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Notes From the Chairman

A Conversation With Martin Dempsey

Martin Dempsey

  • Country: United States
  • Title: General, Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

In September 2015, General Martin Dempsey retired from the U.S. Army after more than four decades in uniform. Commissioned as an armor officer following his graduation from West Point, he served in both the Gulf War and the Iraq war and eventually rose to become chief of staff of the U.S. Army and then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He spoke with Foreign Affairs’ editor, Gideon Rose, in June.

You have said that you think this is the most dangerous the world has ever been. Why are you so concerned?

It’s the most dangerous period in my lifetime. In my 41 years of military experience, we often had the opportunity to focus on one security threat or another. First it was all about the Soviet Union, then it was peacekeeping, then it was terrorism. Now we’ve got lots of things cropping up at the same time. We have multiple challenges competing for finite resources—and grotesque uncertainty with regard to the military budget.

But are any of today’s challenges at the scale of previous ones? It sounds like you’re worried about a broad range of minor threats rather than one or two really big ones.

We could debate how minor the threats are. I would suggest that left unattended, they could become much bigger threats than we appreciate today. State actors like Russia and China are challenging our interests in Europe and in the Pacific. Neither is a peer competitor yet, but there are parts of their enterprises where they’re approaching the status of peer competitors. And then you have nonstate actors like the Islamic State [or ISIS]. We are not in a position where we can ignore any of these issues. And under­pinning it all is our inability to take a longer view—say, 20 years—and support it with the policies, authorities, and resources necessary. Instead, we tend to look at things one year at a time.

Do you worry that what

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