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Grand Challenges for the Post-Cold War World
Remarks as Delivered by Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, USA, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Naval War College graduation, Newport, R.I, Friday, June 16, 1995

What a great pleasure it is to be here today to share this very special ceremony.

... As Adm. [Navy Rear Adm. Joseph C.] Strasser [president of the Naval War College] mentioned, 25 years ago I was sitting where you are today, waiting to graduate from the College of Naval Command and Staff. It was a different era then, but there were some very striking similarities to what you face today. It was 1970. The Vietnam War was just winding down. As a matter of fact, I and most of my fellow students had come here straight from that war.

During the time we had been absorbed in that war, the Soviets had spent the decade very energetically rebuilding their armed forces. Their army, a force that had entered the '60s as mostly an infantry force, had by the 1970s been transformed into a heavy, fast-paced, nearly fully mechanized force, one we believed was far more capable of rapidly overrunning Europe.

And while the bulk of our surface ships and carriers were of World War II vintage, the Soviets were still laying the keels of a shiny new and very modern blue-water fleet.

While Vietnam had monopolized our resources and our focus, the Soviets had greatly expanded their ability to challenge us in more vital areas -- in Europe and on the high seas.

So as we sat in these chairs, my class saw what we believed were very considerable challenges ahead. We needed to refocus our efforts -- and our thinking and our training and preparations -- away from Vietnam and back to other missions.

And in that sense, I think there is a resemblance between that era and today. Yes, the challenges are very different and the adjustments are certainly different, but you also face the need to guide our forces toward new tasks and new missions.

And as I thought about how I would try to step up here and talk to you about your challenges, I thought back to my own graduation 25 years ago. By that time of the school year I had heard more about challenges than I cared to remember. And as I tried to recall what our graduation speaker had to say -- while I am sure that he was very eloquent and wise -- I can't remember a single word that he said. And of course, I guess that's a warning to me, for undoubtedly my own thoughts will prove equally perishable and fleeting!

But if I had to gather all of these challenges that I wish to discuss with you under one single heading, it would be to turn your focus to the future.

For 50 years, all of us have been accustomed to a great strategic consistency. Although the cause of the consistency was deplorable, the fact of the consistency was reassuring and oddly comfortable to us all.

We lived in the era of containment, and it was thoroughly understood; it was uniformly accepted; and it was as unchanging as the environment that dictated that strategy. Ironically, for although it proved to be perhaps the most strikingly successful strategy of its kind in history, we never once envisioned what would happen if it succeeded. For as long as it lasted, you would expect that we would have given some thought to what its success would create. But we didn't.

The lesson that I hope we have learned is that our strategies must extend beyond their own successes -- or their failures -- to envision and prepare for the consequences that could be created.

For when in 1991 our strategy did succeed, the result was surprise and an absence of thinking and preparation for the very conditions and consequences we had struggled for so long to create. As we should have anticipated, the culmination of containment caused us a great deal of motion in a global environment that had been unused to much motion for many, many decades. An empire ended, the bipolar global order collapsed and more new nations were born -- and more borders changed -- than we witnessed even after the Second World War. Any one of these three events would shake the world. All three combined have been like putting an eggbeater into a pool of still water.

During the year that you have been here, there have been, continuously, six to seven joint task forces in the field in real-life operations. Twice we have deployed forces to fight: once to Haiti, and then only a few weeks after our peaceful entry there, we went to the gulf to prevent another Iraqi attack against Kuwait.

We went to Rwanda, and we had a tough, but very well-run operation that safely withdrew the last of the U.N. forces from Somalia, and, of course, there's the no-fly zone over Bosnia. Our aviators have been involved there, as you well know, in several skirmishes. All of this in only one year. And of course, we are even now in the midst of yet another crisis in Bosnia. Some suggest that our world has become like a football game with no halftimes and no end in sight. But very clearly, let me remind you, our forces have performed magnificently. They have risen to every challenge with toughness, with skill and with great determination.

And this was certainly on display in last week's daring rescue of [Air Force Capt.] Scott O'Grady [shot down over Bosnia June 2, rescued June 8]. Whether it was O'Grady's inspiring heroism or the courage and commitment of those who desperately searched for him or the skill and daring of those who went in to get him, America saw once again the spirit and the remarkable qualities of the men and women in our armed forces.

But these kinds of challenges that we have experienced this past year are going to remain with us. For you here, this is, in all likelihood, the nature of the world you will be contending with for much of the rest of your careers.

Many of you are going to find yourselves either as commanders or as staff officers on joint task forces, even as I am sure that many of you have already participated in such operations.

And this is true not only for the American officers here today, but it is equally true for the international officers as well. For if you look back on the operations of the past several years, they have nearly all been multilateral, coalition operations. In nearly every operation that I just mentioned -- including the search for and rescue of Scott O'Grady -- it was not just American forces, but the forces of many nations that were or are still involved, and many of you are sitting here today.

And you are going to have to be able to explain to your people and to your families the grander, overarching purpose of what you are doing. For it is one thing to say that you are going to enforce a no-fly zone over Bosnia or Iraq; it is quite another to explain why. It is one thing to say that you are going to bring democracy to Haiti or to enforce nonproliferation in North Korea, but another to explain why.

One administration called it shaping a new world order, even as this administration refers to it as engagement. The fact is that our engagement does have a very real and a very vital purpose. Our underlying, but clearly our manifest, purpose in the Cold War, as should be true of any conflict, was to create new possibilities and new opportunities.

And the end of the Cold War created opportunities of a far grander scale than any other in history.

In Europe, for 45 years, even as we were engaging in containment, we were just as engaged building a new order in Western Europe, where so many of Europe's past wars emanated. The vision we helped to sow was of an integrated Europe, a condominium of nations whose security, whose economics and whose political systems were so intertwined that conflict between them grew more and more unthinkable.

It was the work of generations, but it has succeeded. And now we must protect that order, even as we spread this same vision and reality of constructive integration to those in the eastern half of Europe.

We must draw these nations into the same webs because it is the surest manner of limiting conflicts on that continent that has fostered two world wars and a global cold war in this century. That is the cycle we must ensure is not repeated again.

And today this means that two challenges must be met: The first is to help ensure the success and stabilization of reforms under way in Russia and Ukraine and the other former Soviet republics. While much of that challenge rests on the shoulders of the people in these nations themselves, we can and we must offer them political and economic support along the way. We must never forget that their success is critical to our interests as well as theirs.

But the second, and equally critical, challenge is to reduce the fears and insecurities and instabilities in Central Europe. That region, after all, was precisely where both world wars and the Cold War of this century began, and an even longer litany of wars in the centuries before. The best and probably the only approach to this is to expand NATO in Central Europe, bringing in new members that are committed to democracy and committed to becoming members of a defensive alliance. Most nations of Central Europe believe this is essential, and the members of the alliance are convinced of this as well.

But today there are some in Russia who oppose this expansion. They argue that if NATO were to take this step, it would represent a threat to Russian security and that it could unhinge Russia's reforms by exciting a nationalist backlash from its people.

Yet both NATO members and the Central Europeans find such arguments ill founded, in fact, contrary to what they perceive as being Russia's own security interests. Other than the Central European nations themselves, no nation has suffered more perilously than Russia from Central Europe's volatility or its dreadful flair for igniting larger European wars.

It is very strongly in Russia's favor to see Central Europe made more stable by a regional security structure, one that reduces insecurities and instabilities and the chances of conflict either from within or from without. Expansion will clearly improve Central European stability. Opposing views find their roots in a fear that Russia would find itself isolated and encircled by a threatening alliance.

Yet these fears are founded on a misperception of NATO and the interests of its members. Very clearly, the trans-Atlantic partners want Russia to constructively engage in Europe in every sense: politically, economically and militarily. It is a great power that has so much to offer the rest of Europe. And as we and our European friends have discovered since the Second World War, the path to peace and prosperity lies in an integrated continent, including all. We all want Russia and the other former Soviet states as peaceful and contented members of this community. And both an expanded NATO and a democratic Russia in partnership with NATO are the surest way to fulfill that dream.

And there are opportunities in Asia that are equally great. No region of the world was more violent or more scarred by the bipolar confrontation of the past. But unlike Europe -- where the Cold War brought even the staunchest of traditional enemies together in a common camp -- Asia's historical distrusts remained entrenched and palpable.

Now, as this entire region is pulsing with economic growth, it is being propelled towards a different and a far more hopeful future, a future where Asia's economies are becoming more and more integrated; where Asia's factories and markets seem poised to become the most powerful engines of global economic growth in the next century. But here also progress depends on a stable security structure, one that preserves the security of our allies, but also one that integrates China's growing power as a constructive force, and that integrates Russia's power and influence equally constructively.

And just as we are looking for ways to keep Europe from splitting into camps, we must work toward the integration of Asian security, creating an order built on trust and cooperation -- and mutual interests and interdependencies -- rather than on ancient competitions and old scars.

Here in this hemisphere, every nation save one is now a democracy practicing free market economics. And that is an extraordinary evolution, one that opens up a commonality of interests that has never existed in the past.

A new world is shaping to our south, and we must all understand that this will dramatically transform this hemisphere in the next century. The nation with the fastest growing economy in the world is in Latin America. And there are several others not far behind it, even as there are others joining the queue.

Or you can look to the Middle East, where for 40 years we expended enormous diplomatic capital in an effort to negotiate a regionwide peace, but with only very limited success. In the past few years, we have helped achieve a stream of successes, and the last few steps to a broader, more enduring solution seem realizable, perhaps even near at hand. We must sustain this commitment. We must never forget that peace in the Middle East is of vital importance to our nation, and it could become a landmark of the next century.

Finally, there is one other critical region -- and that is the troubled gulf -- that will remain the oil reservoir needed to lubricate the economies of the industrialized nations for the foreseeable future. While the situation in that region remains divided and tense today, we must sustain the long-term commitment that convinces those who would wish to destabilize the gulf that this is both a self-defeating and, ultimately, a hopeless quest.

Now, none of these are short-term propositions. Some of them may require decades. And they will require imagination in addition to perseverance. Nor do they come without risk. But these are the opportunities we struggled to create through the long years of the Cold War. It is a more complex purpose than containment ever was. It is more ambitious. But it is just as necessary and vital to our nation.

And of course, none of this will come to fruition without American commitment and leadership.

Our purpose, therefore, is the creation of a much more peaceful and stable world order than the one we have known in this century. And that will be determined by how successful we are in Europe, in Asia, in this hemisphere, in the Middle East and in Southwest Asia. For in these regions lie the powerful economies that are the engines of global prosperity. And in these regions lie much of the material and human resources upon which these engines depend. Our purpose is, as well, to reintegrate those nations that for nearly half a century were so successfully contained, for the world will be safer and more prosperous if they are engaged constructively. We do not want to return to the past.

So I am very envious of you sitting here today. And I say this from the bottom of my heart. When I was sitting in your seats 25 years ago, our challenge was to protect the status quo, to ensure containment, to restore a military balance that we felt was eroding, for a struggle that we were convinced was going to last beyond our lifetimes. Your generation, on the other hand, confronts an extraordinary array of opportunities that are much more tangible and so much bolder. Your accomplishments will be measured in much grander terms than ours.

If we can safely usher in the dozens of nations and the billions of producers and consumers who are trying to convert to democracy and free markets, we will be creating the conditions that will lead to what may be the greatest explosion of prosperity the world has ever witnessed.

If we can create the stable regional security orders that I spoke of, we will make the world much safer than it has been in our lifetimes. While the accomplishments of this century have been measured by wars won, yours will be measured in wars averted and nuclear stockpiles diminished.

But for this to come to pass, our military must remain the finest in the world, for ultimately our nation's influence and our leadership rest on our military excellence. Nor should there ever be any doubt that the most vital purpose of our forces will remain, even in this new world, that of fighting and winning our nation's wars. The security of our most vital interests -- and of our allies' -- depends on this.

As I close, I must tell you that I feel very confident that we will realize the opportunities that I have spoken of. I am confident that the American people have the wisdom and the will to sustain the commitment that is needed. And I am confident in our allies, that they also have the wisdom and the commitment.

But I am most confident in our armed forces, in the men and women who wear our nation's uniform. When I look back on all that our armed forces have accomplished since the Cold War ended: from the Gulf War to Haiti, from Somalia to Rwanda, from Korea to last week's rescue of Scott O'Grady, it is simply impossible not to be confident.

And I also know that you are part of the finest, the best trained and the most experienced corps of military leaders who ever wore America's uniforms. I know that you are up to the challenges of this era and of keeping our forces the very finest. Although I know that Narragansett Bay behind me is a grand sight, I must tell you that the sight from this stage, looking towards you, is much grander and much more inspiring. In hands such as yours, it is impossible not to be optimistic about the future. And so, once again, I want to congratulate each of you and wish you luck in your next assignments. I know you will do them superbly. And so, God bless you all and God bless the United States of America. Thank you.


Published for internal information use by the American Forces Information Service, a field activity of the Office of the Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), Washington, D.C. Parenthetical entries are speaker/author notes; bracketed entries are editorial notes. This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission. Defense Issues is available on the Internet via the World Wide Web at