Christian Science Monitor breakfast with Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
Friday, March 24, 2000
Christian Science Monitor breakfast, Washington, DC
Secretary Cohen: Once again after facing this group I'll say who am I and why am I here? (Laughter)
Q: It's about 8:00 o'clock. I think we'll get started. It sounds like we're already started. We're on the record.
It was nice of you to come in, Mr. Secretary. We were saying you've been here before, I don't know how many breakfasts, but in other roles, at least a dozen times.
I was hoping you'd have a few words about your old friend John McCain, but Ken tells me you don't talk politics these days. (Laughter) But he's probably caught your interest a little bit, hasn't he?
Secretary Cohen: I think he caught everybody's interest quite a bit. I can't say any more in terms of what his future will be. He appears to have gotten a fairly warm reception and has returned to Capitol Hill. I think he will go out and campaign for the various candidates as he said he would and try to keep his reform efforts very much in the news and alive. I can't comment in terms of...
Q: Do you think he'll stay within the party, or is that something...
Secretary Cohen: He has said he is staying in the party.
After that news clip... (Laughter)
Q: Aside from the anniversary related to aspects of your recent trip, talk a bit about what you feel were the accomplishments. And as you do so, would you talk a bit about the relationship now the U.S. has with Vietnam. As I try to think it through myself, it kind of eludes me. I can't quite figure out what it is. So over to you.
Secretary Cohen: Thanks very much, and I do appreciate having a chance to periodically come to your breakfast meetings. As a young congressman it was a great opportunity for me to get a wider audience. As the Secretary of Defense I'm looking for a narrower one now. (Laughter)
Let me talk about Vietnam. Paul Richter was on that trip and he can perhaps give you a better insight in terms of, from a journalist's perspective.
I was there in 1994 when I was a member of the Senate, stopped and visited in Hanoi. At that time I saw at least the signs of great dynamism on the part of the economy, looking at the people, their work ethics, their openness, their friendliness to the United States which struck me as really quite remarkable. But I didn't see much in the way of real positive economic development yet, but I could see the seeds of it.
This time back in Hanoi I have not seen a dramatic change in the economic conditions of the people, but then again I was only there in Vietnam for basically two days, so here I am, an expert on Vietnam. So it's hard for anyone to make any kind of a judgment based on two days being in the country.
Q: Did you feel any awkwardness in your relationship with any of the leaders? What about attitudes you ran into?
Secretary Cohen: The answer is there was no awkwardness at all. As a matter of fact all of the people I met with talked only about the future. Not one of them raised anything about the past. In fact I raised something about the past and that was the accounting for our missing in action. I wanted to go out and visit one of the excavation sites to say how important this was to America, and that that was going to remain key in terms of the cooperation so that we could build upon that level of cooperation and then start to establish a much wider bilateral relationship with them including trade, economic, diplomatic, and ultimately military to military.
My job in going there was to see if we couldn't take an incremental approach to building better military cooperation between our two countries. From that perspective they were quite open, and I think we'll see some significant progress made over a period of time.
We want to take it slowly, they want to take it slowly, so I suggested areas of military types of contact which would built some confidence. So we talked about demining and flood control and military medicine, other types of research into dioxin. They were quite willing to do that. In fact I offered to send teams over to pursue that and they accepted it, so I think we'll see a gradual warming of those relations at the military-to-military level.
If you move from the North down to the South you see two very different countries. There has been, I would say only modest economic development up north. Down in the south in Ho Chi Minh City it was quite dramatic. And they have a mayor, I hope I don't get in trouble by saying this, but I said to him at the time that you know, a student of Ho Chi Minh, you appear to be a student of Milton Friedman, University of Chicago, because he is a true free enterprise.
We got him to talking, me as a former mayor. I was at least empathizing with his lament that the more he does to deal with homeless, the hungry, the more people are attracted to his city. I said that is true be it Bangor, Maine or be it over there, the more successful you are, then more people are going to want to take advantage of all the social infrastructure that you build.
His problem is that about 35 to 40 percent of all the revenues of the country are generated in his city. For that reason he has great latitude in terms of what he can say and do.
But I think in a period of about five years, maybe a little bit longer, that you will see those changes really come at us very quickly.
What struck me was the work ethic of the people. Their determination to get up at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning and take their goods and ride their bicycles over very poor roads to get into the city to start marketing those goods, then come all the way back and get there by night time, and then feed the family, and start all over again. That work ethic is going to stand them very well. You see that in the South more certainly than in the North. I think they're going to be great competitors for the other countries in the region when that is finally turned loose.
Q: We'll probably have more questions on Vietnam. I'd like to open up a couple of other areas for questioning.
Let's look at Taiwan, at least for a moment. I think all of us here have seen more in recent days the, not the likelihood, but the possibility of hostilities there, and my question here is one that I'd ask, maybe it's a question from the lay community, but it certainly comes from me. That is, are we prepared to defend Taiwan should the occasion arise? Should there be some kind of an attack from the mainland. Would there be, and what's possible? Missiles? I don't know.
Secretary Cohen: Let me tell you this, my role while I was in the region, in Hong Kong and Vietnam, Japan and Korea was the same. That was to urge the Chinese to lower their rhetoric and threats of military action, indicating that we have the one China policy that we continue to support, but we also are committed with the Taiwan Relations Act to provide for the defensive needs and equipment of Taiwan, and to leave it at that. To encourage both sides to back away, to have some positive signs coming out of the Taiwanese President, whoever that might be, and we're seeing that for the time being.
Now whether that will hold remains to be seen, but we are undertaking a number of diplomatic efforts. This is by Lee Hamilton and others who are in Taiwan. We've had very significant contact with Chinese leaders. I plan to go to China sometime either late spring or early summer, and we'll carry the same message. There has to be a way to work this out peacefully and not through military means.
Q: I of course saw that apparently pulling back. But I still, the question is there. Are we prepared, if need be, to fulfill our commitment there?
Secretary Cohen: We leave it exactly as it is. We support the Taiwan Relations Act, we support the one China policy. We do not support military action on the part of China to try to resolve it militarily. We'll leave it at that.
Q: Another area, then we can come back. I want to open up so that we don't spend the whole morning on one. Let's look at Kosovo a little bit. I think we had some kind of an anniversary there. I think the question that you hear a lot and I think you've addressed a lot too, but I'll put it as I hear it so often myself, have we fallen into a quagmire in Kosovo?
Secretary Cohen: It's not a quagmire. It certainly is going to remain a challenge for some time to come.
I think that anyone who believed or thought this was going to be easy was clearly not dealing with the history of the region, of the reality of the situation on the ground.
There is a lot of hatred between the Kosovar Albanians and the Serbs. That's not going to abate in the near term. But if you look at what we were able to achieve in this past year, it's quite significant. I won't take the time to catalog it, you've all read it, it's in the papers today, again on this anniversary. But if you look at 810,000 people who have returned to Kosovo, some 550,000 displaced people, some 300,000 school children are back in schools, the housing that we've been able to reconstruct. All of those are very positive signs. Compared to a year ago, the murder rate, 50 a week last year. Five a week this year. It's still too many, but a dramatic difference.
There are several key flashpoints, Mitrovica being one of them and the Presevo valley being another. Overall we have been able to stabilize the situation to at least allow for the implementation of self-government.
We have not been successful in getting the civilian side (inaudible). We have talked about this. We have called upon the UN, we've called upon OSCE and others to fulfill the requirement to start building the infrastructure, judicial system, policemen, judges, prosecutors, elections, and that's going to take some time.
Q: Are we learning in all this perhaps, that these people really can't live together and in the end we're going to have to work out some kind of -- I know it's difficult, but work out some kind of partition?
Secretary Cohen: That's not our policy or our goal.
Q: I know.
Secretary Cohen: We're going to try to achieve our goal. We've been relatively successful in Bosnia, and we hope to be successful in Kosovo.
Q: Senator, there are rumors on the Hill that...
Secretary Cohen: I'll give you a different answer depending on how you...
Q: There are rumors on the Hill that your name is on the list with those names for vice presidential nomination for Gore. Have you changed your party affiliation, number one; and would you consider it?
Secretary Cohen: The answer is I have not changed my party affiliation. I think that the speculation has been, as I thought, idle. I'm flattered by it, but my plans are to be a private citizen.
I think anyone, if a President comes to anyone and says would you be my Secretary of Defense or my Secretary of State or Vice President, anyone has to give that very serious consideration. But my goal is to be a private citizen by January of next year. I am anxious to start a new life. I thought I was going to do that four years ago. I'm anxious to get back there.
Q: Are you going to write a book?
Secretary Cohen: I am going to write a book. I will finish a novel that I started some time ago, and that will be hopefully one of the things I can do when I leave office.
But no, I'm staying in the Republican party and...
Q: Can I talk about China? Would you talk a little bit about whether you see China as a threat or an opportunity, and how that view impacts on the (inaudible).
Secretary Cohen: China's going to be a growing power. Its economy is going to continue to grow. It's influence will as well. The real question is what kind of a power is it going to be and what will be its role in the international community. That's precisely the reason why President Clinton has tried to engage China in a constructive [way]. We I think were well along the road to building better relations with China when we had the unfortunate incident that occurred last spring in accidentally bombing their embassy, which of course caused some serious disruptions in our relationship. But I believe it's back on track now.
We have had a number of contacts with them and I have been meeting with high level military officials who have come to me to say we want to get back on track, we want you to come to China.
So I think that how we engage them is very important, and frankly, when we do engage China in a positive way, which is not to say that we're going to agree with them on each and every issue. There may be areas that we have to challenge them on from time to time. But if we engage them in a constructive fashion, that makes it also easier for us to deal with all of our allies in the Asia Pacific region. To the extent they see either conflict or any kind of disruption of the relationship that makes them much more nervous about what their role is going to be.
So it works that when we have a better relationship with China we also have a one with our allies. We have more interest with our allies, we have a better opportunity to have a cooperative relationship with China. So it's kind of a mutually reinforcing relationship if we balance that.
I have indicated to the ASEAN countries, by way of example, that it's important for them to try to act as collectively as they can in dealing with China in terms of economics and diplomatic issues. It gives them more leverage in terms of a collective organization, which is not to say they have to challenge China, but there are competing interests in the South China Sea. And to the extent they can speak with one voice about the need to resolve competing interests either peacefully, diplomatically, through some kind of judicial, quasi-judicial system, that gives them more leverage in dealing with China.
But I think that our position ought to be that we are a super power. We will engage China in a constructive way. There are areas we're going to disagree with them in the future and we have to have a mature approach to that. Neither vaulting to any kind of a euphoric state of expectation with China or at the other end of the extreme simply saying they are a threat or a real threat to peace. I think that's not a wise policy and that's one we certainly need to steer clear of.
Q: But at the same time they're (inaudible) military power...
Secretary Cohen: They are going to...
Q: ...certain degree of investment...
Secretary Cohen: They are going to grow as a military power.
The last time I traveled to China I gave a lecture at the Academy of Sciences and I tried to point out to them, I was seeing some at least preliminary papers being released, let Asia take care of Asia. And I went to them and spoke to about 300 or 400 of their senior military academic people, and I said that they were perhaps the beneficiary of our presence in Asia. That as a result of our being present as neutral power -- not seeking territory, not seeking to conquer anything -- they have been able to modernize under Deng Xiaoping's four modernizations.
They have been able to grow economically with some stability, and their prospects were much greater as a result of U.S. presence. That we were going to keep our 100,000 troops in the region. We were going to update our guidelines with Japan. We were going to visit with our aircraft carriers into Singapore. That we were going to strengthen these relationships and that was not against their interest, that was in their interest as well. Because if we were not there in those numbers with that kind of power projection, someone would have to fill the vacuum.
Would it be China filling the vacuum or Japan filling the vacuum or India or Pakistan? Someone would move to fill it. There might be an arms race unleashed on the part of the ASEAN countries who were then fearful that they had to do more to defend themselves against claims in the region.
That is the message I gave to them and I continue to repeat to them, that we are there for the long haul.
Q: Mr. Secretary, staying on China from a different angle. Is the war talk exaggerated in your view? What if China invades, what if the missiles fly. Is this all being exaggerated?
Secretary Cohen: I don't think we can afford the luxury of just speculating about it. I think the Chinese have made it clear they feel passionately about the issue of reunification with Taiwan. Understanding that, we have taken the position that you must do so through dialogue and not through intimidation or military assault.
So I don't think we can afford to either dismiss it or say it's exaggerated. We have to assume that the statements reflect a strong passion on the part of the Chinese government and people.
Q: Stay on China... China's at the heart of export control act arguments on the Hill. The Administration and many members of Congress want to expand our trade, but there are members of both parties, particularly Republican, who see China as a threat, and any trade we have with them particularly in high technology products is a threat, increases that threat.
What's your view on whether we should set China aside as a pariah and cut them off on exports?
Secretary Cohen: Just as time may not be stuffed in a -- Time Magazine may be able to, but time... (Laughter) ...stuffed in a bottle -- technology can't either.
We're living in a world in which we're seeing such a rapid dissemination of technology that the notion somehow that we can isolate China from the rest of the world is unrealistic. So I think that for those who have been to China in the last 20 years -- I first went back in 1978, and I have seen dramatic changes in China. Certainly economically, but also in terms of their attitudes.
I think the more contact we have with them the better. The more exchanges we have, the more people who travel there and they travel here the better off the world is going to be. That's the best way, in my judgment, to have them become fully integrated into the institutional regimes of being a good neighbor.
Q: The Pentagon IG came back to you with its findings on harassment of gays in the military. I'm wondering what the findings are and what the most egregious facilities are.
Secretary Cohen: The report's going to be released this afternoon so I'll just speak in general terms right now until the report is out.
It reveals to me that we still have a ways to go in terms of an effective implementation of the program. There were some positive aspects to it in the sense that many, I think as many as 78 percent of so of the people who were surveyed felt that they were completely free to raise the issue, complain about what they saw as abuse of alleged homosexuals. But it was clear to me also from the report that we've got a ways to go. We've got a lot of work to do to make sure that the program works. There has not been effective communication of the policy. There has not been sufficient education in the policy itself.
So I'm going to be setting up an oversight committee to make sure that it goes from top to bottom, that the education materials are in fact not only received but communicated and the policies effectively implemented. But you'll hear more about that this afternoon when I release the report. I just don't want to preempt it at this point. We have more to do.
Q: How about our military preparedness overall? Our recruitment. Are we solving those problems? We were woefully unrecruited.
Secretary Cohen: Recruitment is still a challenge to us but we're seeing a change on the retention. Retention is going up, and I'm hoping that we can do the same on the recruitment side.
I think retention is going up for a couple of key reasons. Number one, Bud asked me initially what have you accomplished. Well, we've accomplished, we've increased pay significantly. It's the biggest turnaround...
Q: Is it enough? Is it meeting the economic pressures of civilian...
Secretary Cohen: The pay raise, it was the retirement benefits. Those were the two biggest complaints that I would get in going out to the field. We dealt with those last year. And I must tell you whenever I go out in the field they say thanks, you've been listening to us, and we appreciate it, and they will be signing up again for another four years in the Navy, etc.
So the pay, the retirement, the pay table reform. Those were key elements of saying that this is something that they needed and wanted.
The other two challenges for me have been housing and healthcare. On the housing I thought we took a big step forward this year as far as the off-base housing costs. The people in our military were being required to pay as much as 19 percent out of pocket. That's not exactly a way to build morale. So what I did is I said we're going to go down to 15 percent, which is by law mandated, and then we're going to change the law.
So we allocated some $3.1 I think billion in the budget to eliminate any out of pocket costs as far as housing is concerned.
We're also really trying to intensify the privatization program we have by leveraging private dollars, and we're seeing a pretty good return. For every one dollar we put in we're getting about an eight to one ratio of benefit on that.
The other biggest problem is the healthcare issue, and that's one in which we've got a lot of work to do as far as making TriCare more effective. What I've found is as far as the business practice of running TriCare is that we are not up to date with what's in the private sector. We'll have a doctor who deals one on one with a patient, while three or four are stacked up and waiting, so you have a lack of access. Whereas if you go into a private facility, a doctor can deal with three or four people, he's got nurses and other subordinates as such who are carrying out the more administrative, less technical kind of work. So that's one aspect of it.
Taking some of the cost bite out of it, TriCare Prime, TriCare Remote, so that there are no co-pay, payments that have to be made.
Then I've got the issue... We're also trying to simplify the system because if you go from one region to another you've got to reenroll. Then you have different benefits and it's very confusing to them.
So healthcare issues this year was a focal point for me, as well as dealing with the retirees. That's an issue which also has an impact in terms of them being influencers. Retired veterans who can go out and say hey, don't join because they won't take care of you or your family when you retire. That can have a major impact on recruitment.
So we're stepping up recruitment efforts. We're doing much more advertising, more effective advertising, we're looking for ways in which we can in fact get into the communities and understand what it's going to take to compete effectively against the private sector which can offer a good deal more initially perhaps, as well as the universities and colleges, we're offering educational opportunities that one can only get through the military.
Q: We used to encourage 20 and out. Are we doing that now? Or are we trying to retain those people?
Secretary Cohen: No, we're not encouraging people to step out.
Q: Mr. Secretary, yesterday a pretty substantial group of Republican leaders on the Hill and former Reagan and Bush Administration defense and national security officials issued a kind of manifesto on missile defense urging Governor Bush to make it a focal point of the fall campaign.
They had about three major criticisms of your policy on missile defense.
Secretary Cohen: Not my policy.
Q: Well, the Administration's policy. (Laughter) Kind of yours.
I'd ask you to respond to each of them. One was that the threat is much more immediate than you have portrayed it. That there is a clear and present danger now, not four or five years off.
Second, that a sea-based system based on existing technologies with some add-ons would provide a kind of interim defense.
And third, that the Clinton Administration is willing to negotiate limits on future sea and space-based systems in order to get an agreement with the Russians to allow your current plan for a land-based system.
Q: How long do I have to answer these questions? (Laughter)
Q: Half an hour.
Secretary Cohen: Okay.
Q: Last question of the day. (Laughter)
Secretary Cohen: Let me go to the first one. I can't speak for others, but I have made it very clear I think the threat is here. I don't put the threat off into the future. I have said there have been four criteria the President has spoken of frequently that he would base his judgment on whether to deploy a system or not, number one, the threat.
I maintain the threat is here today. If it's not here right now it will be here tomorrow. So I don't look for it in terms of off into the future. So I see it quite more immediate than perhaps others do.
Number two, the issue of getting an interim system. I was one of those who helped negotiate the compromise up on the Hill when I was in the Senate on the 3+3. The reason that 3+3 was negotiated was to try to get a system in place as quickly as possible. That is the reason the land-based system was in fact chosen, and that's the reason we put so much into NMD as opposed to even our theater missile defense system because we saw this threat as emerging quite near term and this was the best way to have the technology we think we can develop to get it deployed as quickly as possible.
Now there have been suggestions...
Q: Excuse me, Sir. 3+3?
Secretary Cohen: Okay, it was three years of research and development and then a decision would be made to try to deploy them in three years. When I took over I extended that to five years so it's three years of R&D and then over a five year period to deploy because I became convinced that this system was being rushed to the point where it would not be effective in the sense that we needed more time for testing and to make sure we're doing the right thing from a technological point of view.
So the notion that you can have an interim system that is sea-based, I have not seen support for that in the sense it would be an effective system. The information that has been brought to me is that you would have to have a new missile with new radars, and those would take longer to develop than the actual land-based system that we have in mind right now.
Now is it conceivable you could have some kind of a short-term system where you base it off the coast of one of the countries in question using a system of systems? It depends, you'd have to be really lucky in that case.
I think we're on the right track as far as a land-based proposal, and that the CNO has said when you're looking at future systems don't discount sea-based, and we've said we won't. That's still open.
As far as the third point, the Administration has made it clear that the current proposal that we have is a limited system against a limited type of an attack. It will be land-based. It will be in roughly two phases. The first phase being in Alaska; the second to be determined, but would come fairly quickly in terms of negotiations.
So that's the posture that we're in, and frankly, when I was on the Hill and negotiated, that's the reason we went with the land-based system.
Q: Mr. Secretary, on missile defense. It's understandable perhaps why the Russians and the Chinese are sort of skittish on this. But you were in Munich last month talking with our European allies and there seems to be a fair level of anxiety there. Can you tell us, number one, why you think they're so anxious? And number two, how you're going -- What do you want from them? Do you just want them to stay out of the way? Do you want them actually to participate? What's the situation there?
Secretary Cohen: Can I go back and finish on the...
Secretary Cohen: Tie this in. We talked about threat, technology, cost, and the fourth factor was arms control. That's something the President has to take into account, namely, do you get more security or less? Do you cause an arms race to be rekindled? Do you undercut the whole movement on START II and III and IV? That's something that has to be factored into this and will be factored in. The President made it very clear, it's not just the first three, it's the fourth as well.
With respect to the European allies, there are a number of concerns that they raise. Number one, they see the ABM Treaty as being the stabilizing factor in the overall relation for the United States and Russia. They do not want to see that destabilized.
Number two, they're concerned whether there's any "decoupling". The British and the French say what will this do to our systems? So they want to make sure they still have an effective retaliatory system should the Russians ever decide to attack them.
The third is whether or not there would be any kind of disconnect between the trans-Atlantic relationship.
So we have tried at least to address those. That this would not diminish, number one, would not diminish their retaliatory capability. It would not decouple the United States from them. And that potentially they too can evolve into a defensive type of arrangement.
They are concerned about TMD, for example. The Germans, the Italians are joining the United States in a theater missile defense system called MEADS. So they see an emerging threat as well.
When I spoke to the NATO allies at the meeting in Brussels, once we laid out what our program was, number one, we are trying to negotiate changes to the ABM Treaty. This is not an Administration that says the treaty is irrelevant, it wants to modify it to allow for a limited type of system against a limited type of an attack. This is not the former Star Wars redux.
I think that once we laid out the threat, and we did that in a classified briefing, and then showed what we had in mind for that, a lot of minds were changed. They at least were opened. Did you change everybody? The answer is no. Did it open minds? The answer is yes. I had some who came in and said before this meeting we were totally opposed. Now I can see your point and we support it.
So it's going to take some time, but what basically the Russians would seek to do is to find if they can divide the alliance by saying that we don't have unanimity or solidarity of the alliance, that's the most effective way to try to terminate any NMD on the part of the United States. I've also tried to convey that message to the alliance. The more solid we are the better off we're going to be as far as negotiating with the Russians.
The Russians are unlikely to agree to anything as long as they feel they can split the alliance on this, because we will need the cooperation of several key allies as far as forward deployed radars. Not only do you need to upgrade existing radar capability, but to actually build new radars called X-Band radars. So their cooperation is going to be important.
So we have undertaken to meet with them regularly. I was with the Italian Minister of Defense yesterday. He received a briefing before I met with him and we discussed it during the meeting as well. So I think there's a lot more equanimity about what we have in mind and the fact that we're seeking to work within the ABM context of modifying it for a limited purpose.
The fact remains that we, you cannot defend against an all-out assault by the Russians. This is designed to deal with the rogue nations, to prevent a Saddam Hussein or Iran or Libya or another rogue nation, North Korea, to try and intimidate the United States saying don't think about responding. Or don't deploy Desert Storm because I might put one in downtown LA or New York City or Washington, D.C. Then you have a different calculation. Would the allies be as willing to join up to Desert Storm in those circumstances?
Q: But have you gotten agreement from England and from Denmark to upgrade those two first radars for the initial...
Secretary Cohen: We're still, we haven't even sought agreement at this point. We're going through the educational process and I think we're having some pretty substantial, positive signs.
Q: Mr. Secretary, a big flaw was found in the Patriot system the other day, and that system's been around for quite awhile. Does that suggest that maybe the whole technology is a lot more fragile than has been known at this point?
Secretary Cohen: I can't give you a good answer on that, Paul. Right now there's, the situation -- I think our security situation has been corrected so there's adequate protection for our forces and for our allies.
We're still going through a very detailed examination in terms of what was the specific cause of failure so I think it's too early to tell how to correct those.
Q: But in terms of the broader sort of whole missile defense concept, does it raise questions about that as well?
Secretary Cohen: Not in my mind, no. I think any time you have high technology instruments there's always a potential for a defect or failure. How long have we been building cars? Because we have recalls that take place from time to time doesn't mean we haven't been successful in building cars.
I don't want to minimize the situation, but whenever you're dealing with high technology, you've got to check it, constantly test it to make sure that all the components are fully capable of carrying out the particular mission.
Q: Nuclear missile defense. What do you think of this idea of putting over the decision to the next President?
Secretary Cohen: I think it's too early to make that decision right now. As far as I'm concerned what we should do is complete the tests, allow for an examination of the tests. It's going to come now later than we anticipated, now sometime in June. It takes about a month to evaluate that. Then I have to look at it and make a recommendation. I think there's, at this point we should just press ahead and complete the tests and resolve that question later, but it's too early to say that it should be postponed.
Q: The argument is made that if this President makes the decision it is more likely we could get a limited nuclear system plus limited modifications of the ABM Treaty which is held in high esteem all around the world.
Secretary Cohen: As opposed to...
Q: If the Republicans should win, that we just go for broke on the whole thing, you know? (Laughter) ...bigger than your budget.
Q: ...go to hell.
Secretary Cohen: Please note that Bud said we were going to hell. (Laughter)
Q: Could you just focus on that question a little bit?
Secretary Cohen: Right now there is bipartisan support for deploying a limited missile defense system. Both the House and Senate, Republicans and Democrats have spoken on this issue.
To say that if a Republican is elected that he is going to simply disband any consideration of the ABM would imply that he doesn't care what our allies have to say, or that we can deploy a system without the support of our allies, which I don't think is realistic.
As I tried to point out, there are some who argue, Henry Kissinger and others may argue that the treaty is no longer relevant today. But it's relevant in the sense that certainly diplomatically it's relevant to our allies, and from a technical point of view we still need their support because we have to have forward deployed radars in order to make a national missile defense system effective.
So I think anyone who is elected -- Democrat or Republican -- has to take that into account. You cannot simply devise a system, not in the short term at least, to say that we don't care what our allies have to say about this and we're just going forward, because you do need their support.
So I don't think... I think it's too easy to say if the Republicans get in they're just going to abandon everything, abandon, "all ye who enter here in the Republican booth abandon all hope". I don't think anyone can say that. I think that you'd say that once, if a Republican takes office, if George Bush is elected, he will have the same considerations that President Clinton has. How do I hold this system together, how do I hold the support of the allies, what kind of a system do I deploy that is persuasive to them that also engenders their support?
Now conceivably, you can come up with a project to say that we can do it all on our own, but that's further away, and that's not likely to build a real nexus of consensus for our relationship with our allies.
Q: I just have one other thing. I read Mr. Perry's report on North Korea. He does not recommend the building of a missile defense.
Secretary Cohen: It was under Bill Perry that the 3+3 was negotiated. As a matter of fact...
Q: But he doesn't in the report. At least in the unclassified one. (Laughter)
Secretary Cohen: You'd have to ask him on that. I think Bill Perry does in fact support a limited type of system, but I can't speak for him.
Q: It's a lot of trouble for one little country, don't you think?
Secretary Cohen: It's not just North Korea. North Korea is also exporting its technology. You also have Iran developing long range missiles. You have the potential should Iraq get back in the business, they certainly were very close to having long range missile capability. So it's not just North Korea.
Q: It's got to be a quarter to 9:00 and I promised myself, I want to ask a question now, if you don't mind.
The year is almost over. You'll be out, the President will be out. It's a time already when we can look back a little bit. It's been a little interesting having a Republican Secretary of Defense under a Democratic President. I'd just like to, just for a few minutes if you don't mind, if you could reflect a bit on how this relationship has been. Has it all been smooth as can be?
Mary, in a way, reminds me too that there are sometimes differences between Republican and Democratic views on defense matters. (Laughter)
Secretary Cohen: I would say there have been no differences of views between myself and the President, or the Vice President, or his entire national...
Q: On defense.
Secretary Cohen: That's all I deal with. Fortunately, I do not engage in politics any longer. But only on defense issues we've had a very, very good relationship, and I must say it has been an experiment which has been, from my perspective, and you can judge that, but has been remarkably successful.
If you look when I came into office where we were in terms of the problems associated with the military, the procurement, the level was down around $43 billion, it's now up to the $60 mark that Bill Perry and General Shalikashvili were trying to get to, and it was always sort of an illusion, kind of an illusory goal that kept getting further and further extended. We're now there.
We have in fact changed... When I came in I was looking at a fixed budget, and within 18 months I was able to persuade the Administration that we needed more. The President responded with a substantial increase in defense spending to deal with the problems of readiness and pay for our people.
So I think it's been, from my perspective, remarkably successful because I've kept it strictly on defense issues and I have never been called upon and never had to engage in any kind of political considerations.
The only time the political issue even surfaced was during the time of Desert Fox when the House was prepared at that point to bring out an impeachment resolution. We had in fact conducted a lightning strike over in Iraq. I went up to the House, and I had a call from Newt Gingrich and Bob Livingston at that time, and they said the House members were steaming, furious. And they thought it was political.
I went up that evening, it was the first time I'd been back to the House of Representatives in 20 years, stood in the well of the House of Representatives. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was there as well. I spoke for about three hours that evening, laying out exactly the process whereby we had decided that Saddam Hussein had violated his agreement, that Butler had been totally frustrated and we had given Saddam his last warning.
Once we finished, there was quite a round of support -- Republican as well as Democrat. But that's the only time that the question of politics came into those...
Q: During the...
Secretary Cohen: I just want to say, and I think I was in a unique position to be able to go up there and say here's what we did, why we did it, and I'm here to put my entire career on the line to tell you there was not ever a single political consideration by the President of the United States on this. And there wasn't.
Q: I think here's a question that the historians may focus on at some time. That is during that scandal period which lasted well over a year, certainly the President was preoccupied. But in his dealings with you on important matters, did you find any diversion, any preoccupation in any way that curbed his ability to address the question of the day?
Secretary Cohen: As a matter of fact perhaps the most remarkable thing about this is, and you can check with anyone in the military, the Chairman, Vice Chairman, any military official who was part of the deliberations during that entire period of time, it was absolutely astonishing to see his ability to focus specifically on the issue before him.
Q: Remarkable ability to compartmentalize.
Secretary Cohen: He would look with absolutely laser intensity on an issue, raise the questions that needed to be raised, and show that he had done his homework and understood the issues with remarkable clarity. So we walked away from those meetings saying this is truly a remarkable individual in terms of his ability to focus on the national security issues before him.
Q: Mr. Secretary, two questions. One, President Eisenhower warned in his farewell address of a military industrial complex that would have undue influence on American foreign policy. Based on your experience at the Pentagon and as a member of Congress from a state that has relied quite heavily on defense spending, do you share any of those concerns?
And two, if your successor were to ask you what are the two or three major problems that he has to worry about at the outset, what would you tell him? (Laughter)
Secretary Cohen: The last question of the morning once again.
As far as the military industrial complex, what we have seen is a remarkable shakeup in the military industrial complex, so to speak. We have far fewer contractors today. Because of the end of the Cold War there was a reduction in demand forcing a number of consolidations within the industry. They in turn have had to compete on Wall Street for equity investment, and that has been a great challenge to them. Major companies, be it Lockheed or Raytheon or General Dynamics or any of them, can find themselves with a record of their production and accomplishment over the years not being valued as much as a new IPO of a new computer firm. So I don't see that kind of influence that Eisenhower talked about at that time.
Do they still perform a vital role as part of the economy? The answer is yes. But what we're seeing take place today is a further integration that we're concerned about a fortress Europe being erected against a fortress America, and we don't want to see that take place. That's the reason why we have spent a good deal of time number one looking at how we can revise our Export Control Act to deal more effectively with integrating our industrial relationship with our European allies, Australia and others, Canada. We have very good, strong bilateral relations with them in terms of military cooperation. But we want to make sure that we don't see this kind of competition because of the reduction in demand. So I don't see that undue influence that President Eisenhower was concerned about at that time.
What we're seeing, as a matter of fact through the globalization we're seeing economics play a much greater role in terms of influencing behavior at the diplomatic level than in the past.
As far as to my successor, what kind of problems. The problems will be, as Mary raised it, continuing to deal with the issue of arms control reduction. We have START II we've ratified. The Russians hopefully will ratify that soon and then move on to START III. So those will continue into the next Administration.
Secondly, this issue again of rationalizing the kind of cooperation we're going to have with our counterparts in Europe and elsewhere.
Number three, how to manage the relationship with both China and Russia.
Then at the separate level, dealing with recruitment and retention to make sure that we still are able to get the very best and brightest people we can in the military.
So those are just four of the challenges that will be faced.
Q: Mr. Secretary, the Congress is beginning to deal with the question of supplementals for Colombia, and now there's the discussion of is this another Vietnam.
Can you talk precisely where the line is that these troops in Colombia, American troops in Colombia, must heed to between combat and training?
Secretary Cohen: I think the best source for information on this would be the testimony given by Charles Wilhelm, General Wilhelm who is SOUTHCOM Commander. I think one of the best military people that we have. He is a brilliant military strategist and warrior. He gave testimony a few weeks ago up on the Hill and I just give you that in terms of looking at how that's laid out.
But essentially it's a line that has to be drawn, that we assist in the training of counternarcotics but not counterinsurgency. And we have to be very careful on that that we don't get drawn into supporting the counterinsurgency activities on the part of Colombia.
The biggest problem we have is about 80 percent of all the cocaine is coming out of Colombia right now. So we have a problem, we've got great demand and we need to have a balanced program. We're trying to curb demand and at the same time trying to hopefully cause some interdiction and depreciation in the amount of supply that's available.
But we have to insist upon very strict lines and I think those who have fought in Vietnam, and Wilhelm and others who are very much aware of the line that has to be drawn, have been able to do so.
Q: Can you give me some example as to what would be a counterinsurgency tactic and what would be a counternarcotics tactic? What's the difference?
Secretary Cohen: The difference has to do with the activities. If you're training people how to interdict drug activity as opposed to trying to counter the rebel insurgency as such, one is drug making production and export into the United States, to help them, the Colombians, deal with that. And shutting down some of the drug operations, the cultivation, eliminating some of the fields and so forth.
Q: Why would our military be at all qualified to work on counterdrug? Why wouldn't we send some other department?
Secretary Cohen: We have various departments that are involved at different levels. But in terms of training people for surveillance, operation of helicopters, that all involves military. The DEA is not trained to deal in that particular field.
So you have military people in the counterdrug component of Colombia's military that focus specifically on drugs. Other elements have focused on dealing with the rebels. We only deal with the drug aspect.
Q: The rebels are now taking over the drug trade and are protecting them, so you can't fight one without the other.
Secretary Cohen: But the fighting is being done by the Colombians and not by the United States.
Q: This is a question about the Army's efforts to reinvent itself. This has received rhetorical support from you from the DepSecDef and other people, but no real money. And some people interpret this as tacit disapproval or perhaps even more significantly an actual shift in emphasis of air power over land power.
I wonder if you could...
Secretary Cohen: Some could say that, but they would be wrong. As a matter of fact the reason I recommended General Shinseki and General Cain was because I saw in them the opportunity to have the Army transform itself.
Now in terms of budgetary matters, I think if you ask General Shinseki he would say that this is a good start. What we haven't done is to say that you can keep everything you have in your budget and then we'll just fund everything above that line for the transformation. That's not how you would achieve transformation. You've got to eliminate some of the things you're doing today. You've got to get lighter, faster, more agile, etc., but you can't have the same budget for all the things you've got and then say but I want a total increase in the top line in order to get the transformation.
What I've said is this is a start. You've got to start eliminating some of the things you're currently doing with your heavy equipment. You've got a good beginning here. You'll need more in the future, but you've got to start it now. But the notion that somehow we're going to pay for all of the transformation over and above what they've got today means we carry everything today and you basically just increase the budget but not do much in the way of forcing the Army to internally examine what things it has to give up in order to be this lighter, more deployable...
Q: We're near the end here.
Q: ...what the Army is doing so far?
Secretary Cohen: Yes, I think they're making a good beginning. They're going to need more in the future, but this is a good step.
Q: Mr. Secretary, we have about 5,000 troops in Kosovo right now, if I'm correct. What is the exit strategy? How long can we expect to stay there? When will it become a European force?
Secretary Cohen: We actually have more than 5,000 there now in Kosovo. But there is no end date. We've done that before, and said after one year we'll be out. Well, that proved unrealistic. What we did see in Bosnia was a substantial reduction in our forces there from 20,000 down to about 4,300 today.
Where we are as far as Kosovo is concerned, we'll try to do the same thing as the situation allows. You don't want to have a reduction when the security environment is still tense.
So what we will try to do is to put pressure upon the UN, the NGOs, OSCE, the European nations to fulfill their pledges. As far as getting more police, we're only at the halfway level, 50 percent roughly, of the police that have been, that are required, that are there now. We need judges, we need prosecutors, we need elections. All of that is going to take some time, but we have to keep pressure on those countries to produce what they said they were going to produce. When that happens you can see a reduction in the military commitment.
Q: Mr. Secretary, you've said in the past that you think the promise of healthcare for life for retired military personnel hasn't been kept, and a moment ago you said they're important to [troops]. Yet two weeks ago the Department was in the U.S. Court of Appeals here arguing against a lawsuit to require that healthcare.
How do you reconcile your personal opinions with your Department's position?
Secretary Cohen: It is an issue as to whether it's a legal requirement. I'm not skilled enough to resolve that issue, whether it's legal or not. What I said, it's a moral obligation. We intend to meet that moral obligation.
It's going to be very expensive. I continue to sit down with the Chairman to see what kind of proposal we can make in working with the Congress to fashion relief for the retirees. We're going to come up with a program. We'll have to go back to the Hill to fund it, but that's something.
If we're talking about how do I influence the people coming in to say that if they make a commitment to you we're going to keep it, and if we don't keep it we're going to have a real impact upon that recruitment.
So from my personal point of view, the Chairman's point of view, this is an obligation. I know in talking with people on the Hill that they are committed to this. So we will come up with a proposal. Whether it's a legal obligation under the law or not, it's a moral one, and we're going to...
Q: Mr. Secretary, we've covered a great deal of ground today. It's been a very valuable session and I want to thank you for coming in.
Secretary Cohen: My pleasure. Thank you.