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When Should U.S. Troops Deploy?

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

BARILOCHE, Argentina, Oct. 9, 1996 – Defense Secretary William J. Perry signs deployment orders every week. Many are routine, others require a lot of thought about how U.S. forces should be used.

Determining what national interests are involved is key to making a decision, Perry said during an interview on the way to a conference here. "Any [issue] that involves a serious commitment of U.S.military forces, that could put them at substantial risk or that could lead to a military conflict I discuss with the president and the vice president," he said.

Perry said he divides issues into three categories. First is whether a proposed deployment affects vital national security interests. Second is whether it affects national security interests, but not "vital" interests. Third is whether the deployment is for humanitarian reasons.

"Each of those is a different case, each has different risks involved, and each involves a willingness to make quite a different commitment," Perry said.

The United States is prepared to go to war to protect vital national security interests, he said. These involve situations that threaten the survival of the United States or one of its allies due to economic strangulation or weapons of mass destruction, he said.

In October 1994, for example, the United States was ready to fight Iraq, Perry said. At the time, Saddam Hussein sent three divisions to the Kuwaiti border in a pattern reminiscent of movements in 1990 prior to the Gulf War, he said.

"We moved immediately with a major redeployment of U.S. forces," Perry said. Prepositioned equipment and facilities and the U.S. fleet in the Persian Gulf allowed the United States to build up its forces in the region in a matter of days, he said.

"The purpose of this rapid buildup was to deter Iraqi invasion, but if the deterrence had failed, they were there to fight," Perry said. "We were prepared for military conflict."

This situation serves as an example of vital national security interests at stake, Perry said. "Economic strangulation was an issue here, as it was in Desert Storm, and the survival of an ally was an issue."

Another example of threats to vital interests occurred in June 1994, Perry said. "North Korea was about to take spent fuel out of its nuclear reactor and process it to make weapongrade plutonium, enough to make perhaps six nuclear bombs, he said.

"We were within, literally, a day of imposing very severe sanctions on North Korea, even though they had said the imposition of sanctions would be taken as an act of war. Because of that, we were preparing to make a major reinforcement of our forces in Korea."

Here again, the survival of an ally, the Republic of Korea, was at stake. The United States wanted to deter a conflict, but was prepared for military conflict if it happened, Perry said. "That crisis was averted by the socalled framework agreement by which North Korea agreed to stop its nuclear weapons program. To this day, that fuel has never been processed. In fact, it is being canned now so that it will never be processed" he said.

Recent strikes against Iraq did not involve vital national security interests, Perry said. "We were not prepared to deploy ground forces to northern Iraq to fight a war there," he said. But U.S. defense officials were concerned Saddam Hussein's involvement in the conflict between Kurdish groups in the north would embolden him to take other actions that would threaten vital U.S. interests, he said.

"Therefore, we did take military action," Perry said. The United States extended the nofly zone in the south and conducted missile strikes to allow U.S. forces to enforce that nofly zone, he said.

"Both of those actions were directed against our concern that Saddam Hussein might move to Kuwait again or might take an action overthrowing the U.N. continuing inspection of his weapons of mass destruction program," Perry said. Only the allied British, French, and U.S. Operation Southern Watch provides the military leverage allowing U.N. inspections to continue, he said.

The war in Bosnia is an example of a situation where no vital U.S. interests were involved, according to Perry. "We did not see that ongoing war as a vital national security interest, but it was clearly a national security interest," he said. "We decided from the beginning, and have consistently decided, we would not participate in that war."

U.S. forces did not become a party in the war, Perry said. They participated first in humanitarian efforts, delivering food, medical supplies and clothing by airdrop and airlift. U.S. units also help U.N. protection forces enforce a noheavyweapons zone around Sarajevo. U.S ground forces went into Bosnia only after the warring parties reached a peace agreement, Perry said."We worked hard to make that happen, and once we had that peace agreement, we not only participated, we became a leader in IFOR," he said.

Humanitarian missions are the third type of situation that might require deploying U.S. troops. "When war broke out in Rwanda, as disastrous as that was, we concluded we were not going to participate in that war," Perry said.

After the war ended, a million refugees mostly Hutu were in three or four refugee camps just across the border in Zaire, he said. When cholera broke out in the camps and about 5,000 people a day were dying, it became a disaster of biblical proportions.

"Only the United States had the combination of water purification equipment, skilled engineers and the airlift that could move them in a matter of days," Perry said. "Two days after the president gave me the order, we had that purification equipment over there. Three days after, I went over myself and saw it up and operating, and in that short amount of time, the cholera epidemic was stopped cold."

Sending U.S. troops and equipment to Central Africa was a lowrisk operation, Perry said. "We were not going in to fight a war. We did not expect any of the sides to attack our forces. We did send in an MP battalion to help protect our engineers, but we were provided protection by the Rwandans and the [government of] Zaire who were very happy to see us there," he said.

The humanitarian mission demonstrates the need for a clearly defined mission with clearly defined tasks in all instances, Perry said. As they did in Rwanda, U.S. forces go in, do the task assigned and come out again.

"We were out three weeks later," Perry said. "We left our water purification equipment behind, but after our airlift [forces] and our engineers did the job they were uniquely qualified to do, they left again."

The goal of humanitarian missions is to save people's lives, Perry said. "You want to be sure the mission you are conducting is not itself putting a lot of people's lives at risk." If there is risk involved, it must be weighed against the benefit of the mission, he said.

"Our military forces face risks every day and in every mission they are in," Perry said. "We do not envision the U.S. military should be risk free but we have a responsibility when we take on a new mission to weigh the risks against the importance of the benefits of the mission."

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