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Dempsey: Risk, Readiness Hard to Explain, Important to Consider

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 14, 2014 – Risk and readiness are the two toughest concepts to explain, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey told the Atlantic Council getting these concepts through to people is hard, but important to do.

“Readiness has no constituents. You know what I mean?” the chairman said during a question-and-answer session. “Weapons systems have constituents, bases have constituents, but readiness has no constituents, except those who have to apply the military instrument when the time comes. [It’s] really hard to articulate eroding readiness.”

Being ready entails having the money to ensure service members have the right training with the right weapons at the right time, the chairman explained.

Defining risk runs into similar problems, he said. “It’s hard to articulate risk, because it’s a little different in each service,” he told the audience. “It is also different when talking about different threats. The risks entailed in facing China or Russia are different than those when facing North Korea or Iran.”

Risks are even more complicated when facing a network such as al-Qaida or the transnational criminal networks operating in the Western Hemisphere, Dempsey added, and the risks inherent in a cyber confrontation are even more amorphous.

The concept of risk is different in different professions, Dempsey noted, recalling a time when he invited economists to speak with him at the Pentagon.

“I asked them how they assess risk in the application of the economic instrument of power,” he said. “Frankly, they were lost for an answer. It just wasn’t a question … that had occurred to them to ask.” The military deals with risk all the time and has “a fairly effective paradigm for assessing risk and articulating it,” he added.

This is important as the country moves ahead, Dempsey said, and the instruments of national power need to work in concert. Leaders need to be able to assess the risks posed by use of economic power just as surely as they would military power, the general told the audience.

“I think each instrument has to reassess its effectiveness and its risk if we intend to apply them differently,” the chairman said. “And they have to be applied differently against the actors I’ve described.”


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Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey

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