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Perry Cites Achievements, Disappointments

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 24, 1996 – He's befriended ministers, presidents and kings in more than 60 countries. Yet as he prepares to leave office, Defense Secretary William J. Perry said what he cherishes most from his Pentagon tour of duty is the bond he feels with enlisted service members and senior military leaders. 

"I'm not only proud of those relationships," he said, "but I've come to believe you cannot do the job as secretary of defense if you do not develop those strong working relationships." Civilian leaders need a strong partnership with military leaders to benefit from the military's great depth of experience, he said.  


U.S. troops gave the secretary his three proudest possessions: honorary Army sergeant major stripes, Navy master chief petty officer collar pins, and the Air Force NCOs' highest award, the Order of the Sword.


"Sergeant major is at least a two-step promotion over secretary of defense," Perry told reporters during a recent interview. For more than an hour, the secretary talked about the experiences, achievements and disappointments since he became deputy defense secretary in 1993 and defense secretary in February 1994.


Following President Clinton's re-election, he chose to return to private life. President Clinton nominated retiring Republican Senator William Cohen of Maine to replace Perry. The U.S. Senate could confirm Cohen by the end of January.


Perry said he also cherishes relationships he developed with military leaders of about 60 nations. "With the United States as a world leader and having the world's most powerful military force, all of those countries want a strong working relationship with our military," he said.


Most recent contingency operations involved U.S. forces serving as part of a coalition, Perry said. "Sometimes the coalitions are based on alliances like NATO that have existed for decades; other times they're coalitions that are ad hoc, formed on the occasion. In forming those coalitions, the working relationships with the defense leaders of the other countries is very important."


Perry placed "effective, careful use of military force" at the top of his achievement list. The United States deployed more than 50,000 troops to Haiti and Bosnia during his watch. In two other instances, he said, conflict was avoided by a combination of diplomacy and the threat of military force.


"In Korea, in June 1994, we were very close to sending a very large military force in," he said. "But, in that case, the judicious threat of military force plus diplomacy allowed us to deter the military action which otherwise could have taken place there. In Kuwait, in October 1994, the very rapid deployment of military forces plus the threat of using it, plus again diplomatic action, avoided the need for using it."


Having a clear mission, maintaining readiness and providing strong force protection are key factors in using military force, he said.


Reducing the Cold War's nuclear legacy is second on Perry's achievement list. "During the last few years the countries of the former Soviet Union have dismantled 4,000 nuclear warheads with the assistance of the U.S. Department of Defense," he said. "They have destroyed more than 800 launchers. Three nations -- Ukraine, Kazahkstan and Belarus, which were nuclear three years ago -- no longer have nuclear weapons. We have a long way to go in this denuclearization field, but we have made very dramatic progress in the last three years."


Perry considers helping create new security structures in Europe his third achievement. NATO has taken on a new vitality, a new relevance, he said, and Partnership for Peace now has 43 members. The partnership has "replaced the Iron Curtain which divided Eastern and Western Europe with a circle of security within which all European nations exist," he said. The fact that 16 partner nations joined NATO forces in Bosnia are evidence of the organization's success, Perry said.


Along with the partnership, Perry said, democratic principles are being spread throughout Europe by graduates of the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies. "During the last three years we have given about 500 officers from Eastern and Central European countries training in how a military performs in a democracy. Over the long term, this is going to do more to instill democracy in Eastern and Central Europe than almost anything else we do."


Effectively managing the department through the military drawdown and through base closures is fourth on Perry's achievement list. "This was a drawdown of historic proportions," he said, "40 percent in about an eight or nine year period. We came out at the other end of that drawdown with a military force and a civilian force and a base structure which is efficient, capable and where the personnel have high readiness."


Efforts to improve the military's buying practices through acquisition reform, improve the way the military obtains better housing, and build an annual pay raise into the military budget are all part of effective management, Perry said.


One surprise during the term, Perry said, was how quickly the Pentagon's bureaucrats accepted changing the way the department buys products and provides new housing by bringing in private investors. 


"In both of those cases," he said, "it had been widely forecast that there would be huge bureaucratic resistance, and it would take all of the energies we had to try to force the system to do the right thing. In fact, basically all we've had to do is lay out that this is right thing to do, [and say] you are empowered to do it. The people responsible for carrying it out -- the program managers, base commanders, base housing officers -- have seized the opportunity." 


Perry's tour of duty has also had its disappointments, he said. He had hoped START II would be ratified. However, Perry said, he is optimistic it will happen next year.


Another disappointment is his deep concern about the perception people may have about Gulf War illness. "The perception among some that the defense department is deliberately holding back information or that the department does not care about the suffering of the veterans of that war, those perceptions are just dead wrong," Perry said.


"It's been an enormous frustration to me that we've not been able to overcome those perceptions, along with the frustration that we have not been able to identify the illness and, therefore, we have not been able to provide fully adequate treatment," he said. 


Not allocating more money sooner for modernization is also a disappointment to the departing secretary. "We set off with a strategy of putting full emphasis on readiness ... and we did this with the full knowledge that modernization would be the bill payer, but that we could get away with that for a few years because we were drawing the forces down so fast and taking so much equipment out of the force."


Now that the drawdown is over, he said, it's time to get modernization funding increased. "I had hoped to get that ramped up a year earlier than we have in fact succeeded in doing," he said. "That was delayed a year because of how much readiness actually cost us and the fact that I incorporated quality of life as part of our readiness bill."


Being defense secretary is a difficult but rewarding job, Perry said. "I will be leaving this job with a great sense of appreciation for the magnificent experience that I have been privileged to have, and I'll also leave it with a great sense of achievement. I was reluctant to take this job in the first place because I knew just how difficult it was going to be, but I am truly glad that I did."

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