Managing Conflict in the Post-Cold War Era
by William Perry
Summary written by: Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium
Citation: "Managing Conflict in the Post-Cold War Era," in Managing Conflict in the Post-Cold War World: The Role of Intervention. Report of the Aspen Institute Conference, August 2-6, 1995, (Aspen, Colorado: Aspen Institute, 1996) pp. 55-61.
U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry spoke to the conference on the prevention and deterrence of military conflicts.
Perry outlined three categories of military conflict. First is worldwide military conflict. Second are smaller regional conflicts. Last are communal conflicts, driven by ethnic or religious differences. Perry argued that the preventative approach is the best approach to managing military conflict. This approach seeks to "prevent conditions which provoke conflict"[p. 56] Deterrence via threat of military conflict is the next best method after prevention. Finally, when both prevention and deterrence fail, military force must be used.
Perry refers to prevention as "defense by other means." He argues that the notion of national defense ought to be expanded from the narrow military notion to include preventative activities. As Secretary of Defense, Perry has taken many preventative steps. He mentioned, for example, the Nunn-Lugar programs in the Defense Department. Under these programs, the U.S. has helped the former Soviet states disarm and dispose of their nuclear arsenal. The U.S. has also engaged in cooperative redevelopment with those states, helping them to convert their arms industry into commercial uses.
Incorporating Eastern and Central Europe into the existing security structure of Europe represents another preventative step. The "Partnership for Peace" program, sponsored by NATO, has created closer cooperation with former Warsaw Pact nations. Other preventative actions include controlling proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; for example by extending the Non-Proliferation Treaty and maintaining old and creating new alliances.
Perry observed that such successful prevention measures tend to get little press coverage, while their failure is often much more dramatic.
When is not possible or has failed, deterrence may be employed. Threats must be backed by strong political will to be effective. This is the key to key to successful deterrence. Perry described two failed attempts at deterrence: North Korea and Iraq, in 1990. Perry attributes both failures to the aggressor nation's doubt about the American resolve to use force. Successful uses of deterrence, for example the Cold War and Iraq in 1994, hinged on the credibility of the deterring nations' threats. Perry recommended that nations should establish regional conflict deterrence structures comparable to the global deterrence strategy of the Cold War.
When neither prevention nor deterrence have worked, nations may resort to force. The goal of force-based conflict management is "to prevail as quickly as possible and with minimum casualties."[p. 58] To this end, the intervening nation must have troops at the ready, forward deployed. The U.S. has such forces. In response to the question of when such forces should be deployed, Perry answered, when "the survivability of the United States or U.S. allies is threatened--by military force, by economic strangulation, or by the threat of nuclear weapons."[p. 58] The unfolding Bosnia crisis offers both a practical question and a case study in intervention. Perry argued that nations should have given peace enforcement duties to NATO in 1992, rather than the UN. Nonetheless the international community cannot now withdraw. Withdrawal itself would be risky and shameful and would end needed humanitarian aid. It would probably result in Bosnian loss of Gorazde, Sarajevo, and Tuzla, before Bosnia could adequately arm themselves.
Perry stressed that there is no military solution to Bosnian crisis. The solution to the Bosnian situation requires a negotiated peace settlement. Military action will only be successful if it promotes such a settlement.
In closing, Perry noted that the very fact that communal conflicts are now the highest profile military conflicts marks a kind of success in conflict prevention. Global and regional conflicts, were they to occur, would be much more devastating than communal conflicts. Yet global and regional conflicts have been successfully prevented or deterred. This is due in large part to America's ready and effective military, and its strong alliances. Perry warned that "to squander America's public support for these policies by a misguided involvement in communal conflicts would be both a mistake and a tragedy."[p. 61]