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Change Coming to Strategic Levels in Military, Dunford Promises

WASHINGTON, Oct. 5, 2016 — Change is coming at strategic levels in the Defense Department, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the Association of the U.S. Army here today.

Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford also told the association’s annual meeting that the military will continue to use the “four-plus-one” scenario – Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and violent extremism – as a force-sizing construct.

The chairman said he does not want to get locked into a strategy totally aimed at these threats, using the beginning of the Korean War in 1950 as a lesson in the danger of assumptions.

“I like to remind people who have a high level of confidence in assumptions on when, where and how we will fight the next fight … that the Korean War took place right after some of the best strategists that we’ve ever produced as a nation decided to rebalance to Europe,” he said.

Assumption Victims

The immediate victims of that assumption were the men of Task Force Smith – the first American unit to come in contact with the North Korean army at the beginning of the Korean War, Dunford said. “We know the cost to soldiers when we get it wrong or we’re not ready,” said he told the audience. “Seven hours after Task Force Smith made contact, 185 soldiers were dead, wounded or missing.”

By using “four plus one” as a force-shaping tool, rather than a specific set of adversaries, the chairman said, he expects the size and capabilities of the force today and in the future will be about right.

More to Consider

But that is not the only consideration that leaders must take into account, he said. Fiscal instability and the high operational tempo of 15 years of war figure into it, he explained, adding that this is especially true of the Army, which has been the linchpin of the U.S. military since 9/11.

“I use that word – linchpin – deliberately, because the Army literally has been the force that has held together the joint force with critical command-and-control capabilities, critical logistics capabilities and other enablers,” he said.

All this has to be taken into account as the military develops what he calls comprehensive joint readiness, the general said. “The true test for the joint force is our ability to deliver viable and credible options to our national command authority in time of crisis or contingency,” said he added. “At then end of the day, to me, that is the metric of success.”

National Priority

This must be a national priority, the nation’s highest-ranking military officer said.

“As a nation that has to think and act globally, we don’t have the luxury of choosing between a force that can fight [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] and one that can deter and defeat a peer adversary,” he said. “Nor do we have the luxury of choosing between our current operational requirements and develop the capabilities we will need tomorrow.”

At the same time, Dunford said, the fiscal situation will remain flat or go down. He noted that the Budget Control Act of 2011, with sequestration spending cuts, remains the law of the land. Without more money, he said, the military must “spend some intellectual capital and develop disruptive and innovative ways” to use existing capabilities.

Another implication of the current situation is the that United States needs better ways to deal with Russian behavior in Ukraine and Georgia, Iran’s malign actions across the Middle East, and China’s behavior in the South and East China Seas, the chairman said. “Each of those nations have leveraged economic and political influence, information operations, unconventional operations and military pressure to advance their national interests,” he added. “I refer to that as adversarial competition that has a military dimension, but falls short of actual conflict.”

Peace or War?

The traditional U.S. approach is to think the nation is at peace or at war, but these countries are blurring the lines between peace and war, Dunford said.

One of the significant implications of the current security trends is the high likelihood that any conflict anywhere will quickly grow to be transregional and multidomain, he said. A war in Korea would quickly grow beyond the peninsula and bring in U.S. Pacific Command, U.S. Northern Command, U.S. Strategic Command and U.S. Cyber Command, the chairman said.

The fight against violent extremism is another such example, he said, encompassing U.S. Central Command, U.S. European Command and U.S. Africa Command, as well as Pacom and Cybercom. The growth of home-grown terror further complicates the picture, he added.

Strategic implications to conflicts will quickly spread across commands and domains, Dunford told the audience. “I don’t believe our planning, our organizational or our command-and-control constructs are optimized for the current fight or the fight in the future,” he said.


The lowest level of integration from an authorities’ perspective in the Defense Department is the secretary of defense, the chairman said. “I think he is going to need more support than he currently has to make the decisions with those factors of time and space,” he added.

Changes are coming in the classified National Military Strategy document that will be signed later this year, Dunford said, adding that the document “will provide a framework inside which we can integrate the joint force from the very beginning.”

“The aggregation of operations plans is not a strategy,” he continued.” What we should do is go from policy to a specific framework with some of these problems like Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, and use the strategic framework to inform commanders’ game plans in their operations plans.”

This should help the United States gain and maintain mission command at the strategic level, and more will come in the future, he said.

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)

Distribution channels: Military