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Chicago Council on Foreign Relations/Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce Mid-America Club
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary Of Defense William S. Cohen, Chicago, Illinois, Tuesday, September 26, 2000

John [Rielly, President of the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations], thank you very much for announcing the topic of my presentation this afternoon, and also for acknowledging the sponsors of this luncheon. It seems more than appropriate that somehow there be five sponsors for a luncheon for someone coming from the Pentagon. [Laughter.] I'm sure that was just accidental or coincidental.

In addition, I'd like to introduce my wife, Janet Langhart Cohen, who considers herself to be a Chicagoan [applause] and thinks this is the greatest city in the country. [Applause.] And obviously she has not spent much time in Bangor, Maine. [Laughter]

I was not quite sure how I should proceed this afternoon. My staff has prepared a 31-page speech, which I cannot see myself inflicting on you this afternoon. And of course, I do have some former colleagues of mine from Bowdoin College here, Pete Mone and Bill Farley, and I think they would be the first to raise their hands in despair if I should try and inflict that kind of a speech on you.

I asked John, "How should I proceed?" And he said, "Well, just give them 10 or 15 minutes of something light and not too intellectual." [Laughter.] He said, "I've heard you speak before. I know you can do it." [Laughter.]

I recently attended a tribute at Bowdoin College, received an award there, and it was a wonderful experience for me. I had a chance to see many of my old classmates, and it was in a Shakespearean theater setting.

During that event I told one of my favorite stories about Bowdoin College. My son graduated from Bowdoin back in 1985, and he told me the story about his senior year when the most popular professor on the Bowdoin campus was a professor of religion. That's not why he was the most popular. He was the most popular because he always asked the same question every year in the final exam. [Laughter.] And the students, of course, loved him for that.

They would ignore the course all year long, then the night before would really cram. They'd go in and they'd ace the exam, on which the question was always, "Discuss the wanderings of Saint Paul." Except that in my son's senior year, when they all walked into the classroom, they sat down, they looked at the exam, and suddenly the butterflies started in the stomach, and many of them became physically ill. Almost all of them departed within the first two or three minutes, and everyone left within five minutes, except for one student. The question was "Discuss the meaning of Christ's Sermon on the Mount." And this student sat there for the full three hours, writing and writing and writing in his blue book, to the astonishment of his professor.

And when the time was finally up, he walked up to the professor, he handed the blue book in, and he turned around and he walked out with what Mark Twain would call the calm confidence of a Christian holding four aces. [Laughter.]

And his professor looked down at the exam, and it said, "To the experts I leave the meaning of Christ's Sermon on the Mount. As for me, I should like to discuss the wanderings of St. Paul." [Laughter.] That's in true Bowdoin tradition, I must tell you.

I would like to discuss today, rather than a prepared speech, a little bit of Janet and my wanderings around the world, perhaps touch on a few key issues, and then submit myself to your tender mercies and questions that you might have on your mind about our position in the world today.

One of the things that we have tried to do is to reconnect America to its military. One of the fascinating things about the end of the Cold War is that we tried to downsize and have a smaller military because that was demanded by all of our constituents at that time. Certainly that was the demand of the people of Maine; that we had to spend less on defense and have a peace dividend. And so we've had a lot of consolidation. We've had four rounds of base closures, all of which are necessary. In fact, we need at least two additional rounds. And Bob [Stuart, former ambassador to Norway], you were very much a part of those base closures.

But the down side of the consolidations and the efficiencies that we achieved is that there's a less visible presence of our military in the lives of most people today, and so you tend not to see them on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps you see them during a crisis, such as that occurred in the Gulf or in Kosovo, then you tend to see our men and women in action, and you're very proud of what you see taking place. But on a day-to-day basis, there tends to be a gap between civilian society and the military society as such. And what we have tried to do is to close that gap by reconnecting the American people to its military.

That was one of the reasons one of the first stops I made was in Springfield. And I had occasion to address the Illinois legislature. It was a unique forum for a Secretary of Defense to talk about issues affecting national security. But I wanted to talk about our people in the military. I've gone to the chambers of commerce in Tampa, in Torrence, in San Antonio.

I also dropped in the campus of Microsoft, and I came in a military helicopter, and they must have thought it was Red Dawn invasion taking place. [Laughter.] But I wanted all of those brilliant people, young people sitting down at those computer terminals doing all kinds of magical and wonderful things, to know that it was because of the people who were wearing the uniform, who were out there day in and day out making sacrifices, preserving their freedom that they could sit at those computers and could, in fact, create the kind of wealth that we're seeing today all across this country.

I want you to know, notwithstanding what you read in the paper, that overall, the morale in the military is very high. I just came back from a very quick trip over to Asia. I visited six countries in eight days. I was at Kunsan [Air Base] in Korea. Those airmen are out there for a year's deployment unaccompanied, meaning no spouses. They are out there on the very tip of the spear, looking at North Korea. And their morale was sky-high. The same is true in the Philippines, the same is true in Japan, wherever I've gone. When our people are out doing their jobs, that's when their morale is highest.

As you take a look at Bosnia, one of the places where we have the highest reenlistment rates. They see that they're making a difference in the lives of other people. They feel good about what they're doing. And they can see the transformation taking place in that society itself. And so morale is up.

Will we have complaints from some that perhaps they're overdeployed or stretched too thin? We'll always have complaints such as that. But overall, I will tell you, the morale is very high. And you should be very proud of these people who are serving us. [Applause.]

I go out in the deserts of Kuwait and the Udairi Range and watch the Marines have a live fire exercise when the temperature's about 110 degrees. They're out there doing their job. When I go out to the Persian Gulf on board some of our aircraft carriers in the summertime, the temperature climbs, with a combined humidity and heat factor, to 140 degrees. They are wearing ice collars around their necks. They have ice jackets under their shirts. They are enduring the blast from the F-14s and the F-18s taking off pursuing Southern Watch, protecting us against Saddam either moving against his neighbors or against his own people. And they are doing an incredible job, and they are pleased and proud of the job they're doing.

I've been to Egypt, watching the Bright Star Exercise. And there you see so many countries who once looked at each other through a gun and the lenses of combat, today actually exercising together. And I've been to Scott Air Force Base [Belleville, Illinois] where we see the hub of the great military transportation network in the world.

But wherever I go, I see people who are proud of the job that they're doing. They believe in their mission. They believe in what they're doing in Kosovo. They believe in what they're doing in Bosnia in particular. If you look back at what took place just a few years ago, you had a country that was certainly war-torn. Today you have Croatia, which is now turning democratic. Today you have a multi-ethnic team from Bosnia going to the Olympics carrying a common flag. There are tremendous changes taking place as a result of American leadership and American participation in these missions.

We cannot take them for granted, and that's another challenge that we've had. We've had the largest pay raise in a generation. We have changed the retirement from 40 percent back to 50 percent [of basic pay]. We've had what we all pay table reform, so that we try to give even additional pay raises to those in the mid-career level, so we keep the best people who have 10 and 12 years of experience. We want them.

We now are focusing on housing and health care, and those are two areas we really have to address. There are a lot of inequities in the housing situation that we have, and there are a lot of deficiencies in our health care system, and that's what we're focusing on today. But we have to always consider quality of life is not something that's just secondary; quality of life means quality of service. And if people really are unhappy or concerned about the health of their families while they're out being forward-deployed, they're not going to be doing their job. So we have to look at quality of life as being integral to our military capability.

Now, I want to say just a few words about the foreign policy aspects of all of this, because as a nation -- whether we have a Republican president or a Democratic president, whoever it is going to be in the future – we have some fundamental questions to ask and answer.

When do we act as a nation? What are the burdens and the responsibilities and the benefits of being a superpower? When should we intervene? When should we resist the temptation, when the calls come to us for help? What are the kind of factors do we take into account in making a decision as to whether we commit our forces?

I think there are a number of factors we have to take into account. First, we are living in an increasingly interdependent world. It was Eisenhower who said, way back in the '50s that "What takes place and what happens in Indonesia will have an impact in Indiana."

I was just in Indonesia. I can tell you, while many people don't focus on that country, it's probably the fourth largest in population, almost two hundred ten, fifteen, million people with a territory of about 3,000 miles, mostly islands strung together, with a potential for great instability over there. What takes place in Indonesia will have an impact on all of Southeast Asia. And they're all concerned about that, so we should be concerned about it. And as we saw last year, when they had an economic downturn, it affected us over here as well. So what takes place in virtually any part of the globe will have an impact upon us.

So we have a doctrine, as far as the military concerned. It's called "shape, respond, prepare." We shape the political environment, the global political environment, by being forward deployed. When we're out there showing a presence -- in Asia, for example, where we have 100,000 of our troops forward deployed – our nations look at us. Our friends take a look at the kind of people that we have, how professional they are, how dedicated, how educated, how capable, what kind of military force we have, and they make judgments. They say, "This is a country whose side I want to be on." And the same signal is sent to your potential adversaries, saying, "That's a country I don't want to take on."

So even though it seems burdensome in terms of how much we have to spend to maintain our military, by being out there forward deployed we are helping to shape the environment in ways that are advantageous to us.

Now, I know we have representatives here from Taiwan and also from mainland China. Janet and I had a chance to go to China in July. I have pointed out to the Chinese that they are among the principal beneficiaries of our presence in Asia. From time to time you hear that perhaps the United States should have a lower presence. But as a result of our being forward deployed in the way that we are, China has been a principal beneficiary because they've been able to pursue their four modernizations.

If we were to leave Asia today or tomorrow or even next year, what would happen? Who would fill the vacuum? Would it be China? Would it be Japan? Would it be India? Would it be Pakistan? Who would move in to fill the void that we would leave under those circumstances, and what would be the impact upon stability of the region? As a result of our being forward deployed with no intent to conquer territory, we have no intent other than to provide stability.

I think all of you here understand the meaning of stability, because it really is a precedent that you have to have to promote prosperity. If there is stability in a region, what do you do? You seek to invest. And when you invest in a region, that helps promote prosperity. That prosperity in turn helps to promote democratic ideals, and it's self-reinforcing, what I call a virtuous circle. So, investment follows and business follows the flag.

So it's important that we be forward-deployed in Asia. It's important that we be forward-deployed in Europe. It's important that we be in the Persian Gulf with our 23,000 troops that are currently there. Indeed, we are maintaining stability in key regions of the world, and we are the beneficiaries of that, as well as all of the other nations in the region. And if we weren't there, then you wouldn't see the kind of prosperity in Southeast Asia; you wouldn't see Singapore be able to carry on in the fashion that they are, or the prospects for the Philippines to make a recovery, or Thailand to make a recovery. So our presence is critical to a global stability. And we need to continue to focus on the need for spending at adequate levels.

Now, what about resisting the temptation to be everywhere? I've made the statement before that we are not the world's policemen, but we can never afford to become a prisoner of world events. So we have, from time to time, other countries turning to us. It happened most recently in East Timor. The Australians called us and said, "We need your help, and we want you to be our principal partners in this endeavor."

We had to say, "Wait a minute. We're involved in Bosnia, we're involved in a major way in Kosovo, we're in the Gulf, we're over in Asia, we can't continue to bear the full burden here. We can be supportive, but you must take the lead and we must encourage the other nations in the region to form that peacekeeping force in East Timor." That has been done. So we have to make judgments like this.

Africa is important to us, and we want to be helpful in Africa. We want to help in their demining program. We also have something called the African Crisis Response Initiative, where we want to train African nations to train together so they can undertake peacekeeping missions on their own, with some support from us, but basically they become the peacekeepers.

In South America, where there is a serious drug problem in terms of drugs coming into this country, [we have developed] Plan Colombia. We want to work with our South American friends to see if we can maintain the kind of stability and democracy that currently is there and not be overturned by the drugs that can corrupt their societies.

We also have what I would call a Superpower Paradox. This is what this Administration is facing, and what the next administration is facing. There is not another country in the world that is prepared to take on the United States directly. No one has that capability. Rather, they will seek an Achilles' Heel. They will find asymmetrical ways of attacking us, and that means chemical or biological weapons. There are some 25 countries that are developing weapons of mass destruction.

We have to deal with this issue of chemical and biological weapons and prepare our society. What happens, for example, if you had multiple attacks here in the United States on American soil, taking place nearly simultaneously? How do you cope with that? Is that too far-fetched? Is this someone from the Pentagon simply trying to gin up a scare tactic? Well, go to Tokyo and ask them what happened during the Sarin gas release a few years ago. We know that when others tried to blow up the Trade Tower they were also planning to use chemical weapons.

So this is a threat that we see in the future, and it's not that far in the future. We have to be prepared. So we are identifying roughly a hundred and twenty cities in the country. And we have to train the first responders so that you can, number one, identify, if there's an attack, what was used. Was it a chemical? Was it a biological agent? Was it contagious? Not contagious? How do you identify it? How do you treat it? What do you do with the people who have been afflicted? Do you take them to the hospital if it's contagious? So we are now trying to train our cities to be prepared for this kind of contingency, hoping it never happens, but being prepared to deal with it once it does. So those things are under way as well.

Then there is cyber-terrorism. We have countries who have dedicated units or cells that are seeking ways in which they can, in a time of crisis, take down our transportation systems, the communications systems, financial systems or banking system. We have to protect all of those because they are critical infrastructure, and we are spending a good deal of money in Washington, especially in the Defense Department, to protect that critical infrastructure from that kind of external attack. So those are just a few of the issues that we are facing.

Technology is said to be the great equalizer. But I think [Alvin] Toffler would also tell you that it can be a great destabilizer, because, as he said, "the sword of technology can also cut off the hand that's wielding it." Churchill made a similar comment in that great Iron Curtain speech of his. He said, "We can return to the Stone Age on the gleaming wings of science." And so we always have to be aware that as science is benefiting us, it can also be something that can be quite destructive in our society.

At the same time, we are also undertaking a transformation of our military. I won't take time to explain that today, but let me conclude my remarks on the spirit of bipartisanship.

We're going through an election right now, and John, as you pointed out, I have had the privilege of being a Republican in a Democratic administration. On the day that President Clinton called me four years ago, I asked him, "Why do you want me in this administration?" And he said, "I want to send a signal to the country and to the Congress that when it comes to national security, there should be no party label. There should be one policy only." And I said, "On that basis, I accept."

I must tell you, it's been the greatest experience of my life -- and it's been the greatest experience of Janet's -- to be able to focus solely on the national security of our country without regard to partisan politics. It's been a wonderful experience. It's something that we need to continue. We're going to go through six or seven weeks of some pretty heavy politicking. But ultimately, when it's all over, we still have to have one foreign policy, we have to have a consensus on our role is in the world and whether we should be engaged or disengaged, whether we should continue to try to shape the environment as we have been doing, and whether or not the United States will continue to play the great role it has played.

So let me conclude here. Thank you. [Applause.]