Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen gave the inaugural lecture for the Wilson Center’s Lee Hamilton Lecture Series on Civil Defense and Democracy on May 25. In his wide-ranging address, Adm. Mullen presented some of his observations and comments on the current and future challenges to the United States. Adm. Mullen predicts that as we move into the 21st century we will see a reduction of U.S. military presence in the Middle East, a “diffusion of power” based on shifting economic power and demographic trends, and the rise of “a certain pragmatism about the limitations of military force.” As the federal deficit will require challenging trade offs particularly for the military, Adm. Mullen stressed the importance of prioritization in order to responsibly maintain an effective and flexible military force that, along with smart decisions in diplomacy and development, will contribute to national security.
At the end of his speech, Adm. Mullen fielded an array of questions from the audience spanning topics such as the disclosure of intelligence capabilities and the Navy SEALs, the Arab Spring, the war in Afghanistan, the domestic budget discussion, and the role of diplomacy, development and defense in Africa. Take a look, and, as always, we welcome your comments!
ADMIRAL MICHAEL MULLEN: Well, thank you, Jane. And I know that your leadership here, which is – I know you took this position very recently, and I know you well enough to know how conscientious you were in that choice to both leave a profession you cared about deeply and to come to a place to make such a difference in the future – and you and to Lee for the difference that you’ve made –
And Lee, Jane talked about making a difference here, and you certainly have. But I would argue you’ve made a big difference in our country and in the world. And so it is very special for me to be here to be able to make a few comments at the inaugural Lee Hamilton lecture series – I think I have – I think I have that right.
And to the themes, the recurring themes that we have in common, both Jane and I, I’d also add that we were very focused on veterans’ issues. In fact, one of the first veterans hospitals I visited was the veterans hospital in Jane’s district in the West Valley, which is another one of the valleys of Southern California.
And I know I get introduced frequently as having grown up in Hollywood, but I also just – (chuckles) – oftentimes, people think I’m still there. Some of – (laughter) – some of my staff thinks I still am in Disneyland on occasion. But I try to point out that I left when I was 17, and came – and it is one of these wonderful things in our country – because I was a basketball player and I grew up under the aegis of John Wooden and UCLA, but was never going to play at that level, the Naval Academy recruited me to play basketball. And you know where the Naval Academy basketball team historically has been.
But it created an opportunity that I, as a young 17-year-old, I sort of instinctively grabbed, not having a clue – because I didn’t – I don’t come from a military family – not having a clue about what was in front of me. And it’s been, I guess, almost 47 years later that I’m still fortunate to be able to wear the uniform I wear, and to serve in an extraordinary time as so many of you do as well.
As I indicated, it’s a great pleasure to be associated with this lecture series. And I know Lee has to leave, and I just want to say thanks, again, for your leadership and for your dedication to policies for our country, and, quite frankly, global policies that really do make a difference.
And it’s very fitting that we honor in this series someone who was so well-known for always being civil no matter how tough the debate, and for being a leader dedicated to safeguarding our democracy like very few others.
And during your 34 years of dedicated service to your district in Indiana, if there was a need for sober, measured and thoughtful leadership, our nation always called on you, and whether it was the Hart-Rudman Commission to the 9/11 Commission, to the Iraq Study Group, you’ve always been among the first to step forward to tackle the tough questions. And we need to continue to do that and follow your example.
In the spirit of civil discourse, what I’d like to do this day – just share a few observations for a few minutes, and then hope we can engage through questions and answers. It’s really through that kind of give and take that I learn, and hopefully I can at least give you some idea of how I see things at this particular point in time.
For more than four decades here, you’ve been taking the long view. And at a time I think we are not inclined to take the long view much anymore, that we need to look beyond the urgent. You’ve been fusing the world of ideas and the world of policy. And in fact, this center has established – was established by Congress to honor the legacy of President Wilson in 1968, which was the very year I commissioned as an officer in the Navy.
And looking around, I’m sorry to say, this place has aged a lot better than I have. But one of the things I believe about the Wilson Center, and the military profession have in common, is the incredible reservoir of intellectual capital resonant in our people. Just as important, this capital, this talent can’t just be about depth; it must be about diversity of thought as well. In fact, I’ve long believed that regardless of the enterprise you lead, you arrive at the best decision by assembling a diversity of opinions and voices around the table.
And as chairman, I’m surrounded by some of the very talented people representing many perspectives and many voices. And boy, do I hear from a lot of voices in this job. And I’m not talking about the imaginary kinds – (laughter). Yes, yes. (Chuckles.) Two of those voices belong to Captain Wayne Porter and Colonel “Puck” Mykleby, who with the help of the Wilson Center – and Wayne is over here to my right – recently published an article on a new national strategic narrative.
And I know a number of you are familiar with the narrative. But for those who have not had a chance to read it, I recommend you take an opportunity to do so. I believe it will get you thinking and talking about our future, as it has so many others.
I also think it has some interesting things to say about how we are seeing a shift away from 20th-century concepts of power and control to that of promoting strength and influence. Frankly, in this small, flatter and faster world, I think any nation that believes it can in a very clinical way control events does so at their own peril.
Whether we consider the successful transition of responsibilities in Iraq, our ongoing efforts in Afghanistan or the uncertainty of the Arab Spring, there will be many actors and variables out there that you may be able to influence. But increasingly seeking to control them is impractical and undesirable.
The narrative also happens to share my long-held belief that we must remain engaged internationally if we wish to pursue the world that our children, our grandchildren deserve. And as challenging and as engaging – as challenging as engaging others with different views may be, the alternative of abandoning these partners in these regions is far worse. We’ve gone down that road before, and it is one that leads to isolation and resentment, ultimately making our nation less secure as we deceive ourselves into believing that ignoring these challenges will somehow make them go away.
The narrative also underscores the interrelationship between prosperity and security to which I fully subscribe. I have commented many times before that to achieve the security we wish for future generations, 15-year-olds across the most troubled regions of the world must believe they have a better option than merely picking up an AK-47 or putting on a suicide vest. Until that happens, until we restore a sense of hope in these challenged regions, we will see again and again that security without prosperity is ultimately unsustainable.
So while I leave it for others to debate the broader merits of the document, I am pleased with the dialogue it has inspired and hope it encourages others to think, write and discuss these broader issues so vital to our future.
With that future in mind, what I’d like to do is discuss the continuities, changes and choices that are coming over the long term. As I’ve shared with you already in the close fight that often consumes policymakers and policy-doers, it can be difficult to take the longer view – sometimes actually impossible. Yet while we live in dynamic and uncertain times, there are still many elements of the international landscape that remain familiar.
First, sovereign states will remain the cornerstone for interaction. Continued globalization means that states will continue to become more interdependent on each other, particularly economically. That is not to say that nongovernmental or nonstate actors are or will become irrelevant. Quite the contrary, I believe that as the world becomes increasingly interdependent, such nontraditional relationships will grow in importance and in consequence.
There is strength in cooperation. It’s just that I don’t see a challenger to the international mechanisms such as the U.N., the G-20 or NATO in the short term. The United States will remain the leading military power, of that I am certain. Although as I have said in my national military strategy, the approach we take to leadership will be as important as the capabilities we provide and the opportunities we pursue. But partnering with others for burden-sharing, maintaining stability and increasing cooperative security will remain just as important tomorrow as it is today.
Second, I don’t expect to see quick or clear resolution of our most difficult state-based challenges. Iran continues to pursue a nuclear weapons capability. North Korea remains resilient to calls to join the international order. Nuclear proliferation remains a fundamental concern throughout the broader Middle East and the Pacific. And we will still at the beginning – and we are still at the beginning of the Arab Spring and sorting out where all this goes and political and security implications for the United States.
Many of us in the U.S. policy and military community remain concerned about China as well. As you’ve no doubt read, just last week I had a very successful visit with my counterpart, General Chen. And I intend to head to Beijing in July. This sort of engagement is the start of understanding. And understanding China’s intentions and capabilities remains both a priority and an opportunity. We share many common interests with China, both in the region and in the world. And despite the differences between us – or maybe because of them – we both have a responsibility to lead and to communicate. We have a responsibility to fundamentally change this relationship.
Wayne and Puck put it well when they said we must recognize that security means more than defense. And sustaining security requires adaptation and evolution, the leverage of converging interests and interdependencies. We must accept that competitors are not necessarily adversaries and that a winner does not demand a loser.
Finally, I don’t see any change in our emphasis on high technology, intensive training and great people as the basis for our military edge. That combination of technology, training and experience has made us the most capable force in our history across all of our mission sets. But the reliance on technology, particularly on cyber and space-based technologies, is a double-edged sword. I’ve spoken often about my concerns around our vulnerabilities as a military and a nation in cyberspace. We’ve seen that transparency and the democratization of information is as much a strength as it is perceived a weakness.
The cyber environment of the future represents a different and challenging environment that we must embrace to our advantage. As Lee Hamilton said himself, events often move faster than our ability to comprehend them. There is never more – this is never more evident than in the world of cyberspace where no norms govern behavior and no boundaries limit intrusion. And the proliferation of technology to state and nonstate actors will continue and will increase operational risk.
So what looks to be different in the future? First, we will conclude one war – (inaudible, audio difficulties) – we will conclude one war in Iraq and will – and we will reduce our presence in Afghanistan. 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 conclusion of these wars 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. It will also set the foundation for how and – just as importantly – why we should posture ourselves globally.
Second, we will see the diffusion of power throughout the international system, between governments and their people and between states. The so-called Arab Spring is the most significant change afoot in the world today. But economic strength, which is the foundation for military power, will shift towards Asia. Defense spending of our traditional allies in Europe will likely stay relatively static while defense spending of countries in Asia and the Middle East will grow significantly. Around the world, based on what we now think about demography, economic growth and foreign policy, China, India, Turkey and Brazil will probably emerge as leaders in their regions.
At home, the U.S. and our military continue to come to grips with a new austerity due to the current economic environment and growing demands for debt servicing and repayment. I’ve been very honest about my concerns over the national debt. And I really do believe it is the greatest threat to our national security. My bet is that the defense budget will at best be flat over the next few years. That’s a marked change from the previous decade where our defense budget nearly doubled. That will drive – or should drive – some very tough decisions about what kind of military we will build. Unfortunately, our platforms are much older than the last time we faced a difficult budget environment, so we will have to build down from a much more strained base.
Third, I think a certain pragmatism about the limitations of military force is increasingly apparent and important. I have argued that military power may be the first, best tool of the state but it should never be the only tool. It should be accompanied by all the instruments of national power in concert and coordination to the degree possible with our international partners and nongovernmental agencies. Indeed, we have learned that significant political change coming spontaneously from within is quicker, more effective and probably more durable than that imposed by force. And so, we have a much better understanding now of how to apply military power smartly, sparingly and skillfully.
I spoke earlier about partnering, which has been a hallmark for the U.S. military for decades. In the future, partnering will have to move to a new level entirely. The national military strategy explores this notion of a multimodal world where we will need far deeper relations with current allies and more opportunities for partnerships. Building and keeping the trust of other states in our intentions – in both our intentions and our capabilities will become even more paramount to reducing our own risk.
Taken together, the change and continuity that is coming suggest difficult choices for the U.S. military. As our forces return, deciding on when, where and how fast to rebuild capabilities, given the budget, will be one of our foremost challenges. Any rebuilding or reshaping the U.S. military this time around will be much harder than it has been before or was, for instance, in the mid-‘90s. Threats are more numerous; they’re more complex; and they’re more diffuse. That requires a certain discipline in thinking.
Less resources, as I said, inevitably means making difficult tradeoffs. That in turn requires a certain discipline in setting priorities. Matching threats to missions to resources is the most necessary and most demanding task for any strategist and so requires a certain discipline in decision-making. Clear thinking, priority setting and disciplined decision-making then in this age of our austerity will be a tough challenge for the Pentagon, the White House and the Congress. But it is a necessary challenge.
And so is, quite frankly, the clear separation between what must be done and what can afford to go undone. I agree with Secretary Gates that a smaller, more capable force is preferable to a larger, less-capable one. And he 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 to fewer places and do fewer things. We are grappling with these very issues in the comprehensive review he has us doing right now.
My own view, as expressed in the national military strategy, is that a more balanced and more versatile force is the right one. I think it would mean a balance between capability and capacity. 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. But given the persistent challenges we face combined with the emerging changes we’ve discussed, I think maintaining that flexibility will be essential. We owe it to the president and to the American people to be able to give them options for the use of force.
Finally, as we contemplate these issues, the intersection between ideas and policy in the comfort of this wonderful facility, I think it is important to remember that these policies and decisions have very real consequences. As Memorial Day approaches, I can’t help but be reminded of the most profound consequences of our choices: the sacrifice young Americans throughout our history have made for our future. Sadly, in this decade of war, we have lost some tremendous young people with more returning to Bethesda and Walter Reed and all returning changed in some way.
So as we discuss the geopolitical challenges we will likely face, I believe that the defining domestic policy challenge of our age will be how we keep faith with this returning generation of young Americans, particularly our wounded warriors, their families and the families of the fallen. They face profound challenges related to employment, health care and even homelessness. And we quite simply can’t afford to merely thank them for their service and tell them to have a nice life when they leave the military. Not only do I believe there is a moral imperative to care and support these special Americans but I think it is a strategic imperative as well. For if we get this right, this is a generation oriented to serve that will return our investment for 50 or 60 years, much like the Greatest Generation did after returning from World War II.
So I ask every leader here and the great organizations you represent to help us with this enduring challenge. How we take care of them says so much about who we are as a nation. And in the truest sense, they have rendered a sacrifice that we, the living, can never fully repay. So at this institution named for a man seared as a child by the experience of the Civil War who 50 years later would be tried by challenges of the war to end all wars, I thank you for remembering and supporting these young Americans and their families who have given so much.
Thanks for your time and your hospitality. And with that, I welcome your questions. (Applause.)
Yes, ma’am? Go ahead, I can repeat it.
MR. : Check, check, check, check.
Q: Hello, I’m Susan Hutchison and I’m on the board of the Wilson Center. But I’m also a military wife. My husband was called up for the Iraq war in 2003 as a colonel in the Marine Corps. But bringing things more up to date than that – and because you’re an admiral, I’m sure you are as proud as we all are of your Navy SEALS and their tremendous accomplishment a few weeks ago.
However, we are concerned in our family – as are many people who understand national policy and security – with the amount of information about the raid that has been released. And it wasn’t released in a professional way, it would appear, but in dribs and drabs over several days. With each new revelation, we’re more and more concerned about the ability of our enemies to understand our intelligence capability and our military capability, which until now might have been secret. Could you address these issues, which I think are of paramount concern for our national security?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I appreciate the question although I have almost taken an oath that I’m not going to say any more about it – (laughter) – for the exact reason that you bring up. We have spoken far too much. I was asked about this at a news conference the other day. This is a precious capability for our country. These are extraordinary people who carried out a very, very challenging mission and not – they don’t want anything more than just – except to fade into the shadows. And I can tell you that personally.
And we have to be careful of that. The worry, quite frankly, is that with the notoriety, there is – the concern extends not just to them but also to their families. So I’m concerned about the capability and I’m concerned about making sure that they’re all OK. And we really do – as I said the other day – we really need to get off the net on this.
There is no group more proud of what they did, although they’d tell you they represent a lot of other people than just themselves. And we need to quite frankly put it behind us and move forward. And I for one have been appalled by all who have been speaking to this. And I’ve spoken – you know, a section or a portion of those who are speaking are retired special operators. And I have spoken for some time about the value of that kind of input to the system. It’s just not helpful. It actually threatens those we want to praise.
Q: I’m J.D. Bindenagel from DePaul University in Chicago. We have a – we have four programs – master’s degree programs in Bahrain. And I’d like to ask for your thoughts on what we see with the Saudis moving into Bahrain and the conflict with Iran. And could you comment on the role of the Fifth Fleet and your perspective of what’s happening in this Arab Spring country?
ADM. MULLEN: Well, the – first of all, I – back to sort of the themes of one – what I was talking about, one of the things that I applaud is the kind of educational opportunity you and other universities are creating. Bob Gates is fond of talking about the number of educational programs that Texas A&M, where he came from before, have – has in Qatar for instance. So – and at the root or at the base of how the world’s going to change, I believe, in a more positive direction, it’s going to be education. It’s going to be education globally, because that creates opportunity.
Bahrain’s a country I’ve been in and out of for the last three decades, and a good friend, obviously going through a very, very difficult challenge. What – and the 5th Fleet – our 5th Fleet is there and is continuing to not just be there, but it’s very interconnected with the people that live in Bahrain . And I certainly don’t see anything in the future that threatens its continued presence there, and that includes recent engagements with the leadership there. Everyone values that presence in that country. Certainly the GCC values that presence in the Gulf.
I’ve also seen the GCC come together in a way that quite frankly we’ve been encouraging to come away – come together for a long time. And it – again, it’s a – it is a – an organization that’s almost 30 years or 30 years old. And they’ve really come together.
And I travelled there in January. It was very clear to me they were coming together as this thing was – as the level – as the challenges that were on the rise in several of their countries and how to address that. And in fact, as was pointed out to me recently, the security force, the shield, if you will, that was agreed upon historically by the GCC, was an idea that we originally had discussed with the GCC years ago. And that they would want to try to figure out or provide for their own security is something we’ve encouraged them to do for a long time.
All of that said, there are some very serious concerns about the specifics of what has occurred there, the need to address the reform issue. And I know the king is committed to doing that, and to do it in a way that prevents any additional violence. What is – and what I believe this – and there are those that don’t sign up to this, but there’s a huge concern with all the GCC countries about Iran – it varies depending on which country you go to – but that somehow Iran had something to do with something with what happened in Bahrain, and I just don’t believe that. I’ve seen no indication that Iran had anything to do with that.
That said, now that the door is open, Iran is working its way in. And that’s a huge concern that I have, and I know the leadership there does as well, in Bahrain, as well as the GCC and certainly in Riyadh. So we continue to engage on that. It’s a vital part of the world. And we have vital national interests there, and we will stay engaged. And there are many, many who are doing that.
The one thing I’m a – I’m a little shy of doing right now is predicting in any way. If we’d have been standing here in January and I told you the two countries that would have consumed me in March would have been Libya and Japan, you would have wondered what I had been either reading or smoking at that point. (Laughter.) But it speaks to – it speaks to the unpredictably of the future. So they’re good friends; they’re a good ally, been that way for a long time. And we’re very committed to sustaining that relationship and being with them in difficult times as well as good times.
Q: Dennis Cook (sp) – Dennis Cook (sp) from the Wilson Center. Admiral, I think there’s probably no one in the U.S. government that’s had so many dealings with General Kayani, the chief of staff of the Pakistan Army. I think you’ve been – met with him 25 times, perhaps. And you said recently that the Pakistanis now have a very clear understanding of what we want, and we have a very clear understanding of what they want and where they’re coming from and where we’re coming from.
Well, my question is, in light of the bin Laden affair and more recently the attack on the naval base in Karachi, what do you think the prospects are for our achieving the goal that was laid out in “Obama’s Wars” of changing their strategic calculus?
ADM. MULLEN: What was “Obama’s Wars”?
Q: Woodward’s book.
ADM. MULLEN: Oh, that book. (Laughter.)
First of all, it – and it actually goes back to sort of the narrative discussion, is the control piece. We aren’t going to change their strategic calculus. In fact, I would argue we’re not going to change anybody’s strategic calculus. They’re going to – this is a sovereign country, and they’re going to have to make changes that they see fit for their country, as any country is. To – and to your point, I have traveled there many times, between 20 and 30, since I’ve been in this job. And I think it speaks – more than anything else, it speaks to the criticality of the relationship and the importance of, obviously, the military-to-military relationship.
And actually I do think, and one of the things I’m exploring, I want to explore, really given the Arab Spring and the relationships that we’ve worked hard on – we have a 30-year relationship with the Egyptian military – and so I’ve engaged during the very difficult times now in this crisis with the leadership in Egypt. It’s a very easy engagement. I’ve got a – obviously a decades-long relationship in Japan.
But as I look at each of these relationships, there are differences that are worthy of what does a – what does a military-to-military relationship mean? What – why do we want it? Why would they want it? And what difference will it make in the near term and the long term?
And really it’s a long-term relationship. There’s not a military leader I talk to that I don’t say, OK, this is about us, but we’re going to be in our jobs a year, two years, four years, whatever it is. But I want the connections to be made at the major level so that those connections will span political leadership over time and make a difference between the militaries over the long run.
I’d never met General Kayani before I took this job. He’s the key military leader in this country. This is a critical country and so I chose to engage him very early. And I consider him a friend. And the – and I don’t underestimate or understate in any way, shape or form the challenges he has in his own country and the challenges he had when he came in as the chief because of what had happened over the previous several years in the country.
That border still houses the – I call it the – and I’m not the only one – the “epicenter of terrorism in the world.” Despite the bin Laden kill, the – there is a synergy between terrorist groups there that has continued to grow, and it grows today. Al-Qaida today is not the al-Qaida it was a couple weeks ago and it’s not the al-Qaida it was a couple years ago, in large measure. But they’re a very dangerous threat who still quite simply seek to kill as many Americans and Westerners as they possibly could, and are plotting to do exactly that.
The – it’s an enormously – I don’t have to tell you this – enormously complex part of the world. And what I see going on right now in Pakistan is a very, very difficult challenge internally inside the military. You saw it initially right after the raid in the army and the air force. This was a naval base yesterday or two days ago. And there’s – so there’s a lot of internal review about what’s going on, what they need to change or what – how to address these challenges.
It’s an area that the United States has walked away from multiple times. And if you talk to someone from Pakistan, it was ’65, ’71 and it was ’89. And many of them just – they believe it’s just a matter of time before we walk again. And their leadership, political and military, has grown up across those times that we left them. So we’re several years now into trying to rebuild a very – a relationship based on that history. And my choice is to work on that strategic relationship.
And I think the idea of cutting them off in the – that may – that may be a – something that we can get away with in the near term, but I think in the long term, just as it was in ’89 or ’90, we’ll be back – except it’s a country with nuclear weapons, where things are not getting better; there are other places to go. So on – you know, easily, on balance, I think it’s a country we need a strong relationship with. That doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. That doesn’t mean that – and we don’t agree on everything. But staying with them, given the potential downside, the downside potential, is a much better option in the future than not doing that.
Q: (Off mic.)
ADM. MULLEN: If we run – if we run out of questions from the audience, I’ll go to the press. Keep asking questions, audience. (Laughter.)
Q: I’m – (inaudible) – from the Council of Wilson Center and from Lebanon. And you know, the Arab world now, they are living the spring time, and there are demonstrators peaceful in the street, armless, against a very corrupt regime since 40 years with many – you know, full of arms. So I just want to ask you how we can help them to get rid of this corrupt regime as Western world, as NATO, as United States, without being illegal interference in the country.
ADM. MULLEN: And I’m sorry, which country?
Q: Syria. (Laughter.) You know, but most of them, Syria –
ADM. MULLEN: OK. I – so part of – now this is – this is my own perception of my own country. Part of the worldview about the United States is that we can do anything and make anything happen, and there are citizens I’ve met all over the world that feel that way, and we can’t. We have limits.
One of the things that is very obvious in every one of these countries, just like Bahrain, is this is about the people of the country, whether it’s Syria or Egypt or Tunisia or Libya or Yemen or you – or Bahrain or you pick a country. And in that regard, it’s the responsibility, I believe, of leaders in these countries to address these issues.
And there are characteristics of this, it could – and they could be the – those who have and those who don’t have. It could be those who’ve been oppressed for decades versus those who haven’t. It can be the level of corruption, and that’s sort of a have and have-not issue as well. And in that regard, I think it’s very important that we figure out what are the similarities between these countries that can be addressed at a – at a higher level, but also recognize that every single country has a uniqueness to it and needs to be treated in that regard uniquely.
Now, I’m not here to prescribe which is – you know, which is which per se. In my comments today, I talked about India, Turkey, Brazil, the – China, the economic engines of our time. I actually believe that inside those engines are the solutions, if you will. So I talk about the 15-year-old who’s got a better choice than putting on a suicide vest. That’s an education issue. That’s an opportunity issue that have to be created, otherwise that choice keeps getting made exactly like it is. I think there’s a – there’s a global responsibility to get at that and to figure out how to make that work, and in the long run.
And that’s really in great part what this narrative is about. There’s a – there’s a way that that I think rises up over time that starts to provide opportunities that just aren’t there right now, for whatever reason, in whatever country. And I talked about some of the characteristics. So that says to me, this is not going to end in the near term, first of all.
Secondly, we’re not going to be able to control it. I’ve believed for the last 10, 15 years, the United States is no longer in a position to be able to go it alone, period. And I don’t think there quite frankly is any country – there is any country that can do that. So we have to figure out how to work this together and make organizations which possibly haven’t functioned very well in the – in the past, international organizations, work better.
There’s a whole world of NGOs out there. I – this wonderful story: I hosted a bunch of NGO leaders at my quarters a couple years ago. And one of the – and I can’t remember whether it was Doctors Without Borders or Human Rights Watch or whatever it was. But one of them said: I had members of my organization in 14,000 villages in Afghanistan since 1973. 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?
Now, we don’t have a very natural forum to exchange that information because of who we are. We’ve got to figure out how to bridge that to tackle some of these problems. And there are public-private opportunities here to make a difference that we’re not even – we’re not even touching in terms of resources that are available, whether it be education or financial or agricultural.
So it’s – in the long run, that – to me, that’s the solution set. It’s – and what happens now, I don’t know. I think where we have to – we have to focus an awful lot of our attention right now is on those people who are looking for a better way forward. And what does that mean? And yet at the same time, it’s their own country. These are sovereign countries that are going to have to figure out how to move ahead.
And there are challenges with that. I mean, the history of – you go through the history of revolutions, you know, there are those that did well, and there are those that didn’t. And I think being mindful of history now is probably something that would be very instructive for all of us; what are the characteristics of the ones that succeeded, and what are the characteristics of the ones that have failed, and at least frame the – frame our approach with respect to some of those characteristics. But being precise about how this is going to come out is going to be very difficult.
I also think in my own country and for other countries that are countries of great influence in the world, we also need to be as strong as we can. My own country, that gets back to we have to have our financial house in order or our influence is going to dissipate dramatically, no matter who we thought we – who we think we are or who we were. That’s why, you know, from my perspective, one of the most important focuses, if not the most important focus for us right now, is this whole debt issue, certainly in my – in my world with respect to national security.
Q: (Off mic.)
ADM. MULLEN: I understand it’s the rule.
Q: It seems – it seems to be. My name is Steve McDonald, and I direct the Africa Program here at the Woodrow Wilson Center. And I did not hear it actually mentioned in your prepared remarks, so I’m going to ask you about that, but I would like to do a little note of context. For about eight or nine years now, the Wilson Center has been very involved in post-conflict recovery, reconstruction, peace-building efforts in – you know, in societies like Burundi and Nigeria and Democratic Republic of Congo.
MR. : (Off mic.)
Q: It seems to be –
ADM. MULLEN: Yeah, you got it.
Q: Is it – okay. Did you hear me up to that point?
ADM. MULLEN: I did.
Q: Okay, Admiral. So the engagement we have right now in the Democratic Republic of Congo is with the State Department and the regional military affairs with AFRICOM and of our embassy out there, in working with the high command of the army in training it to be a professional – a responsible representative armed force. I think working from the top down on this, as everyone has decided, is going to be an absolutely essential thing. To me, this is a wonderful living example of the three needs of diplomacy, defense and development, working together.
So I really see this as playing out and not just in the importance it is for the DRC in addressing the horrible violence in the east, et cetera, but in the larger issues of diplomacy and defense and working together. So your comments?
ADM. MULLEN: I’ve spoken a lot over, certainly the course of this tour, about Africa; in fact, well before that. I lived in Italy in 2004 and 2005. And it was literally in that tour because there was so much focus, particularly in southern Europe, on all things that were happening in Africa and many of the bad things or challenges that got generated from Africa ended up on that southern coast.
And so my counterparts were – in the government were very focused there. We started to actually send ships down to the Gulf of Guinea and in – over the course of a very short period of time, I – sending a – sending a ship down there, I was reminded of the – instantly of the colonial sensitivity, because those that live in Africa thought we were going to colonize. And those that had previously colonized were wondering what we were doing, thinking we were going to do the same thing, and they wanted in on it. And there’s great – there’s – they don’t want in on recolonizing. They wanted – you know, they still have interests there. I don’t have to tell you that.
So – and my focus back then was what does all this mean, and how do we get to some kind of posture that becomes preventative, given the challenges that exist in Africa, which is exactly what you’re talking about. I would argue, while it wasn’t specifically mentioned, but when I think about the solution set, the education piece is absolutely vital. And what AFRICOM was stood up to do, even though we went through some pretty bumpy times for some of those reasons that I described earlier, it has done exceptionally well. That said, we have a brand-new commander, who certainly had no expectation that he’d be in hostilities a week after he took over. And the staff wasn’t necessarily geared for – it’s – you know, it was not meant to be a quote, unquote, “war-fighting staff.” It’s like SOUTHCOM here. And then he found himself right away as a commander in hostilities and had to immediately address that. That’s not the goal of that staff, per se. Actually, it’s not the goal of any combatant commander.
So I don’t want to understate the importance of it. I think – and this goes back to the resources that are going to be available. We’re going to have to make some decisions about what we’re going to do and what we’re not going to do in the future. And those decisions haven’t been made, first of all.
Secondly, every single dollar we spend has to be spent well. And the kind of dollars we’re spending in a place like Africa – if we do it well, the leverage is 10 to one, a hundred to one, a thousand to one, compared to the dollars that would get spent in combat, per se. We don’t – sometimes we have no choices with respect to, obviously, which solution set we’re in, but that – I know that leverage is huge.
And then I – but I would – I would see, you know, in the squeeze that’s here, we’re all going to be doing less of everything we’re doing. And I share the same view as Bob Gates, which is we can’t salami-slice this thing; we can’t just take a little from everybody. I think that’s – that approach is a – is fool’s gold in terms of outcome.
But we also, I think, even though doing less, we need to prepare for when we can do more again in a place like Africa or our engagements in other parts of the world to have those seeds planted so when we are in better times with respect to our own fiscal house, we’ll be able to re-engage, if you will. Now, I’m not saying we wouldn’t engage. I think it’s just – it will be less than what we’re doing right now. But the value of it, I – from my standpoint is just unquestioned.
That said, it also speaks to, well, what does the military-to-military relationship really mean? And I actually would extend that to, what does it mean country to country, what are the pieces of it that really make a difference, and that we look at best value with respect to that and make sure that’s where we’re really pouring our efforts.
Q: Thank you, sir. Geoff Dabelko here at the Woodrow Wilson Center, director of our Environmental Change and Security Program.
A couple months ago, you gave a major address on energy security from the military’s perspective. I wondered if you might elaborate on some of the themes, both from the strategic perspective, but I think also notably, given the Pentagon’s leadership in lowering energy use in part to lower the vulnerability of our troops and increase their operational capabilities in the field.
ADM. MULLEN: Well, the reality is we’re the biggest consumer of energy in the – in the U.S. government. And we – I don’t think we’ll ever get to a position where that’s not the case, but we certainly ought to recognize that and figure out a way to do it more effectively, efficiently and at a much reduced cost.
And so our focus on and investments in the green world has – it has taken off. And the way I – the way I know that is because that used to be something that, you know, very few people worked on in a small office that nobody ever went to. (Laughter.) Now – you know – I mean, now it is really mainstream. I mean, the service chiefs, combatant commanders, talk about it. And we’re focused on it. And there are investments being made, both from an S&T standpoint, science and technology, as well as research and development.
And the example – I mean, you alluded to is a very specific example: what we learned, what the Marines did in Iraq to – and they did it for a very practical reason. There were too many people getting killed in long convoys. And the long convoys were supporting them as they essentially set up camp wherever it was – and they’d kill me for calling it camp – but they set up their – the place they were operating and all the support that it needed. And in fact – and it’s – I don’t have to tell you, it’s pretty hot out there at 130-plus degrees. So they found themselves just going – creating – and they’re not unique – these huge, huge convoys, which jeopardize everybody that was in it because of the IED threat, and they figured out how to dramatically reduce them by essentially taking advantage of the very hot sun, if you will, and some totally contained – self-contained green cooling devices or kits that dramatically reduced the number of young Marines who were exposed to this threat. That’s – we need – we need to be that creative without that threat. And that’s where we’re headed. That’s where we’re trying to get.
So we get – we get credit for the focus. It hasn’t been that many years. We’ve got – we’ve got a long way to go. But I’m comfortable it will be sustained.
Q: My name is Amy Wilkinson. I’m a public policy scholar here at the Wilson Center. I wanted to return to getting the fiscal house in order at home. I appreciate very much your voice in this dialogue. And I’m curious what the influence of the military can be on making this an urgent conversation at home, what recommendations you actually have for solving this.
ADM. MULLEN: Well, I mean, I’m – the military – obviously the military has very little to do with solving it. That is – it is a public policy issue that has to be – it is being addressed. I was – in my addressing it, I tried to be painfully clear of the position from which I speak. And that really is the national security requirements of the country. And then I get into sort of simple math, because I think the more our debt goes up, the longer it takes us to figure out how to solve this, the less likely I’ll receive resources I need to carry out the national security missions that I’m assigned. Therefore, I will start doing fewer of those. And it’s just part of the very negative cycle that we would – I would – I believe I will find us in or we will find the military in given the overall fiscal environment.
And this is not the same as we – this is not the ’70s. This is not the ’90s in terms of the challenges that are out there. I mean, we’ve talked about a few of them. And they just seemingly keep coming. So I think we have to be very careful about what requirements we’re going to – what missions we’re going to carry out. We have to be very careful in the military what we do with the money that we have. But if it doesn’t get better, there’s no question that the military’s share of the resources from America is going to – is going to shrink dramatically, which will very simply allow me to do much less. And I think that’s a very dangerous outcome in terms of what’s going on in my world, where I – you know, and I want to stay in my world in this. This is really for, you know, the American people and their elected government, their legislators, if you will, to figure out. And I don’t have to tell you that they’re working on that. You can see that every day.
MR. : (Off mic) – let’s take one more question.
ADM. MULLEN: Okay. Sure.
Q: Thank you, Admiral. I’m Sander Gerber. I’m vice chairman of the center. And thank you for your strong leadership, practical and realistic leadership. And I’d like to ask you realistically, do you think that Iran will give up their nuclear program without regime change?
ADM. MULLEN: I see no indication at this point that they’re willing to give up their nuclear program. But I don’t know what the solution set is that would drive that if they were going to change. This is a country that is a state sponsor of terrorism – we know that – that is currently working to take advantage of the Arab Spring instability, et cetera, in a – in a part of the world that is inherently unstable and has been for some time.
It’s a regime that is focused on a longer-term, what I would call, hegemonic view in the Gulf. They would like to see the U.S. out of there as rapidly as possible in many different ways. And I think they’re a very dangerous regime in terms of what possible outcomes could occur. And in particular, if they get this nuclear weapons capability, I believe there will be other countries that develop it as well. I base that on sort of just practical experience. I could use India and Pakistan as an example, because others will see it as necessary to defend their own interests. So that’s why I think it is so important that they not achieve that capability. But I see nothing in their strategic dialogue, their actions even in the – even in the meetings that have been ongoing indicate they’re serious about giving it up.
MR. : Admiral Mullen, thank you so much Woodrow Wilson Center.
ADM. MULLEN: Thanks, Joe.