FORT McNAIR, D.C., Aug. 23, 2016 —
National security leaders
must be able to confront today’s threats, and they must develop and maintain
the personnel, strategies and equipment needed for an ever more uncertain
world, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the new class at the
National Defense University today.
Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford
also shared with the members of the class of 2017 his thoughts on the strategic
landscape, and the implications to the joint force.
Dunford agrees with
assessments that the world is in the most uncertain time since the end of World
War II. Still, the U.S. military “is recruiting and retaining quality people,”
the chairman said.
“Across the board,” he added,
“they are focused. They are committed. They are high quality.”
There are signs of wear in
some military specialties and Dunford cited a pilot shortage and the near
constant deployments of special operators and other small, but crucial
specialties, specifically. But, he noted the closer to a combat environment,
the higher the morale.
“In the environment we are in
today, with the complexity and volatility and variety of challenges we have,
how do we assess risk?” he asked. “How do we assess the capabilities or capacities
that must exist in the joint force? A part of this is also how to prepare for
The threat baseline, he said,
is four-plus-one: Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and violent extremism. Four
are nation states that can cause varying degrees of concern. The fifth threat,
terrorism, can flare up in any part of the world.
“We use those four state
actors and one nonstate actor … to get an appreciation for where is the force
relative to where it needs to be,” Dunford said.
He addressed each of the
threats starting with the campaign against the core of the Islamic State of
Iraq and the Levant in Iraq and Syria. The military campaign against core ISIL is
going well, he said. Iraqi security forces have proved in Fallujah and Ramadi
that they can take on ISIL and win. They have set the stage for the battle
against the terror group in Mosul — Iraq’s second-largest city and the largest
city anywhere under ISIL control.
Fighting ISIL in Iraq
Now, he said, “it is no
longer the military campaign that is going to be the determining factor in the
success in Iraq. The interactions of governments in Iraq, the role of Shia
militia forces, the relationship of the Peshmerga in the north with the Shia
and government — all those things have to be sorted out.”
Meanwhile, the United States
is supporting 14,000 Arab fighters and upwards of 30,000 Kurds during the
counter-ISIL campaign in Syria, said Dunford, who noted there’s been much ground
retaken there from ISIL.
ISIL in Libya
ISIL is not limited to Iraq
and Syria and the United States is helping government forces in Libya strike at
ISIL in Sirte, Dunford said. The U.S. needs to eliminate the group from the
region for ISIL in Libya could be the headquarters for the group throughout
Africa and for attacks into Europe, he said.
Dunford said the counter-ISIL
campaign in Libya is making progress. “The trajectory that ISIL was on in Libya
in January and February was concerning to me, but it is less so today,” the
ISIL is also in Afghanistan,
West Africa and is trying to gain adherents in Southeast Asia. The United
States will confront the group wherever it goes, Dunford said.
The chairman discussed the
capabilities that Russia and China are developing. “When I look at Russia, they
are modernizing their nuclear enterprise, they are modernizing their submarine
force, they are modernizing their conventional capabilities,” he said. All this
is being done, he said, despite significant demographic and economic challenges
The U.S. competitive
advantage in many of these areas is getting smaller, the chairman said.
Dunford said he’s concerned
about Russia’s behavior, including its annexation of Crimea, its actions in
Eastern Ukraine, it threats to Georgia and Moldova, and its aid to Syria.
Russia is engaging in these
actions in an attempt, Dunford said, to “undermine the most successful alliance
in history — the NATO alliance.”
He added: “From a U.S.
perspective, I would tell you I believe our center of gravity as a nation,
through a security lens, is the network of alliances. Russia is trying to erode
Russia and China are separately
concentrating on anti-access, area denial strategies, but for similar ends, the
The Question of China
China is a bit more opaque,
Dunford said. China has invested significant sums in building up its military,
including its nuclear enterprise. Its actions in the South China Sea are cause
for concern to the United States, the chairman said.
Meanwhile, Iran is trying to
spread its influence across the Middle East, he said, and must be carefully
monitored. And, the chairman said, North Korea is still building nuclear
capabilities and intercontinental missiles and is the most unpredictable nation
on the list.
All these risk assessments
have implications for the joint force. The first, Dunford said, is the United
States must have balanced capabilities. “In other words, we have to have
capabilities that range from the nuclear down to conventional and special
operations capabilities,” he said. “We as a nation with the challenges out
there cannot afford not to have a robust capability.”
Another implication is the
United States has to do better at integrating all aspects of the government
into strategy and integrating allies and partners into plans, the chairman
Finally, the chairman
believes any disagreement has the potential to grow to a transregional,
multi-domain conflict. He cited the example of North Korea. In the 1990s, it
was possible that if the armistice broke down, the conflict could be limited to
the Korean Peninsula. With ballistic missiles, the cyber threat and
conventional attacks, any conflict with North Korea would soon escalate to
include the rest of U.S. Pacific Command, U.S. Northern Command, U.S. Strategic
Command and U.S. Cyber Command.
This calls for a much greater
degree of strategic integration in the future, Dunford said. The
decision-making processes need to be streamlined, and leaders need a common
operational picture. All this requires a strategic framework to build the plans
for global operations.