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SACEUR Outlines NATO Challenges

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

VIENNA, Austria, June 24, 1998 – NATO's top commander in Europe says the 16-nation security alliance faces three challenges. The alliance must stabilize the Balkans, support Europe's evolving security structure and retain allied forces' warfighting skills.

Speaking at the 15th NATO Workshop here June 20, U.S. Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark said the Balkan challenge is twofold. NATO must stay the course and finish peace operations in Bosnia, and find a way to deal with Kosovo, the latest crisis in the Balkans.

In Bosnia, military tasks are largely done, but they must be sustained, Clark told the 200 or so senior political and military leaders gathered here for the four-day conference. The remaining challenge is civil implementation and hard work remains to be done, he said.

NATO-led forces provide a secure environment so this work can be done, he said, but the military cannot do it alone. For the most part, it's now up to the international community to re-establish stability in Bosnia.

"Many among the former warring factions have yet to give up their war aims," Clark said. "We've made progress on refugee returns but the yearning to return remains unfulfilled for hundreds of thousands of others. Economic development, although improving, is still a fraction of pre- war levels."

The situation in the nearby Serb-controlled province of Kosovo, on the other hand, is fast deteriorating, Clark said. Kosovo's repressed majority is becoming more radical and is turning toward violence. Although NATO allies prefer a political solution, Clark said, if diplomacy fails, NATO will not stand idly by. "Our recent air exercises showed the political and military agility of the alliance and we hope that the message has been received."

NATO's efforts in the Balkans, however, "cannot be effective in isolation," Clark said. Alliance leaders must also ensure NATO efforts are "embedded in, and reinforced by, the larger search for security and stability in Europe" to meet the challenge brought on by the continent's evolving security structure.

For NATO, this means keeping the door to future enlargement open and reaching out to nations who want to cooperate with the alliance, Clark said. NATO has become the fundamental bedrock of security for the West and for nations in Central and Eastern Europe, he explained.

"We need to develop a strong network of European and international security institutions in a way that enhances NATO and its effectiveness -- at the same time it enhances these international security institutions -- without weakening NATO's inherent strength, resolve and capability," Clark said.

The third challenge the alliance commander sees is keeping NATO armed forces strong. "We must have the right combination of diplomacy and force, military and nonmilitary means, to achieve not only our goals in Bosnia and Kosovo, but our larger security goals as well," Clark said.

"On behalf of all the men and women in uniform today, in NATO and especially in Bosnia-Herzegovina, let me make a plea that we retain our warfighting skills and capabilities," he said. "For these warfighting capabilities are still required to undergird our security and peace today, and into an uncertain future."

Clark said NATO faces new dangers in the post-Cold War era -- rogue states with national aspirations, regional disputes, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Lack of military strength is seen by some as weakness and an invitation to defy international law, Clark said.

"I would be remiss not to point out that we are facing these new dangers with ever-reduced resources for defense and security," he said. A year or two of fiscal starvation could destroy NATO's current professional military competence, which would take a decade or more to rebuild, he said.

"Law and good reason alone will not always deter the tyrants, the unscrupulous, and the evil," Clark said. Mediation and compromise are sometimes not enough to deter conflict. While resorting to force "must never be our first choice, it must nevertheless remain as a potential and feasible last choice."

In closing, Clark said he is optimistic NATO will remain the foundation for peace and prosperity, working to stop the spread of instability and chaos. "NATO will continue its efforts in peace enforcement and retain our core commitment to collective defense and the attributes that make it stick: shared risks, shared burdens, shared benefits. We are all partners and equals in this great alliance, and this alliance will continue to play a vital role in security in Europe and beyond."

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