Secretary of Defense William J. Perry - Howard University Student Leadership Conference
Monday, April 8, 1996
President Swygert has a vision: a vision of Howard University as the development ground for national leaders.
And as he's told you, you could have no better role model as a national leader than Ron Brown.
He gave his most to everything he did.
He gave his best to our nation and he gave his life trying to help the people of Bosnia rebuild their economy, which had been destroyed by the war.
In this pursuit, Ron was carrying out the vision of my role model,the American soldier and statesman, George C. Marshall.
Marshall was the author of the Marshall Plan, which helped the people of free Europe rebuild their economies after World War II.
In effect, Ron Brown was trying to do for Bosnia and Croatia what George Marshall earlier tried to do for all of Europe-- they both tried to help people who were sick of war build an economic foundation for peace.
Ron was bringing American companies, American resources, and American know-how to the newly independent nations in eastern and central Europe.
His vision was that he could do this, at the same time, by bringing jobs to Americans and hope to Europeans.
He had already successfully done this in Russia and central Europe and wanted to do it in Bosnia as well.
Just last month, Ron Brown said, "As peace comes to turbulent parts of the world, people have an expectation that their lives are going to change for the better.
We must take action to create that kind of opportunity." Well, today,I want to talk about some of the ways America is taking action to seize the opportunity to insure peace in the world and the role that you can play as future leaders of America.
To begin, let me take you back to last summer, when I delivered the Commencement Address at Stanford University.
My power of concentration was truly tested during that talk, because during my entire speech a private plane flew over the stadium, trailing a huge banner behind it which said, "Perry,stop the killing in Bosnia." Well, after the speech I met with some of the people who had paid to have that banner flown, and they explained to me that they wanted the United States to enter the war in Bosnia on the side of the Bosnian Government.
They saw this as the only way of stopping the war and ending the slaughter.
I told them that I agreed with their objective of stopping the war, but that I disagreed with the way they wanted to achieve that objective.
I did not support sending American troops as combatants in that war.
Indeed, I believed that thousands of Americans many of them about your age would have died in the fighting had we done that.
I wanted, instead, to achieve that objective by working for a comprehensive peace agreement and then sending in our soldiers not as combatants but as peace keepers.
And I wanted to do all of this in concert with other nations.
Well, today, the war in Bosnia has stopped.
Not because we deployed soldiers there as combatants, but because we employed diplomacy and limited military force to convince the combatants to stop fighting and start working for peace.Now we have 20,000 American troops in Bosnia not fighting a war, but giving peace a chance to endure.
And we are joined in that effort by troops from 32other nations.
I have visited Bosnia twice this year to see how our troops are doing and to see how the peace is being implemented.
In fact, I just returned from my second trip, last week.
And I could not be more pleased with how well the military effort is going and I expect it to continue that way.
From the time of their arrival in Bosnia, our troops have shown determination, leadership,and grit.
During my early January trip, I crossed into Bosnia with General Shalikashvili, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General Joulwan,the commander of our troops in Europe.
We went into Bosnia by walking across the bridge crossing the Sava River.
Building that bridge was a problem of epic proportions: the longest pontoon bridge ever built; the worst winter in a decade; and the worst flooding of this century.
And as we neared the middle of the bridge, we met some of the combat engineers who had built that bridge.They were dirty, cold, exhausted, but very proud.
One of them came forward and told us that his enlistment in the Army was up that week and that he wanted tore-enlist.
So, we swore him in for another four years in the US Army right there in the middle of the Sava River bridge.
After all he had been through --the bitter cold, flooding of biblical proportions, the danger of land mines --this young man still wanted to re-enlist.
And I can tell you that I have never been more proud of our soldiers than at that moment.
Indeed, all Americans can be proud of our troops in Bosnia.
They are showing true grit.
But there's much left to be done to ensure peace and stability not just in Bosnia but across the Balkan region.
This is a region that throughout history has been Europe's tinderbox.
Today, the region wants peace and we want peace in that region.
To seize this opportunity requires bridge building of a different kind.
It requires building bridges of openness, trust, and cooperation, among the nations in the region.
To begin this process, I, just last week, took part in a first ever conference of defense leaders in the Balkan region, including Albania, Bulgaria,Macedonia, and Turkey.
We were joined by the Italian defense minister and together we explored ways that could create the conditions for peace, such as being open about military plans, policies, and budgets; conducting joint peace keeping exercise training; and humanitarian and disaster relief operations.
When armed forces open their books and work together it builds peace and stability.
I spent a lot of my time as the Secretary of Defense to build openness, trust,and cooperation all over the world.
This endeavor has taken me to 50 different nations in my two years in the job as Secretary.
Some of these nations --including Mexico, our closest neighbor -- had never been visited by an American secretary of defense.
These visits, among other things, have led to some unusual dining experiences.
For example, a general of the Peoples Liberation army, in China, hosted me at a dinner in which the main course was rendered manchurian toad fat.
[Laughter] Not just toad fat, but rendered Manchurian toad fat.
I shared a barbecued side of cattle with some Gauchos on a range in the Pampas in Argentina.
And in Uzbekistan, a new country that became independent when the Soviet Union fell apart, I ate shish kebob and drank fermented mare's milk, while listening to an Uzbeki army colonel singing Frank Sinatra songs.
I share these experiences with you to make an important point.
During the Cold War, all of our focus was on deterring Soviet aggression and preventing a global war.
The men who had my job, spent much of their time working with our key allies: Britain; France; Germany; Japan; [and] Korea.
Today, the end of the global bipolarity, that was part of the Cold War, creates new needs and it creates opportunities to build bridges all over the world.
We are renewing our traditional alliances for the new era, such as those we have with NATO and Japan.
And we are trying to build constructive relations with former adversaries, such as Russia and China.
And we are building security partnerships in key regions: the Asia Pacific region; and here in our own hemisphere.
We want to support and encourage the newly independent nations that are struggling to create strong democracies and free markets.
This may not sound like a job for the US military, but one thing that is true about many of these new countries is that their militaries continue to play a strong role.Indeed, the military is often the most organized and stable institution in these countries.
And military personnel often represent a large part of the educated elite.
The question, therefore, is not whether the military will playa big role in that transition, but whether it will be a positive role.
We have an opportunity to shape that role, to help this important institution find its proper place in a democracy, under democratic control.
The place where this kind of activity is yielding the most tangible benefit is eastern and central Europe.
Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, other countries of the region, are struggling to make a break from their authoritarian past.
They want to begin a brighter future with democratic governments and prosperous economies like we have in the west.
And we want to help them.
We're helping them through a program called the Partnership for Peace, which was created by the US and our western European allies in the NATO alliance.
Under this program, American and Western European troops join together with troops from the old Soviet law countries to train for peace keeping and humanitarian missions.
And this partnership is helping them reform their militaries, under democratic control, with more open budgeting, and legislative oversight.
We've established a school in Germany, appropriately called the Marshall Center, to teach former Soviet and Warsaw Pact military officers about how militaries serve the nation in a democracy.
These officers, after six months at this school in Germany, return to their countries and put what they have learned into practice, reshaping their armed forces.
And some of them are even putting their learning into practice in Bosnia, helping NATO build the bridge to peace, there.
Perhaps the most important bridge to peace we can build is between Russia and the West.
Since the end of the Cold War, Russia was the center of the Soviet quest to spread communism throughout the world.
An awesome military machine and nuclear arsenal threatened its neighbors and indeed the entire world.
As a result, my generation has lived most of our lives with a dark cloud hanging over our heads, threatening to extinguish humanity in a nuclear holocaust.
Now, with the end of the Cold War, that dark cloud is drifting away.
And our partnership with Russia is making the world safer for all of us.
For instance,last fall, the Russian defense minister and I stood together in a corn field,at a US missile base in Missouri, and together we pressed a button that blew up an American nuclear missile silo, which is being destroyed under our Strategic arms Reduction Treaty.
Then, a few months later, I went to Pervomaisk, in the former Soviet Republic of Ukraine, to take part in dismantling of a former Soviet nuclear missile facility there.
This time, the Russian defense minister, the Ukrainian defense minister, and myself all joined together to turn a special launch control key that, instead of launching a missile, ignited explosives which blew up the silo that had formerly contained that missile.
Just one year ago, there were 80 Soviet missile silos at that site, containing 700 nuclear warheads.
All of them directed at targets in the United States.Two months from now -- this June -- all those missiles and warheads will begone and that missile field will have been converted into a wheat field.Having spent much of my career trying to eliminate Soviet nuclear weapons, I never imagined that the Russian defense minister would help me do it.
And he never imagined that I would help him destroy American missile silos.
Also, having spent much of my career trying to contain the Soviet military, I never imagined that US and Russian troops would be serving together to ensure peace in the Balkan region or that the Russians would be there operating under an American division.
But that's what they're doing right now in Bosnia.Russia is one of those 32 nations that has joined the NATO peace keeping mission in Bosnia.
Just last week, when I was over there, I saw American and Russian troops working side by side to complete a Serbian weapons inspection that was mandated by the Bosnia peace agreement.
I met with the American and Russian troops and I could see the personal bridges that they were building between our armies.These bridges are important to insuring peace in Bosnia but they are also important to spanning the Cold War chasm between Russia and the West.
the world needs the Russians to be inside the international community of responsible, peace-loving nations, and Bosnia is a good place to start.
Well, these stories I've told you today all involve building new bridges in the world.
Some of them involve my personal experiences.
Some of them were about Ron Brown, who gave his life building bridges between our nation and the rest of the world.
But the task of building bridges to the rest of the world is not just the work of today's military leaders.
It is also the work of tomorrow's leaders, today.
You build bridges when you study with students from other countries and cultures; when you study abroad; and even when you cruise the worldwide web.
You can talk on the net with someone in Uzbekistan more easily than I can meet with the Uzbekistani defense minister.
After you graduate, you will enter jobs that will put you in regular contact with people from every corner of the globe.
Some of you are choosing careers that will make it your primary task to build bridges in the world, but all of you will have that opportunity in some fashion.
Your collective voice as citizens will determine how our government builds its bridges to the rest of the world and your individual voice will also make a difference.
John F. Kennedy believed that one person can make a difference and that every person should try.
This belief inspired my generation.
It defined Ron Brown's life of leadership and public service and he demonstrated convincingly that one person can make a difference.
And I truly hope that this belief will inspire your lives, as well.