A national debate needs to happen — and hopefully in the immediate future — to decide the role of America’s military presence around the world, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said at the Association of the U. S. Army annual meeting and expo Tuesday.
“We’ve been focused on sequestration and budget; that’s a debate that encompasses all governmental programs… so I think we have to understand what we want our national security capabilities to do,” said Odierno on Tuesday’s Federal Drive with Tom Temin. At the heart of the debate is a defense budget that’s already seen about a $1 trillion cut, while national security demands have only escalated for the Defense Department in the past few years. Recent demands include the instability caused by the ISIS in Iraq and Syria, increased aggression on the part of Russia against Ukraine, and Army deployments in West Africa to help fight the spread of the Ebola virus.
“As you increase your commitments, you increase the number of soldiers you have out there,” said Odierno. “You have to do that, plus you have to be able to sustain readiness. So what I worry about is we can’t do both.”
The debate needs to create a modern identity for the nation’s military, said Odierno. To that end, the Army just released a new global strategy to help guide the evolution of the force. The Army Operating Concept lays down guiding principles that would redirect the military to focus on a variety of small or indirect threats for future force deployments.
It includes plans for deployments in multiple areas around the world that may last for long periods of time and calls for an increased reliance on multiple partner nations to take some of the pressure off U.S. forces serving in a particular region. Instead of a strategy that prepares for a few, large-scale conflicts against other world powers like Russia and China, the new Army Operating Concept stresses flexibility and sustainability to combat a wide variety of enemies across a wide swath of domains, from land to space to cyber.
“The issue is these [conflicts] are going to last some time,” said Odierno. “Dealing with aggression in Europe’s going to last a while, this problem with ISIS is going to last a while, the issues in Korea are going to last a while… so if we add another one to that, we probably wouldn’t be able to do it. In fact, we might have trouble doing the ones we have now for long periods of time.”
The future of the debate
Now is certainly not the ideal time for a national debate on the future of the nation’s global military strategy. It’s an election year; the continuing resolution to fund the federal government runs out on Dec. 11; the Army and the rest of the Defense Department are still trying to figure out how to handle both sequestration and congressional expectations for deployment; and the military is still in the midst of a massive drawdown in the Middle East.
But Odierno argues the debate on a future military strategy can be folded into that laundry list of other ongoing debates, too.
“When we talk about ‘Let’s have a debate on sequestration,’ that’s bigger than just military sequestration, that affects all parts of the government,” said Odierno.
The Army Operating Concept may provide the tactical blueprint to handle that type of political and financial stagnation. It offers guidelines that reflect how the strategy and technology that define conflict “will continue to change over time,” so instead of creating a rigid, one-size-fits all Army doctrine, “it describes how the Army may provide foundational capabilities to Joint Force and civil authorities to enable joint operations,” Odierno said.
In the end, it largely boils down to the decisions of Congress and for the Army to persuade its members — and by extension, the American people — that a new strategy is vital to the success of the American military abroad.
“It’s just a matter of them understanding that ‘this is team.’ They provide us the monies for us to do our job, and we have to keep talking to them, that we’re concerned we are not getting the dollars necessary to provide the defense that this nation needs in order to maintain our own national security. And I think we need to keep having that discussion,” said Odierno.