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Joint Forces Command Stand-Up Ceremony
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen , Norfolk Naval Base, Norfolk, Virginia, Thursday, October 07, 1999

General [Hugh] Shelton [Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff], thank you very much for your gracious introduction. Mrs. Shelton. Admiral [Harold Gehman; Commander-in-Chief, Joint Forces Command] and Mrs. Gehman. Admiral [Vernon; Commander-in-Chief, Atlantic Fleet] and Mrs. Clark, distinguished military leaders who are here, ladies and gentlemen.

I think I'll take a somewhat different tact than the Chairman because I hope my remarks will be semi-quick and not too deadly. And it's been said that when a speaker begins a speech, usually when the audience applauds it's an act of faith, if they applaud during the course of his remarks, it's an act of hope, and if they applaud at the end it is pure charity. [Laughter.] And I hope you will be as charitable at the end as you have been faithful in the beginning.

Let me say that just over 50 years ago, after the guns of the Second World War had cooled, another generation of Americans stood at a pivot point in history. Behind them, mankind’s most devastating war and a great economic depression; ahead of them, a vision of hope for lasting peace and prosperity. At a time when America still held prisoners from World War II and was in the process of formalizing peace treaties with the vanquished, I think few could have anticipated what fate and fortune would hold and send their way.

And yet President Truman said he saw, "An age when unforeseen attack could come with unprecedented speed." And so, with the Cold War little more than a thunderhead on the horizon, that generation of Americans had the foresight and the fortitude to build institutions that could weather the turbulence of the oncoming storms: creating a separate Air Force, and unifying all of our military services – land, air and sea – under a single Department, with a single civilian leader, the whole greater than the sum of its remarkable parts.

And within the span of a few short years, Soviet scientists had split the atom, an iron curtain had split Europe, and America had to summon once again the strength to defend democracy. Building an amazing "bridge in the sky" to Berlin and then bringing together the nations of Europe in a new alliance called NATO. All proved the wisdom of Truman’s vision and his words when he said that, "the stabilizing force of American military strength must not be weakened. We need well-equipped, well-trained armed forces. We must be able to mobilize rapidly our resources in men and material for our own defense, should the need ever arise."

Well, today, our generation stands at another pivot point in history. With the Cold War receding into memory, leaving at once both turmoil and unprecedented prosperity in its wake, we find it no easier, but no less important, to look ahead now than we did a half century ago.

A brave new world of promise stretches out beyond these shores. It's a time of peace, when former adversaries are joining together as allies, making NATO arguably the strongest force for freedom that history has ever known. It's a time of prosperity, with growing markets around the world, as I have just witnessed on my trip to the nations of Southeast Asia, which are clearly recovering and their regaining their economic strength. It's a time of progress, when the ideals of democracy and freedom are rising the world over.

And yet we also have to acknowledge that this is a grave new world of peril, a time of nationalistic, ethnic, and religious conflict when those embers of instability and religious conflict and smoldering hatreds can ignite into violence, stretching from Serbia to Asia to Africa.

This is a time of new foes, when terrorists and tyrants, like Usama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, will seek and use conventional and unconventional and asymmetric means to strike at any target they can reach.

And it's also a time of new fears, when at least 25 countries either have, or are in the process of acquiring and developing, nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons and the means to deliver them. So today, it's all too easy to imagine that scenario that was once spelled out by the poet Auden, one in which an adversary "clutching a little case, walks briskly to infect a city whose terrible future may just have arrived."

Let me note that among the most effective ways to protect America from such calamities is to do all we can to prevent the spread and reduce the threat of these fearsome weapons, including that nuclear genie which so many now are trying to grasp. Over the years, we have taken steps to stem the spread of chemical and biological weapons. This year, we can take the historic step to do the same with respect to nuclear weapons.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which is now before the Senate, is a vanguard on this historic march to increase confidence rather than to increase stockpiles. And all of us, I think, all of us are looking for ways in which we can ride the technology revolution into the mysteries of the 21st Century.

But as Winston Churchill reminded us in his Iron Curtain speech, "We can return to the Stone Age just as easily on the gleaming wings of science." And I believe the best way to avoid this back-to-the-future voyage is to curb the spread of nuclear weapons. This treaty will help us in that effort, and that's why I believe strongly that the Senate should ratify it.

Today, as we seek to protect this nation from the threat of nuclear conflict, our armed forces must also be prepared for the full range of challenges and contingencies. From major theater war on distant battlefields to a minor skirmish that might hold the contagion of full-scale conflict. From a massive humanitarian crisis halfway around the world to a chemical or biological attack on our own soil.

And so the challenge today is nothing less than to build a new and even stronger American military, one that is refined and reshaped to face the challenges of the 21st Century. And that's why we're here today.

Ever since President Truman created the Atlantic Command to steel America’s defenses for the coming Soviet threat -- whether under the waters of the Atlantic, around the edge of Antarctica, over Iceland’s skies -- wherever you were called to serve, those of you who are here today – the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines of this command -- you have held firm and you have held fast. And after the Berlin Wall was hacked and bulldozed down, this command began to transform, becoming the home and the hallmark of joint training and operations.

So today we are recognizing the proven strength of the past as we create this command anew. And in so doing, we are realizing a key step toward fulfilling our Joint Vision 2010, a military made even more effective and efficient by harnessing the strengths into one coherent fighting force. Indeed, today we're mapping out for this new command a mission that is not only regional and functional, but a mission to realize this military’s full potential.

And so America’s Armed Forces look to you, and the more than one million who serve in this command, to persevere with your traditional missions, providing the critical transatlantic link to NATO and supplying the other combatant commands with forces ready for the full spectrum of operations.

At the same time, we look to you to embrace your new mission to prepare for the future: To spell out the doctrine and refine the tactics that are going to guide and unite an increasingly joint warfighting force; to shape and educate and train so we will be prepared for that Total Force for this new art of warfare; to style and sustain the weapons and systems of the future; and to support domestic agencies in the event of an attack on American soil.

The enormity of all of this calls to mind a story that was told by the essayist Walter Lippmann about a Russian Czar who noticed a sentry who was guarding a patch of weeds. And the Czar asked the sentry, "What are you doing here." And the sentry said, "I don't really know. I’ve just been told to stand here." So the Czar went to his captain of the guards and he said, "Why is this sentry standing over this patch of weeds?" And the response was, "Regulations require it." And so he went around looking for the regulations and couldn't find any living person. He talked to everyone and he couldn't find anyone who could explain anything. Finally, he went back to the archives and he discovered the reason. Catherine the Great had planted a rose bush in that spot and had ordered a sentry to stand guard so that no one would trample upon that rose bush. A hundred years after her death, the sentry was still posted to guard a rose bush that no longer existed.

Ladies and gentlemen, this ceremony, this new command, signifies America’s commitment that we will not simply stand as we have down the decades. Our arms, as well as the eyes, must look to the future.

Now it's been said that the only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. And so, 50 years from now, when those who inherit the legacy that we leave look back, when they ask if we were bold enough to peer into the future, if we had the courage to change, and the foresight and the fortitude to correct and build those institutions -- a structure that is strong and flexible and forceful enough to face the future -- there will be no doubt. Because today, with the creation of this Joint Forces Command, we are going to reach the realization of a safer and more secure tomorrow. Thank you very much. [Applause.]