HONOLULU, Hawaii –
The nation’s military instrument of power works best when used in conjunction with all aspects of American might, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here yesterday.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey told the members of the International Forum at the Pacific Club here that the military instrument is powerful, but also nuanced.
The chairman’s speech brought to mind the expression “To the man whose only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” Dempsey said the United States shouldn’t be afraid to use other tools, but that there will be times when the nation will need to drive a nail, and the military provides that option.
The general spoke about the greater implications of the global security environment and how it requires the United States to broadly apply the military instrument of power.
The U.S. military is the most powerful, versatile and sophisticated in history, the chairman said. “It is also one of the most flexible and adaptable tools that our nation has at its disposal and available to our elected leaders,” he added. “It has to be to address the complex world in which we live.”
Mere military presence can shape behavior, the general noted, pointing out that a waiting American military presence can bolster diplomatic initiatives, provide support to partners and allies and deter potential adversaries. The U.S. military can share intelligence, sustain reconnaissance and provide security, he said, and American service members can and do bring relief to disaster areas and provide humanitarian supplies across continents.
The military can do a lot, and it sometimes is the default option for leaders, especially if something needs to be done quickly, Dempsey said.
The chairman said his job is to give civilian elected leaders military options. “I must articulate how our military instrument can be used to provide options and to achieve outcomes that support and protect our nation’s interests,” he explained. “More specifically, I must be clear about what effects our military can and cannot achieve. I must represent how fast we can do it, for how long, at what risk and with what opportunity costs.”
And this can’t be done in a vacuum, he added. “I must also consider how our military action or inaction contributes to or detracts from another important instrument of our national power, and that is America’s enormous power of emulation,” he said.
Dempsey touched on the geographic differences he must consider. In the Asia-Pacific region, he noted, there is a rising tide of nationalism. The region also poised to be the economic engine of the 21st century. “Traditional power-on-power relations will shape the region and ultimately decide if it will achieve its potential,” the chairman said.
Conventional military power will be important in the Asia-Pacific region, Dempsey said. In contrast, he told the audience, the tide of nationalism is receding in the Middle East and North Africa at a remarkable rate. “We see the norms of statehood being superseded by centuries-old religious, ethnic and tribal tensions,” he said. “As the region wobbles along a fault time that extends from Beirut to Damascus to Baghdad, state power continues to ebb.”
Using conventional military power in that environment rarely yields expected results, the chairman noted. “Finding ways to deal with this paradox is one of the many challenges before us,” he said.
Continuing the nautical metaphor, the chairman said Europe appears to be at slack tide, with a desire for greater unity on one hand and an instinct for national self-interest on the other. Europe faces transnational extremist threats along its southern flank, the general said, and Russia is flexing its might and stoking ethnic impulses along Eastern Europe’s periphery.
“Europe is approaching an inflection point where decisions to follow either the instinct for collective interests or individual interests could transform that region into a very dangerous operational theater,” Dempsey said.
Terrorism, extremist groups and crime syndicates threaten stability, he said. Added to this is cyber, which Dempsey called “the fastest growing, least understood and potentially the most perilous factor that connects us all.”
“We must understand how this affects all our instruments of power,” he said.
Given all this, the chairman told the audience, the military exists to provide options, and those options fall into two categories: insurance and assurance.
The military is America’s insurance policy, the nation’s top military officer said. “Our most fundamental task is to protect the homeland and our citizens,” he added. “We keep the nation immune from coercion.”
The U.S. military must be prepared to take direct combat action at any time, in any place, against any adversary, Dempsey said. “Our adversaries rightly fear our dominance in the air, on the ground and from the sea,” he added. “When all our options remain on the table, our ability to change the course of events is indisputably superior to any other nation.”
The U.S. military also assures allies, he said, as the presence of U.S. service members provides reassurance to allies and deters enemies.
It’s in this second category -- assurance -- where most of the challenges reside today, the general said. The United States does not face an existential threat as it did during the Cold War, he added, and now allies are seeking assurances.
In the last month, Dempsey has visited Afghanistan, NATO headquarters in Belgium, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom. In each place, he told the audience, there is a growing demand for U.S. assurances against an increasing number of threats. “There is an increasing appetite for our leadership to help maintain the international order,” he said.
“Frankly, our ability to provide this assurance is at risk, due to a growing deficit between supply and demand,” the chairman added. “Each action comes with greater opportunity costs -- that is the trade-off of some other action somewhere else due to constrained resources. Each choice requires us to assess and accept increasing risks with eyes wide open. This supply/demand imbalance demands that we bring our military instrument of power back into balance with itself.”
The U.S. military will get smaller, Dempsey said, but it is important it become more agile, more lethal and balanced.
“We want to become more predictable to allies, more confusing to adversaries,” he said.