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Business Executives for National Security
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen , Four Seasons Hotel, Washington, DC, Thursday, May 04, 2000

General Shelton, thank you very much for your comments, which were far more generous than they are just. I want everyone here to know how much I treasure the leadership of General Hugh Shelton and also the companionship and support that his wife Caroline has provided him over the years.

We have just returned from a trip over to Kosovo to visit our troops and to attend the change of command for EUCOM [European Command] and SACEUR [Supreme Allied Commander, Europe] where General Joe Ralston has now taken over for General [Wes] Clark. But I want everyone here to know how much I have come to depend upon the leadership of this Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who stands very tall. [Laughter and applause.] Also, not only is he standing tall, he is straight talking.

There is no one that I would rather have with me if I were in a foxhole or before a congressional committee [laughter] than Hugh Shelton. [Congressman] Jim Moran, wherever you are, please know that I say that somewhat in jest. [Laughter.]

But Hugh Shelton is somebody who represents us extraordinarily well. I recall the first session that we had with the members of the Joint Chiefs. He gave me and all the members of the Joint Chiefs, most of who are here tonight, a copy of a book called Dereliction of Duty. I had the privilege of meeting a former POW, Ron Bliss from Houston, who spent five years as a POW. And let me say that Hugh Shelton is determined to make sure that those of us who are in a position to make judgments about whether we commit our men and women in uniform to force never have to engage in that kind of activity again.

So Hugh, to you and to all the members here who are representing us and the Joint Chiefs, let me say that you have set a high standard for all of us to measure up to. So thank you for your leadership. [Applause.]

I'm not going to comment about Sid Harman [Chairman of the Executive Board, BENS] and his words about my past. As those of you know, I had a number of aspirations when I was still a very young college student. I wanted on the one hand to become a Latin professor, and on the other to become a professional basketball player. As you may or may now know, when I served in the Senate, all of my colleagues said that I had achieved both of my ambitions: I continued to dribble while speaking a dead language. [Laughter and applause.] I might say that had I had the height of General Shelton I could have been a contender, but I never quite made it. [Laughter.]

When I was at the change of command in Europe this past weekend I met a Sergeant Major Young. He got up, gave us a briefing before the Chairman and I went out to participate in the ceremony and it sounded as if the whole ceremony was going to take at least two or two and a half hours. I said, "This is a long ceremony." He replied, "It all depends on how long the speeches are, sir." [Laughter.] He happened to be a Marine, so we let it go, [laughter and applause] no doubt instructed by [former Marine Commandant] Chuck Krulak who is here with us tonight.

Two nights ago I was reading a tribute to Nightline in which Ted Koppel got up and said, "Everybody knows, none of the people here come to hear speeches at these kinds of dinners." I take that to heart, and I am not going to give you any kind of a speech this evening. I'm aware of the time and your patience. We do want to hear from the honoree.

Let me just say a couple of words about our trip to Kosovo. I think that what we've done in the past year has been a remarkable achievement. If you think back just one year ago what we were doing, in terms of that air campaign, and given all of its limitations, given all of the controversy surrounding it, it was the most successful air campaign in the history of warfare. It might have been conducted differently. It might have ended sooner. If we had acted unilaterally, if we had that ability, the result might have been different. But a year ago we were witnessing a man named Milosevic trying to purge almost a million people from Kosovo.

A year later we've seen nearly a million people resettled. We've seen the Kosovars return to their homes. We've seen Milosevic's thugs driven out of Kosovo. We've seen children go back to school. We've seen farmers who are planting crops again. And we see a rather dramatic reduction in the level of crime taking place. Yes, it's still very dangerous, and yes, there are still some flash points that could erupt at any moment, but I would say that we could not have afforded to have sat on the sidelines last year. We could not have seen this kind of ethnic cleansing take place at the close of the 20th Century and sat with our arms folded on the sidelines and watched it take place. America could not have done that.

So we acted. It would have been different if we had acted alone. It would have been different if we didn't have to have NATO formulated as a defensive organization suddenly taking offensive action, never having done so before. Perhaps then it could have ended more quickly with a much different outcome.

But what I want to say about Kosovo is that the Chairman and I had the chance to go out there and meet with those troops. I come back inspired every time that my wife and I and Caroline and Hugh Shelton have a chance to go out there and be with the troops in the field. They would make you enormously proud.

When I speak to them I tell them that they are the heirs of the Greatest Generation that Tom Brokaw and Steve Ambrose have written about in recent years. They are the heirs of that and they are the ones who are carrying forth the ideals of this country. And given all the limitations about peacekeeping missions, I will tell you that those people who are out there day in and day out are very proud of what they're doing, and they've seen what a difference they make in the lives of people who haven't had an opportunity for peace and progress and prosperity.

I think that what has taken place today in Kosovo is really symptomatic of the relationship between business and the military. There's an old expression that business follows the flag. The fact is that [business goes] where there is stability. When there is instability the first thing that comes out is investment. Where there is stability you'll find there's an opportunity. You'll find a stable environment, you'll make investments, you'll produce prosperity. That prosperity will recycle and promote more peace and democracy. That's the relationship that General Eisenhower articulated so many years ago about this strong, definable relationship between the military and between business, the total intellectual content and economic relationship that is so synergistic.

[President Eisenhower] faced -- according to Steven Ambrose -- a very dangerous decade following the end of World War II and moving into the Cold War. He said it was a very dangerous decade. Eisenhower had to face it, and we also have to face a new, dangerous decade. It's one that I would describe as being a brave new world. There are unprecedented opportunities in the world today because of the technology with which Jim is so familiar, the ability to produce more wealth for more people at a faster rate than any time in recorded human history. We have tremendous opportunities to produce levels of prosperity that heretofore have been completely unknown.

There's also the other side of that coin because it's also a grave new world in which there are new types of dangers. We see the spread of chemical and biological and, indeed, even nuclear weaponry in which we see terrorists and tyrants who seek to acquire any weapons available and to use them at any opportunity they're given.

So we have this dual-headed opportunity and danger. Perhaps that's why Churchill in his great Iron Curtain speech so many years ago said that we can glide into the mysteries -- and I'm paraphrasing -- of the 21st Century, but we can just as easily slip back into the Stone Age on the gleaming wings of science. So we have this dangerous decade ahead of us and it's why business and the military are going to continue to play such a critically important role in world affairs and in our opportunity to create a better world.

There is an opportunity to take advantage of this peace that we see today. But as Kosovo or Bosnia or Indonesia demonstrate, we can see the level of peace descend very quickly into one of conflict and chaos. If people who have to come to live in what I would call an existential hell -- one that is filled with joblessness and hopelessness and hatefulness -- then you will see tyrants and terrorists who will take every opportunity to exploit that to our great detriment.

So what we have to do is to dedicate ourselves to maintaining stability. That means being forward deployed, it means having a military that can keep us safe and sound and secure, and it means promoting stability throughout the world so there's an opportunity for business to invest and to have the opportunity to generate prosperity. That's basically why all of you have been such tremendous supporters of BENS and that's why we pay tribute this evening to an outstanding soldier and a businessman.

The Chairman has outlined why we pay tribute to Jim Kimsey [co-founder, America Online] tonight. I noticed in the paper as we just arrived back in town, that about two or three nights ago he had occasion to attend a dinner to celebrate music in the age of Confucius. We have no Confucian drums to beat tonight, Jim, but I thought it would be appropriate to call upon the words of Confucius who said that, "The way of a superior man is three-fold. Virtuous, he is free from anxieties. Wise, he is free from perplexities. Bold, he is free from fear."

I think all of those things are reflected in his life, not only as a warrior, but also as a successful business leader. So I am privileged to be here this evening to say what a pleasure and honor it is for me to share this award with you, Jim.

I might conclude, by picking up on what Sid was saying earlier about my flights or poetry. Many years ago in a moment of sheer levity I decided to sit down and pen something that was quite light-hearted. I was under a big oak tree at the time, and I was looking up at this giant oak and I said that I wish I could be like this oak. I wrote, "man stands tense to step among the stars, his jargon brimming with non-declining quasars, and soon he'll tell us whether life exists on Mars. Now the thought of being laminated to a ray of light is heavy seed, indeed. But if the choice were mine to make, knowing life to be at stake, I would choose to know the secret of the oak tree. Caring not for ancestry, knowing not of history, but satisfied, it seems, to be." I thought, wouldn't it be great just to be? That sentiment overtook me for just a moment because then I realized that the difference is we were not meant just to be.

Everybody in this room was meant to do. As a result of the great commitment that all of you have made in the service, in business, in contributing to this organization, to keeping this country strong and righteous and proud, we have been able to promote the greatest ideals of democracy, freedom, prosperity and progress.

So for all that you've done and all that you are and continue to do, let me say thank you. [Applause.]