COL DAVE LAPAN: General Martin E. Dempsey is the 18th chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. He is here to – as the lead – the U.S. lead for the delegation to the Paralympic Games. And so he’ll make a few brief opening remarks, and then we will take your questions.
Any questions for me before we begin? All right. Sir?
GENERAL MARTIN E. DEMPSEY: Well, as Dave said, I’m the head of delegation for the Paralympics and want to begin by complimenting the city of London and the – and the – our great teammates, the armed forces of Great Britain, for the – not only the security but the magnificent opening ceremony last night; and of course the athletes themselves, who, I would have to say, inspire us by their resolve to overcome the infirmities in their lives. So it was a great opening ceremony, and I’m sure it’ll be a terrific event.
And with that, I’ll take your questions.
COL LAPAN: See; they’re not mean, they’re shy. (Laughter.)
Q: Kim Sengupta from The Independent. Can we ask you, General, please, about Syria – how you see things unfolding there, and in particular two matters. One is President Hollande was talking about a couple of days ago, about possibility of setting up a secure zone inside Syria. And the French apparently – or so he said – are talking to the Turks about this. What would be your view of the feasibility of that? And secondly, general, you think there is any argument for supplying the rebels with things which might equal the playing field a bit, like surface-to-air missiles – not necessarily from the West, but maybe from Qatar or Saudi Arabia?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Couple of points. The – as the leader of the United States armed forces, our posture in that region is one of deterrence and preparedness. And so when you ask me about specific military options, those would be decisions taken at the political level. Of course, my job is to have the force positioned and prepared to provide those options if we’re asked for them. And I have not been asked for those options.
Secondly, that said, we have been collaborating with the neighbors of Syria in any number of ways in terms of intelligence sharing, in terms of military cooperation on planning. And in particular you ask about humanitarian zones. We have, of course, had discussions both unilaterally but also with partners. And as you know, of course, Turkey’s a NATO nation, and I expect that they will have this as an agenda item when the North Atlantic Council reconvenes after the August recess.
So we have been in consultation with them about a humanitarian safe zone and what it would take to do so and what would be the implications. I – for the most part, we’ve been looking at that inside of Turkey or inside of Jordan to help them deal with their refugee problems. I have not had any conversations about establishment of a humanitarian zone inside of Syria. That of course would be a significant decision. It would have implications – significant implications in terms of the Law of Armed Conflict and so forth.
Q: And then – sorry – the supply of weaponry to rebels?
GEN. DEMPSEY: You know, I – as you know, there’s been any – there’s been significant nonlethal and humanitarian support provided. And to this point, I’ve been an advocate of that. I have not yet been asked about whether I would advocate lethal aid. But you know, one – depending on how one looks at the situation, some have already described it as a proxy war. I have not personally said that. I’ve been reading the intel to decide if it has turned into that. And I think that would be a tragedy for the Syrian people.
Q: Jonathan Rugman from Channel 4. Is your sense from talking to the Turks that this safe haven zone inside Syria is a goer? Or are the Turks in a way all talk and no action, in the sense of – they’re obviously very concerned about Syria, rightly so, but they don’t really want to commit via NATO or any other groups?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, again, I have had some initial conversation with my counterpart in Turkey. And in those conversations he’s indicated that any broader conversation about activities inside of Syria would need to be conducted through NATO, as a – as a NATO member partner. And they haven’t done that yet, to my knowledge. So our conversations to this point have been about the possibility of assisting them with their humanitarian issues inside of Turkey.
Q: I’m Matthew Symonds, The Economist. If you were asked to create a sort of humanitarian zone, would you – would the consequence of that be that you would also have to create along with that a no-fly zone and a no-drive zone?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, let me – let me tell you a couple of things. You know, there is no template for any military activity on the face of the planet. I’ve been reading with some almost amusement the comparisons of Libya and Syria because they’re just vastly different issues.
So there’s no template. But I will say a humanitarian zone in general – you – if you chose to establish one, you would then assume the responsibility for protecting it. If you’ve – if you are tasked to protect it, then you have to look at those who might seek to attack it or to influence it. And that could take you – you know, depending on weapons systems, it could take you to a limited no-fly zone. It could take you to – it actually could take you to the point of having to interdict air and ballistic missile systems. And again, that’s not unique to Syria. I mean, you – if you’ve established a humanitarian zone, you obligate yourself to protect those who seek shelter in it.
Q: Jonathan Beale from BBC. You said you’ve been watching the conflict in Syria closely and assessing, you know, whether it is or is not proxy war or whatever. What is your military assessment of the sort of – the direction of this conflict? I mean, is this a conflict that either side can win soon, or inevitably is this something that is going to be bloody and long drawn out? And how does that feed into your advice or your thoughts about intervention and humanitarian zones?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, as you know, I’ve spent quite a bit of my – of the last 10 years, in any case, in that part of the world. And so when I give you my thoughts on this, I’m compiling those thoughts in the context of what our regional partners have said. And almost universally they are concerned that the worst-case scenario is the creation of a failed state in Syria. And so I think that their motivations certainly are to find a way to convince Assad to cease using violence as a way of controlling his people and accept some kind of political process. You know, and we all, I’m sure, saw his interview yesterday. I think there was a degree of arrogance in that interview that causes me concern that he would – that he won’t seek to resolve this thing through a political process.
And – but I do – I would say, to circle back, that it – the issue of outcomes, I think, is the important question. And as we decide or discuss about the application of any number of means, whether it’s humanitarian assistance all the way up through no-fly zones, I think we have to – we have to understand that the – we have to have a pretty clear view of what outcome we’re seeking to achieve.
Q: Mohammed Al-Shafey (Asharq al Awsat). Regarding the Syrian chemical weapons, how do you expect to secure these weapons if and when the regime falls? And in your view, the crisis – how long it take to finish? Few months, one year?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Let me start with the second part of your question on how long this crisis will finish. I honestly don’t know. I mean, I – and you know, I’ve read everything that’s – that could possibly be read. And I’ve visited all of our counterparts. And there’s a – there’s a wide disparity of thought about how long this conflict – how long this conflict could go on. There is consensus, though, that the longer it goes on, the worse it is for the Syrian people in the sense that you do approach that point where the institutions of Syria begin to falter. And then you have, again, the risk of a failed state. So you know, the – on that we have agreed.
In terms of the chemical and biological weapons, we’ve been very clear that we hold accountable the regime to secure that stockpile. We have, as I said, planning teams working with regional partners about what might happen in the event that the Assad regime does fall. By the way, if it doesn’t fall, it’s probably in prolonged, protracted internal insurgency. So this – again, but that is a situation which gets worse over time. So the planning effort is on how to ensure the stability and security of that – of that stockpile in whatever circumstance accrues. But as you know, it’s a significant stockpile spread over a large number of sites. So it’s a very – it’s a – it’s a difficult challenge.
Q: Tom Coghlan from The Times. You said earlier that it was your job to be positioned and prepared. So can we infer from that that you – you’re talking about positioning of military assets – so for instance, special forces, the use of drones perhaps, surveillance satellites? Are all of those assets already in place and being used in possible preparation for what actually you might need to take on –
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, I wouldn’t infer that those – in fact, I would absolutely suggest to you that those assets are not there for any contingency planning with regard to Syria. They’re there to – in – for the most part to support our effort in Afghanistan, secondarily to deter Iran from any activity as they’ve – you know, as you know, they’ve said publicly on occasion that – suggested their intent to close Straits of Hormuz, to interdict maritime resources. And so our assets in the – in that region are there as a deterrence and preparedness principally to support our effort in Afghanistan – not only our effort, by the way, but NATO’s effort – as well as to deter Iran from provocative actions.
Q: Richard Norton-Taylor, General, of the Guardian. Can I ask you about Afghanistan?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Sure.
Q: – come back to Syria. Do you see any – (inaudible) – when it comes to political or diplomatic rhetoric before the American presidential elections? I mean, you know, the military, you and others, have said you need political – certainly in Britain they say they – political solutions, political progress and diplomatic progress, and you can’t just rely on us military. So what do you say to that?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, it’s never been about either/or. I mean, the either/or dichotomy is not helpful, actually. And from the start, you know, we’ve – all of us, I think – and remember now, this isn’t about the United States or Great Britain in isolation. We’re part of a 28-nation coalition – well, I mean, it’s 44 nations on the ground – but we’re part of a coalition who share common objectives and who have been, over time, trying to balance the different instruments available, whether they’re economic, diplomatic or military instruments.
I mean, I’m just back from Afghanistan. And you know, to – and I’ve been there, as you might expect, many, many, many times. And I had a sense coming out of Afghanistan this time that the development of the Afghan national security forces was moving apace and maybe even a bit – maybe even slightly ahead of what we had expected, that we are on track to deliver our military objectives in accordance with the Lisbon timelines reaffirmed in Chicago in May, notwithstanding the recent uptick in green-on-blue events, which is – which I’m sure you’ll be interested in hearing my views on that.
And my views on that is that it is a – you know, for some time the Taliban has been – for a long time, years, the Taliban has been calling on the Afghan soldiers and policemen to rise up against the foreign presence. You’ve all have seen and heard that. I think that the reason that we see this uptick now is – probably I think we could – we could lay it on the door of two principal reasons. One is we grew the thing very rapidly. And in growing it from roughly 230,000 about a year and a half or two years ago to 350,000, I think probably we exposed some vulnerabilities in the vetting process. We’re rolling back on that to ensure that if that’s the case, we can take measures to protect it.
And secondly, you know, I do think, in the age of social media – you know, I’m looking around the table here, and I see all these BlackBerrys and smartphones, and I think that there has been – as the Taliban has felt its influence waning, I think that there’s been an increase in their effort to reach out, especially using social media, to these young mostly men and convince them that now is the time.
But you know, we’ve been through these periods where the enemy has chosen a particular tactic in the past. It – you know, the IED was an asymmetric attack against our presence. Insider attack is, as well, an asymmetric attack against our presence. But you know, if the objectives are sound – and I haven’t heard anybody challenge the objectives – then the path is clear. I mean, we have to develop the Afghan security forces in order to pass transition to them responsibly at the end of 2014, and we will.
Q: I’m going to pick up on that. Jon Beale, BBC. I mean, it is different though isn’t it? I mean, the – is – what’s going to be the effect on the – those countries supporting – (inaudible) – the operation – you know, these are essentially guys who are helping train the Afghans who are being killed. It must be worrying for you as to what effect that would have. I know we’ve got a deadline at the end of 2014 to end combat operations, but they’re still going to be there training these guys. What’s going to be the consequence of these attacks?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, I think there’s two questions there, actually. One is what’ll be the consequence between now and the end of ’14 – because beyond ’14, though we’re there training and advising with them, I think our exposure goes down significantly because they are in the lead across the country. And we haven’t decided as a – as an alliance yet on the size or – we haven’t decided on the size of our presence post-’14, but we have decided on the missions we will take on. Those were decided in Chicago. And as far as the training and advising role, that could be done at echelons, you know, where the – echelons meaning from kandak to brigade to corps to institutional level. We can scope that to account for the risk to our forces post-’15.
But between now and the end of ’14, I think we’ve got to acknowledge the seriousness. We’ve got to – we’ve got to work with, encourage and insist that our Afghan partners help us solve this problem. This is not one we can solve by ourselves. As you know, right now there’s – President Karzai doesn’t have a minister of defense or a minister of interior. But we’ve had his commitment that very soon he’ll appoint them. Their first order of work, it seems to me, needs to be to take this issue on with us.
So I think it’s a matter of, you know, taking a look at the objectives. If the objectives are sound – and again, I haven’t heard anybody challenge the objectives – then we have to – we have to develop the Afghan security forces. You can’t do that remotely, so that risk we will have to bear. But beyond ’14 I think there’s ways to scope the mission and lower our exposure.
Q: General, I’m very interested in what you have said about the nature of the green-on-blue attacks because it’s still, as far as I’m aware, the kind of official ISAF position that the majority of these attacks, about three-quarters of them, are as a result of local arguments, cultural issue flare-ups, that kind of thing, rather than a Taliban infiltration campaign. And I think that they’re attributing it about sort of 75 (percent) to the former, about 25 percent to the latter. You seem to be sort of turning that over the other way.
GEN. DEMPSEY: No, I don’t dispute what ISAF has said. I focused on that part of it which I think is probably different now, because as the Taliban sees its influence waning in – I – you know, it’s clear they would – they would seek to regain the initiative, if you will, and this might be one of their tools. So I focused on it.
But I do take ISAF’s analysis that it’s a very complex issue, some of which is cultural, some of which is the history of 30 years of conflict. And you know – you know, as John Allen has said rather eloquently, we go over there for six-month, nine-month or 12-month tours, and we’re home; they’re in it. You know, and they’re in it for the long haul. And the pressure of that I think we have to acknowledge. So I don’t in any way question the analysis. I just highlighted that portion of it which it seemed to me your question was aimed at.
Q: Ahmed Mehmed with BBC Arabic. Is there any possibility for the U.S. to go into war in Syria without a U.N. authorization, as it did with Iraq? Any possibility?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, you’re asking the wrong guy that question. I mean, do you see how I’m dressed? I mean, I – my job is to – is to provide military options, and those decisions are clearly national-level policy decisions.
Q: What’s your position on the Iranian initiative to end the crisis diplomatically, through diplomatic means? Do you have any concerns or, it might be, objections to Iran’s playing a central role in resolving the Syrian conflict through peaceful means?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, I – you know, I – they said the right thing. But I find it a bit ironic, given the – what we know in open source is their effort to create a Iranian and pro-regime militia inside of Iran. So I mean, that – you know, the language was obviously quite elevated. I’m not sure the reality bears it out.
Q: Just one more thing, the opposition states that – Mr. Obama, when he said that chemical weapons are a red line that shouldn’t be crossed, they say – the opposition figures – they say that it is giving a green light to Mr. Assad to do anything he wants – chemical weapons – but using chemical weapons.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, well that clearly wasn’t the intent. And nor was it – nor was it the – I’m not speaking for the president, but my understanding is that nor was he saying that the use of chemical weapons would automatically lead to force. What he said – you know, what he said was very clear, which is that those who choose to use weapons of mass destruction against the population will be held accountable. And – but clearly he wasn’t suggesting that anything up to that point would be acceptable.
Q: General Petraeus, before he switched jobs, spoke here in London quite openly about the role of American forces in talking to the Taliban, certainly, and helping to provide transport and helping make things happen. Can you update us from a military point of view on your role in that, given that, as you say, it’s not – it’s not either/or and you’ve got to do a bit of both?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah. Let me make a distinction between reintegration and reconciliation – reintegration being kind of mid-level, local leaders – Taliban leaders, who we would encourage to get off the battlefield. That reintegration issue – which generally is implemented by us because we’re the ones out there – that’s actually going quite well. And it’s going well with the support of President Karzai and the Afghanistan government.
Reconciliation, which is of course a broader topic, generally and in this case exclusively handled by our diplomatic corps, I’m not in a position to update you on that. I will say as a student of war, it’s pretty clear that all conflict generally ends with some level of – it always ends with some political outcome and it always ends with some degree of reconciliation. I think the key is – as you heard both General Petraeus and others say – is to separate the reconcilable from the irreconcilable.
Q: There’s some reports, General, that an Afghan delegation has been allowed by the ISAF to meet Mullah Baradar – or have been able to. Do you happen to know how those talks have gone and do you think that could be a possible way to – (cross talk) –
GEN. DEMPSEY: I can’t – I don’t – I don’t know how it went, because actually you’re revealing it – that it occurred. But I will say that we’ve encouraged Pakistan to have a role along with Afghanistan in seeking some kind of reconciliation.
Q: Can we go in a slightly different direction? Can we – can we – can we talk about defense cuts in the budget?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Sure.
Q: The figure is –
GEN. DEMPSEY: You’re taking from hard to figure out to harder to figure out. (Laughter.)
Q: We’re in the same situation here.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Sure.
Q: But does it mean the hard decisions are already been taken, like the proposal for a hundred thousand strong rapid deployment force, that that now seems to be put to one side, carrier program delays –
GEN. DEMPSEY: You’re talking about in the United States, yeah?
Q: Yeah, could you lead us through where we are –
GEN. DEMPSEY: Where you are?
Q: Where you are.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Oh, where I am. I was going to say, no, I can’t. I’ve got my own problems. (Laughter.)
Q: (Cross talk) – where we are.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah. No, yeah, look the day after I became the chairman was the budget – the day of the Budget Control Act and reductions of $487 billion over 10 years. So I – what we did, which I think is very similar to what Sir David Richards and your secretary of state for defense did, is instead of starting the budget process and saying, OK, whatever you thought you had, you now have – in our case – half a trillion dollars less, we actually asked for and received from Secretary Panetta some decision space to go back and look at our strategy.
And over the course of about three months, probably, we revised our strategy, which had been – had been derived from the Quadrennial Defense Review. So we took that as the baseline and we revised it. And we did so collaboratively, that is to say with the Department of Defense, the service chiefs, the combatant commanders. And I – and I’m actually quite proud of the outcome, meaning I think it was a genuine revision and a – and a far more pragmatic statement of national security objectives and issues than we had seen perhaps in the – in the recent future [sic – past].
So – and at that point then we mapped our budget to this revised strategy, and we made – we made some recommendations that were accepted. That document is now with the Congress of the United States and we don’t have it back yet. So I don’t know – I don’t know what of that recommendation will survive. It won’t all survive. We knew that going in. But whatever survives of it, then we’ll take and make the adjustments as we get it back.
My commitment to the nation is – I would articulate in a couple ways. We can get smaller. I mean, you know, the nation has an economic challenge. The Department of Defense and the military should be part of solving it. We don’t – we shouldn’t be the only ones solving it, I’ve also said that. But we – you know, we clearly have some responsibilities to help solve the economic situation.
Secondly, at the end of the day our job is to provide as many options as possible to our national leaders. So we have to build in a force that doesn’t become, you know, so narrowly capable that it’s not useful over a wide variety of challenges. The third thing is we’ve got to keep it in balance. I mean, we can’t take all of the money out of modernization or all of it out of readiness or all of out of manpower, because then we end up with a force that might be too big but incapable or too small and too capable. So we got to balance all that out.
And we’ve got some work to do yet. But we said going in, we’re going to do this over about the next four years. We’re not going to, you know, take one cricket – I don’t even – by the way how do you – how in the world do you keep score in cricket? I was watching it on television in a moment of – but anyway, we’re not going to take one at-bat and declare victory.
Q: Sir, can I quickly ask about the second proposition that you put on the table, where do you see the NATO allies though then? Are you looking at – particularly in a principal ally’s (inaudible) – U.K., Germany, France – as being less flexible to you to operate because we do simply concentrate intently on – (inaudible) – things like manpower.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Sure, yeah.
Q: Does this concern you as a NATO –
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, it’s a good question. And you know, one of the – one of the principles our strategy was in fact partnerships become more important. So in other words, we become, in ways, more interdependent. You know, we went through this period in the ’80s and ’90s where we were seeking – ‘interoperability’ was the catchphrase. I think the phrase of the future will be ‘interdependent’ because in the aggregate we’ll bring more capability than we will individually.
But I am – of course I’m concerned, watching, you know, our partners’ budgets in NATO. And it tends to be a topic of great conversation at our semi-annual meetings. We’ve got another one coming up in Romania and I’m sure that it’ll be – it’ll be a topic of conversation there. But you know, frankly, I think on the – I think on the basis of our relationships, built in particular in NATO over the last 60 years, I think we can figure it out.
Q: Will the ground forces – sorry, sorry – be increasingly – or increasingly less important as the British commanders seem to think, and more emphasis on the air and –
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well – yeah, well, I’m an Army guy. So you know, my answer to that would – my first instinct is to adopt my parochial stance and say, you know, no. But – (laughter) – I –
But then I’ll give you a more thoughtful answer. The – you know, I’ve been in the Army for 38 [years] – let me – let me give you a historical reference, just to show you how we’re not – this is not the first time we or you have faced this. In August of 1945, when the Japanese surrendered, that day MacArthur – or, not MacArthur – George Marshall wrote a memo – one page memo. When’s the last time anybody at the four-star level published a one-page anything? But he published a one-page memo to the force and said the following.
He said: We will in the next year have to shrink the size of our armed forces by 5 million – in one year. You know, we’re all – we’re all nervous about 15(,000) to 20,000 a year over the next five years – but one year, 5 million. Secondly, we’ve got to completely retool the defense industrial base from a completely wartime footing to something more useful to the economy. And third, he said, we got to figure out how we remain engaged in the Pacific.
I’m not making this up. This is 1945. So what does our new defense strategy say? The ground component is likely to get smaller because we’re shifting to the Pacific. The Pacific tends to be more dominated by maritime and aviation resources. And we’ve got to figure out a way to preserve and protect the defense industrial base. Here’s my message: If you want a new idea, read an old book.
Q: You talked about the half trillion (dollars) of cuts that were agreed. There’s another half trillion (dollars) of cuts that may be coming your way.
GEN. DEMPSEY: That’s why I’m over here. I’m trying to escape. (Laughter.)
Q: What’s the situation in terms of the contingency planning for that? Is that going on or is basically the approach, this is so crazy it can’t happen so therefore we’re not doing anything?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah. It’s some combination of all that, actually. You know, look, we’ve been told that – not to plan for sequestration because it would have – it has – it would have such a psychologically debilitating effect on the force and the defense industrial base. And we are – we’re counting on the Congress of the United States to find a way to detrigger it.
On the other hand, the Congress of the United States has sent a letter to Secretary Panetta and said we really need to understand what the impact will be. So when I say it’s some combination, I can tell you with complete candor that we are not planning for sequestration. We actually – we really don’t have to, to tell you the truth, because the first year of it is automatic. And given –
Q: Fifty billion (dollars) in the first year.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah. And it is – it is against all of the existing accounts.
GEN. DEMPSEY: So – with one exception, the president has the authority and took it to exempt manpower. So all the other accounts – the other manpower accounts, the other – the modernization accounts, the training and readiness accounts, operational accounts, infrastructure – all those accounts will be affected at about the 10th percentile. So we really don’t have to plan for that. On the other hand, we are looking at excursions of – against what additional cuts would do to our existing strategy – that we have to do. But that work is ongoing and we’re not nearly done with it.
Q: But where that 10 percent across the board could have very perverse effects is with growth of the new programs which are coming up to speed, which are basically suddenly – suddenly basically have to be frozen at a level before they gain their momentum. And those are very important programs to you – some of those.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Indeed. That’s why – yeah. That’s why the secretary of defense has used words like, you know, disastrous to describe sequestration. But you know, we are working – he is encouraging the Congress to – you know, in the time remaining, to find some way to detrigger it.
Q: Can I ask you about Iran? This is an area where you’ve been involved, both in the military speaking but also very much in the diplomacy. On the one hand, we’ve seen a toughening of American rhetoric towards Iran over recent months. On the other, you, yourself, and many other American leaders have spoken out strongly against an Israeli attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Why is it that you can’t simply – or have you explicitly told the Israelis that any kind of an attack now would be a very, very bad thing for them and a very bad thing for you?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, first of all, I don’t do rhetoric. I mean, you know – again, that’s the – my job is options, readiness, preparedness. And to why we haven’t said explicitly to Israel, don’t do it, they’re a sovereign nation. I mean, we’re not in the business of telling other nations – other than those with whom we’re in conflict – but we’re not in the business of telling other nations how to behave. I think that the conversation military-to-military has been fundamentally about intelligence sharing and about military capabilities. But again, you’re probably asking that question to the wrong guy.
Q: Could I – General, this is Sam Kiley from Sky News – just on the military capabilities there’s quite an interesting debate ongoing within Israel about – you know, you should know what they’re talking about – as to whether or not it is even a viable military proposition for Israel to go it alone. From an academic military point of view, I wonder if you could offer us your assessment on that.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah, actually I have been asked exactly that question and responded to it. And important for me to say again, I don’t know their plans. You know, we are – we are a close ally, but we don’t share all of our planning for any particular contingency. So I don’t know their plan. Secondly, though I know generally their capability, I would never suggest that I know all of their capability. So when I’m asked, could they do it? I tend to look at it through the narrow lens of what I know. And I – and I think that – so that’s part of the – part of the answer to your question.
The other part is, you know, to say that you would – you would force Iran to cease its nuclear program entirely implies that once you destroy it, they won’t just work to rebuild it. And that gets at intent. And you – you know, there’s no possible way – there’s no intelligence so exquisite that you can understand the intent of a nation.
(Cross talk) –
GEN. DEMPSEY: So – but if I – but just to finish it – so as a result of that I have said that they can clearly delay, but probably not destroy, Iran’s nuclear program. But again, it’s because of the combination of things I don’t know. And also I don’t know Iran’s intent in this regard.
Q: If there are a strike – Israeli strike against Iran, do you reckon they are going to let you in advance? That’s number one. Number two, the U.S. has sent a carrier into regional water recently. Is the military build-up related to tensions in Iran?
GEN. DEMPSEY: So to the first part – what was your first question again?
Q: If Israelis strike against Iran, begins –
GEN. DEMPSEY: Oh, will I get warning?
GEN. DEMPSEY: I don’t know. We – I haven’t asked the question.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yes, really.
Q: I would have thought that would have been a fairly basic question – (cross talk) –
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, remember what I said. I don’t want to be – yeah, no, no, no. I don’t want to be accused of trying to influence – nor do I want – nor do I want to be complicit if they choose to do it. Really. So I haven’t asked the question.
Q: Israeli sovereignty –
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, wait, but I owe him the other answer on the issue of our carrier presence.
GEN. DEMPSEY: We have one inside the Gulf, one outside generally. They are there for a combination of reasons. They’re there in support of our operations in Afghanistan. They are there to deter Iran from any interdiction of the maritime lines of communication, sure.
Q: But the answer to Sam’s question on Israeli capabilities, is your answer – forgive if I’m being obtuse – you know, that your –
GEN. DEMPSEY: I’ll forgive you if you forgive me. (Laughter.)
Q: That your prognosis is that they can destroy Iranian capabilities –
GEN. DEMPSEY: No.
Q: Probably not destroy.
Q: No, no, delay – sorry, that was my meaning – delay Iranian capabilities and not destroy them?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Probably.
GEN. DEMPSEY: That’s the obtuse part.
Q: When – you know, I know this is a little bit – you – maybe it’ll go into specifics, but is your view that they can actually hit every single of the suspected sites the Iranians have and nuclear material deemed necessary to be hit?
GEN. DEMPSEY: I don’t know. I’m not – I am not – I’ve not been made privy to their plans. So I don’t know.
Q: Can we turn the question around? I mean, you’re not – you haven’t – you’re not seeking advanced warning; you haven’t told them explicitly that they shouldn’t do it. Look at it another way, how concerned are you that if they were to do it the responses from the Iranians are going to be directed more against the United States and its interests than necessarily they will be directly against Israel? Because Iran’s means of striking at Israel are probably more limited than their ability to upset you.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Let me turn the answer around. (Laughter.) And let me turn it around by saying that the conversations I have had with my military counterparts is that the diplomatic – we’ve got a – we’ve got an international coalition formed around this issue, which I think is important to preserve. Secondly – and that could be – that could be undone if an attack were to occur, in my view, prematurely.
Secondly, the economic sanctions are having an effect. And therefore, the – again, this is – this is my conversations – the path we’re on has a reasonable opportunity to achieve the results we seek and that therefore I don’t think that the zone of immunity that Israel feels itself bound by, I don’t think it’s as significant. And that – you know, I don’t talk to them about the risk to us. I talk to them about the risk to regional stability.
Q: And what would the risk be, especially with what’s going on in Syria with the uprising? What would be the risk to regional stability?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, I haven’t – you know, I haven’t – I’m sure that – I’m sure that Israel has connected those two dots, if you will. I – but of course, Lebanese Hezbollah is an Iranian surrogate. And so any attack on Iran could reverberate back through Lebanese Hezbollah.
Q: If Israel attacks Iran, for instance, and you say it is a sovereign state, what will you do – what will the United States do? And second question: What if Assad used chemical weapons in Syria, what will you do?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, those are both hypotheticals, and I’d be boxing in my – you know, my leaders if I were to suggest to you – I haven’t prepared – I have not prepared – remember, I told you my job is options – I have not prepared a series of options against those two hypotheticals. I am postured to provide options, but have not yet prepared them.
Q: But don’t you have contingency planning, sir?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Do I have contingency planning for Syria’s use of chemical weapons?
Q: Syria and Israel.
GEN. DEMPSEY: No.
Q: Can I ask you about your mil-to-mil relationship with Pakistan, which was something that your predecessor put a great deal of time and effort into? It’s clearly gone through a very difficult passage. What can you and what should you be doing to improve it?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, the “should” part is, you know, I think very clear. We – Pakistan is an important partner in its own right, but also in the eventual outcome of Afghanistan, and in – as a key South Asian nation. So I – you know, I am committed to improving it.
General Kayani and I are Leavenworth – that is to say, Commander and General Staff College classmates. I’ve been in touch with him through this – we had this challenging – really challenging period between November and July, and I spoke with him about monthly. He met with General Mattis, he met with General Allen. I’m looking forward to a meeting with him in the near future. We haven’t locked in the dates. So that’s the “should” part of it.
And then you ask what could we do? I mean, I think that – I think there’s a – there’s clear reason to collaborate on – they have – they have a significant threat to their viability as a state, you know, emanating out of the northwest frontier province and in some cases migrating into Afghanistan, although we believe we’ve now worked collaboratively with them to begin squeezing at them. But the point is, you know, they have – they consider their neighbor to the east to be a clear existential threat. And I think that in some ways, our conversation with them becomes more rational when we also – when they begin to see the threat of terrorism and violent extremism as at least as significant and even potentially more significant a threat to them. And then we can work collaboratively on that. That’s kind of the current issue.
Longer term, our mil-to-mil is actually quite strong. We – we’ve got hundreds of Pakistani officers in our school system. We’ve got some in their school system. We can even do more. There was a period when we were actually training with them inside of Pakistan to a greater extent than we are now. I would certainly aspire to kind of reset the relationship in that way so we could help them build their capabilities.
Q: General, can I just ask about Hezbollah again?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Yeah.
Q: How do you assess the impact of what’s happening in Syria on their capabilities, and do you see any repositioning from Hezbollah as – is the threat level changing for Israel?
GEN. DEMPSEY: There is no indication to my knowledge that the threat to Israel from Lebanese Hezbollah is elevated because of Syria, although clearly Lebanese Hezbollah is active in Syria. But I haven’t seen any indication, nor have I heard anything from my Israeli counterpart, that would suggest that they consider the threat to be elevated.
Q: And the reverse: Is the threat diminished in any sense because of the interruption that – (cross talk) –
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, I – yeah, I don’t – I don’t think it’s diminished. The – this – the most – as you know, the most significant threat to Israel from Lebanese Hezbollah is rockets and missiles. I don’t think Lebanese Hezbollah poses a – let’s call it a ground force threat to Israel, and I don’t – so as Lebanese Hezbollah has become more involved, as we assess it, in, for example, training the regime’s militias, that would be manpower-diverted, but it wouldn’t be – divert the threat of rockets and missiles.
Q: Can I ask or do you have any comment on the book on the killing of – or the plans on the killing of Osama bin Laden and what the Pentagon is going to do to take action against the author?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, I don’t know – we’ve got it, and it’s being reviewed, and, I mean, it’s – I think it should be clear to everyone that we take with great seriousness the disclosure of any sources and methods. But I don’t know that the review has exposed any intelligence or sources and methods, leaks, but it’s being reviewed even as we sit here.
Q: You haven’t read it yourself?
GEN. DEMPSEY: No, I have not.
Q: We’ve been at war for more than a decade now. Can you give us some – it used to be about al-Qaida. It seems to have become about a hell of a lot more than that. But what’s your assessment, I suppose, of that central AQ question? I mean, you’ve got Afghanistan; you’ve got – (inaudible) – remote in Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, I talk in terms of threats to the nation, and I’ve benchmarked it at 2020. And I think it’s safe to say that the threat of violent extremist organizations, terrorists, will persist through that period of time. So it will remain among the top priorities, the top security priorities, for all of – for both of our countries.
And I say that because even as this all began, I think – I think it was clear to most of us that this was a generational issue, you know. Once there – not to say that the entire generation of young Arabs or whoever they happen to be were radicalized, but there were enough of them that had been – that had been exposed to the message and chose to listen to it that we had a generational problem on our hands, which is to say, you know, in general terms, about 20 years.
So we’ve got the near-term challenge of dealing with those who have already decided that their way of life and ours are antithetical, and they choose to use violent means to address that. And then you’ve got the larger problem of trying to convince the next generation that it doesn’t have to be that way.
I’m sorry, I – yeah.
Q: Yeah. Somewhat related, but I’ve just – I thought of noting here a speech you gave in London in November, if you may remember. You came and spoke in the Policy Exchange. You were very seized in the sense, strategically, we do have to think of the possible Black Swan consequences of a serious fiscal-economic collapse.
In the calculations that you’re making there, when you get together with the chiefs, when you talk to your deep intelligence advisers, how worried are you about some cataclysmic breakdown in some parts of Europe of this – we’ve seen it in parts of Greece; we’ve seen it in parts of the Balkans. Are you worried that there could be a serious breakdown of civic disorder which would – which would cause America to be preoccupied in the way that it projects both hard power and soft power?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, let me – let me answer it this way: I want to make sure that I won’t be guilty of a failure of imagination. You know, so someone might say, now, that’s just unimaginable. That could never happen. And I’m always tempted to say, well, you know – (chuckles) – I hope you’re right. But I don’t want to be guilty of a failure of imagination.
So in that context, I do think that if we do have a – the kind of cataclysmic event you’re talking about, I do think it will be based in some economic issue as opposed to in some political issue. And therefore I’ve spent a great deal of time as chairman reaching out to those who studied trends. And I – and back in November, the reason, of course, I was seized with it, as you were, was because the eurozone was – in many circles, was predicted to be on the verge of collapse. And there were some who suggested that that would open up old animosities, you know, and I was interested in whether that – whether that was a common thought or whether it was a fleeting thought, but I didn’t want to be guilty of a failure of imagination.
By the way, I’m also studying a great deal about China’s economic model, you know. It’s about a – it’s about 25-year-old – it’s about a 25-year-old model right now. And most economists will tell you that the shelf life of an economic model is about 25 years. And so I’m really keen to watch and see how they make adjustments and adapt their model, because it will have, as everything – all economic change has security implications. And so I guess I would just suggest to you I’m not predicting any of that. But I don’t want to be guilty of a failure of imagination either.
Q: Just on the – on the sort of – (inaudible) – take every sort of – (inaudible) – unintended consequences and failure to imagine consequences, al-Qaida-associated groups are now in charge of a swath of North Africa, somewhat larger than they probably ever dreamt of getting hold of in Afghanistan, because – (inaudible) – there was to shut down the – (inaudible) – space. And that’s still ongoing in Afghanistan. What efforts are being planned to do so in North Africa, which is in many of these cases are one border hop to Europe?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Sure. Well, first thing I’d – the first thing is what we’re doing right now is trying to understand all that, because, you know, there’s – you take Mali’s example. There’s four groups in Mali. Two of them claim some affiliation or kinship with al-Qaida.
But, you know, there are some groups who want to be part of al-Qaida because they really like the brand, you know, but they’re really not part of al-Qaida, but they like the brand. You know, it’d be like a – you know, it’d be like a Manchester United group over here who really likes to be like Manchester United, but they really can’t play football very well, but they like the brand. So there’s some of that going on. But there are some of those groups who do have the ideological fervor, the resources and the expertise that could be the kind of problem you’re talking to. We got to make sure we separate those groups out so we’re not seeing this problem as some monolith or monolithic problem, but rather seeing it with some precision.
And then secondly, in Africa in particular, I do think that we really need to reach out to regional partners in a way that probably we haven’t had to before, back to your point about partners. So you got AMISOM doing great work, by the way, in Somalia. I mean, really. And I think ECOWAS is seized of the Mali issue. They haven’t decided what to do yet, but they’re seized with it. And I think that what – that our role would be to find ways to partner with them so that these regional issues stay regional, and they’re solved by regional partners.
Q: Isn’t that rather –
MODERATOR: One more question, gents.
Q: Can I just follow that up? That sounds to me like -
GEN. DEMPSEY: OK, so one follow up and then yours. Then I’m done. OK.
Q: The – full disclosure on Kenya, I was born there – I’ve heard a thousand times this African solution is having problems. And you mentioned AMISOM in Somalia – happens to be a country I know intimately. I’m not going to bore you forever about that, but it is arguable what it’s going to take to be well.
But the – I’m fascinated by the notion that on the doorstep of Europe, it is possible and desirable to pack the issue away to impoverished, inefficient, poorly-paid West African armies. But we’re going to – we can fly halfway around the world and bomb weapon-producing provinces in southern Afghanistan. Why – I mean, is that simply because we can’t – we’re overstretched to deal with it in North Africa rather than anything actually being more seized of the threat that it poses?
GEN. DEMPSEY: Well, I think that we’re just beginning to learn about the shifting of al-Qaida’s interests into North Africa. So, I mean, you might – you might suggest, because you’re intimately familiar with the region, that this has been going on for five years. I might say three, and somebody else might say, holy mackerel, there’s – you know, al-Qaida’s in Mali?
So, you know, there is this – you know, you have a depth of knowledge that I would suggest to you that our general populations don’t have. I don’t know whether it’s part, you know, war weariness or fatigue, or whether – you know, or whether it seems to be far enough away that we shouldn’t care about it.
What I would say is that this is an – this is an issue that we collaboratively ought to try to understand before we try to solve it, because again, I think you’ve got – there are some parts of this issue out there that generally require our keen interest and probably support, and there’s others out there that, in my view, we wouldn’t – we shouldn’t have any interest in whatsoever. But I think we got to separate those out.
OK, so I’ll answer your question.
Q: In – recently, Mullah Omar issued a communique saying we’ve been (inaudible) of Afghanistan army. How can – is any measures being taken to stop Iran source of killings of instructors or ISAF soldiers? And how can we be sure these new Afghan soldier are genuine, not along with Taliban?
GEN. DEMPSEY: So on the measures we’re taking, I mean, I – this – I could lay these out, but they’ve been laid out in other – in other fora. But we’re doing some things on our side: training, counterintelligence. The Afghans are doing some of that as well. They’re changing the way they vet – recruit and vet. They’re looking – you know, for example, historically and culturally, if an Afghan soldier went – we call it AWOL or unauthorized absence, AWOL, absent without leave, and – you know, we would say, well, he must be home tending the farm. When he comes back, we’ll just bring him back in. And some of them have been – in the interim, have been radicalized.
And so, you know, the Afghans themselves have to – have to take action to understand what’s going on inside of their formation. We can’t do much with that, and we’re – we’ve been very direct with our – the senior Afghan partners, that they have to be as serious about this as we are.
And then as far as how do we get an Afghan soldier or policeman to feel as though they are responsible for their country and we’re not, I mean, that’s what we’ve been trying to do for the – for the last 10 years. I will say, you know, without being blindly optimistic, I have been to their training bases, I’ve watched the way they are including in their training and education a notion of nationhood and values that, you know – will it be enough? I hope so, but I think we’re – we are encouraging them in the right direction.
And I will say this as a final comment about the green on blue. The attack gets all of the – all the notoriety, and I’m sure – you know, for understandable reasons, the attacker gets all the notoriety. But in many cases, maybe even half to two-thirds of the cases, the soldier that reacts to the attack is an Afghan soldier, to try to protect us. And then in another third of the cases, they don’t, they sit idly by, but the point is that they’re losing a lot of their forces to this problem as well, and they’ve got to help us solve it.
COL LAPAN: Thank you all.
GEN. DEMPSEY: Thank you.