GENERAL MARTIN DEMPSEY: I’m tempted to begin by asking if anyone – if Arnold can be a little more clear about how he feels about things – (laughter) – and who gave him coffee this morning. (Laughter.) A lot of familiar – a lot of friendly face – well, the familiar faces in the audience, who I hope remain friendly. The – first of all, my compliments to Michele and to the CNAS team for convening a conference and then having a campaign plan to talk about these particular issues. You know, it’s easy to get consumed in the crisis du jour, as we say, the crisis of the moment, but I think a close examination, the reflection and the discussion about civil-military relations and then the all-volunteer force are probably the best defense to ensure that we maintain good relations and that we maintain the all-volunteer force. So what I’ll do is, I’ll just share some thoughts with you about those two topics and then get to your questions, because I’m at a little bit of a disadvantage not knowing what you’ve already been talking about. I certainly don’t want to be repetitive. So what you’ll get here for a few minutes is the things that allow me to think about civil-military relations and about the all-volunteer force.
Civil-military relations first. It’s a timeless question, really, isn’t it – at least timeless in the sense of United States history and the history of our profession, the military profession, which I think is probably – it’s probably fair to date that back to the post-Civil War period. And I’m going to read you a couple of quotations in a book. I’ll then tell you what book it is, but this quotation. Before I became the chief of staff of the Army, I actually was – knowing I was going to matriculate, I suppose is the right word, into that position and become a member of the JCS, I began to study the body of knowledge on this topic. And this book was written in 2006. But here’s a quote that caused me to be a little bit contemplative about the challenge I was about to undertake. “In typical American fashion, the civil-military crisis was not between the civilians and the military but between contending groups of civilians, each with supporters in the military.” So that’s one quotation. We can chat about that, if you like, and what it means, but I think it’s probably pretty self-evident.
And the other one that struck me was that on issues related to – back – hearkening back to Arnold’s point about how difficult it is to find support for reforms within the military, which then create tensions between the Congress of the United States and the military, it says: “This experience illustrates that the nature, the speed and the direction of military reform and professionalization were dictated primarily by the need to conform to the nation’s deliberately fragmented and contentious constitutional system. It’s intentional rocky road of reform.
So that book, by the way, is called “John M. Schofield and the Politics of Generalship”, and he was reflecting on the post-Civil War period in the United States. So first thing I think we should probably agree on is that this is a debate – you’re going to have a campaign plan, you’re going to discuss this, you’re going to focus on it, and at the end of it you’ll have to start over again, because it’s timeless. And it should be. And I think that’s probably an important place to start.
Secondly, civil-military relations are by their nature – as it says in here, the rocky road of reform – the rocky road of civil-military relations is somewhat intentional, right? And so I think that we should – and as part of your journey here, you know, decide how much friction. You know, by the way, a physicist in the room would point out, you have to have friction to move, right? And so there’s going to be some friction. The question is how much and how is it managed, I think.
I read something a while ago. I wish I could remember the author. I think I do, but I’m afraid if I say her name it might be the wrong author and then I’ll both give her too much credit and not give credit to the appropriate auther. But she was talking about the nature of the civil-military relationship as being kind of two cultures passing in the night. And she described it this way. She said, because of our upbringing in the military, we tend to – when confronting a problem – we tend to want to know, well, what exactly is the objective? What are we trying to achieve? And then once you know what you’re trying to achieve, we go through this rather exquisite process of building a campaign plan to achieve it with intermediate objectives and milestones and resources required and so on and so forth – very, very almost mechanical in a way.
The folks with whom we interact – that is to say, our elected officials – generally are more interested in what options they have when confronted with a problem. So the conversation goes something like this. OK, General, we’ve got this problem, and we’d like you at the next meeting to present some options on how to address it. And then the general says, OK, we can do that. What exactly are you trying to accomplish? What’s the objective? And they say, well, before we know the objective, you know, we want to know how to take the first step. So what we’d really like you to do is come next time and help us understand the first step and maybe some limiting principles and how many options and at what varying degrees of risk. And then we say, OK, we can do that, but where do you really want to end up? And I’m telling you, this can go on for months, actually. (Laughter.) Right? And it doesn’t mean that we’re smart and they’re not or they’re smart and we’re not. It’s just we come at this literally from two very different cultures.
I actually – you know, people say to me are you the same chairman today that you were three years ago? The answer to that is no. I mean, one of the things that I have learned is in fact to – is to find ways to bridge that gap between these two very different cultures and to also help educate our younger officers, the next generation of generals and admirals, because it can be a source of enormous frustration when we speak past each other about whether we start with options or we start with objectives.
The other thing is, some of the things that cause this friction, this necessary friction in civil-military relations, is the debate about whether war is timeless – not timeless – whether it’s unlimited or limited, right? My particular observation over time is that war is always defined more by its limitations than its excesses. And actually, I can document that. There was a book that I actually helped commission when I was training in doctrine command commander called “Between War and Peace.” And we looked back at 18 different campaigns in our history, and we asked that question. What – where – are there principles that are – that can be drawn from not only the conduct of the campaign but also, importantly, how it ends? Because we know a lot about how to start campaigns and start conflict and we probably study inadequately that other piece of it, which is how do you end a particular kind of conflict. And there are some principles on how you end it. But what one of – one of the principles is that warfare is literally always – it has always been defined by its limits, not by its excesses. So that’s another thought that might help you in discussing civil-military relations.
The third is, I think, probably more than any of my 17 predecessors, I think that probably I would describe my advice and my participation inside of the national security architecture as strategy in public. In other words, almost nothing today – I mean, there’s probably a very, very few examples – but almost nothing today, whether it’s policy or strategy, is conducted in private, in secrecy and without some rather significant degree of public scrutiny.
Now, you know, if you believe in democracy, you know, at its extreme, you’d say, well, that’s good, actually, right? I mean, hoo-ahh, as the Army would say. (Laughter.) You know, we want to – we want to make sure that the body politic and the people of the United States – and we want to make sure that there’s buy-in and so on and so forth. And clearly, as Citizen Dempsey, I understand that. But the degree of scrutiny and the degree to which strategy is developed in public today just makes it more difficult to actually provide military advice and have that advice either be accepted or rejected in time. In other words, there’s a – there’s an immediacy now, not only in accomplishing tasks, but in planning for them that just makes it more difficult. And I’m not – again, I’m not railing against this. In fact, this wouldn’t make any difference were I to rail against it, but I would say that policymaking and strategy making in public – and I’m using that, you know, kind of as an – as a – as a metaphor, rather than a reality or a fact, but it – there is far more public interpretation, participation, scrutiny – you know, pick your own word – on the development of strategy and what it does is it makes it more difficult, actually, to provide military advice because you’re never – you can never forget that whatever advice you’re giving is probably going to be played out very shortly thereafter in public. And we just – again, it’s not something that would cause me to change anything I say or anything I do or anything I advise, but I’m always aware of it. I think that’ll probably be even more prominent in future chairmen, but I think probably for now, I would – I would declare myself the first of the next series of chairman to have to deal with this in such a significant way.
The other thing about civil-military relations is they really are built on the foundation of candor and, you know, all of my predecessors – the ones that are still alive – when they came and helped me understand the job, the single consistent, persistent theme was candor. Now that’s – you know, when you – before you take the job, that doesn’t sound all that challenging, frankly. But it is, you know, because – and not the candor part of it, but actually figuring out for yourself what it means to be candid in the context that I just described for you. And if the – if – the harder the issue, the more likely it is – or, the more complex the issue – the more likely is – it is that it’s going to be hard to center yourself, when you have to constantly seek to center yourself. But I will say that relationships are really dependent upon candor and, to that extent, if you accept that, then I think you’d have to accept the fact that one of the jobs of the military in this thing called civil-military relations is to build relationships. And by the way, I think it’s more our responsibility than our elected officials. You know, it’s not 90/10; you know, we don’t own 90 percent of the responsibility, but we certainly own more than half of the responsibility. We’re the career professionals, we’re – we have the expertise and skills, that’s what makes us a profession and, therefore, in terms of building relationships, we own more of that responsibility. And I think that’s appropriate and I think there’s times when we’ve done that well and there’s probably times when we haven’t done it well enough, but it is what leads to candor and it’s candor that leads to good civil-military relations.
The element of time is also a factor in civil-military relations. Here’s a quotation that I carry around with me as well in terms of the impact of time on giving military advice about conflict resolution: “Time matters in interpretation of conflict.” To use an analogy from the world of finance, an investor making a long term investment does not expect decisive short term gains. However, war as a concept tends to associate the battlefield with brutal, finite outcomes whose results are immediately apparent. And that’s not the case; meaning you can’t – you can’t link those two things together. The sense of immediacy is overwhelming today in everything we do and it impacts – again, this – the topic is civil-military relations – it impacts on military relations. So one of the things I’ve begun to do as I’ve grown into the job and worked to provide the best military advice to both the secretary defense, national security council, the president himself, is think about pace as a factor because if you don’t think about pace going into a particular challenge, it will quickly draw you forward. And incidentally, I’m not – I don’t want to open the door for questions about our counter-ISIL strategy – although the door’s probably already open, right? – but I will say that the consideration of pace has been an important factor in my advice to the president and his feedback to me on our counter-ISIL strategy.
I just saw the movie “Fury” – I got another one here for you. I don’t know if anybody’s seen it – anybody seen the movie “Fury”? It’s worth – it’s worth watching. I wasn’t sure how they were going to make a two and a half hour movie out of a, you know, four man tank crew, but they managed to do it. It’s a little bit like “Saving Private Ryan” in a sense, but there are some really profound thoughts in that movie that you know I almost – I had to go – I was on a 18 hour trip to Iraq, so I could watch it more than once. But I actually was quite taken by some of the quotations in the movie, so I copied one down that I’ll share with you because it does also have an echo of civil-military relations. And here’s the quotation: “Ideals are peaceful. War is violent.” Now, how would that impact on civil-military relations? There is – there is a sense in the American way of war to try to balance, really, our values with pragmatism. I like that about us, actually. Makes it hard, by the way, to – you know, to be decisive sometimes but there is this – in our country and probably in few others – there is this desire to balance our idealism with pragmatism. And if that quotation is accurate – “Ideals are peaceful. War is violent” – you can get a sense for why sometimes there’s a – there’s an inclination to, again, put limits on warfare and find ways to put limiting principles into the advice we give.
Again, none of these things in isolation are enough for you to say, that’s the key. There is no single key in civil-military relations. It’s really about all the things I’ve just mentioned and then being able to find a way to knit them together into advice, into relationships, into strategy, and so forth.
And then, the last thing I’ll tell you before I move on to the all-volunteer force and then take your questions: I’m going to give you another quotation that kind of gets at the position in which we find ourselves vis-à-vis the matching the strategy of – the national security strategy of the United States – with the resources necessary to accomplish it. Here’s this quotation, then I’ll tell you who said it and when: “The secrets of our weakness are secrets only to our own people… The secrets of our weakness are secrets only to our own people.” That was said by General Douglas MacArthur in 1925. So, you know, how do we say, the paths – or, history doesn’t repeat itself, but it echoes? Boy, it does echo. That quotation gets at the fact that it’s – that it’s extraordinarily difficult to communicate with the American people on the impact of resource decisions. And I – you know, that’s what Arnold and a few of the others were kind of unemotionally discussing here just moments ago.
But look, the chair – the chiefs and I all feel very strongly the responsibility to try to articulate just exactly the impact of resource allocation decisions and it’s a fine line to do so. If you – if you’re – if you’re too enthusiastic about it, you’re accused of being just another special interest group trying to feather your own nest at the expense of the American people. If you’re too silent about it, you will quickly find yourself with threats that you’re unable – that you’re unable to deal with and the purpose of the military is to keep the nation immune from coercion. And that’s our job and we have to articulate it. But it’s about – it’s about balance, isn’t it? And I think that, as you confront the question of civil-military relations, I think that that issue of balance has to be part of the conversation.
OK. Let me jump to the all-volunteer force just for a moment. You know what, I think I have a couple – I had a – forget about them, but I had a couple of slides up here. Flip through – OK, there you go. So that young man right there is in Monrovia and he’s saluting an aircraft taking off and this is our effort to assist the international community and our agencies – other agencies of government to deal with the Ebola crisis in West Africa. Go to the next one. This very tall guy here – you can probably tell which one is me, but – (Laughter.) – this guy was a – he’s a National Guardsman out of Alaska. He’s since out of the – out of the Air Guard now, he’s – believe it or not, he’s running a tattoo parlor up in – I’m not making that up, so – but he was at the time a parajumper when I met him. That’s the guys that hang off the side of a perfectly good helicopter on a wire rope and pull people to safety. This guy had been in Afghanistan, up in the Hindu Kush, had pulled 12 members of a unit from the 10th Mountain Division off of the side of a mountain at about 14,000 feet. That’s Pike’s Peak, for those of you that are familiar with altitude. And he did it 12 times, lowered himself down 12 times, brought up somebody 12 times. Four of them died in his arms, eight of them survived. And while he was doing this, about four or five times there was machine gun fire that ricocheted off of the wire rope. The wire rope, by the way, is about a half-inch, a half-inch wire rope. Unbelievable courage.
You know, I said to him, you know, after I finally could figure out how high I had to look to do so – (laughter) – but I said to him, you know, what was it like? What were you thinking? And he said, you know what? He said, you’re going to think you’ve heard this before, but frankly, I didn’t give it much thought. I mean, these were my teammates, you know – in the Joint Force, by the way, Air Force/Army – and they needed my help and I went and got them.
And by the way, he was awarded the Silver Star for his efforts. But my comment about the all-volunteer force fundamentally, if you don’t remember anything else, is it’s the right force for this nation and we can’t take it for granted.
Go to the next slide.
So there’s another aspect of it, though. It was all the things that they described here about, you know, we have to pay it appropriately, we have to train it exquisitely, we have to equip it better than anyone on – it’s all that. The other thing about the all-volunteer force, though, that I actually, as the kind of leading voice, if you will, for professionalism – not the only voice, thankfully, but the leading voice – is I also want to make sure that our all-volunteer force understands that service is not just about being in a combat zone. It’s not. If you want to stay connected to the American people, you can’t do it episodically. And at some point, you know, the cheers at half-time and the free tickets and the yellow ribbons are going to be in the past. And what we better figure out is that the American people want you to be in touch with them all the time.
So we’ve got a pretty significant initiative right now called Commitment to Service, where we encourage our men and women in uniform to literally think about giving back not just when they’re in combat, but when they’re just back in their communities. We’re working with the NBA. This happens to be at a place called City Harvest in New York City, where they go around to various grocery stores at the end of every day and they pull off that which otherwise would be thrown away. There’s 1.3 – 1.4 million people in New York City living under the poverty level. They provide about 50 million tons of food to soup kitchens and food banks a year. And it was extraordinary to be there with soldier, sailor, airmen, Marines and these NBA players.
And the reason the NBA, by the way, has signed up for it is they recognize that these extraordinary athletes, and affluent athletes, don’t really have a sense of service. And so, together, we’re trying to make that case. It’s kind of – you know, the bumper sticker is, the world’s best athletes teaming with the world’s best military to keep giving back. We got to do more of that, frankly, as we go forward.
Let me tell you one other thing about – go ahead and shut the slide off. So one other thought that – on the all-volunteer force – and I do want to – I mentioned this book about John Schofield. I’ll mention one other that I think is worth your effort while you’re taking on this topic of the all-volunteer force. Let me just give you a few words and then see how you react to them: war, armed conflict, area of active hostilities, and combat. Can you tell me the distinction among all those words? Yeah, probably. We could probably unpack it. I’m not going to take the time to do so. War, armed conflict, area of active hostilities, and combat.
But I’ll tell you to whom it doesn’t matter very much: them. It just doesn’t matter that much what we call it. When they’re out there – I was in Iraq, you know, a week ago, and the first question I got at a town hall meeting was, sir, are we in combat? I said, yeah, you’re in combat. And they said, well, why can’t we get a combat patch? Well, the reason is that we kind of have tied ourselves into a policy knot a bit. And we’re going to untie that knot, based on that question from that young man.
But when we think about the all-volunteer force, it’s a pretty clever, innovative group of young men and women, and we owe them some clarity, on everything from policy to pay compensation, health care, equipment, training opportunities, readiness; and frankly, right now we’re not delivering. And we just got to keep at until we do.
How about these three: the long war, persistent conflict, persistent engagement? By the way, that’s a progression. About 10 years ago we were talking about the long war, and then we said, you know what, that doesn’t feel very good. I don’t want to be at war for a long time. And we said, how about persistent conflict? And that lasted for a few years. And now the term of art is persistent engagement. Same problem. You know, we really got to make sure that we don’t – we’re not, frankly, a little too cute by half in describing what we ask the all-volunteer force to do.
The book I want to – by the way, I’m getting nothing for the following endorsement. (Laughter.) There’s a book by an English professor up at West Point called Elizabeth Samet, and it’s called “No Man’s Land.” “No Man’s Land.” And the reason I want to tie what I just said together to that book is as follows.
She correctly points out – having taught West Point cadets and watched them go off to war and come back, and go off and come back, and go off and come back, and go off and come back – she says we’ve created a sense of commuter wars. We’re commuting to war. And when we come back, it’s increasingly challenging to re-integrate into the society, because the society has very little feel – and “feel” is the right word – for what happens in those periods when you are deployed. And the periods when you’re home are almost a little too short in order to actually ground yourself. And so she describes that what we’ve done to the all-volunteer force – well, not what we’ve done to it, because she’s very pragmatic about the fact that the all-volunteer force is doing what the nation needs us to do – but she says we really ought to think about the fact that these young men and women live their life in kind of no man’s land. And what she means by that is, kind of between war and peace. It’s as I described – you know, no man’s land, of course, the phrase came into vogue in World War I, when you were – you know, there was a space between trench lines that no one controlled.
And that’s what she’s saying to us. Think about this fact that you’ve got these young men and women in some kind of perpetual state of transition between war and peace, and do whatever you can, is her message, to make that life for them clearer and more understandable as you go forward into the kind of things that we try to do that they were talking about here a minute ago.
The last thing I’ll tell you is – by way of thinking about the all-volunteer force and the young men and women who currently serve – is that you probably noticed that sometimes our doctrine will be borrowed by other nation states, right? And sometimes our technology will actually be “borrowed” – (laughter) – by other nation states. Let me tell you the one thing that no one in the world can copy, and that’s the human dimension of the United States armed forces. You can’t copy it. Cannot copy it.
And so as we continue to adapt to the different challenges we face, some of which are state on state, many of which are state on nonstate actors, as we look to the future in a constrained-resource environment, whatever that ultimately means, we can’t forget that. You can’t forget that it is the men and women who populate the armed forces of the United States who are the decisive advantage, because you can’t copy the human dimension.
Let me pause there for your questions. (Applause.)
MODERATOR: We’ve got about 15 minutes for questions. Again, if you, when called upon, would stand up, identify yourself and your affiliation and pose a question, we would be appreciative, and we’ll try and get as many in as we can. Let me start here in the back, in the white shirt, sir.
Q: (Off mic.)
GEN. DEMPSEY: These technologies. (Laughter.) Go ahead. I can hear you. And I’ll repeat the question if they don’t hear you.
Q: (Name and affiliation inaudible.) I suspect if we still had conscription and typical American boys from typical American towns were being drafted to fight in our endless wars, I suspect that American society would be almost as tumultuous as it was during the Vietnam era. And isn’t that an argument for a citizens’ army in that it forces more Americans to take an interest in what their military is doing or how their military is being used and guards against a war party using the military to follow their own agenda which might run counter to the wishes of the American people?
GEN. DEMPSEY: I actually – if you hold it a little bit further away; it got a little garbled there. What was the question? I got the prelude; what’s the question?
Q: Wouldn’t we be better with a citizens’ army to guard against –
GEN. DEMPSEY: OK. No, I – you know, I don’t – I don’t think so, frankly. And I say that not to dispute the value of universal service. I – believe me, Citizen Dempsey thinks that the – and particularly because I’m the one who gets to travel around the globe and then come back here and realize how blessed we are. So I’m an advocate of universal service. And there may be some component of that that could be military service.
But I’m also a rabid fan of the all-volunteer force, for two reasons. One is that you get a group of men and women who actually are committed right from the start. You know, they all come in for different reasons, but once in, and once they bond into smaller units and eventually bigger units, they share a common commitment that makes them exponentially better than they would otherwise be.
Secondly, the world doesn’t really align itself with a, you know, deliberate preparedness paradigm. Now, by the way, I’m – we do need the active, the Guard and Reserve. This is not a comment about the Guard and Reserve. But rather, it’s a comment about the fact that the world in which we live can’t wait six months generally to have the issues that confront us resolved. And the all-volunteer force tends – not tends to be; it is – it is a better-prepared force than – I was in the conscript draft army, by the way, and you’ll never get a conscript army at – to the level of readiness that I think is necessary to promote and protect our national security interests. So there is probably some component there of universal service that would – that would also have a military aspect to it. But I am an advocate of sustaining the all-volunteer force.
MODERATOR: About right here. Yes.
Q: Thank you. Good morning, General Dempsey. Mary Krenow (ph) from Army Science Board. I have a question, want you to elaborate a little bit more about the generals coming up in terms of the link between civilian and military, the loop that you discussed in terms of utility of force. Could you talk a little bit more about that in terms of what you recommend moving forward?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah. Do you mean – because the echo in here – and I’m – I am wearing my hearing aids, for the records, so it’s not the fact that I can’t hear you, but the echo is really distracting. Do you mean how do we – how would I recommend we prepare the next generation of senior leaders for that environment or something else?
Q: In – yes, in terms of making sure that the Hill and the American people understand the utility of force and what those decisions, what the boundaries of those decisions are.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, we actually – we – so one of the keys to maintaining our standing as a profession, you know, the – if you – if you – you know, you look up in Huntington or elsewhere, what does it mean to be a profession, you know, there are special skills and attributes, there is continuing education, there is establishment of and living up to a professional ethos, the profession polices itself – I mean, there is a list of five or six or seven things that allow you to say you’re a profession because you’re not one just because you say you are.
Among the most important is the issue of education, and it’s both structured education conducted by the institution but also self-development. About four or five years ago, frankly, we had allowed that aspect of our profession to atrophy because we were so busy. And I know Dave Barno and others will remember, Dave Valcourt (ph) – there were – there was a – there was a time in my early career where if you didn’t go to school when you were supposed to go, you didn’t get promoted, you didn’t get selected for command, you didn’t get anything because the education was valued.
And then we got into a period over the last 10 years where we became so busy that we initially undervalued education – nah, just stay in the fight, that’s where you belong – and then we got to a point where we actually devalued it, which it to say, if you went, it could actually, you know, have an adverse effect on your career. We’ve corrected that. And now the teeth is back in our education system – you won’t get promoted, you won’t get selected for command and so forth. I think that’s the key to your – to your question.
We’ve also taken what was the education system of our generals and flag officers, admirals and generals, and we’ve added a professionalization component, an ethical component and a civil-mil component. And we’ve taken – I’ve looked across the – I looked across the academia for those who I thought were the most thoughtful, most outspoken leading personalities on this subject of civil-military relations, and I went out and hired them. And now they’re involved in our capstone course, which is, you know, some would cynically potentially call it, you know, charm school. But whatever you call it, we grab them for about six weeks – you know, Dave and others have advocated expanding that, and there may be both a necessity and an opportunity to do so in the future. But the point is we do have a system, and it is focused on preparing the next generation of leaders better than potentially we were prepared for that environment.
MODERATOR: Let’s go back here with the yellow shirt there.
GEN. DEMPSEY: I would describe that as lime green, actually. (Laughter.)
MODERATOR: You’re much better at colors, much better at colors.
Q: Yeah, I was smart, I wore the loudest shirt in the audience.
Sir, I’m a cultural anthropologist. I teach at the University of Virginia. And the reason that I came here today is because I teach students who want to go into disaster relief humanitarian and development work in the NGO sector, and for the last couple years I’ve been teaching – co-teaching with veterans on active-duty because of the capacity that was built up for that work in the last 10 years.
And something that really rocked my world, sort of NGO development world in late August, was when Doctors Without Borders, Médecins Sans Frontières, went on record very clearly saying that they wanted to collaborate with U.S. and NATO military in the Ebola response. And it happened in a way where it was sort of clear that they didn’t know what channels they were going to use for that. They were – they were saying this in the press, going to the U.N.
So my question to you is, one, could you say a little bit more about what the channels were that allowed for that collaboration to happen? And then two, what channels are needed or where did they belong for that kind of collaboration, nonstate-state collaboration? And I’ll just add, though probably everyone in the audience knows, that MSF, Doctors Without Borders, is one of the most infamous organizations for being kind of ideologically and in their mission very, very clear about not working or not wanting to associate with any kind of state, military organization.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah. So let me reinforce your theory that there has been some reluctance on both sides to be too engaged with each other. In fact, you know, again, the senior officers in the audience here will remember, you know, coming out of the ’80s when the Soviet – you know, we had a very clear mission in the ’80s, state on state, and we differentiated ourselves – this is probably worth mentioning; when you – when you’re thinking about state-on-state conflict, you differentiate yourself in terms of size and technology: I’m bigger than you or I’m better than because my tank will shoot further, penetrate more, my aircraft is faster, drops a bigger payload, my ship is – you know. So you differentiate yourselves in terms of size and technology. That’s what we came out of in the ’90s. It lasted for most – for the ’80s. It lasted for a good bit of the ’90s. Then we began to become involved in peacekeeping operations, as you’ll remember. And it was awkward. Awkward is probably the right word. There wasn’t friction, but there was plenty of awkwardness that we worked through.
And then we got into this last decade, and we began to confront nonstate actors. And one of the things that I believe I’ve learned, and I’m trying to actually think through what it means for the future, is when you take the military instrument, apply it against nonstate actors, be they terrorist groups or disease, the way you differentiate yourself, the way you prevail is not by size and technology but rather by the rate of innovation, the rate at which you innovate. If you can innovate more quickly, you prevail. If you can’t innovate more quickly, you’re going to have some problems. That recognition has actually made us far more effective in places like Iraq and Afghanistan and in Western Africa, because this next generation of leaders recognizes that innovation is an imperative.
So they may go there with one kind of organization and one kind of set of expectations, and then they will quickly – I mean, we are the most – I know that someone might take me on on this – what I’m about to say – I think we are now the most adaptable hierarchical institution in the world, and the pre-eminent leadership development opportunity in the world, because we – you know, we turn these young men and women loose to make the kind of contacts you’re talking about.
Now, you asked, what can be done to make it even better in the future? There’s nothing like a crisis to make that happen, and we’ve got several of them, actually, that we’re working on simultaneously. (Laughter.) And, you know, to the extent that we empower the edge, to use a business term, we’re going to do well. And to the extent that we – you know, we try to keep it all right here in Washington, D.C, we’re going to probably cause more problems than we solve.
So – - I know that’s a really painful admission, but it – I have come to that conclusion over time. I think you’re going to find that, first of all, this mission will last – I’ve said 18 months. You know, it’s – we’ve done pretty well in Liberia. There are some challenges in Sierra Leone and Guinea, and now we’re beginning to become concerned about Mali on a regional basis. So I think you’re going to find that we will adapt to the mission, build the kind of relationships that then become sustainable, and I think we’ll actually – I think people like Medecins Sans Frontieres will actually come to the conclusion, hey, these guys are not so bad after all and can be helpful.
And by the way, one other thing about civil-military relations. We completely understand that in the civil-military relationship, we are the subordinate not the leader. I mean, that’s just our nature. That’s, by the way, what caused us, in the late part of the 19th century after the Civil War, to actually become a profession, is that recognition that we are the subordinate in that relationship. And I think that’s an important point as we interact across the globe. Now, we’re – you know, we’re pretty aggressive subordinates, but we are subordinates. (Laughter.)
MR.: I think we have time for one more question. Go ahead. You’ve got a shout-out there – (inaudible).
GEN. DEMPSEY: That was favoritism.
Q: Everybody needs a wingman. I appreciate it. General, Jeff Kaffee (sp), Bank of America military affairs. So the all-volunteer force is getting smaller, and no man’s land is getting bigger. Americans aren’t reading so much – we’re directly paying for the persistent engagement of which you speak. So how can they, and why should they care who is in the force, why they’re deployed, where they’re deployed, what their missions are, their strategy and so forth, and it’s importantly, how to support them on the re-integration efforts?
GEN. DEMPSEY: The first part of your question, if I heard it again – the acoustics – no offense to the – Willard – but the acoustics in here are a little challenging for this 62 year-old. I think the first part of your question was, how can – how can corporate America become more aware of everything that’s going on, right?
Well, actually, the – you know, I’ve set a world’s record, by the way, in appearances before the Congress of the United States. I mean, literally, you could add up my four predecessors immediately before me, and then add me up, and I would exceed the number of times that – that’s one of the things you do, is you grow into the job and you realize that that’s not a burden, it’s an opportunity. Sometimes, on television, it might look like a burden – (laughter) – but it’s actually an opportunity to do exactly what you say, which is explain what we’re trying to do.
And when there are so many different issues ongoing, it can kind of blur – they can kind of blur. So if that answers that – I mean, meaning, I think senior leaders are far more astute today than they have been in the past about Congressional testimony and about interaction with the media, about engagement – you know, I spend a lot of time on the – most of my time on the road is overseas, but when I do travel domestically, there’s always an – I was just down in Wall Street with Goldman Sachs on the Veterans on Wall Street seminar. It was terrific. But we do as much of that as we possibly can to answer – you know, to address the challenge that you just mentioned. I think the second part of your question had to do with, what can you do for these young men and women when they come back, right? Or when they transition into civilian life?
Well, here’s what I would like you to remember about that. When you hire them, you’re not hiring them for them, you’re hiring them for you, because these – I’m telling you – back to the young lady in the lime green sweater and the point about, you know, the interaction of servicemen and women not just in conflict – well, it is conflict – the conflict in West Africa is a conflict, right? It just happens to be against an infectious disease. But when they come back, they have a couple of attributes that you probably want. One of them is courage. You know, I remember before I went to – deployed to combat the first time, wondering, would I measure up? You know, would I be courageous?
Well, you don’t have to wonder that about this group. You know, most of them have deployed five, six times. And whether or not they’ve been shot at – for one thing, they raised their hand knowing that they could be shot at. That’s not bad as a start point. And then they actually deploy – they come back, and they’re resilient, and their family members are – you know, are a team.
And so courage seems to me to be a pretty important quality in any walk of life. And the second thing is, you know, resolve. There’s no quit. I mean, you know, you’re going to have to kill them to make them quit. They probably work – you know, they’re probably – most of them probably work longer than their peers, because when we bring them in, we give them this big rock called guilt, and we put it in their rucksack. (Laughter.) There’s a joke in the Pentagon; if you take – if you take two majors off of the joint staff and you put them on a desert island, within a week, they’ll be working 18 hours a day, six days a week. (Laughter.)
There is this – you know, there is this sense of mission that’s quite remarkable among them. They’re also adaptive. I mean, that’s a thing – the military doesn’t normally get credit for being adaptable. It – you know, the image is this incredibly hierarchical organization that, you know, kind of starts at the Pentagon and gets worse as it goes. It’s just not that at all. It was, in my memory, but what you’ve got today is, you’ve got young leaders who believe themselves to be empowered to make decisions that have national security implications. It’s pretty incredible stuff. But what we’ve got to watch, frankly, is, as we bring them back – and if the tempo slows – by the way, I don’t think the tempo will slow.
So I’m not as worried about that this as maybe I should be, because I think the tempo will take care of it, but we do have a tendency, when we get into a garrison environment, to become a little – to micromanage at levels we shouldn’t. But the point is – the thing I want you to remember is, if all of you would just agree that when you hire a veteran, you’re actually doing it for what that veteran can do for you, not what you can do for them, I think you’d be on the right path.
MR. : Chairman, I offer you a few closing comments, and then we turn it over to Richard Fontaine (sp) to wrap up when you’re done.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, the closing – look, I’ll end where I began. I think this – you know, I don’t feel like I’ve nearly done justice with you to the topic of civil-military relations or to the all-volunteer force, but I’ve absolutely enjoyed the opportunity to talk about something that actually is enduring. Most of the other things I get to talk about come and go. This doesn’t come and go. This endures. And so, to the extent you can help us help you, help each other understand what the relationship should be between our elected officials and the people of the United States with its military, and to the extent you can help me preserve the all-volunteer force, you will be doing not me a big favor, but your nation. Thanks very much.