President Clinton has picked Army Gen. Wesley K. Clark to become the next top NATO military commander and head of U.S. forces in Europe, senior defense officials said Sunday.
The selection is arguably the second-most significant military appointment Clinton will have to make this year, after naming a new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, given the controversial issues confronting the United States and its European allies, such as NATO expansion, relations with Russia and operations in Bosnia.
Clark, 52, brings to the job both a knowledge of Russian and extensive experience with the Bosnia problem. He was the senior military member on the team, led by diplomat Richard C. Holbrooke, that brokered the 1995 Dayton peace accords. The accords stopped the fighting in Bosnia and set terms for the NATO-led peacekeeping force.
Defense Secretary William S. Cohen recommended Clark for the NATO job after interviewing 11 four-star officers and two three-star officers, according to an official.
Like Clinton, Clark grew up in Arkansas and attended England’s Oxford University as a Rhodes scholar, facts that have led to a widespread impression that the two have a longstanding association. In fact, they did not know each other as students in Arkansas and their time at Oxford did not overlap.
They first met during a 1965 student conference at Georgetown University. The next time they got together was 19 years later when Clark, visiting his parents in Little Rock, stopped in to see Clinton, then governor.
At the 1995 funeral for three U.S. officials killed in Bosnia, then-national security adviser Anthony Lake is reported to have asked Clinton whether he knew Clark.
“I know Wes Clark,” the president responded, according to a senior official, “and he hasn’t needed any help from me.”