Defense Department News

Dempsey Shares Worldview With Irish Officers

Aug. 19, 2015 | BY Jim Garamone

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff provided Irish staff officers his worldview yesterday in a speech to members of the Irish Defense Force at Cathal Brugha Barracks.

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said the world is enduring the most unsettled time he has experienced in 41 years of service.

The chairman came to Ireland to express gratitude for the close working relationship between U.S. and Irish forces around the world, but especially in the Middle East and Afghanistan. He also thanked Irish Chief of Defense Lt. Gen. Conor O’Boyle for Ireland’s numerous contributions and commitment to United Nations peacekeeping operations.

Chairman Delivers 'Best Military Advice'

O’Boyle invited the chairman to share his thoughts with the Irish Defense Force staff.

As the man tasked with providing the “best military advice” to the president and defense secretary, Dempsey deals with capabilities, not intentions. He still has not given up on the idea that Russia, for example, might turn away from its current course.

“Threats are the combination, or the aggregate, of capabilities and intentions,” he said. “Let me set aside for the moment, intentions, because I don’t know what Russia intends.”

But when he looks at capabilities, Dempsey said, he notes that Russia has developed capabilities that are quite threatening in space, in cyber, in ground-based cruise missiles that violate treaties, in submarines and other activities that seek to sever communications.

“I do think one of the things that Russia does seem to [want] to do is either discredit, or even more ominously, create the conditions for the failure of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization,” he said.

The continent is in a period of high risk, the chairman said, because of the potential for miscalculation. He said he tries to keep in touch with his Russian counterpart Army Col. Gen. Valery Gerasimov.

“I’ve actually suggested to him that we not end our careers as we began them,” Dempsey said. As a young armored cavalry officer, the chairman served in West Germany at the same time Gerasimov was a tank commander in East Germany.

The chairman pointed to a new offensive by Russian separatists in Ukraine as an ominous development and said the NATO alliance is in a “precarious position” vis-à-vis Russia.

China’s Growing Influence

The chairman said China is transparent with its intentions, if not with its military funding. A decade ago, China announced they would assert territorial claims in the South and East China Seas -- first by reclamation projects, followed by territorial sea claims and then followed by air defense identification zones. Since they announced their strategy, the Chinese have invested the funds, he said, “and they are on a path to do that.”

Many U.S. allies have territorial disputes with the Chinese, most notably Japan and the Philippines. “To be honest to you, though, a failed Chinese economy worries me more than a second Chinese aircraft carrier,” Dempsey said.

He noted the shock felt in stock markets around the world when the Chinese devalued the yuan recently. “I worry more about Chinese weakness than Chinese strength, but nevertheless I’m painting a picture where the conditions for strategic miscalculations could be quite ripe,” he said.

Iran’s Nuclear Program

The recent P5+1 nuclear agreement negotiated by the leaders of China, Russia, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and the United States seeks to curtail Iran’s nuclear program. “The big question on the table is whether this relief of [economic] sanctions that will flow to Iran will be used to improve their economy or the lives of their citizens, or whether they will use it to propagate their revolutionary ideology,” Dempsey said. “The answer is probably a little bit of both.”

The question is now whether the world can separate the nuclear issue from Iran’s other malign activities that cause concern, such as its use of surrogates, proliferating ballistic missile technology, cyberattacks, weapons trafficking and maritime interdiction.

“The issue with Iran is ‘to be determined’,” Dempsey said.

North Korea remains a danger, Dempsey said, and the country could either explode or implode at any time. Defense against North Korea draws enormous resources.

Criminal Networks and Cyberspace

While combating transnational criminal networks is primarily in the realm of law enforcement, Dempsey said, the capabilities these networks have can have national security implications. The networks smuggle drugs, weapons and people now, but they could smuggle anything for the right price. Terror groups could smuggle operatives or materials. They could also enter this shadowy world to fund their operations.

Finally, Dempsey discussed combat in the cyberworld. “That domain is a genuine threat to our security and yours,” the chairman said.

He wants legislation that will allow sharing of information about attacks and defensive measures. In the past year, Dempsey noted, North Korea launched an attack on the Sony Corporation that ended up costing $300 million. Another hack cost the U.S. Office of Personnel Management at least $1 billion. The most recent attack against the Joint Staff’s unclassified network forced defenders to sever the network from the Internet and rebuild it.

All of these threats are complex, the chairman said.

“There is a difference between complicated and complex,” he said. “A complicated problem you can dissect into its separate parts, understand them and put it back together and probably understand the problem.

“A complex problem is one where once you touch it, you change it,” he continued. “It seems to me that’s the way the world is working now: Issues are just more complex, they are multifaceted. You can take them apart and try to understand the individual theses, but when you put it back together, it never comes out the way you though it would.”

Dempsey told the Irish officers that is why the world needs networks of nations to address the problems of today. Different nations bring different ideas and viewpoints to the table, and the situations the world faces deserve everyone’s best efforts, he said.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)