The Risks If We Would Be Free

Remarks as delivered by Secretary of Defense William J. Perry to the American Bar Association, Orlando, Fla., Aug. 6, 1996.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked, “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 every field — politics, economics, technology — we are living in an era of “rich possibilities.” Our hopes are symbolized by the emergence 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.

But along with these hopes, our energies in this revolutionary era are “searched by fear.” One of our darkest fears in this new era is the specter of terrorism. Terrorism hangs like a dark cloud over our hopes.

President Clinton has called it “the enemy of our generation.” It is the antithesis of everything America stands for. It is an enemy of the fundamental principles of human rights — freedom of movement, freedom of expression and freedom of religion.

Its perpetrators reject the rule of law and basic human decency. They are not able to achieve their goals either through conventional diplomatic or military means, so they seek to impose their will on others through acts of violence, almost always aimed at the innocent.

Domestic terrorism is a crime against the order and tranquillity of our nation. International terrorism is an assault on the peace and stability of the world.

And when terrorists aim their attacks at U.S. military forces, something additional is at risk: It is the ability of the United States to protect and defend our vital national interests in the world. That is what was under assault when terrorists attacked our forces in Saudi Arabia last November, and again in June.

I just returned from a trip to Saudi Arabia where I met with my Saudi counterpart, Prince Sultan, to develop a mutual response to the recent bomb attacks on American military forces there. To respond intelligently, we must first understand the nature of the problem.

Why have our forces in Saudi Arabia been subject to terrorist attacks?

To answer this question you need to go back in time about six years, to the Gulf War, which started when Iraq invaded Kuwait. We fought that war because Iraq had not only taken over Kuwait and its oil fields, but also threatened Saudi Arabia and its oil fields.

At that time, we correctly decided that this was a direct threat to our vital national interests and to world peace — and we formed a military coalition which successfully ejected Iraq from Kuwait.

Today, there are still threats to the region — threats to the free flow of oil around the world and to the security and stability of the region. The threat from Iraq has been reduced, but is still significant; the threat from Iran has increased since 1990 and is still growing.

To counter these threats we maintain strong military forces forward deployed in the gulf region. This forward presence serves to prevent both Iraq and Iran from expanding their territory or influence in the gulf countries, thereby gaining control over the flow of oil to the world.

Our military presence includes substantial airpower operating out of Saudi and Kuwaiti airbases. This permits us to enforce the U.N.-sponsored “no-fly” zone over Iraq. Our presence also includes naval forces operating continuously in the Arabian Gulf, also enforcing United Nations sanctions. And it includes two brigade sets worth of pre-positioned military equipment — one in Kuwait and one afloat offshore — and we are adding a third brigade set in Qatar.

This pre-positioned equipment allows us to insert a substantial deterrent force into the region in a fraction of the time that it took us in 1990. We actually exercised this potential in October of 1994, when Saddam Hussein again sent his forces toward the Kuwaiti border.

That time, however, we were able to respond quickly enough that we were able to deter an attack.

Our forward forces, backed by rapidly deployable U.S.-based reinforcements, are by far the strongest military force in the gulf region. They cannot be successfully engaged by any of the regional military powers. But this very capability, which makes our military forces such a successful deterrent force, also makes them an inviting target for those who oppose our presence and influence in the region.

Our presence, of course, is opposed by Iran and Iraq, but also by home-grown dissidents in some countries of the region. The opposition includes extremist groups who are cold-blooded and fanatical, but also clever. They know that they cannot defeat us militarily, but they may believe that they can defeat us politically — and they have chosen terror as the weapon to try to achieve this.

They estimate that if they can cause enough casualties or threats of casualties to our force, they can weaken support in the United States for our presence in the region or weaken support in the host nations for a continued U.S. presence. In essence, they seek to drive a wedge between the U.S. and our regional allies.

Terrorists made the attack on U.S. forces in Khobar Towers in June to achieve these objectives.

They did not succeed.

But the public reaction to this bombing may wrongly encourage them to think that such attacks can erode our resolve. So we must be prepared for the frequency and scale of the attacks in the gulf to increase. Future attacks could be with more powerful bombs or standoff weapons or even chemical weapons.

So the question that confronts us is what do we do about the this growing threat to our forces?

One alternative, which is tempting to many, is to say that we should pack up our forces and go home.

That would be a grave mistake.

We could withdraw our forces from the gulf region, but we cannot withdraw our security interests from the region. Allowing the threat of terrorism to drive us out of the gulf would mean surrendering those interests, abandoning our allies and allowing the region to come under the control of Iraq or Iran.

It would give a small group of terrorists with truck bombs a victory that, six years ago, Saddam Hussein could not achieve with 40 divisions. Withdrawal is not an acceptable alternative. Our strategic imperative requires that we maintain our forces in the region.

So the question on my mind when I went to Saudi Arabia last week was not whether to leave our forces in the region, but how to maintain them.

The answer to that question, I believe, is threefold: We need to strengthen our resolve that we will not let terrorists drive us away from protecting our national interests; we need to increase the physical security of our military personnel in the region to reduce their vulnerability to terrorist attacks; and we need to increase our intelligence capabilities so that we can pre-empt and disrupt terrorist attacks before they occur.

My trip to Saudi Arabia was aimed at furthering these objectives. And it was a successful trip.

As a result of our meetings in Jiddah, there is a strengthened resolve by both the Saudi and the American governments that we will not play into terrorist hands by allowing these attacks to drive a wedge between us. The most concrete result of my trip was agreement on a number of actions to strengthen the physical security of our forces in Saudi Arabia and the region.

We currently have 4,000 air crew personnel in Riyadh and Dhahran to enforce the no-fly zone over Iraq. We will redeploy them and their aircraft to the Saudi airbase at Al-Kharj, known as the Prince Sultan Air Base. This will take our forces out of a high-risk urban environment and move them into a remote location in the desert, where we can construct very effective defenses against terrorist attack.

But some of the units we have in Saudi Arabia cannot be relocated without undermining their effectiveness. Our training units, for example, must be in close proximity to their Saudi counterparts in Riyadh. And our Patriot missile battery crews must be located near the urban areas and air bases that they are defending.

While these units must remain near urban areas because of their mission, we are taking steps to give them more protection by consolidating them and moving them to more secure housing facilities, by erecting more barriers, posting more guards, putting more Mylar [plastic laminating film] on windows. All of these to lessen the impact of any future bombings.

The Saudi government is cooperating in all of these moves, making facilities available, building required new infrastructure.

Force protection measures, such as moving the location of our forces and building barriers, cannot eliminate the risk to our forces — but they can minimize those risks. Indeed, force protection is a key part of every military mission — it is my top priority whenever I approve a military operation or a training exercise.

That is why our forces in Bosnia are required to wear flak jackets and Kevlar helmets when they are outside of the security compound. It is why one out of every three of them are on guard duty, and it is why we have a no-alcohol policy for our forces in Bosnia. These are burdensome rules, but they do save lives.

To reinforce our emphasis on force protection, I have recently directed the implementation of a stronger force protection initiative worldwide — with specific instructions for commanders in Southwest Asia and southern Europe to perform force protection reassessments. But while we want to emphasize force protection, we must also balance force protection with our ability to achieve our military missions.

Our forces cannot perform their mission if they are hunkered down in hardened bunkers 24 hours a day. We all know, and certainly our military personnel know, that there are inherent risks in any military operation. In today’s environment, one of those risks is the risk of a terrorist attack. Our job is to continually look for ways to minimize that risk while maintaining mission effectiveness.

These force protection measures are always important, but the real key to better, more effective force protection against terrorism is to take active measures against the terrorists. Which brings me to another major action we are taking in Saudi Arabia — improving our intelligence capabilities.

We do not want to simply sit and wait for terrorists to act. We want to seek them out, find them, identify them and do what we can to disrupt or pre-empt any planned operation. And the key to this is better intelligence.

Better intelligence depends not only on being able to collect information, but being able to use it. We need to sort out the real and useful intelligence from the misinformation and disinformation that is collected every day.

One key to improved analysis is the Counterterrorist Center, formed a few years ago and now receiving higher priority in the face of a higher threat. But even with improved analysis in Washington, we still have to make this intelligence available in a timely way to the forces threatened and to combine national intelligence with the local intelligence being collected.

Among the steps we are taking to improve intelligence in the Gulf region is to set up what we call a “fusion cell.” We developed the model for intelligence fusion cells in Bosnia. We are replicating this model not only in the gulf region, but around the world wherever our forces are deployed.

A fusion cell combines, in real time, national strategic intelligence, which we gather around the world, with local or tactical intelligence. This allows us to quickly fuse together the global picture with the regional picture to help us see patterns; to keep information from falling through the cracks; and to focus the United States’ and our allies’ intelligence services on the same pieces of information, at the same time.

Intelligence is crucial not only for preventing and disrupting terrorists activities, it is also a key to an appropriate response to the terrorists and their sponsors.

As President Clinton said yesterday, “We will not rest in our efforts to track down, prosecute and punish terrorists, and to keep the heat on terrorists and those who support them.”

Yesterday, President Clinton signed into law the Iran-Libya Sanction Act, which builds on sanctions already in place. And as he signed this bill, he said, “The United States cannot and will not hesitate to do what we believe is right.”

Our response to terrorist attacks on our troops in the gulf is a story that has broader implications. It is a case study that is helpful as we think about the threat of terrorism generally. Just as the very success of our military presence in the gulf makes our troops an inviting target for terrorists in the region, so, too, does America’s success around the world make our nation an inviting target for terrorists worldwide.

America is the world’s sole remaining superpower. Our economic and political philosophy is ascendant worldwide. Our culture is the world’s most influential, and the very openness of our society makes us a relatively easy target for those who do not like these facts or who disagree with what we stand for.

When terrorists attack our military forces in Saudi Arabia or anywhere they are needed in the world, the worst thing we could do for our national security would be to withdraw our forces from where they are needed. Likewise, when terrorists attack our trade centers, federal buildings or airliners, the worst thing we can do as a society is to withdraw from our daily lives and our commerce.

Once we decide there are real reasons for doing something, then we ought to do it, understanding that there may be real risks associated with that decision.

Richard Haas, a former member of the National Security Council in the Bush administration, noted the other day, “We cannot and should not ground our planes, shutter our embassies, hand in our passports, bring all our troops home, close the government or shut down the Olympics. If we stop being who we are and stop living a life worth living, we hand the terrorists their greatest victory.”

It was heartening in this regard to see the return of thousands of people to Olympic Park in Atlanta as soon as it was reopened. Those celebrants understood that staying home would have meant giving in.

We must recognize that terrorism — domestic, international or directed against our military forces — is like a chronic disease: You must fight it even as you have to live with it. The fight is not and will not be easy, but then defending freedom and liberty never are.

Over 200 years ago, Thomas Paine wrote, “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”

In this age, we, too, must be prepared to undergo the fatigue that comes with the burden of supporting freedom if we are to reap freedom’s blessings.

I thank you.

Published for internal information use by the American Forces Information Service, a field activity of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), Washington, D.C. Parenthetical entries are speaker/author notes; bracketed entries are editorial notes. This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission. Defense Issues is available on the Internet via the World Wide Web at

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