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Ceremony Presenting Secretary William S. Cohen with the Nixon Center "Architect of the New Century" Award, Remarks as Delivered
As Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen , The Mayflower Hotel Washington DC , Tuesday, December 08, 1998

Secretary Cohen: Thank you very much. Hank, thank you very much. Mark Twain said that a man can live for a month on a good compliment. And now, you've ensured my immortality with those words ….

… But Hank [Greenberg, Chairman of the Nixon Center] is very generous with his praise. I think all of you know he's truly deserving of praise himself. In so many ways, his support for the Nixon Center, the Asia Society, the founding of the U.S.-Philippine Business Community and I could name a dozen other institutions that he's associated with, but basically, he has committed at least five decades of his life trying to build bridges between East and West based upon the policies of promoting democracy and stability, transparency and openness, and reducing trade barriers and so forth. And I think, Hank, you and Karin have really traversed the world promoting the American dream and certainly promoting the ideals that we all hold up for the rest of the world. So I am really proud to be introduced by you.

In addition to your introduction, I think we have skipped just a couple of congressmen: Congressman [Silvestre] Reyes [Tx.] and Congressman [Herbert] Bateman [Va.]. I also have to appear before you, and I want to say that you are also part of the bipartisan congressional delegation. (Applause)

I'm also particularly pleased to have Janet with me this evening. It's always special to have her join me on these occasions since she has been very supportive and understanding of the demands that come with this office. And President Nixon used to say that Pat Nixon had the toughest job of anyone in his administration because she had to applaud after every speech as if she had heard it just for the first time. (Laughter). Janet has borne this affliction and this punishment with great grace and dignity, and I am delighted you could be here for this evening, Janet. (Applause)

And we have, as you know, another special guest, another special lady, Julie Nixon Eisenhower. And I might say, Julie, that you are truly someone who has stayed, as your father might say, in the arena of politics, ideas, and public service. And you and David have done a great service to the nation with your histories and keeping the legacies of President Reagan and President Eisenhower alive and strong.

I consider it a great honor to be here this evening because the Nixon Center, in just a very few years, has established an incredible reputation for promoting a bipartisan approach to foreign policy in dealing with Russia and China and the Middle East. And I believe it's one of the many ways in which President Nixon continues to have a very tangible influence on America's foreign policy through the force of his intellect and the clarity of his vision.

Daniel Shore is someone who is here tonight. I know he came over and talked to me. He said, "My God, what are you doing here? (Laughter) . . .and I am really interested in what you're going to say." And I said, "Well, so am I." (Laughter) I could quote from T. S. Eliot and say, "How shall I presume? Shall I eat a peach? Or shall I disturb the universe?"

But what I really want to talk about is not the poetry tonight, but rather the passion of President Nixon's commitment to public service. We had, certainly, an interesting parallel in our lives. When he was in the business of promoting better relations with the Soviet Union at that time, and he was prosecuting this interest, I was prosecuting cases in Bangor, Maine. In 1972 when he was walking along the Great Wall of China, I was walking across the state of Maine, all the way from New Hampshire to Canada on foot. With the help of his brother, who is here tonight, Ed, who came to campaign for me in a small town called Old Town, Maine. Of course, history and the fates did conspire to put us at the opposite end of constitutional issue. But I must say that President Nixon never at any time diverged from his commitment and his sense of duty to this country. He continued to write about, continue to reflect upon, continue to engage in the great issues of our time.

That's something which he continued to write to me about. Whenever I would give a speech, he would critique it. He would, in fact, share some of his thoughts with me, and I would share some of my novels with him over the years. And at one time, Senator Dole asked me to come over to present a copy of one of my novels to President Nixon, and also, a short time thereafter, to Boris Yeltsin. And I recall, I think we have some representatives from Russia here tonight. Certainly, they will read about it. But when Boris Yeltsin first came to the office, I had to explain to him. I gave him a copy of the book and I said, "Mr. President, there's one little problem here. I have you eliminated in the first 10 pages of this novel. (Laughter) And I have you eliminated in a way that is very exotic." And I explained it to him and he looked over at me and he said, "Nyet." (Laughter) And he said, "science fiction." And it was so much science fiction that about three weeks after we had that meeting, he went back to Moscow, and there was an attempted coup on his life in almost precisely the way I had written. And so, I have a connection to President Yeltsin in a different context.

I thought I might just say a few words this evening. It's always difficult to stand up before an audience that's had such a great cocktail hour. And also had the benefit of at least three speeches from sitting senators. (Laughter) Not to mention a former Secretary of Defense and Energy. And Jim, you truly are an example of what bipartisanship really means in foreign policy and public service. And it's been a particular honor for me to follow in your footsteps.

But I must say that when President Clinton first called me and asked me whether or not I'd be willing to serve in this capacity, I must tell you that I was taken aback. I thought it was a very courageous move on his part. To reach across the aisle and say, I'd like to have an elected Republican sit in a Democratic administration. And I asked him why he was doing this and he said, "I want to send a signal to the country and to the Congress that we need to have bipartisanship in the formulation of our national security policy." And I gave him great credit then. I give him credit now. And I must tell you, I am eternally grateful for having the opportunity to serve in this capacity. I count my blessings day in and day out that I have the opportunity to work with, to serve beside, people like [Lt.] General [James] Jones and so many others who are in our military and [witness] how professional they are and how patriotic they are and how dedicated and so good at what they do for this country. And for me to have this opportunity to serve them and to lead them in this position is something that happens only to a very few people. And I count my blessings every day that I have this opportunity. So I thank him for that.

What I wanted to talk about this evening are some of the sort of existential questions we have to ask ourselves. We have General Boyd, a POW, former POW, who is a hero to many of us. And he had a colleague by the name of James Stockdale, Admiral Stockdale, who was asked to run on a presidential campaign as a vice president. And many of us will recall that time he stood in front of the stage, and he asked some questions. He said, "Who am I? Why am I here?" And you may recall there was sort of a ripple of laughter that was produced in the audience. But they didn't understand what his background was and really didn't understand the meaning of the questions he was asking of himself. But those are precisely the kinds of questions that we have to ask of ourselves as individuals, but also as a nation. Who are we? Why are we here? Why are we anywhere in the world? What does it mean to be the world's only superpower? What's that status really mean? And what are the benefits of it? What are the burdens? What's it cost us? How much should we pay in our taxes and our toil and the blood of our sons and daughters? Are we willing to pay that? Under what circumstances?

These are questions we not only have to ask, we've got to answer. Because if we are afflicted with confusion or self-doubt, then we will send that signal to the people who either look to us with admiration or contempt. It must be very clear that we understand what our role and what our mission is in this world. And that's really what I wanted to come back and just talk briefly about this evening. I have a brilliant speech prepared, I must tell you. I worked on it all afternoon. Unfortunately, if I inflict this on you, you will not -- you'll probably withdraw the award this evening. (Laughter). So I'll try not to do that.

But, engagement is a word that I think characterized President Nixon's life in politics. He was deeply engaged in the affairs of this country, the foreign affairs. And with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the crash of the Soviet empire, a lot of people believed that the age-old search for how we best organize human affairs had come to an end. You may recall that it was Francis Fukuyama who wrote that brilliant essay called "The End of History." And it produced a reaction by the South African academician by the name of Peter Vale. He said, "Rejoice my friends or weep with sorrow. What California is today, the world will be tomorrow." (Laughter)

And this produced another type of reaction on the part of Professor Samuel Huntington, who said, "You have it all wrong, Mister Fukuyama. We're not going to see the end of history. You're confusing the rest of the world with Europe. And we're going to see an inevitable clash between the Japanese, Confucian, Chinese, Islamic, all of these societies have different cultures, backgrounds, and interests, and we're going to see a clash of those civilizations." And this is a thesis which has produced a good deal of controversy and quite a bit of dissent.

One of the other views that I am quite familiar with is that espoused by our mutual friend, Anwar Ibrahim, who used to be the deputy prime minister of Malaysia and now occupies a cell in Kuala Lumpur. And I have been involved with Anwar for quite a few years now trying to formulate what we call the Pacific Dialogue. [It is] something that Hank and others, Karin, would come to every year, where we'd have all of the Asian countries, China, Japan, all of them coming together to meet to discuss issues of trade and of security. In Anwar's view, we need to have a Pacific charter. A charter in which we recognize that we have to really have a "feast of civilizations." That we have to be in a position to promote and embrace that which is unique to our individual societies, but also that which is universal. And this view is one that I share, that it's important that we proceed to try to accomplish that.

Which view is going to prevail really depends upon how engaged we are going to remain in these world affairs. And I would say that of all the manifold types of issues that confront this country in the 21st Century, there are three that I think will be at the top of our agenda. Number one, what takes place in Russia. Number two, the role that China will occupy in the next century. And number three, the role, and how we deal, with the issue of chemical, biological, and cyber-terrorism. Those will be the three major challenges that we have to reconcile ourselves with.

With respect to Russia, I think all of -- even though it came about very quickly, I recall that Vaclav Havel once addressed the joint session of Congress. And he said that things were happening so rapidly, he had little time to be astonished. And indeed, if you think about what's happened in the world today, just a few years, everything that you saw at that time has been almost completely reversed. But one thing that was clear: even though the collapse of the Soviet Union seemed to come about all at once, the fact is that most of us in this room could see that in the beginning was its end; that a system that was based upon coercion and totalitarian intimidation and fear really couldn't last indefinitely; that it had the seeds of its own destruction [working] from within. And so, long before Gorbachev came up with his perestroika and his glastnost, it really was the end of the Soviet empire.

So while each of us rejoiced at that collapse of that wall and the dissolution of the Soviet empire, none of us should take too much solace in the breakdown or the meltdown of the economic system or the social structure of Russia. What is taking place today is not in our long-term interest. And yes, there is a great debate still taking place inside of Russia today. And none of us should ever be supportive of pouring billions of our tax dollars down the sink of Iron Curtain institutions or corrupt banks or phony pyramid schemes. But if the Russian people are able to resolve exactly where they want to be in the next century and to pull their feet out of the past and look into the future and to push for reform, we need to support those individuals who are supporting that reform of free minds and free markets. And they have to make that determination, but we have to be at the ready to support them. Because it is not in our interest to have a country that has thousands of nuclear weapons, that has many tons of fissile material in unguarded laboratories and sheds to look into an entrophic abyss. A country such as that will not go gently in this good night. And it will run the risk of the proliferation of chemical and biological and nuclear materials which will, in fact, contribute to a great destabilization throughout the world.

We need to be concerned about that and continue to work with them in a bipartisan fashion where we can. One of the most stellar examples of that is something called the Nunn-Lugar Act, the Cooperative Threat Reduction Act. We need to make sure we continue to promote that. That act has been responsible for allowing Belarus, Kazakhstan, Ukraine all to become nuclear-free. So we need to find areas in which we can cooperate when it's in our mutual interests, and we need a bipartisan support for that from the Congress and from the country.

The same is true with respect to China. I have been to China on quite a few occasions. We have representatives from China here tonight. I can tell you there's been a dramatic transformation from the first time I went to China in 1978. At that time, all I saw throughout China was the Mao suit. Men and women dressed completely alike, very austere, no hotels, no private cars. I think if anyone went there today, you'd see a dramatically different society.

We have great areas of potential cooperation with China. We also have some areas of confrontation in terms of being able to challenge each other on issues that we believe very strongly in. We support President Nixon's one-China policy. We support the three communiqués. But we also continue to support the promotion of human rights. We also continue to support our commitment to the Taiwan Relations Act. So we have both areas of cooperation and areas of challenge. And we have to understand as we deal with Russia and China as well what the difference in those lines are -- where we can confront [and] where we can, in fact, cooperate. And so, it's terribly important that we remain engaged and we do so in a fashion that is very straightforward, that we treat each other with respect, that we not try to humiliate another country or to engage in a public discourse which is designed to try to break down their own pride and self-respect. That is the way in which we have to conduct foreign policy with China and with other countries as well.

The third area that I mentioned has to do with terrorism. All of us are aware of what has taken place throughout the globe, and indeed, in our own country. And it would be a mistake to think that terrorism is something that happens outside of the United States. You only have to think of what took place at the World Trade Center and what took place in Oklahoma City to know that terror stalks our own country as well. And we have to be wary of what kind of future we're facing with terrorism. We know that terrorists are cowards. They rejoice in the agony of their victims. They then retreat to villages where they hide behind the skirts of women and the laughter of children, and dare you to strike back. And strike back, we will. We have to remind those who are threatening our citizens and our societies that there's no place they can hide. There's no place that's too remote for the long arm of justice or the long arm of response to reach them.

But the biggest challenge we face in the future is not only from the conventional type of terrorism. It has to do with biological and chemical weapons and cyber-terrorism. These are the issues where it's going to be much harder to fall upon or rely upon deterrents. Deterrence works when we're talking about dealing with state-sponsored acts. It's much more difficult to talk about deterrence as far as chemical and biological weapons because by the time you determine that they've been used, you have a very difficult time determining who, in fact, caused them to be used. Deterrence is not going to be sufficient to prevent their use in the future. We have to depend upon defense. We have to depend upon intervention, and we have to promote the safety of our citizens both here and abroad.

This is something, once again, that we need bipartisan support for. It's going to require a great deal of effort, and it's going to require something else. It's going to require more intelligence-gathering. It's something that we have failed to really face up to in this country so far. And that is: if you want us to deal with terrorism -- meaning us, our society -- to deal with terrorism, we have to try to interrupt it before it's ever inflicted. To do that, we need more information from a variety of sources. And the more information we gather, the more compromise there is on the right of privacy, which is in pretty short order today in any event. And so, we're going to have to reconcile how much we're willing to give up in the way of our individual liberties in order to be secure. And we have yet to face up to that kind of dilemma as a free society. But it's something that is going to challenge us. It will become very evident the next time we have any kind of a terrorist act and the people of this country call upon us to do something. It's a challenge that I think is going to confront all of us. And I submit to you we have to dedicate all of our resources to see if we can't deal with it in a constructive fashion.

I feel myself building up to a senatorial speech. I said I wasn't going to go on long. (Laughter) I recently had the experience of being over in Denmark, [and I] went to that great castle where Hamlet made his speeches. And I recall the lines out of Polonius, who said, "Brevity is the wit of soul." And I keep that in mind this evening. I will try to close with a couple of admonitions. George Jessel said, "If you don't strike oil within three minutes, stop boring." (Laughter) I think Lord Mancroft had it better. He said, "Anyone can start a speech. It's like a love affair." "Any damn fool," he said, "can start a speech because it's like a love affair, but it takes considerable expertise to end it." (Laughter)

Let me end it with a quote taken from President Nixon. He said about 15 years ago, he said that there was no question whether America can win an arms race, an economic race, or political race. He suggested that the real contest was the battle of wills. And he said, "That real peace requires that we resolve to use our strength in ways short of war. There is, today, a vast gray area between peace and war, and the struggle will largely be decided in that area. But nothing that today's generation can leave for tomorrow’s will mean more than the heritage of liberty. The struggle to protect freedom and to build real peace can raise the sites of Americans from the mundane to the transcendent, and from the immediate to the enduring." Ultimately, he was saying that America's security and stability absolutely is essential to global security.

I quoted from [T.S.] Eliot before, and I'll quote from him again, when he said that between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act, lies the shadow. Well, somewhere between that shadowland of romantic globalism and narrowly defined pragmatism lies the basis for a conceptually sound and a politically grounded policy that's going to allow this country to play a constructive and influential role in world affairs. And it's my judgment that the Nixon Center and the men and women who are here tonight will help us reach that promised land.

Thank you again, ladies and gentlemen, for the award this evening. (Applause)