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Gen. Selva Discussed North Korea, ISIS and the National Defense Strategy with Reporters on the Morning of the State of the Union


It is not every day that a group of journalists can participate in an hour-long conversation with the nation’s second highest-ranking military officer.

On Jan. 30, over 30 reporters from the Defense Writers Group’s member organizations sat down with Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The conversation resulted in over twenty articles published by media ranging from The Washington Post, The New York Times and Reuters to specialized trade publications including Stars and Stripes, Defense News and Foreign outlets, including Britain’s Daily Telegraph and Russia’s Tass newswire, also joined the conversation.

The Defense Writers Group is part of the George Washington University’s Project for Media and National Security, housed at the School of Media and Public Affairs (SMPA). Selva was the highest-ranking military official to speak to the group in over five years.

Selva told reporters that the Pentagon is in the opening stages of “redesigning the force” to be able to combat Russia and China in an era when great power competition is returning as a top priority after a focus on combatting global terrorism.

The new National Defense Strategy will address which capabilities will be needed to take on either fight. “There are two unique competitions that we have to deal with,” Selva said, requiring different military forces and weapons. Then, there is terrorism, and the lesser, but still serious, challenges of North Korea and Iran.

The Pentagon’s task now, Selva said, is to devise a strategy within the budget they are given that will cover all these risks.

Given budgetary limits, “We can either appropriate the funds to get those tasks done, or we can articulate the risk,” Selva said.

On North Korea, Selva told reporters that the U.S. would likely only have a warning time of a “dozen minutes or so” if Pyongyang launched a missile in its direction.

He said the North Koreans have cut the warning time down from as much as an hour by deploying new mobile launch trucks. However, Selva said North Korean leader Kim John Un is still unable to reliably strike targets in the U.S. with an intercontinental missile since the necessary technology has not been fully tested.

The lead story from the breakfast meeting for The Washington Times and The Daily Telegraph (UK) was the likelihood that ISIS will continue to inspire home-grown terrorists for years after it is defeated on the battlefield.

A new headache for the U.S. and its allies is what to do with hundreds of foreign fighters, ISIS detainees and their families now that the terror group has been driven from most of the territory it held.

One key issue Selva raised that did not get attention from the press is how to diminish the risk that a new international terrorist will emerge in a few years.

“My concern is in five or 10 years we’ll have ISIS 2.0 or al-Qaida 3.0 and the process will start again somewhere else in the world,” Selva said.

“The question is, does every partner nation in the coalition have a similar effort to try to wring out of the internet and the education system and our employment practices — the kinds of things that were the breeding ground for foreign fighters in the first place?”

“A kid from London doesn’t just get up in the morning and say ‘You know what? I think I’ll go to Syria and kill people for a few years.’ Something happens that causes that person to be predisposed to that activity.”

Dealing with this massive issue is not just the job of soldiers. Selva was blunt, “I kill people and break things. I don’t build schools and teach children the right way to treat one another. But somebody in government needs to be paying attention to that part.”

It is a task for State Department diplomats, public diplomacy officers, sociologists and psychiatrists — not for the Pentagon, he said.

By David Ensor
Director of the Project for Media and National Security and Walter R. Roberts Fellow


Additional examples:

New York Times "Thousands of ISIS Fighters Flee in Syria, Many to fight Another Day"

Lieutenant General Charles Luckey, Chief of Army Reserve and Commanding General U.S. Army Reserve Command, met journalists and students as the guest of SMPA’s Defense Writers Group.

Back in 1908, when the Army Reserves were formed, doctors were the first recruits.

Medicine remains a key expertise, but Lieutenant General Charles Luckey, Chief of Army Reserve and Commanding General U.S. Army Reserve Command, said he now looks for a wide range of skills and experience in recruits, from rail and pipeline shipment of petroleum, to digital engineering and quantum computing.

Speaking at a Defense Writers Group (DWG) breakfast conversation event on Jan. 24, Lieutenant General Luckey took questions from journalists about the priorities and future of the Army Reserves. The DWG breakfast series is run by the Project for Media and National Security at GW's School of Media and Public Affairs.

When asked about Army fitness standards and the obesity problem in this country, Lieutenant General Luckey estimated that as many as 70 percent of young Americans 18 – 23 may not be eligible to enlist. This led to questions as to whether the Army should relax its physical fitness standards to recruit more members with medical or computing skills.

Luckey says relaxing "grooming standards" for certain skill groups is "on the table" but when it comes to keeping in shape, "I don't want to tinker around with it." Soldiers, he said, need to be "physically and mentally tough."

Whatever their specialty, reserve soldiers can find themselves deployed in war zones under attack and "you've got to be ready, if necessary to kill the enemy in combat."

Major Emily Pengelly, a master’s candidate in GW’s Anatomical and Translational Sciences program and a major in the U.S. Army Reserves was invited to attend the DWG event. Major Pengelly served in the Army from as a physician’s assistant from 2003 – 2015, including a tour in Wiesbaden, Germany.

Upon graduation in May, she is considering attending medical school or working at a U.S. embassy. General Luckey urged her to become a doctor and said the Army would be happy to help pay for medical school.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman William “Mac” Thornberry (center) with Project for Media and National Security Director David Ensor (left) and SMPA Director Frank Sesno

House Armed Services Committee Chairman William “Mac” Thornberry (R-Tex.) took questions from an overflow crowd of journalists on Jan. 16, as a guest of the Defense Writers Group, a 39-year-old Washington institution now facilitated by the George Washington University's Project for Media and National Security at the School for Media and Public Affairs.

The breakfast session produced news articles from more than a dozen news outlets, including TimeThe Hillthe Washington Examiner and the Daily Telegraph on issues ranging from the defense budget and military readiness, to the Air Force Space Command, Hawaii's false alarm and the threat of a nuclear attack by North Korea.

Thornberry was passionate on the issue of funding for defense as Congress faces a deadline to avert a government shutdown.

“Personally, I would do just about anything to fix this problem, including vote for things that I might not support otherwise,” he said. “But I am increasingly disturbed that support for our military is being tied to some other issue, some other agenda.”

The chairman also decried the tendency of Congress to pass continuing resolutions keeping the government open but failing to pass official budgets, a practice of many years now, which makes it difficult for military planners to plan for the future or to innovate.

In November, the Defense Writers Group heard from Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, and Army Chief of Staff General Mark A. Milley.

In September, in the wake of the hurricanes that damaged Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, the Defense Writers Group heard from Air Force General Joseph Lengyel, commander of the U.S. National Guard, on the rescue and recovery work.

GW's Project for Media and National Security works to deepen quality journalism on national security by bringing senior officials and reporters together face-to-face in a variety of settings. The project is funded in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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