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The Choice and the Opportunity Are Ours
Prepared remarks of Sheila E. Widnall, secretary of the Air Force, the National Security Forum, Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., Friday, June 02, 1995

Thank you ... . These are momentous times, not so much because of the events that are taking place around the world today, but because of the opportunities we have been given. The generally peaceful nature of events that exists in much of the world today stands in stark contrast to the state of the world 50 years ago. As we remember and reflect on the events of that time, one cannot help but conclude that World War II was one of the most significant defining events in the history of this nation. It shaped the thinking of generations of Americans.

The men and women who saw and lived through the horrors of that tragic conflict also built a new world out of its ashes, a world built on the principles of liberty and opportunity and shaped by the values of liberal democracy. It required the sacrifices of two more generations of Americans to help build the nation and the world in which we live today. The collapse of the Soviet Union is a testament to all of their efforts.

We stand today on the threshold of opportunity. The values of liberal democracy are taking hold in many regions of the Earth. We as a nation and as a people have achieved many of the goals for which we sacrificed so much. The challenge remaining is: Where to from here, and how do we get there?

Where we want to go is a relatively easy question to answer. This nation will continue to nurture governments around the world that support liberal democratic values and rigorously defend human rights. By doing so, we are helping bring the personal benefits of democratic values and economic benefits of free market capitalism to millions around the world. By improving the personal and economic prosperity of people around the globe, we help secure our own. But the question of how to bring about substantive change in the world political economy remains difficult to answer.

As a start, it will be helpful to first describe this "new world order" in which we find ourselves embroiled. Several years ago, in an effort to do just that, Air Force strategic planners depicted a world that was simultaneously undergoing three different revolutions: a political revolution, an economic revolution and a military-technical revolution. Interestingly, very similar circumstances faced world leaders in the decades following World War I.

Politically, communism and fascism were emerging as new and dangerous political ideologies that Western democracies proved incapable of challenging. Balance-of-power politics, the hallmark of the European state system for a century, had collapsed with no viable alternative emerging to take its place. And the 19th century European colonial empires were forever doomed, as African and Asian participants in the Great War's butchery returned home with the message that the "civilization" of the Europeans was not that civilized at all.

Economically, the industrial revolution was reaching top speed. The masses of Europeans and Americans migrating to the cities created social upheaval as nations sought to adapt agrarian-based societal structures to new, urbanized, industrial populations.

And finally, developing military-technological systems such as aircraft and armored vehicles that were in their infancy in the First World War, were proceeding at a pace that would transform the speed, breadth and lethality of war in the late 1930s and 1940s. It was a terrifying and mystifying world. Yet it was a world that had many of the same characteristics of today's.

The collapse of the Soviet Union, the seminal political event of the last 50 years, may be just the opening act in the political tragedy of our times. The Soviet Union's implosion, and the resulting collapse of the bipolar world that it helped define, has again released the most destructive political force of the 19th and early 20th centuries -- nationalism. Throughout the regions once dominated by the Soviet Union, new nations are increasingly expressing their newfound freedom in nationalistic terms. Conflicts in Bosnia, the Caucasus and Central Asia, driven by militant nationalism, show no signs of abating.

There are, however, many other political forces at work. Islamic extremism and state-sponsored terrorism have spurred a campaign of violence around the globe. These trends are particularly challenging to open democratic societies such as ours. Finally, the collapse of the bipolar world has left many in the United States wondering about the purpose and limits of American power. Many of our allies that were once willing to sacrifice some national interests to preserve American leadership in the struggle against communism are less willing to do so now with the threat abated. This leads into the question, as the only remaining full-service superpower, to what extent are the world's burdens ours? And to what extent can we do anything about them?

And even as we try to come to grips with these political challenges, a second revolution is complicating the problem, an economic revolution. There are two facets of this economic transformation. The first is the ongoing domestic economic debate calling into question the scope and efficacy of federal government activity.

With the Cold War behind us, the nation has refocused its attention on its imperiled economic health. The reduction in military spending from the levels of spending in the mid-1980s was an immediate reaction to our economic problems. However, long-term solutions can only be achieved by examining the full breadth of all government programs and spending.

As we work to tackle the many problems associated with "rightsizing" the federal government, we are also faced with a second facet of this economic revolution, one with more far-reaching consequences. We are, as Alvin and Heidi Toffler have described, entering a "third wave" of economic transformation. This third wave is the information revolution, and it will change our societies just as dramatically as the agrarian and industrial revolutions before it.

The economic and social transformations the information revolution are bringing will forever change our world. In the past, nations could exert control over natural resources, the fuel of the industrial revolution. However, today, control over information, the fuel of today's revolution, is very limited. The most profound implication of this may be the growing economic interdependence this information revolution is bringing to the international community.

The words of Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega, attempting to describe the world of the 1930s, still apply today: "The world has suddenly grown larger, and with it life itself ... has become, in actual fact, worldwide in character. ... The context for existence for the average man today includes the whole planet. ... Each individual habitually lives the life of the whole world."

As individuals and as a nation, we need to be increasingly aware of activities and actions around the world. Seemingly minor events in Asia or Europe or the Middle East can have dramatic effects on the U.S. economy and our lives. We must be concerned about world events, because whether we choose to admit it or not, world events affect us. The potential for world events to directly influence us also grows as new and sophisticated weaponry proliferates. This brings me to third "revolution" that is changing the character of the world. This is what can be described as a military-technical revolution.

What primarily concerns us is the proliferation of nuclear, biological and advanced conventional weaponry. The collapse of the Soviet Union has freed substantial amounts of advanced conventional weaponry as well as technical expertise for use around the world. Especially troubling though is the proliferation of plutonium and other nuclear weapons components from regions of the former Soviet Union and its client states.

Also disturbing is the increasing availability of advanced weapons and technologies to rogue states and terrorist organizations around the world. These increasingly sophisticated weapons, such as cruise and ballistic missiles with accurate guidance systems, advanced man-portable surface-to-air missiles, and advanced submarines, pose substantial challenges to American military planners and American interests.

In sum, the character of the threat we face as a nation has changed. The overarching threat of a full-scale nuclear attack on the United States has been greatly reduced. In its place we face a formidable array of weapons and technologies in the hands of nations and organizations more likely to use them against the United States. The World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings are clear examples of dangers this threat poses to our open, democratic society. What is more disturbing is that these two bombings were accomplished with relatively low technology materials.

These three revolutions -- political, economic and military-technical -- occurring simultaneously raise the possibility that we may be entering a long period of instability in world affairs.

I don't mean to paint too bleak a picture of the world today The future is not all dark. There is growing international cooperation on many fronts. The future of this hemisphere looks especially bright, with more democratic governments in the Americas than ever before in history. However, the world remains a very complicated and potentially dangerous place. The key feature of the political, economic and military changes I have described is that they add uncertainty both for decision makers in this country as well as those in other countries. In addition to uncertainty, however, these ongoing changes provide opportunity. As a nation, what we make of these opportunities will depend upon how proactive we are and how engaged we remain in international affairs.

I have described the new challenges we face in the world today. I would now like lay out how we are responding to those challenges. Earlier this year President Clinton released an updated version of our National Security Strategy. In this strategy, President Clinton reaffirmed the nation's commitment to remain engaged abroad.

In the president's words: "Our nation can only address this era's dangers and opportunities if we remain actively engaged in global affairs. We are the world's greatest power, and we have global interests as well as responsibilities. As our nation learned after World War I, we can find no security for America in isolationism nor prosperity in protectionism. For the American people to be safer and enjoy expanding opportunities, we must work to deter would-be aggressors, open foreign markets, promote the spread of democracy abroad, encourage sustainable development and pursue new opportunities for peace."

This active engagement has already paid substantial dividends. The Partnership For Peace has increased military and political cooperation throughout Europe. Active involvement in the Middle East peace process has kept tedious negotiations going and is slowly moving the nations of that historically unstable region toward peace. Extensive American involvement with Argentina, Brazil and Chile helped bring about a speedy resolution of the conflict between Peru and Ecuador earlier this year. And exhaustive diplomatic efforts led to the renewal of the [nuclear] Nonproliferation Treaty last month.

But despite these and other successes, there is increasing pressure on some domestic fronts and in Congress to reduce American international involvement. We would do so at our peril.

This nation must stay actively involved in global affairs. But doing so requires a financial commitment by the federal government and, more importantly, continued domestic support for this involvement. Some argue that we spend too much abroad and that foreign aid and support are unjustifiable in light of the ongoing challenges we face at home.

The truth is that our international aid programs and activities take up a very small fraction of the federal budget (less than 1 percent), and many of these programs are often very cost-effective. The price of maintaining U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf to monitor Iraq's compliance with U.N. resolutions is insignificant when compared to the potential price, both financial and human, of fighting another war in the Persian Gulf.

The recent loan guarantees the president sought to help the government of Mexico are a bargain when compared to the costs we might be forced to pay if the economy of Mexico collapsed and hundreds of thousands of Mexican citizens sought refuge in the United States. The real challenge we face is convincing the American public of the benefit of continued international involvement.

President Woodrow Wilson faced the same challenge after World War I. Wilson sought to redefine the international system. In place of balance-of-power politics, with the focus on national interests that precipitated World War I, he sought to establish a new system bounded by the rule of international law. He sought a larger international role for the U.S. through the League of Nations.

Wilson hoped that a broader international consciousness would replace the nationally oriented and isolationist politics of the American past. He failed. The principal reason, as former Sen. Malcolm Wallop has pointed out, was that Wilson "failed to couch America's global role in terms of its national interest." The irony of his failure is that much of what he sought is today commonplace in international affairs.

The nation's failure to see and embrace Wilson's vision was costly. We must ensure that we do not have to pay that price again. We need to explain better to the American people that global involvement and engagement is in the very clear interests of the nation and is indeed a requirement if we are to secure prosperity for future generations. Our economic prosperity requires stability in the international arena, and stability requires American global involvement and engagement.

However, engagement does not mean that the U.S. should try to solve all of the world's problems. Nor does it mean that we should subvert our national interests in the name of the United Nations or a nebulous spirit of internationalism. We have a clear national interest in promoting stability, cooperation and democracy abroad. We are one of the few nations that has the resources to substantially influence world events. We must use that influence to shape the world in which we live. When possible, we should work through and with international organizations. The benefits we gain from this cooperation often last far beyond the immediate issues at hand. However, there will be times when circumstances require us to act alone. We must be prepared and be willing to do so.

In today's world, isolation is not an option. World events will affect us. We must stay engaged internationally if we hope to proactively shape world events. In the president's words: "Our national security requires the patient application of American will and resources. We can only sustain that necessary investment with the broad, bipartisan support of the American people and their representatives in Congress."

Now I'd like to turn to how the military supports this national strategy, both at home and abroad. As I noted, the National Security Strategy outlines the president's commitment to remain engaged internationally.

This global engagement is achieved with a wide variety of political, economic and military tools. The National Military Strategy outlines how the nation plans to employ one of those tools, the military instruments, to meet national and international objectives. I would like now to take just a few minutes to relate how the Air Force is actively supporting our National Military Strategy both at home and abroad.

The National Military Strategy and the Bottom-up Review, a legacy of former Defense Secretary Les Aspin, describe how the Department of Defense plans to size and shape our military forces. Today's military is sized to fight two near-simultaneous major regional conflicts, or MRCs. We have shifted our focus from planning to fight a large-scale war in Europe, which was the principal focus of Cold War military planners, to planning to fight regional contingencies, such as ones we may encounter in Korea or Southwest Asia. These are extremely demanding scenarios, but preparing for them will provide this nation the critical war-fighting capabilities to deter and, if necessary, fight conflicts in the years ahead. Additionally, by planning for two MRCs, we ensure that our forces have the capability and flexibility to deal with a wide variety of lesser contingencies.

Since 1991, the Department of Defense and the Air Force have been heavily engaged in many of these lesser contingencies. As I discuss the level of Air Force involvement around the world today, most of the people I talk with are amazed at what we have accomplished and what we are doing.

For example, since Desert Storm we have averaged three to four times the level of overseas deployments as we did during the Cold War. Presently, we have almost 10,000 men and women deployed overseas to support operations in Bosnia, Iraq, the Caribbean and South America. In the past three years, Air Force aircraft and people have operated in almost every country in the world. We are flying as many as 200 missions a day in combat zones around the globe. Some Air Force units have been involved in sustained combat or combat support operations for almost five years!

Outside of these contingency operations, we also conduct a wide variety of exercises, exchanges and operations with other nations. The main purpose of these cooperative exercises is to improve training and international cooperation with the forces of those countries. However, these operations accomplish many other objectives. They serve to show the flag abroad, demonstrating American interest and commitment to many regions of the globe. They are a learning exercise for both U.S. forces and our international counterparts. And they build relationships, trust, confidence and a working knowledge of each other's militaries and cultures.

A good example of this is the series of exchanges the judge advocate general, or JAG, of the Air Force has been conducting with nations in South America. In our military services, the JAGs are responsible for administering military justice. During these exchanges we expose the emerging democracies of South America to the myriad of legal issues and precedents associated with the American concepts of civilian control of the military. We learn the challenges these nations face and better understand the pressures they endure. It's a real win-win situation. These types of exchanges and exercises take place almost every day in every corner of the globe.

In addition to exchanges and exercises, the Air Force provides critical emergency and humanitarian support to disaster-stricken sites around the world. In the last 18 months, the Air Force has responded to dozens of tragedies both abroad as well as back here in the U.S. Whether we're responding to help flood victims in Germany or Georgia, forest fires in California, earthquakes in Japan, volcanoes in New Guinea or the tragedy in Rwanda, the Air Force is ready at a moment's notice.

We provided transport, medical and rescue crews and [a] wide variety of additional support after the Oklahoma City tragedy. And just last month, an Air Force C-141 delivered critical medical supplies to Zaire to help contain an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus. Air Force transports are often the first and most publicly visible sign of relief in disaster stricken areas. How many times have you seen Air Force transports on CNN [Cable News Network] arriving at some disaster-stricken site in a remote corner of the world? Of course, that raises the question of how CNN got there.

The crews, medical personnel and other technicians are often the first helping hands many people around the world see. American military personnel around the world are seen as saviors and friends. Their selfless acts have made the United States one the most respected nations on Earth and our military one of the most respected in the world. These are the benefits of engagements -- friendship, understanding and cooperation. These benefits, although often intangible, nevertheless contribute substantially to the long-term safety and security of the nation.

But just as engagement and cooperation are a growing part of our operations abroad, we are also finding variants of engagement and cooperation are growing in importance at home. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the reduction in the direct threat to the U.S., how we do business in the Department of Defense is coming under increased scrutiny.

There are two reasons for this. First, there is increasing demand to leverage military technology and advancements for nonmilitary uses in order to gain the maximum benefit for the nation from each dollar spent on our military forces. Cooperative development allows easier commercial access to technologies developed with defense resources and allows economies of scale through commercial coproduction arrangements with many components of military hardware.

Cooperative development also results in significant advantages for both military and civilian users of the technologies. Military hardware developed with commercial practices is often cheaper and arrives in the field quicker than that developed with the increasingly anachronistic milspecs [military specifications]. By breaking down the distinction between the "defense" and "civilian" sectors of the economy that emerged in the Cold War, we can make better use of the nation's resources.

One example of this type of development is the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program. The U.S. economy and U.S. military operations are becoming increasingly dependent on low-cost, ready access to space. Fifteen years ago, the United States dominated the commercial space launch market. We have now slipped to a distant second, mainly because of our aging and expensive boosters. We are seeking to develop a new low-cost, commercial standard family of launch vehicles for both military and civilian use, to be fielded early in the next century. This program has tremendous potential benefits for the country. We will secure low-cost, reliable space access for the nation and the military, and we can dramatically expand key areas of the aerospace industry as these launchers are made available for international use.

Another good example is the cooperative development of advanced integrated circuit designs for the F-22. The F-22 uses are large number of microwave monolithic integrated circuits, or MIMICs. Modules with these advanced circuits were originally projected to cost about $8,000 each. Each F-22 requires 2,000 of these advanced circuit modules for its radar.

To lower the cost of these modules, the Defense Department pushed cooperative development and manufacturing programs and promoted civilian uses for the module. As a result of these programs, we have already reduced the module cost to about $2,000 and may eventually reduce their price to as little as $400. That is a potential 95 [percent] price reduction, cutting the cost of the major component of each F-22 radar from $16 million to as little as $800,000.

Civilian versions of these same modules are already in use on some school buses to alert drivers to small children and vehicles around the bus. Programs such as these leverage military spending and provide the maximum benefit from defense dollars for both the military and the nation.

A second major area where we see the need to foster closer relationships is with the American public. The end of the Cold War led not only to increased scrutiny of the defense budget, but also to a greater scrutiny on almost all defense-related activity at home and abroad. The American people accepted tremendous sacrifices throughout the Cold War in the name of military preparedness. However, as the Cold War has ended and the percentage of the population with military experience falls due to the end of the draft in the '70s, we are faced with widespread lack of understanding of the need for continued training exercises and the inconveniences these exercises may entail for communities surrounding our facilities.

We need to spend more time and effort explaining to the American people what we do and why we need to do it. And we need to work harder with local communities to help resolve their concerns about our operations.

A good example of where this pays off is at Altus AFB [Air Force Base] in Oklahoma. Altus is our training base for C-5, C-141 and KC-135 aircrews and maintenance personnel. The base used to receive over a hundred noise complaints a year from local ranchers. In response, the base invited the local people to a base open house to explain the wing's mission. They were also given orientation flights to show them firsthand the jobs of the men and women at Altus. The greater openness and communication has resulted in noise complaints falling to less than five a year.

This level of cooperation is possible in almost everything we do. We are sharing resources, such as medical, police and fire fighting facilities and expertise, thus providing more cost-effective services for many bases and their communities. And we are involving federal, state and local conservation agencies in our many environmental restoration and preservation programs.

At every level, we are working with our host communities to ensure that base-community relationships are truly synergistic. Cooperation and engagement -- these are the watchwords of today's Air Force. We are cooperating more and more closely with our neighbors at home and our friends and allies abroad. And we are engaged worldwide to make the world a safer place.

The world in which we live has been turned upside down in the past five years. The turmoil that has characterized world affairs since the collapse of the Soviet Union poses significant challenges and opportunities for the United States. To take advantage of these opportunities and shape the world of today and tomorrow, we must stay engaged in world affairs.

Sixty years ago, the world's nations failed to take advantage of the opportunities presented them in the ...[inter-war period. The Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega lamented on this failure: "With more means at its disposal, more knowledge, more technique than ever, it turns out the world today goes the same way as the worst of worlds that have been; it simply drifts."

Sixty years from now, we will be remembered by how successfully we navigate the uncertain years ahead and how proactive we are about changing the world now, while we have the opportunity. If this nation allows the world to drift, sitting in contented isolation behind oceans of ignorance, we risk committing the same failures as generations before us. These failures led to two world wars and 50 years of sustained tension during the Cold War.

If, in contrast, we move out into the world, stay engaged and spread the vision of liberty and liberal democracy, we offer the prospect of peace and prosperity to generations that follow. The choice and the opportunity are ours. 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