America's Military: A Force for Global Stability, Prosperity
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 17, 2000 Standing on the deck of the carrier USS John C. Stennis in the Persian Gulf it is easy to understand why America still needs a military.
F/A-18 Hornet fighters aboard the ship had launched strikes against air defense sites in southern Iraq the day before. The airmen were enforcing the Operation Southern Watch no- fly zone.
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen thanked the "warriors" of the Stennis for doing their parts to keep the Persian Gulf region stable. Global stability is in America's interests, he told them, and the U.S. armed forces are a big part of creating and promoting that stability.
Cohen says just because the Cold War is over doesn't mean America can do away with its military. "The military is still needed to defend the country and its interests," he said during an interview. "It is still needed to maintain deterrence, to deter anyone crazy enough to try to attack the country or its citizens."
The Constitution of the United States calls on the government "to provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States." The "common defense" has changed in this era of transnational threats.
In the early days of the Republic, the common defense meant defending the country against invasion and against Indian attacks. Today, providing for the common defense means American service members are stationed around the world.
"We must protect our national interests and fulfill our obligations to our allies," Cohen said. "We have important national interests that require forces to serve with NATO, Japan, Korea and in the Persian Gulf. A disturbance in one area affects all others. [President Dwight D.] Eisenhower said, 'Trouble in Indonesia has an impact in Indiana.'"
For example, 44 percent of the world's oil passes through the Straits of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. "We are in the Persian Gulf to ensure the flow of oil from the region," Cohen said. "If it stops, for whatever reason, many countries will be hurt, but especially Japan and Europe."
The world is so interconnected today, that if a recession strikes Japan or Europe, the United States will feel the effects.
The United States has vital national interests in Asia. Japan is one of America's largest overseas trading partners. China's economy is the fastest growing in the world. U.S. trade is increasing with Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea and Indonesia as those countries recover from market crashes three years ago.
"We are present in Asia to maintain stability in that region from Japan to Singapore," Cohen said. The presence of the U.S. military in the region symbolizes U.S. commitment to the region, he said, and helps "minimize disruptions and limit arms races."
"The United States is not interested in acquiring territory," Cohen said. "We are interested in encouraging stability because that encourages prosperity."
In Europe, the United States worked with NATO to encourage peace and stability. The alliance intervened in the Balkans because it could not stand by and watch the crises in Bosnia and Kosovo plunge the area into chaos that might have drawn in outside countries. The NATO and allied troops in this area provide stability that may ultimately allow the area to rejuvenate. Until then, they keep ethnic tensions from flaring into violence.
"If an area has stability, people have faith their investments will grow," Cohen said. "This builds the economies, which reinforces the stability that encourages a people's sense of confidence and well-being."
In this post-Cold War world, the U.S. military works in a number of ways to encourage stability. Cohen said the International Military Education and Training program introduces officers to the way the U.S. military does business. The IMET program stresses civilian control of the military and the way a military works in a democracy.
Further, simple military-to-military contacts encourage stability. In speaking with U.S. sailors in Manama, Bahrain, Cohen told them their mere presence and demeanor encourages stability.
"How you conduct yourselves, how you carry yourselves, how you relate to the community you are stationed in or deployed to, all of that sends a signal to people," he said. "They look to you to see if you are someone they admire and respect or even fear. You send a signal to countries such as Iraq or anyone else in the neighborhood that you are not anyone they want to take on.
"By the same token, you send message to our allies -- that you are a military they want on their side." Cohen said throughout his recent visit to the Middle East that the U.S. military is the most admired institution in United States.
"Everybody understands how good you are," Cohen told the sailors and Marines aboard the USS Stennis. "What we want to do is remind people of that connection [between their well-being and prosperity] and the types of sacrifices you make."