Press Briefing by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John Shalikashvili
The Briefing Room
4:35 P.M. EDT
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: Well, thank you very much for letting me come by. As you know, it was reported today that Ambassador Albright and I will be going to Poland and to Hungary and to the Czech Republic and to Slovakia in advance of the President's trip to help explain, among others, the Partnership For Peace and to answer any particular questions that might still be lingering out there. And so I thought it might be useful if I came by and tried to see if I could answer any of your questions.
Q: Can you give us an idea of what you'll be telling the East Europeans to allay their security concerns? They seem to feel that this does not go far enough in helping contain what they fear is either rising communism or a threat again from Russia.
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: I think it's, for me, very important that we all understand that what this is all about is bringing stability and security to all of Europe. And I think one of the things that would probably run most counter to that and would probably be more destabilizing than many of the things I could think of is, if somehow, we now establish new divisions in Europe. We have worked for so many years to try to break down the division between East and West that existed, and what a shame it would be, now with this extraordinarily historic moment, if the first step that we took towards bringing stability and security to all of Europe were started with the reestablishment of a new line.
And so I think it is important that everyone understand -- and I hope that our newfound friends in the East will understand that the reason that partnership is defined as it is, is to avoid at all costs the establishment of a new line, a new division that in turn, then, would create new tensions and fuel new conflicts.
Q: General, and yet President Walesa of Poland seems to think that if they didn't -- if his country did not become a full member of NATO, rather, it could lead to the reemergence of communism in his country.
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: Certainly, I think there are two things that I would point out. First of all, that President Walesa does not reject Partnership For Peace, and I think is quoted in that article in The Washington Post, as a matter of fact, as accepting Partnership For Peace, but wishing to have an evolutionary process that leads to membership. The only thing I would tell you is that Partnership For Peace in itself is, in fact, an evolutionary process. And while it does not, by itself, have membership for any specific country under any specific circumstances as its end point, it is clear that those partners who enter into the Partnership for Peace with all of the energy that I think it deserves, that those partners, then, at the end of that process will be in a much better position to seriously discuss with the Alliance the issue of partnership.
Q: How long is the process, and do you eventually see a point in which Poland and Hungary and the Czech Republic are members of NATO?
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: I cannot tell you how long the process will take, because the reason that you don't want to establish criteria or specific timelines right now is not to fuel those tensions that I just talked about. And so for us now to establish those kinds of timelines would be really counter to the very strength of what I think is, in fact, the strength of the Partnership For Peace.
What countries would or would not be members at the end of it, again is an issue that needs to be left open, because it is up to how the process develops, how security and stability in Europe develops, how the paranoias that now exist about the establishment of new divisions and lines and how those are dissipated over time, those will then answer who might be a strong candidate for membership, and at what time and under what circumstances.
Q: In the absence now of a Cold War enemy, who is really the enemy? And would NATO intervene in what would be the inevitable -- would seem to be the new conflicts arising from nationalism, ethnic hatred and so forth? I mean, what's the purpose?
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: I think the enemy is this feeling of instability, of insecurity that our European partners feel, particularly our East European partners feel. And rightfully so. Because as they look at the landscape that they see, they see those flash points all around the rim -- whether that's from NagornoKarabakh to Bosnia and what not. And so it's that uncertainty, it's that instability that they see against which they want some sort of protection.
I submit that if there is a lesson that we have learned in Europe, it is that no one can feel safe and secure in Europe until we all -- Europe feel safe and secure. And we cannot achieve that end if we include small numbers and exclude large numbers.
At this time of this very delicate period of time when we're going through extraordinarily difficult times of building democracies and market economies not just in Russia, but in other countries of the former Soviet Union and as East European countries struggle to do the same, I think this is not the time to set up those divisions and add to the problems that already exist, and that bring those instabilities and those frictions that we now see. This is the time, I think, not to fuel those fires. And membership to some and exclusion to others would be counter to what I think we all, and certainly the President desires to see, which is a secure and stable Europe. I think all of them share that.
Q: Eventual membership is being offered to everyone, isn't it?
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: I think the issue has always been that NATO -- and you've all heard it said NATO has never been a closed society. We look at their Partnership For Peace as a evolutionary process. It is our hope that that process in fact can lead to an extension of membership; but who, when and how is not -- it's a premature question today.
If there is a point that I could make is that in this whole discussion, it is useful to remember that we are talking so much less today about whether extension of the Alliance, but so much more about how and when.
Q: Isn't there a risk for the U.S. to pay too little attention to the danger of a Russian nationalism, something that President Walesa is already aware of? He knows the danger that Russia represents if you look back at history.
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: I think that there is this danger, and therefore I think we need to be extraordinarily careful that we do not, by intent, or, worse yet, inadvertently fuel those ultranationalistic feelings in Russia or other parts of the former Soviet Union. So I think the Partnership For Peace tries to deal with exactly that issue by not making the situation worse, but giving the chance to the democrats in Russia who are working so very hard to build market economies and to strengthen the democratic institutions there.
Q: Yes, but if I may follow up, it does at the expense of giving these countries a protection in the next few years against any potential threat by -- I don't know who will be in power in Moscow in two or three years -- these threats for the next few years?
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: I do not believe that we would be strengthening security in Central and Eastern Europe by excluding people. At this time, this kind of exclusion would run counter to what it is that we're trying to accomplish, which is to strengthen stability. I think it would be running counter to that.
Q: General, given Western Europe's sort of vacillation on the eve of World War II, how realistic is it to assume that NATO would expand and bring countries threatened under its security umbrella if a threat were to arise?
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: I certainly don't want to speculate on the issue. Only to tell you that I see that the circumstances are vastly different today than they were then at the eve of World War II, that I really don't see a comparison. Right now, it is to integrate Europe. It is not to divide ourselves into two or more camps. That's the issue, and if there are points of debate, it is how best to accomplish that integration and how best to accomplish a Europe whole and stable and free and secure.
Q: The argument that President Walesa made this morning seemed to be the opposite of what you're saying about exclusion. He was talking about inclusion, that that would do more in terms of drawing those countries closer to the West and telling the Russian nationalists and others with nationalistic designs that they are not going to be able to advance. How do you counter that argument?
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: I'm not sure that, and I don't mean to be flippant at all, I'm not sure that President Walesa would be making the same argument if the question were of including some countries but not Poland, whether he would not see that as very divisive. So I would ask you only those that he did not include in that group to be for immediate admittance in the Alliance, if they see that step that he proposes as strengthening stability in Europe or whether they see that as threatening because they are left on the outside. It is that issue, it is accepting some and leaving some out at this critical period of time that I think is counter to building stability and security in all of Europe.
Q: General, how can NATO be talking about a safe and secure Europe when right now there is a war, a war of aggression going on right in its midst, right in its back yard and it seems to be helpless to do anything about it, let alone possible problems in Nagorno-Karabakh? Isn't it -- shouldn't NATO be discussing how to provide security where it's promised to provide securities and an end to a siege rather than be discussing, simply discussing the possibility of extending itself to Central Asia?
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: I think clearly the tragedy that's ongoing in former Yugoslavia and Bosnia is a frustration not only to all members of the Alliance, certainly all members of the United Nations who are trying to deal with this, to the EC who are trying to deal with it. The only exception I would take with your remark, if I may, is that NATO is not doing anything about it. NATO members, in great numbers, are in the midst of Bosnia, in the midst of Croatia, are sitting in Macedonia trying to use military forces, if not military force, to bring humanitarian assistance to those who are tragically caught up in that struggle.
There are -- NATO military forces are probably the most effective forces in the Adriatic in running the regime that ensures sanctions against Serbia, which I think are having a considerable effect, at least reading from the sort of things that you all write about, having a considerable effect. And NATO, of course, as well, is involved in the various no-fly regimes.
Clearly, the other thing that NATO is prepared to do and has been prepared to do that, should those warring factions reach an agreement to bring hostilities to an end, NATO has indicated that, if asked by the United Nations and by the warring factions that they would be prepared to consider providing the forces necessary to implement a peace plan.
So I think it's -- all of us -- all of us should feel the frustration that we cannot get those three to stop fighting. But we also need to recognize that an awful lot of them are trying to do their level-best to mediate the process and to at least provide humanitarian assistance. And if you don't think that's significant, then please look what was reported in the press just last year, how many hundreds of thousands you all prophesized would die in Bosnia. And, yet, those casualties did not occur because of really the extensive humanitarian effort that continues -- and continues today, and Americans that are flying every day today into Sarajevo and are airdropping food into the eastern part of Bosnia together with our European colleagues who are escorting convoys on the ground.
Q: General, if Russia rather than NATO were to draw a line, if Russia became in the next few years more totalitarian again, more imperialistic, would not accept Partnership for Peace, could those events prompt an acceleration of the move of Poland and these other countries from partnership to membership in NATO?
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: Again, I simply cannot stand here before you and speculate on those kinds of decisions. I would tell you, though, that clearly such event that you forecast would have an impact on all of us and would cause us to reevaluate an awful lot of things that have to do with our relationship with Russia, with our relationship with our Eastern European partners, Central European partners, and would, I'm sure, impact us well on how we consult with each other. So it would have an impact. What the end result would be, I certainly cannot say.
Q: General, I'm a little bit curious. Your assessment of the Bosnia situation makes me wonder. The question seems to be whether the situation in Bosnia indicates that NATO can be trusted to limp up to things that it says it will do for these new nations who would be coming into the PFP. Did NATO not warn the Serbs that they would do nasty things to their militia if they kept up bombarding Sarajevo and attack U.N. convoys, didn't they do so and didn't NATO not do so? Things of that sort seems to suggest to some people that even if you get assurances, they may not have any particular effect or any value. How do you --
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: Let me answer -- two words. First of all, if people had that perception, then I don't know why so many in the East want to join NATO, point one. Point two, I would tell you that I see things differently. NATO has taken on any request that was passed onto the Alliance by the United Nations whether that was enforcing sanctions in the Adriatic which was the first operation in no-fly regime, the secure areas, close air support, sending peacekeepers into Macedonia, and so on.
You have to remember the procedures that are established first of all for close air support. NATO has airplanes 24 hours a day over Bosnia ready to respond to requests by United Nations personnel on the ground. Today, the United Nations has not yet requested close air support from those airplanes, not a single time. NATO maintains airplanes over Bosnia 24 hours a day to respond to the secure areas. As soon as that fire is called for by United Nations personnel on the ground, it has not yet happened.
The only thing that NATO executes on its own, but in coordination with the United Nations is the enforcement of the no-fly regimes; that is, take on fixed-wing and helicopters that might be flying over Bosnia. In the case of helicopters, repeatedly the United Nations commanders on the ground have indicated that the helicopter flights that are being observed are not militarily significant and that their recommendation is that NATO not take on the helicopter flights. Different with the fixed-wing aircraft and I don't think you have any reports of any fixed-wing aircraft flying, unauthorized fixed-wing aircraft flying over Bosnia.
So, the point that I'd like to make is, it isn't that NATO is not living up to what it said it would do, it is frustrating to NATO that their offer to do those things has not yet been taken up. But more importantly, I think, we all feel this frustration, that, despite our efforts, whether it's NATO, the United Nations, the EC or any other friends of the Alliance, we have been unable to bring the fighting to an end. And I just hope that the three warring factions will finally come to some sort of agreement so the suffering and the misery in that country can be brought to a halt and that some forces can go in to help implement a peace plan, providing a peace plan meets the criteria that we, of course, so very often talked about.
Q: General, if I understand correctly, what you're saying is that NATO's bite is actually dependent, in the Yugoslavian case, on the will of the United Nations. What would be the situation in Partnership For Peace? Would NATO be, sort of, self-supporting or would it have to have the agreement of many of the people to make a decision? For example, in the situation where two guest members would start ill behaving between each other.
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: First of all, Partnership For Peace is not a guarantee of one against the other. Partnership For Peace is an agreement between individual countries and the Alliance and is a qualitative step forward in the relationship between those countries that wish to join the Partnership For Peace and the Alliance and brings their militaries in a significantly closer relationship through joint training, through joint exercises, and yes, through joint operations in the future Bosnias, if that were to be the case. So that they can benefit from the same sort of things that we have benefited from in the Alliance. That is, the close working relationship, the shared experiences, the shared procedures.
So, when it is time to talk about extended membership, those countries that have really thrown their heart into the Partnership For Peace will be in so much better a position to do so because the Alliance, after all, depends so much on its militaries being able to work together. So, I think that is a terribly important first step that the Partnership For Peace calls for and offers the opportunity to do.
MS. MYERS: We'll take one more question.
Q: General, do you anticipate the Russians deciding to join the partnership?
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: Do I see that?
Q: Do you think they will?
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: Oh, I don't want to speak for Russia, but it is certainly my expectation that they might do so. And we would welcome them.
Q: When do you leave?
GENERAL SHALIKASHVILI: Thursday afternoon.
Q: Where do you go first?
GENERAL SHALIKAShVILI: We go to Warsaw first, I believe.
END 4:58 P.M. EDT
William J. Clinton, Press Briefing by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John Shalikashvili Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269737