Shelton Says U.S. Must Look to Long-term Interests
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 3, 1999 The United States cannot afford to concentrate on near-term crises to the exclusion of long- term national interests, said Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Henry Shelton.
Speaking at a conference on strategic responsibilities here Nov. 2, Shelton said North Korea and Iraq are clearly the most serious near-term threats in their regions, "but even these near-term threats will not determine the shape of the world in the first decades of the next century."
He said he believes the future is uncertain, yet also bright, "but only if we are wise enough and strong enough to look at what's unfolding in front of us and prepare for it."
Shelton said military force is a "relatively blunt instrument." He said use of the U.S. military cannot substitute for other forms of national power in resolving inherently political conflicts.
"As we've seen in the last decade, the urge to take action in a crisis can be somewhat overpowering," Shelton said. Watching a crisis unfold on the living room television can sometimes create a compelling public urge to use a military solution because it's readily available and seems attractive, he said.
Shelton said the military sometimes is the right option, citing Haiti, Liberia, Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor as examples of such U.S. involvement. But while correct, the U.S. actions may slant the public's perception of where the threat lies. In today's troubled world, many worthy causes cry out for military intervention.
"We are, and always will be, a compassionate nation," Shelton said. "And 'the better angels of our nature,' to use Abraham Lincoln's phrase, will often prompt us to get involved." He called it prudent to consider unintended consequences that could follow well-intentioned impulses to use the U.S. military to further peace and stability.
"We have gained considerable experience in this area in the past few years," he said. "We have found that sorting the 'good guys' from the 'bad' is not easy, and that getting in is much easier than getting out, that deeply rooted, ancient hatreds cannot be resolved with the short-term application of military force."
Shelton said one challenge the United States faces is that developments in China, Japan, Iran and Russia "are where we must place our greatest investment in time, energy and diplomacy."
He said the future of Asia will be decided in the rise and fall of the "markets of Hong Kong, in the computer chip factories of Shanghai and on the floor of the stock exchange of Tokyo, but not in Pyongyang."
He said China has the world's largest population, its third or fourth largest economy, the largest conventional military and third largest nuclear force.
"The Chinese are modernizing their military forces," he said. "At the same time, they hope to maintain control of an expanding capitalist economy under a communist hierarchy that embraces centralized planning and control." He called the situation an internal contradiction that could have dire consequences.
"The Japanese are our most important ally in the region, and the second largest economy in the world behind our own," Shelton said. "It is clear to me that the destinies of China and Japan will have a tremendous impact on the future of peace and stability in the world."
In Southwest Asia, Iraq is bothersome but no longer the most serious regional concern, he said. On the contrary, he noted, Iran's religious fervor and increasingly more capable and modern armed forces make it the more powerful and long-term regional force.
He said the U.S. problem with Iran isn't hardware, but ideas. Iran's influence in the regional tinderbox of religious, economic and political issues makes it a dangerous long-term problem left unaddressed.
"What could prove most ominous is Iran's very clear drive to expand its influence through the pulpit into the Caucasus," Shelton said. That drive, he said, threatens Russia, the Balkan states and NATO ally Turkey."
He said the future of Europe would not depend on an independent Kosovo or a new Serbia, but will swing on the path Russian nationalism takes and on whether Russia transforms peacefully into a nation with a stable economy that abides by the rule of law."
Shelton said Russia still possesses thousands of nuclear warheads, and the most profound danger to the United States is if these weapons were wielded by an enemy rather than a friend.
"Of course, what happens in Russia will shape the future of the rest of Europe, ultimately determining whether Europe will grow together or fragment," he said.
"In order to shape the future our strategy has been to deal effectively with the Bosnias, the Koreas, the Kosovos and the East Timors of today," Shelton concluded. "We must, however, not allow them to distract us from the truly vital issues that loom before us."