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Chairman Details Peacetime Strategy

By Paul Stone
American Forces Press Service

BOSTON, Dec. 17, 1997 – The greatest threat to America today is not Iraq or Iran. It's not North Korea or China. Nor is it terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.

The greatest threat America faces today is complacency.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Henry H. Shelton delivered that message Dec. 11 at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

Shelton told the audience America faces the same enemy it faced after the end of World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam and the Cold War -- pressure by various forces to demobilize, slash military funding and become increasingly nationalistic.

With these pressures in mind, the chairman said, "we must proceed cautiously with great forethought if America is to avoid finding itself unprepared to handle a major challenge to its vital interests. As President Eisenhower stated in 1958: 'Our real problem is not our strength today, it is the vital necessity of action today to ensure our strength tomorrow.'"

The solution, Shelton said, is a two-part strategy.

The first lies in the U.S. military's ability to manage near-term, mid-term and long-term risks -- a strategy he said the Quadrennial Defense Review details. He pointed out the review accommodates "cautious force structure and vigorous infrastructure reductions," while ensuring "our remaining forces possess sufficient flexibility or adaptiveness to handle a reasonable array of crises."

And there likely will be an array of crises to handle.

Shelton said despite the absence of another superpower for the near future, nationalism, terrorism and the growing pains of continued democratization continue to produce security-related concerns.

"There appears to be an almost endless number of ethnic, ideological and political disputes greatly complicating efforts to maintain a peaceful and secure environment," he said. "It is unfortunate, but probably true, that in the next 15 years we will face an increasing number of challenges that will confirm what we already know from the past century -- regional maladies often have global effects."

Those challenges not only include more traditional force-on-force conflicts, but asymmetrical threats such as terrorists using chemical or biological weapons, or attacks on information networks.

The general referred to the second part of the strategy as "helping to shape the strategic environment and deterring threats before they emerge."

"Shaping means creating a security setting such that it is unnecessary to fight to protect one's interests," Shelton said. "It also seeks to prevent instability by curtailing incentives for interstate competition."

He emphasized shaping the environment is a cooperative goal -- the United States could not do it alone -- and cited NATO enlargement and the Partnership for Peace program as examples of cooperation among nations to deter threats.

As the Senate nears debate on NATO expansion, Shelton called discussions "surprisingly vigorous" in light of the fact the past 50 years have been the longest period of peace in European history.

"From my perspective, the true success story of the [NATO] alliance entails much more than the fact it provided a shield against external attack," the general said. "We must not forget that the alliance helped knit together a family of nations where democracy flourished, old quarrels faded and economies prospered. Moreover, NATO's great forte is its political capability to deter crises before they escalate.

"Already progress is being made by those aspiring to membership. Old rivals have set aside their differences and are reaching new agreements on old disputes and issues that previously led to armed conflict. NATO is no longer an alliance against anything. It is an alliance for peace and stability."

Equally important to shaping the environment, he said, is the Partnership for Peace program. The program encompasses 27 nations beyond the existing 16 NATO members. In fiscal 1997 alone, there were 50 exercises plus numerous military seminars, planning conferences and political-military games involving Partnership for Peace members.

While advocating NATO's expansion, Shelton cautioned NATO not be transformed into principally a peacekeeping force.

"NATO is first and foremost a military alliance," he said. "Members must be prepared to defend the alliance and possess the military force to honor their commitment."

Summarizing the NATO effort he said: "We are in the process of trying to replace the Iron Curtain with a picture window."

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