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Fletcher Conference on Strategic Responsiveness
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, Marriott Metro Central Hotel, Washington, DC , Tuesday, November 02, 1999

Secretary [of the Army, Louis] Caldera, thank you for that stirring introduction. I was almost anticipating that you were going to call me a compassionate moderate. [Laughter.] But I do want to thank you for the kind introduction and the leadership you have brought to the Army over the past year and a half. I know it’s been a very demanding time, not only for the Army but for the entire department, and we really do appreciate your dedication and the vision that you have brought to both. So thank you very much.

General [Eric] Shinseki [U.S. Army Chief of Staff], I can still see you under the klieg lights up here. But I want to thank you also for all that you’ve done in pulling so many together for this conference and your energetic start since becoming Chief of Staff of the Army, and also in your determination to truly transform America’s Army. And I want to pay tribute to your efforts here today.

Distinguished guests. I believe Senator Rudman, if he’s not here now, will be here later. I want to thank him for his ongoing contributions to the department and to analyzing the kind of changes that we are likely to encounter in terms of threats, and also some of the recommendations that he and others on [the National Security Study Group] will recommend.

Dr. [Robert] Pfaltzgraff [President, Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University], we appreciate your effort also to make this conference such a success. Officers, members of the Armed Forces, past and present, ladies and gentlemen.

Today has been sort of typical for me. I began the morning by meeting with the Atlanta Hawks. [Laughter.] And they were looking, I guess, for some word of inspiration from me, and I was looking up to them, explaining that as a young boy I had had aspirations of becoming a professional basketball player, or alternatively, a Latin professor. [Laughter.] And, of course, my colleagues in the Senate, maybe [Senator] Joe Lieberman was one of them, remarked that I achieved both of my ambitions. I continued to dribble while speaking a dead language. [Laughter.]

But it was truly inspiring to see those young men, who were barely getting under the ceiling in my office, and to talk about teamwork, to talk about discipline, to talk about self-sacrifice, and to see how those at least skills or talents or disciplines that I thought I had developed as a young student, both in high school and college, served me well over the years, and how the same kind of principles apply to them on the basketball court.

Then I had to leave that meeting, which was really joyous to me, to be able to talk about my exploits as a basketball player. I'll tell you one quick story. [Laughter.] I was substituting for [Boston Celtics guard and later Head Coach] K.C. Jones at an exhibition game one time and [Celtics player] Satch Sanders -- for those of you who are old enough to remember Satch Sanders -- he threw a bullet pass down the court. I went up to catch it, and it carried me right into the crowd. [Laughter.]

After the game was over—I was wearing [Celtics player] Don Nelson’s practice uniform because I was the mayor of Bangor [Maine] at that time, and I was setting up an exhibition game. They were one player short and they said, "We want you to play." So he gave me his uniform and the shirt was down over my elbows. He gave me his shorts, and they were down over my knees. I needed a haircut badly at the time, and I was wearing horn rimmed glasses. And so when I went into the locker room after the game, one of the young kids came in looking for autographs. And he was going around to each and every one of them, he said, "You guys were great, but what was that Woody Allen act out there?" [Laughter.] Such was the crushing blow of a young child to an aspiring basketball player.

 

Before I begin, also, I want to pay tribute to someone special here and that’s [former Deputy Secretary of Defense] John White. John, you made the transition for me, coming from the Senate to Secretary of Defense, truly easy. And you helped to organize the office in a way that has served me well for the balance of my term, and I want to thank you publicly for it, and I’m glad to see you here today.

I will pass over everybody else in the audience that I see, some of whom I’ve had just great relations with over the years and want to continue that, but perhaps more about that later.

I’d like to talk a little bit about what [U.S. Army] General [Omar] Bradley once said. He said, "The most important element in the business of defense is the human relationship," and that’s why I think these conferences are so terribly important, because you have an exchange of ideas. We have military, civilian, we have the services, we have government agencies, we have academia, and occasionally even, [exchanges] between wildcat reformers and the lions of the old guard. We are able to exchange this kind of information to the benefit of all of us.

I want to commend the Army and also the Fletcher School for making this event possible, because it does, in fact, enrich the dialogue and it helps all of us to examine exactly where we are and where we are going in transforming our military; transforming it through the revolution of military affairs and [the revolution] in business affairs. It’s critically important to the success of our military in the future.

It was 10 years ago this week that there was one small change in a very simple, drab piece of architecture that vividly transformed the world as we knew it. The Berlin Wall crumbled 10 years ago, and in the following hours and days there were thousands of people who poured through Checkpoint Charlie. Students and young people, they were dancing on top of those graffiti-covered walls. The older people in East and West Berlin, they were weeping with joy and with utter disbelief.

But even more, I think, in that one instant the way that we perceived the fault line between East and West was reduced to rubble, and with it the strategic and geopolitical assumptions that had defined a generation. Because for the world at large, that day in November was a bright moment in which the enormity of change in favor of freedom, in favor of democracy, was on dramatic display. But for those who were involved in national security issues and defense issues, I think the implications of that change possibly were viewed through a dark glass darkly, but at least [through] an opaque glass.

And I recall very vividly when [Czech President] Vaclav Havel came to a joint session of Congress. I will not forget that moment when he stood up before both houses and he said, "The world is changing so rapidly I have little time to be astonished." And indeed, if you think about what has taken place in just a very short period of time, less than a decade, it’s astonishing. But we don’t have time to simply think about being astonished. We have to calculate exactly what we are going to do with this rapid change that’s taking place.

At that time, I think we could make an informed guess with respect to some quantitative measures about where the Armed Forces were heading. We had spent decades on building and preparing for a massive force-on-force conflict between forward-deployed forces. That was headed for a change. We knew that. During the 1980s, we had some of the biggest peacetime military budgets in history. That too was headed for a change.

But what did the future really hold in terms of qualitative changes -- the character, the shape, the focus of our forces and the Defense Department as a whole? That was a lot more difficult to predict.

And rather than spending a peace dividend, we faced a costly and divisive peace. We saw regional disputes and ethnic tensions and asymmetric warfare. We saw the spread of cheaper weapons of mass destruction. All of that sharply increased. And within a very short period of time, we had more people involved in more deployments, on longer duration, of a greater variety, involving a large proportion of Guardsmen and Reservists than ever before.

And indeed, rather than going from a marathon to a sprint, we went from a marathon to a decathlon. Not only did we have to reevaluate the emerging threats while taking on more and more deployments, we had to redesign our force structure while transforming the department itself and its ability to keep up with the very pace of change. And meanwhile, we had to retain the very best men and women that we could to handle all of these challenges.

And so in many respects, the departments and the services spent roughly a decade adjusting to the sweep and the acceleration, the sheer acceleration, of these changes. We went through the Quadrennial Defense Review, the Joint Vision 2010 and other reappraisals. We laid the groundwork for a new consensus on how to face the future. And it’s a force that’s smaller. It’s faster, more agile, more precise, network-centric. It’s a force that’s better protected, smaller in footprint and more lethal in strike capability. In short, it’s a force that has all the elements for full-spectrum dominance. And to support it, we had to have a department to operate with full-spectrum excellence.

So I must tell you, this transition has been anything but easy. [I was] in an interview recently with a distinguished member of the press. He said, "Well, your critics say you haven’t really quite moved fast enough." But, in fact, we’re taking a tremendous institution, and we have to reshape it and we have to reshape it in a way that’s going to make sense for the future. And the changes may not be visible all at once, but they are taking place below the surface.

We knew that this was going to be the case from the very outset. I think it was the philosopher Thomas Kuhn who came up with the very idea of rapid paradigm shifts. He [said] that it took him 15 years between the initial insight that he had and the clear formulation of his ideas. He said, "I sweated blood and blood and blood," and he said, "finally I had a breakthrough." And I can look out into this audience and tell that many of you have sweated blood over the years since the end of the Cold War, and certainly in the past few years, to get the ideas right, to get the implementation right.

And it’s been gratifying to me, certainly as a Senator, now as the Secretary of Defense, to work on achieving some of these changes. Some of these started when I was a member of the Senate, and we were just debating them. And many were regarded at that time as being too radical certainly to raise even as questions, not to mention as solutions. In the first part of this decade, we were moving from questions towards consensus. And since then, I believe we have moved rather significantly from consensus to concrete action, to actually implementing the changes with bipartisan cooperation from the Senate and the House.

That really is the reason—I think, the principal reason—that President Clinton asked me to serve in this position. He could have picked anyone. He certainly could have picked a Democrat to do that. But he asked a Republican. And I believe it may be the first time in the history of our country where an elected official from another party was asked to serve in a Cabinet position. And I think his motivation was made very clear to me: "I want you to help me develop a bipartisan consensus on national security issues." And I think by and large, we have done that.

The military on the flight lines and the front lines today—in terms of its capabilities, the fundamental character, the capacity for change—I think resembles the mobile, rapidly deployable force that’s called for in Joint Vision 2010 far more so than the massive forward-deployed forces of 1989. You just take a look around at what we’re doing today and you’ll see we are moving very rapidly toward 2010. We have crossed the threshold between the force of the last century and the force of the next. And every American, especially those who are in the military and leadership here today, should be very proud of that.

At the "tip of the spear," as we say, on the issues that ultimately matter most to those on the front lines in an operation or a deployment, each of the services has made rather dramatic changes.

The Navy, through its Fleet Battle experiments, is dramatically improving the capabilities of its ship and aircraft, increasing the striking power by tying them together for network-centric warfare.

The Air Force, as you know, is transforming itself into an expeditionary force. It’s going to better integrate our air and space operations with some predictability and put that back into the lives of our men and women who are serving.

The Marines are continuing to revolutionize their capabilities by honing their skills in urban warfare and by achieving better mobility through technologies like the tiltrotor aircraft, the V-22.

In the past few weeks, Secretary Caldera, General Shinseki, they’ve embarked on a path of reform that’s going to profoundly enhance the speed, mobility, and the lethality of our soldiers. And to complement all of these efforts, our new budget devotes substantial resources to integrating the Active and Reserve forces.

Behind the tip of the spear, which we are now sharpening, where the services rely on the logistics, the infrastructure, the doctrine of the department as a whole, we’ve also made some pretty significant strides.

Not so long ago, there was no lead agency for experimentation and development of joint training and doctrines. Now we have [one]. We are strongly investing in the Joint Forces Command. We created it last year. We stood it up formally just a couple of weeks ago.

We wanted to redouble our efforts to reduce the costs of our acquisition process and to accelerate the development of new weapons and to eliminate redundancy. Well, today we have the Defense Reform Initiative. We are dramatically shortening and strengthening the link between our warfighters and the acquisition and logistics workforce. We have, for example, laid the cornerstone for online purchasing. We created a Joint Electronic Commerce Program Office to promote and standardize innovative approaches. We’ve made jointness one of the key criteria in evaluating new weapons and platforms.

It wasn’t very long ago that we lacked a focal point for issues on homeland defense and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Today we have a Joint Task Force for Civil Support which is working to maximize our effectiveness when we support federal, state and local authorities during a domestic WMD incident. Today we have the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which is pulling together all of our counterproliferation efforts.

So these things are all taking shape now. They are going to be institutionalized. We are going to set in motion a process and a dynamic that is going to accelerate as we move into the next century.

Not too long ago we were beginning to grapple with the challenges of cyber-warfare. Today we have an integrated approach through our joint task forces and resources that we have consolidated at Space Command. And we’re bringing some of that—and we did bring some of that—know-how together and to bear during Operation Allied Force.

Again, it wasn’t too long ago that we were questioning the decline of America’s defense spending and our commitment to improving the force’s quality of life and readiness. Well, as Secretary Caldera has indicated, we have just succeeded in reversing that decline. We now have the largest increase in some 15 years in pay and benefits and programs.

So we are taking charge to really revolutionize the way we do business, but also take care for the people who matter most, and that’s the men and women in uniform. Because if I can talk about all these new systems we are going to acquire, I can talk about the fact that we are going to hit the $60 billion mark for procurement. We are on line to hit that by 2001, in our next budget. It’s something that a few years ago when I was in the Senate, it looked as if it would never arrive. We were hovering down around $41, 42, 43 [billion dollars] and I recall [fomer Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army] General [John] "Shali" [Shalikashvili] coming up and John White and others and [former Secretary of Defense] Bill Perry and say, "That’s the goal." Well, we are on the mark to hit that goal. So all of this has given us some breathing room to work on further transformation.

Have we completed it yet? The answer is clearly no. Does it mean we can afford to ease up on reform? The answer again, pretty clear. We can’t afford to stop closing bases. We can’t afford to stop pressing Congress to achieve these savings. We can’t afford to stop trying to achieve the efficiencies that we are going to achieve through the Defense Reform Initiative. There’s a staggering amount of work that we still have to do.

So I’d like to pose just a couple of questions, because you’re going to ask me a few when I finish. Our overarching strategy has become a mantra. You’ve heard me repeat it many times before: Shape, Respond, Prepare -- the three words that sum up our entire strategy. We want to shape world events in our favor; we want to respond to threats and crises; and prepare our forces for the future.

So I think the first question should be: How do we continue to balance shaping and responding against preparing? Every administration that comes in is faced with this challenge. How do you achieve a balance between the shape, respond, [and] prepare? We found if you put too much on shaping and you don’t have enough on the responding and you don’t have enough on the preparing, you’ve got an imbalance. And sometimes you put more in terms or readiness and procurement will suffer. Other times you put more money into procurement, readiness will suffer. So how do we do that?

The temptation, as we begin to refine the structure of the military that will dominate the next century, [is to proceed] by rushing towards modernization. That is, we want it all right now. And it calls to my mind, at least, the observation that instant gratification is good, it's just not soon enough. [Laughter.]

On this question, the lessons of Kosovo, I think, are instructive. We have examined, we’re going to continue to examine, where we were at the end of Operation Allied Force. But I think it’s equally important that we remember where we stood at the beginning of that crisis, when we did not have the luxury of choosing whether to prepare for a force-on-force or asymmetric conflict; offensive or defense operations; large scale or small scale operations; military or humanitarian operations. And along with our allies, it became clear we had to do all of that. And by and large, we were prepared to do all of that.

When the time came we were able to handle the challenges, not only serially, but nearly simultaneously, and I think it's testimony to NATO's flexibility that we were able to rapidly transform the operation as the mission evolved from warfighting to humanitarian [operations] to peacekeeping.

The Department in 1999 was ready because good decisions were made on that balance between modernization and readiness along the way, back in 1990, '93, '95. And so I believe it's fair to ask those who focus only on the out-years, 2010 or 2020, whether the path they envision handles the readiness of 2001, 2002. These are the questions that we always have to balance.

In the years ahead, I think we have to ask some additional questions. Do we have a realistic strategy for ensuring interoperability across services? Do we have a realistic strategy for ensuring interoperability across national boundaries with our allies and friends who join us in the coalitions of the willing? I mean, that’s the reason why we put so much emphasis on the [Cooperative Defense Initiative]. I just spent a couple of hours with [Saudi Arabian Minister of Defense] Prince Sultan. Just a couple of weeks ago, I was over in the [Persian] Gulf, talking to every single Gulf country about the [Cooperative Defense Initiative].

We have learned from the Kosovo experience that we had assets in the United States that others didn’t have. We had secure communications that others didn’t have. We had precision-guided munitions that others didn’t have. We have to have greater interoperability, and that’s what the Defense Capabilities Initiative launched at the NATO summit really was about. It’s why I issued much stronger guidance to our combatant commanders, and why they have authority to work closer with our friends and allies across a whole array of activities, and try to avoid simply developing these on an ad hoc basis.

I’ll give you another example. Just last week I was in Egypt witnessing the Bright Star Operation. It was truly impressive. I watched an Italian ship offload a British troop transport craft with American air cover overhead, for a mock invasion that included Egyptian, Greek, Dutch and Jordanian forces. That was an amazing sight to see, and it was carried off—I only saw the amphibious assault operation—but it was carried off without a hitch.

To see the kind of reaction from the observers—and there were 26 [observer nations], I believe, who were in attendance—to see their reaction of how is this possible just within a decade. All of these countries who might have looked at each other through the opposite end of a telescope or a gun barrel suddenly were now all working together with a common vision, a common strategy, some commonality, at least, of weaponry, but working together to build a bond that will serve all of us well in the future. So the reality of the 21st Century is the United States will not sustain a more cohesive overwhelming force if we're not improving these coalition operations.

So we have to keep asking whether we’re giving our people the organizational tools they need to excel in innovation, and whether we have created environments that reward rather than discourage change. And this is really a vital part of what has made us preeminent, as President Eisenhower said, "Men and women who dare to dissent." And so I see it at least as a very important part of my challenge to make sure that as we look through this transformation process that we don’t stifle creative ideas, that we allow them to surface and indeed to flourish, if they can. And we want to encourage that kind of creative type of dissent.

Let me try to conclude this so we can get on to the questions and perhaps a few answers. I’d like to conclude it with a quote taken from William Manchester’s biography of Churchill. He said, "Among the perceptive observations and the shrewd conclusions of leaders such as Churchill were the clutters of other reports and forecasts completely at odds with one another. All of it, the prescient and the cockeyed, always arrives in a rush. And most men in power sorting through it believe what they want to believe, accepting whatever justifies their policies and their convictions, while taking out insurance wherever possible against the truth which may, in fact, line their wastebaskets."

And so let me say to all of you who are here, we can never know the future. We can't predict with any kind of certainty the profile of our next adversary. We can't prophesize the order of battle. But we do know this: that the best way to prevail is to ensure that when that decisive moment arrives, our men and women in uniform have a decisive edge. They deserve that edge, they expect that edge. And the way which we give it to them is by allowing our creativity and our genius and our ability to think freely and to have these kinds of exchanges, to look into the future, to examine it, to fashion programs and policies that will serve them well. So when that time comes, they will be up to the task, as they have been in each and every past conflict.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your patience. And I'll now entertain any questions you might have. Thank you. [Applause.]