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SACEUR Says NATO Warfighting Skills Crucial

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

LONDON, April 8, 1998 – Despite the demands of peacekeeping operations in Bosnia, NATO's armed forces must retain warfighting skills and capabilities to deal with other security threats, U.S. Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark said here April 2.

"Professional military competence must not be lost in the pursuit of the current preoccupation with peacekeeping," Clark said. "However relevant and important these peacekeeping skills are today, they are no more than a subset of the fundamental warfighting skills on which NATO's pledge of collective defense ultimately must rest."

Speaking before some 300 members of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, NATO's supreme allied commander Europe said "warfighting skills are still required to under-gird our security and peace, today and into an uncertain future."

Even though the Cold War is over, the general said, a new class of transnational dangers has emerged -- rogue nations, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, organized crime, drug trafficking. "I would be remiss if I did not point out that we are facing these dangers with ever-reduced resources for defense," he said.

All NATO forces have been downsized, the general noted. From 1990 to 1996, member nations' defense spending as a percentage of gross domestic product dropped 15 percent. Defense manpower declined 27 percent. Since 1990, U.S. force structure has been cut 70 percent in Europe and 40 percent worldwide. NATO, in total, has cut about 50 percent of its land structure, 40 percent of its naval forces and 30 percent of its air forces.

Today's cuts in military structures and investments, must be balanced against potential security problems a decade or more in the future, Clark said. "There must be predictability, and hopefully, stability in resources committed over time. We must provide adequate incentives, training, structure and investment for the armed forces in our nations."

Clark said a year or two of neglect or fiscal starvation can destroy military competence, which can take a decade or more to rebuild.

NATO forces in Bosnia "are effective peacekeepers precisely because they have these warfighting skills and are known to have them," Clark said. However, the Balkan peacekeeping mission places an enormous burden on the alliance, he said.

"In order to maintain troops' warfighting skills, you have to budget time and resources. Units rotating home from Bosnia and other units that aren't yet on tap to go have to continue with their fundamental, core warfighting competencies," he said.

Clark quoted a recent statement by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to stress the importance of maintaining NATO's military might: "If diplomacy is to succeed, it must be backed both by force and fairness."

Lack of military strength is widely viewed as weakness, Clark said, and some see the lack of a credible defense as an invitation to ignore international law and good conscience. NATO must have the right combination of diplomacy and force to achieve its goals in Bosnia and its larger security goals, he said.

"Law and good reason alone will not always deter tyrants, the unscrupulous and the evil," Clark said. "Mediation and compromise are not always enough to deter conflict. Moral, diplomatic and even economic persuasion may not always be enough to remove the conflict's underlying causes.

"Resorting to force must not necessarily be our first choice," Clark said. "It must, nevertheless, remain a potential and feasible choice, [even] if the last choice."

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