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Secretary of Defense Perry defends Bosnia, nuclear policies

STANFORD -- Conceding that U.S. policy on Bosnia is unpopular, Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, during a three-day visit to Stanford and the Bay Area, nevertheless urged "staying the course" to prevent a "humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions."

The House of Representatives vote earlier this month to have the United States unilaterally lift the embargo on arms shipments to Bosnia was like the second act of a Greek tragedy, Perry told about 70 scholars at Stanford on Friday, June 16, and about 550 people attending a dinner in San Jose later that night.

"It's [now] the beginning of the third act. I see the tragedy about to unfold, a humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions, and I feel like rushing up on the stage and telling the actors, don't do that," Perry said at San Jose's Fairmont Hotel, where he addressed the World Forum of the Silicon Valley, an organization that gave him its international citizen of the year award.

The professor of engineering-economic systems, who is on leave from Stanford, also told his former colleagues at Stanford's Center for International Security and Arms Control that he is concerned that Congress might vote to end U.S. assistance for dismantlement of nuclear weapons in four former Soviet republics. Some members of Congress see the $400-million-per-year program as doing the former Soviet republics a favor, he said, "but I see it as doing us a favor."

"Hard-liners" in Russia believe the program will destroy their defense industry and hard-liners in the United States believe it will help sustain it, he said. "Both can't be right." Perry predicted "a major fight in the next few weeks" to keep the Senate from following in the House's footsteps by voting to discontinue U.S. funding for the program. He said he is also concerned that the Russian Duma may not ratify the START II treaty for further reductions in strategic forces.

In the Bay Area primarily to give Stanford's commencement address, Perry indicated to several audiences that he intends to come back to Stanford to "tend my garden" after his stint as secretary of defense. The reference to gardening comes from the closing page of Voltaire's Candide, when Candide concludes that the only things worth doing are working for peace and tending one's garden.

Perry said Stanford had prepared him well for his first 16 months as secretary of defense. "You not only have to understand defense policy, you also have to understand political infighting. I was really fortunate that serving on the faculty of Stanford exposed me to both," he told a gathering at an afternoon reception for him at Stanford's Center for Economic Policy Research.

He pointed out to the San Jose audience that "the secretary of state, the deputy secretary of state, the secretary of defense, four Supreme Court justices and a gaggle of congress people are all from Stanford. Some of you may find that comforting and some of you may find that disconcerting," he said to laughter.

As the co-director of Stanford's arms control center from 1989 to 1993, Perry said, "much of my time was spent advising government officials on how to prevent a nuclear holocaust. Now that I am secretary of defense I am in the extremely uncomfortable position of having to take my own advice. Everything considered, advising is more fun."

Perry compared his view of Washington, D.C., to Mark Twain's view of Wagner. "Twain said, 'Wagner's music is not as bad as it sounds.' My experience as secretary of defense has not been as bad as it sounds."

The better parts of the job, he said, have included watching the first phase of dismantling of an ICBM launch facility in Ukraine. It had 700 missiles targeted at the United States. Next year, he said, he intends to return to see the missile field's complete conversion to a wheat field.

Perry also told of his meeting in Brussels the previous week with defense ministers from 37 countries, including former Warsaw Pact members who now want to join NATO. The group worked on plans for joint exercises in search-and-rescue and peacekeeping operations.

He told the San Jose audience that the rescue of Air Force Capt. Scott O'Grady from the Bosnian countryside had an added meaning for him. The daylight rescue under Serbian fire most likely would not have been attempted, he said, were it not for the fact that O'Grady wore a wristwatch-size device that could pinpoint his exact location -- a locational tool made possible by the global positioning satellite network that Perry worked hard to get funded when he was undersecretary for research and engineering in the Carter administration.

Bosnian policy

Asked nearly everywhere he went about Bosnia, Perry said he opposed lifting the arms embargo without U.N. approval because it would prompt a withdrawal of U.N. forces there, and that, in turn, would prompt "tens of thousands" of civilian casualties.

"I can tell you without any fear of being contradicted that if we lift the embargo on Bosnia, we will be alone. I've discussed this with the leaders of all the other countries in the Security Council. That's not a reason for not doing it. It's just a practical statement," he told the San Jose audience.

A unilateral lifting, he said, "will lead to immediate withdrawal of forces now in Bosnia. I heard that statement made three days ago by President Chirac of France; I've heard it made by Prime Minister Major of the United Kingdom. There is no question if we lift the embargo that we'll drive U.N. forces out of the country."

Some believe that because the U.N. forces have had only mixed success, their departure would not have terrible consequences, Perry said, but "the facts do not bear that out."

"In 1992, which was the last year before the U.N. went in, there were 130,000 civilians killed in Bosnia. The U.N. force went in to try to stop the carnage. They were partially successful. In 1993, the number was 12,000. In 1994, the number was 3,000, and so far this year, which is almost half over, there are less than 1,000.

"Now 1,000 people killed is still a tragedy, but if we pull the U.N. force out, I believe we'll go back to 1992 and see tens of thousands of deaths again, yet it's likely the U.S. Congress is going to vote to lift that embargo."

"We need to stay the course on this policy," he told his former Stanford colleagues. "It's a very unpopular policy and I think there is a very real possibility we may not be able to stay the course."

Asked at San Jose why the United States did not join the war, he said that in the judgment of the joint chiefs of staff "to affect with confidence the outcome of the war in Bosnia would require not just air power. It would require a few hundred thousand ground troops, a long war and thousands of American casualties. It's a snare and illusion to think we can do this on the cheap," he said. "Anybody who is talking seriously about going into Bosnia had better stop thinking about the Gulf War. It's not the same scenario."

Second, he said, direct American involvement in the Bosnian war is "politically infeasible," lacking support from Congress and the public.

He told scholars at Stanford that the most important development since the Serbs took U.N. peacekeepers hostage was that "the international community did not go in and negotiate with the Serbs. They simply demanded unconditional release of the hostages and then set about putting together a 10,000-man protection force. . . . Ground forces are a much better way of protecting peacekeepers than air strikes."

Nuclear weapons reduction

Asked what could be done to guarantee that parts of the Soviet nuclear arsenal do not wind up in the hands of Iran or other countries seeking nuclear weapons, Perry said "there are no guarantees."

"There are many things we can do and are doing to reduce that risk. One thing is simply eliminate, dismantle and destroy thousands of nuclear weapons. Last year alone, the Russians, with our assistance, dismantled over 2,000 weapons."

More important, he said, is the control of fissile materials. Acquiring the highly enriched plutonium or uranium is generally the biggest impediment to non-nuclear nations seeking nuclear weaponry. Part of the U.S. funding, he said, is to buy that material and convert it for eventual sale and use in nuclear power plants.

The two biggest problems in nuclear "drawdown," he said, are that the Russians are not drawing down their theater weapons, claiming they need them because of threats from hostile neighbors, and the possibility that the Russian Duma will not ratify the START II treaty on long-range or strategic weaponry.

Asked about threats in Congress to require him to certify Russian treaty compliance on biological and chemical weaponry before more is spent on nuclear reduction assistance, Perry said that he has had numerous discussions with the Russians on the topic and he is "not at all satisfied" with their answers. Nevertheless, he said, "I don't think the way to destroy biological weapons is by giving up nuclear reductions."

Perry also discussed the reasons the United States is not eliminating its theater weapons. "NATO and Japan and Korea depend very strongly on the United States to have this capability," Perry said. "We believe -- we know -- we can accomplish tough missions without resorting to nuclear forces. They don't see it that way."

Other post-Cold War issues

At the arms control center discussion, Perry emphasized the wide range of problems he faces, compared to his Cold War predecessors. In 16 months, he said, he has visited 40 countries, "some of which no previous secretary of defense considered visiting."

In the Cold War, he said, the Soviet Union was the main problem for the secretary of defense, followed by China. All other issues were officially labeled "lesser included threats." Now, he said, these threats are "no longer lesser or included" under the communist umbrella. Problem areas include major trade wars with Japan, an economically desperate North Korea and the coming change in leadership in China.

The Mideast, he said, is more volatile than during the Cold War. Economic and political instability and the presence of 20,000 nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union are the factors driving U.S. policy there. India and Pakistan are feuding over Kashmir, he said, which could lead to a fourth war between the two since their independence. For the first time, both countries have nuclear weapons, he said. Pakistan believes it needs them because India has them, he said, and India believes it needs them because China has them. "No one has the slightest idea how to break that iron logic," Perry said, but he added that he is trying to persuade Pakistan and India that, like the Soviet Union and the United States, "they should not wait for their political differences to be resolved" before negotiating weapons reductions.

Asked in San Jose about his efforts to reestablish defense ties with China, Perry said that China is too important to the security of the United States and the Asia Pacific region to ignore, despite opposition in both countries. "My idea of a working relationship does not include a transfer of military technology with China," he added.

Referring to recent hostage-taking in Russia and Bosnia, Perry said that "one of the biggest threats facing us is the threat of terrorism -- systematic, state-sponsored terrorism -- which has been spreading all over the world."

"The bright spot," he told Stanford scholars, is South America, where most dictatorships have given way to forms of democracy. For the first time next month, the defense ministers of the hemisphere will meet together in Williamsburg, Va., he said, to share ideas about military support for democracy.



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