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Dunford Faces Senators Considering His Nomination as Chairman

By Jim Garamone
United States Department of Defense

July 9, 2015 - Russia, China, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, North Korea are just a few of the situations that the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will have to deal with, and the president’s choice -– Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. -– discussed these and more during his confirmation hearing today.

Dunford, currently the commandant of the Marine Corps, spent almost three hours before the Senate Armed Services Committee. If confirmed by the Senate, Dunford would succeed Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey on Oct. 1.

Noting the complexity and volatility of the current security environment, Dunford said there are challenges around the world, in space and in the cyber domain. “While dealing with these and other issues,” he added, “we also face the need to restore readiness and modernize the joint force in the context of fiscal challenges and budget uncertainty.”

If he’s confirmed, the general told the committee, “Iraq, Afghanistan and the places where our young men and women are in harm's way would be the first places I would go to visit.” “This issue, because it's so important, would be one issue that I would look into personally,” he said.

Russia and China

While much of his testimony covered the situation in Iraq and Syria with regard to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Dunford bluntly told the senators that Russia poses the greatest threat to the United States.

“In Russia, we have a nuclear power,” he said. “We have one that not only has capability to violate sovereignty of our allies and … to do things that are inconsistent with our national interests, but they are in the process of doing so.”

Russia poses an existential threat to the United States, he said, “and if you look at their behavior, it's nothing short of alarming.”

While Russia leads the list, the general said, if he had to “rack and stack” his concerns, China would be second. But China’s growing military capability doesn’t necessarily mean it is a current threat, he added.

“It doesn’t mean we view China as an enemy,” he explained. “But … as somebody in uniform, I get paid to look at both somebody’s intent and their capability,” he said. “So when I look at Chinese capabilities relative to our interest in the Pacific, I’d have to consider China as an area of concern for security -- again, as distinct from a threat.”

North Korea and ISIL

North Korea’s nuclear program and missile technology is clearly a threat, Dunford said, followed by ISIL, but he stressed that addressing the threats is more complicated than ticking off a checklist.

“As I go down the list and prioritize, … I don’t view that meaning that we can attack those issues in sequence, or that a prioritization of one at the expense of the other is necessarily something that we’d have to do at this particular time,” Dunford said. “All four of those security issues are ones that require the department to look at [them]. They all create a challenge that needs to be addressed.”

In combating ISIL, Dunford said, he is comfortable with the current strategy that stresses the whole-of-government approach. Of the nine lines of effort, the Defense Department has two: to deny the enemy sanctuary and to build Iraqi and Syrian forces. The other lines of effort are managed by the State Department, the Treasury Department, law enforcement and other agencies.

The DoD effort is really buying time and space for those other seven lines of effort to work, Dunford said.

“To be quite honest, I don’t see how we can have an enduring success unless those other seven lines of effort are addressed,” he said, “and they are, in the final analysis, more important.”


Dunford also addressed what sequestration -- spending caps that will take effect Oct. 1 in the absence of congressional action to change budget law -- would do to American security.

“If we go into sequestration, we’ll be unable to support the current strategy that we have to protect our nation,” he said. “Quite honestly, the readiness of the joint force, the modernization of the joint force, will suffer what I would describe -- and without exaggeration -- as catastrophic consequences.”

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