Want a preview of where the Pentagon is going in terms of a new strategy that will guide budget decisions for the next few years?
How about a continued ability to fight two wars; a shift of focus toward the Pacific while keeping attention on Central Asia and the Middle East; a new, more intimate relationship between the active forces and the National Guard and Reserves; a closer integration of Special Forces and general purpose forces; and finally a determination of the role of cyber among conventional and Special Forces.
Those are five main points outlined this week by Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a talk he gave to the National Guard conference in which he described how he saw the future.
As an aside, he told one questioner that as part of the current review, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spent an entire day talking about threats and strategy with the joint chiefs in the “tank,” the service chiefs’ private conference room.
Being prepared to fight two wars has long been an element in Defense Department planning and, although there had been speculation that it might be time to look at something less, Dempsey said he could not believe the United States would not have a force prepared to move “against more than one thing.”
The gradual shift of Pentagon focus toward the Pacific should be no surprise. It was a theme that Panetta pressed publicly as he traveled the region recently and that was echoed in an essay Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton wrote for Foreign Policy entitled, “America’s Pacific Century.” Dempsey emphasized that the United States is “a global power” and this was a matter of how we prioritize out interests.
One lesson from Iraq and Afghanistan is the need to redefine the relationship between the active military forces and the Guard and Reserves, Dempsey said. He noted before showing a short film on all the services at war that you couldn’t tell the difference among the three while on active duty — a clear difference from past war deployments.
He also made the point that the Guard keeps the military “connected to America.” That was an acknowledgment that the all-volunteer force was separate from the civilian population while the Guard and Reserves were made up of citizen-soldiers. The current strategy review would re-examine and redefine the relationships and probably require new resources, with one result being more reliance on the Guard and Reserves. But, he cautioned, there has to be a new honesty about what those forces can generate and how quickly.
Another lesson from the current wars, he said, was the growth of Special Forces and their merger at times with general purpose forces. Dempsey noted that, in the past, they were separate, and you reached for Special Forces for specific tasks, while now, particularly in Afghanistan, they have found ways to work with general purpose forces.
Cyber, according to Dempsey, presents new problems that have to be solved, but in some integrated fashion and not separately by each service.
Dempsey also told the group that, in congressional testimony on Thursday, he would oppose efforts to have the chief of the National Guard as a member of the Joint Chiefs — a goal of the National Guard members.
Saying he wanted to tell it to them directly, rather than seeing it on television, Dempsey said he believed there could be only one chief of a service and that that person had to run the active and inactive forces.