By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Nov. 20, 2007 - The United States military must look beyond the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and press forward with a view of shaping the strategic environment, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said at the Foreign Press Center here today. Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen specifically chose the venue to highlight the need to reach out to people around the world. He said the United States recognizes how important it is to work with other nations and non-governmental agencies to reduce the uncertainty of an uncertain world.
Mullen said Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. is correct when he talks about the world entering an era of "persistent conflict." He said he would add to that phrase that the world also is entering an era of "persistent engagement."
"We need to recognize both, because while this long war on extremists is generational – it will take many, many years – we also need to recognize opportunities to engage other partners' militaries and other agencies from around the world," he said. "We also need to get at the root causes of terrorism and mitigate them."
The American military is learning that last lesson. "I talked to a lot of our operational commanders in Iraq recently, and they will tell you that they have learned more about civic projects – electrical power, water, sewage treatment systems, schools and hospitals – than they ever dreamed of," Mullen said. "And they are seeing terrific success in that regard."
While that is a testament to the troops, the counterinsurgency strategy and the surge, it also is "a testament to partnership and engagement to local leaders," he said.
The U.S. effort in the Horn of Africa, the humanitarian voyages of the hospital ships Comfort and Mercy and the outreach efforts by U.S. Southern Command leaders are more examples of this engagement philosophy. And the new U.S. Africa Command will rely on this philosophy as the backbone for its mission, he said. "If we've learned anything since 9/11, it's that no one can do it alone anymore: We need partners," Mullen said.
The admiral said he is concerned that the U.S. military has "left strategic deterrence behind when we left the Cold War behind. And the work of deterrence is as vital now as it was then."
"I'm concerned that while there certainly needs to be a focus on the here and now, it's not the only areas we should focus on," he continued. "It's incumbent on all of us who lead to get above the here and now, and look to the future."
The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan weigh heavily on the Americans, but Mullen warned that the nation must not be myopic. "There is more to the Middle East than those two countries, and there is more to the world than the Middle East," he said.
Mullen said he is working on that setting as his top priority to develop a military strategy that is focused on bringing stability to the Middle East.
"Consider the situation in Pakistan today," he said, noting the state of emergency declared by President Perves Musharraf. "Pakistan has been a strong ally, and we wish to see these emergency measures end soon. The situation is stable from a military perspective, but we are watchful, as we must be, because the stakes are very high and the security there affects regional security, and regional security affects global security."
Mullen said he has the same concern about Iran. Iranian leaders' actions and rhetoric have been destabilizing not only in Iraq, but in the region, he said. "I think we would all like to see Iran take a constructive and responsible role," Mullen said. "It is too soon to tell if, in fact, they are living up to their pledge to do so."
U.S. military thinkers need to take a close look at global strategic risk. "We must be ready for who and what comes after Iraq and Afghanistan," he said. "With everything going on all over the world, what missions should our military be prepared to undertake and where? How do we retain all the great combat experience we are gaining on the ground without losing our need to be ready for conventional warfare as well? How do we keep the strategic and operational reserve power of our Guard and reserves?"
These questions need to be answered, and how they are answered will affect security around the world, he said.
The Asia-Pacific region also is of particular concern, said Mullen, who just returned from visiting South Korea and Japan.
"Significant security concerns persist there, with the threat of ballistic missiles from North Korea and the tensions over the Taiwan Straits," he said. "What are we doing to defend our vital national interests in the Asian-Pacific region?"
A peaceful, productive rise of China would be a good thing for everyone, the admiral said. "How do we help ensure that outcome and improve the military-to-military relationships we have?"
The key to American military strategy is engagement and dialogue, he said.
"We must tap into that approach," the chairman told the audience. "We must realize and preserve our strengths in the U.S. military while understanding and improving the things in which we are not quite as strong: cultural awareness, language proficiency, civil affairs. It really is the world we're living in."