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DoD News Briefing: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
October 07, 1997

Press Conference Moderator: Southeastern European Defense Ministerial has come to a close. Let me open the concluding press conference. I am pleased to give the floor to the Minister of Defense of the Republic of Bulgaria, Mr. Georgi Annaniev to wrap up the results of the meeting.

Defense Minister Georgi Annaniev: Distinguished Ministers, Ladies and gentlemen, Dear friends, This long but beneficial day full of discussions is over now. Such discussions were held in an atmosphere of openness and good will as all participants endeavored to reach at specific agreements that might turn regional cooperation into a vital factor of stability in this region.

Secretary Cohen was right to say that what is at issue here is not the establishment of a regional club, of some closed society, but of an efficient instrument instead that will allow to mobilize the energies of this region to solve specific problems of common interest.

The Joint Declaration that was adopted and the attachment thereto containing specific initiatives have embraced all proposals of multilateral nature put forward in the course of the Ministerial Meeting.

United around the idea of a common aspiration to the western security institutions, the role of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as a guarantor of the North Atlantic community's security, the responsibility and the continuance of integration processes, the decisive role of regional cooperation as a key to attaining the basic strategic objective -- a whole and inseparable security for Europe, we have agreed to further deepen and enrich previously established mechanisms of multilateral regional cooperation in the name of our common aspiration to security.

This was indeed a long but interesting day. Just five years ago such a meeting seemed unthinkable, and any ideas of regional cooperation in the field of defense fell within the scope of science fiction. This time we made it. It seems to me I have every reason to claim this on everyone's behalf, and our nations will certainly appreciate it.

I wish to thank all participants for their contribution to today's meeting's success. And thank you for having paid such a considerable interest in this meeting.

Moderator: Would any of you, distinguished Ministers, like to add anything to this opening statement? Secretary Cohen.

Secretary Cohen: First, I want to thank Minister Annaniev and the Government of Bulgaria for hosting this important meeting. The Southeastern European Defense Ministerial is a significant effort to promote peace and stability throughout this vital region. Southeastern Europe has long been known more for its turmoil, than its tranquillity.

Today, for instance, a force from 36 nations is helping to restore peace in Bosnia. Tomorrow I'll be visiting both American and Russian troops in Bosnia. The United Nations has a force of five thousand from seven countries in Eastern Slovenia. The United States and the Nordic countries currently have a peacekeeping force of about a thousand troops in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. A multinational force lead by Italy recently left Albania.

The deployment of these peacekeeping forces shows the commitment of the United States, NATO and the United Nations to stability in this region. This meeting shows that countries in the region are committed to replacing confrontation with cooperation, and are building trust where there used to be suspicion. Preventing future crisis requires us to build a security architecture that will promote regional cooperation and integration of Southeastern Europe into broader European Institutions.

Today we discussed specific measures to begin the construction of this regional security architecture and this included the following:

  • Confidence building measures, such as sharing information to promote transparency and exchanges of defense officials. Such steps build understanding and they change old thinking.
  • Improved regional cooperation through bilateral and multilateral institutions and mechanisms. In this regard, Bulgaria's Black Sea Initiative can make an important contribution.
  • Regional arms control, once the arms control provisions of the Dayton Accord are completed.
  • Steps toward greater integration in the Western institutions, especially NATO, the Partnership for Peace and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council are important paths to greater integration.

At this meeting I also stressed that the door to NATO membership remains open, although the doorway is at the top of a staircase that must be climbed. And to reach the top of that staircase, countries must do the following:

  • they must be democracies and respect human rights;
  • develop free market economies;
  • establish good relations with their neighbors;
  • place their militaries under civilian control;
  • work towards making their militaries compatible with NATO standards.

The United States wants a Europe that is peaceful, undivided and democratic, and Americans understand that the United States is more secure when Europe is stable, peaceful and prosperous. This Ministerial Meeting has been an important step toward creating conditions for stability in Southeastern Europe. Thank you.

Q: Nadya Podobnik, Slovene Press Agency. A question for Secretary Cohen regarding Slovenia's inclusion in this meeting. There has been a heated debate in Slovenia recently about Slovenia's inclusion in the Southeastern European region in the Madrid declaration and now in this meeting because Slovenia places itself in Central Europe. So I would like to hear NATO's arguments why this placing in Southeastern Europe?

Secretary Cohen: The issue at Madrid had no more to do with the location of Slovenia than it had to do with the location of Romania. The issue that was decided in Madrid had to do with how many countries would be included in the first draft. And it was felt that three was preferable and you could develop a consensus for the three. It did not depend upon the location of Slovenia.

I think it's very clear, by virtue of the statements made at Madrid, that Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria, and others will, if they continue on their present course, certainly be high on the list for admission in the future decisions. But they must measure up to the standards set by NATO.

There is no boundary for NATO in terms of geography as long as the countries are committed to the ideals that I have laid out, the criteria established by NATO in terms of capability as far as restructuring the military, subordination of the military to civilian authority, to be a producer of security as opposed to being a consumer of security and the other steps that are necessary.

Then Slovenia, Romania, and other countries, I know Bulgaria is very interested, virtually every one here who is not currently a member is interested, and what we have done to encourage all the members who are not currently members of NATO to participate in the PfP program, enhance PfP program to become actively involved in the bilateral and multilateral exercises with a goal toward integrating to becoming fully interoperable with NATO. So it had nothing... it had little to do with the geography or location, but rather meeting the qualifications of NATO membership.

Q: Sonya Sabcheva, Radio France International, Bulgarian Section. My question is also addressed to Mr. Cohen. Mr. Secretary, it has been decided to have the three nations admitted to membership negotiations -- Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, assume their share of the financial burden. There's no point in asking you whether a country such as mine -- Bulgaria, and the other countries in our region will be able to handle such financial challenge. This certainly seems to be a rhetoric question, don't you think.

My real question is phrased differently. Is the US ready to get involved in anything related thereto, such as initiatives, programs? And if the answer is yes, has anything been planned yet, and what are the time frames. Let me repeat -- are you prepared? I'd appreciate a really specific answer, could well be even a "yes" or "no" answer. Are you prepared?

Secretary Cohen: With respect to the three countries that have been recommended for admission to NATO there are costs involved. The countries that have been recommended for accession to NATO appear willing to bear those costs. Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, each has been recommended by NATO for inclusion, are going through the process of identifying what needs to be done in terms of restructuring their military, reforming their military, taking such measures that will allow them to carry out a full participation in NATO.

The costs need not be excessive. They should be manageable, they should be reasonable and affordable. What we have been discussing is precisely what types of things need to be done and in what time frame. We are not insisting, NATO is not insisting that each of the three countries recommended for admission must perform all of these reform measures by 1999 or by the year 2000. It is contemplated that these reforms will take a number of years. But these countries must be on a very clear course of reform and restructuring in order to gain approval by the Parliaments who have to pass judgment on each of the countries. So there will be costs involved.

Let me say that for each of the countries the costs will be less than they would be if they were not granted admission into NATO. Each country would still be required to modernize its military, it would be required to upgrade its capabilities. If they were separate and independent from NATO I would suggest to you, and I believe most of the Defense Ministers here would agree, that it will be more expensive if they were to do this alone or separate and apart from NATO.

So there will be costs involved and we believe they will be less by virtue of an attempt to assess what needs to be done to see that those assessments are responsible, reasonable and affordable and they are fully integrated with NATO's obligations.

And so, yes, there will be costs that will be involved. NATO will have costs involved as well, the United States will have costs. We have presented those costs in terms of an estimate to the members of Congress. There is a very detailed study underway so that we can have a consensus on exactly how much will be involved, and those costs will be presented to the individual parliaments.

Q: Mr. Secretary, all major news agencies announced today that high-ranking Russian representatives came up with statements in Moscow that this Sofia Ministerial was in violation of a silent parity agreement reached between the US and Russia. Would you care to comment on this?

Secretary Cohen: I have not had an occasion to read or hear the statement that has come from Moscow, but I recently arrived from Maastricht where I had an occasion to meet with the new Minister of Defense, Sergeyev.

We had a very positive constructive meeting. He presented a position paper to the Ministerial at Maastricht. We had dinner together, we had a very positive, I thought, engaging and constructive relationship, one I hope to build upon.

We have a NATO - Russia Charter that has been signed. And that has been an effort on the part of NATO to alleviate any concerns on the part of Russia that NATO enlargement is in any way directed against Russia or any other country. NATO enlargement is really for something, it's not against anyone. It is for promoting stability, democracy and prosperity.

And so NATO enlargement is designed to bring to Central European countries, Southeastern European countries, other countries who wish to gain membership to NATO, not excluded by any geography, the benefits that have been enjoyed by Western Europe ever since World War II. And many of the countries we are talking about have not enjoyed those benefits. Stability, prosperity, democracy, that's what NATO enlargement is designed to accomplish.

With respect to this particular meeting, this conference, it can in no way be construed as upsetting any parity between Russia and NATO. This is a Defense Ministerial that has been in the making for several months now, well known to all parties, and what it has entailed is simply a discussion and an agreement amongst all of the members that are here about what steps should be undertaken to promote greater transparency, greater cooperation, greater sharing of information on defense budgets, greater sharing of the ways in which the countries here can cooperate with each other and not simply duplicate or engage in redundant military build-ups.

This is a conference that I think is very positive, very constructive and will promote greater stability throughout Europe. In no way should it be construed by anyone as being divisive or directed against Russia, or upsetting any parity or balance. This is something that is promoting greater prosperity and stability, that is in Russia's interest as well as all of the countries represented here.

Moderator: Thank you. Any questions, dear colleagues, that you may have failed to put forward, will be left for the next Ministerial in Skopje next year. Distinguished Ministers, Your Excellencies, thank you. I hereby declare this press conference closed.

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