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Media availability with Secretary Cohen and Ukrainian MoD

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
December 05, 2000

(Also participating; Ukrainian Minister of Defense Gen. Oleksandr Ivanovych Kuzmuk, at the signing of Annual Plan of Cooperation at NATO Headquarters, Brussels, Belgium)

Cohen: I would like to take this opportunity to say that Ukrainian Minister of Defense Kuzmuk and I just signed our annual Plan of Cooperation. It builds upon a plan that was first signed in 1993. This bilateral plan sets out our defense and military cooperation activities for 2001. And the agreement is designed for the upcoming year, for cooperation between the defense ministries in meeting mutually agreed upon goals in eight main focus areas. These include interoperability, force professionalization, civil-military affairs, defense structuring and resourcing, and military technical cooperation. These engagement activities and U.S. assistance will specifically meet Ukrainian goals set out in its Defense Reform and Restructuring Plan to 2005. The hallmark program of our engagement is the Cooperative Threat Reduction program that was first signed back in 1993. That will continue to assist Ukraine with eliminating weapon systems that are covered by START as well as the infrastructure for weapons of mass destruction.

And let me just indicate for the record that Defense Minister Kuzmuk has given me not a final, but a very generous hug, as I am accustomed to receiving. (Pause for translation)

Kuzmuk: (through translator) When I take someone into my heart, I don't let go.

Cohen: I will seek immediate medical relief upon the completion of this... (laughter)

Kuzmuk: It is a very nice opportunity for me, ladies and gentlemen, to mention the fact that such great events take place since 1993 with the signing of such programs. But the greater opportunity for me is to mention the fact that since 1996 we do it together with Secretary Cohen. And those eight blocks outlined in our next year cooperation plan, this is a witness of our evolution, of our cooperation, of the progress of our cooperation. For the Ukraine it is very highly valued. And it enables us to make a report on the Ukrainian Armed Forces and bring the Ukrainian Armed Forces closer to the U.S. and Europe. I would like to say that all those plans are accomplished and now exist.

(Applause)

Q: Secretary Cohen, we have been told that you may made a very strong, almost strident speech to your fellow ministers today warning that if questions over this EU rapid reaction force and conflicts are not settled, that it could make NATO a relic. Would you comment on that?

Cohen: I thought I made it very fairly direct, dispassionate, non-strident statement which was greeted with approbation virtually by all in the room. And I simply pointed out the need for NATO and the EU to establish a mechanism whereby we cooperate, we have a transparent collaborative approach to defense planning, that will not be redundant with different planning organizations. That to do so, to establish such duplications, it would in fact result in a weakening of NATO capabilities and result in a situation in which we would have the United States of America, Canada, and the European allies responding to threats and crises on an ad hoc and fragmented and inefficient fashion. That is not desirable for the Europeans or for the United States. So it was very straightforward, I thought. Again, a dispassionate recitation of the situation and it was met with overwhelming approbation.

Q: Do you use the terms, NATO could become a relic?

Cohen: I did.

Q: And I take it then that the situation has simply not been settled.

Cohen: Not at this time. I indicated NATO could become a relic if a number of factors were to present themselves and if a number of caveats were not at least adhered to. And so I will make a press statement later this afternoon in which I will lay out the essential elements of the presentation I made this afternoon.

Q: What was the main caveat that you presented?

A: It had to with the fact the United States would remain committed to the NATO alliance and to European security. The next administration or the ones following would always remain committed to promoting peace, stability, and prosperity through NATO -- provided that we commit our resources to developing the capabilities that we outlined in the Washington Summit with the DCI (Defense Capabilities Initiative). That we have established a cooperative, collaborative mechanism so as far as EU, ESDI, ESDP and NATO, are concerned. As long as there is openness, transparency and a non-competitive relationship, then the United States will remain committed. But if, in fact, the capabilities that were identified as being needed are not filled -- if, in fact, we only have verbal commitments or lip service being paid to developing capabilities -- if, in fact, we have a competing institution that is established, then it would be inconsistent with military effectiveness. If, in fact, there was any element of using the force structure in a way to simply to set up a way to set up a competing headquarters, a competitive headquarters not being the most militarily efficient or desirable. If all of these factors are not taken into account, then NATO could become a relic of the past. That is not something that the United States desires and it is not something that we foresee but so long as we can see the warning flags and the caveats, and say that the deeds must measure up to the words that we've all signed up to, that the capabilities identified in the DCI and within the strategic concept are, in fact, measured up to -- whether they're called ESDP or DCI -- so as long as they have capabilities instead of bureaucracies, then NATO will continue to play a vital role in European security. That's basically the formulation of what I said.

Thank you.