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Release No: 075-97
February 14, 1997

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery - Ft. Myer, Va. February 14, 1997

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen

Armed Forces Review and Welcoming Ceremony

Ft. Myer, Virginia

Friday, February 14, 1997

Thank you, Secretary White, for making me welcome and my transition into office seamless and efficient. And thank you, General Shalikashvili, for your generous thoughts. High praise from a genuine American hero is both gratifying and humbling.

Secretary White honors me with his reference to my personal hero and fellow Mainer, Joshua Chamberlain, and his exploits at Gettysburg. A year after the Civil War, having witnessed the Confederate surrender at Appomattox, Chamberlain struggled to describe the magnitude of the event, asking: What language shall I borrow that can hold the meaning of this hour?

That is my dilemma at this hour: What language shall I borrow to acknowledge the awesome duty I have accepted, to steward the greatest Armed Forces in the world?

First and foremost, I offer you a simple pledge: I promise to devote every fiber of my being to this challenge. In so doing, I will call upon every measure of love and support from my colleagues, friends, and especially my wife, Janet, and my entire family.

I pledge to uphold the confidence President Clinton has demonstrated by bringing me into his Cabinet. The President recognizes that when it comes to national defense, there is an overarching truth that transcends party label and partisan advantage: That as a global power with global interests to protect, America must maintain the best-trained, best-equipped, most ready and most capable forces on the globe.

That is what we all want. And that is the state of the American forces today. The evidence is here before me in all of you -- the men and women standing in rank today. You are the pride of our nation and the envy of the world.

I pledge to earn your trust and fulfill your expectations. As a Member of Congress, it was my duty to employ the power of the purse to support you. Now as your Secretary of Defense, it is my duty to lead you wisely and always in the cause of peace. This duty is a high privilege. For I am stirred by your dedication and devotion; inspired by your service and sacrifice; confident in your courage and capability. And so I pledge to defend and protect you as you defend and protect our country.

In leading our nation's defense, I will not act alone but serve as a central member of the President's national security team. To serve this team well, I will draw continuously from the vast reservoir of wisdom and experience of our military leadership, beginning with General Shalikashvili, the Joint Chiefs and the unified CINCs. I will also draw from the wellspring of experience of the civilians at the Department of Defense who support the troops. It is this DoD family -- military and civilian -- that will ensure I provide the Commander in Chief with the best possible advice, counsel and choices.

Perhaps the most daunting challenge of all is to live up to the standard set by my predecessor, Secretary Perry, and build upon his legacy. His stewardship of the Department these past three years came at a critical period in world history -- in the wake of the Cold War, the third global war of this century. In this post-war period, like those previous, the world often appeared fragmented, inconstant, uncertain -- mantled in mist, to quote W.H. Auden after World War II. And in each of these post-war periods, America has faced a similar challenge: How to create order out of disorder; to see the world as it was; to imagine the world as it could be; and to set about to narrow the gap between the two.

After the First World War, America declined to place its hand on the helm of history. We retreated instead into a cocoon of false security. Soon the world brought another global war to our doorstep, and we paid for it in blood and treasure. After World War II, we chose to stay engaged in the world and responded to the evolving superpower rivalry with the Marshall Plan, the strategy of containment, and the construction of NATO. They brought us to the peace we enjoy today.

We are just now emerging from the third post-war era. Once again, America has been challenged to create order out of disorder. And today, six years after the Soviet Union's collapse, we see a world where change is the only constant. Where threats to American interests can erupt anywhere, at any time. Where brutal dictators test the world's will to protect the innocent. Where closed regimes oppress their citizens and lash out at their neighbors, more eager to dig fresh graves than to bury old hatreds. Where rogue states and free-lance terrorists can spread fear and death with a truck full of fertilizer, a vial of volatile liquid or a home-made nuclear device. It is a world that demands American leadership and a strong, capable and ready American military force.

But we also see a hopeful world. A world where America continues to inspire nations to choose the path of freedom. Where free markets and free trade pry open closed societies and closed borders. Where nations join energies, forces and resources in pursuit of common causes.

We can also imagine the world we want. A world where America is secure in peace. Where there is more democracy, more cooperation, more stability and fewer weapons in fewer hands. Today, thanks to the work and imagination of this Department, we have the tools to shape this world: The vision, the plans, the strategies and the forces to narrow the gap between where we are, and where we need to be.

There are still more than 20,000 nuclear weapons in Russia. Our challenge now is to work with Russia to further reduce and safeguard these arsenals.

We know how to build a secure and stable Europe. But the Cold War scars have not completely healed. Our challenge now is to carry on with the Partnership for Peace, to enlarge NATO, engage Russia, and with our allies help bring stability to Bosnia.

We know how to contain aggression in Southwest Asia, where vital American interests are at stake. But rogue regimes pose a never-ending threat to the oil and the commerce the industrialized world depends on. Our challenge is to maintain strong forces in the region and a clear willingness to use them to protect our vital interests.

We know that in the Asia-Pacific, our forward presence and strong alliances are critical to peace in the region and to prosperity at home. But Cold War thinking persists on the Korean peninsula. China is a major Pacific power, with interests that often overlap and sometimes conflict with our own. America's challenge is to remain a Pacific power. To strengthen our alliance with Japan. To promote the peaceful unification of a free Korea. To beckon China into the family of great and noble nations.

Behind all of our policies and programs is our strong, ready and capable military. This too we know how to maintain. We have kept the force strong even as the force was being reduced and reconfigured. We must continue to put people first, to draw and keep the best America has to offer -- and that means providing a good and decent life for all who wear the uniform and for their families. And as the 21st Century approaches, we must take a fresh look at how we defend America, to be willing to reexamine our force size, structure, strategy and commitments in light of the changing threats. Our challenge is sustain the best military in the world under tighter fiscal constraints, getting the most from each defense dollar. It is the challenge to pursue 21st Century military concepts and business practices before the 20th Century ends.

This is an hour of greatness for our nation -- an hour gained by the trials and triumphs of the past; an hour focused on the possibilities and portents of the future. As Joshua Chamberlain asked in his day, what language can we borrow that can hold the meaning of this hour? Let me borrow the language of Winston Churchill, at a dinner he hosted many years ago for Stewart Alsop, one of our finest journalists.

After dinner, having indulged in some champagne and a touch of brandy, Churchill said: America. America. A great and powerful country. Like some strong horse pulling the rest of the world up behind it out of the slough of despond, towards peace and prosperity. Then he fixed his cold blue eyes on Alsop accusingly and asked. But will America stay the course?

Nearly 50 years later, we can answer his question. America has stayed the course because that is our responsibility. We will stay the course because that is our destiny.

Last month, in saying farewell to Bill Perry, President Clinton said: The measure of success for the Secretary of Defense is a military stronger and a nation safer than when he took office. Secretary Perry exceeded that measure. That measure is now mine to meet. I pledge to you, and the American people, that I will do everything in my power to do so.

Thank you very much.

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