Adm. Leighton Smith Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Shaping the U.S. Role in Peacekeeping Operations: Conversation with Adm. Leighton Smith; 4/1/97 by Harry Kreisler

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The End of the Cold War

As a professional soldier, how did the end of the Cold War affect you?

Well first of all, I was delighted. I was there -- I was in Stuttgart, Germany, I was the director of operations for the European Command. I remember a picture I saw in a paper not long before the wall came down. There was a man standing holding a very young daughter, my guess was that she was only about one or two years old. She had on a rather plain dress, he had on a coat and a tie and he was carrying probably a cardboard suitcase. And my guess is that everything he owned in the world was in that suitcase. And he was weeping. He wasn't weeping because he left his car and the rest of his family back on the other side of that Iron Curtain; he was weeping because he was free. He was weeping because now he had opportunity, he had the chance to choose for the first time in his life, and his daughter whom he was holding in his hands had a future, whereas before she would not have had one. That struck me as a very, very vivid picture of what this all meant. There were people coming through Czechoslovakia and Hungary. I remember another photograph I saw of a mother and a daughter. The daughter was on the inside of the US Embassy compound, the mother was on the outside, and they were kissing each other good-bye. The mother saying good-bye to her daughter, knowing that she would probably never see her again, but willing to give her up so that she could have something better. When you see that up close, and then the euphoria when that wall came down, it was a wonderful thing. A lot of people saw that as a victory. Maybe it was, certainly those of us in NATO and the free Western world felt a sense of victory because we had overcome this monolithic communist power that suppressed everyone, and I think it was just joy, just joy.

A lot of our foreign policy institutions are struggling to define their mission in the post - Cold War world. What about the military? Do we have an enemy now and does that matter to the military?

Well let me just go back to my navy career -- we're all victims of our own experience. And I can tell you that in the navy we were suffering that same situation. "What are we going to do now?" Intuitively, we know we need a navy, but why? I was afraid at one point that we would be going around threat-shopping, looking for something to go after. And we essentially sat back, and I must tell you that I had a role in developing the doctrine From the Sea, which was later modified to Forward From the Sea. But the way we looked at the situation was that the world we live in is a dangerous place. There's a violent peace out there, there are going to be problems over the horizon, and certainly that proved to be true. And rather than trying to define a specific threat, we felt it was necessary to look at the world in general and say, "What kind of capabilities must this country have, in terms of its military, in order to represent this country around the globe in a way that protects its interests?" And essentially in the navy's perspective it said, "We've got to move from our blue-order thinking, open-ocean warfare thinking, to the littorals, because that is where the problems will be." Subsequent to that we've had Somalia, we've obviously had Bosnia. We've had Desert Storm. There will be others in the future, perhaps not another Desert Storm, but there's going to be some more Somalias, there are going to be other Bosnias. The question is where, and how do we deal with them? We can talk about this further when we get into IFOR, but let me tell you something: peace support operations are not necessarily peaceful operations. And if you don't take a fully combat-ready force into those situations, particularly the one I was faced with in Bosnia, you're going to get hurt.

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