US salutes 'tough' military chief: Shalikashvili may shake up policy on Bosnia, says Phil Reeves in Washington

ADVOCATES of the use of force in Bosnia may well have been encouraged by President Bill Clinton's choice of General John Shalikashvili for the United States' top military post, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The four-star army general, currently supreme allied commander in Europe, recently made clear that he thought Western policy in Bosnia had so far failed, and indicated that some of the blame rested with the US.

In an interview with reporters at Nato headquarters in Belgium seven weeks ago, he described the Bosnian crisis as 'a lesson to all of us of the importance of American leadership' and of the 'price we pay when it isn't there . . . The United States did not lead in this operation from the very beginning, as it did in previous crises'.

The general, whose nomination looks certain to be speedily confirmed by the Senate, did not specifically call for military action, but accused the West of a tendency to over-estimate the strength of the Serbs. 'We are not fighting a first-rate, fully combat-capable outfit like we have been preparing for I don't know how many years,' he said. 'Never underestimate the mess and the nastiness you can get into, but I think we have had too much overestimating.'

Yesterday news of Gen Shalikashvili's nomination was warmly welcomed in the US, where the contrast between his comments and Gen Colin Powell's cautious pronouncements on Bosnia has not gone unnoticed. His views appear to have hardened with time. When Gen Shalikashvili testified before the Senate armed services committee in April, he sounded doubtful about air strikes, saying 'it is more difficult than some people believe it is'.

Gen Powell's term of office ends on 30 September after a four-year stint in the job in which he became the most powerful and popular chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for years. He even won admirers in the White House, where he was generally considered too conservative.

The choice of Gen Shalikashvili (pronounced Shah-lee-kash-VEE-lee) ended weeks of jockeying for the job among the top generals and admirals, which came to the fore when Mr Clinton asked his top 16 commanders to dinner at the White House. In the end, there was reportedly only one other name on the shortlist - Joseph Hoar, the marine general who heads US Central Command.

Officials have circulated colourful accounts of the general's career, a rags-to-riches story tailored to appeal to those who still nurture the American Dream. The general, who will be the first foreign-born officer to fill the post, was born in Warsaw in 1936, the son of a Georgian army officer, and the grandson of a high-ranking tsarist army officer. In 1944 his family fled to Germany. At 16, he set off for the US, settling in a Midwest town.

Attention has particularly focused on his more recent achievements, and his suitability to act as adviser to a president disliked by many in the military. The initial verdict yesterday was positive. Before assuming command of US and allied forces in Europe, he is credited with helping shape Nato into a more flexible military and political force, and negotiating effectively with the Eastern bloc over dismantling nuclear weapons. He also led Operation Provide Comfort, the allied effort to protect the Kurds in Iraq after they fled to the hills pursued by Saddam Hussein's forces following the Gulf war.

Perhaps most importantly, however, he has recently presided over plans for possible air strikes by Nato allies against the Bosnian Serbs. So he should be well acquainted with what Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State, calls 'the problem from hell'.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent