Milley Makes Case for Rules-Based Order, Deterrence in New Era

  • Published
  • By Jim Garamone
  • DOD News

The international rules-based order and the strategy of deterrence are not esoteric principles, but ideas that undergird peace in our world and are worth defending, Army Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said at the National Press Club today.

Milley spoke at the Newsmakers Lunch and also addressed the latest reports from Ukraine. 

"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 parking lot. But 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," Milley said. "I leaned over and asked him what his biggest lesson was from World War II. 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 would not 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," the general said. "Two world wars and 30 years, two continents destroyed, millions killed, more refugees than at any point in history, systemic genocide of an entire ethnic and religious community. And, of course, the dropping of two nuclear weapons. It was a global slaughterhouse by any measure. And the world collectively said in 1945, never again."

The peace established by this framework has lasted almost 80 years. It has proven its worth, but the rules-based international order is under great stress today, Milley said. "In particular, 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. "We have said our political leaders have said multiple times that our task is to ensure that Ukraine has the support it needs to remain free and independent," the chairman said. "And we're doing that in order to make sure that rules-based international order holds." 

Across the world, China is looking to rewrite those rules even though China has perhaps been 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," the general said. "They are well into doing that." 

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," Milley said. "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." 

All of this is affected by rapidly advancing technology that is causing the most significant fundamental change in the character of war ever recorded in history, the general said. "The nature of war, [Prussian general and military theorist Carl von] Clausewitz tells us, is not likely to change," he 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. It involves fear and friction, confusion and death." 

But the character of war does change, Milley said. "The character of war refers to how, where, when and with what weapons you fight," he said. "That changes fundamentally, every so often, and, right now, currently, we are in that midst." 

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," Milley said. "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. 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. These are becoming important components of nearly every military, the general said. "In fact, in the next 10 to 15 years, we're likely to see that at least third of the advanced industrial militaries of the world likely will be robotic," he said. "Think of a pilotless Air Force, or a sailor-less Navy, or crew-less tank. The battlefield of the future will require rapid and constant movement, and the ability to remain small and relatively invisible, just to survive." 

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."

Artificial Intelligence will 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," he said. "And we do this not to conduct war, but to deter great power war. Great power war is neither imminent nor inevitable. I believe that there's human choice. Our task is to continue to deter large scale war."

The United States military must remain overwhelming, relative to any other country, because "that gets to the very essence of what deterrence is about," Milley said. "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. And then, we will have honored that sergeant at Normandy and made sure that it never happens again."

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