A New Chiefs Chairman

June 2, 2011 By Jane Kaminski


Over Memorial Day Weekend, President Obama announced the latest nomination to his new national security team, recommending General Martin Dempsey as the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to replace retiring Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen.   Admiral Mullen has been one of the strongest supporters of the International Affairs Budget and a “smart power” approach to national security.  What will this personnel shift, along with the other changes to the national security team, mean for “smart power” strategy in this Administration?

General Dempsey has served for only two months as Army Chief of Staff, but a review of his public remarks and publications suggest he will continue the Joint Chiefs’ commitment to our civilian tools of development and diplomacy.  In Senate confirmation hearings for his current post, General Dempsey said, “The instruments of national power—diplomatic, military, and economic—have to be in balance for us to be the power we need to be.”

General Dempsey sees a world of evolving threats that call on the United States to adopt a comprehensive approach to national security.  During testimony, he said “The future will be a series of hybrid threats,” and added the nation must have “capabilities proportional to what we believe we’ll confront.”   Security sector assistance, he noted, has become “a core competency for our force in the future, as part of our effort to prevent conflict.”  As past Commander of Training and Doctrine Command, General Dempsey oversaw the preparations for the transition from military to civilian control in Iraq, which has focused heavily on interagency cooperation and elevating civilian leadership in the frontline states.  From 2003-05, he commanded the 1st Armored Division which included a fourteen-month tour in Bagdad, and he is a supporter of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams.  When asked about civilian-military cooperation, he responded, “Can and should we do more? Yes.”

In addition, General Dempsey is a strong supporter of interagency cross-training to build leadership skills and experience in working with the military’s civilian counterparts.  “We have a interagency fellowship program at the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas,” he told the Senate Armed Forces Committee, “where we take young Army officers who have gone through an abbreviated Command and General Staff College course, and we’ll put them into an agency of government—USAID, the Department of State, Department of Commerce, Department of Transportation—displacing one of their folks; that allows that person, then, to come to Fort Leavenworth and go through the 10-month Command and General Staff college experience.”

Confirmation hearings for his nominated position as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will be scheduled this summer, when General Dempsey will surely be asked to lay out his views on the future of national security.