Skip Global Navigation to Main Content
Skip Breadcrumb Navigation
Official Text

Policy: "Preventive Defense"

In a famous 1837 lecture at Harvard, Ralph Waldo Emerson asked his audience, "If there is any period one would desire to be born in, is it not the age of Revolution, when the old and the new stand side by side, when the energies of all men are searched by fear and by hope, when the historic glories of the old can be compensated by the rich possibilities of the new?"

Like Emerson, we, too, live in an age of revolution: In politics, with the ending of the Cold War; in economics, with the dramatic growth in global trade; and in technology, with the continuing explosion of information systems. Today, we are living Emerson's desire in a revolutionary era of "rich possibilities," an era when our energies are "searched by fear and by hope." Our hope is symbolized by the success of democracy around the globe, by the growth of new global trade relationships, by the expansion of global communications, and by the explosion of information. Indeed, in this revolutionary new era, the term "closed society" is rapidly becoming obsolete. Even those states that still desire isolation find it increasingly difficult to achieve. Indeed, it is impossible to achieve if they want to reap the benefits of the global economy, as China discovered during the Tiananmen Square crackdown, when they could not control the fax machines and modems.

But along with this hope, our energies in this revolutionary era are also "searched by fear." Fear of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; fear of ethnic hatreds ripping asunder existing states; fear of terrorism by extremist groups; and fear of aggression by rogue nations freed from the constraints of their former Cold War alliances. For many, this revolutionary new era has meant a decreased sense of personal safety, symbolized by pictures of the bodies being carded from the Federal building in Oklahoma or of the gassed passengers rushing from a Tokyo subway.

The stark contrast between our hopes and our fears makes clear that this revolutionary new era is characterized by the increased capacity of humankind for good and for evil. It also makes clear that in addition to revolutions in politics, economics and technology, there must also be a revolution in our thinking about security strategy.

The security of the United States continues to require us to maintain strong military forces to deter and, if necessary, to defeat those who threaten our vital national interests -- and we do. But today, the United States also has a unique historical opportunity, the opportunity to prevent the conditions for conflict and to help create the conditions for peace. Today, I want to talk to you about how America's security policy in the post-Cold War era requires us to take advantage of that opportunity: to make "preventive defense" the first line of defense of America, with deterrence the second line of defense, and with military conflict the third and last resort.

Preventive defense may be thought of as analogous to preventive medicine. Preventive medicine creates the conditions which support health, making disease less likely and surgery unnecessary. Preventive defense creates the conditions which support peace, making war less likely and deterrence unnecessary.

Twice before in this century, America has had similar opportunities to prevent the conditions for conflict. After World War I, the United States had the opportunity to help prevent conflict by joining the League of Nations and engaging the world. Instead, we chose to isolate ourselves from the world. That strategy of isolationism, coupled with the Europeans' strategy of reparations and revenge, utterly failed to prevent the conditions for future conflict. In fact, it helped create them. And over 300,000 Americans paid with their lives in a second World War. After World War II, America was determined to learn from that costly lesson -- this time we chose the path of engagement. We sought to prevent conflict from recurring. Through our engagement in the United Nations and by our leadership, we promoted a post-war program of reconciliation and reconstruction, in sharp contrast to the reparation and revenge practiced after World War I. Our most dramatic national effort to prevent future conflict was announced at Harvard's 1947 commencement by George C. Marshall. It came to be called the Marshall Plan.

Marshall acted at a pivotal moment in this century. Like Emerson, Marshall saw America in a world standing between two eras, a period Marshall described as "between a war that is over and a peace that is not yet secure." At this pivotal moment, Marshall set forth a strategy of preventive defense. The soldier in Marshall wanted desperately to prevent war from recurring -- the statesman in Marshall found a way. His vision was of a Europe -- from the Atlantic to the Urals -- united in peace, freedom and democracy. His tool for realizing his vision was a plan for rebuilding a European continent that had been physically, economically and spiritually shattered by war.

The Marshall Plan rested on three premises: That what happens in Europe affects America; that economic reconstruction in Europe was critical to preventing another war; and that economic reconstruction of Europe would not happen without U.S. leadership. Acting on these premises, Marshall and his generation rebuilt Europe and they led America to assume the mantle of world leadership. Their preventive defense program was successful in creating the conditions of peace and stability wherever applied.

In the end, however, Marshall's vision was only half realized, because Joseph Stalin slammed the door on Marshall's offer of assistance. Within a matter of years, the world was divided into two armed camps. And deterrence, not prevention, became the overarching security strategy of the Cold War. While geopolitics doomed Marshall's efforts at preventive security for Europe, the technology of nuclear weapons made a global war too terrible to contemplate -- so deterrence worked. Now, after more than 40 dangerous years of the nuclear balance of terror, the Cold War is over.

Today, we are at another pivotal moment in history, a point between two centuries -- a point between a Cold War that is over and a peace that is not yet secure. Today, the world does not need another Marshall Plan. But to ensure that it is our hopes and not our fears that will be realized in this revolutionary age, we do need to build on Marshall's core belief that the United States must remain a global power, and that our best security policy is one which prevents conflict.

Just as the Marshall Plan was based on a set of premises, so today our program of preventive defense rests on its own set of premises. First, that fewer weapons of mass destruction in fewer hands makes America and the world safer. Second, that more democracy in more nations means less chance of conflict in the world. And third, that defense establishments have an important role to play in building democracy, trust and understanding in and among nations.

From these premises follows the conclusion that for the post Cold War world to be one of peace, and not conflict, America must lead the world in preventing the conditions for conflict and in creating the conditions for peace. In short, we must lead with a policy of preventive defense. So we have created an innovative set of programs in the Defense Department to do just that -- some national, some international. They include: The Cooperative Threat Reduction program to reduce the nuclear weapon complex of the nuclear nations of the former Soviet Union; the counter-proliferation program to deal with the threat of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; the Framework Agreement to eliminate the nuclear weapons program of North Korea; and the Partnership for Peace to begin the integration of 27 nations of Eastern and Central Europe and Central Asia into the European security structure. I will describe the progress in some of these programs, and how they are, in fact, creating conditions which prevent conflict.

Nowhere is preventive defense more important than in countering the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. During the Cold War, the world lived with the nightmare prospect of global nuclear holocaust, and the United States and the Soviet Union relied on deterrence, a balance of terror known as Mutual Assured Destruction, or MAD. Today, the threat of global nuclear holocaust is vastly reduced, but we face the new danger that weapons of mass destruction will fall into the hands of terrorist groups or rogue states. The threat of retaliation may not matter much to a terrorist group or a rogue nation -- deterrence may not work with them. This new class of "undeterrables" may be madder than MAD.

The aspiration of these rogue nations to obtain weapons of mass destruction is set against the backdrop of the disintegration of the former Soviet Union. This disintegration meant that instead of one nuclear empire, we were left with four new states, each with nuclear weapons on their soil: Russia, Kazakstan, Ukraine, and Belarus. The depressed economies of these nations created a buyer's market for weapons of mass destruction, including the materials, infrastructure, and work-force, and the unsettled political conditions made it potentially harder to protect those weapons and materials.

The increase in demand for nuclear weapons, and the potential increase in supply of weapons, material and know-how have required us to augment our Cold War strategy of deterrence with a post-Cold War strategy of prevention. The most effective way to prevent proliferation is to dismantle the arsenals that already exist. Fortunately, through our Cooperative Threat Reduction program with Russia and the other nuclear states of the former Soviet Union, we have the dismantlement well started. Through a defense program created by Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar, we have helped Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakstan dismantle thousands of nuclear warheads and destroy hundreds of missiles, bombers and silos. This January, I personally detonated an SS-19 silo at Pervomaysk, which once had 700 nuclear warheads aimed at targets in the United States. By the end of the month, this missile field will have been converted to a wheat field. By the end of the year, Kazakstan, Ukraine and Belarus will be entirely free of nuclear weapons. We are also using Nunn-Lugar funds to help these nations safeguard and secure the weapons and materials to keep them out of the global marketplace. Under Project Sapphire, for example, we bought 600 kg of highly enriched uranium from Kazakstan to ensure that it did not fall into the hands of nuclear smugglers.

But preventing proliferation means more than just dismantling the Cold War nuclear arsenals. It also means leading the world in the right direction, as we did last year in gaining a consensus for the indefinite extension of the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty. It means working to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention and ratifying the Chemical Weapons Convention. It means taking the lead in a range of international export controls to limit the flow of goods and technologies that could be used to make weapons of mass destruction. During the Cold War, for example, we had the COCOM regime of export controls, designed to prevent the spread of dangerous technologies to the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc. Today, we are creating the Wassenaar regime, set-up in cooperation with Russia, updated to fit today's technology and designed to prevent the spread of dangerous technologies to potential proliferators and rogue regimes.

Preventing proliferation also means leading the international community in opposing rogue nations with nuclear and/or chemical weapon aspirations, such as Iran and Libya. Economic sanctions and export controls have helped prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and they have significantly slowed Libya's efforts to put a chemical weapons production plant into operation. Sometimes preventing proliferation means employing "coercive diplomacy" -- a combination of diplomacy and defense measures. In North Korea, for example, we used such a combination to stop that nation's nuclear weapons program. The diplomacy came from the threat by the United States and other nations in the region to impose economic sanctions if North Korea did not stop their program and the promise of assistance in the production of commercial power if they did. The defense came from our simultaneous beefing up of our military forces in the region. The result is that today, while North Korea continues to pose a conventional military threat on the peninsula, it is not mounting a nuclear threat.

Overall, the United States has been instrumental in eliminating or reversing nuclear weapon programs in six states since 1991: Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakstan, Iraq, North Korea and South Africa. These efforts have made both America and the world safer; and the gains to our national security have been dramatic, direct and tangible. I can think of few more satisfying moments in my life than when I turned the key to blow up that missile silo in Pervomaysk.

But the story of preventive defense is not merely one of preventing threats from weapons of mass destruction. It is also the story of engaging military and defense establishments around the world to further the spread of democracy and to further trust and understanding among nations. Here, the results may be less immediately tangible, but they are no less significant.

America has long understood that the spread of democracy to more nations is good for America's national security. It has been heartening this past decade to see so many nations around the world come to agree with us that democracy is the best system of government. But as the nations of the world attempt to act on this consensus, we are seeing that there are important steps between a world-wide consensus and a world-wide reality. Democracy is learned behavior. Many nations today have democracies that exist on paper, but, in fact, are extremely fragile. Elections are a necessary but insufficient condition for a free society. It is also necessary to embed democratic values in the key institutions of nations.

The Defense Department has a key role to play in this effort. It is a simple fact that virtually every country in the world has a military. In virtually every new democracy -- in Russia, in the newly free nations of the Former Soviet Union, in Central and Eastern Europe, in South America, in the Asian Tigers -- the military represents a major force. In many cases it is the most cohesive institution. It often contains a large percentage of the educated elite and controls key resources. In short, it is an institution that can help support democracy or subvert it.

We must recognize that each society moving from totalitarianism to democracy will be tested at some point by a crisis. It could be an economic crisis, a backslide on human rights and freedoms, or a border or ethnic dispute with a neighboring country. When such a crisis occurs, we want the military to play a positive role in resolving the crisis, not a negative role by fanning the flames of the crisis -- or even using the crisis as a pretext for a military coup.

In these new democracies, we can choose to ignore this important institution, or we can try to exert a positive influence. We do have the ability to influence, indeed, every military in the world looks to the U.S. armed forces as the model to be emulated. That is a valuable bit of leverage that we can put to use creatively in our preventive defense strategy.

In addition, if we can build trust and understanding between the militaries of two neighboring nations, we build trust and understanding between the two nations themselves. Some have said that "war is too important to be left solely to the generals." Preventive defense says "peace is too important to be left solely to the politicians."

In this effort, preventive defense uses a variety of tools, such as educating foreign officers at our military staff and command colleges, where they learn how to operate in a democratic society and how to operate under civilian control and with legislative oversight. Over 200 officers from the Former Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries are right now studying at U.S. institutions, and another 60 are about to complete a special course we have set up at the Marshall Center in Germany.

Another tool is sending out teams of American military officers and civilians to help nations build modern, professional military establishments under strong civilian defense leadership. Since 1992, these teams have had thousands of contacts with dozens of newly-free nations. These contacts have led Hungary, for example, to enact new laws placing the Hungarian military under civilian, democratic control. They have helped Romania develop a new code of conduct for their military forces based on the American military's Uniform Code of Military Justice. They have helped Lithuania, Kazakstan, and Uzbekistan to improve their training for Non-Commissioned Officers.

We also use tools such as joint training exercises in peacekeeping, disaster relief and search and rescue operations. We have held four such training exercises in the last year with Russian troops -- two in Russia and two in the U.S. We also held a joint peacekeeping exercise in Louisiana last July, involving troops from 14 nations with whom we had never had security relations, including Albania and Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, Uzbekistan and Kazakstan, and all three Baltic nations. Next month, I will meet up with the ministers of defense from Ukraine, Russia, Poland and other nations for the opening ceremonies of an exercise in Lviv, Ukraine.

Confidence-building measures are another important tool, particularly in building trust between countries. One of the most important confidence building measures is developing openness about military budgets, plans and policies. Openness is an unusual concept when it comes to defense. The art of war, after all, involves secrecy and surprise, but the art of peace involves exactly the opposite -- openness and trust. That's why when I travel to newly democratic states, I try to set an example by handing out copies of my annual report to Congress, which details our defense budget and our security policies. I also talk about legislative oversight and our budget process. These concepts seem elementary to you and me, but to military officers and defense officials who grew up under totalitarianism, they are positively revolutionary.

In Europe and Central Asia, these tools of preventive defense come together in a NATO program known as Partnership for Peace, or PFP. The name "Partnership for Peace" was coined by Joe Kruzel, a former fellow at the Center for Science and International Affairs (at Harvard) we honor today, who died while working for peace in Bosnia last August.

Through Partnership for Peace, NATO is reaching out to the nations of Eastern and Central Europe, Russia and the Newly Independent States, and truly integrating them into the security architecture of Europe. It used to be when the Secretary of Defense went to meetings at NATO headquarters in Belgium, he sat next to his counterpart from the United Kingdom. Today, when I go to meetings in Belgium, I sit with my counterpart from Uzbekistan on one side and the ministers from the United Kingdom and Ukraine on the other.

Just as the Marshall Plan had an impact well beyond the economies of Western Europe, PFP is echoing beyond the security realm in Partner nations and into the political and economic realms. PFP members are working to uphold democracy, tolerate diversity, respect the rights of minorities and freedom of expression. They are working to build market economies. They are working hard to develop democratic control of their military forces, to be good neighbors and to respect the sovereign rights of bordering countries. They are working hard to make their military forces compatible with NATO.

For those Partner countries that are embracing PFP as a path to NATO membership, these actions are a key to opening that door. For many of these nations, aspiration to NATO membership has become the rock on which all major political parties base their platforms. It is providing an overlapping consensus on a unifying goal, making compromise and reconciliation on other issues possible. To lock in the gains of reform, NATO must ensure that the ties we are creating in PFP continue to deepen and that we actually proceed with the gradual and deliberate, but steady process of outreach and enlargement to the East.

Ultimately, PFP is doing more than just building the basis for NATO enlargement. It is, in fact, creating a new zone of security and stability throughout Europe, Russia and the NIS. By forging networks of people and institutions working together to preserve freedom, promote democracy and build free markets, PFP today is a catalyst for transforming Central and Eastern Europe, much as the Marshall Plan transformed Western Europe in the `40s and `50s. In short, PFP is not just "defense by other means," it is "democracy by other means;" it is helping prevent the realization of our fears for the post-Cold War era and taking us closer to realizing our hopes.

One of these hopes is that Russia will participate in a positive way in the new security architecture of Europe. Russia has been a key part of the European security picture for over 300 years. It will remain a key player in the coming decades, for better or worse. The job for the United States, NATO and Russia is to make it for the better. Unlike with the Marshall Plan 50 years ago, Russia today has chosen to participate in Partnership for Peace. We welcome Russia's participation, and hope that over time it will take on a leading role in PFP commensurate with its importance as a great power.

NATO's efforts to build cooperative ties with Russia complement the bilateral efforts of the United States and Russia to build what we call a "pragmatic partnership" -- another piece of preventive defense. The pragmatic partnership involves working with Russia in important areas where our interests overlap, such as Nunn-Lugar; while trying to build trust and cooperation through such things as military exchanges and joint exercises.

The immediate payoff for our joint training with the PFP nations and our efforts to build a cooperative relationship with Russia has come, ironically, in Bosnia. Up until late last year, to say that "the future history of Europe is being written in Bosnia," would have been a profoundly pessimistic statement. Today, however, this statement qualifies as guarded optimism; not only because there is satisfactory compliance with the Dayton peace agreement, but because of the way IFOR has been put together and because of the way it is performing. IFOR is not a peacekeeping exercise - it is the real thing. Fourteen Partner nations have joined NATO nations in shouldering the responsibility in IFOR. A Russian brigade is operating as part of an American division in IFOR -- the top Russian commander in Bosnia, General Shevtsov, visited your Center for Science and International Affairs just last week. NATO itself has a renewed sense of purpose and sense of its own ability to put together a force for a post-Cold War military mission. This is all positive history, and it shows why I believe that Bosnia is turning out to be the crucible for the creation of Marshall's Europe.

We are also seeking to use the tools of preventive defense to prevent the occurrence of future Bosnias. Last month, I attended a conference of ministers of defense in Tirana, Albania, directed to the specific military cooperation and confidence-building measures that would be most effective in building peace and stability in the South Balkans. The enthusiasm of these leaders for the tools of preventive defense made me very hopeful that we can be effective in preventing future conflict in this famously troubled region.

Our hopes for democracy and regional understanding and our opportunities to support them through the tools of preventive defense are not confined to Europe. We have these same hopes and opportunities here in our own Hemisphere. Ten years ago, Latin America was made up mostly of dictatorships, but today, 34 nations in our hemisphere -- all the nations save one are democracies. I have tried to seize this opportunity by opening relationships with the defense ministries of these countries. Our efforts came to a climax last summer when I invited the defense ministers from the other 33 hemispheric democracies to join me at Williamsburg, Virginia, to discuss confidence-building measures and defense cooperation designed to minimize the risk of conflict in the hemisphere. The conference was a resounding success. As a result, today we are not only seeing increased cooperation between the U.S. and Latin American militaries, we are also seeing cooperation between and among the Latin American militaries themselves -- with renewed efforts to resolve outstanding disputes peacefully and create new levels of confidence. A second hemispheric ministerial meeting is scheduled to be held in Argentina this fall.

Preventive defense also has a role in our effort to manage our relationship with China. We are using some of these same tools to build cooperative security ties between the United States and China. We do this not because China is a new democracy -- it obviously is not. Rather, we do it because China is a major world power with whom we share important interests, with whom we have strong disagreements, and which has a powerful military that has significant influence on the policies that China follows. We do it, ultimately, because we believe when it comes to strategic intentions, engagement is almost always better than ignorance.

That is why we have sent teams to China to present our strategic thinking, and have invited the Chinese to reciprocate. It is why we are encouraging exchanges between academic institutions within our military structures. And it is why we have conducted reciprocal ship visits and tours by senior officers. In the best case, engaging China's military will allow us to have a positive influence on this important player in Chinese politics, opening the way for Chinese cooperation on proliferation and regional security issues. At the very least, engagement between our two military establishments will improve our understanding of each other, thus lowering the chances for miscalculation and conflict.

What makes preventive defense work -- whether it is in Russia, Europe, the Balkans, Latin America, or China -- is American leadership. There is no other country in the world with the ability to reach out to so many corners of the globe. There is no other country in the world whose efforts to do so are so respected. At the same time, no one should think that preventive defense is a philanthropic venture -- it is not. It's about hard work and ingenuity today, so that we don't have to expend blood and treasure tomorrow.

While preventive defense holds great promise for preventing conflict, we must appreciate that it is a strategy for influencing the world -- not compelling it to our will. We must frankly and soberly acknowledge that preventive defense will not always work. That is why as Secretary of Defense, my top priority is still maintaining strong, ready forces and the will to use them to deter and defeat threats to our interests. We still maintain a smaller but still highly effective nuclear arsenal. We have a robust, threat-based, ballistic missile defense program. We maintain the best conventional forces in the world, many of which are forward-deployed in both Europe and the Asia-Pacific, and we continue to maximize our technological advantage over any potential foe, giving us dominance on any battlefield in the world. These forces and capabilities, coupled with the political will to use them, allow the United States to be very effective at deterring conflict around the world. These same capabilities and forces mean that if we cannot prevent or deter conflict, we can defeat aggression quickly and with a minimum of casualties.

The converse is also true. If we can prevent the conditions for conflict, we reduce the risk of having to send our forces into harm's way to deter or defeat aggression. The pivotal role of preventive defense, however, is not widely known to the public. Indeed, it is not well understood even by national security experts. The same was true, in fact, about the Marshall Plan in its early days. The Marshall Plan did not arise full grown like Venus from the shell. Indeed, George Marshall often maintained that when he gave his speech at Harvard in 1947, he did not present a "Marshall Plan." He said, instead, that it was a proposal, but he did not simply offer his proposal and go home. Marshall the statesman was a visionary man, but Marshall the soldier was also a practical man. As a practical man, he recognized that in a democracy, no national proposal, especially one involving U.S. engagement in the world, becomes a reality unless you can win public support. The Marshall proposal became the Marshall Plan because George Marshall spent the next year going directly to the public and seeking its support.

Today, I am not issuing a proposal for preventive defense, but rather a report on how it is already shaping our world and the world of future generations in a positive way. But in order for preventive defense to succeed as an approach to national security, we, too, need to convince the American people. We need to convince America that at this pivotal point in history, as we seek to realize our fondest hopes for the revolutionary era in which we live, our engagement with the world and the programs supporting preventive defense are critical to our security. I have chosen the Kennedy School to present my thoughts on preventive defense because as scholars, the students and faculty here are uniquely equipped to understand what is at stake when we talk about preventive defense. As leaders and future policy makers, you are also uniquely equipped to explain the benefits of preventive defense to the American public and to take the concepts I have talked about today and expand upon them in your own careers. I urge you to do so.