What Keeps America’s Top Military Leaders up at Night?

November 25, 2014 By Zach Silberman

What keeps our nation’s top military leaders up at night in today’s world of competing crises? Complex threats that know no borders and can affect security, economic, and humanitarian interests in unpredictable ways.

Two expert voices on the subject: former commander of U.S. European Command Admiral Jim Stavridis, USN (Ret.) and former commander of U.S. Central Command General Tony Zinni, USMC (Ret.), recently authored books with lessons learned from their experiences in the military that emphasize the challenges for America’s global leadership today.

Both retired military leaders agree that the United States must use the full range of national security tools to prevent conflicts, protect the American people, and create the environment for sustained economic prosperity.

According to General Zinni, addressing political, economic, and social issues that development and diplomacy tackle is just as important as improving the security situation in a given country. He points out, “The military can’t go it alone if we are to ultimately succeed” and “our recent conflicts give this truth more meaning.”

General Zinni also observes, “We have long seen the need to get our military out of the nonmilitary functions required to stabilize a conflict environment and to bring into those environments people with real expertise in these areas and provide them with the capacity necessary to ensure success.”

To do this, we must ensure that our civilian development and diplomatic professionals have the tools they need in tough environments to protect our national interests abroad.

Admiral Stavridis has long advocated for the military’s support for the work of U.S. civilian agencies from his posts as Commander of U.S. European Command and U.S. Southern Command, where the threats rarely had military solutions alone.  He writes, “Partnership was at the core of everything we did…I wanted a strong partnership with the State Department for diplomacy and with AID for development at the fore.”

As the United States struggles to address conflicts in South Sudan, Ukraine, and Syria, the civilian tools of development and diplomacy are a cost-effective means for preventing conflict without putting boots on the ground.

Admiral Stavridis and General Zinni are both the co-chairs of the USGLC National Security Advisory Council, which includes nearly 150 retired three and four-star generals and admirals, representing all five branches of the Armed Forces, united in support of advancing America’s national security by strengthening diplomacy and development, alongside a strong defense.