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Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen at the Stand-Up Ceremony of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Dulles International Airport, Va., Oct. 1, 1998
As Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, Dulles International Airport, Va., Thursday, October 01, 1998

Thank you. We stand here today, extending our thanks to many people who made this day possible. But it is no exaggeration for me to say to say that there is one person without whom we would not be here today, and that is Dr. John Hamre. John, you reminded all of us that with passion and perseverance we can indeed move mountains. And I want to indicate to all who are here, that I've served with many people during the course of my public life, of nearly 30 years, and I've never served with a servant like John Hamre who brings intelligence, dedication, patriotism and great humor to the job. And as a result of all that he brings to the job, we now have this new agency and for that we're deeply deeply grateful. [Applause.]

Fifty years ago, in the wake of our triumph in the Second World War, America stood at a pivot point in history. We faced a new world of new threats. Science had split the atom and ideology had split the world. America’s very survival demanded that we think anew and that we act anew. Among our greatest acts was to unify all of our military services under a single Department, the whole greater than the sum of its remarkable parts.

Today, in the wake of our triumph in the Cold War, America also stands at another pivot point. We face not the old precarious balance of nuclear weapons and nuclear terror with the Soviet Union, but new types of terrors: more insidious weapons in the hands of more reckless people – rogue regimes and fanatical terrorists who are more likely to use them and are less concerned with the consequences of their use. Once again our survival, our right to live free from fear, demands that we think anew and that we act anew. So once again we are unifying our efforts and creating a new whole, one that will be greater than the sum of its remarkable parts.

To those of you who have served so well in the Defense Special Weapons Agency, the Defense Technology Security Administration and the On-Site Inspection Agency, this department is stronger, our nation is more secure and the world is safer because of who you are and the great work that you have done.

Among you are the proud successors of the Manhattan Project, who served as guardians of the atom through five decades of bitter Cold War. You protected our forces with innovative defenses against chemical and biological weapons and empowered them with the tools and technologies to find and destroy these weapons before they were ever unleashed against us.

Others among you have served as our voice in the difficult debates between sharing American technology with the world today and maintaining our technological edge tomorrow. You never forgot, however, that at the end of all the discussions and all the debates and the decisions stand the soldiers and citizens we have pledged to protect.

Still there are others out there -- because of the lights I can’t quite see all of you -- but you have been our nation’s eyes and ears, quietly crossing continents, alone, unarmed and unafraid, to oversee the dismantling and the destruction of thousands of missiles, warheads, bombers and tanks once aimed at our country. After living for a half century with what one author described as "one foot in the apocalypse," you did what many said could never be done or would never be done: You helped us step back from the nuclear abyss. So to all of you here today in this hanger, your nation is forever grateful.

Let me also say that at the same time, there’s a great irony of this particular moment in history. How the apparent clarity of the Cold War has given way to the complexities that we find in today’s headlines. Saddam Hussein brings the world to the brink of conflict over his pursuit of an arsenal of terror. There are nuclear blasts in the Indian desert and Pakistani mountains that send shockwaves of concern reverberating around the world. North Korea hurls a missile over Japan and into the Pacific. Russian scientists, and their nuclear secrets, are lured into the hands of the highest bidder.

Today’s harsh reality is too powerful to ignore: At least 25 countries have, or are in the process of acquiring and developing, nuclear, biological or chemical weapons and the means to deliver them. It is thus the height of folly to think that we can still deter our adversaries by simply pounding our nuclear chest alone. That can no longer be done. And it is the height of failure to diminish or decrease our efforts to control the spread of weapons of mass destruction. We have confront these threats in places such as Baghdad before they come to our shores.

Because America should not rush into the future without being rooted in the proven past, we turn to you, who are the proven professionals. I want you to know that by bringing you together here we are elevating and enhancing the critical work that you do as well as maximizing your talent, your creativity and your remarkable expertise.

Your charge is perhaps the most vital national security mission ever to face our nation. To persevere in reducing the nuclear, chemical and biological arsenals of the world. To prevent the seepage into the global arms bazaar of those that remain. To protect America from those who would use these terror weapons against us. And to peer into the opaque windows of tomorrow and to avoid the future shock of unknown threats.

At the dawn of the nuclear age, the financier and presidential advisor Bernard Baruch, I think, captured our fundamental challenge when he said, "Behind the black portent lies hope. If we fail to seize it, then we have damned every man to be the slave of fear. But if we seize it with faith, that hope can be our salvation."

Well fifty years hence, I would hope that those who follow us say that we too were bold. That we too, were present at a new creation, were unafraid to think anew, to organize anew, to act anew. And I hope they will say that, with faith, we too seized the hopes and challenges of our time and helped to catapult America, safe and secure, into a new century.

On behalf of all of us at the Department of Defense, let me say how grateful we are for your service, how hopeful we are that you're going to bring even greater talent, creativity, and ingenuity to the future to keep America safe and sound for the 21st century.

Thank you very much.