Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford welcomed the members of the NATO Military Committee to the Pentagon yesterday and offered to share with the alliance group the experiences of the U.S. in its development of the National Defense Strategy.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff thanked British Royal Air Force Air Chief Marshal Stuart Peach and the 29 military representatives on the committee for their interest. Dunford offered to share U.S. experiences in developing joint force capabilities, and the integration of those capabilities.
NATO’s chiefs of defense make up the Military Committee. The military representatives who are visiting this week represent their nations on the Military Committee in permanent session. The U.S. military representative in Brussels is Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John K. Love.
The committee discussed the U.S. strategy process, dynamic force employment and the Capstone Concept for Joint Operations. They come to Washington after visiting Allied Command Transformation in Norfolk, Virginia, and the new Joint Force Command centered around the 2nd Fleet. They also visited the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman.
“Without candy coating it, we have really made significant progress in the alliance,” Dunford said at the Pentagon.
He noted the world situation when he became chairman in 2015. At that time, Dunford made news by saying that Russia was an existential threat to the United States.
He further contrasted strategy from 1998 to today. The chairman attended the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, beginning in 1998. He went back to the school to speak last year and dusted off the U.S. strategy from his time there.
“There was no mention of China in our National Security Strategy in 1998,” he said. “No mention of violent extremism except for the potential nexus between violent extremism and weapons of mass destruction. And Russia — we were in a dialogue between NATO and Russia so there was no threat.”
The 1990s were a period where the U.S. ability to project military power where and when it was necessary was uncontested, Dunford said. The United States taking the fight to al-Qaida in Afghanistan in 2001 was a demonstration of that ability.
“The 1990s was a time when we, as an alliance, had no peer competitor and no hot breath on the back of our neck from a competition perspective,” he said. “When I look back on the 1990s, it’s impossible to overstate how insidious it was not to have a competitor and not to have a competitive mindset.
“When it came to things like assessments, when it came to things like capability development, when it came to things like strategic thinking we … were not at the top of our game,” he continued. “In many cases, we were focussed on failed and failing states, peacekeeping operations.”
It is different today, after years of war in Afghanistan, Iraq and countering terrorists in Africa and Asia. “In 1998, the competitive advantage was decisive,” he said. “I still believe we have a competitive advantage, but the margin of our competitive advantage is significantly changed. In my judgment, what that means is we got to be cleareyed about our strategy, which is the foundational element in which all of our activity should take place.”
National Defense Strategy
The United State promulgated a National Defense Strategy last year which recognizes the shift in the strategic landscape. Great power competition has returned and American strategy concentrates on countering the capabilities of Russia and China. Still, the United States must address Iran, North Korea and violent extremism.
Strategy is “not just a document to put on the shelf,” Dunford said. “It is not just a document to answer the mail. It should be the best military thinking we can offer about the strategic environment in which we find ourselves. And it should be the document that is the basis for all that we do as an alliance.”
When the chairman talks to Congress he speaks about the significant progress the alliance has made since 2015 — “from the organizational construct that addresses logistics to the maritime element to the readiness initiative to the focus on what it is we should be prepared for as an alliance. I think we get good grades in that evolution.”
Change is Needed
The grades are less stellar in updating operational concepts to reflect the current environment and in setting the conditions to integrate combat power to deter or win, Dunford said.
“If we don’t up our game in terms of our operational concepts, and we don’t more coherently think about the path of capability development, we are not going to be where we need to be,” he said. “What I can say with confidence is the 29 nations of NATO — politically, economically and militarily — how would anyone look at that and think they could come up on the upside?”
At the end of a full day, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. Paul Selva spoke to the committee members. “What’s encouraging to me is to watch the adaptation that’s going on around the acknowledgment that most of the threats that each of us face are not regional, but global, and that if we don’t answer them as global problem sets then we’re only looking at a small part of the challenge,” he said.
“I’m so encouraged at the work that the alliance is doing of looking at a long term strategy to articulate the things that are important to the alliance, the things that are important collectively to each and all of us, because it is together that we present strength in the face of those challenges,” Selva said.
NATO is unique in that the alliance is a political and military framework that sets the conditions to maintain a rules-based order from which all nations benefited since World War II. “That coherent collective action should not be something we take for granted,” Dunford said. “It is the envy of the rest of the world.”