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Mullen Addresses Rapid Change, Other Issues at Australian War College

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

CANBERRA, Australia, Feb. 23, 2008 – Fighting the war on terrorism while the world continues to change at a rapid pace poses a challenge to the military, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told students attending the Australian Defense College here, yesterday.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen spoke to the students before attending the Australia-United States Ministerial meetings. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and Navy Adm. Timothy Keating are also attending the talks.

“What’s going on in the world right now is indicative of the incredible pace of change, and I would argue that the pace is just going to pick up,” Mullen said to the more than 300 students from all services and many nations. “Five years ago, there would have been very few people who would have predicted the challenges we are dealing with right now.”

He said no one can be very precise about what the shape of the world will be in another five to 10 years.

As he looks around the world, he is struck by the pace of troop deployments, the challenges of managing that pace, the different types of operations the troops are involved in, “and trying also to get our heads up high enough to take a look at what’s out there in the long term,” he said.

“Front and center in all that is the issue of terror, tied to weapons of mass destruction,” he said.

He said he worries most about terrorists getting those weapons. “I know for a fact that there are those who are seeking to bring those two together,” he said.

Security is a necessary condition for stability. Security provides the conditions for economies to thrive, for people to grow and standards of living to improve, he said.

“There are parts of the world where it is increasingly a challenge,” he said.

The students also had a lively question and answer session with the chairman.

Among the issues discussed were “caveats,” restrictions that countries sometimes place on how troops are used. Some NATO nations have passed caveats for their troops deploying to Afghanistan.

“There are clearly challenges in terms being of meeting the overall troop requirements (in Afghanistan) whether it is combat troops or trainers,” Mullen said. “The caveats that are placed on country’s military capabilities can be very debilitating in terms of being able to execute a mission.”

Caveats can impact flexibility – the commander can’t move forces from one area to another – or how troops are used – troops are trainers and not combat forces. “We’ve worked hard to try to convince countries to release as many of those caveats as they can, and also provide more capabilities,” he said.

Mullen stressed that Afghanistan is the important mission for NATO. “I also believe that if NATO doesn’t get this right and fails in Afghanistan, then there are great questions about the future of NATO that all of us should be asking,” he said.

Mullen said the alliance must succeed in Afghanistan, “and I believe we can.”

Students asked about the importance of military and diplomatic relationships.

He said he puts relationships in two categories: enduring and emerging. The U.S.-Australia relationship is an example of an enduring relationship. The two countries fought as allies in World War I, and continue a close relationship in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He used the countries of Africa as an example of emerging relationships. The continent has both tremendous potential and tremendous problems, he said. There is famine, disease, war and corruption, but also great resources.

“I believe for the developed world that those problems and challenges that Africa has, we can either go to them or they will come to us,” he said. “We can engage early and positively to try to solve some of these problems. To the degree we don’t engage and ignore them, the problems will just get bigger and become more challenging down the road.”

In Asia, he said the relationship with Indonesia and Malaysia are examples of emerging U.S. relationships.

“I would see the strength of those relationships over time being absolutely critical to addressing the challenges we have,” he said. “Without those relationships we almost can’t (address those problems).”

Countries and militaries will also have relationships with non-governmental entities and transnational organizations such as the United Nations. It’s important to work with those organizations before there is a crisis, he said.

“Developing a relationship on the battlefield in the midst of a crisis with someone I’ve never met before can be very challenging,” he said. “We don’t know each other and immediately we don’t trust each other, and it is that trust that has to be built up over time.”

Students also asked about money. “When I look at what we need to invest in in the future, it’s far too easy to invest in things,” Mullen said. “There are things we fly and things we drive. They are big toys – they are not unimportant, but often we overlook what I call the enablers that make all the platforms work.”

Sensors and intelligence capabilities are examples of enablers, Mullen said. Fusing platforms and information to get a needed result is crucial to investment. “The speed of war is picking up,” he said. “The enemy adapts quickly. We need to not only match them, but get ahead of them.”

A student asked if the U.S. military will have the same experience when it leaves Iraq that it had when it left Vietnam. “The short answer is no,” Mullen said. “But, it’s where I grew up, I know exactly what happened back then, and my antenna is up on this issue all the time.

“We’ve got a mission to accomplish and I’ve got a ground force that is stressed right now and the balance is very delicate,” he continued. “I’m mindful of that.”

He said fundamental to the problems the military had post-Vietnam was the American people pulled away from the military. “That is not going on right now,” he said. “But if that happens we’re in trouble. It is one of my singular goals as chairman is to not let that happen.”

An Iraqi officer attending the college asked the chairman his assessment of conditions in Iraq.

“What I worry about in Iraq is putting your country in a position to turn into a failed state,” Mullen said. “Conditions of security have to be sustained so Iraq can continue to grow. It’s tough, it’s going to take a long time.” 

Mullen said the United States and Iraq are working together to establish a long-term security arrangement. “What I worry about more than anything else is any decision that would precipitate a failed state,” he said.

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Adm. Mike Mullen, USN

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