Europe Salutes Allied Force Commander
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 4, 2000 Military leaders come and go. Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark has now joined the ranks of those few who make history.
U.S. Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark (from left), supreme allied commander Europe, NATO secretary-general George Robertson and U.S. Air Force Gen. Joseph W. Ralston leave Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in Mons, Belgium, for the ceremony where Ralston succeeded Clark as NATO's top military commander in Europe. Clark passed command May 3. Photo by Linda D. Kozaryn.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
As supreme allied commander Europe, the West Point graduate and Rhodes scholar successfully led the first major military offensive in NATO's 50-year history. He directed NATO's Operation Allied Force, the 78-day air campaign against Yugoslav forces that U.S. and alliance leaders have hailed as the most precise ever.
The slightly built, grey-haired soldier, who starts each day swimming laps in the nearest pool, has been involved with the Balkans crisis for several years. As Joint Staff director for strategic plans and policy, he led the military negotiations for the Bosnian peace accord of 1995. In the process, he saw three fellow American negotiators die in Bosnia when their armored personnel carrier rolled down a muddy mountain embankment outside Sarajevo.
Clark moved on to command the U.S. Southern Command, but returned to Europe in July 1997 as supreme allied commander Europe, the "SACEUR." Since then, his myriad duties have included the command of all NATO-led peacekeeping forces in the Balkans.
The native of Little Rock, Ark., is now winding up his military career. After more than 33 years of service, Clark is set to retire from the military in June.
European allies paid tribute to the departing American commander May 3 during a change of command at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in Mons, Belgium. Clark passed the NATO command to U.S. Air Force Gen. Joseph W. Ralston in Mons as he had his charge of European Command a day earlier in Stuttgart, Germany.
Great Britain's Lord George Robertson, NATO secretary- general, commended Clark for his "unique combination of military expertise, political knowledge and diplomatic skill." He said Clark helped to win the peace and restore stability in Bosnia-Herzegovina and played an important role in building a new relationship with Russia and NATO's partners in peace.
Robertson said NATO benefited from Clark's "wise military advice, determined leadership and political savvy." The U.S. armor officer, who holds a master's degree in philosophy, economics and politics from Oxford University, "helped turn the concept of a Euro-Atlantic community into a living reality," he said.
Calling Kosovo "one of the most complex operations a planner could dream up," Robertson said Clark proved up to the challenge. "Your diplomatic skills, your experience in the region and your transparent honesty helped you to negotiate robustly with (Yugoslav President Slobodan) Milosevic."
When NATO decided to use force in Kosovo, Robertson said, the SACEUR led the alliance through its biggest test in its 50 year history. Clark's operation saw all of NATO's goals achieved.
Operation Allied Force demanded "not only military skill," the secretary-general said, "but real political acumen." The operation succeeded "within the demanding political framework of a 19-nation alliance and always under intense media scrutiny."
Bosnia and Kosovo today are a testament to Clark's achievements, Robertson said. "Under the watchful eye of (NATO's Kosovo Force), a million Kosovars have returned to their homes and are now living in peace and freedom for the first time in a generation. (People throughout the Balkans) have at last achieved some real hope for the future. This is a historic achievement, and you have a right to feel proud of it," he told Clark.
NATO relies heavily on its top military commander, Robertson concluded. As a result of Clark's leadership, he said, NATO is in better shape than ever. "You were, without any doubt, the right man at the right place at the right time."
In his final address as SACEUR, Clark credited NATO's success to superb teamwork. He thanked military and political leaders from NATO's 19 member nations, his staff and the international troops who served under his command.
"We have demonstrated," Clark said, "that there is nothing stronger than the power of ideas -- ideas of freedom, law and justice, and that democratic peoples united in vision of a common imperative form an irresistible and magnetic force which is transforming the very nature of Europe."
There's a new democratic government in Croatia, the general said. Refugees throughout the region are returning to their homes. There are new signs of cooperation and tolerance as the trauma of ethnic cleansing slowly recedes in Kosovo.
Serving NATO during this period has been the "greatest privilege, the greatest honor, the greatest gift of my life," Clark said. "I thank you."
The general concluded that NATO will continue to face challenges requiring vision, courage and determination. He said the alliance must "see the future as it can be, have the courage to dare to attain it, and the determination to persevere in this pursuit, even in the face of difficulties."
Clark graduated first in his class at the U.S. Military Academy in 1966 and is a graduate of Army's Ranger and airborne schools and Command and General Staff and War colleges. His career includes tours as an instructor and assistant professor at West Point, commander of a mechanized infantry company in Vietnam, and command of the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas and the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif.