SEPTEMBER 25, 1997
In the upcoming years, will the U.S. military lean towards international peacekeeping or policing? As he prepares to step down as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Shalikashvili discusses his military and personal plans.
PHIL PONCE: General John Shalikashvili has been the nation's top military officer for the past four years. He joins us now five days before he steps down as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. General, welcome. Would you say that Bosnia has been the toughest issue you faced, and what are the lessons to be learned from Bosnia?
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
July 17, 1997
A report on Gen. Shelton, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
June 9, 1997:
After a decade-old affair came to light, Gen. Ralston ends his bid to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
May 19, 1997
Sec. of Defense Cohen and Gen. Shalikashvili discuss the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review.
Browse the NewsHour's military coverage.
The Defense Department's Web site, DefenseLink.
GENERAL JOHN SHALIKASHVILI, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff: I think Bosnia has been the most difficult military operation that we have been involved in, not only the size but also the complexity. I think there are many, many lessons to be drawn, and sometimes you have to be careful that you don't draw those lessons too soon. But one of them is that you need to get involved in early--need to understand exactly what it is that you need to do, you need to bring with you the tools that you need to get the job done to suit it to the mission that you've been given. I think in that respect on the military side. We've been very fortunate because from the beginning of the American military involvement. We have been permitted to participate in the crafting of the Dayton Agreement, and so we a hand in ensuring that the military tasks would in fact be tasks that could be accomplished by the military.
Secondly, we were given a very straightforward chain of command. We were given the rules of engagement to get the job done. And then when we were asked how much force and how many forces we needed to get the job done we were giving them. And as a result of it, the military tasks were, in fact, something that we could handle. And I feel fairly good that in a time we have been given that we could properly execute a military task, whether that's bringing the cessation of hostilities, whether we're separating the warring factions, whether it's ensuring that heavy weapons would be placed into controllment areas. All of that, I think, we were able to accomplish. So the lessons really were on a positive side that we did things right from the military point of view.
The issue of exit strategies.
PHIL PONCE: General, some people would say that one of the lessons should be the necessity of an exit strategy. In fact, some of the critics in Congress would say that the need for a specific date to withdraw is paramount and unless that date is set, funds should be cut off. How do you respond to that?
GENERAL JOHN SHALIKASHVILI: Well, first of all, I think that the issue of legislating the termination of an operation is not something that I would favor; it's something that I've spoken against for some time.
PHIL PONCE: And what are the down sides of that?
GENERAL JOHN SHALIKASHVILI: The down sides I think are that you have consequences far beyond those that you intended. And that is that you have many actors who listen to you, those that you're trying to influence in a region one way or the other, and they all begin to act on that action that you have taken by forcing the administration to withdraw in a certain particular date or withdrawing their funds. I think it's much better to have a debate about what ought to be accomplished and how one ought to measure what needs to be accomplished and then modulating when you leave to what it is that you were trying to accomplish in the first place.
PHIL PONCE: General, do you think other countries still rely too much on the United States as--for want of a better term--the world's policeman?
Is the United States an "indispensable nation?"
GENERAL JOHN SHALIKASHVILI: I don't think they rely on us so much as the world's policeman as it is a fact that we are, as President Clinton said, the indispensable nation. I think it's sort of almost a law that exists in nature, that one or two nations become the dominant nations. The United States happens to be in this period of time when were are the one indispensable nation, from a military sense the one dominant nation. And so with it comes special responsibilities, but with it also comes special opportunities. So while we wring our hands about always being called upon to assist or to influence an action, we should also be happy, because we can influence those actions better than anyone else because of our position in the world.
PHIL PONCE: But as the dominant nation, has the United States--is the United States in the process of shifting its focus from fighting a war, say, to peacekeeping and humanitarian--is that where the future agenda will hold?
GENERAL JOHN SHALIKASHVILI: I hope not, but I think we need to be very careful. It is very easy to fall in a trap of thinking that the world will call on us only in the peacekeeping, humanitarian kind of operation, and we need to remember and to remind ourselves all the time that first and foremost we must be able to fight and win our nation's wars, so the peacekeeping and humanitarian operations must be seen as tasks that we will have to do in addition to being prepared to fight and win our nation's wars, not instead of.
PHIL PONCE: But are you concerned that having focused recently anyway on peacekeeping and humanitarian that the United States has lost its edge as--in combat say?
"We are the model for the rest of the world as war fighters, but also as peacekeepers."
GENERAL JOHN SHALIKASHVILI: No, I feel very good that we have not. If you ever visit our training centers, whether that's Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, when you watch our young men and women in action, I am very confident that we are the premiere war fighters today. I just am absolutely certain of it. I think that none of us are ever satisfied with where we stand. But when you objectively step back and take a look at America's armed forces, we are the model for the rest of the world as war fighters, but also as peacekeepers.
PHIL PONCE: And yet in a speech you gave yesterday you said the U.S. may eventually face a peer competitor, another power with the resources to challenge the U.S. on a global scale. Were you referring to China or a revitalized Russia?
GENERAL JOHN SHALIKASHVILI: I wasn't referring to any one in particular. I think that our history is such that we have a very poor track record determining who and when we would have to engage. But it would be folly and it would be a disservice to the nation to somehow assume the time when we might have to face a peer competitor is not out there in the cards. It could very well happen, and I'm not sure that we can--that we can now foresee with any kind of clarity who that might be, but the United States must be prepared for that eventuality.
PHIL PONCE: You said that you want more bases closed, but Congress has resisted. Why do you want more bases closed?
GENERAL JOHN SHALIKASHVILI: Because we don't need them. It costs a lot of money to retain those bases. We need that money to be put against the new technologies that we must invest in in order to ensure that our armed forces remain the premiere armed forces, so that when the day comes when we either have to face a very strong regional actor or a peer competitor, we are, in fact, the dominant force on that battlefield.
PHIL PONCE: So what's going to happen if bases aren't closed at the rate that you would like to see?
GENERAL JOHN SHALIKASHVILI: Oh, I think we need to engage with Congress and others in this debate and persuade them that it's in our nation's best interest to close bases, to give us the change in laws necessary, to go further with privatization, with out-sourcing, so that without an increase in the overall budget, defense budget, we can free up some of the funds to invest in new technologies. We are not asking for more money. We are asking for the tools to allow us to use the money given to us more wisely.
PHIL PONCE: All right, now, General, what would you say are the biggest threats to world peace?
GENERAL JOHN SHALIKASHVILI: I think it's the instabilities. It's the ethnic tensions that exist now. It's the failed states that you see, all of those, posing the danger of undermining our interest. We're a global nation, global interest. And instability to us is very counter to our interest, and so whenever conditions arise, whether they're in Bosnia, or whether such instabilities were to arise on the Korean Peninsula or in the Middle East, they are uncountered, our interests, and it isn't then in our interest to ensure that we do those prudent things to stabilize the situation, to keep it from escalating into a conflict that we might have to intervene in.
PHIL PONCE: On a personal basis, you've been in the military since 1958. How has the day-to-day life of a person in uniform changed in the nearly 40 years you've been in the army?
GENERAL JOHN SHALIKASHVILI: I think it has gotten to be much more professional, much better. I think for an individual soldier you have more opportunities. I think that whether we continue to struggle to ensure that we provide an opportunity, equal opportunity to all, whether that's a male or a female, different race, different religion, we struggled with it like the rest of the societies, but yet I believe that when I think back at what the conditions were in 1958 and what they are today in 1997, we have moved forward a tremendous amount. I think that youngsters today are head and shoulders above what we were in 1958, and that the United States is blessed, blessed, having these young men and women in uniform today. And the dedication that I see every day, the enthusiasm for the job, the patriotism, I wish our generation had had that.
PHIL PONCE: As you look back at almost four decades of service, was there--is there a particular moment that strikes you as the toughest moment that you faced personally?
A professional low: Vietnam.
GENERAL JOHN SHALIKASHVILI: Personally, from a professional point of view, it certainly was Vietnam and the end of the Vietnam era. I think our armed forces were disintegrating, morale, discipline, a sense of purpose were all, all probably at the low point, no military should go any lower than we were at that time.
PHIL PONCE: Did you personally feel at a low point professionally because of those things?
GENERAL JOHN SHALIKASHVILI: I think many of my generation in those days were talking about leaving, and I think fortunately many of us decided, no, we're going to stay, and see what we can do to help, and it was turned around much quicker than I thought. Less than a decade later you could walk through any airport with pride with your uniform on, which you couldn't do towards the end of Vietnam, or you could march through the streets of any--any foreign country, where we happened to have been stationed and receive cheers and a sense of welcome. But I think we stand really at a high point today.
PHIL PONCE: Was there any advice that your predecessor, Gen. Colin Powell, gave you going into your current job that you think has been particularly helpful?
GENERAL JOHN SHALIKASHVILI: I think that we talked a lot. I worked for Gen. Powell on a number of occasions. I think what I took from him, more than anything else, was to understand that there will be tough moments in this job, but that if you always told the truth, if you always knew what was right and what was wrong and you did the right thing, that you wouldn't go wrong.
PHIL PONCE: And have you given your successor, Gen. Shelton, any advice?
GENERAL JOHN SHALIKASHVILI: If I can pass anything to him at all, it would be the same thing. It would be the same thing. This is a tough town, and you--what you have to avoid at all cost is trying to do other than what you know is the right thing, to say other than what you know is the right thing. If you say the right thing, what you believe in your heart is the right thing, if you do those things and act on those things, you'll be all right in this town.
From military suit to civilian suit.
PHIL PONCE: Transition. You've been in uniform now all this time. Will it be hard to step into civilian life, and what are you going to be doing?
GENERAL JOHN SHALIKASHVILI: I don't think it's going to be hard. I look forward to it. I had a wonderful life. It was a terrific journey, but I look forward to taking off this uniform and putting on a civilian suit. I'm going to take a week or two off, and I'm going to sleep and at the end of that period I'm going to figure out what I will do.
PHIL PONCE: Thank you, General, for being here.
GENERAL JOHN SHALIKASHVILI: Thank you.