Failed States Index 2011 Launch Event Keynote Address

Published June 29, 2011
By Admiral Mike Mullen
The Failed States Index Launch Event
Transcript of speech presented to the Failed States Index 2011 Launch Event by Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on June 29, 2011.

MODERATOR: (In progress) – it is not unusual to run into ground force officers who have more time in combat in these campaigns than the length of time we were engaged in World War II. As the nation’s senior military officer, he has spoken forcefully and frankly about the need for us to recognize and fulfill our debt to our veterans of Americans’ campaigns overseas, and as a leader sensitive to the need for nontraditional approaches to modern warfare, he recognized the value of a business approach in support of solving problems in joint/combined operations and strategic thought. Please join me in a hearty welcome for one of the very finest men in uniform, Admiral Mike Mullen. (Applause.)

ADMIRAL MICHAEL MULLEN: Well, good morning. Thanks, Mike (sp). You – you’re too kind. I certainly do remember, back in 2005 and 2006, the stress we were under, this new threat which was killing our people at a rate we could not get ahead of. And as I think about that now, one of the – one of the phrases that we used back then was “the speed of war,” and the enemy just had more speed and more adaptability and more flexibility than we did. And it was really in ways that he probably doesn’t even appreciate, but what Monty (sp) put in place in this, I thought, incredibly well-named organization – (laughter) – were pieces of what has become – I’ll call it a combat system that has allowed us to match the enemy in terms of speed. And if you can’t do that, if you can’t match them and get ahead of them, then you’re in trouble. And so what happened there was in great part responsible for us – it underpinned, in very many ways, our ability to get ahead of it in Iraq. It certainly wasn’t the only thing, but there were a lot of things that we learned then and, from my perspective, just in time for Afghanistan, because we have huge challenges there as well.

That’s not actually what I came here to talk about today. This is a group that’s focused on failed states, and actually, I think we’re all focused on failed states, whether we’re actually focused on them or not. I’ll use Yemen as an example. For several years, I have worried a great deal about Yemen really as the – a potential next place for al-Qaida Central, and it is becoming that fairly rapidly. And it is in the chaos that has been there for some time – many of us call them ungoverned spaces – that we now see coming to fruition that concern, and that al-Qaida, while their leadership still resides in that border in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the – al-Qaida, the federated group that’s in Yemen, is an incredibly dangerous group that has taken full advantage of the chaos that has been in that country and, needless to say, has intensified as we sit here today.

Many of you certainly would be familiar with the history of Somalia, you know, another failed state. And as I look at the failed state index and look at the states that sort of top the list or bottom the list, depending on how you want to look at it, none of them are surprising. What concerns me about that is the – is the need – the need, quite frankly, for the global entities that exist to address the challenges that are there.

One of the principles that I have – that has been with me my whole life but I’ve really adopted in this job as I’ve traveled around the world and the many – looking at the many, many challenges that we have, is a principle that I learned as a very young officer when I first deployed to Vietnam in 1969, and I visited countries in the Western Pacific. And some of those countries were very wealthy, but there were – was also a significant group of have-nots. And when I was visiting the have-nots, when I became familiar – and it was really, as a young officer, the first time I’d ever seen it – the message that came from the families that I would become familiar with was that they were anxious to raise their young children to a higher standard of living than the one they had achieved and do it in some version of peace and prosperity.

And you need the peace to generate the prosperity to be able to achieve that standard. And that’s a global standard, from my perspective. I’ve never run into a parent around the world that didn’t want to achieve that – obviously, made difficult in many parts of the world, and it’s easier in other parts of the world.

But as – and I’d go back to sort of the haves and the have-nots – even by country, to me, that seems to also address the challenge that we have in the world.

You will, I hope, today debate and discuss the importance of every single entity that exists on this globe, whether it’s public or private, whether it’s nongovernmental and – whatever the entity is, the organization is, and – that I think it’s an imperative that we all figure out how we’re going to address these challenges together, because these challenges will come at us – and I go back to – and they are coming at us; I go back to what I said earlier – at a speed, quite frankly, that is accelerating.

So three or four years ago, when I was worried about and focused on Yemen and what to do – and in my world, oftentimes the “what to do” is a military answer – and another principle is, there isn’t a military answer. There’s not a military answer anywhere. The military – the security piece is a necessary condition, but it is insufficient in and of itself. And it’s taking us a long time to figure that out.

We also have various organizations, private and public, who have not worked with each other and oftentimes meet each other in the middle of the fight. And that’s not a great time to say hello, because we have biases that are created over time because we don’t know each other, and you have a very difficult time overcoming those biases when you need – when they need to be overcome the most, when you are in fact in the middle of a crisis, and you have to figure out how to respond. It – so I have argued, for years, we need to understand each other in advance. We need to have exercises in advance. We need to assign people from one organization to another, so that – so that there is that understanding; so that when you get into a crisis, you know what to do. And I can use – even our own government, in the crisis a little over a year ago in Haiti, was, you know, challenged in terms of all of our agencies – even though we’ve been through a few crises ourselves, all of our agencies, in terms of how to respond, and how to respond with the kind of speed that saves lives – which oftentimes, certainly in the kinds of natural disasters that we see, is absolutely required, and they seem – for whatever reason, they seem to be occurring at a rate that continues to increase over the last four or five or six years, and I have no reason to believe that that won’t – that that won’t continue.

And whether it’s the Arab Spring – and the – I guess the other thing is just the incredible uncertainty that is out there in the world in which we live. One of the ways I describe that is that if we were meeting here in January and I would have said, OK, about 60 days from now, in the middle of March, the two countries that would be consuming me every single day for weeks would be Libya and Japan, and you would have said: Why? What have you been either thinking, drinking? Who’s giving you this information? And yet those countries did consume me in March, and that is – and that’s – that is in addition to what is happening with the Arab Spring and where that goes and the uncertainty that is associated with that.

And I also believe – have believed for years that we have moved beyond – and this is part of the post-Cold War business – we’ve moved beyond a single entity or a single country being able to control an outcome, and that’s the United States. We cannot control outcomes anymore. We’re not living in a world where that can be the case. I think we still are in a position of expected global leadership and that countries around the world or peoples around the world, whether they like the United States or not, there’s an expectation that we will lead. And certainly I know we feel that way as a country.

But I think our future is tied to influence. It is not tied to control. And our ability to influence outcomes in the long run – it comes right back here, right back home. We have to have our own house in order financially and economically in order to be the power that we’ve always been and meet those expectations around the world, whether they are desired expectations, you know, on the part of other countries and other peoples around the world or not, but to meet those.

The other thing – and I’ll just – I’ll just give a small example. A couple of years ago, I hosted at my quarters organizations that were – have very often – NGOs that have been focused on improving people’s lives in many, many ways. And I met the leaders of Doctors Without Borders and Human Rights Watch and organizations that were quite frankly surprised that they’d be standing in my quarters for a reception. Just that evening, actually, gave me contact information with leaders that I was able to use later on, specifically in a – in the Haiti crisis.

But one of the – one of the shocking statistics from that night, for me, was that one of the organizations relayed to me that they had people – their – people in their organizations in roughly 1,400 Afghan villages since about 1973. Now do you think that organization knows something about Afghanistan? And don’t you think I would like to take advantage of – and I mean that in a constructive way – take advantage of the information that is available? And I recognize that’s a very delicate line to walk because of the trust that those organizations obviously have in those Afghan villages with the local leaders. But how do we take advantage of that knowledge? How do we work together in an area that we both feel strongly about in terms of the improvement of the quality of life, back to that universal constant of can we get to a peace – peaceful and stable outcome here, so those parents can raise their kids to a higher standard of living?

And then one last phenomena that I actually see in Washington here is the increase – the increased both requirement and ability to put public-private ventures together to make a difference. And it takes creative, demanding leaders to be able to do this, because we are – back to the name of Monty’s (sp) organization – we are still the Pentagon, and we are still bureaucratic, and we still like to do things certain ways, and we are not easy to work with. I understand that. But work with others we must. We know that, in the world that we’re living in, and again, I think it’s just going to accelerate.

And then where do we put our emphasis? Where do we put our emphasis? Right now our emphasis is far too much on the kinetic side because of the threat. It goes back to the Somalia piece. This al-Qaida organization in – I’m sorry – Yemen piece. This is a very dangerous organization, and yet we’d like to get ahead of it.

I was at a meeting many, many months ago with the president, and we were talking about the military aspects of Yemen, you know, and he looked at me and others and said: Well, where are the nonmilitary investments? How are we going to make a difference there? Which really is the long-term solution, not just in Yemen, but in failing states, and the balance between that and the impact it has on us and, again, making sure we take care of our own house – and we have to do that.

And I believe because we are who we are that these challenges – I’ve focused heavily on Africa in the last few years, because I lived in Italy, and I was – in 2004 – and I was taken back by the focus that existed in Italy, but really the Southern European countries on the Mediterranean, on Africa and, essentially, the challenges that exist coming out of Africa that the countries in Europe have to deal with on a regular basis: the migration of people, the slavery business, the drug business, the arms business. And it’s all flowing, and this is natural. It flows to a better life. And that’s true in Europe, and that’s true here.

And that flow, that current, that tide is out there, and it’s rising. And in that are included many of these failed states. And I don’t have to speak long to you about globalization effects, what’s going to happen with water, what’s going to happen with our energy resources. I was in Shanghai a couple years ago, and I was struck by, first of all, the size. It was told to me – and this is 2007 – Shanghai was about 20 million people. And relayed to me were the number of those Chinese who were coming into Shanghai to find work, living very poorly, by the way, on the edges of Shanghai. And someone said to me that China is building a city the size of Shanghai every single year, and they continue to come for a better life, for a better income – back to that universal standard. And certainly this is for, principally, the government of China to answer, and I understand that. And yet that kind of problem exists in many, many places as we look at how do we move forward.

And then lastly I’d say I have tried to focus, from where I live, on the economic engines that are going to create this standard of living. And they are here. They are in China. They are in India. They are in Brazil. They are in the Middle East. They are in Europe. So how do we make these economic engines work together so that the haves and the have-nots are not as far apart? And if they – it’s just my belief – if we continue to – if they continue to separate, if we don’t figure out how to get at this across the board, across all the organizations and people that care and make these connections and make these differences, then I think there will be more and more failed states. It won’t be where I am on the index.

It’ll be how high up from the bottom there are failed states. And it is that challenge, I think, that faces all of us with respect to everything that we’re doing, not just now but in the future.

So thanks for what you’re doing. Thanks for addressing this issue. And the other thing is – and I’ll just task Monty (sp) – if you have any good ideas, send them to me. And I’m sure, with all the talent that’s here, there are some that we can take aboard in the Pentagon and work where we are responsible and then try to make those connections throughout the government, but quite frankly, throughout the world. Thanks. (Applause.)

And I am told I have time for a couple questions.

Q: (Off mic.)


Q: Me?


Q: All right.

ADM. MULLEN: Just stand up and –

Q: All right. My name is Richard Kitterman (sp). Hello, my name is Richard Kitterman (sp). I’m an international relations student at the University of Southern California, and my question is that when you’re confronted with a fragile state or failed state, what do you think should be the first kind of assistance that’s provided? Do you think that there should be a security-type intervention that – send in peacekeepers or soldiers to try to prevent a civil war, or do you think there should be more of an economic and the more classical humanitarian-type intervention, where you send in food and send in money to try to – to try to promote prosperity, or at least – or at least a stable – a more stable standard of living?

ADM. MULLEN: Yeah, I don’t know if you read my bio. I’m from Los Angeles, and when you grow up in Los Angeles, you pick one school or another. I didn’t pick SC. I picked UCLA. (Laughter.) So I won’t – I won’t hold that against you, but –

Q: No crosstown rivalry feelings here.

ADM. MULLEN: No, I know that, I’m sure. No, you come from a great institution. I – (laughter) – well, I – I actually mean that – (laughter) – except for the sports side of it. (Laughter.) When I get asked questions, I – let me broaden that a little bit, if I can. I mentioned the Arab Spring, and I think it is instructive, because I get asked questions – well, if we are doing what we’re doing in Libya, why don’t we do it somewhere else? And I actually think the answer there is that every single country, every single region, and every single country in the world is different. And there are unique aspects to every single country and unique aspects to every single situation. And so you covered some of the spectrum of things that should be done or could be done, but I think it really depends on the situation.

I don’t think you can make a lot of progress in any country without security. And so you have – that has to be created, but that doesn’t mean there needs to be an intervention – that can happen internally as well – and that each country also has an effect on its region and in different ways. And we have to take – I think we have to take that into consideration.

So you laid out a menu of things that could be done, has been done, have actually been used in various countries and various situations. But I think it’s – I think it’s too – I don’t think you can prescribe in advance: Here’s what has to be done in Yemen or in Somalia or in – or you pick the country, others who are emerging.

I mean, there are huge concerns right now in Sudan. Sudan’s going to be independent here in less than a month, north and south, and there – and you can see there is great tension right on that border already. And that tension is focused on resources, on energy resources in particular and, obviously, the economic value of that in terms of how those get – how those get distributed at this – once this independence is – starts on the 9th of July. So there’s not – and we’re watching that very carefully, and we want those states to succeed, both of them.

And then there’s also – back to – there isn’t one country that can do it. I think we and particularly the countries who are better off have to figure out how to bring resources and capability and education and how do you stand up governments, if you will, if that’s the requirement. And there are a lot of – there are a lot of skills that are resident in countries around the world and organizations around the world that would be technical skills on how to help certain countries in certain situations. But I just don’t think there’s a – you know, there’s not a set answer with respect to that. I think it really has to be applied specifically based on the situation.

Q: Thank you.

ADM. MULLEN: Yeah. Yes, sir.

Q: Thank you, Admiral Mullens (sic). My name is Tom Getman, I’m an NGO executive, served in the Middle East and on the OCHA Board in Geneva in the U.N. Thank you for meeting with my colleagues, and I have to say, as a person from a Quaker background – (chuckles) – you give me some hope with your humanitarian spirit. How do we manage this very difficult problem of integrated missions when we in the NGO community have had our casualties doubled because of the appearance that we’re force enhancers to the U.S. military?

ADM. MULLEN: Well, first of all, you have to – I think you have to recognize the problem, and you’ve described it. And I would say that you describe – and maybe this is ideal for me – you describe something that is going to be very obvious or a belief that is going to be very obvious on the front end of an engagement.

So knowing that, I think we have to do – before we ever get to a point where we’re working together – and that gets back to what I said earlier – this is something – we know that that effect is going to get generated, and we’re going to have – we’re going to have to defuse it before we ever start. Otherwise it becomes that much more difficult, as you’ve described.

And there’s the real – there’s the real piece of that – of the enhancement and then there’s the perception piece. And the perception piece can become propaganda that the enemy’s going to use and that makes it very dangerous for you and obviously the people that we’re trying to help. So we understand that, and we understand a lot more about that then we did just a few years ago. It takes, you know – for leaders, it really, I think, takes aggressive leadership to lay this stuff out and say, if there’s a possibility that we’re going to be doing this together, this is – these are – this is one – these are the issues that we have to address ahead of time – so what are the fora that we do that in. And what I’m saying is that in our government today, there are plenty of people that would be listening to – and certainly in the military – how to – how to address these kinds of challenges.

So what are they, from your perspective? You’ve been doing this a long time. What’s your top 10 or your top 20 that we have to address? And then – you know, identifying the problem; then, how do we move forward together.

And the other thing that I would mention here is, for those of us in leadership positions, we can’t just keep talking about this. We have got to generate actions on the ground or actions prior to on the ground that will permit a better outcome on the ground based on what we’ve learned.

I don’t think this challenge is – this is going to intensify, because we’re going to be out there, I think, more and more over time, just based on the needs that are out there, based on the kinds of things that are occurring globally, if you will – I talked about the resource availability, et cetera, the migration of populations to within a couple hundred miles of their coasts, all those kinds of things. So what are those key issues and then how do we – how do we address them ahead of time? I don’t think solve them. But I think once you execute it and show that it doesn’t have that effect or that is not the intent, you start to move that – move it in a positive direction.

Yes, ma’am.

Q: Thank you. My name’s Kristina Wong; I’m with ABC News. I wanted to get your response on Iraq and Afghanistan being listed in the top 10 – two countries that we’ve been engaged in war in. Thank you.

ADM. MULLEN: Well, I mean, obviously these are countries who’ve been through enormous crises. With respect to Iraq, I have – I’ve felt for some time – and I’m not alone in this – is Iraq has the resources to generate a thriving economy with the oil resources that they have and the appetite the world has for oil. So I actually am fairly confident over time that Iraq will pull itself out of this kind of – this – its place on this index.

I think Afghanistan certainly, you know, inherently does not have the resources immediately available. Someone said to me years ago – and it’s – I’m sure it’s still true – that if you took Afghanistan and put it in Africa, its – you know, its economy would be on the bottom of Africa. That said, I don’t think any of us see us – any of us imagine trying to move Afghanistan, you know, economically to the middle of the pack, if you will, globally. At the same time, if you’ve been there, you know – I mean, you don’t need to move it up a lot to meet that standard that I describe based on expectations of the Afghan people. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t move it up over time, but I think if we can get to a point where there’s enough stability where we can, in the near term, raise the economy a little bit, and then actually with technology these days, in some areas, there are – there is a rich abundance of resources – it’s going to take time to get at that – that offers, I think, possibilities down the road.

That’s just on the – for both these countries, though, that’s just on the economic side. Yeah, and this index just doesn’t measure that, for sure, because it is – it is the combination of economic – what’s going on and then what’s the future look like economically, but it’s also the governance. It’s also security. It’s the – it’s the – you know, how they – how their people are taken care of by their own leaders. And all of that has to be addressed as well.

Yes, ma’am. Or – yes, sir. Yeah, sorry.

Q: I’m – (off mic) – and I’m from – (off mic). I was wondering, how do you keep the securitization of aid from – (off mic) – the economic – (off mic) – U.S.?

ADM. MULLEN: The security of what?

Q: The securitization of aid.


Q: From the – (off mic) – keeping organizations like USAID from donating to – let’s say, Somalia?

ADM. MULLEN: How do I keep them from doing that?

Q: How does that affect the economic engines that fuel development?

ADM. MULLEN: Well, I mean, if I understand the questions here, I mean USAID, first of all, is an organization that we absolutely gutted in the 90s, and it’s coming back. I think all of us are concerned with any monies, not just UAD – USAID money – and Afghanistan’s a good example – with monies that flow into a country, let’s say Somalia, and is it actually hitting the target, is it actually doing what you want to do.

And I think we all have to have a better understanding of how that money is flowing, the accountability aspect of it, to get to where it needs to go, because clearly what we don’t want to do is, we don’t want to feed the corruption that exists in these countries. And that is a very real part of the challenge we have in Afghanistan and certainly in a place like Somalia. I mean, I’ll use – not USAID, but just the World Food Program – trying to get food into Somalia, oftentimes the only safe path is, you know, through the territory that the bad guys are running, and you pay a big price for that. And that’s not what we want to do. You know, the – people in these kinds of positions are ruthless people who could care less whether someone lives or dies, quite frankly. So all of us have to come together, in a way, first of all from a security standpoint, to make sure that they are not dominant, and secondly, when you put aid in wherever – aid in, wherever it comes from, that it’s actually getting to where it needs to go. And we owe it to ourselves to make sure that that’s the case.

I believe that we’re – I’ve seen some advances here, that there are technological advances now that would allow us over time to hold ourselves more accountable for outcomes because of that technology, if we think our way through how do you put technology in place that tracks this stuff to make sure it’s getting where it needs to go. Yeah.

Q: Good morning. My name is Mitch (sp), from the University of Edinburgh. My question is, with respect to the index here, Burundi is number 17 and Uganda is number 21. Reportedly the U.S. is now arming both those countries. What’s the rationale behind arming failing states? Because they are arguably according to this, failing.

ADM. MULLEN: I think the term “arming” is a pretty broad brush. The inference from the question is, you know, we’re going to turn them into a massive military machine. That isn’t the case at all. The way we approach this, from the United States’ perspective – and it’s not unique to the United States, but I’ll speak to the United States – is, we work hard to have a military-to-military relationship with countries throughout the world, and it varies over time.

So we cut off our relationship with Pakistan in 1990 for 12 years because they developed nuclear weapons. We chose earlier in this decade to renew that relationship, and we’re digging ourselves out of a complete – out of a hole of complete mistrust. And from my perspective, we need that relationship, because it’s an extraordinarily dangerous part of the world that is very much tied to our national interests.

We are – we have emerging military-to-military relationships with African countries. We recently stood up Africa Command a couple of years ago. The criticism was – and I understand this – is, you know, we’re going to militarize Africa. That just is not the case. We look at a place like Burundi and a place like Uganda, and we deal with their leadership, political and military, and we decide on balance, what’s the best way to approach this relationship. And it isn’t all military. I mean, there are other avenues of assistance and support that we use in the totality of our government to balance out this is – this overall equation, if you will, for support for countries like Burundi and Uganda. But it’s – I think it’s just too easy to say we’re militarizing them, because that’s clearly not the intent.

We’ve had a 30-year relationship with Egypt. This is out of the Camp David accords from 1978, and it’s at $1.3 billion a year for 30 years. That relationship has been exceptionally strong. It’s grown over time, as we’ve gotten to know each other better. And I would argue that that has been a vital relationship as Egypt got to this point where they’re dramatically changing their future. And their military made a conscious decision not to kill their own people. Is that worth $30 or $40 billion? As far as I’m concerned, yes. It’s an inexpensive investment.

I’m working hard to try to establish a relationship with China. That’s off and on. I think it’s very dangerous to not have relationships with some of these countries, given the potential that’s there and that’s really where – that’s how we come at it. But it’s not just the military side, I want to emphasize; it’s the whole of government. It’s the economic side; it’s the diplomatic side; it’s the education side that we approach all these countries on. It’s not just a single line.

I’m done? (Laughter.)

MR. : There’s people in the back that are getting very agitated.

ADM. MULLEN: OK, I’ll take one more.

Q: Thank you, Admiral. Will Ferroggiaro. I’m a writer and fellow at the Fund for Peace. You referred a number of times to economic constraints on our ability to act in the world, and I wondered if you could speak of that a little bit, in particular the public’s willingness to fund – perhaps (respond to the failed states ?), and perhaps if what you see as perhaps trade-offs that you may need to (decide is positive ?). Thank you.

ADM. MULLEN: I think it’s pretty obvious, as I watch the own – our own internal debate in this country, that we’re going to be spending less money because we’ve got less money, and we’re going to have to figure out a way to handle this debt. And I believe – I actually believe and I’ve said many times that I think the number-one threat to the United States, from a national security perspective, is our debt, and we’ve got to turn that around.

So – but that doesn’t mean shut it off from my perspective. I think we have to scrutinize every single dollar that we spend, both in the country and internationally, and make sure that it’s doing what we want it to do, and get through this time, so that we get into a very strong position to be able to have the kind impact that we’re talking about.

What I worry about – and Bob Gates has spoken about this, and this is historic – you know, after wars, we always come home and we always take an – a more – much more isolated position. And I understand that, I mean, from the standpoint of the weariness of fighting overseas and the extension and the needs that we have here. And you know, what the president said the other night in terms of we’ve got – you know, we need to do some nation building here – I understand that. I believe we’re a strong enough country to be able to do both.

So what I have argued for is to – is to not cut it all off, to – I think you, among others, will – you’ll know – you should know – where the best investments are. So will we be able to invest at the same levels? I don’t think so. But will we able – be able to invest? Yes. And then – I think this goes to the globalization aspect of it – we’re not the only wealthy country in the world, and no single country can do it – do this by ourselves, and there are, I feel, responsibilities that need to be carried out on the part – along these lines on the part of other countries as well.

So as we go through this – and this is a very hard time; I understand that – as we go through this, I just hope we can go through it in a balanced way and not in an extreme way that, I think, in the long run should – that history is replete with examples of when we isolated ourselves, and it just generates a – you know, another big war, which is what we don’t need.

Thank you. (Applause.)