The general said the recent Russia-Georgia conflict in South Ossetia played havoc with the Russian economy, which could have led to problems militarily.
“In this market turmoil, Russia and China could have chosen a different path that would have been incredibly difficult for us to survive,” Cartwright said. He said they didn’t do so because of the interdependence of the world’s economy and “a conscious choice by their governments.”
Cartwright said that interdependence is reflected in an “as they go, we go and as we go, they go” mentality, which is something that is easier to deal with than the Russian-U.S. strategy during the 1950s to 1980s.
“Much as nuclear weapons in the Cold War tended to be able to tell each other when we were uncomfortable, it’s far more comfortable in my mind to use the economy to tell each other when we’re uncomfortable,” he said.
The market economy, the vice chairman added, is one of the most effective tools against al-Qaida, because it leaves a paper trail of how money is used. And although the U.S. economy is slumping, Cartwright said, it hasn’t had an effect on military recruiting, because the “lines are out the door.”
“When times get tough, the lines start to form,” he said. When that happens, he explained, it typically means a deeper talent pool of potential recruits.
“We can raise our standards and keep them high,” Cartwright said. “That benefits the nation.”
The military’s 18- to 21-year-olds are the bulk of the force, doing high-risk jobs all over the world, the general said. This group of young people is different from the generals who lead them, he said.
“They don’t think like us,” the general said. “They don’t have national boundaries in their mind. They live in [an information technology] world. They came up in an IT world. They are global in their mindset. As soon as you get them out and amongst cultures, they assimilate it very quickly.”
He said whether manning a nuclear aircraft carrier or helping develop business as part of a provincial reconstruction team in Iraq or Afghanistan, the nation’s servicemembers are doing a phenomenal job.
“We can’t get them to come home,” Cartwright said. “They are so satisfied and self-fulfilled with that kind of work.”
Cartwright said the model of the servicemember returning home will be a 24-year-old with three combat tours in two different countries and with global experiences. He said the bulk will be the teachers, mayors, fire fighters, police officers and business people of tomorrow.
“That’s our heritage,” the vice chairman said. “That’s what’s going to keep us at the cutting edge. They will keep us competitive, even if we try to do otherwise. Our challenge is keeping up and making sure we don’t screw it up for them.”
Another business challenge the U.S. faces is funding research and development, Cartwright said. While the government still needs warfighting laboratories, there needs to be a solution to partnering with the civilian sector for funding.
“We believe as a government we’ll take 10 or 15 of the smartest people in the world, we’ll tell them what our problem is, stuff them in a room, stick pizza under the door until they come up with the answer and come out, then we’ll keep it a deep, dark secret for 10 or 15 years until we’re ready to leak it to the private sector,” he said. “That paradigm is long gone.”