Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen discussed current and anticipated challenges the military must confront in continuing to safeguard national interests.

Mullen, the first speaker in a new Lee Hamilton Lecture Series on Civil Discourse and Democracy, thanked Hamilton, who attended the event, "for always being civil no matter how tough the debate, and for being a leader dedicated to safeguarding our democracy like very few others."

Asserting the importance of considering a diversity of opinions and voices, Mullen cited the "Mr. Y" paper, unveiled by the Wilson Center in April during its National Conversation series, written by Captain Wayne Porter and Colonel "Puck" Mykleby. Mullen echoed several points these officers made in this national strategic narrative, particularly the need to remain engaged internationally, including with our adversaries. "Abandoning these partners in these regions…leads to isolation and resentment, ultimately making our nation less secure," said Mullen.

In considering the more troubled regions of the world, he agreed that "security without prosperity is unsustainable." He also supported one of the paper's core tenets: that the world is moving from Cold War-era notions of power and control to that of promoting strength and influence.

Looking at strategies and challenges moving forward, Mullen said, "We need to look beyond the urgent." That longer view, he said, includes an emphasis on engagement and diplomacy, as well as increasing our competitive edge through technology, training, and human capital.

"Sovereign states will remain the cornerstone for interaction," Mullen said. "Continued globalization means that states will continue to become more interdependent on each other, particularly economically," he said, though nongovernmental organizations and non-state actors will remain important.

Long-term state-based challenges include rogue states pursuing nuclear capability, and operational risks posed by cyber-attacks and other effects of technology proliferating to state and non-state actors.

New challenges will arise as changes occur in the international system. The Arab Spring has begun to inspire political and social change. Economic strength, he predicted, the basis for military might, will shift toward Asia. Meanwhile, some populations and economies are growing rapidly, such as China, India, and Brazil. "Security means more than defense," said Mullen, quoting the Mr. Y paper. "We must accept that competitors are not necessarily adversaries and that a winner does not demand a loser."

Mullen called the national debt "the greatest threat to our national security." He said he expects the defense budget to level off for the next few years. Given strained resources, Mullen underscored setting priorities and being flexible.

Reshaping the U.S. military will be especially challenging, he said. "Threats are more numerous; they're more complex; and they're more diffuse. A more balanced and more versatile force is the right [strategy]."

Mullen noted we must consider the security implications of the likely drawdown of U.S. deployed forces in the Middle East over time. He said military power must be accompanied by using all instruments of national power, including expanding partnerships and trust, so that we may "apply military power smartly, sparingly, and skillfully."

He concluded by expressing gratitude to our war veterans, urging all Americans to honor their service and sacrifice. A major domestic policy challenge is finding ways to help vets reintegrate into society, including finding housing, jobs, and health care.

"So at this institution, named for a man seared as a child by the experience of the Civil War, who 50 years later would be tried by challenges of the war to end all wars," he said, "I thank you for remembering and supporting these young Americans and their families who have given so much."

Drafted by Dana Steinberg, Outreach & Communications