Economic battles loom, top officer says


The U.S. armed forces' long-range challenge will not be fighting conventional wars but keeping the world stable during an emerging economic struggle, the nation's top military officer said in Baltimore last night.

Army Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said technology, in the form of satellites and communication systems, would give U.S. forces "a view of the battlefield that will make us so superior to anyone in the world."

The key in the next century will be to use that information to stabilize the world during a coming battle for raw materials and markets among the United States and some South and North American countries, Western European nations and parts of Asia, he said.

General Shalikashvili was guest speaker at the Lancers Boys Club of Baltimore, a service organization of 190 area high-school boys that frequently invites dignitaries to address it. A question-and-answer session followed the general's speech.

His back ramrod-straight and his polished shoes reflecting the stage lights at Cross Country Elementary School in Northwest Baltimore, the four-star general spoke of his boyhood as a Polish refugee in Germany during World War II, and of the United States as "this very magical place that you take so for granted."

Arriving in this country at age 16, he learned English by watching movies. Being a soldier wasn't his plan -- he was drafted, and eventually fell in love with military service after demanding duty in Alaska.

As long as the forces aren't cut back too much to be able to keep down threats in North Korea and Iraq, the general said, the United States "will be able to do so much good for the world. We can give the world the good life we enjoy here."

fTC He appeared to hedge only on the last question of the evening, which asked his opinion of gay men and lesbians serving in the military.

Without giving a personal view, General Shalikashvili said the ranks of the armed forces seem to have accepted the Clinton administration's "don't ask, don't tell" compromise. "It is not an issue," he said.

Members of the club appeared afterward to be impressed by the general's approachable nature. "He just seemed like a really great guy," said Rig Baldwin, a 17-year-old student at Park School who said he was considering a military career.

As for his answer on gays in the military, "that last one is a tough one for him," young Baldwin said. "His personal opinion is irrelevant; that's the best he can do in my mind."

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