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National Press Club Newsmakers Luncheon
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, National Press Club, Washington, DC, Wednesday, January 10, 2001

Jack [Cushman; President, National Press Club], thank you very much. I'd like to come tomorrow myself to hear Dan Glickman. [Laughter.] [Although I wonder] whether he's going to talk about humor in politics or keeping a sense of humor while when serves in politics. Many of you may recall that Adlai Stevenson had a wonderful sense of humor. In fact, he once addressed a group, perhaps somewhat like this, and he said, "It's so great to see so many of my friends and so few of my supporters." [Laughter.] But—and he found out that humor could only carry him so far—perhaps I should not be indulged in with too much of a rapier wit. Then again, Mo Udall, of course, wrote a book called "Too Funny to Be President." So I think those who hold high office must be careful to use the right touch of humor and to make sure that one does not overindulge in it.

I have no such pretensions today, so I'm simply going to talk about some security issues and indicate that 'm told this should last until 2:00. Normally I speak for just a few minutes and entertain many more questions. But today, because we have C-SPAN that will cover the entire proceeding this afternoon, along with – and I counted -- 12 additional cameras, it must be that they are anticipating I'm going to make some dramatic statements here this afternoon.

But it was about three years ago the last time that I appeared before the Press Club, and it was just after the time that I and [National Security Advisor] Sandy Berger and Secretary [of State Madeleine] Albright had appeared before the students at Ohio State. We were going out there to persuade 7,000 students about the merits of our going to war with Saddam Hussein. And I might say that the reception I received here was far friendlier than the one that we received out there, for those of you who may recall that time.

But it was about four years ago that I was taking my leave of the Senate, and I felt compelled to go on the Senate floor and deliver some comments about my experience in the Senate and in the House and what I thought needed to be done as far as the future was concerned. And I thought I might take the same opportunity here this afternoon to talk about a few issues dealing with national security.

First, some general comments about the security environment. You hear a lot about our policy of engagement, and I want to spend just a few moments talking about that. In virtually every corner of the globe nations are moving toward democracy and freedom, and they're seeking to cast their fate with the family of free nations. And in every single instance it has been the active engagement and presence of the [U.S.] military that has made this possible.

If you think about Europe, for example, the circle of freedom, security and prosperity is wider and stronger than ever. We have reached out and embraced three new democracies to enlarge NATO and to expand NATO's security. We have reversed the aggression and slaughter in Bosnia and Kosovo, and [undertook] that campaign [against] Slobodan Milosevic—the most successful air campaign in the history of warfare—which helped to ultimately remove him from power.

We have reoriented the NATO alliance, and we have moved to improve the [alliance’s] defense capabilities to face future threats. We had a summit here in '99, the Washington Summit, in which we discussed the so-called Defense Capabilities Initiative—things that we had to do to improve the military capabilities of all of the NATO members. We have reinforced the bonds of trust and cooperation across the continent with a remarkable program called Partnership for Peace.

If you look to the Asia-Pacific region, you will see again that our enduring U.S. military presence and [our] active engagement has helped bring about new hope on the Korean peninsula that a half a century of division might come to an end; the recognition across the region that the United States military presence will continue to serve as a pillar of security. And I've had these discussions with the President of South Korea, Kim Dae Jung, and he has indicated that even should there be a reconciliation with the North, that America's military presence will be required and that the leader of the North has also expressed that to him. Nations of the region are working together to help provide for their own security. Think about what took place in East Timor, where the nations throughout the Asia- Pacific region are engaged in a peacekeeping mission in East Timor.

We are once again engaging China. We're beginning to restore our military-to-military contacts, which were broken off more than a year ago. We have fundamentally strengthened our security alliances and partnerships across the entire region. I would point to Japan—with the updated modern guidelines that we have—Korea, with Australia, with Thailand, with the Philippines—[with whom] we signed and had ratified a new visiting of forces agreement—and

with Singapore, which now has completed a large facility that will accommodate the arrival of our aircraft carriers. The Singaporeans would like to have those carriers come as often as we can. And so all of this has contributed to greater security and stability throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

If we point to the Near East and Southwest Asia, our forces continue to defend and protect our vital interests throughout the gulf region to make sure that the free flow of oil and energy continues unimpeded. We conducted a sustained air campaign in December of 1998 with our British allies and others to degree Iraq's ability to deliver either chemical, nuclear or biological weapons and its ability to threaten its neighbors. We continue to enforce the no-fly zones in both the north and southern part of that area to prevent Saddam Hussein from threatening his neighbors.

In the Western hemisphere and in Africa, we have worked with nations to strengthen democracy and the civilian control of their militaries. For example, in Africa we have instituted a program called the African Crisis Response Initiative, helping to train African nations to prepare for the engagement of peacekeeping on the African continent, something that's very important to the future of Africa itself. In Central America, our forces provided massive humanitarian assistance in the wake of Hurricanes Mitch and Georges.

In short, because of America's ideals being backed up by America's military power, the principles of free markets and free minds are ascending. And so we have more nations who are choosing the path of integration and political cooperation, and more of humanity now lives under the flag of freedom than ever before. And so I think we can say at this moment that this is a time of great promise.

As Jack indicated, I just met with the [incoming] administration—President-elect Bush, General Colin Powell, Vice President-elect Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense-designee and Condoleezza Rice, National Security Adviser-designee—all [of whom] came to the Pentagon to get an overview of our strategic interests and capabilities, as well as areas we have to continue to focus on.

There are serious threats that this new administration will have to face, as we have been facing. We have what were formerly known as "rogue regimes," who are now called "states of concern" -- [laughter] -- Iran, Iraq, North Korea, to name but three. There are flames of ethnic hatreds that can be fanned by virulent nationalism. We saw that in the former Yugoslavia during the past decade. There is a continuing cycle of violence in the Middle East. There are those who traffic in narcotics and terrorism and transnational crime. There is instability, sparked by enduring inequities in economics, resources -- and I would point to energy and water -- or in health, such as AIDS in Africa. All of these are going to continue to present very significant challenges to the next administration and to the American people. And I don't want to minimize in any way the dangers that these present, but I'd like to focus on three major issues during my comments this afternoon.

Russia. Russia is going to pose a major challenge for the new administration, and I think that we can look to Russia with both hope and also with concern. With respect to hope, I point to the presence of Russian soldiers who are serving side by side with the United States and other NATO members over in Bosnia and Kosovo.

One of my truly memorable experiences occurred when I spent three days and three nights in Helsinki negotiating with Field Marshal Sergeyev, who is the Minister of Defense of Russia. You may recall that Russia sent some of its troops into Kosovo peremptorily. And I went to meet with Minister Sergeyev. We spent literally three days—because there are very few nights there; it seemed to me it was light until midnight, and then two hours of darkness, and then it was light again—working out what Russia's role was going to be in terms of its peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. And so you can take hope that we have Russians serving side by side and they're doing a splendid job. They have very top people who are serving in that capacity. And so that's one thing I can point to giving us cause for hope -- better communication across a range of issues.

You may recall that Russians and Americans sat side by side at a command center in the United States in order to avoid any misunderstanding between our nuclear forces when the bells tolled for the year 2000. There was some concern, you may recall, at that time as to whether or not we were going to have the Y2K bug that might send lots of wrong signals in terms of what would take place. And we had Russians and Americans sitting in a command center to make sure that we understood exactly what was taking place, should anything go awry.

We have a Cooperative Threat Reduction Program; it's called the Nunn-Lugar bill. It's one of the most important pieces of legislation ever passed. It has dismantled and destroyed thousands of nuclear weapons that were once aimed at American citizens. And we have plans for a historic shared system for early warning of missiles. That will be located in Moscow. So you can point to each and every one of those things as cause for hope here.

On the concern side, it's unclear whether Russia is going to make this transition to free minds and markets, as have some of its Eastern European neighbors. At times it seems to me that President Putin is intent on pursuing democracy almost by decree. The recent study called "Global Trends" by the National Intelligence Council predicts a downward descent for the foreseeable future for Russia; economically, militarily, and socially. And so that's a cause for concern.

And I think there's cause for concern with the continued deterioration in Russian conventional and strategic forces. And there has been articles [in the press] and statements made on the part of some Russian officials that perhaps it is time, because of the lack of resources to modernize their conventional forces, that they may be inclined to depend more on tactical nuclear weapons. That would certainly lower the threshold for potential use in the future.

There is a continuing disagreement over something called the National Missile Defense system; something that I was and have been heavily involved in for quite a few years now. And as you know, President Clinton decided to postpone any deployment decision to present that to his successor. And President-elect Bush will have to decide in the coming months of his administration, how to pursue that issue.

A limited national defense system, designed to protect the American people from a limited type of an attack, nonetheless is seen and viewed by the Russians as being somehow undercutting their own strategic nuclear deterrent. And so they continue to oppose it. And so this is an issue that no doubt will be of major concern; that the new administration will have to address, not only with the Russians, but also with our European allies.

I think we have to continue to give priority to Russia's nuclear arsenal and our efforts to reduce it. Again, I come back to the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. Because of that program, there are three former nuclear powers -- Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, who are now nuclear-free. And as I mentioned again earlier, this program has led to the destruction of thousands of nuclear weapons in Russia. And we need to have a sustained commitment on the part of the United States to that program. And I'm sure that the new administration will see the benefit of that.

So we have to look to see whether or not Russia is going to pursue a course which is one of seeking cooperation and full integration into European affairs and a better relation with the United States, or whether or not it’s going to revert to the past and seek to achieve some kind of major role on the world scene through the use of force or the threat of it.

China. I had the pleasure yesterday of meeting with China's departing ambassador to the United States [who] is returning to China as a deputy foreign minister. We have a critical interest in seeing to it that we have a durable and stable relationship with China and a peaceful Chinese approach to Taiwan. It's why we have been pursuing military-to-military contacts that reduce the chance of misunderstanding and miscalculation. It's why, as Secretary of Defense, I have visited China twice. I have hosted my counterparts here. And I continue to underscore the commitment to base our future security on a coherent, comprehensive, and constructive approach to China.

In the coming years, I think that the United States has to maintain our posture: we support the One China policy, we support the Three Communiqués, and we also support our commitment to the Taiwan Relations Act and the defensive needs of Taiwan.

I must tell you, from personal experience, it's very hard to explain the consistency of the One China policy and also the Taiwan Relations Act. The Chinese have an intellectually difficult time accepting the consistency of that. But essentially, what it means is, yes, we do recognize the One China policy that was set forth by President Nixon. Every president since that time has. But we also have supported the Taiwan Relations Act, which means that any unification or reunification must take place through peaceful means. And I will tell you that that's the reason why we believe it's important to maintain this kind of communication and cooperation with China as far as we can.

I believe, as I said on the Shanghai Stock Exchange—what an experience that was to stand on the Shanghai Stock Exchange and to tell them that—I believe that as their middle class grows, their middle class will do what every middle class has done throughout history. It will seek a greater voice in governing. It will suggest new and creative approaches to national challenges. It will push for peaceful solutions to international disputes and stable commerce with its neighbors. In short, a growing, stock-owning Chinese middle class engaged in greater commercial and intellectual contact with the rest of the world is eventually going to become much more democratic and will demand more accountability from its government. I said that on the floor of the stock exchange, and frankly, it was very well received. [Laughter.] But it's why we have supported establishing Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China. It's why we have to keep reaching out to China economically and politically and militarily.

I will tell you there has been some change in China's position, at least its articulation of its position vis-a-vis Taiwan. We are committed to supplying Taiwan with its defensive needs. The point is, if China continues to build up its military threat toward Taiwan, there will be increased pressure on the part of the Taiwanese to say we need more defensive equipment. And so, the beat will go on. The escalation will continue. China theoretically could continue to escalate its offensive capabilities directed at Taiwan. Taiwan will say we need more defensive equipment. And that will continue to stir the waters of controversy and potential conflict.

So it's important that we articulate our commitment to Taiwan, the Taiwan Relations Act, even as we support the One China Policy. And President Jiang Zemin said something very interesting to me this last visit last summer. You may recall a year or so ago the rhetoric that was emanating from Beijing was that they'll set a time certain, and unless Taiwan agrees to reunification by that date certain, then they will resort to the use of force. When I was in China the past time, however, it was a different expression and articulation. And I place importance on the use of words and their nuances. President Jiang Zemin said, "We don't intend to use force against Taiwan. We reserve the right to do so, but we don't intend to." I think that was a significant statement.

Now, if you think about Taiwan and China, the Chinese position has been "One China; Two Systems." And if you listen to what the new president, Chen Shui-bian, of Taiwan was saying, "One China; Two Interpretations." Now surely there's a way for lawyers to get together [laughter] to reconcile those two positions. And I believe if we can in fact cause both sides to lower the rhetoric, to seek ways in which they may engage—commercially to be sure, but politically—quietly, they can bridge those differences. And that is the message I gave to the Chinese leadership when I was there and continue to express publicly in this forum as well.

I want to talk a moment about asymmetric threats. This is a major challenge which is going to continue to confront the new administration and all of us for many years to come. It comes not from any particular nation, but rather from the evolving nature of conflict. When I was here three years ago, I talked about the superpower paradox. We are supreme in every way, in every conventional and even strategic way to any other country. It's this conventional and strategic superiority that's prompting adversaries to adopt unconventional or asymmetric warfare. That's been borne out by the attack against the USS Cole. A terrorist would not think of challenging the Cole in any military sense, and so what they did is they filled a small boat with explosives, they blended with the environment, and they pulled alongside the vessel and blew a very large hole in it, killing 17 American sailors and wounding [3]9, as I recall.

But this is the kind of grave new world that we're going to face—indirect, but highly lethal, attacks on our forces and our citizens, not always from nations but from individuals and even independent groups.

For example, I think we're going to see more and more effective cyber-terrorism on our nervous system in this cyber-nation, [our] banking, transportation, and defense systems. We will see more attacks such as we saw in 1998 and 1999, in which unclassified but very sensitive information of the Defense Department was literally copied off our systems. We will face more assaults from professional cyber-warriors. So far we may have teenagers who are hacking into systems, just taking joyrides. But I can tell you there are a number of nations who now have dedicated professional cells who are honing their skills in terms of trying to be in a position to shut down our transportation systems, our energy systems, our financial systems, our banking systems, and our communications systems. Since we have become more and more integrated and become more and more of a cyber world, what that means in terms of the consequences is equally catastrophic [damage] to any major kind of conflict.

So we face these threats. If we're complacent, it'll be at our peril. And we have to invest more and more. We must give it a much higher level of attention than ever before. And we have started to do this. We have devoted enormous amounts of time and resources to protect our critical infrastructure. We are working with private-sector industries and executives to make sure that their systems, which are integrated with our own, are also protected. But the new administration's going to have to continue to stay ahead of our adversaries in this respect.

We're going to continue to see the spread of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. And today the department is releasing a very important report. It's the second since I became secretary. It's called Proliferation: Threat and Response. It's the most comprehensive assessment as I've seen to date of foreign threats and the Department of Defense's response to protect our forces, our allies, and our citizens. And I have copies for you when you leave today; you'll be able to pick up.

There are more than two dozen countries, including Iraq, North Korea, and others, who either have—or are in the process of acquiring—these weapons of mass destruction. And this is not some scare tactic that the Pentagon is generating in order to secure more resources; this is reality. This is what's taking place. This is what our intelligence tells us is going on.

And so the threat is real and growing. Those who bombed the World Trade Center—we have a trial going on right now—were gathering the ingredients for a chemical weapons blast. It did not take place, but had it taken place, with chemical weapons, thousands of people would have been killed. North Korea, Iran, and Iraq train to use these weapons on the battlefield. The followers of Usama bin Laden have already trained with the use of toxic chemicals.

You may recall reading a report that was co-chaired by Senator Hart and Senator Rudman. They have a commission that has been established, and they said that an attack upon American forces and citizens here at home involving these horror weapons is not a question of "if," it's just a question of "when it's going to happen."

So the next administration is going to have to continue these important efforts to reduce the flow of terror weapons going into the global arms bazaar. It's going to have to improve the readiness of our forces to protect themselves and survive and fight in one of these contaminated battlefields. It's going to have to direct additional billions of dollars to these efforts, continue with the new Joint Task Force [for Civil Support], and special teams of National Guardsmen, both designed to assist communities in the event of an attack on U.S. soil.

You may recall that we have a program where we have gone out to help train roughly 120 cities in how to respond in the event that you have a [domestic attack involving weapons of mass destruction such as the] Sarin gas attack Tokyo had a few years ago. What happens if you have Sarin gas released in a subway or in a major air terminal or some other gathering of large numbers of people? Number one, what is it? How do you know how to respond to it if you don't know what it is? So you've got to be able to identify what has been released, if anything. Is it toxic? Is it phony? Is it simply a hoax? If it's real—as opposed to being Memorex—what is it? Is it contagious? Because if it's contagious, you've got a problem. If it's a biological agent that's been released and is contagious, then the people first on the site have to be protected in treating the victims or moving the victims, because if they move them to a hospital, what takes place? You infect the whole hospital.

So this is not Stephen King talking about The Stand. This is not some science fiction that we are simply concocting in order to scare people. And you may recall, I have tried to raise the level of consciousness about this threat. I did so years ago in dealing with Saddam Hussein. When I went on television I held up a five-pound bag of sugar, and I said, "Pretend for the moment this is Anthrax. This five-pound bag of Anthrax, if released, with proper wind conditions, over a city the size of Washington, will kill roughly 70 percent of the population." There are tons of Anthrax in existence.

So we have to be prepared. That's why I called all the commanders in chiefs of all our combatant commands-- what we call our CINCs – and said, "We have to protect our soldiers in the field, because Anthrax is potentially the most likely type of agent we'll come into contact with." So I authorized the program to inoculate all of our men and women in uniform with an Anthrax vaccine, and I was the first to step in line, [as was] the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. We said, "Put it here first, because we want to make sure we send the signal to all of our people in uniform that this is safe, it's reliable, it's potent, and we need it, because you're likely to come into contact with this in the event a war breaks out in the areas that we think it's most probable."

So this is something that we have to continue to focus upon; we have to train ourselves to prepare for. We have to, I think, educate the American people, but not scare you, because if it gets raised to a level or in a context in which it looks like it's being hyped, then you'll either dismiss it or you'll become to the point where you simply won't respond. And so what we have to do is to carry out an educational program saying these are dangers, they're real, and we have to devise technologies and techniques and capabilities to defend against it.

Finally, we're going to see the increasing spread of missiles and missile technology, and here again, the threat is real and it's growing. North Korea is building and selling to others long-range missiles that would increase the range of its weapons of mass destruction. Iran, which already has chemical weapons, is developing long-range missiles; the Shahab-3. It will be followed by the Shahab-4 and -5. Saddam Hussein, were he to be free of the U.N. sanctions, no doubt would resume his deadly programs to develop both nuclear, the biological and the chemical weapons and the means to deliver them.

And so it comes back to this issue of National Missile Defense. That issue is not going away. It's something which the Congress, in recent years, has gone on record by overwhelming numbers in both the House and Senate saying we should deploy a National Missile Defense system as soon as is technologically feasible. They're on record as having passed legislation. This has never really been debated at the national level to any significant degree, but it's going to.

You've got a new President-elect who says this is one of his highest priorities. You also have a Russia which says they're adamantly opposed to it and a China which is opposed to it and Europeans who are in doubt as to what this all means. Does it mean we have to abandon the ABM Treaty, and what does that mean for their security? What does this mean in terms of is this another form of arms race? So this is a very important issue.

I have been on record as favoring the deployment of a limited national missile defense system to protect us against a limited type of an attack, but I also believe it has to be done within the context of arms control, because I believe it is intellectually inconsistent to reconcile the two; that if you want to have a robust defense system, then your adversary will try to overwhelm that with more offensive systems. So it's going to be hard to persuade anyone to reduce the level of their offensive weapons in order to have a defensive system because they'll say the easiest way to beat it is to overwhelm it with numbers. But that's a debate and that's an issue which the new administration will have to resolve. We made some headway in persuading our allies; this is important to us. We, I think, made some headway in overcoming their initial skepticism.

And then you may recall that President Clinton went off to Moscow to meet with President Putin. And prior to that time President Putin did two things. He said, "Wait a minute, we've got a better idea. Let's have a theater missile defense system that will protect NATO and Russia." And, of course, the system he's talking about might protect NATO members and Europe, but it would do nothing to protect the United States. And then he suggested that perhaps they had a better idea by having a different type of intercept system instead of the one that the United States was favoring or researching and developing, that they might have what they call a boost phase intercept system.

Well, I will take time in the question and answer period to explain that, but so far we haven't seen any evidence that they have such a system. And number two, there are a number of problems associated with it as there is with our own system. But in any event, what we have to do is to make sure that we are able to respond to all types of challenges.

Now, I come back to something called [our] engagement policy. I'm going to stop right away because I'm going into your time. The engagement policy is [grounded in] something called the QDR, the Quadrennial Defense Review. We have another one underway right now. Our Quadrennial Defense Review—the one that I inherited as I took the office—had as a summary of its strategy [the words] shape, respond, prepare. We have to shape the political environment by being forward-deployed in Europe, Asia-Pacific and elsewhere to really persuade our friends and potential adversaries that we are a global power, [and that] we intend to use our power to pursue the ends of democracy and peace and stability.

Secondly, we have to be able to respond to a whole series of contingencies. Some people say, "Why don't we just train people to be peacekeepers, a certain segment of our military to be peacekeepers, and the others will be the warriors?" Or, "Let us be the warriors and let all the others be the peacekeepers."

It doesn't work that way. We have to train our people to do everything, all the way from being peacekeepers to peacemakers to humanitarians to diplomats to being warfighters, because the situation on the ground can change like that. And the reason that we are so good is we have the best and the brightest people that we attract into the military, the best educated, best equipped, best trained, best led military in the world bar none. And they do everything.

You see it when they go to rescue missions, when you have a disaster, they're down there pulling people out. You see it when they're doing peacekeeping in Bosnia and Kosovo. You see it when we carried out the air campaign [over Kosovo]—38,000 sorties flown during the bombing mission in Kosovo, two planes lost, no pilots, a record that's never been achieved. You see it during Desert Fox. You see it every day. And we have to continue to have that kind of capability.

I think I shall stop here, other than tell you one other thing. I gave the good news to President-elect Bush. When I took over at the Defense Department I was handed a budget, and the budget was $250 billion, [was told] "That's what you're going to get. That's the highest number that Congress and the President could agree upon—$250 [billion], and that's all you're likely to get for the foreseeable future." I said, "Okay, I'll go to work with that."

Eighteen months later I came back and was able to work with President Clinton, and we proposed an increase of $112 billion over and above that figure over the six-year period. I am going to announce to you today that that figure of $112 billion will actually be $227 billion that now will be allocated for defense spending over and above what we have been spending. And that will be allocated over the next six years. So we have doubled the amount that I requested just 18 or so months ago, and that tells you something about the commitment of this country to a strong national security system.

And I think that President-elect Bush has selected a tremendous national security team. I think that they will do an outstanding job. Secretary [Donald] Rumsfeld is going to be an outstanding Secretary of Defense, and he's got a great team to work with. Thank you very much. [Applause.]

MR. CUSHMAN: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. We have a lot of questions. And that sounds like a lot of money that you just promised to spend. But when you add up peacekeeping, missile defense, conventional deterrence, pay raises, force modernization, does the Pentagon face a money crunch in the years ahead? Can we afford the defense we need?

SEC. COHEN: We will still face a money crunch. And President- elect Bush is going to have to review -- as he said, he wants to look at all of our tactical aviation programs. All right, it's good to look at it, but take a look at what we're doing now. We are relying upon technologies that were developed back in the '60s, the '70s and the '80s. The equipment is wearing out. Now, we may have to skip a generation of systems, but we'll have to identify what we're prepared to skip. We are developing three tactical aviation pieces of equipment -- the F-18E/F, which is rolling off and being in the force right now; we are developing the F-22 and the Joint Strike Fighter. The new administration will have to review that and review all of our modernization programs.

But if you look at what took place during Kosovo, in Desert Fox or Desert Storm, going back, can we not -- can we really afford not to put the money in to have this capability? There is no other force in the world that has our power and sophistication and flexibility, and I don't think we should give that up. I don't think asking for increases in defense spending, given the economy that we have, really is an unwise thing to do; it's the right thing to do.

MR. CUSHMAN: Of the increase that you just mentioned, how much do you anticipate spending over the next five or six years on national missile defense?

SEC. COHEN: Well, I don't know what will be spent on national missile defense. The first thing that President-elect Bush will have to do is to sit down with his secretary of State, national security adviser, Defense secretary, key members of Congress to decide what the size and scope and purpose of a national missile defense system should be. President Clinton outlined a limited system for a limited type of attack. If it's going to be more robust than that, then it means you have to call into question can it be done within the ABM Treaty? The answer is, of course it can. Ours couldn't. So you either modify the ABM Treaty with the consent of the Russians, an agreement, or you are faced with a situation where you give notice and you opt out. If you do that, you must take into account your allies. You cannot have an

effective NMD system unless you have the support of our allies because you have to deploy X-band radars on foreign soil so that you can see the missiles when they're launched well in advance of their arrival.

So working with our allies, persuading them that we're doing the right thing and the reasonable thing, is going to very important. It's been important for President Clinton; it will also be important for President Bush.

MR. CUSHMAN: We had a lot of questions from the audience about the recent questions from Europe about the use of depleted uranium rounds and their possible health effects. Are you confident that the use of these weapons does not endanger our own troops through exposure to radioactive materials?

SEC. COHEN: I am confident of that. We have been using depleted uranium weapons for decades, for decades. We take precautions as far as -- we used them in our A-10, our attack aircraft, to take out tanks, to the extent that Milosevic or anyone else is rolling tanks against our forces or those of the people we're seeking to defend, we have used for many, many years depleted uranium weapons.

Ken has a sample of it here. I won't hold it up now or take the time. I'll let him do it at his Pentagon briefing. But we have put out manuals, we've urged caution in terms of how you work around depleted uranium weapons, and we believe that they do not pose an unreasonable risk to our troops, if they are properly handled.

And once, if they hit tanks or the heavy armor they're designed to destroy, there are certain precautions you take. They release alpha, beta, gamma rays, and there's a whole pamphlet in terms of alpha rays do not penetrate the skin; the beta rays don't penetrate clothing, and the gamma rays are such low level, they don't pose a health hazard.

So there are warnings that are issued. We feel very confident that once the science catches up with all of the news that we will persuade our allies that this has been a responsible thing to do, and we intend to continue to use this depleted uranium.

By the way, I learned for the first time that depleted uranium is also used in most of our aircraft and most of our ships, used as a ballast. So we are -- it's around us all the time, and it doesn't pose an unreasonable risk. There's been no scientific study that shows any connection between depleted uranium and leukemia or other forms of cancer.

MR. CUSHMAN: And if I understand you, you're saying it's safe to use it, but is it safe afterwards when they're scattered around Kosovo or some place?

SEC. COHEN: Where it's unsafe, it's like leaded paint. Leaded paint does not pose a problem to you unless it starts to peel, and then children or others ingest it. The danger from depleted uranium shells comes from if they hit a tank and there's an explosion, there is an oxidization process that takes place, and there are dust particles. If that's inhaled, that can pose health problems. But once it has -- the operation is complete, usually rain washes the oxides away and there's no health hazard. But there are also instructions and warnings that are given to all of our forces, to our -- allied forces have this, in terms of how you handle tanks that have been hit and metal fragments that are remaining.

MR. CUSHMAN: Turning to the USS Cole, if your various reviews find failures of intelligence or of defensive posture, will somebody be held accountable for that?

SEC. COHEN: As you know, there was a report that was released yesterday. I had asked Admiral Gehman and General Crouch to conduct a review, not to find fault or assess blame, but to simply look at our system as it exists and say what improvements need to be made. And they released their findings yesterday. I won't take the time, because we have so little time, but a very comprehensive report in terms of being way ahead.

There is also an investigation underway called the JAG Manual, and that the Judge Advocate General's Manual. They're conducting an investigation to see whether there is any assignment of fault or assessment of blame for accountability. The Navy has yet to complete that. The secretary of the Navy has not filed his report, nor has the CNO given his opinion on this. Until such time, it's really premature to speculate on it.

But I have asked in the meantime, I have asked the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, standing right beside me here, who was out in front of your a few weeks ago, who is my -- the focal point for force protection to the secretary of Defense, I've asked him to look at that report and to whatever report is filed in the coming days and give me his professional judgment in terms of accountability from the very -- the lowest ranks up to the highest ranks. And so accountability is important, and we will make an account of what took place and whether or not there should be any holding of any individuals responsible.

I said yesterday, I repeat today, I have no preconceived notions about fault or negligence. What I want is what the families would want, what you want, is a full accounting. What took place? How did it take place? Was there -- was there any failure or negligence or deficiencies on the part of the individuals involved throughout the entire chain of command? And then to make that full accounting to you.

I wanted it done on my watch. I mean, I have rushed this. I have said I want you to -- don't do a just a quick -- I want you to do a thorough job, but try to complete it before I leave. I don't want to hand this off to the next secretary of defense. I want this to be handled by me, and I hope I can do that before I leave.

MR. CUSHMAN: Of course, in terms of responsibility, there's also the responsibility for carrying out the attack.

What can you tell us about the state of the investigation, and who is responsible and what ought to be done about that?

SEC. COHEN: Well, I can't tell you much more than you've already read in the press. The FBI is the principal agency involved for investigating this. Director Freeh believes he's had good cooperation from the government in Yemen. They are continuing to pursue this with all deliberate speed. They think they have some pretty good leads.

We continue to see circumstantial evidence. Obviously, Osama bin Laden and his organization -- or organizations, I should say -- are high on the list of suspects, as are others.

But there has been no definitive assessment of responsibility at this point. When that takes place, then the United States will have to make a judgment what do we do in response. But the next president will have a full range of options available, all the way from diplomatic/economic to military.

MR. CUSHMAN: Would you please give us a thumbnail briefing on the status of Saddam Hussein's military, our engagement with that military? And is this something that's on a low boil forever, or where do you see U.S. forces vis-a-vis Iraq in the years ahead?

SEC. COHEN: Well, Saddam Hussein's forces are in a state where he cannot pose a threat to his neighbors at this point. We have been successful, through the sanctions regime, to really shut off most of the revenue that will be going to build his -- rebuild his military.

If you went back prior to the Desert Storm operation, you would say -- see that roughly -- let's say, in just gross numbers, roughly 90 percent of all the revenues went -- from the sale of oil went for the purpose of his military programs.

Since that time, we have been among the principal supporters of the oil for food program. We have tried to persuade the Arab people -- and they are seriously concerned about the welfare of the Iraqi people, and I have always tried to point out there's one person controlling that; that's Saddam Hussein. He's responsible for your deprivations. And what he has to do is simply open up his doors, invite the inspectors in, comply with the U.N. Security Council Resolutions, and then the sanctions can come off.

But as a result of the sanctions and the oil-for-food program, roughly 90 percent of all the revenue now being received by the Iraqi government has to go through the United Nations, and it has to go for humanitarian purposes.

Now he can cheat and smuggle on the margins, and apply that to his military. But I will tell you his military is not in a position -- thanks to what we've been doing with our British friends, and thanks to the sanctions, he's not in a position to threaten his neighbors at this point.

Should the sanctions come off without his compliance with the U.N. Security Council Resolutions, there's no doubt he will go back to building chemical, biological, and long-range missiles.

MR. CUSHMAN: In broad terms, do you foresee a day when a European military force will replace NATO? And more narrowly, what is your advice about the pace and conditions for withdrawing American forces from the Balkans?

SEC. COHEN: I wish we had more time; this is a subject matter that I love to talk about, since I recently came back from a NATO meeting.

We are in a position of having lectured to our European friends, saying, "You must do more. You must assume more of the burden than you currently or in the past have assumed."

And the Europeans finally have said, "You're right."

We exposed those deficiencies during the Kosovo operation. The United States, in the initial stages of that campaign, had to carry out the bulk of the work. We're the ones who had to take out the air defense systems. We're the ones who had to put the B-2 bombers over there. We put the F-117 stealth bombers over there. We used precision-guided munitions -- all of that. And the allies looked around and saw that they had a great shortfall, if any, of that capability. And that was the reason, at the Washington summit, they all signed up to the DCI -- Defense Capabilities Initiative. "We've got to do more." And we all signed up to that.

Now something has evolved called the European Security Defense Identity -- ESDI or ESDP -- the European Security Defense Policy. And I believe that many of the Europeans feel that they have to call it a European initiative as opposed to a NATO initiative in order to get the support of their parliaments. Fair enough. I support that. Do whatever you have to do. Whatever kind of capability you're going to produce and increase, make sure it's compatible with what NATO does.

And secondly, do not try to set up a separate, independent, autonomous capability that's independent from NATO planning capability. You will duplicate, you will be inconsistent, you will deplete the kind of capability we have now, you will create a giant bureaucracy, and what you will do is you will start to sever the link between the United States, NATO, and Europe. That will be a mistake. That is essentially the message I delivered in NATO and is essentially the message I rewrote for the Washington Post last Monday.

MR. CUSHMAN: Do you have any regrets about plowing so much money into the Osprey, which is that high-bred aircraft that the Marine Corps wants to use but which has had a checkered safety record?

SEC. COHEN: I don't have any regrets for putting the money into the Osprey. I have regrets that we've lost innocent lives of our Marines. If you were to ask me what the greatest moments and the worst moments of being in this job, I will tell you virtually every day -- I said this yesterday at the press briefing over at the Pentagon -- this job has been a joy every day of the last four years. But there are moments, and the moments is when you get a notification you've lost someone.

And I won't forget the time that my wife and I were up in New York. Dick Holbrooke had invited me to go up -- us to go up and eat

with Nelson Mandela. And he had a variety of people; dynamic, exciting people there that evening. And we listened to Nelson Mandela, a true moral force in our lives, talk to us that evening. And Janet and I were flying on the way back and I got a note handed to me from a Marine colonel who is one of my military assistants. And it was a notification. An F-18 pilot -- parts of his uniform, helmet, and body had just been identified and we were notifying his parents.

And so I came from an immediate high to an immediate low.

And so part of this job, and the worst part of this job, is knowing that young people are putting their lives on the line every day that you and I are completely unaware of it, for the most part. I'm aware of it; you're not, unless you see a crisis or a tragedy. But they are out there risking their lives, and they die in the service of our country, and we see a little squib in the paper, so- and-so pilot went down in the Indian Ocean or off the coast of California or Texas, or whatever.

So I don't have any regret putting the money into the research, development of the Osprey. The Marines are flying around in helicopters that are 40 years old. We cannot continue to put them at risk, so we wanted to develop something that was new, a skip of a generation, in this sense, that would lift off like a helicopter, fly like a plane. It has had its tragedies, and we've got to find out whether it's a malfunction or what's wrong with it. But the Marines and the Army and the others have to have new systems, and this is one of the great -- it's one of the great tragedies we've had, with the loss of so many lives in developing this, but we've got to continue to invest in technology that will give us a superior capability.

MR. CUSHMAN: Well, before I ask the last question of the day, I'd like to take a moment and give you a certificate of appreciation. I know you're going to a room with a much smaller wall than where you've been -- [laughter] -- wherever that is, but I hope you'll find room for that on your wall. And also the world-famous National Press Club coffee mug, tested to handle Navy coffee anywhere between zero and 100 degrees Centigrade. [Laughter.] [Applause.]

And as a final question, I heard you say to a well-wisher a few moments ago that you have the best job in the universe, and I thought, Well, clearly, he's never been president of a National Press Club. [Laughter.]

But I'd just like to ask, how would you like to come back in, say, 25 years, as Defense secretary? [Laughter.] And if you do so, could I invite you to the Press Club for another luncheon?

SEC. COHEN: If I came back in 25 years, I'd be rivaling Strom Thurmond's record in the United States Senate. [Laughter.] I mean, it's really -- it's unacceptable to me, but I turned 60 last August, and I couldn't believe where the years have gone, but it's been 31 years total of public service, counting at the local level. And so I think that my time on the public stage is coming to a close, and I'm looking forward to becoming a private citizen engaged in discussion and debate and dialogue of public issues.

But I will tell you, this has been the best four years of my. Nothing will compare to it. Nothing will compare to being the head of the best military in the world. These kids are terrific. [Applause.]

MR. CUSHMAN: Well, we're honored that you brought it to a close here. I'd like to thank you.

And I'd also like to thank the National Press Club staff members who have brought us a year of wonderful lunches. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. We're adjourned.