states that are trying to merge our interests with coalition partners and try to find a way forward.
General Makarov, my counterpart – and I have met him twice. We’ll meet again in Brussels the week after next. And we’ve committed to improving and increasing our contacts.
I don’t sense on our side that anyone in uniform considers Russia to be an enemy. I’ll be surprised if what you find in your conversations is not more than one or two guys who are kind of pining for the return of the Cold War because it makes militaries have a greater budget share. (Laughter.)
So I would just suggest to you that, again, like I did earlier, we’re doing better than you think and better than your friend thinks in our relationship. But it takes work. I mean, it’s not something we should take for granted.
MODERATOR: General, thank you very, very much. (Applause.)