Top General: Protecting U.S. from 'Catastrophic Attack' is Lower Priority than Protecting 'Global Economic System'

By Pete Winn | February 25, 2013 | 4:02pm EST

Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (AP photo)

( – The nation’s top general says “contributing to the stability of the global economy” is a higher priority national security interest for the U.S. military than “protecting the country from catastrophic attack.”

In a Jan. 31 speech, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., that the unpredictability of the dangers facing the nation will require in years to come that the military have “a very clear understanding of our national interests.”

“We haven’t had a knock-down drag out debate, even internal to the military, about our national security interests in a long time,” Dempsey said.

“Let me suggest to you that there are at least four and they ought to be prioritized. Number one is the survival of the nation. Where does that take you? Well it takes you to things like our nuclear capability. It takes you – things that could actually alter our way of life. The survival of the nation, and that’s a set of national security interests,” Dempsey told the Coast Guard cadets.

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“The second one is, we have a requirement because we are a global superpower, to lend to the stability of the global economic system. What does that mean to you? Freedom of navigation, maritime awareness.

“So, the second-tier, in my view of national security interests, is our contribution to the stability of the global economic system. Because it’s through that global economic system that we derive the prosperity that we enjoy as Americans. So that’s clearly a national security interest.

“The third one is to protect the country from a catastrophic attack. Again, this is one of those places where we will dance on the head of a pin about what climbs to the level of a catastrophe. You only really will answer that question looking back at it, not looking forward to it.”

Dempsey included “other” weapons of mass destruction (beyond nuclear weapons), chemical weapons, gun trafficking, terrorism, human trafficking on the list.

The fourth priority for the military, Dempsey said, is promoting American values abroad.

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