Brussels, Belgium – Two tankers who as young men could have squared off against each other on the East German border sat in the Russian Embassy here today and talked about ways their two nations could cooperate.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met his Russian counterpart, Gen. Valery V. Gerasimov, with an eye to improving the military-to-military relations between the two nations.
Dempsey spoke of the shared military history of the two nations and proposed a ceremony to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the meeting of the US and Russian armies at Torgau, Germany, in April 1945.
That meeting sealed the defeat of Nazi Germany.
On political tracks, the US-Russia relationship is a bit bumpy, but on the military track, Dempsey noted, there are ways these two powerful forces can cooperate.
“I always find it encouraging when I can meet with my counterparts — especially the most influential militarily around the world,” the chairman said following the meeting. “I was encouraged by his candor … and his warmth in seeking to find ways that we can continue to advance the issues where we agree and where we can contribute to resolving those on which we disagree.”
The two men also signed the 2014 Work Plan for the nations. It was the first time the chiefs of defense signed such a document. “We felt it important enough to come together and do it ourselves,” Dempsey said. The Work Plan calls for 67 activities in which military personnel from both countries will work together.
“These are generally staff exercises, not maneuver exercises, although there are maneuver exercises in all domains — air, land, sea,” the chairman said during an earlier interview. “Maneuver exercises tend to be small — battalion level or below.”
Some areas of disagreement exist between the two militaries, and ballistic missile defense tops that list. Russia is opposed to ballistic missile defense for political and technical reasons. “But I’m encouraged, because we’re still talking about it,” Dempsey said. “The alternative would be we would all go our separate ways and we would generate another form of an arms race on that particular issue, and nobody wants that.”
The points of disagreement have “never driven us to the point in our mil-to-mil contacts where we can’t have the conversation,” Dempsey added.
The chairman said he believes there is still room for a better understanding not only about the technical capabilities related to missile defense, “but also the threat and our intentions vis-à-vis our allies and protecting ourselves.”
But the nations agree on Afghanistan.
“We agree that a stable Afghanistan and an Afghanistan that is not a sanctuary for terrorism is in our common interests,” the chairman said. “They are concerned that if the Afghan security forces don’t continue to receive a certain amount of support, and if the environment in Afghanistan deteriorates to the point where the central government can’t control, or at least influence, events, they are concerned it will destabilize fairly quickly. [The Russians] are supportive of our continued presence there.”
The Russians asked a number of questions about US retrograde activities from Afghanistan, Dempsey said, to “gauge how quickly events in Afghanistan could change.”
“In their view,” he added, “it does relate to the amount of structure that NATO continues to provide there.”
The Russians are looking for a tipping point in Afghanistan, the general said. “They didn’t share what they thought the tipping point is,” he continued, “but in their view, there clearly is one.”
Other areas of mutual interest include antipiracy and counterterrorism efforts and Arctic issues.
The two men also discussed security at the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympic Games. The Russian military is working in support of civilian security organizations, and Dempsey heard Gerasimov’s assessment of the task. The Russian armed forces are bringing unique military capabilities to the effort, he said, including air defense, the maritime domain, chemical and biological defense, backup medical support for civilian authorities, management of the electronic spectrum and electronic warfare and the like.
“I reiterated the fact that we would favorably consider requests from them,” Dempsey said.
No matter where the Olympics were being held this year, it would be a problem, Dempsey said, as international terrorists would seek to disrupt the games no matter where they were held. But having the games near Chechnya and Dagestan brings its own set of threats, he noted.
Gerasimov has “a hand-picked, highly trained task force that’s been in place for some time,” Dempsey said. “He believes they have in place the intelligence apparatus, as well as the response apparatus, to deal with the threats as they know them this year in Sochi.”
And, the Russian general is interested in American technology for countering improvised explosive devices that the Russian military might be able to use, the chairman said. The United States would share technical information on the counter-IED efforts, he added, and if it is compatible with Russian equipment, will look to provide that information to Russia in time for the games.
The Russian military is holding a tank biathlon next year, and the United States will observe “with the eye on participating downstream,” Dempsey said. The biathlon, he added, could have a Russian T-90 tank competing against a US M-1 tank sometime in the future.