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Is There a Future for Armed Forces?

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

BRUSSELS, Belgium, April 15, 1998 – Will there ever come a time when armed forces will no longer be needed?

A Belarussian officer recently posed this question to William S. Cohen. And the U.S. defense secretary replied: "You will always need a military."

"Perhaps its size and shape will differ as we continue to evolve in the 21st century," Cohen said, "but I doubt mankind has evolved to the point where we can say there is no need to have a defense capability. There will always be suspicion, there will always be the rise of discontent on the part of some."

Whenever one area is more prosperous than another, the likelihood of conflict increases, Cohen told Major Igor Ignashcenko, one of about 80 students from 28 countries attending the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies who visited the Pentagon in mid-March.

For the foreseeable future, Cohen told the students, every country will want to have security forces. But, as economic prosperity spreads, the likelihood of conflict diminishes. Military forces create stability which leads to "a higher level of investmentand, therefore, prosperity," he said. "That, in turn, generates more stability."

Nations will always need strong, disciplined and well-led armed forces to defend their interests, he said. "Major companies will not go into a region in which there is instability," the defense secretary said. "They will not risk their investment."

Taking a regional, rather than individual approach to defense, Cohen added, reduces the possibility of conflict. Building bridges and sharing visions and values through cooperative agreements and alliances makes the likelihood of conflict more remote, he said.

"That is why we have been advocating NATO enlargement -- not to pose a threat to the Russians, not to pose a threat to any other country. We see it as a way to provide for greater stability in a region that has known instability."

Events in Bosnia and now in Kosovo are examples of the kinds of instability allied nations can prevent, he said.

"If we can reduce tensions by spreading stability and prosperity, then we make the need for large armies and militaries less necessary. But every country will want to have some protection just to be sure they're not going to be taken advantage of."

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