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U.S. Department of State

Department Seal Under Secretary of State Thomas Pickering
Address to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, February 10, 1999

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As delivered

Thank you very much for that kind introduction. It is a privilege for me to be here tonight at West Point. Generations of great American leaders have passed through these halls, exercised on these fields, and perhaps thought about the future here along the Hudson River. For nearly two centuries, the Corps of Cadets has awakened to 6 a.m. reveilles, and day by challenging day, developed the intellectual, physical and moral strengths of leadership. The very commitment of the Corps of Cadets to "Duty, Honor, Country" shapes character even as it ennobles our great nation.

I am happy to be here tonight and even more pleased to talk to you about a growing partnership with you. As soldiers and diplomats, we work together to defend the interests of the United States in very many ways, and with much more impact on each other than our public ever realizes.

I have no doubt that in this room today are men and women who will join the ranks of the U.S. Military Academy's most distinguished graduates. Each of you will help to shape history. Will you do so in the same way as your predecessors? Probably not, because each generation faces a different set of challenges, opportunities, and sacrifices, from Bunker Hill to Belgium's Flanders fields, from Baghdad to Bosnia. Leadership and character will mark your actions. But the circumstances in which you act will change in unpredictable ways.

The same is true for diplomats. Forty-six years ago, I attended a conference here that helped shape my decision to become a Foreign Service Officer. I began my career during the Cold War, when America's role in the world was largely determined by twin battles: the battle to expand and defend freedom and the battle to contain communism. The U.S. won on both fronts, due in large measure to the outstanding partnership between soldiers and diplomats.

The partnership, however, is not guaranteed always to be smooth - we are perhaps a bit like siblings in some respects. But together we have dedicated ourselves to steering the world to a better place and to giving Americans a safer, more prosperous future.

Our missions are quite different in many respects. A soldier prepares to fight and win a war -- and that state of readiness in itself helps diminish the prospect of military operation. A diplomat is always involved in operations, in problems beyond our borders, in a state of constant action, working to resolve today's disputes and balancing the myriad and sometimes conflicting economic, political and security interests of the U.S. In simple terms, if we fail, you sometimes have very hard work to do. If we succeed, human lives and hardware are preserved. But we cannot succeed without your strength to back up our diplomacy. This is the nature of our partnership in the country's interests.

What will our joint tasks be in the coming years and decades? We carry out our missions in a dramatically different geopolitical environment from the one in which I and most of your instructors were raised. That change of circumstances has left us with two questions to answer: (1) when and where should the U.S. be engaged and, (2) if U.S. engagement progresses to the point where we must be prepared to use military force, how is that force justified?

The Altered Security Environment

During the Cold War, countries were often reluctant to pursue political goals that were not shared by one of the super powers. Often conflicts were muted behind the Iron Curtain, or were allowed to play out in venues that did not directly affect the vital interests of the other side. Some ethnic conflicts were suppressed in the Cold War; others exploited.

In the euphoria that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall and near international unanimity during the Gulf War, many hoped that conflicts would decrease. The reasoning was that since the superpower rivalry had fueled conflicts, countries would now be more willing to work together and conflicts would be fewer and more quickly resolved, if not disappear.

This proved to be a false hope. First, the premise that superpowers were primary factors in regional and civil conflicts defied history. During the span of the Cold War, there were civil wars in some 19 states. In just the early '90's after the Berlin Wall fell, there were nearly the same number of within-border conflicts. We know from our own painful history how bloody civil wars are, and those of the post-Cold War period have been as destructive and destabilizing as any in history.

The repugnance of war - civil or cross border - fed hopes that it would somehow disappear in a "new world order." The theologian Reinhold Neibuhr was a pacifist until the rise of Nazism when he realized the necessity for the use of force. "Pacifists...." he said, "merely assert that if only men loved one another, all the complex, and sometimes horrible, realities of the political order could be dispensed with. They do not see that their 'if' begs the most basic problem of human history. ... justice can be achieved only by a certain degree of coercion on the one hand, and by resistance to coercion on the other hand."

The Cold War placed a certain constraint on some actions and actors. Without that constraint, many countries have felt freer to pursue their interests. Some have felt free to use force to do so. Conflicts have erupted in the Balkans, the Gulf, Africa and elsewhere. In many cases, the conflicts were started by bad actors - certainly Saddam Hussein and Slovodan Milosevic, in defying the international system, have lived up to their labels as "rogues." Despite the clear post-Cold War trend toward greater international cooperation, such people break the norms of legal and moral behavior and dare the world to take them on. In these cases, where significant U.S. interests are at stake, the U.S. has had to ratchet up quickly from an exclusive reliance on traditional diplomacy, to diplomacy backed by the credible threat of force, and ultimately to the actual use of force.

Globalization is a second factor that has developed dramatically over the last half-century. The information and technological revolutions have tied countries more closely together than at any time in history. This has provided enormous economic growth for Americans and for people in most corners of the world. But it also means that U.S. interests are more diverse and dispersed. It means we are more engaged in, and, yes, dependent upon, the world community.

Where and How the U.S. Should Engage

The question of when to engage - politically or militarily - is an absolutely key issue. Whether the problem is military conflict or major economic and social disruption, as a world leader, we must meet the responsibilities of our national and international interests. Neither we, our allies, nor any regional or international organization has the ability to intervene in every instance. Yet, there are clear moral dilemmas in choosing to help in some situations and to allow suffering to continue in others.

Determining where our national interest lies would seem to offer a defining criteria for making these decisions. Defending the United States is, after all, the honorable task which you and I are so munificently paid by the taxpayers to carry out. But in a world knit so closely together politically, economically, and (thanks to the jet age and telecommunications revolution) geographically, it is harder to draw a line and identify where U.S. interests begin and end. A conflict that boils out of control in one part of the world can injure our economy or limit our access to natural resources. Diseases, narcotics and terrorists, which proliferate in areas of unrest, travel all too easily across borders. From their inception in the troubles of a far-away land, they can quickly have a direct, lethal impact on Americans. Do we deal with them while they are far from our borders and prevent their spread? Do we wait until friends, allies and markets are infected? Or do we only do battle at the water's edge?

Even when we know we must engage, we must consider carefully when and how we get involved. American diplomats, by the very definition of our job, are involved already in virtually every country, to one degree or another. We are working on a wide range of problems -- from gaining international consensus on a trade or treaty issue; combating crime, drugs and environmental degradation; to aiding Americans overseas; facilitating an end to hostilities; to promoting human rights and the rule of law; or helping a nation struck by natural disaster. The U.S. is in this fashion already involved, if not engaged, everywhere. Diplomats, like businesses and non-governmental organizations, tend to these concerns on a daily basis. The difficult question is determining the degree to which we take the lead in resolving the problem.

With the shift to more pluralistic concerns, there is genuine soul-searching within the U.S. about where to get significantly involved. The decision does not rest solely with those of us in the Executive Branch, but with Congress and ultimately the American people. In our special role, America is often asked to address all issues. The fact is that our interests are vast. Furthermore, there are reasons for, and a tradition of, U.S. engagement beyond our specific national interests. The United States is a country that acts on principle as well as pragmatism. The TV camera touches our idealism and compassion. The nightly news, right in our living rooms, has created what one might call a "globalization of concern."

Americans are naturally generous people who like to fix problems. They cannot ignore the strife and suffering they see on television, but are also uncertain of when they want their government to get involved and at what price. Or to say it another way, they see the need for us to become involved, but want it to be at a very low price in blood and treasure. Experience shows that there are no hard-and-fast doctrines that give us an easy answer on involvement. Often we are united ultimately when the President, taking the lead, brings the Congress and the people together around the tasks of our engagement.

Perhaps most difficult for us to sort through are situations where military force has become essential to restoring order. Happily, these are not the norm. Unhappily, they appear to be growing in number, and they occupy more of our leaders' time and focus.

Use of Military Force

Decisions about whether and how to use or threaten military force have become more complicated in the post-Cold War period. National interests are the natural starting point for any such decision. But we have resisted in the past the danger of defining our national interests narrowly, and in today's interconnected world we surely cannot afford to do so. Rather than the clear danger of Warsaw Pact divisions pouring through the Fulda Gap into Germany, we face messy, complex problems such as Bosnia and Kosovo in the Balkans. The danger comes from conflicts spilling across boundaries and displaced persons surging across frontiers undermining neighboring states and destroying regional stability. Problems such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction complicate further the issue of the use of military force. These problems require a broader view of our national interests and confront us more often with serious decisions about intervention.

One key issue before us is when we use military force to back up our diplomacy and how we pair military force and diplomacy. Most problems among nations are solved by straight-up diplomacy. Sometimes this comes in company with "benign force" -- that is, peacekeeping or the possibility of the use of force that is inherent in our national strength and readiness. Speak softly and carry a big stick, as Teddy Roosevelt said. In those situations, soldiers and diplomats naturally complement one another - the soldier prepares for war, his readiness deters aggressors, and both, in turn, strengthen the diplomats' hand in building a lasting and effective political settlement.

The most difficult situations are those that require using military force. In facing them, military and civilian leaders need to combine their expertise and counsel to determine the best course of action. Essentially, we have four tools at our disposal. The first is the threat of force. But, to be effective, a threat of force only should be used when very significant U.S. interests require and when there is the political will to carry out the threat. Applied in that fashion, the threat of force can be very effective. In Kosovo, for example, NATO's activation orders have brought the parties back from the brink and put pressure on them to negotiate a peaceful settlement. Just last weekend, their presence in the equation helped to convince the Serbs that the Kosovo Albanians had to be allowed to get to the talks in Paris.

When the threat of military force does not suffice, the U.S. can act unilaterally; it can act with its partners in regional organizations, most prominently NATO; or it can act within a coalition of the willing, as during the Gulf War under UN auspices. Each of these approaches has advantages, and each is appropriate in different circumstances.

Generally speaking, it is easier to legitimate action that is taken with others. While the U.S. will never under any circumstances renounce its right to act alone, we clearly face less criticism when we act with others and gain greater practical and political support. Joint action tends to isolate the aggressor; whereas, unilateral action carries with it the danger that the country or group acted against gains sympathy from others in the international community. On the other hand, a multilateral engagement takes longer to put together and is more complicated to carry out. In your careers, I suspect you will find yourselves increasingly part of coalition efforts, and I salute the Army's attention to international relations and cultural understanding in your curriculum to prepare you for this. At the same time, the burden of international peace and stability must be shared and we continue to urge our friends and allies to build up their capabilities.

We have looked at the ways in which diplomacy and military force work in harmony from both ends of the scale. That is, from basic diplomatic, economic and assistance actions at one end, to the far end of the scale where actual use of military force is required to achieve U.S. goals. There is a second question: what is the mandate or basis for using force.

Mandates and Basis for Use of Force

One mark of a great civilization is that it does not use military force lightly. We value life. As the international system has developed, so have the norms and laws that guide the use of force. The UN charter provides several possibilities for use of military force, including Article 51, which provides for individual and collective self-defense. Two other justifications require Security Council approval and are therefore subject to veto by any of the five permanent members. Under Chapter VII of the Charter, force is justified to maintain and restore international peace and security when the Security Council approves it, and under Article 53, the Security Council authorizes enforcement actions of regional organizations. Forces can also be deployed in cases where the relevant parties have provided their consent, such as often occurs in peace operations.

During the Cold War, the question of legal justification was not often posed by our adversaries - or perhaps it is more accurate to say that whether it was posed or not, not all countries were likely to refrain from military force because of uncertainty over the legality of their actions. Deterrence as a doctrine helped to rule out the use of force by our adversaries in some instances. In other cases, the West saw the use of force as an act of self-defense. However, there is an increasing desire now, especially in the West, to be certain of clear authority before acting. We can see this most clearly within NATO, where some of our Allies have argued that a UN mandate is always necessary when NATO acts outside its territory. The U.S. and other allies disagree. The U.S. believes that the right to deploy forces in such areas as the Balkans depends on an evaluation of all the circumstances, including whether there is a direct risk to Treaty members. For example, individual or collective self-defense is appropriate against an aggressor who has used force against others AND when there are important national interests at stake. NATO members have the right to act in accordance with their obligations under the Washington Treaty. Were we limited to taking action only under express Security Council approval, we would effectively give Russia and China a veto over all such NATO actions. That is unacceptable. In our view, the United States and its NATO Allies must decide when it is appropriate to use force to defend the Alliance.

In this new security environment, we face serious questions, particularly when military force is used to intervene in an internal conflict. Such questions include whether an alliance must wait until its members' territory is directly attacked or whether it might exercise the use of force as part of preventive diplomacy. Our Allies' interest in intervening in humanitarian crises is also under review, with some seeking a new standard that would call for the use of force for this purpose. Another potential justification for force would be against rogue states or near-rogue states that use force first, such as Iraq against Kuwait or Milosevic inside Serbia against Kosovo Albanians, in a manner contrary to international legal norms. In these cases, while it has been a struggle, the UN Security Council often has taken steps and called for action. So too has NATO on the basis of its own commitments in the Washington Treaty.

The Way Forward

In the midst of these debates, international engagement may look hopelessly complex. But this debate is both healthy and necessary. We have entered a new stage in our history and it is appropriate that we carefully review national interests, resources, and political will, as well as consider the ethical and legal bases for our actions.

As students of this military academy well know, West Point's reputation for excellence is in no small part connected to its flexibility in adapting its program to shifting security interests. Thus, while West Point began as a pioneer in civil and military engineering, it has also expanded its focus, while maintaining its excellence, to meet two centuries worth of new challenges.

Looking further back in history, Western thinkers have always devoted serious attention to the use of military force. The early Christians from both the West and East tended to be pacifists while they were in the minority; the majority non-Christians fought the wars. By the fourth century, when Christians were the majority, St. Augustine became alarmed by attacks on the Roman Empire. He felt that force was justified to combat a greater evil. His theory of the just war has reverberated through the centuries and continues to shape society's thought on when and in what manner the use of force is justified. The historical situation had changed and Augustine helped to shape the reaction to this change.

In the twentieth century, we again have modified our views on force, particularly in response to technological change. Aircraft brought civilians into war in unprecedented ways. Similarly, the nuclear age, with its reliance on the deterrent effect of mutually assured destruction provoked debate, with opponents arguing that no weapon of such destructive effect could be moral, and advocates pointing out that nuclear deterrence let us avoid evil only by making very clear the threat of its employment.

At the close of this century, the security situation has again shifted, this time as a result of political and economic change. With the end of the Cold War, the threat of massive nuclear war has receded. At the same time, the world has become ever more closely tied together, such that U.S. interests are vast and disruptions in almost any corner of the world - whether economic, political or military - affect us significantly. Ironically, we remain enormously powerful, yet our power -- and by power I refer to our military, political, social, and economic strength -- does not discourage all aggressors nor is it sufficient to solve all problems. In this environment, we naturally debate how to use our power to pursue and defend our national interests. That large national question has institutional ramifications, too, as soldiers and diplomats adopt roles different from those of even our recent predecessors. I know that is a source of both fascination and frustration among diplomats and believe the same is true among soldiers. What I would ask of you as you advance in your careers is to maintain the dialogue. Defense and diplomacy are intimately related and the very best moments in U.S. history are the moments of our cooperation. While we are trained differently, have different tasks and work in different institutional cultures, we have the same goals. We are increasingly brought together and must understand each other. Some chafing and competition is as natural as that between the armed services. Was there any joy greater than defeating Navy in both men's AND women's football this year?

What soldiers and diplomats share is patriotism. We have in common a great love for this country, a desire to serve and a commitment to excellence. That is common ground to join our diverse skills in service to the nation, as we work and debate together America's role in the world and the application of its diplomatic skills and military power. The world clearly relies on American leadership. While there is burden in that responsibility, leadership also carries with it the great opportunity to shape the world in defense of our security, values, and interests. I look forward to working with you!

[End of Document]

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