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Adm. Michael Mullen’s Three Principles for the Use of Military Force

Adm. Michael Mullen's Three Principles for the Use of Military Force - top government contractors - best government contracting event
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Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen outlined last Friday in the Chairman’s Corner of the DoD’s blog his three principles for the use of military force, drawn from a March 3rd speech at the Kansas State University.  He writes, “I have watched “” and advised “” two administrations as they have dealt with this struggle, and I have come to three principles, about the proper use of modern military forces.”

Below are his three principles for the use of military force:

Military power should not be the last resort of the state.

Admiral Mullen makes the point that, because of its flexibility and speed, the American military is the best tool to use in many situations.  “Military forces are some of the most flexible and adaptable tools to policymakers.  We can, merely by our presence, help alter certain behavior.”  He writes, “But it should never be the only tool.  Use of military forces must be accompanied by other instruments of national and international power.”

Force should be applied in a precise and principled way.

Admiral Mullen is clear that this maxim should not mean that we are unwilling to do what is necessary to win a conflict, but that we should bear in mind our end objective in each conflict.  “Each time we kill a civilian inadvertently, we not only wreak devastation on the lives of their loved ones, we set our own strategy back months if not years. We make it hard for people to trust us.”  He sums up, “Frankly, the battlefield isn“™t necessarily a field anymore but the minds of the people.”

We should welcome a constant struggle between policy and strategy.

Admiral Mullen says that the experiences of nine years of fighting insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan tells us two things: “A clear strategy for military operations is essential, and that strategy will have to change as those operations evolve. In other words, success in these types of wars is iterative, not decisive.  We will win, but we will do so only over time and only after near-constant re-assessment and adjustment.”

He also rejects the notion that war policy cannot be changed once it has been set, or that doing so implies weakness or failure, saying that the notion is “not only as incompatible with our own history, but also as quite dangerous…the day you stop adjusting is the day you lose.”

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