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Informal Ministerial of NATO Defense Ministers, Toronto, Canada

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
September 23, 1999

Informal Ministerial of NATO Defense Ministers, Toronto, Canada

Cohen: Let me just take this opportunity to say that we had a very productive meeting this morning, focusing principally, and indeed exclusively, upon the concept of ESDI-that is the European Security and Defense Identity. There was unanimity of expression. This is important for the Europeans to undertake. That it is important also to make sure that it is not seen as a separate institution and capability, but rather that it is maintained under the umbrella so to speak of NATO. That there is a strong transatlantic link that is maintained; that the EU and NATO continue to work cooperatively, that there be an exchange of personnel who can attend the NATO Ministerial meetings, and that we proceed on the basis that there is going to be an upgrade in the capabilities of the European Union and the European members of NATO. So, overall it was a very strong and I think very productive meeting and statements coming from all concerned is that this is a pursuit that is in all of our interests.

Q: I wonder if you have any idea on any aims when NATO might be able to mount another operation like Kosovo without being led, and have a preponderance of USA-being led by its own forces. When do you think that might come about, given these changes that are coming?

Cohen: I don't think anyone can predict, number one, that there will be another Kosovo-we hope that there will not be. But I think in terms of the momentum that we are building upon now-because the lessons of Kosovo showed that we had a number of strengths, we also had a number of weaknesses. And all of the members of NATO are determined to correct those deficiencies and to restructure their forces in a way that will achieve the goals that have been set forth in the Defense Capabilities Initiative. How soon that will take place remains to be determined, but there is a sense of the need to capitalize on the momentum that has developed as a result of Kosovo. We have set some milestones for taking action between now and the December Ministerial, focusing on those things that are most mature for achieving right now, mainly in the field of Command, Control, Communications and also logistical capabilities. So we will move as quickly as possible, but no one can put a time frame on it. Some of the things that need to be done will take time, several years, to say the least. But I think in terms of acquiring precision guided munitions that I talked about yesterday, that is not something that need wait a long period of time. Most of the NATO members do have aircraft that are capable of delivering precision guided munitions. So the acquisition of these will be a question of resources and finances necessary to replenish their stocks or to acquire them. So there are some aspects of the 58 items that have been set forth in the Defense Capabilities Initiative that can be achieved quite quickly and I believe that will be done.

Q: ...said yesterday that some countries need to spend more on their military. Is Canada one of those countries and on what do you think Canada needs to spend more?

Cohen: The decision on how much to spend is up, obviously, to each individual member of NATO. As I have tried to point out, the issue is not always "how much" but "how" the Defense money is spent. It can be achieved through turning to the private sector for off the shelf technology, commercial off the shelf technology. It can be achieved through various associations with other countries in terms of acquisitions. There are a number of ways in which limited resources can be spent more effectively. I tried to point out that I would hope that other countries could also see their way to persuading their parliaments, their finance ministers and indeed their publics that Kosovo demonstrated that we must take a number of steps in order to correct those deficiencies. That may require greater expenditures on the part of individual countries. So it is going to be up to each country to make that determination as to whether more is needed or whether they can achieve savings that will be put into more productive enterprises and acquisitions as opposed to operations and maintenance.

Q: ...you must have an idea then that there are countries specifically that need to spend more?

Cohen: I think each country understands what its deficiencies are. Countries are undertaking their own strategic review as such. Great Britain has undertaken its own strategic review. Germany is now looking at ways in which it can restructure its forces to have a rapidly deployable capability. Each country is examining ways in which we can move away from the legacy system, so to speak, and the type of threat that was posed once by the now non-existent Soviet Union, to deploy those kind of forces that will be rapid, flexible, lethal, and capable of being transported quickly with great sustainability. All of that now is being examined by each individual country in terms of what kind of capabilities they need to focus on. So it is not a question of the United States trying to point to each individual country, that is something we do collectively through the kind of discussions we had today and yesterday and will have in December. We are capable of taking collective action.

Q: Mr. Secretary, given the fact that the anti-Milosevic protests, which started yesterday, had a very feeble turnout and that he may be encouraged by that, are you satisfied that the Alliance is perfectly clear about what it would do if Milosevic were to make a move on the government of Montenegro?

A: I think Mr. Milosevic understands that if he were to take action similar to that which he took in Kosovo, that NATO is prepared to respond. I think Mr. Milosevic should understand that he has started four wars in the last decade. Each war has led to the loss of life, the loss of territory, the loss of international respect and cooperation, and the reduction in his military capability. And so, it is not in Mr. Milosevic's interest to start another war that will only succeed in diminishing his country's status and capabilities and standing. And so that message should be loud and clear to Mr. Milosevic.

Q: Mr. Secretary, regarding East Timor, the United States has said it will contribute approximately 200 troops. Have you any updated number on that, maybe you and the Chairman...And also, when might the United States restore military ties with Indonesia, given the situation?

A: We have military-to-military contacts with the Indonesian government, and I should say defense ministers, as such, and their military. That has not been broken. We do not have programs underway now, as a result of the action that was taken. When those programs will be restored remains to be determined. There has been no effort to do that at this point. We think it's important to maintain the military-to-military contacts so that we are in a position to call upon the military leadership to respond in an affirmative fashion in times of crisis. It is not in our interests to sever those contacts and then when a crisis erupts, or there is great international response to something taking place within Indonesia, to not have an ability to talk to anyone. And so we think that the contacts are important. We would hope that the reinstitution or rekindling of those military programs can be achieved at some future time, depending upon what action is taken by the military to correct what was done in East Timor-what actions are taken to reform the military to conform to what we believe are international standards of proper behavior. So much will depend upon the Indonesian military and what it does in the future before we can restore those programs.

Q: Mr. Chairman, maybe you can update us on the number of U.S. troops that would be involved in this?

Shelton: Charlie, about 75% of the 200 that are currently a part of the force are there now. We have some other items that are enroute. Some of that has gone into Darwin-it is standing by waiting for General Cosgrove to call for it, to come forward. But overall it's right on track and moving right at the pace that the Australians have asked for.

Q: But the numbers have not changed, as of now?

Shelton: The basic numbers are the same.

Q: Mr. Secretary, since the end of the Cold War, NATO has transformed itself into some kind of international police force, but NATO seems always to get there a little late, when a lot of people have been killed, there's refugees, things like that. You talked about Montenegro. How fast can you respond to a crisis now to avoid these kinds of killings and things to happen? Is there an improvement in that situation?

A: First let me take issue with your statement that NATO has been transformed into some kind of an international police force. That is incorrect. NATO is transforming itself and changing its capabilities so that it can in fact respond to threats that are posed to its security. That was the situation in Kosovo, where the threat of a humanitarian catastrophe could in fact have contributed to a destabilization of the region, which would impact upon members of NATO.

But I think it's a mistake for anyone to conclude that NATO is now reforming itself so it can, in fact, engage in a much wider scale of intervention. The threshold for NATO action has not been lowered, as some have speculated. The ability for NATO to take action and the willingness for NATO to take action depends upon developing a consensus, and that means there must be unanimity of opinion of 19 democratic countries deciding to take action to protect its security interests. And so I do not accept the proposition that NATO has become an international police force.

How soon it can respond in the future, again, depends upon developing these capabilities so that they can prevent the kind of action that Milosevic engaged in. That we could in fact transport forces much more rapidly with greater lethality and sustainability-that's exactly what the Defense Capabilities Initiative really is about.

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