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CJCS Gen. Dempsey Signals Strategy Change; Cites Sequestration, Decline Of State Power, Technology Spread

Posted by Colin Clark on

UPDATED: It’s Official. Hagel Orders Strategy Review Done By May 31. Will Underpin QDR

WASHINGTON: A meeting last Wednesday between the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and his five colleagues from the services and the National Guard, followed by a Thursday meeting between CJCS Gen. Martin Dempsey and the new defense secretary, Chuck Hagel. They discussed our national military strategy.

The signs are all there to indicate an important — if not major — shift in our strategy in light of sequestration. And now we have these comments from Dempsey today at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

As I stand here, I don’t yet know how much our defense strategy will change, but I predict it will. We’ll need to relook our assumptions. We’ll need to adjust our ambitions to match our abilities. That means doing less, but not doing it less well.

UPDATE Less than two hours after Dempsey spoke at CSIS, DoD Press Secretary George Little issued this statement:

“Last week, Secretary Hagel directed senior leaders to conduct a review to examine the choices that underlie the Department of Defense’s strategy, force posture, investments, and institutional management – including all past assumptions, systems, and practices. This Strategic Choices and Management Review will define the major decisions that must be made in the decade ahead to preserve and adapt our defense strategy, our force, and our institutions under a range of future budgetary scenarios,” Little said.

The new strategy will “frame the Secretary’s guidance for the Fiscal Year 2015 budget and will ultimately be the foundation for the Quadrennial Defense Review due to Congress in February 2014.”

Deputy Secretary Ash Carter, Dempsey and the Joint Chiefs will conduct the review, which is to be completed by May 31.

In his speech, Demspey noted he and the four service chiefs “all served during two previous draw downs” so they have some experience. But this drawdown is different.

“This will be the first with an All-Volunteer Force. There’s no mass demobilization. We didn’t just modernize – our equipment is older. And, there’s no peace dividend. [Eds. Note: Some on Hill from both sides need to take note of this.] We are going to have to find opportunity in the midst of crisis,” he said, noting how important Congress is to making this a rational and predictable event, especially in the face of sequestration, the mindless mandatory budget cuts passed by Congress and approved by President Obama.

Dempsey made clear what he needs from the Hill, aside from a defense appropriations bill and relief of some sort from sequestration.

“If we can get the reforms to pay and compensation we do need … and if we can get rid of the weapons and infrastructure we don’t need … then, we can begin to restore the versatility of the Joint Force at an affordable and sustainable cost,” he said. Can the Hill gather the gumption to change how much troops get paid and what medical benefits they receive? How about base closures? Cutting a weapons program is never easy, though I think Bob Gates created a pretty decent model for Hagel and Dempsey to follow.

Complicating all of this, Dempsey said is that “power is shifting below and beyond the state.” Relations are shifting “government and the governed. New social contracts are being negotiated in the streets. We are witnessing the birth of citizenship is many parts of the Middle East. At the same time, advanced technologies are proliferating down and out. Middleweight militaries now have ballistic missiles. Cyber has reached a point where bits and bytes can be as destructive as bullets and bombs. Our homeland is not the sanctuary it once was. Unlike that famous story of the fisherman in Arabian Nights, we will not be putting this genie back in the bottle,” Dempsey said at CSIS today. But it’s clear from the meetings he’s held in the last week that change is coming to our present U.S. strategy, crafted slightly more than one year ago.

One thing to bear in mind as all this is discussed. While Dempsey’s predecessor, Mike Mullen, said that the deficit posed the “most significant threat” to our national security, the current chairman’s language is quite a bit softer. “Deficit reduction is a national security imperative,” he said today, repeating earlier statements that recast the budget as important, but not top of the list.

At the end of his prepared remarks, perhaps realizing just how negative much of his speech may have been, Dempsey offered the audience the “assurance” that he and the Joint Chiefs and the rest of the Pentagon leadership “will lead you through this.” Let’s hope he gets the help he needs from Capitol Hill. Just as he was leaving, he said it again, making a pointed reference to our allies, whom he knows were listening: “We will lead our way through this.”

His best line of the day: Dempsey wants to send Dennis Rodman to Iran to fix things in the region.

What do you think?