WASHINGTON, May 25, 2011 — A reduced military presence in the Middle East, economic limits, and an increased need for partnerships lie ahead for the U.S. military, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today.
Speaking here at the inaugural Lee Hamilton Series on Civil Discourse and Democracy at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen discussed continuities, changes and choices coming for the U.S. military over the long term.
“Barring significant and unforeseen changes, the sheer size of our deployment of U.S. forces to the broader Middle East will decrease over time,” the chairman said.
Concluding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will have far-reaching implications “for how we think about ourselves as a military, how we fight wars in the future and how our junior leaders, who have experienced the horrors of war, grow into senior leaders and commanders,” he said.
It also will lay the foundation for how the United States postures itself globally, Mullen said.
At home, the United States and its military will continue wrestling with “a new austerity due to the current economic environment and growing demands for debt servicing and repayment,” the chairman said, noting that the defense budget will be flat “at best” over the next few years.
“I have been very honest about my concerns over the national debt,” he said. “And I really do believe it is the greatest threat to our national security and will drive … tough decisions about what kind of military we build.”
In the coming years, clear thinking, priority setting and disciplined decision making will be a tough challenge for the Pentagon, the White House and Congress, as well as defining “a clear separation between what must be done and what can afford to go undone.”
Mullen said he agrees with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates that a smaller, more capable force is preferable to a larger, less capable one. But a smaller force will have its limitations.
“[Gates] was right yesterday when he warned us to be honest with ourselves about recognizing that ‘a smaller military, no matter how superb, will be able to go fewer places and do fewer things,’ ” the chairman said.
“We are grappling with these very issues in the comprehensive review he has us doing,” he added.
A more balanced and versatile force would mean a balance between capability and capacity, Mullen said, “and I suspect we will need to trade some amount of force structure, service redundancy and conventional overmatch in order to retain the right amount of flexibility.”
“We owe it to the President and to the American people to be able to give them options for the use of force,” he added.
Pragmatism among U.S. leaders regarding the limitations of military force is increasingly apparent and important, Mullen added.
Also in the future, partnering — which Mullen said has been a hallmark for the U.S. military for decades — will move to a new level entirely and should include engagement with international and nongovernmental organizations.
“Military power may be the first, best tool of the state, but it should never be the only one,” he said.
Such force should be used alongside all the instruments of national power, in concert, to the degree possible, with international partners and nongovernmental agencies, the chairman said.
Several years ago, Mullen told the audience, he hosted several leaders of several nongovernmental organizations at his quarters.
“One of them said, ‘I’ve had members of my organization in 14,000 villages in Afghanistan since 1973,’ ” Mullen said. “Now, do you think they know a little bit about what’s going on in Afghanistan? And do you think I could use some of that information?”
The U.S. military doesn’t have a very natural forum to exchange that information “because of who we are,” he said.
“We’ve got to figure out how to bridge that to tackle some of these problems,” Mullen said. “There are public-private opportunities here to make a difference that we’re not even touching in terms of resources that are available, whether it be educational or financial or agricultural.
“In the long run, to me, that’s the solution set,” he said.
Building and keeping the trust of other states will become even more paramount to reducing our own risk,” the chairman said.
The United States is no longer in a position to “go it alone,” Mullen added. “And I don’t think, quite frankly, that any country can do that.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)