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General Dempsey’s Remarks at a Notre Dame, Questions and Answers

By General Martin E. Dempsey
Notre Dame, Ind. —

(In progress) – two, two, two and one.  We have in the world two heavyweights that we have to address in almost anything we do.  One is China and one is Russia.  You heard a lot about our rebalance to the Pacific.  That’s not a choice, frankly, it’s an imperative.  Why is it imperative? 

By 2050 there will be 9 billion people on the planet.  Seven billion of them will live between China and India.  So this is not about, you know, somebody woke up one day and said, you know what?  I’m a little tired of the Atlantic right now.  (Laughter.)  And the Middle East, I’m really tired of those.  Let’s rebalance to the Pacific. 

We’ve got to rebalance our efforts to the Pacific.  The question is how quickly and how?  And it’s not just military.  It’s got to be a whole-of-government enterprise.  And we’ll eventually do that.  It’s hard to do it when you’re thinking about the ISIS threat or about a reasserting Russia in Europe, but it is an imperative.  So the two heavyweights are Russia and China, and almost everything we do globally we consider the second- and third-order effects in our relationships with Russia and China, and as well we should.

The second two – so it’s two, two – are two middleweights.  One is Iran and one is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or North Korea.  Iran because Iran has established a Shia theocracy in the Middle East and has aspirations to be a hegemon or the dominant regional player in the Middle East.  And we have – do we have significant interests in the Middle East that would not be well-served if Iran achieves that purpose. 

What gets most of the notoriety is Iran’s nuclear aspirations, and you’re well aware of the negotiations that are ongoing to try to diplomatically, and with economic pressure and with a military option on the side, to convince Iran that that would not be in their best interests or in the globe’s.  We’re making some progress.  It’s like any big, heavy diplomatic lift on an issue so complicated.  It’s every bit that complicated and eventually it will have to go to the Congress of the United States. 

But the point is, it’s not just about nuclear weapons with Iran.  They are one of the world’s leading exporters of arms.  They employ surrogates and proxies in many places across the globe, notably in Iran and in Syria and Lebanon, but also in South America.  And so they are closer to home than most people realize.  And of course Iran is also extraordinarily active in cyber and aspires to use cyber as an asymmetric counterweight to our conventional weight.  So Iran is not just about nuclear weapons and is a middleweight to be reckoned with, and we’re on a path to do so but we can’t take our eye off of it. 

And as I said, the other middleweight is Korea, North Korea.  We have 28,000 young men and women in uniform living on the Korean Peninsula and 4,600 families living on the peninsula, so the security of the peninsula is not just a matter of an alliance obligation.  It’s also the fact that we have enormous economic ties to South Korea.  We have hundreds of thousands of businessmen who come and go, and many of them live on the Korean Peninsula.  So we’ve got – we’ve got a huge stake in maintaining stability on the Korean Peninsula and supporting our Republic of Korea allies. 

And that got harder when the youngest leader on the planet became the leader of the DPRK, and you see he’s an erratic fellow.  He’s a little bit – not a little bit, he’s unpredictable.  I think that he’s not surrounded – he took the people that had surrounded his father and he, for the most part, purged all of them so that he is mostly making up his own strategy and executing his own campaign.  That makes him dangerous.  And they’re – they are seeking to develop capabilities, some of which might eventually be able to actually reach out and touch the homeland:  road-mobile missiles. 

So we’ve got our eye on that and we’re working in using all of the instruments of power, national power – economic, diplomatic, information and military – to make sure that Korea – North Korea doesn’t achieve its intentions and that we can sustain our overmatching capabilities.  But again, it bears watching.  So two, two.

The next two are two networks.  It’s a mistake to just think of al-Qaida or to think of ISIS or to think of al-Qaida on the Arabian Peninsula – al-Qaida just announced a new one, the al-Qaida of the Indian Subcontinent.  We’ve got the al-Qaida of the Islamic Maghreb in North Africa.  We’ve got Ansar al-Sharia.  And we’ve got al-Shabab.  And we’ve got Boko Haram.  And I’m sure if I insulted somebody in the audience because I didn’t have your favorite terrorist group, correct me afterwards.  (Laughter.) 

But the point is, these groups are – they’re a manifestation of something much bigger.  They’re a manifestation of decades – and I suppose a historian would maybe even persuade me centuries – of underlying tensions that have never been reconciled:  underlying inequalities, underlying religious issues between – internal to Islam. 

Now, by the way, Deanie and I lived in Riyadh for two years together, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and I’ve spent five or six years of my recent life in the Arab world.  I’ve studied deeply into political – into Islam as a religion, but political Islam as a movement.  And one might argue that there is an internal reformation of Islam that’s actually the underlying cause of these groups, who are hijacking, you know, what would otherwise be benign revolutions as these autocratic movements are tossed aside.  But there’s enormous instability in the Middle East, and will be, by the way, I think, for a generation.  Generations are normally timed to about 20 years. 

So when we talk about addressing – ISIS is getting all the attention right now.  It’s almost like – many of you have children, and some of them are in the back of the room in uniform.  But it’s like little kids’ soccer, if you’ve ever seen a little kids’ soccer game.  You know, where’s the ball?  And everybody goes after that ball.  And, you know, the coach is dutifully on the sidelines saying, stay in your position.  And everybody is running over to the sidelines chasing the ball. 

We can’t – we really can’t do that.  ISIS is bad.  They’re dangerous.  They’re a near-term threat to the region, clearly, and a longer-term threat to the globe, including us.  But it’s not the only game in town.  It may be the most ideologically conservative and radical in town, with brutal tactics.  They’re incredibly effective in the media space, so they have this kind of phenomena that has surrounded them.  But they’re part of a network of radical movements that use terrorism as a tactic. 

We kind of lump them in, say they’re all terrorists, but they’ve all got a different agenda apparently.  And they work together when it suits their need, and they don’t when it doesn’t, and you can’t paint them all with one brush.  And so as we look at these threats in the Middle East, notably from radical Islam and its outgrowths, we just have to be very thoughtful about it so that we apply the right tool at the right time, and over the right length of time, in order to make a difference.  And so that’s the network of violent extremists.

The other network is one right here in our hemisphere, and that’s the network of transnational organized criminals that run fundamentally on the funding provided by the sale of drugs from South America through Central America up into the homeland, but also increasingly from South America over into West Africa.  That network might be actually more dangerous, at the end of the day, although it’s starting to make that case, and that network is often thought of in policy terms as a drug network, but it’s much more than a drug – it’s a network. 

It’s a railroad, and you know that a railroad will carry whatever it is paid to carry.  It will carry drugs, it will carry arms, it will carry unaccompanied children, it will carry weapons of mass destruction, it will carry terrorists.  And that network, there is a nexus for a connection between the incredible money generated by that network into the terrorist networks that I described before.  It’s hard for us to actually track it.  You might say, come on, you’ve got the most sophisticated intelligence apparatus in the planet.  Of course we do, but it doesn’t mean we see everyone.

And one of the things we have difficulty seeing is that connection between the financial power of this criminal network and the power of kinetic strength and ideology of the terrorist network, but that connection is there.  And we continue to learn more about it, and frankly we haven’t, for several years, in my view, done enough against that network, the one that runs north-south largely on the back of criminal activity, but it also points out some of the complexity of separating law enforcement issues from military security issues.  The distinction is becoming blurred, frankly. 

Now, by the way, we’re working through that – great relationships with FBI, DEA, you know, all the other agencies of government, the Department of Homeland Security – and we’re going to have to get closer as we go forward because, you know, our adversaries actually look at us and see us as a nation of laws, and they can, on occasion, exploit some of our laws in order to do the things that they do against us. 

And then the last one is actually a domain.  So I said two, two, two and one, and the one is cyber.  And “cyber” is among the most misunderstood words, I think, in the American English language.  And we love it because it empowers us and it provides us information that is mind-numbing for someone who grew up in Bayonne, New Jersey, with a black rotary phone and a wire stuck into the wall.  (Laughter.)  But, you know, now we are connected all the time everywhere with access to almost everything, and that’s wonderful. 

In so doing, you expose some of your privacy, and I think you know that.  But we’ve got issues at the national level.  We’re trying to just understand how to reconcile our – several of our values – you know, freedom of information, privacy and security – and we’ve got – we’ve got to keep working on it. 

Frankly, we’ve made modest progress but not nearly enough progress.  I mean, it comes down to two things, frankly.  One is security standards.  There’s no standards, really.  Now there’s a huge debate about whether the central government should impose standards on cyber and if they do, won’t it in some way undermine the very nature of the – the wonder of the Internet, which is openness?  Yeah, probably, but we’ve got to figure out where that sweet spot is.  You can’t leave it entirely exposed. 

And by the way, I have my own protection of my own network, but I’m also plugged into your network for about 90 percent of my administration and logistics functions.  So I can protect my information and my technology until I go to a defense contractor and say, build me an F-22 fighter, and then his network is actually subject to attack, and he moves all that technology, and the next thing you know, the Chinese have an aircraft that, wow, looks just like the F-22.  (Laughter.)

So we’ve got a problem in that – with that, and you know, frankly, we’ve been debating it for a long time.  I fear it might take a crisis for us to be serious about it, and if that’s what happens, we’ll deal with it.

So I said security, a hard issue.  Even harder is information sharing.  There is no incentive for those of you, in the audience that have corporations. There’s really no, in fact, you’re disincentivized from sharing cyberattack information with us.  I don’t have responsibility to protect you or to protect – and I protect our dot-mil domain or enterprise.  There are others protecting dot-gov and others protecting dot-org and other protecting, you know, dot-com.  But frankly, the collaboration among those security agencies is good.  It is.  But it’s also voluntary and episodic, and it needs to be standardized and mandatory.  If they're going to be protected.

So I worry a lot about cyber, and I think that as we – as we go forward, I think we’ll try to articulate why and try to find our way toward a more consistent approach to our cybersecurity.

OK.  Two in one.  There you have it.  You can be the – you can be the chairman right now.  (Laughter.)  (That’s all you in the room ?). 

OK, let me take your questions.  (Applause.)  And if you – I figured you were going to either ask questions or show me that you worked out today.  (Laughter.)

Q:  Good morning, sir.  I’m Midshipman Second Class Bachmann (sp).  What is the next threat for the next generation of Americans?  Is it the external threats, like the jihadist militants, or the Cold War powers?  You mentioned China and Russia.  Or perhaps is it internally, with conflicts in our country, that we’re growing weaker internally?

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Is this working, by the way?

Q:  Yeah.

Q:  Yeah.

MS: Yes, sir.

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Well, you know, many of us in this room, I think – I mean, I – let me only speak for myself.  I don’t want to drag you into my, you know chronologically challenge, though.

So I grew up in the ’60s, when – I’m kind of backing into your question from the back end of this to the front end of it.  I grew up in the ’60s, when I – we – as a young man I had some concerns about whether the fabric of the nation would hold together in the face of, at the time, racial threats.  And our military was torn apart by – our military was torn apart by drug – drug use and many other things. 

And if you remember what I said about the reason I wake up in the morning with a certain amount of enthusiasm, it’s because I know that you’re around, you and your teammates, classmates, wingmen, battle buddies, swim buddies.  You know, you’re out there preparing to help the nation see its way forward. 

I think that – I think issues today tend to be – become sensationalized quicker because of the proliferation of information, but eventually, I think, that sensationalism dissipates and thoughtful people prevail. 

And so domestically, I think we – I think we  – I think we have – there’s a debate coming, whether it’s a debate about a class system or – and whether the middle class is still the middle class, about the distribution of wealth – there’s a debate – there’s just – there are many debates coming.  But it’s not the first time in our history, and in my opinion we’ll get through that because of who we are. 

We – see, look, I can speak to this with great authority.  I travel around the world and visit places and interact with people that most everyone else doesn’t have the opportunity to do, and I love getting off the airplane, wherever we travel, and walking down the steps and looking back and seeing “the United States of America” on the side of the aircraft. 

And what I’ll tell you is that, you know, despite the fact that everybody in the world criticizes us – they do, I mean, in case you haven’t noticed – and then we fly high – (laughter) – then we fly high, and the critics say, yeah, well, we’re – we must be doing something wrong, because they’re – (inaudible) – criticize us, everybody – everybody – everybody wants to be like us.  And why is that?  Look at – look around the room – you know, black men and white men and – well, it’s mostly Catholics in this audience, but we do embrace the odd Protestant.  (Laughter.) 

No, I mean, you know, we enjoy the freedoms and embrace diversity in a way that actually some nations can’t even understand.  I mean, it’s literally – when I was building the Iraqi security forces, we set out to build interconfessional units.  That is to say Sunni, Shia and Kurds, you know, all side by side in one unit.  We thought it would be a way to contribute to their unification. 

And so like – I’d turn my back for a second, I’d come back a month later to the unit, and I’d say, wait a minute.  You know, you can’t tell a Sunni or a Shia looking at them any more than you can tell a Catholic a Protestant.  But they'll self identify.  And all of a sudden I found that they had, you know, undone almost of all of that work that we had done to make them multiconfessional.  And I said, what are you doing?  Don’t you understand the value of having that – you know, those three different groups in your unit?  They said, yeah, you’re right.  We got it.  We do.  We really understand, but we’re not ready for that.

So they do understand where they need to be.  They just – and they do, and they see us as a – really as an exemplar of that.  And I think that that – as long as we remember that, that it is about embracing the – look, I’m an Irish immigrant.  You know, my grandmother scrubbed floors in a public school in Bayonne, New Jersey, and now her grandson is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  There is nowhere else on planet where that could happen.  There’s not.  As long as we remember that, I – you know, I think we’ll be fine, domestically, although we’re going to have some rough spots. 

And I – the next part of your question was, you know, which is worse, the threat of these radical groups and terrorism, or the threat of state-on-state conflict?  I really don't care.  (Chuckles.)  And I don’t think I can. I mean, I think we’re facing both.

If you think about the Pacific, it’s mostly states – (inaudible) – coherent states, rubbing uncomfortably against each other in the East China Sea and the South China Sea.  And so that takes a certain approach, diplomatic approach.  The military instrument of power is useful in freedom of navigation, deterrence, assurance of allies, but the military instrument is actually less useful in the issues that we’re facing in the Middle East, where really what has to happen is that eventually the Sunni population has to reject this ultra-radical element of that – it will only do so, though, if they feel like they have some hope for their future and some support, and that’s where we come in.  It’s mostly about leadership and a modest investment, not, you know, flowing back 500,000 forces into the Middle East.

So we’ve got to figure it out, and that’s why I said, you know, if you’re – if you think when you graduate you’re done learning, actually that’s – we’re not going to have much use for you, because, you know, the – what – the security issues that I faced in 1974 are matters of history now.  They just don’t exist, and we’re facing a much different security environment that we have to think our way through.  And I – personally I think we're capable of it.

What else?  Yeah.

STAFF:  Yeah, there’s a microphone.

GEN. DEMPSEY:  There go the grandsons.  (Laughter.)

Q:  First I wanted to thank you, Mr. Chairman, for coming.

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Oh, my pleasure. We’re going to lose about five pounds in the process.  (Laughter.) 

MS. :  Yeah.

Q:  Recently President Obama talked and said that ISIS needed to be dismantled, right –

GEN. DEMPSEY:  I’m sorry?

Q:  Recently President Obama spoke in Europe and said that ISIS needs to be dismantled –


Q:  – just like al-Qaida.


Q:  What would a strategy to dismantle them look like without boots on the ground, but – he said repeatedly that boots on the ground is not an option.  So what would a strategy to dismantle ISIS look like without boots on the ground?

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Yeah.  Well, first of all, that’s a work in progress.  I think you’ll probably see – let’s call it an increased level – when the Congress comes back on Monday I think there will be an increased level of interest in answering that question.  And I think that over the course of the next couple of weeks it will be answered.

We’ve been waiting for two things, actually.  One was the formation of the Iraqi – we haven’t been waiting, by the way.  We’ve been protecting ourselves, containing, but I think now that the government of Iraq is about to announce the formation and selection of ministers on Monday – and then of course the NATO summit just occurred, where I think we took pretty good advantage of getting those nations as excited about this as they should be – that this week will be a pretty key week.

So you’re asking, what would a strategy look like?  First of all, it has to address both Iraq and Syria.  You can’t address one and not the other.  But that’s a complicated piece of diplomatic lifting that we’re going to have to take on.  And that’s not something militarily by the way, well it's tough because in Iraq we’ve got a partner we can enable.  We can enable the Peshmerga, we can enable the Iraqi security forces, and we can squeeze from north and south. 

Then we’ve got to find a way to get the tribes – in fact, I’m glad you brought that up.  It caused me to reflect on this.  There is a notion – this is why I said we’ve got to think our way through these things.  So when I’ve been watching ISIL, up until recently I’ve been watching them kind of move geographically, so from north of Damascus to Ar-Raqqah in Syria to Mosul in western Iraq over toward Irbil, but we cut them off there and they slid around and are working now Tikrit and Baghdad.  And of course they’re already in Al Anbar province.

But, you know, we can convince ourselves that they would see the world like we do.  So that sounds like something I would propose if I were doing their campaign for them:  Now, OK, we’ll go from Mosul to Irbil, from Irbil to Kirkuk, Kirkuk to Tikrit.  But that’s not really what they’re doing.  I’ve got a map there that – I asked for the intel community to produce a map for me of the tribes of Al Anbar province and Ninawa province.  And it’s a patchwork quilt of tribes, some big ones like, you know, the Somara (sp) tribe, which actually bleeds over from Iraq and Afghanistan. 

And what ISIL is actually doing is it’s cherry-picking tribes.  It’s going into a tribal area – and this is – it’s kind of sub-rosa.  We don’t even see that structure, you know, frankly.  Why would I?  I mean, I’m an Irish Catholic.  I don’t have tribes.  Well, maybe that's a good idea.  (Laughter.)  But there’s a certainly complex and intricate and very, very real tribal structure, and ISIL knows more about that than we do, and so they’re cherry-picking tribes and trying to tie together their controlled area, which is different than trying to protect, if we were doing it, Mosul, Tikrit, Irbil and so on.
So our effort has to take the existing structure and empower it, Peshmerga and Iraqi security forces.  It’s got to address Syria, TBD, and how we do that.  And it’s got to get the moderate tribes that remain.  It’s got to address the tribal structure of Iraq and Syria to enable and empower them to reject ISIL from inside.  And that takes a diplomatic effort.  You know, we’ve got to build a coalition.  We’ve got to provide assistance to them.  We’ve got to compete, not – (inaudible) – a coalition has to compete with them in the information space so we’re not – so they’re not 10-foot tall.  They’re not 10-foot tall, but they managed to convince those tribes that they’re 10-foot tall. 

So that’s, I think, what the framework looks like.  And then the government of Iraq must, not should or could, it must find a way to address the grievances both of the Kurds and the Sunnis.  And there’s some pretty specific things that we’re encouraging them to address.  If all that comes together, then in about three-to-five years we might see this thing turned around.  But that’s what it’s going to take. 


Q:  Thank you again for coming to this, sir.  Do you agree with Senator Menendez’s assertion that Russia’s actions in Ukraine amount to an armed invasion?  And if so, what is the appropriate response?

GEN. DEMPSEY:  I’m sorry, I didn’t hear.  (Laughter, applause.)  You know, I’m in the job for three years.  (Laughter.)  One of the reasons I’m in the job for three years if I’ve learned how to avoid direct answering questions about do I agree with Senator X, Y and Z?  (Laughter.)  And by the way, Senators X, Y and Z have been sometimes all over me like a bum on a baloney sandwich.  (Laughter.)  Take a while to figure that out.  (Laughter.) 

You know what?  Some people say, boy, it must be just horrible, you know, living in Washington, D.C. and it’s so corrosive and everybody has a better idea.  You know, they run to the media and they challenge it.  It’s actually – you know, it’s actually in some ways energizing, you know what, because here’s why:  What I found in Washington, D.C. is you’ll go through these periods of highly, highly charged rhetoric, and then at the end of the day, he or she with the best idea actually prevails.  It just takes us time to get there. 

So it’s just a – you know, we’ve got 555 people, each of whom – on the Hill, each of whom has their own vote.  And it can make for a very slow decision-making process, and it can make for a very contentious debate, but we tend to arrive at about the right place eventually.  And it drives some of our allies crazy, but frankly I’ve chosen to embrace the system.  So I take the input of anyone trying to do it because at the end of the day they will have a vote on whether we get the – in particular the Congress will have a vote on whether we get the resources. 

So, you know, if I were now to answer your question and say, no, that senator, I’ve never heard anything so – there goes my vote – (laughter) – on what I’m going to need to accomplish the mission and meet my – (inaudible) – security tasks.  So I take every single input given and I give it the wink of the intellectual energy it deserves, and then I try to provide my best military advice.

Now, to your question about Ukraine and Russia, is Russia an invasion or is it an incursion?  That’s like asking me, are we are war against ISIS?  One of the things – what year are you in here?

Q:  Senior.


Q:  Senior. 

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Yeah, you’ve only got nine months to figure this out.  (Laughter.) 

It is not the role of the chairman or the military to either declare war or to, or to make, broad policy judgments about whether something is an invasion or an incursion.  Here’s what I will tell you:  Russia is exerting influence in Eastern Europe using force, OK?  That is the first time that has happened in – at least in 20 years.  I mean, I’m not counting the Georgian issue for a reason, but we haven’t had – so NATO and Russia are in competition for influence in Europe. 

The influence is largely economic – you know, gas and commodities and the European Union or whether there will be a Eurasian Union dominated by Russia.  It’s largely an economic competition, but what Russia has done of late is decide to use military force to influence the outcome, and that is wrong.  It violates every standard of international order and every norm that we’ve established over the past 50 or 60 years, frankly.  And it’s really dangerous because it’s – I’ve used the analogy of lighting a brush fire and losing control of it. 

So what Russia has done, Putin in particular, is he has enflamed ethnicity as an issue inside of the European Continent in a way that has been dormant for some time.  So now you’ve got ethnic Russians and Ukraine – let me just – the Eastern European borders are porous in the sense of ethnicity.  So 25 percent of Estonia is ethnic Russian.  There’s 400,000 ethnic Romanians living in Ukraine.  I mean, these are – these borders were drawn to get us past the conflict in World War II, not necessarily with a great deal of effort on how they’d all sort it out ethnically.  And so if he lights that torch, and he has, and if it stays lit and begins to proliferate, then I think you’ve got a very different landscape in Europe. 

So yeah, the way I’d describe it is it’s absolutely, you know, wrong, provocative, dangerous and a violation of the international order, and we’ll leave the diplomats to deal with the vocabulary.

Way in the back, sir, the 10th man. 

(Cross talk.) 

MODERATOR:  The 10th man.  (Laughter.)  There you go. 

Q:  Thank you, General.  I work for DLA, and I was going to ask you a question about LESO but I’m not going to now. 

GEN. DEMPSEY:  About what?

Q:  About LESO, the 1033.  You know, I, like you, grew up in the ‘60s, and one of the things that prompted me to entertain the Air Force at draft age was the fact that I was taught that we were never going to have another ground war again, that it would be air superiority to the end of time.  And I’m just wondering, sir, as it relates to ISIS, why don’t we just kind of carpet-bomb the bastards?  (Laughter, applause.) 

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Yeah, so another reason I’m the chairman for three years – (laughter, applause) – is that I like to keep my options open.  (Laughter.)  That would be a headline, wouldn’t it:  Chairman advocates carpet-bombing the bastards.  (Laughter.)  So maybe what I would suggest is if they would sit still in once place long enough, I probably would.  (Laughter.)  They might have to be persuaded. 

You know what?  Not just because you’re an Air Force guy or you haven’t figured out that what we really need today is a 12th man, not a 10th man – (laughter) – is that we’ve really come a long way in joint – you know, we don’t do anything by ourselves.  So right now the – our air power is the – is dominating the headlines, but there is a – you know, that air power, by the way, is being deployed off the George Bush in the north Arabian Gulf for the most part.  The ISR is being flown by the Air Force out of places like Kuwait and Djibouti.  The Army – we’ve got – we’ve got about a thousand on the ground right now.  So this is very much a joint – but they’re in places where they’re doing the kind of work to build combat capability rather than shouldering it themselves. 

You know, we have to be careful.  You know, I forget whether it was Truman or someone said, you know, for every really hard, complex problem there is a simple answer and it’s always wrong.  (Laughter.)  And it’s true.  This one is about as complicated as it gets, for all the reasons I’ve suggested.  And I tell you that I’ve never said no boots on the ground, by the way.  You can Google me and do a keyword search.  And the reason I don’t use any language that boxes me in is that – I mean, you know, this is going to take a joint force effort, Army, Navy Air Force and Marines, all of which will be operating by, with and through partners – not unilaterally – over an extended period of time.  And air power is going to be prominent throughout, but it won’t end it. 

Yes, sir.

Q:  Good morning, General.  Thank you very much.  A quick question.  You alluded briefly to the geopolitical scenario down in the South China Sea.  And being a former Navy man myself, sir, I was wondering what kind of a threat you felt – (inaudible) – missile is that could possibly take out a carrier in a thousand-mile range –


Q:  – and what kind of threat it’s perceived as, and if we’ve taken – maybe you can talk about it – at least any steps to counter that.  Please.

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Yeah.  So this is a ground-based cruise missile that is intended to push the United States Navy out beyond the first island chain.  So if you know the geography in the western Pacific, there’s a first island chain, there’s a second island chain, and China very clearly wants to dominate the first island chain.

They’re not – they’re actually – again, back to why these things are complex, they’re not doing it for military power.  They’ve actually got their maritime surface fleet, what we would call coast guard.  What they do is they have fishing vessels, first of all, that kind of dominate a space, and then they follow that with coast guard and the military vessels are only in the distance.  So, you know, again, they are very thoughtful, meaning they think their way through – they’re patient and so forth. 

Now, in the meantime, technologically they’re competing in space, they’re competing in cyber, they’re competing on long-range precision strike.  And I actually can’t say much in an open setting about our countermeasures or the development of countermeasures, but we’re very alert to what their intentions are and working just as hard as they are to offset that capability.  But, you know, this is – this is a chess game.  It’s not checkers.  And it’s not only on the maritime domain but beneath it as well as above it.

But now, look, I have to tell you, I’m not in the camp that thinks that we’re on a path to be confrontational with China.  I’m really not.  You know, I mean, the idealist in me – and most of it’s been beaten out but I’ve got a little bit left – (laughter) – believes that the economic interests of our two countries are so intertwined that it makes it less conceivable – not inconceivable – that we would be in an open conflict.

Secondly, I mentioned – I think I mentioned earlier that by 2050, 9 billion people on the planet, 7 (billion) of them in that arc, and they’re going to have some huge domestic issues.  Their economic system, built for 25 years on an export model, is now – some people – I know that you probably do business in China, but they’re actually looking at how to adopt their model to account for the consumer side of it, and that’s – you know, that’s stretching out their communist ideology.  You know, so you’ve got an enormously capitalistic country with a communist political system.  You know, eventually they’re going to have to reconcile some of that.  Vietnam too.  I just came back from Vietnam.

But anyway, we are very alert to their strategy.  They’re very transparent about it, actually, and we’re trying to be equally transparent and, as well, as equally adamant that we have interests:  five allies in the region, freedom of navigation, open markets and enormous economic interests.  And we’re a Pacific power.  You know, last time I checked – I don’t think the earthquake knocked it off yet, but even if it did then we’ve have Nevada as – (laughter).  But we are a Pacific power and we’ve made it clear to them we are a Pacific power.  So it’s not about, well, why are you interested in the Pacific?  We’re a Pacific power, but it’s not inevitable that China becomes an adversary. 

Yeah, way in back, sitting down, blonde hair, tall.  Sorry.  I mean, I couldn’t find a better description.  (Laughter.) 

Q:  Good morning, sir.  (Inaudible) – First Class Thad (ph), University of Notre Dame.  In your opinion, what has been the greatest contribution the United States military has made in the 21st century to the rest of the world?

GEN. DEMPSEY:  The 21st century to who?

Q:  To the rest of the world. 

GEN. DEMPSEY:  To the world.  Wow, big place.  (Laughter.)  Yeah, it’s funny you say that.  I think the greatest contribution is in the assurance – let me put it this way:  But for our presence and our alliance with Japan and the Philippines, I think there would have already been a conflict with China, not necessarily with us involved but between China and Japan, possibly the Philippines and Japan. 

We provide an enormous stabilizing presence and assurance to allies that – you know, that first of all they don’t have to dramatically militarize.  If we weren’t in the Gulf, would you have any doubt that the Saudis and the Qataris and the Emirates would feel that they needed to match Iranian nuclear ambitions with their own, you know what I mean?

So we give an enormous amount of assurance to those relatively like-minded nations in the world that they don’t need to – now, some in the audience are maybe thinking, yeah, here we go; the United States has to be the nation – sort of the world’s policeman in perpetuity.  I don’t know about in perpetuity but, you know, my view of this is if – you know, if you don’t want us to do it, pick a country, who do you want to do it?  (Laughter.)  Really, pick one.  And I’m not sure you’d be able to pick one that would actually be able to maintain the kind of global economy and the kind of – well, democracy is still on the rise.

One of the things you all ought to be studying, by the way, is whether it will stay on the rise.  You know, I mentioned that – you know, let me give you a little factoid about Europe.  Any Europeans in the audience?  Ten percent of the world’s population, 25 percent of the world’s GDP.  Guess what percentage of the world’s entitlement spending?  Take a guess.

MR.     :  Fifty (percent)?

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Fifty (percent). 

MR.     :  Sixty (percent)?

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Ten percent of the world’s population, 25 percent GDP, 50 percent of the world’s entitlement spending.  I think you have to question whether that’s sustainable.  Now, it might be.  It might or might not be.  You know, you get two economists in the room and they’ll give you two different answers.  You know, the one theory is that the population is aging out.  Your birth rates are down under 2 (percent), so that the population will still be able to sustain itself.  On the other hand, another economist will say, yeah, they’re not generating a population of wage-earners to support that aging population.

I don’t know.  I’m not an economist.  What I do tell them is that I think democracy has to kind of take stock in itself and not take itself for granted, globally.  And that’s not – please don’t tell David Cameron I’m up here banging away – (laughter).

Where are you from?

Q:  From Poland.

GEN. DEMPSEY:  From Poland.  All right.  Well, you guys are actually spending your money responsibly, over 2 percent of GDP on defense spending.  (Laughter.) 

But the point is – the point is that I think that those of you who will lead this nation in the future need to – need to pay attention to democracy and its future and understand what it needs to do to sustain itself, because it is the best hope for mankind in terms of individual freedoms and values and all the things that we’ve come to appreciate most about it.


MODERATOR:  Wait for the mic. 

Q:  Could you comment on the president’s strategy of leading from behind?  (Laughter.)  Over the past twelve months, and - (inaudible).  (Laughter.) 

GEN. DEMPSEY:  You two need to get together.  (Laughter.)  And when you get together you need to lament the fact that you were unable to throw the chairman off his game.  (Laughter.) 

You know, leading from behind is actually – is actually a good idea.  It is.  I mean, you know, what I just described to you in the discussion about Iraq and Syria, it’s all about leading from behind, frankly.  I think, though, that maybe what we all miss – and I’m not – you know, I don’t ever give advice publicly.  I keep my advice private.  In other words, I’m still the chairman.  (Laughter.)  Seriously, you’ll never hear me, you know, go in front of Congress, in front of the public and expose my conversations with the president. 

But I think what we did wrong – and I say all of us – is that if leading from behind is the right goal, you have to pass through leading from the front to get to it.  You know what I mean?  So I think we may have missed some opportunities collaboratively to do some things that may have positioned us a little better right now. 

On the other hand, as you know, our democratic system is such that parties come and go.  I mean, when they come they normally have an agenda and they stay on it until facts force them off of it.  And so – you know, look, when I retire and reflect on my experiences of what I hope is four years, you know, there will be some places where I think we probably could have done better and I think there will be some places where I think we had it about right.

On this particular threat, the threat of these violent extremist organizations, I do think – I think it was – was it Einstein who said, if I have 60 minutes to save the world I’ll spend 55 minutes understanding the problem and five minutes solving it.  In the current climate – media climate, political climate – we sometimes try to reverse that.  I’m in the camp that says, let’s understand it before we poke it.  And so we may have gone a little bit too far in the right  – “right” meaning timelines, chronologically right, but I think it’s going to probably turn out about the way it should.  We’ll see. 

MODERATOR:  The chairman has time for one more question because he’s got a very tight tailgating schedule.  (Laughter, applause.)

GEN. DEMPSEY:  I’m OK with that.  (Laughter.) 

MODERATOR:  Please stay seated after his final remarks so he can get out of the room and onto his –

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Do you want to come up here?

MODERATOR:  Thank you.

GEN. DEMPSEY:  I’ve got – let me do – let me get a question.  Yeah.  Come on up here.  I want to show you my grandkids.  (Laughter.)  Sorry? 

(Cross talk.)

GEN. DEMPSEY:  I hope so.  I'll have to keep working.  (Applause.)  And that’s why we do what we do, right?  (Applause.) 

Q:  General, I was in the 82nd Airborne and was proud and lucky to serve there.  I went through the ROTC program here.  So for all the cadets in the room, if you were being commissioned, what are two or three things that you would want to try and do in your first three or four years of your commission?

GEN. DEMPSEY:  Yeah, that’s a great question.  I’m going to talk to the ROTC guys and gals later, but here are a couple things.

One is don’t start your career aspiring to be the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.  (Laughter.)  No, really.  If you do that, you’re going to, first of all, miss some incredible experiences along the way.  Secondly, it’s going to really make your peers mad that you want to be the chairman before you actually figure out what you’re supposed to do as a pilot or a tank commander or an infantryman or a submariner. 

And that’s the point.  Be the best you – you know, bloom where you’re planted.  You’re not all going to get your first choice of where you go or what job you get or, you know, who’s in your platoon or your wing or your squadron, but bloom where you’re planted.  Do the best you can because, remember, you’re doing it not for yourself but for your country. 

There’s a great statue on Antietam.  Anybody been to Antietam?  If you haven’t, it’s really my favorite battlefield because of it’s compact, it’s preserved – 22,000 souls lost on one eight-hour day on both sides.  And there’s a wonderful statute at the – in the cemetery there.  It’s the only statue in our statuary that’s actually dedicated to the enlisted soldier, and it’s an enlisted soldier by the name of Old Simon.  And on it – it’s huge.  It’s got to be 40 feet tall, and on it it says, “Not for themselves but for their country.”  That’s what you need to remember.  (Applause.)