FPI Suggested Questions for General Dunford’s Confirmation Hearing

July 9, 2015

On July 9, the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing to consider the nomination of General Joseph Dunford, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, to become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  This session comes at a time when the United States is struggling to deal with the rapid growth of ISIS, the Iranian campaign to destabilize the Middle East, Vladimir Putin’s violent intimidation of Russia’s neighbors, and Beijing’s efforts to seize control of the South China Sea.

FPI believes the following questions will be of use to lawmakers and their staff as they prepare to consider the wide range of issues on which the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will advise the President.

The Global Security Environment

In the new National Military Strategy, General Martin Dempsey, the current Chairman, describes “the need to counter revisionist states” that threaten international peace and security.  The strategy identifies Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea as the four principal revisionist states. Gen. Dempsey also writes that the U.S. military advantage “has begun to erode” and that “future conflicts will come more rapidly, last longer, and take place on a more technically challenging battlefield.”

  • General Dunford, do you agree that Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea are all revisionist states that threaten international peace and security? Would you further agree that there is little to no chance that these regimes will set aside their revisionist ambitions?
  • In which areas has the U.S. military advantage begun to erode? Where would you recommend that the Department of Defense focus its investments in response to this erosion?
  • If future conflicts will come more rapidly, does that increase the importance of the U.S. military achieving greater readiness and modernization before the onset of hostilities? If future conflicts will be more technically challenging, is there a need to invest substantially more in military research and development today?
  • Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus testified before this committee that “quantity has a quality of its own.” Do you believe that the U.S. military now lacks sufficient size positioned, and prepared to meet the challenges identified by the new National Military Strategy?

Budget and Force Structure

General Dunford, you previously testified that “DOD funding at the Budget Control Act level, with sequestration, will result in the need to develop a new strategy. We simply will not be able to execute the strategy.” In testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee, General Dempsey stated that even if the Pentagon received the additional $35 billion requested in the FY16 budget, it would “remain at the lower ragged edge of manageable risk in our ability to execute the defense strategy.”

  • General Dunford, do you agree that even with an additional $35 billion per year, the U.S. military would “remain at the lower ragged edge of manageable risk”?
  • How much additional funding per year would be required to execute the strategy with only moderate risk? With low risk?
  • Do you agree with former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and a bipartisan group of more than 80 national security leaders who called for the immediate repeal of the Budget Control Act of 2011 and an immediate return to pre-BCA funding levels?

The U.S. Army will be cut by 40,000 troops over the next two years, down to a size of 450,000 activeduty soldiers. In his testimony before this committee in March, Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno said that “the minimum force necessary to execute the defense strategy was a force floor of 450,000 in the Regular Army.” But, if sequestration continues, the size of the Army may be reduced to as little as 420,000 soldiers.

  • General Dunford, do you agree with General Odierno that 450,000 soldiers is the lowest acceptable end strength in the current threat environment?
  • Given the deteriorating global security environment, what end strength would be required for the Army and Marine Corps to execute the Defense Strategic Guidance with low to moderate risk?
  • Has the readiness of the Army deteriorated to a point where it cannot provide a sufficient number of combat-ready soldiers in the event of an unexpected conflict?  What are the consequences of employing unready troops to meet pressing needs?

Admiral Jonathan Greenert, the Chief of Naval Operations, testified in March that “the cumulative effect of budget shortfalls over these years has forced the Navy to accept significant risk in key mission areas, notably if the military is confronted with a technologically advanced adversary or forced to deny the objective of an opportunistic aggressor in a second region while engaged in a major contingency.”

  • General Dunford, what are the consequences for U.S. and international security if the Navy needs, under the constraints of the BCA, “longer timelines to achieve victory, more military and civilian lives lost, and potentially less credibility to deter adversaries and assure allies in the future?”
  • The Navy is on a budgetary path to 260 ships or less.  Do you agree with the findings of the 2014 National Defense Panel, a bipartisan, congressionally-chartered group of experts, which recommended a target force of 323-346 ships?

The United States will reportedly have no aircraft carriers deployed to the Persian Gulf for a period of months this fall. The gap is a symptom of extended deployments that wear down the readiness of both ships and their crews, which are the result, in significant part, of budgetary shortfalls.

  • General Dunford, can you confirm the existence of a carrier gap this fall, and how long do you expect it will persist?
  • Will the readiness deficit in the Navy continue to worsen under sequestration?  Is lifting sequestration necessary in order to reduce deployment lengths and return the Navy to appropriate levels of readiness?

Degrading and Destroying ISIS

General Dempsey, the current chairman, was recently asked if we are winning the war against ISIS. He responded, “if you’re asking is the United States winning, that’s the wrong question,” because we’re just supporting the Iraqis and others who are on the front lines. Yet as President Obama has said, “Our objective is clear. We will degrade, and ultimately destroy ISIL.”

  • After ten months of U.S. military operations, is ISIS closer to being defeated?
  • How should Congress and the American people gauge whether progress is being made in this war? Are there particular indicators we should be watching?

Robert Gates, the former Secretary of Defense, Michele Flournoy, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, and General Jack Keane, former Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, have recommended that U.S. troops begin embedding advisors with the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) down to the a battalion level, not just at higher echelons.

  • Would you agree that the partnering of U.S. troops with Iraqi units in this way was instrumental in bolstering the effectiveness of ISF units a decade ago?  Do you believe that incorporating U.S. advisers into Iraqi battalions would have a similar effect today?
  • Do you agree with Gen. Keane and other experts who believe that embedding forward air controllers with Iraqi ground forces would substantially increase the ability of airstrikes to hit targets on the ground?

Retired Air Force General David Deptula wrote in the Washington Post that the current air campaign is “averaging 12 strike sorties per day.”  In contrast, “During Operation Desert Storm in Iraq and Kuwait in 1991, the average was 1,241; in Operation Allied Force in Kosovo in 1999, it was 298; in the first 30 days of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, 691; during Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in 2001, 86.”

  • General Dunford, do you dispute any of the facts on which General Deptula based his analysis? Do you agree with his conclusions that a more intensive application of air power could damage ISIS severely?
  • Why is the U.S. launching so few airstrikes when it clearly has the capacity to launch many more?  In your professional judgement, if degrading and defeating ISIS is a national priority, should the U.S. employ its full capabilities?

Iran and the Middle East

Recently, a bipartisan group of experts, including senior officials who advised President Obama on Iran, published an open letter specifying five critical conditions for an acceptable nuclear deal with Iran.

  • Do you agree that nuclear inspectors must have timely and effective access to sites in Iran “include[ing] military (including IRGC) and other sensitive facilities?
  • Do you agree that inspectors must resolve all outstanding questions about the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program “before any significant sanctions relief?”
  • Do you agree that a deal must “establish strict limits on advanced centrifuge R&D, testing, and deployment”?
  • Do you agree that non-nuclear (i.e. terrorism and missile-related) sanctions “must remain in effect and be vigorously enforced”?
  • Do you believe “the agreement must include a timely and effective mechanism to re-impose sanctions automatically if Iran if found to be in violation of the agreement?”

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that according to a senior administration official, that if a deal were to be agreed upon, then the Iranian regime will “have more money to be bad actors if they choose to be bad actors.  But they’ll also have more opportunities to be constructive if they choose that route.” 

  • Do agree that the deal will provide Iran with substantial sums, including a $30-$50 billion “signing bonus” it could use to support the Assad regime in Syria, sectarian militias in Iraq, and the terrorist group Hizbullah?
  • Which do you believe is more likely, that the Iranian regime will continue  its campaign of aggression, or that the conclusion of a nuclear deal will lead it to pursue a constructive role in the region?

Ukraine and Europe

Reuters reported this week that “NATO is preparing for a long standoff with Russia, reluctantly accepting that the Ukraine conflict has fundamentally transformed Europe's security landscape and that it may have to abandon hope of a constructive relationship with Moscow.”

  • Do you believe that Russia’s aggression over the past 18 months “has fundamentally transformed Europe’s security landscape,” and that the United States will have to “abandon hope of establishing a constructive relationship with Moscow” in the near-to-mid term?
  • Do you agree with Secretary Carter, who said during his recent visit to Europe that “Russia might not change under Vladimir Putin or even thereafter?”
  • Do you agree with Secretary Carter’s recommendation that it is in the national security interest of the United States to provide lethal aid to Ukrainian government forces, to help them resist Putin’s campaign of aggression?

During his June visit to Europe, Secretary Carter announced that the United States would “temporarily stage one armored brigade combat team's vehicles and associated equipment in countries in Central and Eastern Europe.” 

  • Would you agree with General Breedlove’s testimony before this committee on April 30 that “The temporary presence of rotational forces may complement, but does not substitute for an enduring forward deployed presence that is tangible and real,” and that “Permanently stationed forces are a force multiplier that rotational deployments can never match?”
  • In light of the fundamentally transformed security environment in Europe, do you believe that the United States should permanently deploy troops to Eastern and Central Europe to help dissuade further Russian aggression against our NATO allies?

The Asia-Pacific

Admiral Locklear testified before this committee in April that China “may be attempting to advance a vision for an alternative security architecture in Asia that affords Beijing increased influence in the region and diminishes the role of the United States.”

  • General Dunford, do you agree with Admiral Locklear’s assessment of China’s strategic goals? 
  • What are the implications and consequences of increased Chinese influence vis-à-vis America’s in the Asia-Pacific?

Admiral Locklear also noted the “astonishing” pace of Chinese construction in the Spratly Islands, and testified that “Southeast Asian nations are increasingly worried that PRC's new capabilities will allow China to take de facto control of the surrounding waters.”  Chinese Admiral Sun Jianguo—the deputy chief of staff of the People’s Liberation Army—also said at the Shangri-La Dialogue in May that Beijing may establish an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the South China Sea like the one it established in the East China Sea November 2013.

  • General Dunford, what would be the consequences of China establishing an ADIZ in the South China Sea for regional and international security?
  • What do you believe are China’s objectives in establishing ADIZs in both the East and South China Seas?
  • Do you believe that if Beijing were to establish an ADIZ in the South China Sea that it would be the first step in establishing territorial control over these contested waters?


General David Petraeus and Michael O’Hanlon wrote in the Washington Post on Wednesday that “Going to a ‘zero option’ next year would be playing roulette with Afghanistan’s future. The right approach for the United States is not to pull out next year but to keep several bases and several thousand U.S. and other NATO-coalition troops in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future.”

  • General Dunford, do you agree with General Petraeus and Dr. O’Hanlon that completely withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan next year “would be playing roulette with Afghanistan’s future?”
  • Will the United States be able to fulfill the goals of Operation Resolute Support, and leave behind an Afghan security force that can competently and independently operate by 2017?
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