John Shalikashvili was born 27 June 1936 in Warsaw, Poland. During World War II he lived through the German occupation of Poland, the 1944 Warsaw uprising, and flight to Germany. In 1952 he emigrated with his family to the United States, settling in Peoria, Illinois.
Shalikashvili entered Peoria Central High School, graduating in 1954. He received a scholarship to Bradley University. There he enrolled in the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), but his eyesight was not good enough for him to become a pilot. Shalikashvili became a US citizen in May 1958, received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Bradley that June, and was drafted into the Army in July. Six months later Private Shalikashvili was selected for Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Upon graduation in July 1959, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the field artillery.
His first leadership assignment—in charge of a mortar platoon in Alaska—proved so challenging and enjoyable that he decided to make the Army his career. After promotion to first lieutenant in January 1961, Shalikashvili left Alaska for the Army Air Defense School at Fort Bliss, Texas, where he was an instructor in several courses and later a student in the advanced course. Promoted to captain in July 1963, he remained at Fort Bliss as a staff officer at the Army Air Defense Center. From February 1965 to January 1968 he served in information, operations, and command positions with U.S. Army Europe in Germany not far from where he had spent much of his childhood. He was promoted to major in August 1967.
As a senior district adviser in Vietnam in 1968 and 1969, Major Shalikashvili served in the I Corps Tactical Zone near the North Vietnamese border in an area heavily infiltrated by the Viet Cong. He received a Bronze Star for valor for directing successful resistance to an attack from two enemy positions while accompanying a small patrol on a search operation. While a student in the staff course at the Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island, he received a master’s degree in international relations from George Washington University in 1970. Then followed the first of several tours at Fort Lewis, Washington: a year as Executive Officer, 2d Battalion, 18th Field Artillery, 212th Field Artillery Group.
In June 1971 Major Shalikashvili was sent to Korea as an operations officer with the United Nations Command and U.S. Forces, Korea. When he returned to the United States, he was assigned to the Army Military Personnel Center in Alexandria, Virginia. Promoted to lieutenant colonel in May 1974, he returned to Fort Lewis in July 1975 as Assistant Fire Support Coordinator, Division Artillery, 9th Infantry Division. In December he took command of the 1st Battalion, 84th Field Artillery. Following successful command, Shalikashvili was selected to attend theUnited States Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania.
After graduating from the War College, Lieutenant Colonel Shalikashvili returned to Europe, where from June 1978 to June 1979 he was Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3 (Operations), U.S. Army Southern European Task Force. Promoted to colonel in December 1978, he commanded the Division Artillery of the 1st Armored Division, US Army Europe, from June 1979 to August 1981. Next assigned stateside, Colonel Shalikashvili served his first tour in the Pentagon. From September 1981 to August 1984 he was assigned to the Army’s Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans, where he dealt with the politico-military aspects of military operations, first as Chief of the Politico-Military Division and then as Deputy Director of the Strategy, Plans, and Policy Directorate.
Over the next five years he held significant command and staff positions and rose to the rank of lieutenant general. In August 1984 Brigadier General Shalikashvili returned to the 1st Armored Division in Germany as an Assistant Division Commander. He came back to the Army Staff in July 1986 as Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans (Joint Affairs) and Director of Strategy, Plans, and Policy. In this capacity he helped develop the Army’s position on the reduction of theater nuclear missiles in Europe in preparation for U.S. negotiations with the Soviet Union. In June 1987 Major General Shalikashvili assumed command of the 9th Infantry Division at Fort Lewis, where he impressed General Colin L. Powell, then Commander in Chief of Forces Command, with his ability to “get things done.” Shalikashvili restored stability and direction to a division that had experienced considerable disruption as a result of years of experimentation with organization and equipment.
He became Deputy Commander-in-Chief of U.S. Army Europe and the Seventh Army in September 1989 and was promoted to lieutenant general the next month. Shalikashvili directed the evacuation of all U.S. chemical munitions from Germany and assisted with the movement of VII Corps to Saudi Arabia for participation in the Persian Gulf War. Selected in April 1991 to command Operation PROVIDE COMFORT, a U.S.-led multinational relief operation of unprecedented scale, Shalikashvili demonstrated exceptional organizational and diplomatic skill. Charged with saving half a million Iraqi Kurds who had fled into the mountains of northern Iraq and eastern Turkey at the end of the Persian Gulf War and were dying at the rate of one thousand a day, he directed the relief effort, negotiated with the Turkish government, and dealt with the Iraqi military. By July most of the refugees had been resettled in Iraq. The success of this humanitarian operation convinced him that, used judiciously, the military had a role beyond its “primary mission” of “going to war,” that it could bring to such crises an organization and structure unmatched by any civilian institution: “I saw firsthand what an enormous capacity the armed forces have for doing good.
In August 1991 Shalikashvili returned to the Pentagon to serve General Powell as Assistant to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In that position he traveled extensively with Secretary of State James A. Baker III as the Chairman’s representative, dealing primarily with the consequences of the collapse of the Soviet Union. He received his fourth star in June 1992, when he became Commander in Chief of the U.S. European Command (USCINCEUR) and Supreme Allied Commander, Europe (SACEUR). As SACEUR, he helped lay the groundwork for recasting the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to deal with the new Europe that had resulted from the demise of the Warsaw Pact.
Selected by President William J. Clinton, General Shalikashvili became the thirteenth Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on 25 October 1993. He was the first foreign-born Chairman, the first draftee to rise to the position, and the first OCS graduate to be appointed. As Chairman, he continued to prefer to be known, as he had for most of his career, as “Shali.”
Shalikashvili’s tenure saw a dramatic increase in the number of overseas deployments of U.S. forces, particularly in peacekeeping and humanitarian operations, including those in Bosnia, Haiti, and Rwanda. While he supported the military’s participation in these types of operations, he maintained that the United States needed to be “very selective” in deploying its forces and should become engaged only when important national interests were involved, all other options had been exhausted, and the intervention of its military could be decisive. In the debate over the appropriate U.S. response to the conflict that had raged in Bosnia since 1992, he opposed commitment of US ground forces as combatants but advocated US participation in a NATO peace implementation force once all warring factions had agreed to a peace framework.
The increased frequency of operations during his chairmanship strained troop morale and readiness. As a former enlisted Soldier, Shalikashvili felt a special bond with enlisted personnel and took particular satisfaction from his success in winning support for increasing the defense budget’s provisions for pay, housing, and benefits to improve the quality of life for enlistees and their families. While he believed that the nation’s armed forces were prepared to meet any near-term contingency, he was concerned about future readiness if the accelerated pace of operations continued. Accordingly, he recommended closing bases to provide funding to maintain readiness.
To deal with the shifting geostrategic situation, Shalikashvili directed the development of an overarching strategic vision to take the U.S. military into the 21st century as a force that could shape the international environment in which it would have to operate instead of continually responding to crises ad hoc. Published in 1996, “Joint Vision 2010” provided a doctrinal framework for the development of service strategies that would employ advanced technology to dominate any battlefield.
The central strategic issue during his tenure was the question of the future of NATO, the linchpin of the U.S. relationship with Europe. Shalikashvili was, in the apt description of the New York Times, the “intellectual godfather” of the Partnership for Peace, NATO’s military cooperation program with the former members of the Warsaw Pact. This initiative became the foundation for the Clinton administration’s support for the incremental enlargement of the alliance. Believing that a viable NATO was essential to US interests, Shalikashvili thought that its gradual expansion was a “cost-effective insurance policy” for maintaining European stability. In July 1997, two months before the end of his second term as Chairman, the alliance voted to extend membership to Hungary, the Czech Republic, and his birthplace, Poland. | At his retirement as Chairman on 30 September 1997 General Shalikashvili received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In retirement, he was a visiting professor at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University and worked as a consultant in the high-technology industry. He devoted considerable energy to promoting military-to-military relations between the United States and Russia and China. In early 2000 President Clinton appointed him to head an effort to win Senate support for ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Shalikashvili also served on the boards of a number of corporations and nonprofit organizations as well as his alma mater, Bradley University. He died in Tacoma, Washington, on 23 July 2011, at age 75. | General Shalikashvili's awards and decorations include: the Defense Distinguished Service Medal w/ 3 Oak Leaf Clusters, Army Distinguished Service Medal w/ 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, Bronze Star Medal w/ V Device, Meritorious Service Medal w/ 3 Oak Leaf Clusters, Air Medal, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Army Commendation Medal, and for his lifetime of service to our Country, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.