Joint Chiefs Chairman: U.S. Military Will Not Be Involved In Denying Caravan

Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. also talked about civilian-military relations

Part of the Duke for America Series
Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. discusses the challenges facing the US military with Professor Peter Feaver.
Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. discusses the challenges facing the US military with Professor Peter Feaver. DOD photo by Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Dominique A. Pineiro

U.S. military forces will not be involved in denying a caravan of Central American immigrants entry to the country, the nation’s highest ranking military officer said Monday at Duke.

“We are providing enabling capabilities,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. said during a campus visit. “There is no plan for soldiers to come into contact with immigrants or to reinforce Department of Homeland Security as they’re conducting their mission.”

Dunford spoke to political science professor Peter Feaver, director of Duke’s Program in American Grand Strategy, and an audience of about 300 in Penn Pavilion. 

The talk, the fall 2018 Ambassador Dave and Kay Phillips Family International Lecture, covered topics ranging from the current strategic environment faced by the U.S. military to civilian-military relations.

Dunford is the principal military adviser to President Trump, the Secretary of Defense and National Security Council.

“The soldiers on the border right now know exactly what they are doing, know why they are doing it, and have the proper training to accomplish what we are asking them to do,” Dunford said.

Dunford has served as chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under both President Obama and Trump.

Assessing the greatest challenges faced by the U.S. military, Dunford asserted that the focus of the United States has shifted since 2015 from “four plus one” -- the prioritization of China, Russia, North Korea and Iran as state actors and of violent extremism as a non-state threat to “two plus three,” which prioritizes the importance of China and Russia.

Competition from Russia and China constitutes a substantial military challenge to the United States in five domains -- land, sea, air, space and cyberspace.  The two countries are seeking ways to disrupt the United States’ ability to project power; to send as many forces, material and equipment as possible rapidly around the world; and to operate freely in any given region.

Dunford said that it is the strength of the United States’ network of allies that has been built up since World War II and the United States’ ability to project power when and where necessary that will allow the country to succeed in confronting these threats. 

Dunford noted that over the past three years, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has undergone a transformation in organizational structure and capability development to act as effective partners with the United States in facing these challenges. 

At the same time, Dunford has acted as a “military diplomat” to increase communication, transparency and coordination in crisis management with his Russian and Chinese counterparts.

Appointed by President Obama in 2015 and reappointed by Trump in 2017, Dunford served two presidents with different visions and governing styles.

“We work for the American people and we’re conscious of that. We think they should understand what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.”
-- Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr.

 “The national security decision-making process reflects the individual who makes decisions,” Dunford said. “The president can get advice from whoever he seeks advice from in whatever venue he decides.”

“I play a unique role in interfacing between our elected political leadership and those in military uniform,” Dunford said. Despite the administrations’ differences, Dunford feels his service as a military leader is consistent.

Dunford expressed concerns regarding the gap between the military and society because only 1 percent of the population serves while most Americans have no personal connection to the military.

“That should be a challenge we take on,” Dunford said.  “We work for the American people and we’re conscious of that. We think they should understand what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.”

Dunford previously served as the 36th commandant of the Marine Corps. Before that he was the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps from 2010 to 2012 and was commander, International Security Assistance Force and United States Forces Afghanistan from February 2013 to August 2014.