WASHINGTON, July 15, 2014 – The world is very dangerous, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James F. Amos said today but the United States has global responsibilities and cannot become isolationist.
“It’s not a matter of the sky is falling, I don’t worry about that, but I am concerned about the international arena,” he said during a discussion sponsored by the Brookings Institute.
From events in the Palestinian territories and Israel to sub-Saharan Africa and into the Asia-Pacific region, the problems of the world need to be taken seriously, the commandant said.
“In that light, as it comes back to the United States of America [and] the matter of ‘What’s our role in it? What’s our responsibility? Do we have one’,” Amos said. “I’d argue that some of the drumbeat I hear is just, ‘Come back home. Let’s just disengage, let’s let the world sort itself out and then we’ll just see what happens.'”
Isolationism in today’s global climate is naïve, he said. Like it or not, the United States has a role in a real and dangerous world, the general added.
While the United States has many partners and allies, there are really only a handful that can be relied on consistently, day after day, Amos said.
“We’re probably the only country in the world that has the resources and the capability to be able to do some of this that others can’t,” he said. And that means the global role of the United States should be a subject of national discussion, he said, because the outcome of that discussion will define the nation’s budget priorities.
“I believe the United States of America … really is a force for good,” the commandant said.
“We may think we’re done with all these nasty, thorny, tacky little things that are going on around the world,” he said, “and I’d argue if you are in that nation or you’re in part of that it’s not a little tacky little thing for you … it’s a big deal. But we may think we’re done with them, but they’re not done with us.”
His interventionist stance isn’t an attempt to squeeze more money from the defense budget, the general said. If one accepts the premise that the nation has global responsibilities, he said, the military is one of the ways of carrying them out.
“Certainly not the only way,” Amos said, “and I would argue, in most cases maybe not the most effective way. Certainly diplomacy … over time has a greater effect.”
But, Amos said, within the framework of the United States’ international responsibilities, it’s important to discuss the impact that budget uncertainty will have on the military. Planning for sequestration means the Marine Corps will be relatively unscathed until at least 2016, when full sequestration is scheduled to kick in again, he noted.
“We designed a Marine Corps for the future under a fully sequestered budget,” the general said. “…But Congress is the one that allocates the money, and beyond ’16 and beyond, I’m just not confident … that Congress is going to fix it.”
The Corps presently has about 190,444 Marines, he said. “We started at 202,000, so we’re on our way down,” Amos said. “… And under a fully sequestered budget, that’s 175,000 Marines.”
As the nation’s smallest military service, operational forces make up almost 70 percent of the Marine Corps, he said. With such a small support base, personnel reductions are keenly felt in mission capacity, Amos noted.
If things don’t change and Marine Corps manning falls to sequester levels of 175,000 Marines, he said, the deployment-to-dwell for almost all Marine combat units will be about 1:1.6 to 1.7.
“That means you’re going to be gone for seven months, you’re going to come home for about 11, and then you’re going to be gone again,” the general explained.
“We’ve experienced that,” he said. “We were 1:1 at the height of the war in Iraq, and we did that for almost three years. The ideal deployment-to-dwell for reset, family, just kind of getting your head back in the game is 1:3. So this 175,000 force is going to be a deploying Marine Corps.”
There’s no other way to meet national security requirements with a force that size, Amos said.