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Media Availability at United States Joint Forces Command

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
October 07, 1999

(Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen; Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Henry Shelton; U.S. Army, and Commander in Chief, U.S. Joint Forces Command Adm. Harold Gehman, U.S. Navy)

GEN. SHELTON: I know most of you were here for my remarks during the ceremony, so I'll keep this very brief. But it is great to be here today at Norfolk with Admiral Gehman and with Secretary Cohen for the establishment of Joint Forces Command.

The new name accurately, I think, more accurately captures what this command's role in leading the transformation of our armed forces is really all about, and that's to meet the security challenges of the 21st century. Joint Forces Command, of course, will continue to lead the way for us in terms of integration, in terms of experimentation, in terms of joint doctrine development and testing, basically to make sure that we achieve the superb -- and maintain the superb war-fighting capabilities that this nation has embodied for a number of years and, of course, as is embodied in Joint Vision 2010 as we look to the future.

Many of you saw just a few days ago that we had the ceremony at the Pentagon, the president signing the authorization bill. And of course, that bill contained many provisions for the Defense Department, to enhance our readiness, to improve our modernization, and, of course, to take care of the quality of life for our great men and women in uniform. As you know, it contained the biggest pay raise in two decades, the first pay reform since World War II, and of course, it ended the redux retirement system, which had become a disincentive.

And I can say with a great deal of certainty that we could not have gotten that support, we could not have had the great support we got from Congress, from the president, from the administration, without the constant support and energy of the secretary of Defense, Secretary Cohen.

Mr. Secretary?

SEC. COHEN: Mr. Chairman, I think that I should reserve any comments after that endorsement of what we've been able to achieve.

Let me just say that what we have witnessed here today really is a reflection of what we initiated under the QDR, Quadrennial Defense Review. That so many times, the Department, the Pentagon has been criticized for simply looking to the past and not the future. What we have witnessed today is that we are indeed stepping into the future by preparing our structures, our strategy, our training, our doctrine to deal with the kind of threats that we are most likely to face. So, as Admiral Gehman has said, it may be subtle, but it is profound. This is a very important command, and we believe it is consistent with what the president has called for in terms of charging all of us to look to our department to see what needs to be done to face the kind of threats that he and all of us fear are the kinds of threats we will face know not only now but certainly in the next century as far as chemical, biological and even nuclear weapons.

So it's my pleasure to be here. Both the chairman and I were in Asia just a few days ago, but for a variety of reasons, not only to testify yesterday before the Senate, but we certainly had planned our schedules to make sure that we were here because it does mark an important transition in dealing not only with the past, the present, but also, very importantly, with the future.

Q: Mr. Secretary, there was an important step made yesterday with the testing of our intercontinental ballistic missile system. I would like you to comment on that. I know that further testing needs to be done, but when would you like to see the system (inaudible)?

SEC. COHEN: We want to have an additional three tests completed before the president will have to make a decision by next June or July. This was a very important test. Once again, it demonstrates the kind of technical superiority that we have, the ability of our scientists and technicians and others who can develop this capability. It's an important mile step that we have achieved. We're looking forward to the future tests to put the president in the position by next June or July to make such a decision as to whether to deploy a national missile defense system.

In the meantime, I and other members of the administration will continue to meet with our Russian counterparts to impress upon them the need for us to examine ways in which we can modify the ABM Treaty to allow for a deployment of a limited type of system that will give the American people a defensive capability against either an accidental launch or one that might be undertaken by a rogue state. So we're pleased with the results.

Q: General Shelton, I'd like to ask you about a different aspect of the unified command plan, that of assigning to Space Command responsibility for computer networks (inaudible). Do you see the vulnerability of the military computer systems increasing? And how will this change that?

GEN. SHELTON: I don't think there's any question that as we look to the future, that our information systems throughout America, and specifically within the Defense Department, will be more and more subject to attack if an adversary elected that as one of the asymmetric means in which they could go against the United States. And so with that in mind, as we looked at potential threats out to 2010, 2015, that became one of the key elements of how we start getting organized and how we use the great capabilities that we've got internal to the Defense Department to protect our systems, as well as eventually be able to use, if the national command authorities elected to do so, some of the same capabilities in benefit of ourselves.

So we initially want to protect our own information systems. That starts off with the Joint Task Force for Computer Network Defense. That task force stood up about six months ago, has already got a good capability. It will get progressively better. And then, as we look to the future, it provides for adding the ability to use some of these same techniques if we elected to do so and if the president made that decision, or ourselves.

Q: But why Space Command?

GEN. SHELTON: There's a great -- one of the things that we did not want to do as a part of the unified command plan is necessarily create more headquarters or more bureaucracy, so to speak, try to keep the tooth-to-tail ratio going in the right direction, that's toward the tooth. Space Command has some built-in potential in that regard, in terms of the types of experts they have, both in computers, communications and space assets. And so it was almost a logical fit for them to take on that additional responsibility.

Q: General Shelton, changing the subject a little bit, the New York Times today had an article about concrete bombs being used in Northern Iraq. Can you elaborate a little bit on that? Is that in reaction to or fear of collateral damage, as a result of collateral damage? Will they be used in Southern Watch as well as Northern Watch? How long have you been using them?

GEN. SHELTON: I would prefer not to talk about -- we've been using them for a long time. I'd prefer not to talk about the tactics, techniques, procedures, when we use them, what -- why we use them, et cetera; simply to say that if we have a target that -- a specific target that we are very concerned about collateral damage, but it's very important that we hit that, that is a technique that we have of going after it in some cases. Again, the environment in which you're going to attempt to use that has to be -- meet certain conditions. But it is another capability, and one that has been used and will stay in our inventory for the future.

Q: Mr. Cohen, along those lines, about every six months here we get 10,000 or so sailors and Marines that take off for the Med and the Persian Gulf. What do you tell the sailor who's deploying now since December (inaudible) it seems as if there really isn't a specific policy towards Iraq or a specific way of dealing with Iraq anymore. We seem to be knee-jerking to radar hits, and that's about it. What do you tell the sailor who's deploying over there now?

SEC. COHEN: I'd tell the sailor the same thing we've been telling our men and women who have been serving: that this is consistent with the policy of in fact containing Saddam Hussein. As a result of the men and women who are serving both in Operation Northern Watch and Southern Watch, Saddam Hussein has been unable to move in any direction that would threaten his neighbors. Every time he tries to either eliminate our pilots and violate the no-fly zone, he runs the risk of getting hit, not only on a specific target, but in a variety of targets. So they are doing their job. They are in fact enforcing the no-fly zones and containing Saddam Hussein's threat, and it's a very important mission. So this is a mission that we think is very successful in containing him.

Q: Mr. Secretary, what about Vieques? I wonder if I could ask you this: It seems like mixed signals are coming from the Clinton administration. Vice President Gore has said we need to look at some alternatives to the (inaudible). Last week Secretary Danzig told us that it's imperative that Vieques remain open for our pilots and planes. Where do you come down on it? And how do you predict it's going to turn out?

SEC. COHEN: Well, there's a commission that will be filing a report that I helped to create. I have seen preliminary drafts of the report. I'll wait until the final draft comes in. But I believe the commission that has been established will make a recommendation as to whether, how long that mission should be continued, whether indefinitely or for a specific period of time.

But the president also indicated that he is going to make sure that any forces that we send on their missions are fully ready. And so we have to reconcile the need to have ready forces -- that means appropriate training for whatever type of mission might be undertaken -- with consideration for the situation in Vieques. So it's a tough decision, but we're working our way through it.

STAFF: Last question.

Q: Mr. Secretary, one of the areas of responsibility that the Joint Forces Command is attempting to take on is providing military support to the civil authorities in the event of civil disturbances and also in the event of a terrorist attack (inaudible) hypothetically either biological or chemical or some sort of nuclear (inaudible) in a metropolitan area. Several concerns that this is an erosion of popular (inaudible); that it would be more appropriate for law enforcement agencies to respond to these things to deal with the -- be the first (inaudible). But I think a lot of military people feel the same way.

Why should the public not be concerned about the military's growing role in what has historically been a responsibility of civilian law enforcement?

SEC. COHEN: I could be mean and ask you to repeat that question, but let me say that the key word is "civil support."

I think what the public should be concerned about is, if we have a biological or a chemical, or indeed even a nuclear, attack, what sort of support can the military, which is best suited to help organize logistics, transportation and support -- to civilian authorities?

Under this Joint Task Force, it's very clear it is subordinate to civilian control; that it would be a lead agency, which would either be the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Justice Department, FEMA; that they would call upon the capabilities of the military to help organize responses to deal with the consequence management of a weapon of mass destruction, by way of example.

I believe the American people should be very concerned about the nature of the growing threat and how the talent, the expertise, the doctrines and training that our military has, can be in support of. This is not in any way to undermine civilian control of the military. It's not in any way to undermine the doctrine of "posse comitatus".

But I believe that the American people, as we have seen in so many other instances in which there is a natural disaster and people look around say, "How can our National Guard, how can our Reserves, how can they help deal with a flood, a hurricane or something that has caused enormous casualties and displaced and homeless people, who need medicine, shelter, clothing, and which our National Guard and others have been helpful in providing that kind of relief and support?"

So it really is civil support under civilian control. And the American people should not be concerned about it; they should welcome it.

Q: Mr. Secretary, why not train civilian authorities -- and train civilian authorities to deal with --

SEC. COHEN: In fact, we are doing that. That's one of the reasons we have been going out and helping to deal with some 120 cities, all across America, to help train the so-called first-responders; to help them prepare, to identify the nature of any attack that might come through a biological agent or a chemical agent, to help them organize to deal with such a catastrophe.

So we are in the process of helping to do precisely that. This would complement that. This is not in any way to subordinate or undermine that but to complement it.

STAFF: Thank you.

Q: And would -- (inaudible) -- on this question, sir?

ADM. Gehman: The only additive remark that I would make to the secretary's remark is that this Joint Task Force is simply going to work within the U.S. military. I should think the taxpayers would be upset if they thought we weren't preparing to help out the citizens in case of a catastrophic event. And in no way does the mission of Joint Task Force Civil Support in any way suggest a civil mission or any slop or gray areas. This is our effort to organize ourselves to help out the FEMA or the Department of Justice.

Thank you very much.

Q: Thank you, sir.

SEC. COHEN: I want to add one other final point, and that is this is entirely consistent with and in response to President Clinton's executive orders calling upon -- directives, PDDs -- to call upon each agency to develop plans and proposals to deal with the threat of weapons of mass destruction. So we are in fact following a directive to try and hopefully fully prepare for this kind of catastrophe.

Thank you.

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