Assistant to the President for National
Remarks at George Washington
March 6, 1996
"Defining Missions, Setting
Meeting New Security Challenges in the Post-Cold War World"
I want to speak with you today about the most difficult issue any President has to address:
when to use American force and to put young Americans in harm's way abroad. This is a good
time for this discussion. Six weeks from now, the last of more than 20,000 American troops
assigned to the U.N. mission in Haiti will come home. About an equal number are serving in
Bosnia to help keep the hard won peace there. Both missions reflect answers to difficult
questions about whento use force -- and especially how to use it.
Let me start by putting my thoughts in a larger context. Halfway between the end of the
Cold War and the start of a new century, we're living a moment of very real hope. Our nation is
secure. Our economy is strong. All around the world more people live free and at peace than
But the promise of this moment is also matched by its perils -- as the desperate and
despicable acts of the enemies of peace in the Middle East have shown over the last week. Old
threats like ethnic and religious violence and aggression by rogue states have taken on new and
dangerous dimensions. And no one is immune to a host of equal opportunity destroyers: the
spread of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, organized crime, drug trafficking,
environmental degradation. Individually, each could undermine our growing security. Together,
they have the potential to cause terrible chaos around the world and in our own society.
Faced with both the promise and the problems of our time, there are those -- on both the
left and the right and in both political parties -- who would have America retreat from its
Some proclaim that America must stay engaged -- but they then would deny us the tools
and the resources to match their rhetoric. These backdoor isolationists would stop us from
working with others to share the risks and the costs of engagement. They would gut our
diplomatic readiness and cut our assistance to those who take risks for peace around the world.
They fail to recognize that the global trend toward democracy and free markets -- and the
opportunities it creates for our people -- is neither inevitable nor irreversible. It needs our
support, our resources and our leadership.
Others -- call them neo-know-nothings -- argue that with the Cold War won, it's safe to
return to a Fortress America. It is not the American way to retreat or refuse to compete. We
can't build a wall high enough or dig a moat deep enough to keep out the threats to our well-
being -- or to isolate ourselves from the global economy. As President Clinton said in his State
of the Union address this year, we must confront these challenges now -- or we will pay a much
higher price for our indifference later.
The century that we have seen makes this truth very clear. After World War I, America
withdrew from the world -- leaving a vacuum that was filled by the forces of hatred and tyranny
and we paid the price in World War II.. After World War II, we stayed involved, we worked with
others and we led -- patiently, persistently and pragmatically. And we helped create the
institutions that secured half a century of security and prosperity for us all.
For the past three years, the Clinton Administration has built upon this bipartisan
legacy of leadership by reducing the nuclear threat, supporting peacemakers, spreading democracy
and opening markets. And I'm proud of the results -- for our own people and for people around
We stayed engaged with Russia and the other states of the former Soviet Union -- despite
our differences -- because it is in the interests of the American people that we do so. Today,
American cities and American citizens no longer live under direct targeting of Russian missiles.
Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan are giving up the nuclear weapons left on their land when the
Soviet Union collapsed. We are safeguarding nuclear materials and destroying nuclear weapons
so they don't wind up in the wrong hands. And, we have taken the lead in securing, extending or
promoting landmark arms control agreements: START I and II, the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention.
We applied steady, patient pressure to North Korea. Now, it has frozen its dangerous
nuclear weapons program.
We're waging a tough counter-terrorism campaign with stronger laws; increased funding,
manpower and training for law enforcement; sanctions against states that sponsor terrorism and
closer cooperation with foreign governments. Now, those responsible for the World Trade
Center bombing are behind bars. We've foiled attacks on New York City and on our airliners
abroad, and we've tracked down terrorists and brought them to justice around the world.
We sent our troops, ships and planes to the Persian Gulf when
Saddam Hussein moved his
forces closer to the Kuwaiti border. Now, Kuwait remains safe and the world's energy supply
We backed diplomacy with force in Haiti. Now, the dictators are gone. Haiti has
celebrated the first democratic transfer of power in its 200-year history, and the flood of refugees
to our shores has ended.
Our troops are standing up for peace in Bosnia. Now, its playgrounds are no longer
killing fields. A dangerous fire at the heart of Europe is not raging as it had been for four years.
The Bosnian people now have their first real chance for peace.
We are standing with those who are taking risks for peace -- very real risks for peace --
through good times, and as in the Middle East now, through bad times.
Now, in Northern Ireland, the determination of Prime Minister Major and Prime Minister
Bruton is pushing the peace process back on track -- and a date certain for negotiations and, we
hope, a new cease-fire is on its way.
In the Middle East, we know, tragically, that fanatics will stop at nothing to kill the hope
for peace. As you know, the President has ordered a series of steps to express our complete
support for the peacemakers as they combat terrorism.
We must also not lose sight of the tremendous progress that has been made toward a
comprehensive peace -- or the fact that the overwhelming majority of people, Palestinians and
Israelis, want peace. We will not rest until that desire becomes a reality.
What the terrorists want here is what we must not give them. We are going to be very
tough and absolutely steadfast in the way we stand with Israel and the way we help the Palestinian
Authority combat terrorism. But what the terrorists are trying to do is get us, in the process, to
abandon the possibilities for peace itself, and to give up on peace. To abandon the peace process
now in our very legitimate and natural anger at what has happened would be to do precisely what
the terrorists want -- it would give them the victory, a victory that must be ours.
And we negotiated a better deal for America as we opened markets abroad. Now, our
exports are at an all time high and hundreds of thousands more Americans have jobs at home.
With Japan alone, this Administration has completed 20 specific trade agreements. The sectors
covered by those agreements -- from auto parts to medical equipment -- have seen their exports
increase by 80 percent. That's almost twice as much as exports from other sectors -- which are
also growing fast.
Not one of these achievements came about easily or automatically. They happened for a
number of reasons. First, because we kept our military strong while adapting our alliance to new
demands. Because we acted with others where we could and alone where we had to. Because
we were patient enough to stick with diplomacy but prepared to use force. Because we rejected
isolationism but refused to become the world's policeman. Because in each and every instance,
we brought together our interests and values, and we acted where we could make a difference.
Some people, in a curious bit of nostalgia for the Cold War, complain that our policy lacks
a single, overarching principle -- that it can't be summed up on a bumper sticker. But while we
are operating in a radically new international environment, America's fundamental mission
endures. The same ideas that were under attack by Communism, and before that by Fascism,
remain under attack today as we are seeing in the Middle East. Now, as then, we are defending
an idea that has many names -- tolerance, liberty, civility, pluralism -- but shows a constant face:
the face of the democratic society. Now, as then, our special role in the world is to defend,
enlarge and strengthen the community of democratic nations against all of these new threats and
seizing these new opportunities.
Let me be very clear that in pursuing this mission, our interests and ideals converge. We
know from experience that democracies rarely go to war with one another or abuse the rights of
their people. They make for better trading partners. And each one is a potential ally in the
struggle against the forces of hatred and intolerance -- whether those forces take the shape of
rogue nations, ethnic and religious hatreds or terrorists trafficking in weapons of mass
What we have left behind are the certitudes and simplifications of the past -- and that's not
necessarily a bad thing. During the Cold War, policymakers could justify every act with one
word: containment. We got the big things right -- containment was the right policy and it
succeeded and we won the Cold War and we are all far, far better for it. But even the best policy
can become the worst straitjacket if it is pursued too rigidly and reflexively -- as we saw in
Now, we have the opportunity to think anew about the best ways to promote America's
interests and ideals. Our tools of first resort remain diplomacy and the power of our example.
But sometimes, we have to rely on the example of our power. We face no more important
questions than when and how to use it. From our experience in countering traditional aggression
-- as in the Persian Gulf -- and contending with more novel crises -- as in Haiti and Bosnia -- there
are some principles on the use of force that I would like to discuss with you.
First, let me cite one underlying and enduring principle: We will always be ready to use
force to defend our national interests. Until human nature changes, power and force will remain
at the heart of international relations.
This begs the question of just what those interests are that we will defend. I would cite
seven circumstances, which, taken in some combination or even alone, may call for the use of
force or our military forces:
- To defend against direct attacks on the United States, its citizens, and its allies;
- To counter aggression;
- To defend our key economic interests, which is where most Americans see their most
immediate stake in our international engagement;
- To preserve, promote and defend democracy, which enhances our security and the spread
of our values;
- To prevent the spread of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, international crime and
- To maintain our reliability, because when our partnerships are strong and confidence in
our leadership is high, it is easier to get others to work with us, and to share the burdens of
- And for humanitarian purposes, to combat famines, natural disasters and gross abuses of
human rights with, occasionally, our military forces.
Not one of these interests by itself -- with the obvious exception of an attack on our
nation, people and allies -- should automatically lead to the use of force. But the greater the
number and the weight of the interests in play, the greater the likelihood that we will use force --
once all peaceful means have been tried and failed and once we have measured a mission's
benefits against its costs, in both human and financial terms.
In Haiti, when we saw democracy stolen from its people, a reign of brutality take hold in
our hemisphere, a flood of refugees to our shores, international agreements consistently violated
and efforts to resolve the impasse through negotiations and sanctions fail, the case for intervention
was compelling. In Bosnia, the worst atrocities in Europe since World War II -- a dangerous fire
at the very heart of the continent -- our commitments to our NATO allies and a peace agreement
the parties were calling on us to secure required us to act, and the President decided to do so.
But more than the "when" of using force, Haiti, Bosnia and some other recent
interventions highlight principles that get at a harder question, perhaps, and that is the "how" we
should use force.
First, threatening to use force can achieve the same results as actually using it -- but only if
you're prepared to carry through on that threat. The best-trained, best-equipped and best-
prepared fighting force in the world has a unique ability to concentrate the minds of our
adversaries without firing a shot. In Haiti, when the military regime learned that the 82nd
Airborne literally was on the way, those leaders got out of the way. In the Persian Gulf, as soon
as President Clinton moved American forces into the region, Iraq moved its troops away from
Kuwait. And by backing diplomacy with the presence of U.S. military forces to deter attack on
the South, we convinced North Korea to freeze its dangerous nuclear weapons program.
A second principle is that the selective but substantial use of force is sometimes more
appropriate than its massive use -- provided that the force is adequate to the task, and then some.
President Clinton refused to engage our troops in a ground war in Bosnia because he knew that
no outside power could force peace on the parties. To do so would have risked a Vietnam-like
quagmire. But this summer, the combination of NATO's heavy and continuous air strikes,
Bosnian and Croat gains on the ground, and our determined diplomacy convinced the Bosnian
Serbs to stop making war and start making peace. Now, our troops are in Bosnia not to fight a
war through a massive intervention, but to secure a peace they produced through the deliberate,
calibrated use of force.
A final principle is this: Before we send our troops into a foreign country, we should
know how and when we're going to get them out. Sounds simple, even obvious. But it is not an
uncontroversial point. But carefully defined exit strategies for foreign interventions have not been
a hallmark of our foreign policy in recent decades. Now they are -- and that makes sense for
America, for America's military and for the people we're trying to help.
I don't want to be doctrinaire in asserting an exit strategy doctrine. When it comes to
deterring external aggression -- as in the Persian Gulf or the Korean Peninsula -- or fighting wars
in defense of our most vital security interests, a more open-ended commitment is necessary. But
increasingly, our interests require that our military keep peace in the wake of internal conflicts.
For these operations to succeed, tightly tailored military missions and sharp withdrawal deadlines
must be the norm.
The logic is this: The first step is to give our Armed Forces a clear mission with
achievable military -- I repeat, military -- goals, as President Clinton did
in both Haiti and Bosnia. In Haiti, we asked our Armed Forces to return the elected government
to power and restore a secure climate so that civilians could train a police force, hold
elections and begin reconciliation. In Bosnia, our soldiers are overseeing the implementation of
the military side of the Dayton accords -- separating the armies, maintaining the cease-fire,
securing transferred territory -- while civilian authorities help the Bosnian people rebuild their
lives and their land. In both places, our troops are highly trained and heavily armed, with very
clear rules of engagement. And the Executive Branch and Congress are united in their
commitment to our military's goals and success, as they were in Operation Desert Storm.
Contrast these operations with Vietnam, Lebanon and Somalia. There, clear and
achievable missions for our military were not defined. In Vietnam, our society blamed our
soldiers for a defeat that was not theirs. Because we neglected to ask the right questions and
establish clear military goals from the start, our fighting men and women paid a terrible price, both
in Vietnam and on their return home. We must never put them in that position again. Never. It
just mustn''t happen.
The next step, then having defined clear military missions, is to set deadlines for
withdrawal based on the accomplishment of those missions. In Haiti, our military leaders
informed the President that our troops could complete their military tasks in about a year and a
half and in Bosnia in about one year -- and they will.
Here's why setting deadlines is so important:
Neither we nor the international community has either the responsibility or the means to
do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to rebuild nations. There are many reasons for this.
First, providing a security blanket for an indefinite period without making clear it's on loan
-- and not for keeps -- only gives those we are trying to help the comfort to believe that they can
evade their own responsibilities for the future of their own societies. It creates unreasonable
expectations that the hard work will be done for them not by them.
Second, assuming too much responsibility for a nation's future tends to undercut the very
government you are trying to help. In Vietnam, the more we assumed responsibility for a weak
Saigon administration, the more dependent it became -- and the more open to charges it was a
puppet regime beholden to foreigners. Unless you make clear that your mission is limited in
scope and duration, you risk de-legitimating a government in the eyes of its own people and you
will lose a conflict that is, at its heart, political, and not military.
Third, overstaying one's welcome ultimately breeds resentment of our presence and
provides an easy target for blame when things go wrong. And believe me, that target will be us.
By carefully defining the mission and clearly setting a deadline, we serve notice that our
only goal is to give governments and people the breathing room they must have to tackle their
own problems. This "tough love" policy may sound harsh to some. It may strike others as a
gamble. But consider the alternative: self-defeating efforts to take on responsibilities that are not
ours -- to create unsustainable dependencies instead of giving nations a chance to act
independently. It is a dangerous hubris to believe we can build other nations. But where our own
interests are engaged, we can help nations build themselves -- and give them time to make a start
I believe we can see the benefits of our exit strategy doctrine in Haiti and Bosnia.
Given the chance, the Haitian people quickly focused on the ballot, not the bullet; on
trade, not terror; on hope, not despair. In just a year and a half, with our civilian help, they have
completed presidential, parliamentary and local government elections; trained a police force, that
is as yet imperfect, but showing great progress. They have dramatically, despite problems,
improved the human rights situation and begun to reverse the economic decline of the coup years.
Haiti remains the poorest nation in the Americas. There is no guarantee democracy will take hold
or the economy will prosper. But its people now have a real chance to build a better future for
themselves and their children -- and for the U.S. forces who have acted in Haiti with such strength
and with such skill are leaving when we promised they would, we can say "mission
The same logic applies in Bosnia and the same opportunity lies before the people of
Bosnia. Its people understand they have a window of opportunity that our military opened and
will hold open for the remainder of this year to decide their future in peace: to freely choose their
own leaders in elections later this summer; to begin to rebuild their roads and schools, their
factories and their hospitals; to reunite children with their parents and families with their homes.
At the end of this year, when our troops leave, we can reasonably hope that the people of Bosnia
will have developed a greater stake in peace than war -- that peace will have taken on a life and
logic of its own. That is all that can be asked of us.
But let me make one point absolutely clear -- the breathing room our military is providing
in Haiti and Bosnia must be filled with the oxygen of economic reconstruction assistance. What
we call civilian implementation is the vital and necessary companion to any peacekeeping
operation. Our allies agree. That's why they are providing about 80 percent of the civilian
assistance for Haiti and for Bosnia. The sooner people in conflicted countries recover the
blessings of a normal life, the surer the chances our troops will leave behind them a legacy of
peace and hope as they are doing in Haiti.
That's why Congress should now un-freeze the modest amount of outstanding
development assistance for Haiti to fund primary education, child care and immunizations. They
should do it now. And that's why we are working with Congress on our request for $200 million
to assist civilian reconstruction in Bosnia -- money that will support economic revitalization and
reform, the deployment of international police monitors and our demining efforts. Money that is
In both Haiti and Bosnia, our Armed Forces are doing everything we have asked of them
-- and more. We should live up to their example on the civilian side in both the Executive branch
and Congress. Their missions will only succeed if we do so. Holding back the dollars we need
for relief and reconstruction doesn''t serve our soldiers, it doesn't
serve the people we're trying to
help and it doesn't serve our Nation's interests.
One of the great privileges of my job is to travel around the world and to see firsthand the
extraordinary respect our Nation now enjoys. People look to us for leadership not only because
of our size and our strength but also because of what we stand for -- and what, as today in the
Middle East, what we're willing to stand against. Now, perhaps more than any other time in our
history, America has a unique ability to make a difference for our own people and for people
around the world.
Our duty is to help use this power as wisely as possible -- to steer by the stars of our
interests and our ideals. As President Clinton has said, we can't be everywhere. We can't do
everything. But where those interests and ideals demand it -- and where we can make a difference
-- we must not hesitate to lead. We haven't -- and we won't.
You must not hesitate, either. Many of you here today are embarking, I hope, on careers
in foreign policy. Whether you do so as teachers or researchers, government officials or
journalists, you will have an opportunity to weigh in on the great foreign policy questions of our
time. Weigh in with passion, weigh in with argument -- but above all, weigh in. America needs to
hear your voices. It needs to feel your enthusiasm.
Right now, no question is more fundamental -- and no outcome more important -- than
America's role in the world. We can succeed, this is an absolute certainty, only if we continue to
lead -- not merely be engaged, but lead. That is the lesson of what has come to be called the
American Century. If we heed its call, we can remain a force for freedom and progress around
the world as we are today, and for real security and prosperity at home. And the next century will
be an American century, too. And the world will be a better place for it.
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