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Dempsey: U.S. Forces Must Adapt to Deal With Near-Peer Competitors

By Jim Garamone
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
COPENHAGEN — For the first time since the end of the Soviet Union, the United States is facing a near-peer threat, and that is unsettling to many in the services, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today.

Following meetings with Danish Chief of Defense Army Gen. Peter Bartram and his staff, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey spoke at the Danish Army Academy about the changes he has seen in his 41 years in uniform.

The chairman said the first 15 years of his Army career were dominated by confronting the security threat posed by the Soviet Union. His first assignment was as a tanker with the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment on the border with the Warsaw Pact.

“We had one threat with which we were confronted and with which we were dealing,” he said. “That threat went away with the fall of the Soviet Union and we had a 10-year period where we were doing small peacekeeping missions and contingencies. But there was nothing that really threatened the homeland during those years.”

Then 9-11 happened and the United States military found itself fighting a counterinsurgency/counterterrorism war from 2001 to 2011.

In 2012, the Russian Federation decided “to annex Crimea, to change the borders of Europe, to stir up ethnic tensions and to threaten the credibility of NATO,” Dempsey said. Added to this, he said, al-Qaida morphed into the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

“It’s the first time in 41 years we’ve had a legitimate risk emanating from state actors, and we clearly have a persistent threat emanating from sub-state and non-state actors like ,” the chairman said. “That makes for a very volatile mix and makes it difficult for us to balance our resources to deal with these multiple threats simultaneously.”

Eighty percent of those serving in the U.S. military haven’t lived in a world where United States military power wasn’t preeminent and dominant, he said. “As some of these other nations begin to develop capabilities, it’s very unsettling for them,” Dempsey said.

“It’s unsettling for me, too, because my job is to never allow the nation to be coerced, which is about as good a description as I can give it. Constraints -- left unaddressed -- can become coercive,” the chairman said. “So the 20 percent of us who grew up in a world where the United States had peers and near-peer competitors understand how to live in that world, understand how to use the military instrument in that world, understand the meaning of deterrence, understand the meaning of maneuver and how to set a theater.”

That 20 percent needs to ensure the rest of the force understands how to prevail in that environment, he said.

“The rest of the force is a little unsettled right now because they’ve never been confronted with constraints,” Dempsey said. “We have to lead our way through that period and reeducate ourselves and rekindle some lost attributes and we can do that.”

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)