The international rules-based order and the strategy of deterrence are not esoteric principles, but ideas that undergird world peace and are worth defending, Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the National Press Club in Washington D.C., June 30.
"Save the international rules-based order" doesn't have the same cache as "Remember Pearl Harbor." You won't see that on bumper stickers on vehicles in the Pentagon's parking lot. But Milley explained the rules-based order came about for good reason.
"A few years ago, I was at Normandy, and I talked to a sergeant from the 82nd Airborne Division; he was in a wheelchair, and he had parachuted into D-Day ahead of the amphibious forces," he shared.
"I leaned over and asked him what his biggest lesson was from World War II," Milley added. "I expected him to give me some sort of tactical advice on maneuver and shooting."
"But he didn't. He looked up at me and tears welled up in his eyes, and he said, 'General, never let it happen again.'"
The rules-based international order was what that paratrooper's generation put in place to ensure a great powers war wouldn’t happen again.
Milley noted that between 1914 and 1945 — World War I and World War II — approximately 150 million people were killed.
"It was the most violent three decades ever recorded in human history, all in the conduct of great-power war," he said. "And the world collectively said in 1945, 'Never again.'"
The peace established by the rules-based international order has lasted almost 80 years. Milley said although the framework has proven its worth, it is under great stress today.
"Russia's unprovoked and illegal invasion of Ukraine is a direct frontal assault on that rules-based international order," he said. "We are now well over a year into this invasion. The bravery and resilience of the Ukrainian people are truly an inspiration to us all."
Nations around the world have rallied to Ukraine's side and have been supplying the capabilities needed to defend the country.
"And we're doing that in order to make sure that rules-based international order holds," Milley stated.
Across the world, China is looking to rewrite the rules-based international order, even though the Asian nation has been perhaps the greatest beneficiary of those rules.
"China's economy has been growing rapidly for the last four decades, as we all know, and is now leveraging its financial power to build up an incredibly powerful military," Milley said.
Chinese leaders have stated they want "to be the regional hegemonic in Asia within the next 10 years, and they want to exceed global U.S. military power by midcentury," he continued.
"The geostrategic history of this century will likely be determined by the United States-China relationship and whether it remains in a competition or tips into great power war," Milley added.
Per Milley, all of this is affected by rapidly advancing technology that is causing the most significant fundamental change in the character of war ever recorded.
"The nature of war, [Prussian general and military theorist Carl von] Clausewitz tells us, is not likely to change," Milley said. "It's a human interaction."
"It's a political act where one side is trying to impose its political will on the other side through the use of organized violence," he stated. "It involves fear and friction, confusion and death."
But Milley said the character of war does change. "The character of war refers to how, where, when and with what weapons you fight," he added.
"That changes fundamentally, every so often, and, right now, currently, we are in that midst," Milley explained. "The last time there was such a change was in the 1930s when Nazi Germany combined radios, aircraft, armored wheeled and tracked vehicles and created the Lightning War that overran Europe in only 18 months."
"Today, unlike at any time in history, we are in an age of incredible ability to surveil," he continued. "We have the ability to see and sense the environment. … We have the ubiquitous ability to see anywhere on the globe at any moment in time."
"And we can do that with incredible precision," Milley elaborated. "Think about all the sensors that are in this room, right this minute. Every GPS watch, every iPhone, every Fitbit, all of them are sensors."
"Our ability to see and sense the environment is unprecedented, and what you can see, you can shoot and hit with precision munitions, you can hit it great range, and with great accuracy."
Robotics will play an increasing role with unmanned aerial vehicles, unmanned maritime vessels and unmanned ground vehicles. According to Milley, these tools are becoming important components of nearly every military.
"In fact, in the next 10 to 15 years, we're likely to see that at least a third of the advanced industrial militaries of the world likely will be robotic," he said. "Think of a pilotless Air Force, or a sailorless Navy or crewless tank."
"The battlefield of the future will require rapid and constant movement, and the ability to remain small and relatively invisible, just to survive," Milley proposed.
Perhaps the biggest change is the rapid onset of artificial intelligence and quantum computing.
"Sun Tzu tells us, 'See yourself and see the enemy, and you win 1,000 battles,'" Milley said. "Artificial intelligence and quantum computing are going to do exactly that."
"We will be able to see ourselves and see the enemy in much more significant ways than we can now," he finished.
AI will also be able to process complex information at speeds that no human mind can match.
"So, our task … is for … the United States military to maintain our current decisive advantage or lethality or readiness or competence by optimizing these technologies for the conduct of war," Milley said. "And we do this not to conduct war, but to deter great power war."
"Great-power war is neither imminent nor inevitable," he noted. "I believe that there's human choice. Our task is to continue to deter large scale war."
The U.S. military must remain overwhelming relative to any other country, Milley said, because "that gets to the very essence of what deterrence is about."
"If we have that power, and we have the will to use it, and that power is known to an adversary, and you assume their adversary is rational, then the probability, not certainty, but probability is that deterrence will prevail, and the great power peace established in 1945 will be sustained," he said.
"And then, we will have honored that sergeant at Normandy and made sure that it never happens again," Milley concluded.
A full recording of Milley's presentation is available at www.c-span.org/video/?529060-1/joint-chiefs-staff-chair-career-military-strategy.
— By Jim Garamone, Department of Defense News