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Media Availability with SecDef Cohen and MoD Kanis of the Slovak Republic

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
July 26, 2000 10:30 AM EDT

Wednesday, July 26, 2000 - 10:30 a.m. EDT

(Media Availability with Minister of Defense Pavol Kanis of the Slovak Republic)

Secretary Cohen: Good morning.

Mr. Kanis and I have just finished a very productive meeting, and we discussed the progress that the Slovak Republic is making from dictatorship to democracy, from communism to capitalism, and from isolation to integration into Europe.

An important part of that transformation is Slovakia's determination to reform its military by placing it under civilian control and by becoming part of a broader European security community.

Today I gave Minister Kanis the U.S. assessment of Slovak's military reform efforts. Slovakia is off to a good start in these efforts to make its military better able to operate with NATO forces and the assessment recommends further action such as the development of an NCO corps.

Under the leadership of Minister Kanis, Slovakia has started an ambitious program to rebuild its military along Western lines. The United States is prepared to work with Slovakia to continue that program.

The Slovak Republic is in the very heart of Europe and is playing an important role in Europe's security. Last year Slovakia played an ally-like support role to NATO's campaign to reverse the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo and is contributing now to peacekeeping operations in Kosovo and Bosnia.

Slovakia is also contributing to European stability by improving its relations with its neighbors and by destroying short-range ballistic missiles that it inherited from the Soviet Union.

Cooperation between Slovakia and United States military forces is growing, and I want to thank Minister Kanis personally for allowing U.S. aircraft to exercise in Slovakia. Our militaries look forward to a long and productive relationship.

Mr. Minister?

Minister Kanis: Mr. Secretary, ladies and gentlemen, the Slovak Republic was established on January 1, 1993 and it is one of the successor states after the Czechoslovakia, and we would like to continue in the positive way of Czechoslovakia.

The United States is a country that is helping out of all of the NATO membership countries the most. It is quite symbolic that I as the Minister of Defense am here at the Pentagon and that today American pilots are exercising in western Slovakia at one of the airports.

Part of the assistance of the United States to Slovakia is also this extensive study on defense reform in Slovakia. This study was brought from the Department of Defense under the leadership of General Garrett [PDASD European / NATO Affairs].

Today we are trying to implement two most important tasks. One of them is the reform of the Slovak armed forces; and the second is our preparation to join NATO, the North Atlantic Alliance. This study of American experts is going to be very helpful in both of these tasks.

The recommendations that we have received in this study, we already started to work on them, and we believe that thanks to this assistance Slovakia will be very well prepared. If the next summit that will be deciding on succession to NATO, if they choose to decide, we hope that Slovakia will have a very good chance of becoming the next member of NATO. To reach membership in NATO is vitally important for our country.

Q: In your testimony yesterday on the Hill...

Secretary Cohen: Moving right along to a new subject matter. (Laughter)

Q: You left the impression with some people that you think that a presidential decision on proceeding with national missile defense ought to be put off until the next administration. Is that your view, and could you elaborate on that point?

Secretary Cohen: There's an old expression that what you see depends upon where you sit. I suppose you could add to that that what a journalist writes depends on what he hears.

In this particular case there were some who wrote that I would somehow recommend that the decision be one to delay going forward. There were others who wrote just the opposite, saying I was going to recommend that we go forward.

What I tried to convey yesterday is that there are arguments for going forward, there are arguments for delaying, and that I, after reviewing the deployment readiness review, would take all of the criteria that has been set forth by the President to then make a recommendation to him. So any conclusion that was reached by the journalists would have to be a personal one and not reflected by my own testimony.

So the answer is no. I did not make such a recommendation.

Q: Judging from the report you gave today to Mr. Kanis, which part of the Slovak situation would you consider the strongest relatively and the weakest both militarily and politically? The second question is in the wake of the not very good experience with the newcomers to NATO whose performance wasn't going over quite well last year in the Kosovo campaign, whether NATO with the leadership of the United States is going to raise the criteria for admission for other countries?

Secretary Cohen: It would take the rest of the morning to discuss what's in this document, but let me say that I and all of us here at the Pentagon have been impressed with the steps that have been taken to date by the leadership in Slovakia. That we believe, as a result of this defense reform study, that additional focus must be made upon developing a strong NCO corps. That the focus needs to be upon getting the best people, training them properly, and then seeing to it that they are fully capable of being integrated into NATO operations. And that we encourage more partnership, PFP programs, and a continuation of what the Slovakian government has done to date.

So we are encouraged by what has taken place. We have a series of recommendations in terms of what can take place, needs to take place in the future.

With respect to the performance on the part of the new members to NATO, let me say that we will always insist that there be strong support for membership itself. This becomes critically important that the people in Slovakia must want Slovakia to become a NATO member and understand that it requires a commitment of resources not just for a year but for the indefinite future to make sure that it becomes a contributor to military security and not simply a consumer of that blanket of security.

So we would want to make sure that we have satisfied that there is strong public support for NATO membership. That being absent, then you can find a situation in which once a country gains admission into NATO there is a depreciation or some diminution at least of the level of support that will translate into a lack of full support for the commitment of resources necessary to maintain a capable and competent military force. So those are the factors that we would have to take into account.

Q: Secretary Cohen, just to clarify a little more on the missile defense question. You did testify yesterday before the Senate, did you not, that the decision to be made by President Clinton on which you'll be making a recommendation, is not technically a deployment decision, and that the deployment decision would in fact be made by the next President?

Secretary Cohen: That's correct. What I indicated yesterday was that the decision that the President will make during the course of either August or early September would be a recommendation as to whether to continue the process so that his successor would be in a position or have the option to go forward with the actual deployment of the system beginning with the radar construction in Alaska.

What I indicated was the consensus from the legal perspective -- is that simply letting of the contracts would not constitute any breach of the ABM Treaty, and there is a consensus that until such time as the construction is underway that would lay the rail, so to speak, for the actual radar being deployed there, that that would not constitute a breach.

So the actual deployment decision would not technically be made until at least next year or perhaps even beyond that, but all the President would do on this occasion would be to decide whether he would want to keep that option open to hit the initial operating capability in 2005 or 2006 or 2007, depending on whether or not one believe it's realistic or feasible to hit the 2005 date. So that will be a factor to take into account.

What I also tried to point out is that a consideration will have to be made by President Clinton as to whether or not this puts any undue pressure on his successor by allowing the contracts or letting the contracts this fall, that that may put the President in a position that he would have a short timeframe in which to make a decision upon the recommendation of the Defense Acquisition Board to go forward with the contract itself to start preparing the site, pouring concrete, and taking the initial construction phases. So that's a factor that we will have to measure and weigh, but as far as a technical breach of the ABM Treaty his decision in this either August or September would not constitute that in our judgment.

Q: So when you say keep the option open, you're really talking about whether to maintain this on a fast track or whether to slow it down.

Secretary Cohen: Exactly. In other words, keeping the option open so that the date of 2005 would at least be available.

As you know, there is a question generated by General Welch saying it's still feasible to achieve that date. In General Welch's judgment it's unlikely because of the weather conditions in Shemya. But General Welch recommended that that date nonetheless remain the target date.

So what we would do is saying if we want to keep that option open the President could make a decision to say I could allow the contracts, let the contracts for the fall, no construction would begin until next year. At that point his successor would be in a position to make a judgment, as I pointed out, that the new President could say I want to continue the process, therefore the contract should go forward, construction should begin. The new President could say I really reject the notion of a land-based system and want to go with something else so the next President would have the flexibility to do either one.

So these are the factors that the next President will have to take into account, and these are the factors that this President will have to decide, take into account in making his own recommendation.

I don't know how, frankly, based on my testimony yesterday anyone could conclude that I've recommended one course or the other. I tried to lay out the options that will be available to the President and did not make any recommendation to be deferred, delayed, or that we go forward.

Q: Mr. Minister, can you tell us whether based on the study of your armed forces if Slovakia intends to purchase more American-made defensive equipment or weaponry in the future, and if that's something that you have already begun to formulate plans on based on aircraft or other new types of weapon systems?

Minister Kanis: Within our preparations to join NATO I believe that first we need to restructure our armed forces. This is what our three neighbors did -- Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary -- when they were joining NATO.

These changes in the armed forces will need at least ten years. In the third part of the decade we will be dealing with the modernization of our equipment which will be perhaps purchasing new equipment.

Our relations with American companies are even today very rich. One of the largest investments when it comes to modernization of our radar systems, this would be secured by Lockheed Martin. But I'm just giving it to you as an example, because we have many options.

Q: (Inaudible)

Minister Kanis: When a country joins NATO it's not just a question of the armed forces but also the country itself and its stability. In the past the public opinion was such that the people supported the decision to join NATO. As you might know during the conflict in Kosovo and Yugoslavia, the Slovak Republic allowed the aircraft to fly over Slovak territory. This conflict had cost our government the acceptance when it comes to this decision. But the last opinion polls are saying that at least half of the Slovak population does support the accession to NATO.

We would like our deciding political forces in our country to come up with a uniform strategy how to join NATO. This is also supported by our strongest opposition political party. So we assume that the support of our public will only grow.

The support of our public opinion is very important for us joining NATO and it's also important for NATO itself to have a strong ally.

Secretary Cohen: Thank you.