External Threats

Good morning. I have a little interstate business to clear up before we get into this morning's program. First of all, let me say that as a card carrying fan of Cornhusker football, it's a damn good thing you asked me to come down here before football season starts. The Big 12 idea is about the dumbest deal anybody ever got caught up in. Nobody told us we would have to play real football teams for a change. Second, I have an introduction to make. Now, I know the rules, I lived in Texas. I know that a Nebraskan cannot come here without a passport. So I brought my own. I brought a card carrying Texan. Her name is Dorene Sue Nunley Butler, from San Antonio, Texas.

I saved Dorene from a life of fame and fortune as a dancer thirty-six and a half years ago, and her reward for that was to hang curtains in twenty-eight different homes in our thirty-three years in the Air Force. What a guy! I suppose that you all understand by now that this is, in fact, a homecoming for Dorene and for me. Abilene is, in fact, our official second hometown, and we are proud to be back among friends and kin. Dorene is related to about half the population of West Texas. Her favorite uncle and aunt are coming down tomorrow from Lubbock to be with us, and we appreciate the fact that you all would welcome them here as well.

I must also say that I was very intrigued when Bill called with the invitation to moderate the annual meeting of Philosophical Society of Texas. I checked with a historian over in Lincoln to see if there was a Nebraska Philosophical Society. He said, "Well, not exactly. The closest thing we have is Tom Osborne's post-game call-in program." And, unfortunately, we don't do that anymore. With our record this year, we do need to be philosophical, but mostly we are hurt.

But I was equally intrigued by the subject that you all have chosen for this year's meeting. National security is a subject that has been near and dear to my heart for over forty years. As a life-long strategist, as a leader of combat forces, a pilot, and a student, national military strategy and planning and operations were my stock-in-trade for four decades. In fact, in the latter stages of my career, I was directly responsible for United States national military strategy, the organization of our Armed Forces around the world, our global alliance structure, and in one of the most fascinating responsibilities I've ever held, opening up military-to-military relations with the former Warsaw Pact countries and the Soviet Union. But more to the point of our meeting today, I held those particular responsibilities in the period from 1988 to 1991, just as the Cold War was ending and the strategic context of United States national security for the preceding forty years was turned upside down. So what I would like to do, to set the stage for our speakers this morning, is to spend the next few minutes talking about strategic context, the historical and contemporary forces that I see moving across the national security landscape, and their implications for the security of the United States as a nation and for our unique role in the international arena.

I'll begin with what I call one of life's defining moments, 1 October 1989. That's the day when Colin Powell became the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Among the many things he did that morning, he picked up the phone and called Lee Butler, his three-star Director of Strategic Plans and Policy. He said, "Lee, morning, this is Colin." Now, I'm quick. I knew right away that my answer was, "Yes, sir." He said, "You have a minute?" I just happened to have a minute. He said, "Why don't you come on down, let's chat for a few seconds?" I went down to his office, this vast expanse of mahogany, and all I could see was stars glittering in front of my eyes. "Lee," he said, "you and I are going to be doing a lot of work together over the next few years. I think we ought to get to some initial understandings up front." He said, "Uh, I've only got about five minutes, but why don't you give me your world view?" Well, fortunately, the University of Texas had been running a special on world views just that month, and I had picked one up. Well, as my career flashed in front of my eyes, one of the things I remembered someone had told me about Colin Powell is that he liked to talk in sound bites. So, here was my thirty-second reply to him. I said, "Well, Mr. Chairman, I see it this way. The Soviet Union is fibrillating, Eastern Europe is liberating, Western Europe is integrating, the Far East is oscillating, the Mid-East is disintegrating, and the rest of the world is percolating. The long and short of that is we're about to lose our best enemy, the defense budget is gonna fall off a cliff, and your life is gonna be a living hell." Then I prepared to meet my maker. Well, let me tell you something about Colin Powell. He never batted an eye. He said, "That's about right. That's the way I see it, also." Then he added, "But that'll happen a lot faster than either you or I suspect. So I want you to go back to your office, and I want you to take what you just said, and I want you to put it in a longer form. Because that'll become the basis for our new national military strategy. It'll take us about eight months to sell that and all the implications that go with it, reshaping the size, composition of our Armed Forces, rethinking our budget." He said, "But that job starts right now. It's in my in-box and now I'm putting it in yours. So come back and see me in two weeks." Two weeks. And I did. I came back with the beginnings of a paper that I called Tides, Trends and Tasks, Security Challenges for the United States in the '90s and Beyond. So what I'd like to do, for just a few minutes this morning, is to sketch that out for you, because, in fact, that is still today the foundation of our national military strategy and the way that our Armed Forces and our security apparatus in general looks at America's role in the world.

I won't talk about tasks, because our speakers today have that job, and I'll be very interested to see how they understand what America's tasks are in the New World Order. But I call it Tides and Trends because, thinking back to my days in Al Hurley's classroom, he said, "Lee, whatever you do, when you're trying to imagine the future, always put it in the context of the past." And so, Al, I went back about 500 years, to the beginnings of the nation-state system. I tried to imagine the forces that were shaping our world over the course of five centuries. Someone once said, maybe it was Walt Rostow, that watershed eras are best seen in retrospect. You have to be cautious about imagining that your age is really so different or so unprecedented. But it struck me that ours was, but it was still being shaped by two tidal forces, an in-rushing, destructive tide that pounds against the seawalls of civilization and threatens, at every moment, to erode our sense of humanity; and an out-flowing tide, which is more calming, but which is still fraught with undercurrents and riptides that can cause us to lose control. I gave very explicit labels to these tides. The incoming tide, I describe thusly: the continuing fractionation of mankind into highly ethnocentric entities, seeking self-determination within self-defined borders. I suppose another way of saying that is the continuing struggle between the learned imperative to advance the norms of civilized behavior, and the instinctive savagery that is so deeply imprinted on our DNA code. The outgoing tide, the calming force, but still fraught with peril, I describe as the compelling quest for a higher order or economic well-being in a world whose physical and human resources were capriciously distributed by history, culture and geography. And another way of saying that is the test of whether technology and inventive genius can elevate every society to a decent station in life, or whether grasping, unbridled competition will simply relegate much of the world's population to unrelenting poverty.

That was my analysis. And now, eight years later, I have the sense that those are still the compelling forces acting in our world and in our lives, and shaping our national security. Within those tides, I could see crosscurrents, riptides that I call the contemporary trends, the immediate problems posed by the historical forces, their contemporary manifestation, if you will. And I imagine those to be the following six.

First and foremost, the astounding advent of a second Russian Revolution in this century. It is, to my way of thinking, the defining event of our age. It was wholly unanticipated. The spontaneous collapse of the Soviet Empire has left the United States without a defining sense of national purpose. We, in fact, lost our best enemy. It leaves Europe with a daunting security dilemma and Russia on the verge of chaos.

The second eventuality was the astonishing achievement of German unification, which itself created extraordinary opportunities for European growth and cooperation, even as it rekindled long-held fears of a dominant political and economic power unable to contain its ambitions.

Third, the prospects for a Twenty-first Century Concert of Europe, but one that works this time, the creation of an economic superpower on a scale to rival the United States, and increasingly restive under the cloak of our political and military leadership.

Fourth, the intensification of intractable conflicts between mortal enemies, now fueled by the reality or the near-term prospect of resort to weapons of mass destruction.

Fifth, catastrophic failures in the human condition in the Third World, where hundreds of millions of people are living in misery to the end of short and brutish lives. Victims of starvation, drugs, debt, poverty and disease, and hostage to the modern Horsemen of the Apocalypse: religious fundamentalism, murderous tribalism, ethnocentrism, and xenophobic nationalism.

And finally, the looming rise of new hegemonic powers, the unholy marriage of regional ambitions, teeming populations, unscrupulous leaders and modern arsenals of high tech weapons.

These historic forces in their current manifestation impose an enormous burden on the United States not only in terms of our security, but also in its larger dimension of concern for the welfare of our fellow travelers on Spaceship Earth. Only we have, or are perceived to have, the political, economic and military strength, and the sense of moral obligation to manage the stunning array of tasks and challenges that emerge from this new global circumstance, which is motivated by the enduring tides of history.

Your speakers this morning have the challenge of addressing how these trends translate into contemporary threats to our vital national interests. But what I would leave you with is to simply remember that neither our survival nor our quality of life is solely a function of our narrow self-interest. Ultimately, they will be governed by our broader sense of humanity, our innate goodness as a people and, above all, our capacity to lead with vision and with courage. Thank you all for the honor of presiding over your session this morning. I look forward with great anticipation to the rest of the program.