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Lake on Use of Force, Lessons of Post-Cold War World

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 20, 1996 – When and where to use military force was the subject of a commencement address by National Security Adviser Anthony Lake at the National Defense University.

Lake said the post-Cold War world has meant the end of superpower confrontation, but that cut both ways. Before, the superpowers could keep rogue states restrained by supplying them with arms and resources; that restraint is now gone. "Now they are freer to gamble and use force to achieve their ends," he said.

The end of superpower confrontation also means a new openness pervades the world, and this very openness leaves society open to attacks by terrorists and international crime syndicates, Lake asserted.

The new environment requires defense planners to think anew and look for new solutions. Lake said officials must ask three questions in this new era: How does the country maintain efficiency and effectiveness in the post-Cold War drawdown? How does the military preserve readiness as the United States becomes involved in increasingly diverse missions? How does the military attract and keep a high-quality all-volunteer force that reflects a rapidly changing U.S. society?

Lake said he believes DoD has handled the drawdown well. The American military reduced forces by a third and cut the Defense budget by 40 percent. Yet it has been done without the corresponding loss in efficiency seen following previous drawdowns, Lake said. "So in 1994, when in one year Iraq menaced Kuwait, when tensions rose in Korea and when trouble in Haiti boiled over, we showed that our military was up to the task and more," he said.

Now that U.S. military force structure is right and readiness is as high as ever, he said, officials must concentrate on how the nation employs its armed forces. "We always have focused on that, but in this new era I think we have to do it all the more because more than any other institution in the world, when the United States military is asked to do something, it delivers," he said.

While this knowledge is comforting to policy makers, it also carries much responsibility. "We must not misuse this extraordinary institution," Lake said. "When we use force, we must use it unflinchingly, but we must never ask our military to do things that it can't or shouldn't do."

When to use force is the most important question for policy makers, Lake said. Obviously, the president will use force when some country directly threatens the United States, its vital interests or its allies. "But more often, we face situations that do not threaten our nation's vital interests, yet do still affect our interests and the character of the world we live in," he said, citing Bosnia and Haiti as examples.

"This kind of case is difficult to address, because our interests, though important, are less immediate and the threats may be less clear," Lake said. "That is why before we use force in such circumstances we must make a very careful assessment." Questions include whether the military can succeed. Are the interests at stake important enough to merit U.S. military involvement?

"Before we send our troops into situations where our interests are less than vital, they need a clear and achievable mission, the means to prevail and a strategy for withdrawal that is based on the military mission's goals," Lake said.

With the end of the Cold War there are many military missions that do not include the use of force, but rather highlight the unique capabilities of the American military. "This category involves primarily humanitarian interests," Lake said. "Generally, the military is not the best tool to address such concerns, but sometimes a humanitarian crisis, such as in Somalia and Rwanda, may swamp the ability of relief agencies to respond." In such cases, the American military may be called on to step in.

"None of this means the United States should become the world's policeman," Lake said. "We cannot answer every 911 call around the world. But when we weigh the risks and the costs against our interests, and when we can make a difference, I believe we do have a responsibility to act."

The lessons of the post-Cold War era are just coming out, Lake said. First, he said, power matters. "Our military's successes in Haiti and Bosnia came because they established, through intimidation and the threat of overwhelming force, a secure environment through the exercise of military power and military prowess," Lake said.

A second lesson is goals in operations must be practical and limited.

Third, peacekeeping and humanitarian missions provide valuable experience -- especially joint experience -- for the forces involved. Lake said the operations also give the United States valuable contact with the armed forces of other nations. He highlighted the Russians working with the United States in Bosnia.

Lake derided those who call for the government to dedicate some forces to peacekeeping only. He said the U.S. military can keep a fighting edge while conducting peacekeeping operations.

The military must continue to attract and keep good people. "Part of why our military has been so successful is that it seeks to employ the best talents that America has to offer, regardless of gender or race," Lake said. "I think we can safely say that our military is the most merit-based major institution in American society. Not only does it require high quality at the outset, but it encourages all of its members to do even better, and provides opportunities to do so.

"Our armed forces set an example for American society in giving those who take responsibility and who work hard a chance to make the most of their own lives."

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