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Dempsey: World changes require refocus on real threats

American Forces Press Service

Published: 12:00PM May 29th, 2014

The world has changed and because of it, protecting NATO’s eastern and southern flanks has to be a priority, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey said May 22 at the end of the NATO Chiefs of Defense Meeting in Brussels.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said he has attended many NATO meetings and this was, by far, the most interesting, with many of his fellow chiefs of staff joining in the discussion.

The chiefs are preparing their best military advice to present to their civilian leaders in advance of the Sept. 3 to 4 NATO Summit in Wales.

With the winding down of operations in Afghanistan and Russia’s annexation of Crimea and threats to Ukraine, NATO may be at an inflection point, Dempsey said.

Much has changed since the Chicago Summit two years ago. Then, the alliance was concerned with how to responsibly end the war in Afghanistan and how to maintain military capabilities despite declining budgets.

“This summit will focus on the changing security environment related to Russia’s activities as well as the inherent instability that is now at least the near-term outcome of the Arab Spring in the Middle East and North Africa,” Dempsey said in an interview as he flew back to Washington.

On the eastern flank the threat comes from Russia acting in what Dempsey described as a dangerous and provocative manner. The southern flank is different. “Dealing with the threats and influences that are emanating out of the Middle East and North Africa into NATO’s southern flank requires more than just the military instrument of power,” he said. “It requires cooperation with law enforcement, public diplomacy, border control, customs, and that’s not something that comes naturally to NATO.”

Terrorism, criminal networks, drug trafficking, and human trafficking are just some of the problems on NATO’s southern flank.

The United States and NATO have been very successful in suppressing al-Qaida elements in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Dempsey said. “But the al-Qaida ideology has adapted and has decentralized,” he said.

At the same time, the Arab Spring is creating political instability in North Africa and the Middle East with al-Qaida taking advantage of the instability. “Now you find these groups are spread across an arc that runs roughly from Pakistan across the Arabian Peninsula, across the Middle East and North Africa and all the way down into Nigeria with Boko Haram,” Dempsey said.

The southern flank will require different tools, Dempsey said. The chiefs talked about speaking with the European Union. “They actually have the mandate to do things like build partner capacity, law enforcement, customs and border controls and so forth,” the chairman said.

The alliance needs to maintain the ability to do out-of-area operations, “but we also have to realize something has changed close to home — the eastern flank and southern flank — and that requires us to refocus on the threats that are real,” Dempsey said.