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Shalikashvili Reflects on Bosnia and His Career

By Paul Stone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 12, 1997 – While diplomats struggle with the frustrations caused by Bosnians who don't agree on even the smallest details of the Dayton peace accords, America's top military leader says the success of the military mission there continues to impress him.

Army Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, just returned from Bosnia. He assessed the conditions there and the importance of the military mission during a wide-ranging, exclusive interview. He touched on several important issues that have impacted his role as chairman, such as the Quadrennial Defense Review, but it was Bosnia that dominated his thoughts as he prepares to retire at the end of September after nearly 40 years in the Army.

With former Bosnian military leaders still exercising strong influence over the political process and Bosnian political leaders bickering about everything from telephones to currency, the chairman acknowledged the peace process itself is not on track. But he said the key is to focus on what happens between now and June 1998, when the military mission is scheduled to end. He cited fair elections, improved return of refugees, continued building of political institutions and reconstruction as steps that must move forward to reduce the opportunity for the resumption of fighting.

"Meanwhile, the military is continuing to do an absolutely outstanding job of setting the conditions -- that is, creating an overall condition of security in which those other efforts can go forward," he said. "You can't go to Bosnia without being extraordinarily impressed by the professionalism of America's young men and women. I'm not sure they realize just how good they are. They make the difference. It is an American soldier, sailor, airman, Marine there on the spot that makes a difference."

Reflecting on the overall Bosnia mission, Shalikashvili said he has come to appreciate just how complex peacekeeping operations can be and how critical America's political and military roles are in resolving conflicts.

"It is impossible to look back over the last two years and still doubt the wisdom of our involvement there. Europe would be a very different Europe today if that fighting were still going on. NATO would be a very different NATO. NATO would be fighting for its survival as opposed to being the hope for future stability and tranquillity in Europe," he said.

He added that the Bosnian mission has helped set a strong relationship among the United States, Russia and NATO. "We are demonstrating to ourselves, to our European colleagues and certainly to the Russians, that when we put our minds to it, we can work together ... side by side for common good," he said.

What happens in June 1998, when the current mission is scheduled to end, is uncertain, but one thing the chairman said he is certain about -- the military can expect peacekeeping missions like Bosnia to occur for the foreseeable future.

He emphasized that the requirement for peacekeeping missions stems from the collapse of previous security relationships and the United States' stature as the only remaining superpower.

"The world has changed. It is no longer stable like it used to be during the Cold War. The instabilities, the uncertainties, the crises, all demand our attention," he said. "Our responsibilities are greater now than before ... to ensure that we so shape the environment that America's interests are protected and advanced."

While realistic about the need for U.S. involvement in world events, Shalikashvili indicated Bosnia and other operations in recent years have increased his sensitivity to the issues of operational tempo and readiness -- issues he said greatly impacted the Quadrennial Defense Review.

"We have to look at how we do business to reduce the amount of time that we ask our men and women to be away from home," he said. "We have to look at every joint and service training exercise. We have to look at all the other events that cause us to take people away from home to make sure we that we have it right ... so that we do not have needless times away from home."

To this end, Shalikashvili said he has told Defense Secretary William Cohen that joint exercise tempo will be reduced gradually 25 percent by the year 2000 -- a step he said he believes will help reduce the burden on the services and preserve readiness.

Accomplishing every mission, while scaling back resources and personnel without adversely impacting readiness, has been a key goal of the chairman and an achievement he said will look back on with pride.

While peacekeeping operations have dominated his term as chairman, Shalikashvili often touched on the theme of leader accountability, especially when discussing the recent Khobar Towers bombing decision and the sexual misconduct cases.

Although not advocating a "zero defects" mentality for the military, Shalikashvili emphasized leaders must be held "to a standard of what reasonably can be expected to be done under the circumstances ... based on his grade and circumstances."

Specifically addressing Cohen's decision to withhold the promotion of Air Force Brig. Gen. Terry J. Schwalier, the chairman said it was reasonable to expect someone of Schwalier's grade and experience to have had a workable plan to evacuate in case of danger, that an alarm system would be in place and that evacuations would be practiced.

"We owe that to the men and women we lead," he said. "If we wish to continue to lead men and women, often into harm's way, we cannot have a lesser standard than that."

Shalikashvili called the sexual harassment and misconduct cases "aberrations," which are not representative of day-to-day life in the military. But he was equally emphatic about the seriousness of the cases and said he hopes service members "recognize that we're dealing with them fairly, openly, quickly ... holding people accountable ... protecting the rights of those who have been hurt and also those who have been accused until they are found guilty."

As he begins to make the transition to civilian life, Shalikashvili said he is confident and excited about the military's future, especially in the first decade of the 21st century. He said he is excited about the information-age technologies he believes will have a major impact on the battlefield, giving commanders the ability to use weapons more efficiently and effectively.

"The battlefield will be characterized by seeing things you never dreamed of seeing today and being able to get that information to whoever needs it, and then be able to do something from long distances very precisely," he said.

Shalikashvili said he is also confident quality of life issues such as housing, pay and medical care will continue to improve, especially with increased congressional interest in recent years. But he added it must be constantly monitored to ensure service members and their families are taken care of, especially in light of continued deployments.

Being a firm believer that nothing in the military is more important than people, Shalikashvili said it is the people -- the military family -- that he will miss most upon retiring.

"You only have to go to a place like Bosnia and talk to these young men and women to recognize just how terrific they are and how much pleasure you derive from being with them," he said. "I think it's what kept me in the service, and 39 years later this is what I will miss the most."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Gen. John M. Shalikashvili (right), chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, responds to reporters' questions during a July 31 Pentagon briefing. Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen (left) had just presented his report, "Personal Accountability for Force Protection at Khobar Towers." Helene C. Stikkel.  
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