Chairman Discusses ‘Don’t Ask,’ Global Issues in Podcast
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 3, 2010 Repeal of the law that bans gays from serving openly in the military is a change he personally and professionally feels needs to be made, the nation’s top military officer said today in a podcast for servicemembers worldwide.
Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke about the report on the law’s possible repeal as part of his regular podcast to troops. He also discussed WikiLeaks, the new arms-reduction treaty with Russia, North Korea, and the 2014 goal for Afghanistan security transition.
Mullen said the Defense Department report on the so-called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law released Nov. 30 is a landmark.
“It’s the first real data that we have on this issue, and the most extensive effort ever exerted to understand a personnel policy issue,” the chairman said. “I think the most significant part of it is … with mitigation, the risk of implementation, should the law change, is low. [Our] combat forces … view this possible change with more concern, and I understand that. I have, however, great confidence in our leadership, should this change, to be able to mitigate both those concerns and the risks that are associated with this.”
Mullen said he “fundamentally struggles” with the idea that the military puts a high value on integrity, yet has a policy requiring gays and lesbians to lie about who they are.
“I’ve served with gays since 1968. … In many cases, they have been exceptional performers,” he said. “From my perspective, I just think it’s time to move on.”
November’s NATO summit in Lisbon, Portugal, brought coalition unanimity on the timelines for security transition in Afghanistan, the chairman said.
“NATO –- 28 countries, plus the other 20 countries who are providing troops there –- all agree this is something we ought to really shoot for,” he said.
He explained that the year 2014 is the goal for Afghan army and police forces and the country’s civilian leadership to take charge of their own security.
“So we would transition all security responsibilities –- as we did last year in Iraq, in 2009 –- to the security forces and the political and military leadership in Afghanistan,” he said. “I think that’s a reasonable goal. It’s a good target.”
Security capability in Afghanistan has made progress over the last year, he said. “We’ve seen improved performance,” he added, “[but] there are still areas they’re struggling in, … less on the military side than on the police side.”
Mullen said he thinks 2014 is a reasonable goal, and coalition partners are agreed on that.
“When you’re in a campaign like this, it’s good to have the same target everybody’s shooting at,” he said.
Mullen said with a year elapsed since President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev signed a new strategic arms reduction treaty, ratification is an increasingly pressing issue.
“It’s an incredibly important treaty, in terms of controlling and understanding the most dangerous weapons known to man –- nuclear weapons,” he said. “Russia and the United States combined … own more than 90 percent of the nuclear weapons in the world. By virtue of that, there is responsible leadership tied to this ownership.”
The treaty, if ratified, allows for a robust verification process, reduces the number of nuclear weapons and launchers a country can have, “and yet it does that well within the military requirements that we have, should they ever be required to be used,” Mullen said.
“I’m very comfortable with that,” he added.
Treaty ratification also could help to further develop U.S. relations with Russia, the chairman said.
“We’ve worked this hard, [and] they’ve actually worked with us in some other areas, let’s say sanctions for Iran,” he said. “I am concerned that without this ratification, [that] sends a strong signal with respect to that relationship, and we want it going in the other direction. So for lots of reasons, I think it’s really important that this treaty be ratified.”
The most serious concern posed by North Korea, the chairman said, is “the unpredictability of what they’ll do.”
“It’s a country that has tested nuclear weapons, [and] they have just unveiled very publicly this uranium enrichment plant,” he said. “They, in fact, fired artillery onto the South Korean islands, killing four South Koreans. … So from my perspective, the ante’s going up.”
Mullen said the United States and regional powers have to take a strong interest in containing instability on the Korean peninsula.
“I’m increasingly concerned, and I think all of us –- the United States, the regional countries, China, Japan, certainly South Korea –- all have to step up to ensure that this behavior doesn’t continue,” he said. “It’s reckless, it’s dangerous, and I worry a great deal that it could spin in the wrong direction.”
Leaks of classified information place lives at risk, and that has already happened, the chairman said.
WikiLeaks’ posting of classified documents demonstrates “little care for those lives, and little care for the responsibilities that come with focusing on those lives, or the kinds of engagements that we have diplomatically,” he said.
At the same time, he said, leaked documents reveal how deeply the United States is engaged around the world.
“Often times, we focus heavily on trouble spots, because they’re the most dangerous,” Mullen said. “We are a country that really tries to solve those problems.”
He said the United States has been, and continues to be in many ways, indispensable in its leadership to “move these problems to a place where they can be solved.”
“Do we always get it right? No. Do we make mistakes? Certainly, on occasion,” Mullen said. “But I think by and large what you’re seeing is the U.S. as it always has been -– heavily engaged, working to lead, and trying to solve some very, very complex, difficult, and dangerous problems, and we’ll continue to do that.”