If the United States develops the capabilities needed to confront Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and violent extremism, the military will be well set for the future, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford reminded the crowd that while overuse and uncertain budgets have caused some erosion in U.S. military strength, America’s fighting forces are still the best in the world and capable of both defending the homeland and fulfilling the commitments to its allies.
“I have absolute confidence that the joint force today has a competitive advantage over any potential adversary,” he said.
Forecasting, Maintaining Capabilities
There are more than 275,000 American service members deployed forward around the world. Dunford said the variety of missions they are performing is a window into the complexity of the global situation today.
It also “reflects the essential role of the United States in meeting those challenges,” he said. “As I’ve traveled around the world and met with senior political and military leaders, one thing is abundantly clear to me: The United States is widely considered to be an indispensable nation and the guarantor of the international order that has brought relative peace to our nation, to our allies and extraordinary economic prosperity since World War II.”
But the United States “won’t get credit today, for what we did yesterday,” Dunford said, adding that the U.S. military needs to be remain fully capable of confronting Russia, China, North Korea and Iran -- and maintain the forces needed to defeat violent extremism.
“I’m not saying that conflict with any of these four states is inevitable,” Dunford said. But it does provide the basis for planning and capability development.
That range of capabilities requires changes in the joint force, the general said.
“As a nation that thinks and acts globally, I don’t think we have a choice between a force that can fight the Islamic State and one that can deter and defeat a state actor with a full range of nuclear and conventional capabilities,” he said. “Nor do we have the luxury of choosing between our current operational requirements, addressing real readiness challenges … and the capabilities we will need to meet tomorrow’s challenges.”
It isn’t just more troops or more platforms. The military has to develop new technologies or new ways to use current technologies, he said.
Avoiding the Erosion of Advantage
The United States must do better at integrating all elements of national power to advance interests on a day-to-day basis. The chairman said a conventional conflict with a state actor is less likely in the near term, "but the absence of conventional conflict should not be confused with peace."
The United States operates under the assumption that a country is at peace or at war, but other countries don’t operate that way, Dunford said. Russia, China, North Korea and Iran are countries that mix traditional military activity and force posture with economic, political, information and cyber capabilities to advance their interests.
“They do that in a way that avoids the penalty of escalation,” he said. “Russia is particularly adept in waging what I would describe as adversarial competition that has a military dimension, but is short of traditional armed conflict.”
Russia’s goal is to affect U.S. alliances and America’s ability to project power. China does the same thing, the chairman explained, adding that advancing U.S. interests in the 21st century is going to require that a full understanding of that dynamic and the development of effective responses.
“If we fail to make the right investment now and we fail to make the adaptations necessary to be competitive, our advantage is going to continue to erode -- as will our ability to lead,” Dunford said. Without those investments and adaptations, he said he doesn't believe the country will be able to meet the enduring commitment that we all have … to the young men and women in uniform that we will never send them into a fair fight.”
In answer to a question posed by former California Governor Pete Wilson, the chairman said there needs to be a consensus in the country on national security. “We need a consensus on what we stand for, and then we can have a conversation about what we need to do that,” he said. “Many times we’re involved in a discussion on how to do something before we agree on what it is we need to do.”