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We Face Same Challenges, Cohen, Shelton Tell Marshall Center Students

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 22, 1999 – How do you convince safe, prosperous people to ante up for future security?

A Polish military officer posed this question to Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and Army Gen. Hugh Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, here in mid-March. The officer wanted to know how America's defense leaders persuade Congress to provide modernization funds.

"The price of peace and security is constant investment," Cohen replied. In peacetime, democratic societies will always be under pressure to justify the need for a strong military, he said. If there's no war, elected officials will always target military budgets because they see no current need for airplanes and tanks.

"You have an obligation to point out that the reason your democracy can continue to flourish is if you have a strong military to back it up," Cohen said. "We believe we have strong diplomacy [because it's] backed up by a strong military.

The Polish officer was one of about 80 visitors from 30 countries who met Cohen and Shelton March 16 at the Pentagon. All are Executive Course students at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Garmisch, Germany. The program for colonels, lieutenant colonels and civilian equivalents includes a week-long visit to the United States to observe democracy firsthand.

Cohen told the group that he and Shelton often have to carry their message to the House of Representatives and Senate. "What is required for the United States to maintain its capabilities?" he asked rhetorically. "The chairman and I recently testified before House and Senate members that we need more, not less.

"We can't carry out our current obligations with the size of the force we have, with the equipment that we now have, because it's wearing out," Cohen stressed. "We're wearing out our people because we keep them at such a high state of readiness."

Civilian and military defense leaders need to be able to make a case for modernization, Cohen continued. "We have to take advantage of the new technology. We have to be able to communicate with each other. ... If you want us to carry out our national security objectives, this is what we need, and now we need more."

Shelton reinforced Cohen's theme. "When you commit the youth of your country into battle," the general said, "you want to have provided everything you can to have them trained and ready, as well as technologically advanced as you can possibly have them, so the odds are in their favor."

Shelton noted that the students' visit to the Pentagon was on the 7th anniversary of the date that Army Gen. Colin Powell, then the chairman, approved the concept for the Marshall Center.

"In those brief seven years," he said, "the center has done a tremendous amount in terms of promoting a more stable security environment by advancing democratic relationships, by promoting active and peaceful engagement, and by enhancing enduring partnerships."

Seeing "democracy in action," Shelton said, is a particularly important part of the students' Marshall Center experience. Democracy is "not always pretty," he added. "It's often frustrating, and it sometimes seems very inefficient. ... As Winston Churchill once said, 'Democracy is the worst system devised by man, except for all the others.'"

American leaders struggle with some of the same issues facing newly emerged democracies, the general noted. "We worry about the balance between individual rights and security, freedom of the press and the relationship between civilians and the military," he said.

The military is a leading institution in promoting and maintaining democracy, according to the general. Marshall Center students can help their nations move along the right path by working with their civilian leaders to enhance security and bolster economic prosperity while, at the same time, protecting citizens' rights, he said.

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