From the Chairman – Three principles apply for proper use of military forces

| March 12, 2010 | 0 Comments

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON — While watching the Landon Lecture Series this week, I reflected upon our nation and how it has been at war for the past nine years against a syndicate of Islamic extremists — led by al-Qaida and supported by a host of state and non-state actors.

I have watched and advised two administrations as they dealt with this struggle, and have come to realize there are three principles about the proper use of modern military forces.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, addresses faculty and students at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., March 4. (Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad McNeeley | Department of Defense Photo)The first is that military power should not be the last resort of the state. At times, the military — because of its unique flexibility and speed — may be the first and best tool to use.

But it should never be the only tool.

Use of military forces must be accompanied by other instruments of national and international power. Defense and diplomacy are simply no longer discrete choices, one to be applied when the other one fails. Still, they must complement one another throughout the messy process of international relations.

And I believe that U.S. foreign policy is still too dominated by the military. Should we choose to exert American influence solely through our troops, we should expect to see that influence diminish over time.

In fact, I would argue that in future struggles of the asymmetric, counterinsurgent variety, we ought to make it a precondition that we will only commit our troops if and when the other instruments of national power and our allies are ready to engage as well.

The second is that, to the maximum extent possible, force should be applied in a precise and principled way. Precisely applying force in a principled manner can help reduce costs and actually improve our chances of success.

This doesn’t mean we don’t do the things necessary to win. It means we do those things as mindful as we can about the impact to the innocent people we are trying to protect.

Each time we kill a civilian inadvertently, we not only wreak devastation on the lives of their loved ones, but we also set our own strategy back months, if not years. In essence, we make it hard for people to trust us.

Frankly, the battlefield isn’t necessarily a field anymore; rather, it is the minds of the people.

My third principle is that, in the very dynamic security environment we find ourselves in, we should welcome a constant struggle between policy and strategy.

The experience of the last nine years tells us two things: A clear strategy for military operations is essential, and that strategy will have to change as those operations evolve. In other words, success in these types of wars is iterative, not decisive.

We will win, but we will do so only over time and only after near-constant reassessment and adjustment.

The notion proffered by some that once set, a war policy cannot be changed, or that to do so implies some sort of weakness, strikes me not only as incompatible with our own history, but also as quite dangerous.

War has never been a set-piece affair. The enemy adapts to your strategy, and you adapt to his. And so, you have to keep the interplay going between policy and strategy until you find the right combination at the right time.

The day you stop adjusting is the day you lose.

(Editor’s Note: Navy Adm. Mike Mullen is the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.)

Category: Leadership, News

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