By Brian Santhumayor, USA [ Published Date: November 30, 2010 ]
General Wesley K. Clark is a retired four-star general and a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe. He spent 34 years in the Army and the Department of Defense receiving many military decorations, several honorary knighthoods and a Presidential Medal of Freedom. The general spoke about a number of issues relevant to the international security community at the Elliott School of International Affairs event last month. The lecture was part of the 2010 Banville Forum co-sponsored by the Elliott School’s Security Policy Forum.
General Clark said, “There are cycles in world affairs just as there are cycles in business affairs and there is a lot to be learnt not just from understanding the past, but also trying to understand the unique circumstances of the present. So today, we are mired in some huge national security dilemmas. We are in two active wars – Iraq and Afghanistan and if you recall a war on terrorism- a third war, you would not be wrong. It is a defensive as well as an offensive struggle. We are engaged offensively in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan and are engaged deep within our own borders.”
Talking about China, Clark said, “We know that we are building into an arms race of sorts in the Western Pacific in which Chinese R&D and Chinese military building programs constitute a moral substantial threat in the long term.” On Iran, he said, “Iran is right there: as an ever present challenge – pushing, shoving and seeking nuclear weapons. How do we make sense of all this? We spend 6 percent of our GDP on the military higher than it was during the Vietnam War. Yet, we do not feel safe as Americans. If you read the newspapers, you realize that we could be on the edge of disaster at any moment.”
Addressing the issue about the threat of terrorism, Clark said, “My good friend retired General Tommy Franks in his first major address as a civilian after he got out of the Iraq war campaign, wrote an article in Cigar Aficionado in which he opined, that if we have another terrorist incident in the U.S., we would have to sacrifice our constitution to come to grips with the terrorists. It is a pretty somber thought. We are definitely in an active security environment. How do we fit this into the larger pattern of America history and how do we succeed in this environment? To do this, we need to understand the past events.”
General Clark went on to provide both a historical context for and a current evaluation of issues that pose security challenges to the United States. He spoke about China’s military power and about North Korea – a country that he believes, provides the greatest nuclear proliferation threat today where he fears a war by accident or miscommunication. He talked about the collapse of the Soviet Union and how the U.S. beat the Soviets without having to directly attack a Russian soldier, sailor or marine. Clark said, “When we won, our national security of total engagement strategy was validated. You are where you are today because your parents and grandparents gave their tax money and served in the military, and demanded a strong national security whether it was Republicans or Democrats, and it worked and we won. After we beat the Soviet Union, we lost our strategy and America’s purpose in the war. We entered the mid 1990’s with no national strategy and the Republicans and Democrats were divided. We went to Rwanda to end the fighting and to Bosnia to stop the ethnic cleansing. By the year 2000, it was clear that we were the only superpower. We were the leader in R&D and high technology. Then in the year 2001, terrorism hit our homeland and we then politicked our way into the Iraq war, which in my opinion should have been avoided .There was no compelling reason to do it. We knew that we were opening up the door to Iranian influence as even then, we knew that Iran was seeking nuclear weapons.”
The general also commented on the war in Afghanistan, which he believes is actually “a war inside Pakistan.” This, he stated is at the root of the current uneasy relationship between the United States and Pakistan. Clark said, “We don’t know Pakistan, but they know us, and what they know about us is this: number one, we’re not a Muslim country. Number two, if we were given the choice we would have liked India better because India’s a better democracy and a better fit for us. And number three, if given the opportunity, we would betray Pakistan in a heartbeat,” said General Clark. “Therefore, they know that they have got to protect Osama bin Laden because he is the goose that laid the golden egg. Without Osama Bin Laden, we wouldn’t be putting billions of dollars a year into Pakistan. We’d be aligning ourselves with India. And where would Pakistan be then? Moreover, Pakistan did not give us A.Q. Khan, the father of the Pakistan nuclear weapon, so why would they give us their folk hero of modern Islam – Osama Bin Laden.”
He also talked about the fact that we are engaged in the middle of a proxy war between India and Pakistan that is being fought out on the territory of Afghanistan and that we have to look higher than simply just knocking off the Taliban to end this. He added that we need to come to grip with India and Pakistan and find a way to back out of this and resolve this tension in a manner that does not further comprise American credibility in the world.
In his closing remarks, the General reiterated his support for the reinstitution of the draft stating that a volunteer army was never intended to be a wartime entity, but was meant for times of peace. He urged the Elliott School students not to discount military service and challenged them to serve in the military if they were concerned about civil-military relations.
It was a privilege to have the opportunity to listen to General Clark who was certainly eloquent and truly made a great impression on those present at the event.