Last updateWed, 18 Oct 2017 10am

Former Los Altan, secretary of defense, discusses U.S., Russia's quest for peace

Four years ago, a job in Washington, D.C., lured William Perry out of his Los Altos residence. That job was secretary of defense, head of the most powerful military force in the world.

Fresh from four years in the Clinton administration, Perry has returned to the Peninsula. He shared his experiences last Wednesday before a packed house at Woodside Priory School in Portola Valley.

As secretary of defense, Perry said he faced numerous challenges, including work on an agreement to reduce the expanding nuclear arsenal.

"Some have said that war is too important to be left solely to the generals. Preventive defense says peace is too important to be left solely to the politicians," Perry told his audience.

After the World War II, the emergence of nuclear weapons created a crisis for many nations and the "concept of deterrence" was adopted as a means of defense, Perry noted.

He was involved with the nuclear weapons reduction agreement between the United States, Russia and the Ukraine, the third largest nuclear power in the world.

Perry helped supervise the Ukraine's nuclear site dismantlement. When he visited the Ukraine, on invitation, he went underground to the Ukraine mission control. Two men controlled 600 nuclear warheads - every one of them directed toward the United States.

Perry went back four times to watch the nuclear site being dismantled.

With the Cold War over, Perry helped build a partnership of peace with the 16 NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) members. Today, NATO members and 26 other countries conduct military training together. Perry cited Fort Polk, La., where the United State hosted American, Latvian, Poles, and Ukrainians training together and being instructed on peacekeeping exercises.

One of the results of this training was a joint endeavor to keep the peace in Bosnia.

"It didn't matter how many countries joined in this endeavor as long as Russia joined," Perry said. "The Russians were not willing to be under a NATO command, but would join under an American Command. In February 1996, a Russian brigade served as part of our first armed brigade. Bosnia still has social problems, but the killings and atrocities have stopped due to NATO's influence."

Perry discussed NATO and how the alliance is undergoing radical change. Among the changes considered are the creation of a new task force to fight outside traditional European grounds, allowing Europeans rather than Americans to command those forces and how to extend security to other parts of Central Europe.

"Russia's public hostility to NATO's enlargement goes back in history, but progress is emerging and may have continued when President Clinton met Boris Yeltsin in Helsinki (last week)," Perry said. "Sensing that Russia may become more realistic and flexible, there is a chance a deal can be made before the alliance meets in Madrid in early July.

"When they meet in July, one of the proposals is NATO expansion. The alliance would like to add seven or eight more nations, but probably only three will make it because Russia thinks adding new members is a bad idea. Probably, Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia will be the favorites," Perry said.

Perry, 69, grew up in Pennsylvania, but received his education at Stanford University. During the time he was professor at Stanford's School of Engineering, he and his family lived in Los Altos. He said he regretted selling his Los Altos home.

"I'm sorry I did," Perry remarked after his speech. "I could sure use it now."

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