Thursday, October 23, 1997
Peter Robinson, William Perry, and George Shultz

George Shultz, former secretary of state and distinguished fellow, Hoover Institution, and William Perry, former secretary of defense and senior fellow, Hoover Institution, discuss the threats we face as a nation and what should be done about them.

Recorded on Thursday, October 23, 1997

ROBINSON Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge, I'm Peter Robinson. With us today two guests: Former Secretary of State George Shultz and former Secretary of Defense William Perry.

Here is the background to our show.

In 1990 Sudam Hussien evaded Kuwait and the United States responded with a massive deployment. Once the war proper began it was only a few days before we annihilated Hussein's forces. Today our own forces are much smaller that they were at the time. Overall, the United States military has been cut by about one third. The United States Navy. the number of ships is down 34% - now we couldn't get a carrier on to the set so we are using a navy chopper which goes into an army surplus bag. The United States Air Force, the number of tactical squadrons are down 29%. The United States Army has been cut most deeply of all, active duty man power is down some 30% and the number of divisions has been cut all the way down from 18 to just 10. Now the United States is the world's only super power at least for the time being so the question is this - does the world's only super power still have all the power that it needs?

ROBINSON George, you participated in a Cold War administration that built up our military forces. And Bill, you participated in a post Cold War administration that built down the military forces. Let me begin with a question to George. At the peak of the Reagan build-up we were spending about 6.3 percent of GDP on our military. Today its down to about 3.6 percent. To put this provocatively, that is the lowest percentage since just before Pearl Harbor. Are our armed forces strong enough today?

SHULTZ Well first of all to your preface, I served in an administration that had a military build-up and when we left, the Cold War was all over but the shouting. And the military build-up had something to do with that. There was a purpose: to protect our security. So this is not some abstract thing. And it was a concept that served our country well for the entire Cold War period going back to the Truman administration. It was carried forward, so, I just have to put that little...

ROBINSON You did and you're allowed to.

SHULTZ Now as far as the percentages are concerned, I think they are probably a little on the deceptive side because three, whatever you cited, 3.6 percent...

ROBINSON 3.6 percent is about the best figure I could find.

SHULTZ Of the number of our gross product today is quite a different order of magnitude than 3/6 percent of what it was 4 years ago or 50 years ago. It's a huge number and you buy a lot of resources with it.


SHULTZ I happen to be a person and Bill is much more knowledgeable about the defense picture than I am so I defer to him but I can't help but be concerned that we're cutting back too much on our defense capability because it's the strength that gives us the basis for our...

ROBINSON I'll put a.,, there's another figure that I think is illustrative. Since 1991, the armed forces have been cut by a third across the board. The cold war is over as you pointed out. Does that strike you as roughly appropriate?

SHULTZ I think you have to say to yourself, "What is it what we want our military to be able to do?" We want them first of all to be able to defend us, our territory. We want them to be able to project power. Air. Navy. Gotta have that ability to project power. You have to have them trained so that they can fight. One of the problems with all the peace keeping is that it causes people to be trained in a different way than they would be trained if they had a combat mission of some sort, so anyway, you need to have people who are trained to fight and then I think you have to really work hard on the research and development side of things because that's the key to it. So I think those are the points by which you judge the adequacy of our effort, rather than some percentages or gross numbers.

ROBINSON Bill, I presume that you consider the level appropriate since you had such a large hand in bringing us down to this level so let me put a somewhat different question to you. Did your administration engage in this build-down to this level absent so to speak any budget constraint? Or if you had different people in Congress, different amounts of money to spend, viewing the threat to the United States would you have taken it to a different level?

PERRY Peter, I think the most important point to make here is that the United States today is the dominant military force in the world without question. It can accommodate any military contingencies which we can now envision. That has to be the acid test whether you'd have adequate military forces. The question on the budget is not so much the capability of our forces today but what we will be 10 years from now and what the threats will be 10 years from now. And people who are pushing for a larger budget are usually thinking about future threats, not today's. But the American public should understand today's military forces are the strongest military force in the world, can handle any military contingency which we can now envision. Comparing the spending with the Cold War we had more than 300,000 troops in Germany preparing for deterring an invasion from the Soviet Union. That is obviously not necessary anymore. We've reduced our forces from 300,000 in Germany to about 100,000. That is entirely appropriate as far as I can see, and it was a big savings in doing that. We spent perhaps 15 billion dollars a year building nuclear forces during the Cold War. We are not building nuclear forces today. So there was plenty of reason for decreasing the defense budget, for getting the peace dividend which is reflected in the numbers that you were quoting.

ROBINSON Bill Perry says the reduction in our armed forces is entirely appropriate: a peace dividend. But our we strong enough to respond to trouble in two or threes places at once?

ROBINSON There was an article which I understood to be quite influential in Commentary magazine some months ago by a couple of Army officers who stated in bold face that these were their views and didn't represent the view of the Army or the United States government. They were critical of the notion that our forces are deployed now to handle 2 MRCs - that's a term you'll both understand better than I did - Major Regional Contingency. That is to say 2 trouble spots at a time. But they pointed out that in 1994, there was tension between South and North Korea, we had to send extra troops, there was tension in the Middle East: Sadam Hussein massed his troops on the border with Kuwait, we sent in extra troops, and this was at the same time that we were planning to send 20,000 troops to Haiti, so we've already had an experience in which we've encountered not 2 but 3 trouble spots. Now you said a moment ago that we can handle any foreseeable contingencies. This is an argument that I am not popping on you. It's been out there and in the air. How do you respond to that?

PERRY Well that the situations you cite in the fall 1994 was not theoretical. I lived through that. I participated in the war planning we were doing in the Fall of '94, and we had detailed war planning to send, down to the brigades, that we would send to which places. And we had a plan that would have dealt adequately with the war in the Korean peninsula had that developed. And at the same time while we were going through this detailed planning for Korea we had the commander of our central forces there - the one who is responsible for any contingency with Iraq - being sure that we had reserved enough forces to deal with that contingency as well. That planning was done in detailed level down to the brigade level. I want to be clarified though that we say 2 major, regional conflicts. We never anticipate 2 different countries like North Korea and Iraq would sort of conspire.

ROBINSON That actually is a question that occurred to me as I was reading the article from our intelligence sources. Do we know?

PERRY No, no. What we mean by that is that if we get involved in one major regional conflict as for example with North Korea...


PERRY We don't want to be so weak at that point that another country like Iraq would see an opportunity to make mischief. And so we envision that we believe we should have a strong enough force that that would not happen, not that we expect to be in 2 conflicts at once. We do not expect to be in 2 conflicts at once. And nor do we have, I might say, the air lift and the sea lift to deploy our forces for 2 simultaneous regional conflicts. So the contingency that we are preparing for is a second conflict occurring some period of time, some number of weeks after the first.


SHULTZ But I think the point that is worth underlining that you brought out that we need to have the capability of handling more than one problem at a time otherwise you invite, as soon as you get involved in something as Bill pointed out, you invite somebody to cause trouble somewhere else because they see you're occupied and your hands are too tied up. So I think its a fair statement to say, "Do we have the ability to handle 2 contingencies more or less simultaneously even it they're a little sequenced" and if the answer is no, we're in trouble.

ROBINSON That's an important test.

SHULTZ That's an important test. I think we'd agree on that.

ROBINSON We talked about the number of contingencies we can meet, now lets talk about the size of those contingencies. If we needed to do so could we win another war like the one in 1990.

I've seen it written and written to my mind persuasively, I'm a layman, I admit that, but to my mind persuasively that it would be impossible today to restage the Gulf War. That is to say in particular we put in 6 heavy divisions of infantry in the Gulf War, today we don't have enough to do that again without yanking somebody out of Bosnia or somebody out of Korea. Now is that, would that be a valid test in the first place, George, in your mind? Could we stage the Gulf War over again or is that the kind of thing we need not worry about again and then to Bill, could we stage it over again?

SHULTZ Well if it turns out that we can't that gets known all over the world and is debilitating to us so I think it's a fair enough question.

ROBINSON It's a fair question.

PERRY It's a fair question. The answer to the question is yes we can and the answer is not theoretical. The example that I cited you in October of '94 we did exactly that exercise down to the brigade level. Actually, I believe we are better off today for dealing with the contingency in the Gulf than we were in 1989, not because we have more forces today but because we have more forward deployment today.

ROBINSON Forward deployment means?

PERRY It means we have, in the Persian Gulf, we have a fleet in the Persian Gulf today typically headed by a carrier battle group. We have more than 100 fighter aircraft based in Saudi bases and in Kuwaiti bases. We have divisions with heavy armored equipment pre-deployed in Kuwait and every few months we send a brigade of our forces over to join up with that equipment and train in the desert. None of those provisions did we have then and the difference then is that when we faced the crisis with Iraq in October of '94 we already had a sizeable force in place and were able to reinforce it very, very quickly. So we were better able to deter a war rather than have to fight the war.


SHULTZ There is another dimension to this that has always troubled me. I've never had a chance to talk with Bill about it.

ROBINSON Fire away.

SHULTZ But the kinds of things we have been talking about are in a sense conventional, broadly speaking, and I fear that what we confront is unconventional. We use the word terrorism but you can associate that as a tactic used by states that don't wish us well. So you have a kind of an undeclared, subterranean type of warfare that can be conducted by a country which harbors terrorists, allows them to train, helps them get equipped and, in effect, they make war on you just as in the sense somebody made war on us in Saudi Arabia and blew up those barracks. So that is a different kind of warfare and it is harder to handle and I don't think that anybody has really got the answer to it. There are people I know who are trained, wonderfully trained, who, to deal in these matters but it calls on a different kind of decision making where you say I have some intelligence about this group here so we know they're planning something, and we know that they can carry it out so query: are we going to take preemptive action or not? That's a very hard decision to make.

PERRY Our forces are so strong in the Persian Gulf today that there is no country that can take them on and they understand that. And for precisely that reason, the threat that George is describing is the serious threat. They will try to end run them. They will try to evade them. What they want to do is get our forces out of the Persian Gulf and that is why they employ terrorist tactics.

PERRY I must say that...

ROBINSON No, go ahead.

PERRY The principle tool we have for dealing with that has to begin with superior intelligence. We have to have better intelligence to deal with this problem.

SHULTZ And better intelligence means I think that you have to have the capacity for a network including other countries because they have insights and knowledge that go beyond what we can collect all by ourselves. And as soon as you say that then you have a delicacy, a need for confidence and trust that intelligence methods are not going to get disclosed and people aren't going to get identified because the minute anybody gets identified, obviously that person is gone. And if that ever happens then you don't get any more intelligence. So it - and oftentimes the places you're getting this intelligence from are not the nicest people in the world.

ROBINSON But you have to back them up.

SHULTZ That puts a lot of strain on our system and so I think Bill is absolutely right: intelligence is key but it's tricky. It really puts a lot of pressure on you.

ROBINSON The world's dominant military power that's us, now how do we decide when to use our power?

ROBINSON When I was in the White House I was a speech writer for President Reagan and I was struck again and again and again by the difference in decision making and execution between the domestic side and the foreign policy side and here's what I mean, and both of you will know exactly what I am talking about. Domestic policy is proposed, it gets debated in the press, you have your large, congressional liaison staff in the White House that has to get it through 435 members of the house and 100 member of the senate; the press covers every detail, hearings get held on Capital Hill and it goes on for a long time and it takes place completely in public. Foreign policy, so far as I could ever tell, the President of the United States, the Secretary of State, the Director of the CIA, the Secretary of Defense and a few other guys would get together in the Situation Room in the West Wing and, in total secrecy, come to the crucial decisions that would shake the world.

SHULTZ Not true.

ROBINSON Not true? Oh no! Not true?

SHULTZ Of course not.

ROBINSON What's wrong with that?

SHULTZ You're dealing with big, important things and you know that you have to have the support of the American people and you have to have the support of the Congress so there is an awful lot of consultation that has to take place.

SHULTZ And I don't know how many times I've heard - I know Bill has heard it too from members of the Congress who say if you want us there on the landing we gotta be there on the take off and so you've got to bring people in. You don't just sit in a little room with a few people and decide these things.

ROBINSON I'm so disappointed to hear that.

PERRY The executive branch, however, works more closely together in the foreign policy field than they work in the domestic field. There is a longstanding tradition of that and therefore when we go to the Congress for support, we go to the public for support, we usually go as a unified government.

SHULTZ And you have a tradition of bipartisanship in foreign policy that doesn't always hold but to a degree does hold. It, I think by and on the large our policies toward the Soviet Union held as bipartisan throughout the whole Cold War period. Our policies on the Middle East on the whole were bipartisan. We had - when I was in office we had differences over Central America but in the Asia Pacific region we had a common front. On the whole bipartisanship is quite strong.

ROBINSON For decades our foreign policy was based upon a single word: containment. But without very many communists left to contain what is our policy based on today?

ROBINSON There is no question that for 40 years the country was involved in a noble and difficult but unifying effort. What happens now? I get the sense that people in the positions that you held are fumbling a little bit. We had the - President Bush used the phrase "The New World Order." I, myself, can't quite see what that was supposed to be all about.

SHULTZ There isn't one.

ROBINSON It isn't? Why?

SHULTZ It would be a good idea if there was but there sure isn't one.

ROBINSON Do you agree that we're in some sense fumbling for a coherence to American policy.

SHULTZ Well, perhaps. The, I am a believer that you can't get people interested in solving a problem until they feel in their gut that there is one and right now there isn't any feeling in the country that there is any particular problem other than occasional trade disputes with this country or that country. But I think that there are plenty of problems out there and something is going to happen that brings this home and then we'll begin to take it seriously again.

PERRY Today we have - we're in a very unusual situation. It's really the first time in my lifetime where the United States faces no threats to its survival as we did in the Cold War, as we did in World War II and the period prior to World War II. On the other hand, as I indicated, we also have today the dominant military force in the world. Some people think that those two facts are contradictory: that because we face no threats to our survival today we should not have this dominant military force in the world. But, as George indicated, we face many dangers even though we do not face threats to our national survival today and those dangers come from regional conflicts which we've already talked about, they come from proliferation of weapons of mass destruction which we have not talked about yet. They come from terrorism. There are many, many dangers which require us to have a first-rate military and we do. But the problem is maintaining that first-rate military. That's what the budget issues are all about.

ROBINSON Let me ask another question.

SHULTZ Not only maintaining it but in the clutch having the support of the American people using it if you have to. That's the key. It's hard.

ROBINSON Even in its present scaled-back state the military cost hundreds of billions a year, can Americans be relied on to anti-up in the years ahead?

ROBINSON By the time my father was my age, he'd experienced the Great Depression, he'd served 3 years in the Pacific...

SHULTZ You don't look that old.

ROBINSON By the time my father was my age.

SHULTZ Your age. What are you? About 20?

ROBINSON I'm forty. About 20! God bless you. I knew you were a lovely man to begin with. I have his experience vividly before me. You experienced his experience. You were in the United States Marine Corps during the second World War. You went into the services immediately after the war. You were posted to Okinawa in 1946 when that island was still ravaged. Now the three of us work at Stanford University where we are dealing with very bright students, the oldest of whom is about 22 years old. They can't even remember the stock market crash of 1987 let alone fascism and Nazism. How do you sustain - how do you convey to generations that have known only security and prosperity that the world is a dangerous place, that what we have in this country is historically unusual and very precious and that it is worth making sacrifices including taxing and spending to keep a strong military in order to protect it? How do you pass the message along from one generation to the next?

SHULTZ I think that what you do is you maintain strong analytical work and you maintain the ideas of what characterizes the world and what needs to be done about it so that the material is there for people. You maintain your strength, you military strength, your economic strength so you've got that and you realize that it is hard to do what you say. To persuade people. There is a problem when there isn't a visible sign of it. But if you maintain the ideas and you maintain the underlying strength then when something happens you've laid the predicate for people understanding. I mean, you talk about these 22 year old students, I see them quite a lot. I go to the dorm and we sit around and so on, and their knowledge is quite impressive. But also their ability is impressive. And so you don't have to explain it to them very much if there is a real problem they'll catch on very quickly. So I think the notion is to keep as much strength as you can, to maintain your alliances, to have the ideas out there, and then when something comes along you're able to draw on that material and you've laid a predicate for educating people.

PERRY I think Santiana summed it up that those who do not study history are doomed to have to relive it. And it is imperative that students today study the history of the Cold War, study the history of the second World War, study the history of the Great Depression, to understand what triggered off these events because we do not want to relive any one of those three histories: the Depression, the second World War or the Cold War.

ROBINSON George Shultz, Bill Perry, thank you very much.

George Shultz has a few qualms but William Perry is completely confident that we do indeed have the power we need. You will notice that both men took it for granted that the United States needs to remain engaged around the world. It never seemed to enter either one of their heads that the United States might just one day take its toys and go home.

I'm Peter Robinson, thanks for joining us

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