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Strategy of Flexible and Selective Engagement
As Delivered by Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, USA, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, , Wednesday, March 08, 1995

In formulating national military strategy the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff derives guidance from the National Security Strategy articulated by the president and from the Bottom-up Review conducted by the secretary of defense. The National Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement emphasizes worldwide engagement and the enlargement of the community of free market democracies. In turn, this new National Military Strategy calls for flexible and selective engagement, involving a broad range of activities and capabilities to address and help shape the evolving international environment.

Challenges to our global interests did not disappear with the end of the Cold War. Today we face a world in which threats are widespread and uncertain, and where conflict is probable, but too often unpredictable. The strategic landscape is characterized by four principal dangers which our military must address: regional instability, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, transnational dangers such as drug trafficking and terrorism, and the dangers to democracy and reform in the former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

Many ethnic, religious, territorial and economic tensions, held in check by the pressures of the bipolar global competition, erupted when the constraints posed by the Cold War were removed. Regional instability also results when regional powers such as Iraq, Iran and North Korea pursue aggressive policies in attempts to dominate their neighbors militarily, politically or economically.

Despite progress, the process of economic and political reform in the successor states to the Soviet Union is subject to reversal. Moreover, Russia will continue to retain large numbers of nuclear weapons and associated delivery systems. Thus, it is important for us to work with Russia and the other newly independent states to stem the proliferation of all types of weapons of mass destruction and to support the process of democratic reform.

Guarding against threats to United States' interests requires the use of appropriate military capabilities in concert with the economic, diplomatic and informational elements of our national power. Our armed forces are engaged worldwide on a continual basis to accomplish two national military objectives -- promoting stability and thwarting aggression.

We anticipate a considerable period before stability returns to our strategic environment. Our peacetime efforts to counter regional instability, impede the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, reduce the impact of transnational threats, and support democracy and reform are important for promoting stability and deterring aggression during the post-Cold War transformation process.

Our military forces must perform three sets of tasks to achieve the military objectives of promoting stability and thwarting aggression. These three components of the strategy are peacetime engagement, deterrence and conflict prevention, and fighting and winning our nation's wars. Accomplishing the specific tasks of the strategy is facilitated by the two complementary strategic concepts of overseas presence and power projection.

Overseas presence takes the form of both permanently stationed forces and forces temporarily deployed abroad. Thus we maintain overseas presence not only through forces permanently stationed overseas but also through a broad program of routine air, ground and naval deployments, various contingency operations and global pre-positioning of equipment. Overseas presence helps to keep important infrastructure available and ready in times of crisis. Although the size of our permanent overseas presence has decreased significantly in recent years, because of changes in the international environment the importance of these forces has not diminished. They provide visible proof of our commitment to defend American interests and those of our allies and friends.

With fewer U.S. forces permanently stationed overseas we must proportionately increase our capability to project forces abroad. The existence of a credible power-projection capability complements our overseas presence in acting as a deterrent to potential adversaries. It further provides our national leaders greater flexibility in employing military force.

Peacetime engagement describes a broad range of noncombat activities undertaken by our armed forces that demonstrate commitment, improve collective military capabilities, promote democratic ideals, relieve suffering and enhance regional stability. The elements of peacetime engagement include military-to-military contacts, nation assistance, security assistance, humanitarian operations, counterdrug and counterterrorism, and peacekeeping.

In concert with the other elements of U.S. national power our military capabilities serve to deter aggression and prevent conflict by convincing potential adversaries that their objectives will be denied and that their aggression will be decisively defeated. Deterring nuclear attack against the United States remains a critical task for our military. This second component of the strategy is a product of many concepts and programs, which include nuclear deterrence, regional alliances, crisis response, arms control, confidence-building measures, noncombatant evacuation operations, sanctions enforcement and peace enforcement.

Being ready to fight and win the nation's wars remains our foremost responsibility and the prime consideration governing all our military activities. This ability serves as the ultimate guarantor of our vital interests and is the fundamental reason that our nation has raised and sustained its military forces.

In war the employment of U.S. forces will follow these principles:


  • Set clear objectives and apply decisive force;
  • Project the necessary power to the theater of operations;
  • Fight combined with allies and friends and fight jointly, integrating the required capabilities from each of the services;
  • Help dominate combat operations by winning the information war;
  • Counter weapons of mass destruction through deterrence and improved capability to operate in contaminated environments;
  • Initiate force preparations to handle a second major regional contingency at the outset of the first conflict to deter potential aggressors;
  • Generate the required forces by withdrawing from lower priority missions and mobilizing critical reserve forces; and
  • Begin plans to win the peace at the outset of the conflict.

The U.S. armed forces are now in their eighth year of drawdown. As we reduce the force we are also restructuring it for the challenges of the next century. This smaller, restructured force will be improved through enhancements and selected modernizations, enabling it to execute our new strategy, fully prepared for the challenges of a new era.

The core requirement of our strategy as laid out in the Bottom-up Review is a force capable of fighting and winning two major regional conflicts nearly simultaneously. While this requirement most challenges the force structure, other needs, such as forces to provide adequate overseas presence, space capabilities to support a wide range of activities in peace and war and secure nuclear forces for deterrence, have also been taken into account.

The combat forces and supporting capabilities are built on five fundamental foundations. The first is the high-quality men and women who comprise our military forces. There is no greater factor for our military success, which is why we are working hard to recruit and retain quality people through realistic training and a good quality of life.

The second foundation is readiness. Maintaining high readiness of our forces is a prerequisite to deterring aggression and responding to crises. Today we are placing increased emphasis on joint readiness by strengthening joint doctrine and education, developing joint readiness measures and improving joint and coalition training.

The third foundation consists of various force enhancements. Improvements are already under way to our strategic mobility capability, including airlift, sealift and pre-positioning. Continued improvements are also required in battlefield surveillance, our global command and control system, and the ability to employ precision weapons.

The fourth foundation is modernization, which is vital to preserve the essential combat edge that U.S. forces now possess and to ensure future readiness. Due to budget constraints major new investments will be pursued only where there is a substantial payoff. Existing weapons systems and platforms will continue to be updated to take advantage of rapid technological advances.

The fifth force-building foundation is balance. Despite its smaller size, our military must retain an appropriate mix of forces and capabilities to provide the versatility to handle today's challenges and to provide a hedge against unanticipated threats. Combat forces must be balanced with capable supporting forces, active duty forces must be balanced with appropriate Reserve capabilities, and force structure must be balanced with infrastructure.

The national military strategy of flexible and selective engagement addresses the challenges and opportunities of the next century. U.S. global responsibilities require global capabilities, despite a regional focus in implementing the strategy. We must apply all our strengths and work with allies and friends to assure stability in a troubled and complex world. This means our smaller forces must be made stronger and more versatile but remain built on the same strong foundation of outstanding people.


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