USA — Mullen Stresses Precision, Innovation to Graduates

FORT LESLEY J. MCNAIR, Wash­ing­ton, D.C. — The chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff today told grad­u­ates of the Nation­al Defense Uni­ver­si­ty here that their careers will be dom­i­nat­ed by their under­stand­ing of the pre­cise appli­ca­tion of mil­i­tary force and nation­al pow­er.

NDU’s Nation­al War Col­lege and the Indus­tri­al Col­lege of the Armed Forces grad­u­at­ed 603 peo­ple from the armed ser­vices, civil­ian agen­cies and many for­eign coun­tries. U.S. Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary Ray LaHood and King Abdul­lah of Jor­dan were among the guests.

The abil­i­ty to project mil­i­tary pow­er will con­tin­ue to be a require­ment in the future and the U.S. and its allies must be ready and able to apply that pow­er across the full-spec­trum of oper­a­tions, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said dur­ing his com­mence­ment address.

“From deter­rence right on up to and includ­ing post-com­bat peace oper­a­tions, we have with­in our respec­tive ser­vices – and to our respec­tive nations – a duty and a respon­si­bil­i­ty to pro­vide our lead­ers options,” he said. “But one option we don’t have any more – if, indeed, we ever did – is to be indis­crim­i­nate.”

U.S. mil­i­tary force ought to be applied in a pre­cise and prin­ci­pled man­ner, the chair­man said. Since the Per­sian Gulf War, Amer­i­cans have got­ten used to watch­ing videos of very pre­cise aer­i­al strikes, and the tech­nol­o­gy has improved over time. Pre­ci­sion has come to dom­i­nate con­ven­tion­al war­fare, the admi­ral said, and it clear­ly is key to fight­ing a coun­terin­sur­gency cam­paign as well.

“In this case, pre­ci­sion is less about weapons accu­ra­cy than it is about intent,” Mullen said. “You need a light touch here, not a heavy hand. You need to be less intru­sive and more insight­ful; less in con­trol and more in sup­port.”

This does not mean the mil­i­tary is becom­ing less lethal. “When you fight, you do so in as lethal and dis­ci­plined a fash­ion as pos­si­ble,” Mullen said. “We can­not shrink from our duty to kill a ruth­less ene­my who him­self mur­ders and maims inno­cent peo­ple as a strat­e­gy.”

But even those sit­u­a­tions demand deft­ness and pre­ci­sion because each errant bomb, each inno­cent per­son killed, works against a coun­terin­sur­gency strat­e­gy. “That is why the thresh­old for the use of indi­rect fire in Afghanistan is so high,” the chair­man said.

That’s why Army Gen. Stan­ley A. McChrys­tal, com­man­der of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, issued more restric­tive rules for night raids. “And it’s why he has coali­tion troops oper­at­ing in sup­port of Afghan sol­diers and not the oth­er way around,” Mullen said.

Offi­cers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan know the impor­tance of restraint, Mullen said. “We have learned this, some might argue, too slow­ly,” the admi­ral said. “We can­not kill our way to vic­to­ry. We must build our way there, by build­ing trust and con­fi­dence and good gov­er­nance.”

Today’s mil­i­tary com­man­ders also must be flex­i­ble in an age of irreg­u­lar war­fare, Mullen said, not­ing they may find them­selves deal­ing with peo­ple who were shoot­ing at them the day before.

“Such is the nature of the diverse threat we face – a com­plex, adap­tive net­work of rad­i­cal and vio­lent ide­olo­gies that bind togeth­er dis­parate indi­vid­u­als, move­ments, orga­ni­za­tions and even states,” he said. “Not all extrem­ist groups share the same goals. Not all extrem­ists them­selves share the same ide­ol­o­gy. We must dif­fer­en­ti­ate and dis­tin­guish between them, divide them and turn them one against the oth­er.”

Pre­cise does not mean per­fect, the chair­man said, and being prin­ci­pled does not mean being uncom­pro­mis­ing. “What I am say­ing is that our use of force needs to be dis­crim­i­nate and pro­por­tion­al and in keep­ing with the ideals of the cit­i­zens and the coun­try we rep­re­sent,” he said. “Our endur­ing nation­al inter­ests are bound­ed by our val­ues, and our val­ues are reflect­ed in our con­duct. What we do must ever be in keep­ing with who we are.”

Mullen empha­sized that the lines divid­ing con­ven­tion­al and irreg­u­lar war­fare are becom­ing blurred.

“Future con­flict will like­ly be even more com­plex and our array of engage­ment will con­tin­ue to evolve,” he said. “I believe our invest­ments should be allo­cat­ed in a man­ner that rec­og­nizes this com­plex­i­ty and focus­es on capa­bil­i­ties that allow max­i­mum flex­i­bil­i­ty. It’s not about doing more with less. It’s about doing the right things with the right capa­bil­i­ties.”

Main­tain­ing the edge in peo­ple, train­ing and tech­nol­o­gy will be more impor­tant than quan­ti­ty of sys­tems and long-term weapons sys­tems, the chair­man said.

The future “favors respon­si­bil­i­ty and inno­va­tion in lead­ers, orga­ni­za­tion, tech­nol­o­gy – and in think­ing,” Mullen said. “It requires us not just to apply kinet­ic force pre­cise­ly – and when called for, deci­sive­ly – but to rec­og­nize the respon­si­bil­i­ty we have to use that force appro­pri­ate­ly.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)