The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff marked the full operational capability of NATO's Joint Force Command — Norfolk, saying the command is integral to the alliance's strategy for maintaining peace.
Army Gen. Mark A. Milley spoke to assembled dignitaries on the USS Kearsarge along with the U.S. Navy Vice Adm. Andrew L. Lewis, the Joint Force Command — Norfolk and U.S. Second Fleet commander.
The NATO command is the only Joint Force Command in North America. If deterrence fails, the mission of the command is to fight and win the Battle of the Atlantic.
Preventing that war is paramount. "In my view, the world is entering a period of potential instability as some nations … and clearly terrorist groups and perhaps some rogue actors, are seeking to undermine and challenge the existing international order," the general said. "They seek to weaken the system of cooperation and collective security that has been in existence for some time. The dynamic nature of today's current environment is counterbalanced by an order that was put in place 76 years ago, at the end of World War II."
That war was the most destructive in human history. Between 1914 — the start of World War I— and 1945 — the end of the second World War more than 150 million people were killed. These were wars between great powers and they were incredibly destructive. "That is the butcher's bill of great power war," Milley said. "That's what this international order that's been in existence for seven and a half decades, is designed to prevent. That's what JFC-Norfolk is all about. It's to prevent that outcome."
The addition of nuclear weapons made great power war even more unthinkable. Leaders in the immediate post-war world gathered to set up processes, policies, laws and organizations commonly called " the international order" today.
NATO was a brainchild of those leaders and the defensive alliance was designed to provide collective security for Europe and North America. "Without question, NATO has been the most successful military alliance in human history," Milley said. "And NATO is still very much a vital and critical part of our regional security framework, and indeed, our global security framework. In fact, in my view, it's the linchpin that holds together the period of great power peace that we are now enjoying."
The success of the alliance is being challenged, the chairman said. The international order is under attack. "Nations, non-state actors, sponsors of terrorism, cyber criminals are all the backdrop of the current security environment," the chairman said.
Another factor that is concerning is the change in the character of war, the general said. Milley defines the character of war as "how we fight, the organizations we fight with and the technologies that we use."
The last time there was a major change was between the world wars with the introduction of aviation, tanks, new naval technologies and the technologies — radio, radar and more — to tie them all together.
All nations had the same technologies, but only one got it right, at first. "Germany, combined those technologies, and the German way of war, and combine them to organizations and leader development in such a way that Nazi Germany was able to overrun Western Europe in 18 months," Milley said. "Other countries combined it in different ways. And they didn't have success.
"And I would tell you that the same thing is happening right this minute," he continued. "There's a whole set of technologies that are driving fundamental change."
The United States military and other NATO allies have to get that change right. "If we don't put the pedal to the metal, and do this right, over the next 10 or 15 years, we are condemning a future generation," he said. "I would argue that the country that masters those technologies, combines them with their doctrine, develops their leadership to take maximum advantage of them, is likely going to have significant and perhaps even decisive advantage at the beginning of the next war."
NATO is still the most powerful alliance in the world, and the United States is still the most powerful and capable military in the world, the general said. "The challenge to us is, we have to keep it that way," he said. "We have to maintain the readiness of the present, we have to modernize for the future. We are ready right now. Those who think we are not are mistaken. And any adversary that seeks to challenge the United States military resolve will do well to respect this military, and our alliances and NATO.