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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Perry Has Put His Eggs in Russia's Basket

U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry has been one of the outstanding successes of the Clinton administration. But he may be retiring before the second term gets under way. His decision will depend to a striking extent on what happens in Russia.


Perry is telling his friends that he has not decided whether to stay at the Pentagon. He will make that decision by the end of this year based upon the progress made on five issues he has defined as the core of his mission.


The first on his list is the reduction of the old Soviet nuclear stockpile, not just Ukraine's arsenal and Kazakhstan's enriched uranium (now glowing safely from vaults in Oak Ridge, Tennessee) but also the strategic stockpiles and the tactical nuclear warheads. This really means ratification of the START treaty, and progress toward the final treaty to cut strategic warheads on each side to around 3,500.


The second concerns building "new security relationships with Russia and China." The vogue phrase inside the National Security Council at the White House is that their job is "to manage Russian decline and Chinese ascendancy."


Perry disagrees. He sees Russia as a power "in temporary eclipse," which can be nursed back to health through a serious security partnership with the United States.


The third is to develop a new security structure in Europe. If this is to be both stable and enduring, it will have to be built with Russia, rather than against it.


The fourth is to put some strategic and budgetary coherence into the reduction of the U.S. armed forces from 1.8 million to 1.1 million troops. The headline issue here is whether the Pentagon will finally admit that it is not in the business of being able to fight two major wars simultaneously.


The underlying issue is to juggle the costs of new naval and air weapons systems, which will guarantee the United States control of any given air or sea theater, while keeping up the deployable strength of fighting units. Given that the U.S. Marine Corps alone now has more troops than the British Army, more warships than the Royal Navy and more warplanes than the Royal Air Force, Perry can claim some success.


This brings Perry to his final mission statement -- to break the Pentagon's crazed procurement structure, which often looks more like a form of relief to the big industrial corporations, and introduce faster and cheaper commercial buying procedures.


Despite some Republican sniping over his presumed responsibility for the deaths of 19 U.S. servicemen in a terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia last June, or for maintaining a monitoring force of 5,000 troops in Bosnia into next spring, Perry's reputation stands high in Washington. Since he took over as defense secretary from the hapless Les Aspin, forced to resign after the disasters in Somalia, the Pentagon has become an asset, rather than a liability, to the Clinton administration.


Much of the credit should also go to General John Shalikashvili, who took over from the most overrated figure in Washington, General Colin Powell, who was always reluctant to deploy U.S. forces overseas. General Shali, as Shalikashvili is known, showed in Haiti and Bosnia that he has fewer qualms. But he too is coming up for retirement next year. Without the tested team of William Perry and General Shali, the Pentagon could again become a troubled and troubling place.