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Media Availability with Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen at Tampa, Florida

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
July 06, 2000

Thursday, July 6, 2000

(Media Availability with Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen at Tampa, Florida)

Cohen: Good morning.

We just recognized two great military leaders in General Zinni and General Franks. I have the occasion to visit the Middle East twice every year, and these trips give me a firsthand look at the troops that they lead and the contribution that Central Command is making to regional stability. The U.S. forces are containing Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and they are patrolling to preserve peace throughout the Gulf region. In addition, the United States forces conduct and participate in exercises that help build regional cooperation, whether we're talking about nations in Central Asia, Africa, or the Gulf.

As Central Command's activities illustrate, our engagement around the world is an important component of U.S. security, and that will continue to be the case for quite a few years to come.

Let me entertain your questions.

Q: (inaudible)

Cohen: This will be a continuation of the many visits that I've made in the past. I believe this is my ninth visit to China, both as a senator and in this capacity as secretary of Defense.

What I will do is try to get back on track our military-to-military relations with the Chinese to explore ways in which we can cooperate on a military basis by discussing potential peacekeeping activities, talking about making the so-called rules of the road as far as our forces are concerned in humanitarian demining, other types of peaceful activities that we can cooperate on.

We have an opportunity to explore these during the course of our meetings. We have representatives of China who come to the United States to visit our military facilities and we go there to visit theirs. But basically to have a sharing of information about ways that we can cooperate further.

In addition I'm sure the subject matter of Taiwan will come up. As on each and every occasion I remind my counterparts that we support a one China policy, the three communiques. But we also support the Taiwan Relations Act, and that reconciliation with Taiwan must come about through peaceful means, not through either military action or military intimidation. And in addition, I am also, as you suggest, sure that the subject of national missile defense will come up.

And I will point out that our research and development project and program has not yet, a final decision has not yet been made on whether we will actually deploy it. But if such a decision is made that it will not, it's not designed to pose a threat to the Chinese strategic systems, but rather to counter the proliferation of missile technology that is taking place in areas such as North Korea, with Iran, with potentially Iraq again, Libya and other countries that are seeking to acquire long range missile capability as well as developing weapons of mass destruction.

That I believe it's important for the United States to have a capability to defend the American people against such a limited type of attack or the threat of attack, or an unauthorized or accidental type of launch. But that will be the message that I will deliver to the Chinese government.

Q: (inaudible) you spoke of how you were more concerned about weapons in suitcases than you were about missiles coming at the United States.

Cohen: I don't think I quite said that. The question was what was more likely. And what I indicated was that the potential for a terrorist act on U.S. soil was more likely than a launch of an ICBM, but that the launch of an ICBM could in fact cause catastrophic harm to the American people. Therefore we have to consider all threats and not exclude the threat of an ICBM attack from an unauthorized or limited source, even though the likelihood of that is not as great in my judgment as a terrorist action on American soil.

Q: Having said that, are we doing enough do you think about that suitcase while we propose to spend $60 billion and some dollars on missile defense?

Cohen: What we are doing is we are taking a number of measures, both active and defensive. We have identified roughly 120 cities in which we are taking an active role in helping to prepare those cities for what we call consequence management. What happens if a suitcase bomb carrying either chemical or biological, or indeed even nuclear weapons were to be detonated on American soil? How would we respond? Who would be in charge? How would we organize such, the management and the consequences of that?

So we're taking measures in terms of consequence management. We're also beefing up our protection against the actions of terrorists to begin with. We have to balance that, being an open society obviously, but we certainly intensify our intelligence collection. We have a global collection capability, and we coordinate many of our intelligence activities with many many countries. So that if we can anticipate that a group is planning to attack the United States either overseas or here at home we can take proactive measures to defeat that.

So we have a very active program to try and protect and deter any terrorist actions taking place. But there's no question that we can't provide a 100 percent guarantee against a terrorist action. But we are focusing on that as one of the most serious threats that we'll have to contend with. Cyber terrorism, weapons of mass destruction. But cyber terrorism can cause catastrophic harm as well. So we are spending a good deal of our resources building up our capacity to defend our critical infrastructure to protect not only against the Love Bug type of attacks, but dedicated professionals from various countries who have teams of professionals who are looking for ways in which they can attack the critical infrastructure of the United States, shutting down air traffic control, the energy systems we have, the distribution of energy, our financial systems, and many other types of critical infrastructure that we have. We have to defend against those types of attacks.

So we're looking at the full spectrum. But it also includes the potential for a nation to threaten an act of terror by launching an ICBM, in the event that we would be carrying out our conventional responsibilities.

So what we are determined to do is make sure the United States is not put in a position of being blackmailed by a country through the threat of launching an ICBM at the United States.

Q: ... spending enough? Do you have the resources you need?

Cohen: We're spending what we believe to be an adequate amount today. We have to do more research in terms of dealing with the pathology of some of the biological engineering that's taking place. There is an area that I think we can devote more resources to in the future because that's going to take a lot of time and resource and additional commitment, I think.

Q: Mr. Secretary, (inaudible) and Time Magazine talked about (inaudible), and it says the test is critically wrong because everyone taking part in the test knows where the warhead is supposed to come, what path it's supposed to take, (inaudible) with the countdown. They said this entire test is all set up, everybody knows what all the parameters are. Can you respond to that?

Cohen: First of all, we've always indicated this program is what we call high risk. Because the risk is increasing with the spread of missile technology, that we have had to have a very compressed schedule. But we've also made a judgment...

I am not interested in trying to accelerate a program so that it simply fails. What we have to do is take it step by step.

I have asked, for example, General Welsh to serve as an overseer, independent review, with his committee to look at each facet of this program to satisfy me that we are proceeding along a responsible track. General Welsh indicated in his first report that there was a danger that we might have a rush to failure, and I took that very much into account. He also indicated in his most recent report that he saw no reason why the technology could not be developed by the year 2005 to have a national missile defense system, although he thought there may be delays in reaching that schedule. There was no technological reason why we couldn't achieve that capability.

But he also said we should take it step by step, that we should walk before we try to run. So we actually have tried to tailor the system to take into account the initial facets of the program, to try to take it step by step, and we will have at least another 12 or 13 tests before there's actually a deployment. Should the president decide to go forward, there would still be another dozen tests along this course to make sure that we are developing the technology to take into account the sophistication, the growing sophistication of countries who are now acquiring or seeking to acquire an ICBM capability.

So I believe that the criticism really is not warranted in terms of trying to structure this in a way that will not defend our country. We're trying to take it step by step because this is very, very difficult technology. As you know, we're trying to hit a bullet with another bullet, and you have the closure of these two -- both the target missile and the interceptor, at roughly 12,000 miles per hour. To make sure that we have a direct hit, that's quite a technological challenge. So we are taking it in that facet.

But no one. Not me, not the president of the United States, not the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, not anyone, wants to try to produce a system that is calculated to fail.

Q: How will the (inaudible) figure into your recommendation to the president in August? Are there things that (inaudible)?

Cohen: The president has laid out four criteria:

Number one, do we have a threat? I believe the threat is here today or will surely be here by 2005.

Do we have the technology? That remains to be determined. I think the technology is maturing. Whether it is mature enough for the president to make a decision is something we have to await as we take more of these tests.

The test tomorrow will be important, it will not be dispositive. If it's successful it doesn't necessarily follow that I will recommend that we proceed with it. Nor if it fails would I automatically reject going forward. It depends on the nature of the test itself and what comes out of it. It will take roughly a month's time to evaluate all of the technical factors involved.

In addition to the threat, the technology, the question of the cost. You raise the issue of the $60 billion figure that would -- again, we talk about numbers, there's been no validation of that number, but assuming that to be the case for a two-phased, the second phase of a system as well, would that be prohibitive in terms of defending the American people?

I frankly think that if you had an ICBM that landed in New York or Washington or San Francisco, L. A., or Tampa, the damage would be catastrophic, and the amount of money that we'd spend would be rather insignificant compared to the damage done.

In addition to that factor of cost we then have to consider the impact on arms control itself. That's where the Chinese factor would play somewhat.

I have indicated publicly, and I will do so again today, that the Russians should not have a veto over whether or not we have a national missile defense system, nor should the Chinese. What we are pledged to do is to try to work with the Russians to see if we can't achieve a modification of the ABM Treaty that would allow for a limited type of system.

With respect to the Chinese, I will indicate to them this is not a system designed to undermine their strategic systems. I frankly believe that they will continue to modernize their forces -- both conventional and strategic -- irrespective of a national missile defense deployment. But that's a judgment that the president obviously will have to take into account.

I will discuss and look at the impact upon arms control generally in terms of our allies, their interests, and also in terms of the Russian and Chinese and other reaction. But ultimately I think any president has to look at the entire situation and say can I afford to allow the American people to go undefended against a limited type of attack. That's something that we will have to await the judgment of the President of the United States. He's the only one who can make that now.

Q: With (inaudible) Colombia, (inaudible) see that going forward, (inaudible)?

Cohen: Yes it will, and I am delighted that Congress has approved the measure for the funding of the military side at least of Plan Colombia. This is an effort on our part to try and assist the Colombian government in its war against drugs.

We have a tidal wave that continues to come of drugs poisoning our country, the people in our country. To the extent that you have the leaders of Colombia who want to help save their own country from the scourge, we should be prepared to help them, and we are.

Q: Let's go back to the money, and I'd like if I could to try to get (inaudible).

Cohen: Okay.

Q: In a recent interview with General Zinni we asked him about the future of the military in (inaudible). He spoke of the boom time of the American economy and that he hoped that people would remember how we got to these times (inaudible). And he gave us this quote. He said, "I worry about the military today because I see us not structured right. I see us undermanned in many ways, understructured in many ways. I see us not providing for our airmen, soldiers, sailors and marines in the way we should." (inaudible)

Cohen: I think you'll have to ask him for greater clarification of that, but that's precisely what we have been doing the past several years. We have reversed the decline in defense spending.

When I took office just three and a half years ago we were faced with flat budgets for as far as the eye could see at that point. The Congress and the president of the United States had agreed on the highest number that they each had recommended -- the higher of the two numbers -- and that was the number that was handed basically to me as I became the secretary of Defense. I went out and spoke to all of our military leaders saying it's unlikely that we'll see any kind of significant increase in defense spending during the next few years. And 18 months later we announced the biggest increase in virtually a generation. The $112 billion increase over the next five years for defense spending; the largest pay raise in almost 20 years; the change in how we compute retirement, going back up to 50 percent instead of 40 percent.

We are restructuring our forces to become much more expeditionary. The Air Force in particular now has the AEF, the Air Expeditionary Air Force, which is designed to give greater predictability to our airmen and the crews. The Army is now in the process of transitioning into a new phase where they will be much lighter, more mobile, more quickly deployable and sustainable. The Navy is redesigning its ships. It's become much more stealthy with fewer people required to man them. The Marine Corps will continue to perform in the excellent fashion that it has, with the outstanding people that it has.

So we are restructuring our forces to become much more mobile, flexible, deployable, sustainable, and more lethal. You can't do that overnight. But what we are doing is we are managing this transition from the post Cold War force structure to the new force structure that will serve us well into the future.

There has been a question of over-deployment, for example, on peacekeeping missions. This is not a choice that any administration willingly wants to make. When you are faced with a Bosnia or a Kosovo and you can choose to sit on the sidelines while a million people are purged from their land and say it's not our problem. This president has said what takes place in Kosovo can have a very destabilizing impact upon our NATO allies. Therefore, since we are the key member of that NATO alliance we have an obligation, and we have fulfilled that.

We are committed to the Gulf. General Zinni has spent innumerable hours and trips to the Gulf because that's vitally important to us in terms of the security and stability of the Gulf region to our own security.

So we are engaged globally. We try to measure those areas that we have an important and vital interest in. We also have to take into account from time to time the humanitarian factors. That we have a nation where there's the collapse of a state. We have thousands of people who are starving or deprived of water who can die of thirst and malnutrition. We help in those cases as well.

So what we try to do is be as selective as we can, understanding that we've got to take into account the operational tempo and the personal tempo of our troops.

To give you a good example of that, East Timor. We were still very much involved in Bosnia and Kosovo, and suddenly we have a situation in East Timor and our Australian friends, who have been great friends of the United States, who have been with us in every conflict, they said we need help. We said at that point, we're going to help you, but you must take the lead. You and some of the Asian Pacific nations, the ASEAN countries, must take the major part, major role in bringing peace to East Timor, and we will be supportive, and we were.

So we are trying to balance the impact upon our troops as well as fulfilling the obligation that we have globally. We are a global power, we are a super power. We intend to remain in that status, and we will do whatever is necessary to attract good people and keep good people and meet our obligations internationally.

Q: Mr. Secretary, how difficult is it to (inaudible) the military with (inaudible)?

Cohen: It's a real challenge. It's a real challenge, and we are devoting more resources now to that challenge. We have the Air Force for the first time advertising on television. We've never had to do that before. We are getting some of our best people as recruiters going out to the field. Recruiting in some of the services was not seen as in any way a path to promotion. That is changing now. We're putting some of our best people out as recruiters.

We are looking at ways in which we can reach the younger population. Some of the older ways are no longer relevant. Looking for new media outlets, new mediums in which to reach them.

We, I might say on a personal level, both my wife and I have been working the past three and a half years to what we call reconnect America to its military. That is to remind the American people of exactly what our men and women do in the military, and how free we are, how fortunate we are, how blessed we are, and we've got to do everything we can in the way of pay raises, of pay table reform, retirement benefits, other types of incentives to make sure that we continue to attract the best people we can.

We have the best military in the world. There is no question about that. But we have to devote a greater effort in these booming economic times to continue to attract the best people. It's a challenge, but the services are measuring up to that. There's been a turn-around in the Navy, a turn-around certainly in the Army. The Air Force is still challenged by virtue of the airlines still hiring at record rates, paying extraordinary amounts of money compared to what we can do, so that continues to be a challenge. But again, through structure changes, the AEF, better bonuses, other types of incentives, we hope to be able to turn that around as well.

We're putting more money into spare parts. That sounds pretty perhaps ordinary, except it has a major impact on readiness and morale. If crewmembers, those servicing planes, don't have the parts to fix them, they can be demoralized. The same things on ships and throughout the Army and Marines. So we're putting billions more into spare parts. That will start to work its way through the system, and that will have an impact upon morale.

In terms of two other issues other than pay and retirement, healthcare and housing.

We are devoting more resources now to housing, leveraging the private sector's ability to build housing at a faster rate with a better quality of housing. That's going to be a major, have a major impact on morale in a positive way.

And also now dealing with the medical care. This is one of the biggest challenges we have. Because soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, they can't do their job if they're worried about the care that their families are getting back home. So we are now working to find ways in which we can make our Tricare system work better, to provide greater benefits at less cost to the men and women who are serving us, and also deal with the retirees' problems as well.

All of that measures up to, it amounts to a great challenge for us, but I think that we can meet it.

Q: -- not a very hopeful reaction to President Clinton's plan to (inaudible)

Cohen: Not at all. I think if it were doomed from the start, the president would be unlikely to call for it. I think he understands, he and the secretary of State understand it's going to be a difficult issue. There are tremendous issues to be resolved. Passions still run very high. It's one of the most explosive areas in the Middle East certainly.

But I believe that the president is committed to helping bring about a peaceful resolution of those issues. And I give him great credit for being willing to take the chance for peace, to say that I'm willing to spend as much time as I can to help bring the parties together. He could have walked away and said it's your problem and leave it for the next administration, but I think it's a mark of his determination to bring about peace if he can, and to commit himself and his presidency to bringing about a peaceful resolution.

Q: (inaudible)

Cohen: Actually the U.S. military is promoting greater environmental protection. We are becoming, as we like to say, we can be just as mean by being green. We are taking a lot of steps to protect the environment.

One of the things we talk about, as a matter of fact, when you asked the question about China. Whenever I go to various countries including China, I talk about ways in which perhaps our militaries can cooperate in dealing with the environment so that we don't destroy the environment in ways that we have in the past.

The United States military takes extraordinary measures now to protect the environment, and we think we've learned a lot of lessons that we can share with other countries as they modernize their forces, as they conduct exercises, find ways in which they can use resources which don't do environmental damage. So that's another area that we certainly will talk about in China as well.

We talk about that with Russia. We have a program called the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, which deals with the disposal of nuclear materials and chemical materials as well.

So there are a variety of ways in which we can work with other countries to promote greater environmental protection, even as we promote greater security.

Q: -- willingness to cooperate with China on other issues besides (inaudible)? Are you trying to sell them on (inaudible)?

Cohen: What we have said to China, what I have said during the course of my public service, is that China is a great country. It is going to emerge certainly as a regional power. That there are areas that, certainly we can find areas to cooperate. There will be other areas that will be in contention. That we need, however, to sit down across from a bargaining table to work out our differences. The environmental issues, the other types of issues I talked about, this is all part of helping China to emerge as a contributing member to international security and stability. They are a member of the national, the Security Council of the United Nations. They're an important member. They're an important country.

So China, Russia, India, Pakistan, many other countries, what we want to do is promote greater integration and greater promotion of peace and stability and to resolve differences peacefully rather than resorting to military force. So that's an area that I've always discussed with the Chinese and will continue to discuss with them as Secretary of Defense and hopefully in the future as a private citizen as well.

Q: Can you talk about the future of MacDill?

Cohen: The future of MacDill?

Q: (inaudible)

Cohen: Today's events, I think you saw, were attended by many, many in the international community, but also especially from the local community.

What I've said before about Tampa and the greater area, especially affecting MacDill, that community support is critically important to our relationship with the military, that you have very strong community support for MacDill. You have two of our major commands that are located in the region. I think that bodes well for the future.

We have a $120 million military construction capital improvement program. All of that I think bodes well for the future of MacDill.

No one can guarantee you the future, what takes place in terms of base closures, should there be more. As you know, I've advocated that we have more rounds. No secretary of Defense, no one can say what the future will be. But what I try to point out is you've got very important contributions to the military here, great community support. You're building facilities which will serve MacDill and the community well, and I think that speaks well for the future. But beyond that I couldn't make any representations. But I would say that community support is very important, and you've got it here. And it was a beautiful ceremony.