Remarks as Given by Secretary of Defense William J. Perry To the National Academy of Engineering
Wednesday, October 2, 1996
Pro bono humanis, for the good of mankind.
Eighteen years ago when I was the Under Secretary of Defense
for Research and Engineering, I spoke for the first time to the
National Academy of Engineering. I talked about how engineers
who worked on national security problems could promote the good
In those days, the great national security problems were the
threat of nuclear holocaust and the threat of a blitzkrieg
sweeping across Europe. Those threats seemed very real to us and
we were sharply focused on what we could do to deter them. The
problem was how to deter in the face of a Soviet Union that was
spending perhaps 20 percent of its gross national product on its
military and had fielded an army about three times the size of
The engineering solution that was presented to that problem
I discussed at that NAE meeting. I called it the offset
The offset strategy took advantage of the explosion in
information technology which was underway, and applied this
technology to a new generation of smart weapons on the theory
that this could offset the quantitative superiority of the Soviet
forces. And since the United States was the world's leader in
that information technology, we reasoned that this would give the
United States military what a businessman would call an unfair
Those were very dangerous years, but deterrence did work.
We did not have a nuclear exchange. We did not have a ground war
in Europe. In time, the political and economic dynamics caused a
collapse of the Soviet Union and an end of the Cold War.
Just as the Cold War was ending, a major conflict erupted in
the Middle East and the United States led a military force with
the goal of ejecting Iraq from Kuwait. In Desert Storm, as that
operation was called, the smart weapons, stealth and intelligence
systems that were developed as part of this offset strategy, all
were combined and applied for the first time. Not against a
superior force as we had envisioned when we constructed it, but
against a force of about equal size. The result was not just
battlefield superiority, it was battle dominance. We won
quickly, decisively, and with minimum casualties.
Today I want to speak to you again about the role of
engineers in national security, how they can serve the good of
National security problems today are very different. The
threats of a nuclear holocaust and a Soviet blitzkrieg are gone,
but it is still a very dangerous world. There are very real
dangers of the proliferations of weapons of mass destruction, and
there are very real dangers associated with the ethnic, the
nationalistic, the religious fanaticism which can erupt into
While these do not threaten the national survival of the
United States, they do threaten our vital national security
In the Cold War, our goal was to deter a war. Today the
goal is more ambitious. That is, our first line of defense is to
prevent war, to create the conditions which promote peace.
As we speak, the President and his National Security
Advisors are meeting with Mideast leaders, trying to do just that
-- promote the conditions for peace. And the Defense Department
is working not just on weapons of war, but on programs to promote
the conditions for peace. That is on programs of preventive
What are we doing, for example, to reduce the danger of the
proliferation of weapons of mass destruction? We have a major
defense program called the Nunn/Lugar program, named after two
senators who created this program some years ago, whose goal is
to dramatically reduce the nuclear legacy of the Cold War. We
have already, under this program, dismantled 4,000 nuclear
weapons and destroyed almost 1,000 launchers.
Let me illustrate this with a story about a town called
Pervomaysk. Pervomaysk was the home of the largest and most
modern ICBM field in the former Soviet Union. There were 700
nuclear warheads at Pervomaysk, all aimed at targets in the
United States. Three years ago we began a program to remove
nuclear weapons from Ukraine including, of course, those at
Pervomaysk. That program reached a dramatic climax this past
January when I joined the Russian and Ukrainian Defense Ministers
and the three of us pressed a button which caused the silo to
Then in July I went to Pervomaysk again with my fellow
Defense Ministers, and we celebrated the fact that the last
nuclear weapon had been removed from Pervomaysk, the last nuclear
weapon had been removed from Ukraine. Ukraine was now a nuclear-
free nation. Ukraine, which had been the third largest nuclear
power in the world, was now nuclear-free.
We celebrated that by planting sunflowers on the missile
field -- an entirely appropriate gesture to symbolize the new
What are we doing to reduce the danger of regional
conflicts? The major preventive defense program is called the
Partnership for Peace. This is a program instituted by NATO two
and a half years ago, and subsequently, 27 Central and Eastern
European nations have joined NATO in this Partnership for Peace,
participating with them in peacekeeping exercises and in joint
The Partnership for Peace has the potential of replacing the
Iron Curtain with a circle of security and stability which can
include all of the nations of Europe.
These are two examples of the preventive defense programs
underway today in the United States Defense Department. But even
as we pursue these programs, we recognize that preventive defense
cannot compel other nations to act in the way we wish, and
preventive defense will not always work. Therefore, we must also
be prepared to deter, or if deterrence fails, to win quickly,
decisively and with minimum casualties as we did in Desert Storm.
So today, our defense warfighting strategy sustains and builds on
the offset strategy which I described to you. That is, the
application of advanced information technology to gain great
military leverage to continue to give us this unfair competitive
During the '70s, we introduced this offset strategy through
what engineers call technology push. That is if the customer was
reluctant, the engineers "pushed" the technology onto them.
There were many, many skeptics.
Today, in the wake of the performance of Desert Storm, the
military leaders themselves are not only asking for it, they're
demanding technology. So now we have technology "pull." Indeed,
in Desert Storm we had battle dominance. We liked it, and we
plan to keep it.
The question is, how do we do that? Particularly, how do we
do that in the face of the reality that the defense budget today
is 40 percent less than it was during the Cold War, during the
era in which we developed these technologies?
The first and the most obvious way is to apply the
information technology to the next generation of the smart
weapons. We are doing that. The first generation had latent
vulnerabilities in them. The new generation now being developed
will be all weather and will be what we call "fire and forget" to
overcome those vulnerabilities.
The second way, though, of applying this information
technology is not so obvious, but just as important.
The engineering profession tends to focus on the things that
we do to make the systems we build better, more effective. But
an equally important part of our job is making them more
efficient and less costly. That, indeed, is the emphasis we're
applying today in information technology to the defense systems.
Today there's a very great potential for information technology
dramatically improving the way we manage defense programs. That
is, smart weapons are not enough. We need smart logistics, smart
training, and smart buying.
The achievements that have been made in that regard in the
last few years are very impressive, but that is another story for
another day. Let me simply summarize those by saying the
potential efficiencies to be achieved here have been well
demonstrated in the pilot programs we've set up, and we're not
talking about a five to ten percent reduction in cost, but really
more like a 50 or 60 or 70 percent reduction. So very great
benefits can be achieved in this area.
So in this new era, our defense strategy will continue to
pursue the preventive defense that I've described to you, and it
will continue to increase our military power through the
application of information technology. But what is the purpose
of this power?
Two weeks before his assassination, Prime Minister Rabin
made a remarkable statement about the United States. He said
that in the whole entire history of the world, the United States
was the only nation that achieved dominant power and then chose
to use this power not to dominate other nations, but for the good
of all mankind. Pro bono humanis.
The engineers dedicated to national security, then, do have
an opportunity to serve mankind. Indeed, they have an
opportunity to apply their technology not just to building more
weapons, but to building more security in the world. If we
succeed, we will make the world safer, and our children and our
grandchildren will thank us.