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Gen. Dempsey's Remarks and Q&A at the National Institute for Defense Studies

By As Delivered by General Martin E. Dempsey, Tokyo, Japan
Well good afternoon. I’d like to thank the President and Commandant for the opportunity to have a conversation with you today. And I’d like to congratulate you on being selected to be members of the [National Institute for Defense Studies]. The institute has been a source of thoughtful dialogue and credible counsel since 1952, the year I was born, by the way. And we’ll try to uphold that tradition today particularly when I get a chance to hear what’s on your mind.

Before I do, I want to take a few moments to assure to remove any doubt about the strength and sustainability of America’s military, of our alliance, and our Asia-Pacific strategy.

You’re probably aware that some say that America is returning to the region. The truth is, we never left. In fact, our presence dates back well over 200 years. This month, in 1806, the American explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were heading home after establishing an over-land route to the Pacific in our country. Quite literally, they put us on a path to you. Trans-Pacific trade soon followed, the first Japanese commercial ship, the Fujumaru, docked in San Francisco in 1872. And a local newspaper reported that the ship is a pioneer of a trade which may yet astonish the world. It turned out to be prophetic.

1872 just happens to be the same year that a veteran of our Civil War, Horace Wilson, introduced baseball to Japan. I know that—or you should know—that baseball is a great passion of mine, and I suspect it’s a passion of many of you. Now granted, it’s easy to be passionate about baseball when my team is the New York Yankees, although I do understand that the Yomiyuri Giants are off to a good start this season.

Baseball fans know that a team’s standing a few weeks—only a few weeks after opening day is not a good indicator of post-season success. That’s because baseball is a long game, played over a long season. It involves strategy, it requires both talent and teamwork, and it values hard work and fair play. We will need all of those qualities and more to help us deal with today’s challenges. Challenges that come at us fast full of curves, change-ups and even a shuuto or two.

They also come at us in the context of rising risk and reduced resources. Our security environment remains intensely competitive and uncertain. Power and technology have been let loose. Threats can manifest themselves in a backpack or on a laptop. Advanced weapons are now in the hands of irresponsible regimes. At the same time, the global economic recession has put pressure on national budgets including on defense budgets.

There are some exceptions. In Asia, for example, defense spending across the region rose nearly five per cent last year. But by and large, defense dollars are down throughout the world, and that’s no exception in America. Together, these trends have led many, including some of you perhaps in this institute, to question whether the United States can remain a global leader and a reliable partner. I assure you that we can and I know that we must. Let me tell you why.

First, you can have confidence in the strength and sustainability of America’s military. Now true, we are facing the steepest, but not the deepest drawdown since the Korean War. We’re also facing readiness shortfalls this year that we’ll need to recover from next year. But, and I have said this before, we’re only one deal away from regaining some budget certainty. And just as in baseball, a great hit can wipe out a bad error.

This is also not our first drawdown. I have served during three similar periods in my past. Each time we made some mistakes, and each time, we emerged stronger as a military and as a nation.

We’re also managing this transition from a position of strength. Our capability is ours without rival, and we’re on the leading edge on most every area, including cyber. We have a global presence, including hundreds of ships on the high seas. We can project power at will, witness our recent B-2 mission to South Korea intended to assure our allies and deter North Korea.

Like the Japanese Self Defense Forces, our decisive advantage is our people. You can’t tell them that they’re not strong after 12 years, our men and women in uniform have proven their resilience, their courage, and demonstrated their mettle. They’re smart, dynamic leaders who give us all confidence in our future.

Second, you can also have confidence in our alliances. This is my fourth trip to Asia as Chairman and I can report our alliances are strong and getting stronger. We can’t—or we cannot—and do not underestimate their value. As we know from baseball, talent wins games, but teamwork wins championships.

As you may know, the U.S. has more alliances in this region than anywhere else in the world. Our deep partnership with Japan as well as with the Republic of Korea, with Australia, the Philippines, and Thailand are the foundation of our Asia-Pacific strategy. They underpin a growing network of increasingly important trilateral and multilateral relationships and forums. When you ally with the United States, you ally with the region.

Allies provide, what I call, the 3 C’s: capacity, capability, and karaoke. (Laughter.) No, actually, not karaoke. The last one should be credibility. Although you’re also quite good, I’ve heard, as a class at karaoke. I’m a bit of a singer myself, as you may know and perhaps you’ve seen me on YouTube.


Capacity, capability, and credibility are the combining forces, the aikido [the way of combining forces] of our relationship. It’s what gives us the agility to respond and to everything from a natural disaster to a dangerous dictator. The U.S.- Japanese relationship exemplifies aikido. We routinely train and we deploy together. We built in interoperability in F-16s today and F-35s tomorrow. And we’re committed to upholding every article of our mutual defense treaty.

During this visit to Japan, which is my third as Chairman, General Iwasaki and I affirmed then reaffirmed our alliance. Among the many issues we discussed was the renewed imperative for cooperation between the United States, Japan, and South Korea. As I discussed with General Jung in Seoul this weekend, we may be entering a prolonged period of provocation from Pyongyang. Given the missile threat and Kim Jong-Un’s reckless rhetoric, we have no choice but to improve our defenses and accelerate our cooperation.

I raised this issue as well in Beijing, where I was warmly welcomed by my counterpart General Fang and other senior Chinese leaders. I carried a message of assurance there as well. They should now understand that we can build a relationship with them without compromising on the trust we have with our enduring allies. Cooperation, not confrontation, is our strategy of choice for China, and quite frankly, for the region.

Which brings me to the question of our Asia-Pacific strategy or the so-called rebalancing. I can understand why some may wonder if this strategy is still feasible, not just due to less money but also due to the unrelenting pull of the Middle East. I can assure you that our rebalancing is still on. It’s a strategic imperative born of this region’s emergence as a socio-economic center of gravity in the world. All the trend lines are headed this way so watch out.

Likewise, we’re taking a comprehensive approach. We’re prioritizing trade and commerce, diplomacy and development. We see our presence and partnerships as reinforcing the relationship between prosperity and security. You simply can’t have one without the other. And you can’t do security part-time. Admittedly, our presence has been episodic somewhat over the last decade. Our absence can be destabilizing. In contrast, our routine presence is stabilizing. Therefore, you can expect us to pay more attention and to engage more often in this region. And not just in Northeast Asia, but in Southeast Asia and across the region. Our engagement will be as much, if not more, about people than things. True, some of our best-quality equipment will come out this way from time to time. Just last week, for example, our first littoral combat ship, the USS Freedom, arrived in Singapore for its first regional deployment. But more importantly, our best people will be here all the time. That said, we can and will move capability around the world quickly, if needed. We rapidly upgraded our missile defenses in recent weeks. Our cooperative response to the North Korean threat is a clear demonstration of our will, the strength of our alliance, and our commitment to the region—a region on the rise and ripe with opportunity.

A great American poet, Walt Whitman once said, “I see great things in baseball. It will repair our losses and be a blessing to us.” Likewise, the security and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region will be a blessing to us all. We’re in the opening innings of our rebalance and we look forward to a long and productive season. Thank you, and I look forward to your questions.

Question & Answer (Questions not verbatim; loosely translated from Japanese to English)

Q: The Japan Self Defense Forces (JSDF) have recently been making an effort to become a Joint Force in response to the current security environment in East Asia. Looking to the US as a model, do you have any advice or suggestions on how the SDF can succeed in becoming a more joint force?

A: Well, the first way I would answer your question about how to become more fully joint is to make clear that I personally value the difference that exists in the individual services. In other words, I find that it’s very healthy to have separate services so that when you bring them together, they bring a diversity of thinking because we do—we come to situations from different backgrounds, different domains, the ground, the land domain is far different than the maritime domain, and far different, yet again, from the aerial domain, space. So I think, first of all, I would suggest that the key to being a better joint force is to be the best possible service you could be so when you come together, you come with a level of competence that gives your leaders many, many options.

There’s nothing though, when you come together like a real world situation that makes you realize the benefit of jointness. And I would suggest to you, you have that ongoing right now, in your response to the North Korean provocation, I was visiting your air defense headquarters just yesterday and was very impressed by the jointness and the integration of your aerial reconnaissance, your sea platforms that are both sensors and shooters, your patriot battalions that are land-based, all integrated with radars and other capabilities that allow you to operate as a joint force to address that threat. And so I would reiterate the best way to become joint is to actually operate in a joint environment and come to it with the skills necessary in your particular service to contribute to that joint operation.

A lot of what makes a joint operation function well is actually the communications, command and control architecture. If you can get that right, then the services can readily operate together, even in interdependent ways at some level. But it’s a great question, thank you for asking that.

Q: The US and Japan cooperation in the maritime domain has been excellent. Looking ahead and to the importance of Southeast Asia and India, what advice do you have on the direction we should be going to secure the maritime domain?

A: Well, what I’m about to say is probably not unique to the maritime domain because increasingly, our capabilities will cause us to interact with friends and potential adversaries alike in every domain from—especially now in the maritime and air domains, but also in cyber, for example.

And so if you ask what advice I have, I personally think that in the security environment in which we find ourselves, notably where you find yourselves with territorial issues and issues of freedom of navigation for example. I think there’s two steps that have to be taken. One is the long term and that is the resolution of the issues and challenges over time. And especially allowing [them] to be resolved diplomatically and politically.

So the military’s job in that situation, the longer term solution to challenges, is one of being a stabilizing influence. Being prepared, but being as well efficient and calm. In the near-term though, until the issues are resolved, I believe that we should all seek to have a common understanding of how we will behave when we interact, whether it’s an air interdiction or a confrontation at sea. So as I’ve been traveling around the region, some kind of code or behavior for these interactions, which will occur until we solve the longer term issues. I think of a common appreciation for standards of behavior, a code of conduct. It’s probably a very important aspect for military to military engagement and then for those who we call our friends and allies, we should certainly seek to become even more interoperable over time.

One example, I’ve got—we’ve got—a tremendous level of interoperability on the issue of air defense here at Yokota Air Base with your air defense command, our U.S. Forces Japan, and we have an exquisite common operating picture and we have a great deal of capability that is working togeether on both sides. I also have that same relationship on the Korean peninsula between U.S. Forces Korea and the Republic of Korea Forces. I have the same exquisite common picture of air defenses. We have many of the same capabilities working there

But candidly, as I stand here today, with the North Korea threat very real, those two pictures are not combined. And I think that since it’s my personal military judgment that we’re in a period of prolonged provocation by North Korea, not cyclical, I think it’ll be heightened for some time given the leadership of North Korea and their intent. I think we should see this as an opportunity to become interoperable, in particular in those domains where we see the threat evolving. So I hope that answers your question, thank you for it.

Q: About the “fiscal cliff.” What effect will current US economic difficulties have on US military operations?

A: Yeah, the fiscal cliff is the question I most frequently, actually. And it’s a concern not just to you, our close allies, it’s also a question that I get from those who may not be too sorry to see a fiscal cliff in our future. But more importantly, it’s a question I get from our young men and women who are serving and who want to continue to believe that we will allow them to serve with the full capability and allow them to develop, to be the best in the world at what they do because that’s why they come into the military. They come in to be the best.

So we do have an immediate challenge that will make this year, this fiscal year, so between now and the end of September, we will have to do some things that I would describe as abnormal. We would have to dial back some of our training exercises, we may have to ask some of our civilian counterparts to not come to work for a number of days.

We have to find the money to achieve the limits of the Budget Control Act. We have to find the money and we only have six months to find it, so that’s what makes this year so difficult. But as we get through this year, we will, I believe in the summertime, have a much clearer understanding of the level of resources our nation will agree to put toward defense.

I personally believe they will be adequate resources. They won’t be at the level we’ve enjoyed over the last ten years, but the last ten years have been a bit of a historic aberration when we were involved in two conflicts, the resources have been almost unconstrained and resources are never unconstrained for long.

So we’re going through a fiscal correction. As we go through the fiscal correction, I think we have an opportunity to overcome some bad habits. I think that—one of my beliefs is that when you have all the money you need, you don’t have to think as hard about what you’re trying to accomplish. And when resources become more limited, you have to think.

Now you’re sitting here in the [National Institute for Defense Studies] where I hope we’re encouraging thinking.

There’s two ways to encourage thinking.

One is to put young men and women into an education environment, and that’s a good way, and the other way is to take away some of the budget, and that’s the hard way. And that’s what’s happening, but I have confidence that the American people and our elected leaders will achieve this fiscal correction which the country needs to achieve and still find it possible to find the resources we need to maintain our global leadership. So as I stand here today, I’m confident we’ll be able to do that.

Q: What are some concrete steps that US will be taking as part of its strategy to rebalance to the Asia Pacific? Can you explain to me the direction you’re taking?

A: I can. I think the direction is one where we will become more collaborative in terms of identifying our common interests. I think we will seek to harbor more closely, collaborate, and become interoperable. This air defense—this response to North Korean air defense missile threats is a great example. So we’ve got a number of our Aegis-capable, maritime afloat, you have capabilities afloat, you have radars, we have radars, you have ISR [intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance], we have ISR, you have interceptors, we have interceptors, and sensors. And in the past, we’ve considered those to be—we’d consider those to be additive.

I think that one of the things we’re looking to do with our closest partners and allies now is to achieve a level of interoperability and integration that will not make them additive but allow us to have the necessary capabilities and the capacity to sustain it. So, for example, if this provocation by North Korea extends for a long period of time and if you tried to do it yourself or we tried to do it ourselves, it’ll be extraordinarily hard to sustain that capability over time. But if we work together and if we share the burden, then I think we’ll be able to maintain a level of vigilance and readiness that in past times we may not have been able to sustain. So that’s point number one, partners will become more important.

Secondly, and as you know, I just came from China and I think the future—I think everyone would agree that a peaceful and prosperous China is in the region’s best interest, it’s also in the world’s interest. They’re an enormous economic engine and I think that the part of our—based on some recent contacts, establishing a relationship, a new, different relationship with China is important for all of us.

I made it clear on my trip that we’re actually interested and enthusiastic about that. But that relationship we establish must be established in the context of the other relationships that the United States enjoys in the region. It cannot, should not, will not be a choice we have to make. It will be finding a way to have a new relationship in the context of our important alliances, for example with you. So I think that’s another aspect of it.

The third aspect of it is the level of interest we place on issues in this region. For ten years, we’ve been doing important work in the Middle East but also in a way we’ve been so focused on it that we haven’t paid much attention. [Our] intellectual bandwidth has been consumed in Middle East issues. Now the Middle East is still a rather uncomfortable, uneasy, and unpredictable place for us as it is for that region and for the world. And we certainly can’t just uproot ourselves and leave it.

But we can certainly take some of our intellectual bandwidth and spend more time thinking about issues and interacting with you about issues in the Asia Pacific. We can engage more. It doesn’t have to be with giant ships or large formations of soldiers or wings of aircrafts, some of it will be that.

But it can also be with smaller groups and individuals and just more engagement so that we can understand—one of our favorite scientists, Albert Einstein, said if I only had one hour to save the world, I would spend 55 minutes understanding the problem and five minutes solving it. And I would suggest to you that we should be in the business of understanding together, understanding all the trends I mentioned, demographic, climate trends, security trends, economic trends, and thinking together about what we need to do today but more important, what does the world, what does the region want to give to our children in 2020? Because that’s where you fit in.

I’ve probably got another two years or so to serve my country in uniform so as I tell my war college students, you better be cheering for me to do well because when I leave, I’m going to hand them the baton in this relay race and it will now be their turn to run the laps. And I think that as I look to the future around 2020, I think we’ve got to have some common vision as to what this region should look like in 2020.

If we fail to have that vision, then we’ll be guilty of operating one year at a time and by the time we get to 2020, we’ll have seven one-year campaigns instead of a seven year campaign to get us into the future. So our strategy is about changing the level of interest and engagement and interaction and common interest in this part of the world. How am I doing on time? I have one more question.

Q: Shale gas discoveries have put the US on track to energy independence within the foreseeable future. What effect with this have on the US's view of energy security?

A: Well energy security, energy security, food security, water security are probably the great issues of our time. You’ve probably heard said that America could very well become energy independent in four, five years, at most estimates.

But I’d be careful that wouldn’t lead you to believe that once we become energy independent, we will no longer be concerned with energy security elsewhere. People say for example that we went to the Middle East exclusively for oil. Well, I’ve been in the Middle East on and off for about the past 20 years really. I went to the Middle East in 1991 and I last came home in 2007. And I can assure that I didn’t go to the Middle East for oil. I went to the Middle East because our nation established that we had national interests and that a stable gulf region was a benefit not just for the United States, but for the world.

And even were we to achieve some level of energy independence, I think you could count on the United States to feel an obligation to be a stabilizing influence globally. And as I said energy security, water and oil have been the other issues that you’ve mentioned will be the driving factors for the future. Not that territorial issues might not be prominent, but they’re tied to some of the other issues that we’ve discussed here which are energy and water and food.

So there’s a lot of potential in energy out there, there’s—I mean we could talk and in this environment, we could talk about quantum computing and if someone were to break out with quantum computing, what would that do to the world’s economy, what would that do to security and some of those things will happen while you’re still serving. Directed energy weapons, electromagnetic pulse, all things that were science fiction ten years ago are now coming close and as they get closer, they’ll have security implications and what your country counts on you to do, my country counts on me to do. It’s [that we must] understand how those evolutions of technology and in some cases revolutions of technology will affect security and it’s an exciting time to serve.

Let me end by congratulating you for being here, for being selected to come here. I tell our students at our national defense universities that I appreciate their service, I appreciate the support of their families, and if you ever wanted to serve your country when it made a difference, when your personal service made a difference for your country then you’re serving at the right time because if we all don’t work hard to make a difference, we won’t produce a world we want to produce for our children and grandchildren. And you can count on us to be close partners with you in that regard. So thank you very much for your interest and your service.