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Secretary Perry at U.S. Strategic Command - Wednesday, November 6, 1996 - 4:40 p.m. (EST)

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William J. Perry
November 06, 1996 4:40 PM EDT
recognizing the United States Strategic Command for receiving the Hammer Award for efforts to cut "Red Tape" in Government]

Secretary Perry: Fifty years ago the Strategic Air Command began one of the military's most important missions -- deterring nuclear war. Just four years ago, STRATCOM took over that mission and more. Since the end of the Cold War, STRATCOM has gone beyond its traditional missions of deterrence. Now, STRATCOM is working to reduce nuclear arsenals under the cooperative threat reduction program.

Under this program the United States, Russia, and other former Soviet states have destroyed thousands of nuclear weapons. So now the 2,100 people in the Strategic Command, in addition to having a deterrence mission, now also have a mission of destroying nuclear weapons. STRATCOM's success is making the world more stable and making our nation safer.

Just last month General Habiger and I were together in Moscow to meet with the new Russian Defense Minister, General Rodionov, and his counterpart in Russia, General Sergeyov. After that, I flew to a Russian submarine base outside of Archangel, and there I watched workers dismantle a Russian submarine -- part of the arms reduction called for under the START I agreement. I've also watched the destruction of bombers and ICBMs in the former Soviet Union, and I've helped Russia's Defense Minister blow up a silo in the United States.

These steps reduce the risk of nuclear war, but they do not eliminate it. That is why STRATCOM's deterrence mission remains the foundation for our national security.

With those opening comments, I'd be happy to take some questions.

Q: Have you or do you plan to submit your letter of resignation to President Clinton as we've heard you were going to do in the next week?

A: I have not submitted a letter of resignation. I have discussed several times with the President what my future plans are. I plan to meet with him later this week and discuss with him precisely what I would like to do and find out from him what he would like me to do. So until I have this discussion with him, I'm not prepared to make any announcements on that.

Q: Sources close to your staff say that you had a discussion with several of them this morning, suggesting, in fact, that you were ready to move on.

A: I've had discussions with friends and staff many times in which I have discussed with them what my future plans are, but I have not had a final discussion with the President, not made a final commitment yet. That will happen later this week.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about what your future plans are?

A: No.

Q: Have you accomplished what you had hoped to thus far?

A: When I took this job I had several very important objectives, some reasons that propelled me to take the job. One of them is the one we have been discussing here today, which is moving forward with the denuclearization, with the reduction of the nuclear legacy from the Cold War. During the last four years, we have been able to remove 4,000 Russian nuclear warheads from deployed forces, and to dismantle or destroy about 800 launchers. That's been a very important objective and very successful, but that has to continue in the years ahead.

Another very important objective I had was maintaining and building up the readiness capability of the U.S. military forces. I'm very proud of the readiness of the forces today. I see that demonstrated every time I go to a base and talk with the military leaders there and talk with the soldiers there. I've seen it manifested in the performance of U.S. forces when they went into Bosnia, when they went into Haiti.

I had another major objective which was making major improvements in the way we buy weapon systems. In a sense, reforming the defense acquisition system so that we can use commercial buying practices and so that we can buy commercial components. I believed that was going to allow us to make major reductions in expenses in things we bought.

We succeeded in getting substantial changes in the laws, substantial changes in the procedures that the Defense Department is doing. We have started a half a dozen pilot programs to demonstrate this, and we're now getting the results of those programs, the most dramatic of which was a program called JDAMs - - the Joint Direct Attack Munitions -- where we have reduced the cost from $42,000 a unit to $14,000 a unit -- a two-thirds reduction in unit cost. If $14,000 does not seem like a lot of money to you, let me say we are buying these by the thousands. We expect on that one program alone to save about $3 billion.

So many dramatic, very many important things have been done. I think what I am most proud of, though, is the relation that I have developed with the military personnel in the United States - - both the leadership, the strong working relationship I've developed with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and our Commanders-in- Chiefs, our CINCs, and secondly, the very strong bond with the enlisted personnel and the NCOs in the United States military forces.

Q: Mr. Secretary, outside of your future, we also got word today that Secretary O'Leary, Secretary Kantor, Secretary of State Christopher, all plan to resign or tender their resignation with the President. Do you have any insight in the Administration what might have caused this number of cabinet secretaries to leave?

A: I heard that news report. I cannot confirm it, though.

Q: You've raised some concerns in recent weeks about the level of rancor within Congress and its impact on getting key issues relating to defense through. What are some of your lingering concerns in the wake of yesterday's election, and what impact might that situation have on your decision to remain with the Administration?

A: When I became the Secretary of Defense I came in with a strong commitment to approach defense from a bipartisan view and to work very, very closely on a bipartisan basis with the Congress. For the first few years, I think, I was very successful in doing that. In the last year or so, it has been very difficult to work on a bipartisan basis with the Congress. There's been a much stronger partisan approach to defense issues, and this, I think, has been a problem. I think it can very well decrease the capability of the United States to conduct a well organized, well managed defense program.

What I saw in the election of the Congress is that the Congress we will have next year will be very much like the Congress we had the last two years, so I would be concerned that there may still be a difficulty to deal with defense issues on a bipartisan basis. I hope that's not the case.

Q: Pundits have said that we have the Congress trying to set defense policy, which is the job of the Administration. Is that kind of what you're alluding to with the partisanism?

A: No, I think Congress has very clear and important responsibilities relative to defense. The Constitution spells out that the Congress really is responsible for forming and equipping the armed forces, so they have very substantial constitutional responsibilities. They're also constitutionally responsible for waging war. And I have always understood that and always believed it was important to defer to those important responsibilities.

What I am talking about, instead, is that it's important, I think both for the Defense Department, officials of the Defense Department like the secretary, and the other under secretaries and assistant secretaries, to try to deal with the Congress on a bipartisan basis. To present our best judgment on how programs should be done, our best judgment on the readiness of the forces, and it is important, I think, for Congress to respond in that same spirit and not try to make a partisan political ... not try to gain partisan political advantages by trying to divide the country on this basis. Defense is an issue on which we should come together, not an issue on which we should be divided.

Thank you very much.