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A doctrine for the 21st Century (almost)

As the Pentagon’s top officers look beyond the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan they are embracing a new approach to warfare focusing on a more agile, “networked” force capable of working closely with allies to defeat a mosaic of decentralized enemies around the world, the nation’s top general said Tuesday.

This nascent doctrine, or what Dempsey described as an “inchoate . . . central organizing principle,” stems from the threat environment the Pentagon sees as the most relevant by the year 2020.

“We are just beginning to adapt from counterinsurgency as kind of our central organizing principle and if I had to put a tagline on it today, it would be very premature for me to do it but I’m gonna do it, I would say that where we’re headed is something that I would describe as a global networked approach to warfare,” said Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, during a talk at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The general was responding to an audience question about whether the United States had a 21st century military doctrine. “It gets back to my point about taking capabilities we haven’t had before, really integrating them into our conventional capabilities, partnering differently -- with a very different goal and with very different processes to support it -- and allowing ourselves to confront these networked, decentralized foes with something other than huge formations of soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.”

Dempsey went on to say that the military must adapt the lessons learned about fighting nimble, decentralized insurgents over the last decade and apply them to a force that can fight “networked” enemies around the world.

Doing so involves using smaller groups of forces spread around the globe that are capable of working with other nations to combat everything from terrorism to piracy to transnational organized crime in a world where high-tech weapons are commonplace.

“The world that we have seen evolve around us . . . over the last 10 years in particular, is a world I describe as a security paradox, we’re at an evolutionary low in violence in the world right now but it doesn’t feel that way because there’s a proliferation of capabilities, technologies to middleweight actors, non-state actors, that actually makes the world feel, and potentially be, more dangerous than anytime I remember in uniform.”

Alliances between global terrorist groups, organized crime syndicates and rogue nations that “come together and pull apart based on moments in time when they want to come together against us” must be met by a  flexible network of U.S. government agencies and allied nations, said the four-star.

To lead this effort, the Pentagon must focus on international partnership-building and integrating the ne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, cyber and special operations capabilities developed over the last decade into “our normal way of operating,” according to the general.

Dempsey said his comments were based on meeting the priorities laid out in the Pentagon’s new global security strategy that was released in January.

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