U.S. General John Malchase David Shalikashvili (born 1936) was appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in August 1993, culminating a military career that began in 1958.
John Shalikashvili was born in Warsaw, Poland, on June 27, 1936, one of three children of Dimitri Shalikashvili and Maria Ruediger, daughter of a czarist general. Dimitri Shalikashvili, who had gone into exile from his native Georgia following communist victory in the Russian Civil War, was serving as a contract (foreign national) officer in the Polish army when World War II began. Demobilized after Poland's surrender to Germany, Dimitri Shalikashvili joined the Georgian Legion in 1942, a military unit composed of Georgian expatriates who believed they could free their homeland from communist oppression by aligning themselves with Germany. The Georgian Legion was later placed under the direct command of the Waffen SS, an elite branch of the German armed forces that included Germans as well as foreign troops hostile to Soviet communism.
Until 1944 the Shalikashvili family lived in relative comfort given Poland's status as a defeated and occupied nation. During the uprising of Warsaw underground forces, however, fighting raged around the apartment building where the family was living, and for weeks Maria Shalikashvili and her children took refuge in the basement. Once the resistance was suppressed, the Shalikashvilis were among many civilians evacuated to transit camps along the border between Poland and Germany. To evade the advancing Red Army, the family settled in Pappenheim, a village in Bavaria where Maria Shalikashvili had wealthy relatives who provided them with a residence and a livelihood. In 1952 the Shalikashvilis emigrated to Peoria, Illinois, where a distant relative resided.
John Shalikashvili, who was fluent in Polish, German, and Russian, enrolled as a junior in Central High School in Peoria. He improved his English, the story goes, by watching John Wayne films. In 1958 he graduated from Bradley University with a degree in mechanical engineering. Drafted into the army, Shalikashvili was accepted in Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, after completing his training. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1959 and assigned to a mortar battery in Alaska. Deciding to make a career in the army, Shalikashvili served as an instructor (1961-1963) and staff officer (1963-1964) at the Army Air Defense School and Center in Fort Bliss, Texas, and then joined the 32nd Army Air Defense Command in Germany (1965-1967). He had been promoted to captain in 1963 and became a major in 1967. In 1966 he married Joan E. Zimpelman; the couple had one son.
In January 1968 he began an 18-month assignment as senior advisor in the Trieu Phong district, Advisory Team 19, with the United States Military Assistance Command in Vietnam. Shalikashvili's responsibilities included training local militia and accompanying Vietnamese militia units into combat as well as working with officials on rice production and other civilian economic and political tasks. In the decade following his service in Vietnam, Shalikashvili studied at both the Naval War College (1969-1970) and the Army War College (1977-1978) as well as at George Washington University, which awarded him a Master's degree in international relations (1970). He had staff assignments overseas in South Korea (1971-1972) and Italy (1978-1979) and twice served at Fort Lewis, Washington, the second time as commander of the 1st Battalion, 84th Field Artillery (1975-1977). He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1974 and to colonel five years later.
Between 1979 and 1981 Shalikashvili was in Germany with the 1st Armored Division. He was then transferred to Washington, D.C., where he served as chief of the politico-military division and then as deputy director of the Strategy, Plans and Policy Directorate. In 1983 he was promoted to brigadier general and to major general in 1986. By this time Shalikashvili, who was regarded as both a soldier's general and a skilled planner, was established as a so-called "fast-burner," someone who was on a career path that could well lead to high command. From 1984 to 1986 he again served in Germany as assistant commander of the 1st Armored Division, after which he had duty in the Pentagon as the army's director of strategy, plans, and policy (1986-1987). Shalikashvili next commanded the 9th Infantry Division before returning to Germany in 1989 as deputy commander-in-chief, United States Army, Europe.
Shalikashvili was in Germany when the Persian Gulf War began. He did not participate in the war. In its aftermath, however, Iraqi forces had driven the substantial Kurdish minority within Iraq from their home area in the north into harsh mountainous terrain along the borders between Iraq, Iran, and Turkey. President George Bush gained approval to organize an international relief expedition to serve in what was identified as Operation Provide Comfort. Military contingents as well as medical personnel from the United States and a dozen other countries began entering the area in April 1991. Shalikashvili, a lieutenant general since 1989, was named commander. The operation, which had as its stated goals the provision of humanitarian aid and the establishment of a safe haven for the Kurds in northern Iraq, lasted until July and was perceived as a success. Soon it was being analyzed by defense intellectuals as a model for the type of quasi-military scenario that appeared likely to occur in any of several troubled areas. That is, at a time when the possibility of a land confrontation between North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces and the former Soviet army had receded, military operations were apt to be modest in scale and unconventional in nature, combining both peacemaking and peacekeeping missions as well as the distribution of humanitarian aid. The successful commander would need diplomatic skills as well as the intellectual flexibility to judge when, where, and how much force to apply.
With the conclusion of his service in the Middle East, Shalikashvili completed his assignment in Europe, and in August 1991, reported to the Pentagon as assistant to General Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). The following June he became Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR). As head of NATO forces, Shalikashvili, now a full (four-star) general, had to provide leadership in evaluating the alliance's mission as well as prepare it for possible operations in such places as Bosnia, where problems existed that were even more daunting than those seen in northern Iraq.
In August 1993 Shalikashvili, known to many as General Shali, was chosen to become chairman of the JCS by President Bill Clinton. Although it was unusual for one army general to replace another in this position that would normally have been rotated to a navy or air force officer, the unassuming Shalikashvili, seemed to have unsurpassed qualifications to deal with post-Cold War problems in places like Somalia and Bosnia.
"If Clinton is going to send Americans in harm's way, he needs a chairman who is seen as offering independent operational judgments. He chose the right man," observed a Brookings Institution analyst at the time of Shalikashvili's nomination. Secretary of Defense Les Aspin, who was believed to have been General Shali's foremost advocate in the Clinton administration, was impressed not only by the general's service record but by his tact and astuteness in dealing with leaders of many nationalities. He had already developed expertise in arms control issues during an earlier tour at the Pentagon. Taking office at a time of realignment in international affairs and budget cutbacks at home, Shalikashvili faced formidable challenges. Not least was the task of succeeding Colin Powell, arguably the nation's most popular military leader since Dwight Eisenhower nearly half a century earlier.
As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Shalikashvili oversaw the risky invasion of Haiti which reinstated the elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and then transferred peace-keeping duties to a U.N. force. Confronted with the war in Bosnia, he argued for military representatives during the Dayton Peace Accords, for clear mission goals, objectives, and prohibitions for the U.S. force sent to Bosnia, and for a straightforward chain of command, robust rules of engagement, and sufficient force to get the job done. He continued the simultaneous downsizing and technological upgrading of U.S. military forces. Since 1989, active all-volunteer forces were reduced by 700,000 persons, nearly 1/3 of active forces.
He stood as a strong advocate for technological upgrading of the armed forces; for maintaining strong alliances throughout the world and enlargement of NATO; for engagement with great powers, particularly with China; for maintaining military strength commensurate with U.S. worldwide interests and obligations well into the future. He developed Joint Vision 2010, a unified conceptual template whereby all the services would plan development, training, and re-equipment, and strategic planning jointly.
In late January, 1997, Shalikashvili announced his plans to retire from his position in keeping with the tradition of Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs serving two two-year terms.
No biography of General Shalikashvili has yet been published. Information about the general and his background is sparse and must be gleaned from many sources. His father, Dimitri, prepared an account (in Russian) of the family's adventures in the turmoil of Europe. It is available at the Hoover Institution in Stanford, California. Lieutenant Colonel John P. Cavanaugh, Operation Provide Comfort: A Model for Future NATO Operations (School of Advanced Military Studies, United States Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 1992) provides a valuable assessment of the assignment that brought Shalikashvili to prominence.
Much of the information that has appeared on General Shalikashvili in newspapers is based on standard Pentagon press releases. But conspicuous for their thoroughness and analysis are articles by William Drodziak in the New York Times, March 28, 1993; Melissa Healy in the Los Angeles Times, May 28, 1993; Barton Gellman in The Washington Post, August 12, 1993; Michael R. Gordon and also by Tim Weiner in the New York Times, August 12, 1993; and John Lancaster in The Washington Post, September 21, 1993. Bruce B. Auster, "Western Leader from the East," U.S. News & World Report (November 9, 1992), is of interest. Also relevant are Fred Barnes, "Shali, Shan't He," New Republic (September 13, 1993) and two articles in Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report: Pat Towell with Matthew Phillips, "Shalikashvili Wins Praise as Joint Chiefs Nominee" (August 14, 1993), and Gregory J. Bowens, "Senators Question Shalikashvili, Seek Assurance on NATO Post" (September 25, 1993). His November 7, 1996 speech to the Council of Foreign Relations, "The United States Armed Forces: A Prospectus," Vital Speeches (January 1, 1997), outlines his own assessment of many of his undertakings and states his goals and principles.