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Cohen Addresses Deployment Issues in Kuwait

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

CAMP DOHA, Kuwait, April 12, 2000 – Defense Department leaders are concerned about “overdeployment” of U.S. service members and are working to alleviate the problem, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said April 8 during a troop talk here.

Cohen told soldiers at this base that he is worried about “the danger of wearing out you and your families.” He said DoD must scrutinize humanitarian missions carefully before accepting them.

“Our problem is we got smaller and we got busier,” he said. That's one of the challenges the military faces because of the changes since the Cold War ended, Cohen noted.

“At the end of the Cold War, we talked of a peace dividend,” he told the soldiers. “Our citizens demanded that. They said, ‘You’ve got a Cold War structure here, you’ve got to come down.’ So we cut the size of our force by nearly a third. We also reduced procurement by two- thirds.”

Cohen said the military has been living off President Reagan’s military build-up of the early 1980s. The Soviet bear may be gone from the scene, "but there is no less danger in the world in terms of different types of challenges and conflicts,” he noted.

The secretary said every nation is always tempted to call the United States when it has a problem. “It’s 911 virtually every time,” he said. “We have to make decisions in terms of when we should call on you to serve [in these operations].”

He said the United States clearly had national interests at stake in the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo. The continued deployments are in U.S. national interests. “What were we to do a year ago?” Cohen asked. “[Serb President Slobodan] Milosevic was expelling over 1 million people, ethnic cleansing -- a word we thought we’d never use again. And we were sitting on the sidelines, saying what do we do?”

The United States and NATO made a stand and undertook the most successful air campaign in the history of the world, Cohen said. “Think about it: 38,000 sorties flown, two aircraft lost, no pilots. It once again demonstrated the kind of capability we have.”

But that capability is expensive. Bosnia costs the United States $2 billion per year. Kosovo is another $2 billion. “That’s a very big expense to bear,” Cohen said. But the United States will bear that cost until it sees in Kosovo the lessening of tension and restoration of civil rule that U.S. troops are starting to see in Bosnia.

After these expensive operations were under way, East Timor exploded, Cohen said. Australia, one of America’s closest allies, asked for help. U.S. defense leaders studied the situation and determined the United States simply couldn’t provide the resources to lead the operation.

The United States said it would provide some airlift, intelligence and communications support, Cohen said, but it called on countries in the region to take the leadership initiative.

“We try to be responsive," he said, but his recommendations to the president weigh U.S. support against being stretched too thin elsewhere.

The United States is working with other countries to develop peacekeeping capabilities. For instance, it has begun a program called the African Crisis Response Initiative.

“We’re trying to engage the Africans to work with us so we can train peacekeepers,” he said. “So they can form the peacekeeping force throughout Africa with some support, but basically on their own.”

Cohen said that the United States can’t control world events. “When Mozambique is being flooded and thousands of people are going to starve or die of drowning, we have a moral obligation to help,” he said. "But in each case we have to weigh and calibrate our interests not only from a security point of view.

“We clearly understand what our interests are in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and throughout this region -- but when we have a humanitarian mission, do we simply sit on the sidelines and say, ‘Sorry, they can die’ or do we help out, recognizing we’re putting more stress on you?

Cohen said he, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all the service chiefs, and the unified commands are examining options to ensure military forces are used only when they're absolutely needed.

The U.S. military cannot answer every call. “Otherwise, when that 911 call comes through, we’ll have to say, ‘Sorry, we haven’t got the forces, we don’t have the capability or professionalism we once had,’” he said.

Secretary Cohen's Trip to Africa and the Middle East:

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