Drawing inspiration from George Marshall's famous 1947 commencement address, Defense Secretary William Perry urged scholars and students at Harvard University on May 13 to spread the word that the world is at a crossroads.
Similar to the time when Secretary of State Marshall laid out his famous blueprint for European peace, Mr. Perry said, Americans stand "between a cold war that is over and a peace that is not yet secure." Pivotal times demand new ideas, he said, and the United States must rely more on "preventive defense," and less on nuclear deterrence.
The cold-war buildup of nuclear weapons, called mutually assured destruction (MAD), kept the US and the Soviet Union from blitzing each other with nuclear missiles for more than 40 years. But deterrence is not as effective today as it once was, Perry said. Today's would-be nuclear terrorists may not fear retaliation by the US. "This new class of undeterrables may be madder than MAD," he said.
Preventive defense involves first and foremost controlling the spread of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. Perry cited America's critical role in reducing the nuclear threat from six nations since 1991: Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakstan, Iraq, North Korea, and South Africa.
It may not be a jazzy defense policy, but persistence pays, Perry argued. "Americans are impatient, they want quick fixes. But the lesson of the cold war is patience."
Just as important as the $500 million that the Defense Department spends each year to stanch the spread of the world's nukes is encouraging democracy around the world. Perry described a meeting with an official from Belarus who regretted giving up his nation's nuclear weapons, saying they were what made his country great. "Nuclear weapons make you powerful," Perry answered. "Democracy is what makes you great."
And democracy, so the logic goes, is also what makes nations like Belarus friendly, and fostering democracy is thus essential to national security. Programs like NATO's Partnership for Peace encourage fledgling democracies to adhere to Western norms, such as openness about military policies and civilian control of armies.
"Democracy is learned behavior," Perry said. "We can exert a positive influence - every military in the world looks to the US as the model to be emulated."
Even Russia's military, long America's bitter foe, can become a friend on the battlefield, Perry noted. He cited Bosnia as a foreign-policy success, not just because of the Dayton peace accord, but also because the US was able to make Russian troops part of enforcing the deal with European and American allies.
"Bosnia is turning out to be the crucible for the creation of Marshall's Europe," Perry said.