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36th Munich Conference on Security Policy -- Remarks as Delivered
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen , Hotel Bayerischer Hof, Munich, Germany, Saturday, February 05, 2000

Thank you very much Mr. Chairman.

Let me make two points if I can. First, I would like to express my deep gratitude to the tremendous turnout on the part of the U.S. delegation and Members of Congress. There are suggestions from time to time that the United States somehow is becoming, more isolationist; that we are disregarding our international responsibilities; that we are indifferent to the concerns of our European partners and friends and others. I would like to say that the presence of so many members of not only the Senate, but the House [is such] that we don’t see just one member, [Congressman] Norm Sisisky, who has been carrying the load in the House for so many years appear here without the support of his colleagues. So I want to say I am deeply appreciative of your being here to express your individual opinions to our friends and allies.

If I sound a bit self-serving to my European friends, it is true. I have to appear before them starting next Tuesday and Wednesday to support the budget that I will offer on behalf of the Administration, so that is one of the reasons I am also extending such lavish praise upon my former colleagues, and hope that they well treat me with some degree of benevolence when I appear before them.

I also have prepared a written text which is not brilliant but is long and I would like to invoke a procedure that we used to use in the House and Senate and say, "I ask unanimous consent that I be allowed to revise and extend my remarks." And if anyone objects, then I will punish you by reading every single word in the document that has been distributed. So hearing the sound of thundering silence, let me proceed.

I have been assigned the subject matter of ESDI [European Security Defense Identity]. I am going to talk briefly about that as well as National Missile Defense, but first, I would like to talk about Kosovo. Some of the arguments I heard this morning at least piqued my interest. And when we talk about Kosovo and how much luck was involved, indeed there was luck, but we were also very good, and I think we should not overlook the fact of just how good our military did perform under extraordinary circumstances.

It was suggested that it was a political decision as opposed to a military decision. Of course, we are democratic societies who, in fact, have civilian control over our military. What we do is set the policy and then ask our military to execute that policy. It is true, as General Clark has indicated, there were a number of inhibitions, that we did not respond nearly as rapidly as possible in dealing with target selection. And I won’t take the time from this podium to talk about the extraordinary effort he had to make in just dealing with the political implications of which targets were selected from day to day. It was an extraordinary effort that he and his team had to undertake to coordinate that with all of the NATO members.

I would also like to go back and talk a little bit about this notion that if only we had planned for a land invasive force. I would call your attention to what took place last year. We spent nearly nine months debating the issue of legal authority to take action. And the very notion that we were going to introduce at that time a commitment to introduce ground troops, I dare say, would have resulted in no action having been taken. So it was not ideal. We should never rule out the use of force, but let’s go back to what took place at that time, because we were dealing with an entirely new issue: NATO not acting solely in its collective defense but dealing with a different type of enemy. I think that we should take that into account when we start to go back and look at the lessons of history. We undertook an extraordinary act and we were forced to do so by virtue of three to four hundred thousand people in the fall of 1998 having been driven into the hills without clothing and food and sustenance.

There is also something that caught my attention this morning, I must say. It was whether we gave adequate attention to the protection of civilian lives. Let me just say for the record: most of you have no idea, nor should you, of the extraordinary effort that went in on planning on the part of the military leadership to make sure that we absolutely minimized the lose of civilian lives in terms of what kind of aircraft would be used, under what circumstances, what types of munitions, what was the blast effect, what was the angle of attack? All of that was taken into account on an individual basis every single day of the 78 day campaign. And I dare say that there are very few countries beyond NATO who would take that kind of care into account before waging a conflict or war against an enemy. We took extraordinary measures to protect civilian lives.

There is also a suggestion that perhaps the presence of ground troops would have resulted in lower levels of civilian casualties. Without going into specific examples, there are a number of conflicts underway today with ground troops on the ground and I would like to compare exactly how many civilians are dying and perishing in those conflicts at this time compared to what we were able to carry out through the exercise of this air campaign.

The final point on the campaign itself is the notion that somehow our pilots were simply flying missions immune or invulnerable to attack. Those pilots put their lives on the line every single day. They flew into conditions where there were mountainous, cloud-cover, anti-aircraft coming up, SAMs, surface-to-air missiles. They put their lives at risk every day. And the notion that somehow NATO should be judged to be in some category of moral equivalence with [Slobodan] Milosevic, I think, is sheer patent nonsense and it ought to be rejected out of hand by those who are suggesting that somehow NATO had engaged in acts of immorality. That is a notion that has been floated by some people. It ought to be rejected with an outstanding round of denunciation.

The fact is that we were seeking to reverse something that every one of use felt was totally antithetical to everything we stand for, and to have carried that out under those circumstances with the care that we did, I think, is a great commendation to NATO and not any excuse for anyone to try to suggest there is some kind of moral equivalence with what Milosevic was doing and what we were seeking to reverse.

Now, having said all of that, I would like to say that yesterday I had the chance to be interviewed by Joseph Joffe, who I believe is here in the audience today and he asked me an interesting philosophical question. He said, "alliances die when they win. The threat is gone, therefore what is the use of NATO?" He is a scholar of sorts and I suspect he has read Gibbon and perhaps Durant and maybe quite a few others, pointing to the fact that this is true of democracies as well. Democracies tend to live short happy lives; they become comfortable and self-indulgent and ultimately quite decadent and weak and perish. That has been the history of democracies over the centuries, but the one thing that we hope to learn is that we learn something from history and that NATO, even though it has no visible enemy on the horizon as it once did, nonetheless is not without enemies.

The enemies -- as Senator [Joseph] Lieberman talked about from this podium -- are instability, ethnic hatred, ethnic conflict, the specter of a floodtide of refugees overwhelming neighboring countries, undermining the ability of NATO countries to absorb them. Those threats remain in addition to international terrorism, which our Russian friends certainly have experienced in recent years, as well as the threat of missile proliferation armed with weapons of mass destruction. Those are the threats that are still out there. Those are the threats that NATO still has to confront.

What really unites us is not the fact that we have been able to overcome all of the differences in our cultures and backgrounds and so forth, but our unity of purpose, the commonality of our ideals. It seems to me that that is what we have to do in terms of addressing the future, the coming back to the rule of natural law. We know that organisms as well as organizations that do not adapt to changing environments will perish. That is precisely what NATO as an organization must do. It must adapt to new challenges or else it too will perish. And that is why we had the so-called Washington Summit, the DCI [Defense Capabilities Initiative].

I know that the Chairman is concerned about SDI [Strategic Defense Initiative] but we had something called the DCI, the Defense Capabilities Initiative, and every one of the NATO countries signed up to this. They all signed up saying: "you know, we have got to change the way in which we do business. We’ve got to get more mobile. We’ve got to get faster, more agile. We have to have better communication systems. We have to have an ability to sustain our forces once they go into an area that may be quite austere. We have to have more precision-guided munitions. We have to be able to do things differently today." And every country signed up to it.

Unfortunately, our defense planning process has not worked well in the past because, if we talk about the lessons of Kosovo, we all know that the road to hell is paved with good intentions but the road to ineffectiveness is also paved with good intentions. We’ve had many expressions of good intentions over the years but we haven’t measured up to it with actions on our part. Virtually every operational deficiency that we have identified in terms of after-action reports, and I will be submitting one to Congress next week -- a final summary of exactly what the deficiencies were -- virtually every deficiency has been known for years. We all knew about it and we talked about it and we didn’t do very much about it.

[NATO Secretary-General] George Robertson is fond of saying that political will and ability to act is what matters rather than the way bureaucracies are wired together; that you can’t send wiring diagrams to solve a conflict. We agree, we agree. That is precisely why we went and looked at DCI and said, "We must do these things." We must have better communications. We had a lack of secure communications with our pilots flying these dangerous missions, something that we’ve known about for some time and didn’t do much about it. We know that we have to have an ability to really identify and approve targets much earlier and faster, what General Clark has talked about. We know we need air and sealift enhancements and capabilities. We know that we have to be more adept at changing from war fighting to other missions such as peacekeeping and humanitarian operations.

We know all of these things and we’ve talked about them but let me just list to you what we haven’t done: Less than half of the nations who agreed to do so have made their full contributions to asset-tracking systems for better logistical support; Less than half of the requested nations have contributed their full share to advance intelligence network; Less than half of the nations that have been asked to deploy command and control modules to improve interoperability have done so; Two of the seven nations that now have air-to-air refueling for alliances have met their targets for the rapid reaction force; Only one out of fourteen nations assigned to work in the deployable headquarters, that can withstand biological and chemical attacks, has done so.

I could go on down the list. This is not acceptable. You cannot have a situation in which one country bears a disproportionate burden. I know that [German] Minister [of Defense Rudolf] Scharping is going to address this in a moment, as did George Robertson earlier today, and all the speakers. There is a Latin phrase, which easily comes to mind, and it is virtute non verbis. It means we have to have deeds and not words and what we have had too much in the past is expressions of intent – "yes, we need to do this" -- and when the time came we weren’t there in full capacity. We were successful and we were very lucky but we were also very good in what we had to carry out at that time, given the limitations and given the deficiencies.

I’d like to turn just quickly to ESDI because this is something that the Europeans feel passionately about, and frankly, we in the United States endorse it and support it, provided it does exactly what Secretary General Robertson has talked about before -- and that is that it maintains the three "I’s." Indivisibility: there can be no severance of the linkage between NATO and ESDI. It must be Improvement, and that means improvement in capabilities which we don’t have today. And it must be Inclusive: all of the NATO nations, which are not part of the EU, must have access to the planning and preparations part of it or we are going to see some resistance to full cooperation between NATO and the ESDI. So those are critical elements and if those three "I s" are in fact adhered to then we will not have a problem.

I’ll tell you what my fear is. My fear is that we will see European nations constructing a new bureaucracy that will be needed to implement some of these reforms in procurement opportunities. In looking at the budgets that I see from our side of the Atlantic, I see countries consistently cutting their budgets at the very same time that there is a recognition that you have to improve your capabilities. Now, some of that can be achieved through efficiencies; some of that can be achieved through better allocation of resources from operation and maintenance to procurement; some of that can be done by downsizing. Some of it can be done by base closures and let me tell you, there is no easy road to base closures.

Some of that can be done, but you cannot continue to cut budgets and hope to achieve the reforms and the procurement requirements for ESDI and for NATO, and my fear is that we will see a bureaucratic system set up. We will see declining budgets and we will not see the capability to match the words that we have talked about so passionately in Washington and now here today as well. That is my concern about ESDI.

I think the EU headline goal of having a rapid-reaction force of fifty to sixty thousand is very commendable and it is achievable, but you have to set some milestones of 2001 and 2002. I haven’t seen them yet. So the question is where are the resources to match the rhetoric?

Let me turn quickly to NMD. I can see that Minister Scharping is chafing to get into this debate. Let me turn to National Missile Defense and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. We have Russian participants here today and I think it is important that they be here today. I think it is important that we continue to engage in a dialogue, in a discussion, about this subject matter.

People have tried to minimize this, but there is a growing threat. There is a growing threat to the United States; there is a growing threat to our European friends as well. Some would suggest it is being exaggerated in order to justify this. During our last NATO meeting, we had a presentation of the growing threat. We pointed to North Korea, which is, in fact, developing a long-range missile capability that may have nuclear capability, that undoubtedly has chemical and biological capability. We know that Iran, with the help of a number of countries, is seeking to acquire a longer-range missile capability with chemical and biologicals and, if possible, even nuclear. We know that Iraq in fact came very close to having an intercontinental ballistic missile capability and we know for a fact that they have developed chemical and biological agents to be deployed in their warheads. We know that Libya also is seeking to acquire capabilities along the same lines. So, the threat is there.

The question is what do we do about it? Now, I know that some of the reactions on the part of our European friends say, "Well, what about deterrence? Why not just rely on upon deterrence? After all, it has worked against the former Soviet Union, it works against all potential enemies that if they should ever launch an ICBM against any country, certainly NATO or the United States or North America, that we would simply respond with our ICBM capability?"

That is true. We have that as a deterrence. The fact that we want to have a limited type of protection against the so-called rogue states should not in any way undercut the fact that we are going to maintain a strong deterrent. We don’t ever want to be in the position of having a North Korea or an Iraq or an Iran, or anyone else, having a limited capability and then telling us, "If you try to move against us conventionally . . ." For example, let me ask you hypothetically, if Saddam Hussein had five or ten or twenty ICBMs with nuclear warheads, and he said that, if you try to expel me from Kuwait, I’ll put one in Berlin, one in Munich, one in New York, one in Washington, one in Los Angeles, etc., one in Rome – let’s spread the wealth, one in England, London – how many would have been quite so eager to support the deployment of some five hundred thousand conventional troops to expel him from Kuwait? We would have had a different calculation, asking, "What kind of a risk are we running? This guy is not quite as stable, as secure as some of our former adversaries."

We never want to be in the position of being blackmailed by anyone who will prevent us from carrying out our Article 5 Obligations or responding to any threat to our national security interests. So there is a justification and a real reason why we have to deal with this and we have proposed to deal with it in the following fashion.

We have proposed to construct a limited system that will be designed to protect North America against a limited type of an attack that we contemplate that a North Korea, Iran, Iraq or others could have in the foreseeable future. The President has said, "I’ll make no decision at this point." It will depend upon a number of factors. Number one, do we have the threat? We believe the threshold has been crossed on that. Number two, do we have the technology? We are rapidly developing the technology, we believe that will satisfy that requirement. We have another test coming up in April and then we will determine whether the technology is mature enough for the President to make such a decision. Third point, what about the costs? We have to deal with the costs of such a system. And then fourth, [we have to] take into account our dealings with our Russian counterparts and our European friends. [The President] will do all of that before any decision to deploy is made.

But I should point out that the members [of Congress] are here and they will speak for themselves. But there is a strong bipartisan support, Republicans and Democrats, House and Senate, who have passed legislation which the President has signed, that would indicate that the President should deploy a system as soon as it is feasible. The President will decide whether it is feasible taking into account all of those factors and I will not minimize the consultations and communications with either the Russians or our European friends. But I think that you should really look at the facts, listen to the nature of the threat and the fact that European nations will similarly be subject to that increasing threat and that we, many nations, are contributing to its enhancement by virtue of the transfer of technology.

Let me cease and desist here, because we have a long afternoon, but I just want to say that we support the ESDI. We need to have the words matched with deeds and that means resources, and some of it through efficiency, but more is going to be required as far as resources are concerned and that we need to think in terms of what kind of threats that all of us will face in the future as we see ourselves rocketing our way through this 21st Century.

Thank you. [Applause.]