How to Protect US Interests Worldwide

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff discusses the peace mission in Bosnia, military readiness, and US defense-budget problems

Changing global relationships and tightening budgets are reshaping the US armed forces - the world's largest and most widely deployed.. Talking with Monitor editors recently, Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, examined the military's new dimensions.

The US has a two-war strategy for the future, and yet a lot of what has happened since the cold war ended has been little, unexpected duties. How do things like that fit into a two-war strategy?

My sense is that we have it about right when we say that this nation, in order to protect its interests worldwide, has to have the capability to engage two regional tyrants in two very separate parts of the world nearly simultaneously.

If we have a capability less than that, what would happen to us? The minute we get involved in a place like Korea, Saddam Hussein could take advantage of that and not only harm his neighbors but our interests in a region. And so I feel very comfortable that for our nation, the one global power, that's the right capability.

My one fear is that we may tie this too much to the threat at any given time. I submit to you that even if Kim Jong Il and Saddam Hussein were to go away tomorrow, we as a nation need to retain that capability to protect our interests in two widely separated areas. Why? First of all because we have a very poor track record of picking where our interests will be threatened next. [Second], we have a very poor track record of increasing our defenses. So those two things tell you that there is a minimum capability this nation must maintain to advance our interests and protect them.

But how do you then deal with those lesser requirements such as a Haiti, a Bosnia? Well, we have always said that if a Haiti or a Bosnia were to occur, and some trouble were to develop on the Korean Peninsula, we would obviously rush to Korea to deal with that. At the same time, we would have to begin to withdraw our forces from Bosnia or some other place in order to be ready should trouble start somewhere else. Whether we withdraw them, actually, at that time from a lesser contingency will depend on what else is ongoing in the world.

I think it's quite reasonable to assume that if the United States were required to engage in a major way on the Korean Peninsula, that Europeans would be able to take our place in a place like Bosnia and would be willing to do so. But having said that, I don't wish to signal somehow that there is something imminent to that. But that's how we have always looked at the problem, and we feel very comfortable with that.

Is there any way we can convince the Russians of what they don't want to be convinced of: that NATO is an organization that wants to work with them and not an organization that's planning a war against them?

I certainly hope so. I think the development that we see in Bosnia now [is very encouraging], where a Russian brigade is participating together with an American division as part of a NATO operation. It is through arrangements such as this that I think we can be more persuasive than through words. NATO is not against Russia. But NATO is against instability, and against strife, and crises on the European continent. I happen to be absolutely convinced that in the end Russians will understand that it is to their benefit to see stability on their borders.

In the end, we cannot build the kind of Europe that we all wish for without Russia's participation. And so I think the alliance will enlarge. But hand in hand with enlargement of the alliance must go a special relationship between the alliance and Russia.

You've made strong statements about avoiding so-called "mission creep," particularly with regard to the pursuit of war criminals in Bosnia. Do we have a set policy about what's permissible and what isn't, or is this likely to evolve as the months go by?

From the time we wrote the Dayton agreements, the military was participating, not just as observers or advisers, but as actual negotiators and writers of that agreement. So we were very careful to spell out responsibilities for the military, the IFOR [Implementation Force], and separate that from those of the civil authorities. We were very careful to speak about what the military must do and accomplish.

One of those things that I would not want them to be involved in - that I think is more appropriately handled by someone else - is this whole issue of apprehending and chasing after indicted war criminals. We wrote very carefully into the Dayton agreement the requirement for the warring factions to be responsible for the apprehension of those people. And it's my judgement that we ought to hold their feet to the fire on that issue.

Regarding the grave sites in Bosnia, are you satisfied with the role IFOR has played in protecting them?

I am satisfied that Judge [Richard] Goldstone [head of the international war-crimes tribunal] and Adm. [Leighton] Smith [head of IFOR] have had good discussions on what it is IFOR can and should do, and what it is that Judge Goldstone would like IFOR to do, and have reached a good understanding.

More specifically, I believe we are doing the right thing now in watching over the grave sites. We are not doing it by stationing a soldier at each grave site, but we're using all the means at our disposal; whether that is frequent patrolling, overhead systems that watch whether there is anything ongoing, listening to transmissions - all the means available to us to keep an eye on those sites.

Right now you see the effort to more thoroughly investigate one of the sites in Srebrenica. IFOR is prepared to provide security by general presence. I had a discussion with General Smith and he assures me that in his discussion with members from the war-crimes tribunal everyone is quite satisfied with the process that is laid out. We will adjust where we need to adjust without dragging ourselves into soldiers digging up graves. Again, I think that is more appropriately done by someone who is trained.

Could you comment on the US continuing the peace mission in Bosnia beyond the end of the year?

I feel very strongly we were correct in saying that America's military engagement in Bosnia should last a year. We based it on how long it would take us to accomplish the military tasks - how long we would have to stay in the area to provide security through general presence, and certainly that's through the elections. And then some time afterwards to make sure that things after the election had settled down. And then it was time for us to go.

I'm of the view that if the people in Bosnia want peace, then one year of American military presence there would be enough.

Certainly the reconstruction, the effort to help return refugees, and the political systems - all of that will continue; so America will stay involved. But I believe that after one year it will no longer be necessary nor prudent to maintain American military forces there.

Do you feel satisfied that military readiness is preserved in the current defense budget?

I'm satisfied that the budget properly protects the force structure - that the budget properly protects the near-term readiness of the force, that it makes available the money to train, to shoot artillery rounds in practice, and all the flight hours for pilots.

In order to replace the equipment that we now have, as it becomes old, in order to have a prudent modernization, we need to increase our procurement account from roughly $40 billion to approximately $60 billion. Right now that is not postulated to occur until about 2001. I would like to see it done sooner. But the most important thing is not so much whether it occurs in 2001 or 2000, but that we in Congress and in the administration come to an agreement that, yes, it does in fact take approximately $60 billion.

Since neither Secretary [of Defense William] Perry nor anyone else in the building is in the business of printing money, we need to make sure we can reorganize our priorities and begin to do things differently so that within the same top line that we have, we can free up money to put approximately $60 billion into our acquisition accounts. I think it can be done through a combination of things we are already doing, which is turning back infrastructure [base closings] and acquisition reform. We need to move ahead further than we have gone so far in privatization, or outsourcing.

It is only this year that we will be breaking even between the cost for turning back bases, the cost of getting out of them, and the cost avoidance that we have for having turned back those bases. But from now on, we will be making money through cost avoidance. But the problem is still large. We have reduced our force by over 30 percent; we are reducing our infrastructure by some 18 percent. So we have even a greater imbalance than we had at the start of this process between size of force and size of infrastructure. But we need to look carefully at how much we can afford to give back - how much our budget can afford - and how much politically is feasible. I urge we take that on and continue to whittle away at our infrastructure.

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