The Power of Partnership

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The following is taken from a May 14 speech at the Global Security Forum in Washington hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

I think for me the headlines in the Quadrennial Defense Review [QDR] are first, focus on the war and the fight that you’re in. Keep an eye on the most dangerous, but you’ve got to focus your resource and your capability and your intellectual capital on the fight that you’re in. You can wish for another future, but you cannot get there unless you can take care of the present. … 

And there’s nobody that I know of out there that thinks that we’re going to be done with the conflicts we’re in in less than five to 10 years. We may be at them in different places and at different levels, but we’re going to be in what we’re doing for the next five to 10 years. …

The second piece here is the realization that, at least from the department’s perspective, we have focused inward for most of our strategy planning over the years. Inward by that I mean, what is it we are going to do as a nation? How are we going to deter, deny, dissuade, assure whatever it is that this week’s buzzwords are how are we going to do that as a nation?

And the reality is we don’t fight alone; we don’t deter alone; we don’t assure alone. Everything is done in partnership. Everything is done in coalitions. And if we don’t do our strategy thinking about up and out instead of down and inward, we will miss the point of the way we do business. … Seems like an obvious thing, but I tell you, it is not. We tend to go inward. …

We can’t afford it, nor can we do it. … There are other very capable nations out there, very willing to partner up. And we’ve got to make sure that our strategy is inclusive, not just acknowledges but brings in and incorporates the capabilities of those we’re likely to be partnered with. …

And people will immediately say, “Oh, you can’t rely on that.” Well, I’ll tell you one thing you can rely on is you cannot afford to do everything yourself. We are not an island. The QDR really hit hard on those points: building the partnership capacities, starting to understand how we’re going to leverage the combined capabilities, not only of our allies but of our industry and of our academic resources. These are two areas that we have not tapped well, particularly commerce.

We tend to want to build and buy and field everything ourselves. We want it to be the best that could possibly be out there and now, quite frankly, pick your service we’ve got a ship on each coast, we got an airplane on each coast. That’s the direction we’re headed. They’re the best in the world, but there’s only a couple of them and yet the world we face is a hugely dispersed and diffused threat.

We need to be in a lot of places. We need quantity more than we need that high-end exquisite capability, and if we can’t figure out how to get to that, then again, we’re living in denial of the world we’re in, hoping for the world we want to have in front of us.

The Nuclear Posture Review [NPR] tied very nicely into the Quadrennial Defense Review. In the previous Nuclear Posture Review, we came up with what was called the new triad. Instead of going bombers, submarines and ICBMs, we said offense, defense, infrastructure, command-and-control things like that. It was the acknowledgement that an offense-only strategy would no longer work in a world that had a range of military operations against which the destructive and lethal power was evenly distributed so you could get weapons of mass destruction with 300 ICBMs coming over the Pole.

In the world we’re living in, you can also get weapons of mass destruction from the single terrorist. You’ve got to acknowledge that fact, and you’ve got to acknowledge that one size does not fit all. An offensive-only strategy will not work, nor will a defensive-only strategy work. …

So the acknowledgement in the Nuclear Posture Review this time around was that things like missile defense, things like conventional capabilities, things like command-and-control and infrastructure were going to be equally important in our deterrence construct, both at the strategic and tactical levels. This is the “how” in this NPR of what was postulated in the last NPR. I have the opportunity, the privilege, the burden whatever you want to call it of going across administrations, but this has been coherent. Now we’re starting to have capability.

The Ballistic Missile Defense Review, which followed on the Nuclear Posture Review, started to bring the instantiation of how we were going to do that, both at the strategic and the regional view, and how we were going to bring our allies into that construct. If I go back just three or four years, I can remember how many times I went to the Hill and to public forums and built up my scar tissue over “the missile defense system will never work, we can’t afford it, it’s not credible” on and on and on to the last six months going to the Hill and the only issue is, “How fast can you build it? Do you need more money?”

It’s the only system that … I have ever experienced where the moment something goes on contract, I got a deployment order against it. That’s how big the demand is out there, particularly in the regional construct.

So what is the right balance and how do we tailor our offenses and our defenses? How do we start to think about what’s the … grand strategy under that construct? How do you tailor it and how do you keep it adaptable? What we don’t want to do is write any of this stuff in stone and then walk away for 10 years. That’s just not the world we’re going to live in. It’s got to be adaptable; it’s got to be able to move through phases of transition for individual countries, individual regions and for the global economy and the global world as it exists today.

If we don’t do that, if we can’t adapt, then it’ll be irrelevant pretty quickly and we’ll go out and take pictures of it and whatnot, but it won’t be relevant to the fights, to the world that we live in. We’ve got to be able to balance that. We’ve got to be able to move it around and put it in the right places and put the right balance of offense and defense together, and we’ve got to have a construct and a strategy under which we’re going to do that.

After those two reviews, we went into a lot of work that was associated with the space posture. That work is not completed. It has been the most difficult of all of the reviews that we have gone through. When there were tens in space, we kept it a secret. Now that there are tens of thousands, we’re still trying to keep it a secret. Nobody knows we’re out there. It is kind of like taking your fighter jet and saying, “The rules shouldn’t apply to me, I’m just going to fly through the traffic pattern in New York City because I’m in the military.” We’re going to have to get to some level of regulation. Nobody wants to do that.

And so where I live in my last job and where I live in my current job, to get up in the morning and go, “OK, how many people are going to run into each other in space today if we don’t cajole, plead with somebody to move out of the way in the next orbit cycle? How many people are going to step on each other’s signals?” Just simple things: Are we going to pass right to right? Left to left? I don’t care, but we’re going to have to get some sort of a management construct for how we do business out there.

Of course, everybody immediately goes to the extreme on it: “You want to take it over, you want to run it.” What I need is a construct in which we can do business in a safe way out there, and we don’t have that today. Each of the countries that have systems that understand space situational awareness keep it a secret: “I don’t want you to know how many are out there.”

When I sat down with my counterpart from Russia, between the two of us in a room, we got down to the point of on this many fingers, which is Marine math, we could count the number of vehicles that we didn’t want to tell each other about. We can work at that level, but we’ve got to find a way to move to a shared understanding of what’s out there, what the traffic is, how we can advantage industry, how we can advantage commerce in that environment, because it’s hugely leveraging, and we’re not the only ones out there anymore, and we’re not the only ones that want to compete in that environment.

Quite frankly, by keeping it a secret, what we have done is so disadvantage our own industry that we’re becoming noncompetitive in this environment because we can’t do what we need to do in technical and intellectual capital to go out there and compete in the global market.

U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright is vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.