Dempsey: Military Policy Faces Challenges in an Era Without Secrets

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey

WASHINGTON -- The chasm between the U.S. military and the country's civilian population has grown so wide as to appear unbridgeable. But in the realm of cable news and social media, where decisions on national security are parsed without pause, the gap has vanished -- at least from the vantage point of the nation's top military official.

"Almost nothing today -- whether it's policy or strategy -- is conducted in private, in secrecy, without some rather significant degree of public scrutiny," said Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Dempsey spoke Thursday at a conference hosted by the Center for a New American Security that examined the military-civilian divide and the country's all-volunteer armed forces. The general, while insisting that as "Citizen Dempsey" he favors openness on policy, admitted that offering "strategy in public" poses problems in his advisory role to the president.

"What it does is make it more difficult, actually, to provide military advice because you can never forget that whatever advice you're giving is probably going to be playing out in public," he said.

At the same time, Dempsey added, explaining the needs of the military to civilians remains complicated amid a sluggish economy and growing budget deficit.

Earlier this week, he told reporters that the $535 billion defense budget for 2015 will need to be increased for the following year, as U.S. troops respond to threats ranging from Islamic militants in the Middle East to the Ebola virus in Africa.

"It's extraordinarily difficult to communicate with the American people on the impact of resource decisions," he said.

Dempsey acknowledged that the nation's military and civilian leaders entered into long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without giving enough thought to how to exit.

"We know a lot about how to start campaigns and start conflict, and we probably study inadequately that other piece of it, which is how to end a particular kind of conflict."

The toll of America's recent wars on its shrinking armed forces has led some military experts to raise the prospect of bringing back the draft. Dempsey, a self-described "rabid fan" of an all-volunteer military, opposes the idea.

"You'll never get a conscript army to the level of readiness that I think is necessary to promote and protect our national security interests."

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