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News Release


Release No: 210-95
April 18, 1995



Two thousand years ago, the Roman poet Horace wrote, "Force without wisdom falls of its own weight."

Nothing I do as Secretary of Defense is more important than my role in advising the President on when and how to use military force in the post-Cold War world. In this world, we no longer face the monolithic threat of the Soviet Union. Today the threats to American interests stem from ethnic conflicts, nuclear proliferation, and humanitarian crises. Our responses to these complex and diverse situations require flexibility, hard choices, and sound judgment -- in short, wisdom.

Wise decisions about the use of force or forces have a political and military and an ethical element. The political element involves a judgment as to the nature of interests at stake, and whether the use or the threat of use of military force is the most appropriate way to protect those interests. The military element involves a judgment as to the capability of U.S. military force to achieve our goals, and the probable losses entailed. The ethical element involves whether achieving our goals by using our military is in keeping with America's fundamental respect for human life -- the lives of our men and women in uniform and the lives of people of other nations.

These questions must guide our decisions because one of the most profound decisions a President can make is whether to risk the lives of our men and women in uniform, or threaten the lives of the people of another nation. The courage, loyalty, and willingness of our men and women in uniform to put their lives at risk is a national treasure. That treasure must never be taken for granted -- yet neither can it be hoarded like a miser's gold. You and your colleagues are in uniform for a purpose -- to defend our Nation and its interests against threats here at home and abroad.

As Secretary of Defense, it is my job to help the President decide when and where military forces should be employed, and how -- by making clear what interests are at stake; by asking whether force can be used effectively to advance those interests; and, the ethical side of the question, should force be used for those purposes; and finally, by determining what level of force is necessary.

Over 50 years ago, President Roosevelt faced this awesome decision. And he decided to deploy America's fullest military power to help defeat the forces of tyranny and aggression on two sides of the globe. This decision was pretty clear cut. America's interests clearly were at stake -- indeed, our very survival was at stake. Some decisions about the level of force in the Second World War have been debated by historians.

President Truman's decision to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima was perhaps the most dramatic. The political element of this decision was sharply focused -- to end the war quickly, once and for all. The ethical element was more complex. By dropping the bomb, as Truman put it, "the force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed..." But by ending the war quickly, the bomb would save tens of thousands of American lives, and hundreds of thousands of Japanese lives, who would have died in combat. Truman made the decision -- the ethical decision --- to save those lives.

Today, unlike during World War II, most of the current and foreseeable threats to our interests do not threaten the survival of the United States. So we do not face the level of political and ethical questions about using force that FDR and Truman faced. But the problems we face are still very complex and very dangerous. So they still require us to think clearly about the use of military power.

Today, there are three basic categories of cases in which we may use our armed forces, all of which involve political and ethical questions. The first category is when our vital national interests are threatened. The second category is when important, but not vital, national interests are threatened. And the third category is when a situation causes us deep humanitarian concern. I want to consider each of these in turn.

A threat falls into the first category of vital interests if it threatens the survival of the United States or key allies; if it threatens our critical economic interests; or if it poses the danger of a future nuclear threat. If we determine that we face such a threat, we must be prepared to use military force to end that threat. We must be prepared to risk a military conflict to protect our vital interests. But we also must be prepared to weigh our political aims and our ethical responsibilities with great wisdom.

Our confrontations with Iraq over the past few years involved our vital national interests, since they involved all three threats: a threat to key allies, to critical economic interests, and a future nuclear danger. In 1990, Iraq invaded one ally, and threatened another. It verged on

controlling all the Gulf's oil, which amounts to two-thirds of the world's proven petroleum

reserves. Control of that much oil would allow a hostile state to blackmail the industrial world and threaten the health of the world economy. And the revenues from that much oil would allow Iraq to renew -- with vigor -- its plans for building the bomb.

So in 1990 we knew our vital interests were at stake. Our political aim was to blunt the threat to those interests quickly. We marshaled our forces and sent them to the Gulf. But it was 6 months before we actually used force.

Why? First, to prepare our forces so that victory would be assured and with the minimal loss of life. But also because we had an ethical responsibility to exhaust all possibilities for a peaceful resolution, to make war the last resort. And we did exhaust these possibilities.

The decision to start the war was indeed, a decision of great moment. We, as a nation, made a political decision that we had to respond. We also made an ethical decision -- that the cost of not stopping Saddam Hussein's aggression outweighed the potential risk to American, allied and Iraqi lives.

We also faced a tough ethical decision when victory was near at hand. President Bush decided for political -- and ethical -- reasons, not to make Baghdad and the capture of Saddam Hussein the goal. There were many reasons, but the paramount one for the President was that the cost in casualties from all sides would have been too high. He has received much criticism for that decision, but I believe that he was correct.

Saddam posed another serious threat last October, when Iraqi forces amassed near the Kuwaiti border. So we marshaled overwhelming forces in the Gulf, deploying troops to augment the troops already there. This decision was not taken lightly. The President and I fully recognized that sending troops to the Gulf again risked conflict and American lives. But once again, the cost of not deterring Iraqi aggression outweighed the potential risks. This time, our quick action acted as a deterrent, and the Iraqi forces returned to their garrisons without a fight.

The political and ethical questions are difficult when we have vital interests at stake. They are even more difficult in the second category of cases, when we have important, but not vital interests, at stake. These cases are more difficult because we have an obligation to weigh the risks against the interests involved, and because the threats are not always clear cut. But we must be willing to consider the use of some level of force commensurate with our interests. We want to influence the outcome in these cases because certain outcomes will advance our interests while others could harm them. But our use of force will be selective and limited, reflecting the relative importance of the outcome to our interests.

We have a range of options here, from using U.S. military assets for logistical operations, to using U.S. combat forces. The decision of what to use -- whether it is a C-130 transport or an Army division -- will reflect the cost we are willing to pay to achieve the outcome we want.

Our military action in Haiti falls into this category. Haiti's elected government was overthrown by a military dictator. This threatened important but not vital -- U.S. interests: namely, our interest in protecting democracy in this hemisphere; in preventing the flow of refugees; and in our deep concern in putting a halt to a cruel, systematic reign of terror over the Haitian people.

We could have used military force to protect those interests, but initially the risks outweighed the benefits. However, over time, economic sanctions and diplomatic efforts failed to resolve the threat, and indeed the threat to our interests began to increase.

There came a time, a significant moment, where the President and I decided the threat to our interests were great enough that we needed to take action. But we were prepared to call off the invasion up to the moment the first paratrooper left the plane, because we had an obligation to prevent the loss of lives if we could.

As in Iraq last October, the threat of military action was sufficient to avoid the use of military force. However, in this case the threat only became fully credible after forces were actually launched. When the military junta finally stepped down at the 11th hour, we did call off the invasion. And we arrived as friends rather than invaders.

Bosnia is another case where important, but not vital, U.S. interests are threatened. It may be the toughest security question we face today, both from a political and an ethical standpoint, even though it's clear who the aggressors and victims are. The Bosnian Serbs are the aggressors. The Bosnian government and its supporters are the victims. The atrocities perpetrated by the Serbs, in particular the "ethnic cleansing," are abhorrent.

Some say America has an ethical obligation to solve the Bosnian tragedy by entering the war on one side or the other. But America doesn't have enough at stake to risk the massive American casualties, as well as casualties from other parties and civilians, that would occur if we participated in a wider war. That course is unacceptable.

At the other end of the spectrum are those who say that America should do nothing; that Bosnia is a tragedy, but not our tragedy. Well, doing nothing is ethically unacceptable too. And it's unacceptable from a national security standpoint as well. Because we do have a security interest in preventing the violence from spreading and stimulating a broader European war. We do have a security interest in limiting the violence. And we certainly have a humanitarian interest in mitigating the effects of violence and the human suffering. And we have been able achieve these goals in Bosnia at an acceptable risk to Americans.

It is a tough ethical decision to stand aside when evil is being done. It's not a decision that makes you feel good. But we have decided to not commit U.S. troops to Bosnia to end the war. The cost in American lives -- not to mention the cost in Bosnian lives -- would be too great -- especially when weighed against the limited U.S. interests at stake.

But we have decided to commit U.S. forces to the region to prevent the spread of war in Bosnia, limit the violence, and mitigate the human suffering. For example, we have placed troops in Macedonia under U.N. command to help prevent the spread of the violence. We are enforcing the no-fly zones, and heavy weapons exclusion zones around cities. And we are airlifting food and medical supplies for humanitarian purposes.

These actions have been effective. So far the violence has been contained to Bosnia. We have seen civilian casualties drop from 130,000 in 1992 to around 2,500 in 1994. And thus far in 1995, there have only been about 100 civilian casualties. And we are engaged in the longest humanitarian airlift in history -- 3 years long, 14,900 sorties -- longer than the Berlin airlift. And of course, we are participating in diplomatic efforts to achieve a negotiated settlement based on the plan that the multi-national group has put forward. In spite of these efforts, nobody can feel satisfied from an ethical standpoint about Bosnia. Cases where we weigh our interests against the risks are, by their very nature, morally unsatisfying.

Ironically, this also holds true when America is faced with the call to respond to humanitarian crises. On the surface, deciding whether to respond to earthquake, starvation, disease, or civil wars may seem easy. But it's not. Because our forces cannot -- and should not -- be sent to resolve every humanitarian crisis, everywhere.

Generally the military is not the right tool to meet humanitarian concerns there are other organizations, government and private, that exist to do this important work. We field an Army -- not a Salvation Army. Under certain conditions the use of our armed forces is not appropriate.

The civil war in Rwanda was a human catastrophe of massive proportion. Yet intervention by U.S. forces would not necessarily have been effective and certainly would have involved casualties. Like many others, we decided to concentrate on using diplomatic tools until the military and civil conflict exhausted itself. Those diplomatic tools proved to be ineffective. That conflict and the resulting exodus of more than two million refugees created a human tragedy of Biblical proportions. The starvation, disease and death dwarfed the ability of the normal relief agencies to cope, and the need for relief was urgent. At that point, under unique conditions we were able to act.

In the entire world, only the United States military had the unique capability to jump start the relief effort, and begin saving lives in the short term. Only the U.S. military could conduct the massive airlift, over long distances, on short notice, to bring in the specialized equipment needed to relieve the suffering. And we did.

The Joint Task Force quickly set up an airlift hub at Entebbe and 24-hour airport operations at Goma and Kigali. And the relief flights surged. American planes delivered nearly 15,000 tons of food, medicine and supplies to the refugees. U.S. troops were called from Europe. And before two nights passed, they began making clean water for the refugees at Goma. That stemmed the cholera epidemic and dramatically curbed the dying.

The lesson learned from Rwanda is that there are times when we can, and should, intervene in humanitarian crises, but only if four criteria can be met: first, if we face a natural or manmade catastrophe that dwarfs the ability of the normal relief agencies to respond; second, if the need for relief is urgent and only the military has the ability to jump-start the effort; third, if the response requires resources unique to the military; and fourth, if there is minimal risk to the lives of American troops.

Choosing the right thing to do in a chaotic world is not as simple as some may think, particularly when it comes to using military force. It's not merely a matter of asking your heart. You also have to ask your head. You have to ask yourself, can American interests be protected without resorting to using force? And more importantly, is it worth -- truly worth -- risking the lives of our men and women in uniform?

There's a painting that hangs outside my office in the Pentagon. It depicts a poignant scene of a serviceman with his family in church. Clearly he is praying before a deployment and long separation. Below the painting is a wonderful quote from Isaiah.

God says, "Whom shall I send and who will go for us?"

And Isaiah replies, "Here am I; send me."

When we talk about using military force, we are talking about the lives of the people who say, "Here am I; send me;"

And every decision we make to use force must bear them in mind.

Thank you.

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