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Looking into DoD's Geopolitical Future
Prepared remarks of H. Allen Holmes, assistant defense secretary for special operations and low-intensity conflict, 42nd annual National Security Forum, Air War College, Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala, Tuesday, May 30, 1995

Good morning ... It's truly a pleasure to address you all at this year's National Security Forum. In an effort to lay tile groundwork for your discussions, I would like to provide a broad view of the critical challenges ahead for the Defense Department. It will not surprise anyone here if I begin my discussion by saying this is indeed a time of great uncertainty. Nor would I suspect that many would disagree that the pace of change is such that it is not possible to reliably predict the exact shape of our future security environment. Indeed, given the news from Bosnia, even the shape of the next week or so is a bit bard to gauge.

Before I get too far into my remarks, I'd like to take a moment to outline briefly my role as the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict.

My portfolio within the Defense Department is unique and challenging. On the one hand, as the principal civilian adviser to Undersecretary [of Defense for Policy Walter] Slocombe and Secretary [of Defense William J.] Perry on special operations, I concentrate on monitoring and providing oversight and advocacy for our country's elite special operations forces. In this sense, I focus on a singular capability. The policies and resourcing regarding the application of this unique military force option under conditions of peace and war, falls within my purview.

As regards low-intensity conflict, I also concentrate on what has been known as the lower end of the conflict spectrum, such challenges as counterterrorism, counternarcotics and counterinsurgency, as well as the burgeoning demands of humanitarian and refugee activities. To do this, I work very closely with the other assistant secretaries within the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, as well as with colleagues in the State Department, the Agency for International Development, the Drug Enforcement [Administration] and the NSC [National Security Council], to name a few. However, where the regional assistant secretaries view these problems from a regional perspective, I look at them from a functional and transnational perspective.

To meet these challenges, my office has a [deputy] for humanitarian and refugee affairs and another for counterdrug activities and policy. The [deputy] for policy and missions provides overarching policy fusion as well as special expertise in the areas of combating terrorism, intelligence, psychological operations and civil affairs. The [deputy] for forces and resources ensures the availability of equipment, personnel and fiscal resources for special operations and low-intensity conflict.

Let's return to our evolving international security environment and today's sources of conflict that impact on U.S. security interests. Novelist Graham Greene once wrote that there is always one moment when the door opens and lets the future in. For this generation, that moment was the demise of the Cold War. One of the legacies of the Cold War victory, however, is our most ubiquitous threat -- instability. The concepts imbedded in the word go straight to the heart of American security concerns going into the Third Millennium.

We are entering, I believe, one of the most tumultuous periods in recent history. Consider the ongoing world crises: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iraq, Nagorno-Karabakh, North Korea, Cambodia, Burundi, Liberia, Pakistan, Algeria, Somalia, Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Ecuador. And this is just the short list. Today, there are 10 countries where the terrorist threat to Americans is critical to high. There are 17 United Nations peacekeeping missions continuing, and there are 19 countries experiencing humanitarian crises. Six years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the peace we seek still eludes us.

If, in 1989, we could have peered into a geopolitical crystal ball, few would have expected the world of chaos and anarchy that we are witnessing today: international terrorism, narcotics trafficking, wrenching civil wars, insurgencies, subversion and sabotage. The competition of two distinct ideologies has given way to a multifaceted struggle of ideas, prejudice and long-suppressed rivalries. Add to this list the emerging class of transnational environmental issues, such as population growth, food scarcities, pollution and resource depletion, and you have defined the political-military era we have just entered. Absent the monolithic threat from the Soviet Union, the most significant threats to American interests stem from the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, ethnic and religious conflicts, and humanitarian crises.

A critical post-Cold War challenge for the United States and for the Defense Department is to prevent a re-emergence of the nuclear danger that characterized the Cold War. The demise of the Soviet Union greatly reduced the nuclear threat to the United States. Nevertheless, the proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction poses a growing threat to U.S. and global security.

Beyond the five declared nuclear weapon states, at least 20 other nations have acquired or are attempting to acquire weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them. North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Syria pose the greatest threat because of the aggressive nature of their weapons of mass destruction programs.

As the brutal suppression of Chechnya has demonstrated, stability in the former Soviet Union cannot yet be assured. It is, therefore, in the interest of both the United States and Russia for us to help them reduce their Cold War nuclear arsenal, build a democracy and foster a free-market economy.

To avoid a return to the large arsenals of the Cold War and to prevent the proliferation of such weapons, the administration has undertaken a multipronged approach to meet this post-Cold War nuclear challenge.

First, under the Cooperative Threat Reduction, or Nunn-Lugar, Program, we are helping Russia and the other states of the former Soviet Union to destroy their strategic offensive arms and reorient their nuclear scientists and facilities to peaceful enterprises. The Nunn-Lugar program provides about $400 million a year from the defense budget to help dismantle the Soviet nuclear arsenal.

Second, we are continuing to push efforts that halt the spread of weapons of mass destruction. The recent extension of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is one obvious and significant step. Third, we are maintaining our deterrence capabilities at reduced force levels and developing ballistic missile defenses against existing and potential threats from states other than the former Soviet Union. Finally, we are continuing the process of reducing strategic arms and stabilizing their structures, as represented by START [Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty] II. In this area, we are making marked progress -- both the U.S. and Russia are destroying thousands of nuclear weapons faster than our treaties require.

Following President Clinton's intention to "engage actively in the world in order to increase our prosperity, update our security arrangements and promote democracy abroad," we are taking steps to advocate democracy and a market economy in the former Soviet states. One way we are accomplishing this is by encouraging the pursuit of business opportunities in the region. In 1993, the U.S.-Russian Commission on Economic and Technological Cooperation was set up by Vice President [Albert] Gore and [Russian] Prime Minister [Viktor] Chernomyrden to support Russia's transition to a stable nation. It is identifying ways to help businesses open new markets in Russia and related countries.

The commission's Defense Conversion Committee, which Secretary Perry co-chairs with his Russian counterpart, is also an important post-Cold War initiative. This committee is working to help the American private sector find and invest in projects that convert former Russian weapons factories to commercial production. So far, more than 80 Russian weapons factories have been identified as candidates for conversion to commercial production. The Defense Conversion Committee is also working to reduce the barriers to conversion projects.

For example, the Commerce Department has invited 50 Russian defense industry executives and local officials to visit U.S. companies that have gone through their own defense readjustments. The U.S. is providing seed money to attract private capital, specifically to defense conversion projects, a major source of which comes from the Nunn-Lugar program.

Among the serious trends and international dangers of the military-technical revolution is the production of chemical and biological weapons. These weapons raise the lethality of destructive capabilities to unparalleled heights. Chemical weapons are an attractive pursuit for many states because of their relatively low-cost and low-technological requirement. At least 15 countries are known to have offensive chemical weapons programs, the most aggressive being in Iran, Libya and Syria.

Even developing countries are among potential proliferators of weapons of mass destruction as many pursue the "poor man's atomic bomb" -- biological weapons. Often biotechnology equipment used in pharmaceutical programs or hospital laboratories can facilitate the production of biological weapons agents.

A number of our most likely adversaries already possess chemical or biological weapons. Many of them are also reaching for nuclear weapons. Our worst fear, a nuclear, chemical or biologically capable terrorist, is no longer beyond the realm of the possible.

In his recent report to Congress, Defense Secretary Perry spotlighted weapons of mass destruction as one of the greatest threats of the future:

"WMD [weapons of mass destruction] poses a large and growing threat to U.S. interests and security around the world. ... In fact, in most areas where U.S. forces could potentially be engaged on a large scale, many of the most likely adversaries already possess chemical or biological weapons."

While nuclear or general war on the European central front are a more remote possibility now, the many regional and intranational antagonisms held in check during the U.S.-Soviet standoff have erupted, and some of these threaten important, if not vital, U.S. interests.

Across the globe, we are seeing an escalation of long-standing ethnic and tribal conflicts, and there is little reason to expect any abatement. The most explosive examples of ethnic and religious rivalry in the world can be found in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. South Asia is home to a number of struggles that have been going on for years. Several insurgent minorities in Burma and, of course, Afghanistan. Africa also has her share of substantial conflicts, although most of these struggles have been going on for years -- last year's slaughter in Rwanda and the mounting tension in Burundi; the Ethiopian civil war; conflicts in Sudan, Liberia and Niger; and the black-white and black-black violence in South Africa.

There are fewer active ethic struggles in the Middle East, but they are the most persistent and the most violent. Throughout the Americas, active ethnic conflict is so sporadic and low-level that it falls beneath the threshold for ethnic conflicts. In Europe, ethnic conflicts manifest themselves as terrorist campaigns on behalf of separatist movements -- Northern Ireland and the Basque movement in Spain are examples.

The fighting in the former Yugoslavia is a prime example of how a regional ethnic conflict can pose peculiarly difficult challenges for U.S. policy. Secretary Perry has described this case as "the toughest security question we face today, both from a political and from an ethical standpoint."

As you know, NATO aircraft attacked Bosnian Serb targets last Thursday. We have long recommended that more robust enforcement of the United Nations' mandate was needed. For our part, the U.S. remains prepared to stand with NATO in carrying out the U.N. mandate. We condemn shelling of civilians and note that NATO actions have been strictly against military targets. We had hoped that the recent air strikes would convince the Serbian leadership to end their violations of the exclusion zones and comply with their other agreements with the U.N. But today's headlines depict another reality.

In respect to civilians, the U.S. has been making significant effort to protect the lives of endangered Bosnian citizens. Before NATO began enforcing the no-fly zone, Bosnian cities were indiscriminately bombed. Before we established a heavy weapons exclusion zone around Sarajevo, that city was subjected to intense artillery bombardments, sometimes thousands of shells a day. Ten thousand civilian casualties resulted from these bombardments. Our efforts to enforce the rules on no-fly zones and heavy weapons exclusion zones saved thousands of lives. Unhappily, that progress is once again at risk, given the events of the last days.

It has also been suggested that we unilaterally lift the arms embargo against Bosnia. That would be a mistake, for several reasons. First, we could find ourselves with an obligation to defend the Bosnians if the Serbs attempted a quick victory before the arms arrive. Such a defense would require ground troops as well as the use of air power -- potentially leading to open-ended U.S. engagement in an environment of escalating hostilities.

Second, there would be great difficulties for providers getting arms to the Bosnians. Sea and land deliveries would require cooperation of Croatia, whose interests would not necessarily coincide with Bosnian interests. If Croatia and Serbia were to agree to a peaceful settlement, Croatia might lose interest in supporting the Bosnians, shutting down the only viable supply line.

Third, the U.S. would face difficult choices in decisions about how much support to provide the Bosnian government. Fourth, our allies would strongly oppose a unilateral policy of lifting the arms embargo. Proposals to consider seriously this option would drive a wedge between the U.S. and its NATO partners. Our allies are unlikely to stay in Bosnia if a lifting of the embargo is adopted. If that were to occur, the delivering of humanitarian aid and protecting safe zones by UNPROFOR [U.N. Protection Force] would come to an end.

Fifth, a U.S. decision to lift the arms embargo at the present time could create a nightmare scenario in terms of extracting UNPROFOR. Serb forces are unlikely to permit an orderly UNPROFOR withdrawal if they believe it would be followed by substantial arms shipments to Bosnia. Also, U.S. forces participating in NATO efforts to withdraw UNPROFOR would be at much greater risk if the Serbs believed a lifting of the arms embargo were on the horizon.

Although a marked escalation of ethnic conflicts in the world seems likely, there is reason for some guarded optimism. I call your attention to Ethiopia in 1992. Virtually every African affairs analyst at the time predicted that Eritrea's secession from Ethiopia would stimulate similar secessionist movements throughout Africa. History, of course, proved these doomsday predictions wrong. Not a single African border was called into question after Eritrea obtained its independence. Since then, Ethiopia and Eritrea have cooperated to resolve all outstanding differences, serving as a model for handling these types of ethnic problems.

I also call your attention to the skeptics in the past who raised red flags and cautioned against supporting the break-up of the Soviet Union. Yet, thanks to the courage of [Russian President] Boris Yeltsin, the Soviet empire has been dismantled. Independence, at long last, has been granted to Ukraine, the Baltics and other former Soviet republics. And most former Soviet republics have made substantial strides in political and economic reform. President Clinton's recent visit to Ukraine marked an important milestone in the consolidation of independence for the former Soviet republic.

Similarly, Bulgaria and Macedonia in the Balkans have made real gains in protecting the rights of ethnic minorities. Thanks to U.S. and U.N. leadership, the war between Croatia and Bosnia has been ended. In Bosnia, the U.S. is working to remove the barriers between Croats and Muslims in order to reunite those communities under a single government.

Turkey is also playing a vital role in building bridges between cultures. Thanks to the leadership of Prime Minister [Tansu] Ciller, Turkey is making great progress reforming their economy and integrating their country into West European institutions, as well as building new relations with the Turkic-speaking republics of Central Asia.

In countries where ethnic conflict and insurgencies prevail, drug traffickers have exploited the situation and successfully ingratiated themselves with guerrilla groups. Narcotraffickers and insurgent guerrilla groups in Columbia enjoy a symbiotic relationship. The "narcos" routinely use air strips in territory occupied by guerrillas. They also hire guerrillas as protective guards or employ them in the cultivation, processing or shipping of their illegal narcotics.

Colombian guerrilla groups have also been hired to pursue Colombian police officers. Since January, they have shot down four police helicopters on drug crop eradication missions. Additionally, the guerrillas have incited peasant revolts in an attempt to thwart police eradication efforts.

From both perspectives, the alliance is beneficial. The drug traffickers finance guerrilla activity, which escalates the militarization of the insurgency. The guerrilla groups, in return, provide a military protective force for the traffickers and allow access to expansive areas throughout the country which they control. For the Colombian government, this relationship is disruptive, destructive and impenetrable. In Burma, Peru and other regions engaged in drug trafficking, similar relationships allow both parties not only to exist, but to thrive.

Not long ago no one would have believed that our military's four largest operations in one year would be humanitarian operations. Was 1994 an exceptional year, or did it mark a watershed for military involvement in humanitarian crises? I would argue that recent operations in northern Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia, Rwanda and the Caribbean were harbingers of the frequency and complexity of humanitarian emergencies in the early 21st century. Coping with Cuban migrant flows today should make us think hard about how to deal with other countries that might create and exploit refugee mass as a strategic weapon.

The explosion of humanitarian crises can be attributed to a variety of interrelated factors. First, environmental degradation, natural disasters and resource depletion will place an additional strain on people facing failed democracies, long-standing ethnic and tribal conflicts, and the onslaught of sudden violence or genocide. Another factor is economic decline, which often results in the lack of food production and distribution. A third factor is political persecution, often of particular individuals or groups based on their ethnicity, religion or ideologies.

Between 1978 and 1985, the world saw an average of five complex humanitarian emergencies each year. By 1992, that number jumped to 17. Thirty years ago, there were nearly 1 1/2 million refugees worldwide. Today, there are more than 18 million refugees and 25 million displaced persons -- those who have fled their homes but have not crossed the borders of their countries. The numbers of people requiring humanitarian aid are so massive, the crises occur so swiftly and the situations are so complex that an effort requiring enormous and unique resources is often the only assurance to abatement. The U.S. military has provided the rapid response, logistics and transportation that many recent humanitarian emergencies have required.

While I believe that great powers should venture beyond parochialism when the moment requires it, we must be vigilant that our military's primary mission is not compromised by too much involvement in humanitarian operations. Our policy for military intervention in humanitarian crises must focus on the correct role and guidelines for their engagement in humanitarian emergencies.

Presidential Review Directive 50 (Emergency Humanitarian Relief), which is currently being staffed throughout the interagency, addresses the military's role in and capabilities for creating a more responsive, effective and equitable system for foreign humanitarian assistance operations. Four general criteria for intervention have been suggested by the Department of Defense.

First, military forces should only be used where there is a clear purpose, an achievable objective and an identified end-state. Second, military forces should only be used when we face a natural or man-made humanitarian emergency that dwarfs the ability of the normal relief agencies to respond and the need for relief is gravely urgent. Generally, DoD's intent will be to facilitate the rapid introduction of relief operations by other organizations. Third, military forces should only be used if the response requires resources and/or capabilities unique to the military. And finally, military forces should only be used where the costs and risks of military engagement are commensurate with the interests at stake in the situation.

These new sources of conflict, fueled by the evolving geopolitical environment, will have many consequences for the United States -- too numerous to address today. One important consequence for the Defense Department, the armed forces and the SOF [special operations forces] community in particular, is the inevitability of urban warfare. Mohammed Fareh Aideed [of Somalia] is as likely a model for future challenges to American interests as [Iraq's] Saddam Hussein. We must, therefore, prepare for this new battlefield by improving our capabilities for military operations in built-up areas, or MOBA.

Last summer, the Defense Science Board studied this issue and made several recommendations: that the Defense Intelligence Agency establish an urban information system; that a MOBA Analysis Center be created; that a MOBA test bed be instituted; and that the Joint Warfighting Center be expanded to include MOBA simulation.

The reality of urban warfare has placed a greater premium on the avoidance of human fatalities and collateral damage as byproducts of certain kinds of U.S. and allied military operations. Particularly in peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, where our political objectives are more benign than in warfighting, it is inappropriate to compound the suffering by needlessly causing death or permanent harm to individuals on the scene, even if they are combatants. A favorite tactic of our adversaries continues to be intermingling combatants with noncombatants, knowing as they do that, we are self-deterred from responding to their aggressive acts with lethal force that harms innocent civilians. Of course, in addressing this challenging problem, let me emphasize that we never abandon the basic ROE [rules of engagement] of individual self-defense and force protection.

These factors encourage us to pursue the investigation and selective acquisition and fielding of nonlethal weapons, weapons that will help us achieve our military objectives while minimizing human fatalities and undesired material damage. In addition, some of our military leaders have expressed a need for certain kinds of nonlethal weapon systems because they can help them do their job better in a tactical sense.

Lt. Gen. Anthony Zinni, the Marine commander of Operation United Shield, apparently believes that having nonlethal weapons on the scene not only helped him to better accomplish his mission, but served to deter some disruptive acts by Somalis who were aware of their presence.

A great many concepts for nonlethal weapons have been proposed, and we are developing an acquisition plan that would fund a very carefully selected set of programs. We are also developing a DoD policy for nonlethal weapons, in recognition of their importance and sensitivity.

We and our allies spent years meeting the Soviet threat. And we triumphed. However, despite the failure of communism and the desire for collective security, the world is still a very dangerous place.

Now, as our central national security challenge moves from deterring global war to fostering regional stability, we are facing a politically uncertain, morally ambiguous environment. Most of our potential enemies will not face us with tanks, jet aircraft and aircraft carriers. They saw our tremendous victory against Saddam Hussein, and they have learned not to confront us with conventional weapons. Rather, they will use more subtle, more indirect, and more insidious means to challenge our national interests -- including revolutions, terrorism, insurgency and assassination.

Meeting the challenges and seizing the opportunities in this uncertain global environment will require new approaches to U.S. security both at home and abroad. The United States must remain engaged in shaping the international security environment If we do not grasp the future, said Adlai Stevenson, other hands, grasping hard and bloody, will.

In responding to the challenges of ethnic conflicts, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and humanitarian crises, the Defense Department must pay special attention to the way it calibrates the use of force and to coordinating its efforts with other agencies of the U.S. government, NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] and the international community. This new political-military environment will require specially tailored military capabilities as well as an integrated and patient application of all elements of U.S. national power -- political, military, economic and informational. Thank you.


Published for internal information use by the American Forces Information Service, a field activity of the Office of the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), Washington, D.C. Parenthetical entries are speaker/author notes; bracketed entries are editorial notes. This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission. Defense Issues is available on the Internet via the World Wide Web at