DoD News Briefing: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
(Also participating in this briefing is General John M. Shalikashvili, Chairman, JCS and Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD(PA))
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon, welcome to our press conference with Secretary William Cohen and Chairman, General John Shalikashvili. The Secretary will begin with a brief statement, and then General Shalikashvili will make a brief statement, and they'll take your questions.
Secretary Cohen: Good afternoon.
After I was sworn in at the White House just a week ago, I pointed out that President Clinton and I share the same conviction in that America can best defend her national security interests abroad by uniting behind a bipartisan defense and foreign policy here at home.
As we all know, our military's the best in the world, and our values and policies lead other nations. But we face many challenges to our interests and when we respond, our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines deserve the nation's undivided support.
I intend to work to communicate with members of Congress and the public to help build that bipartisan support and consensus to lend support to our forces and our policies.
This past week I spent many hours meeting with the nation's top military commanders, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the leaders of the regional and functional commands. President Clinton and Vice President Gore, as you know, were here to meet with them as well as to get their views about the situation throughout the world as they see it.
In a few moments, General Shalikashvili is going to report about that conference with our Commanders in Chief.
Our military is blessed by strong leaders and well-trained professional troops, and my job is to keep them that way. Over the near term, I intend to concentrate on presenting our budget to Congress and getting the right balance of resources. In addition, I'm going to continue to work with the Senate on ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention. I've already spoken on several occasions about the importance of this arms control initiative. During the Reagan Administration the United States decided to eliminate its stockpile of chemical weapons, and ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention is going to give us a leadership role in determining how that convention is going to be implemented and enforced.
My mid-term goal is to complete a Quadrennial Defense Review that will provide a framework for strategy, force structure and resource allocation into the 21st Century, and also press ahead on the long term goal of modernizing our arsenal. The fact is, no matter how strong we are today, we have to be prepared to face the challenges of tomorrow. And underlying all of these efforts is the commitment to the welfare of the men and women who protect our country in uniform. We must always recruit and retain quality people. We have to protect and improve their quality of life, and we have to ensure that they have the training and equipment to do the job.
Military service is a special duty that requires dedication and sacrifice by the men and women who are protecting our country, and they deserve our full support. They also deserve to be treated with great dignity and respect. I must say that I am disturbed and disgusted by the treatment of young Marines in the hazing incidents that occurred back in 1991 and 1993, as portrayed in recent news accounts. Abuse such as this has no place in any branch of the United States military. As Secretary of Defense I may not comment on any particular case that's pending in the military justice system, but you can be sure that I intend to enforce a strict policy of zero tolerance of hazing, of sexual harassment, and of racism.
This past Wednesday I met with the Defense Equal Opportunity Council and I explained my zero tolerance policy. I've asked the Chairman to meet with the Chiefs about this hazing policy to communicate very clearly to all who serve that we have a zero tolerance policy. I've also spoken most recently with General Krulak and conveyed my strong reaction to the hazing incidents. I know that he is going to be holding a press conference later this afternoon to comment on this subject. I know that the Marine Corps is vigorously pursuing this matter. They currently are trying to identify all those individuals involved and see what action, if any, is warranted.
Independent of these events, I also will point out that General Krulak has initiated a Corps-wide program to emphasize a sense of dignity, self-respect, and concern for fellow Marines. I think his actions send a very clear message that there's no excuse of any kind for this type of behavior.
Over the next several weeks, I intend to be traveling, certainly here at home and abroad, to visit our troops, and I would expect my very first trip to be to Bosnia.
I'll now turn the podium over to the Chairman before taking your questions, but I do want to say just a couple of words.
As you know, General Shalikashvili has indicated to me and to others that he plans to retire when he completes his four years as Chairman this fall. I will tell you that I will miss working with him. I've known him since he has served in this capacity and before. I will miss him. I believe the troops are surely going to miss him, and the nation is going to miss him. He's a true leader, and one that I expect to consult very closely with during the final remaining eight months. He is going to stay on until the end of his term, and we'll all be the beneficiaries of that. Mr. Chairman.
General Shalikashvili: Thank you very much.
The Secretary asked me to give you a quick update on the just-completed CINCs Conference that we conducted yesterday and the day before yesterday. This was the first such conference for this year, and of course the first one that we held together with Secretary Cohen. We normally hold three of these conferences each year where we bring together the 10 combatant commanders, the Joint Chiefs, the Secretary of Defense, and key members of his staff.
This year, as you might expect, we concentrated on the Quadrennial Defense Review, and for obvious reasons. But we also had an equal emphasis on counterterrorism, interterrorism, and force protection. We, of course, also covered subjects such as joint training initiatives and readiness which is very important to us; sexual harassment; and we also took the time to go, once again, through the Chemical Weapons Convention and to reaffirm our support for that very important arms control initiative.
We did spend time, as Secretary Cohen mentioned, with both the President and the Vice President. In the first instance, updated him on the progress made so far by the military to help eliminate the non-self-destruct anti-personnel landmines. Then each combatant commander took the opportunity to highlight to the President and the Vice President the key challenges that they face in each respective area.
All in all, a very good conference, and we were all very delighted with the opportunity to have a very open and active dialogue with the Secretary of Defense, the President, and the Vice President.
With that, I turn it back to you, Mr. Secretary.
Q: Mr. Secretary, I'd like to ask you a question. First, welcome. We hope you find time to come down here often and meet with us.
Secretary Cohen: I thought a week transpiring before I stepped into the lion's den was probably long enough.
Q: I'd like to ask you about the war crimes situation in Bosnia. Both the White House and the Pentagon have made it clear that peacekeeping troops, U.S. peacekeeping troops now in Bosnia, will not take part in running after war criminals and arresting them. I'd like to ask you two questions about that.
Will any U.S. troops, including perhaps special forces troops from this country, be sent to hunt down war criminals? Any U.S. troops. And if not, is this Administration willing to send armed civilians, such as U.S. Federal Marshals, to take part in an international police force to hunt them down?
Secretary Cohen: I don't know that the President has in mind any such project of sending forth armed U.S. servicemen. Our position is that none of the forces in SFOR should be involved in hunting and tracking down war criminals. The mission is quite clear, that should any of the identified war criminals come into their presence, they have the authority to arrest them. They are not to hunt them down, as such.
The President was very clear on this during his statement in his meeting with the CINCs and the Joint Chiefs, that he believed that we have to have the International War Crimes Tribunal to become much more active in this field; that that would undoubtedly require some sort of international effort. But it's very clear from my perspective, at least, that that should be an international effort in which the United States armed forces are not involved.
Q: Mr. Secretary, during your confirmation hearings you said that U.S. troops will be out of Bosnia in 18 months. We first had an IFOR, Implementation Force; now we have a Stabilization Force or SFOR. Some people are saying they now feel we may get an F Force for Forever Force. (Laughter)
Are you willing to state unequivocally and perhaps even lay your job on the line that U.S. forces will be out in 18 months or you will resign as Secretary? (Laughter)
Secretary Cohen: Do we have to have many more of these conferences? (Laughter)
I think I made it very clear that it is my opinion, and it is my belief that we should be out at the end of that 18-month period. I believe that Secretary Perry made it very clear. I think that President Clinton has made it clear, that while we all recognize that setting time lines are rarely a good idea in terms of policy and such, in some occasions, and this happens to be one of them. Setting a time deadline is important. Without that time deadline, the capacity to extend it ad infinitum, well into the indefinite future, would continue.
So my message was very clear, that I expect that we will be out of Bosnia at the end of that 18-month period and I will work to that end.
Q: That leaves a little loophole, Mr. Secretary. We expect to be out, we should be out. Suppose you can't convince our NATO allies to pick up the slack. Then what happens?
Secretary Cohen: That's up to the NATO allies. I can only speak for my own position as Secretary of Defense, and of course we have a President who is Commander-in-Chief. I believe that we agree that we will be out at the end of that 18-month period.
Q: Mr. Secretary, John Diamond with Associated Press. I'd like to address this to you and General Shali, please.
First of all, to your knowledge, since I gather you've been doing some checking on this hazing issue, does hazing happen in all of the services, and how common is it? If I could get both of you to address that, please.
Secretary Cohen: I don't know how common it is, and I have not had an opportunity to make such a survey. I have spoken this afternoon with the Chairman, and I believe that the Chairman and others are certainly going to make a dedicated effort to find out if it, in fact, is widespread. Hopefully it is not.
I can point out that there have been about 80 incidents in the Marine Corps during the past I think three or five years, I'm not sure of exactly the timeframe, but it's 80 too many. So what I think has to be done is we have to watch this very closely, and the word will come forth from the Marine Corps Commandant, certainly, and from the Chairman who will speak about the subject in a moment, that this form of activity is simply unacceptable, and that those who indulge or engage in this activity will have consequences that will have to be paid. Those who are responsible for maintaining discipline and order in their units will be held accountable. That's as strong a message as we can send. Will there be examples some time in the future? Probably. They're impossible to prevent to 100 percent satisfaction. But we will make it very clear that this is unacceptable behavior.
General Shalikashvili: I don't know what I can add to that, other than to align myself fully with the Secretary. One incident is too many. We are going to meet with the Chiefs here very shortly to ensure that we look into this matter in sufficient detail to find out just how widespread it might be, but it's too early to draw conclusions. But on the question of zero tolerance to it, hazing incidents like we saw on television or any hazing or sexual harassment or racism, there ought to be no question at all. I think you know the Chiefs well enough to know how dedicated they are to the eradication of that kind of unacceptable behavior.
Q: Mr. Secretary, you mentioned just a few moments ago how disgusted you were with the portrayal that you saw regarding the Marines. This is not the first such incident, and we're told time and time again that there is zero tolerance for sexual harassment, unprofessional behavior. But every time something comes up, we hear the same answer.
There seems to be some kind of an inherent problem. Do you have any idea what might be causing it? And how do you get to the bottom of it so you no longer have to deal with this kind of a situation?
Secretary Cohen: I think the Chairman is probably in a better position to talk about the kind of training that takes place, the kind of enthusiasm they try to generate at the training level, and the capacity for that kind of morale building or capacity to endure pain and suffering to show how tough one can be under adverse circumstances can cross the line into this type of abuse. That's the reason why you have to have commanders who are there, who have charge of their units, and make sure that that instilling of pride in one's capacity to suffer adverse consequences or circumstances, doesn't cross the line.
We have to hold them accountable. I think this is something that we have to focus on. Accountability is something that I am very concerned about. That when there is either an act of commission or omission, that those who are charged with being responsible for maintaining high standards have to be held accountable for it.
Q: Isn't it very hard to believe that something like this could have gone on, I guess this is best addressed to General Shali. Something like this could have gone on without being known about and condoned by a wide range of people? The first sergeants in this unit, the commander of this unit. People that took place in the right, back in 1991 are now leaders in these units. It just seems that the only thing new here is the videotape.
General Shalikashvili: I think whenever something like that comes to the attention of leaders, probably the first question everyone asks gets at the answer to your question. How is it that it was not known to leaders who should have been there to ensure that this does not happen?
I am, first of all, very certain that what we are seeing is part of the issue that the Secretary talked about. People get very charged up in this business. We demand people who are tough and who can stand up to adversity. So we, more than any other segment of society, therefore, have to watch the behavior much more closely. We need to make sure that the systems we put in place to ensure compliance with decent behavior is sufficient enough to let us know right away when something goes wrong. In this case, obviously, the video shows in '91 and '93, this behavior went on and it did not signal anything to the people that should have done something about it. That's what we need to fix.
We must understand, however, we are going to always try to fix human behavior, but I'm not sure we should expect 100 percent success in that. What we can demand 100 percent success in, that the leaders understand the standards and take appropriate action when those standards are violated.
In this particular case, it is clear that some leaders were involved and did not take the right steps. That's what's particularly bothersome about this incident.
Q: Mr. Secretary, next week you're expected to present a budget request of about $260 billion for the national defense.
Secretary Cohen: The figure's classified until next week.
Q: Congress has already recommended about $258 billion, as you know, in last year's budget resolution. Given that you just came from the Hill, where do you suspect that budget will come how when all is said and done at the end of the process
Secretary Cohen: I expect to present the budget and support the budget before the various committees on the Hill. Obviously, Congress has the last, or next to the last say, now that the President holds that line item veto and the veto itself. But nonetheless, I think Congress may have additional programs they may wish to fund.
I think the complaint, if any, would be that we think the budget will be adequate to accomplish the mission that we have, but I think it's also stretching the envelope as former Secretary Perry said. We're going to need more resources in the future for procurement. That's not a national secret. How we arrive at that procurement funding is going to be something we have to deal with Capital Hill. I would hope that if there are any changes made, and this is a hope that I think is shared by all of those certainly in this building and also at the White House, that any changes or additions go for programs that are in the FYDP, the Future Year Funding Program and profile, so we don't have a lot of add-ons which don't contribute to our military capability.
Q: Over the years, though, you have seen as a Member of Congress, various members jamming things down the throat of the military and the Pentagon.
Secretary Cohen: Sometimes those were very important... (Laughter) One of the premiere shipyards in the country. (Laughter)
Q: As you now settle into your new job and a new seat, you have a new set of responsibilities. How do you go about weeding out pork that is not necessarily in the nation's interest, but in a very narrow parochial state or district interest, and it basically makes your job much more difficult.
Secretary Cohen: You raise a very good point in terms of the relationship between Capital Hill and the Pentagon. I can recall, for example, on a number of occasions, and I'm thinking of the Goldwater/Nichols Reform Act, that was something I was deeply involved with, along with Senator Nunn and others, that was strongly objected to by the Pentagon. We passed it over the objections of the Pentagon, and frankly, they are forever grateful that we were engaged in that sort of... (Laughter) ...macro management of the Pentagon. Some would call it micro management. The creation of the Special Forces Command, etc.
We on Capital... I should say they on Capital Hill played a very important role in that respect. So sometimes Congress can contribute to the reformation of policies or programs that need the kind of change that might not come from within the institution itself.
I see my own role as, having had the benefit of 24 years of being on Capital Hill and never having voted for pork... (Laughter) ...to work with Members of Congress to carry the same message ultimately, that here is the budget. I realize that there may be some changes that you would like. Hopefully, if there are any changes, they will contribute to an acceleration of a program, if in fact it's a validated program, or encourage them to restrain themselves, understanding that some Members will feel compelled to do it by virtue of the fact that they're representing their states. One of the reasons that we have such a representative government is that hopefully one understands that yes, a state may press for a certain weapon system or procurement program, but there are the other 49 or 40 or 35 who will say I'm sorry, we can't afford it.
So there is a nice balance that you have on Capital Hill, and I hope to bring whatever talents I have from being there for the past 24 years to bear.
Q: Welcome aboard. For both of you gentlemen. The State Department's report on human rights worldwide, especially on China, is very disturbing. Dissent has been repressed completely, according to this report, religious repression has been heightened greatly, and their own press is being severely repressed, their domestic press.
I would ask you gentlemen, one, for your reaction, both of you, about this repression. And secondly, to ask what is the communist party who has held all the cards and has had control and no doubt in firm control, why are they pressing their populous at this time? What does it mean in terms of their strategic intentions? What did Mr. Chi say?
Secretary Cohen: I don't think any of us can comment and make a judgment about their strategic intentions other than those that occur in the press. You can speculate about it.
I have always looked at this by making a judgment that are we in a better position by dealing with them, engaging them, confronting them on issues to help change some of their behavior? Because in dealing with human rights they still have a very serious problem. I recall when I first went to China back in 1978 before I was even sworn in as a senator, Senator Baker asked me to travel with a small group to China. There were only four of us, and because I was the newest member elected to the Senate, they asked me to meet with Deng Xiaoping and take up the subject of human rights. (Laughter) It was a very short conversation that I had at that time.
But I felt compelled to raise the issue of human rights. I have done so on each and every trip that I've made. Has it been entirely successful? The answer is no, obviously. But are we in a better position to help shape public opinion, international opinion by engaging them and again, confronting them when the situation demands it? Or simply saying we're not doing business with you. We're going to walk away from you. We're going to slam our doors against you, and then allow the rest of the world to continue to engage in them without having our high standards?
I think we're better off and in a better position to help influence behavior over a longer period of time by being constructively engaged, even though on the short term we may not see much progress.
Q: Given what you heard at the CINCs meeting on force protection, what are your views right now about are you satisfied with the current level of force protection? Have you now seen areas that you feel there needs to be specific improvements? And what is the terrorist threat against U.S. troops today?
Secretary Cohen: I haven't had a chance to view the specific plan itself for Saudi Arabia, for example. I know there have been a number of changes that have been made. In the wake of the Downing Report, I think he made some 28 recommendations which have been expanded to about 78 proposals for change in which 70 have been carried out, and the other eight that have yet to be carried out deal with technology which remains to be developed. I do know that they're making a very serious effort at greater force protection because the threat is not only there, it continues to escalate across the board. It's not just in Saudi Arabia, there are other areas as well.
We should plan on terrorism being not the wave of the future, but the wave of the present. Our forces across the spectrum certainly are subject to terrorist attacks, as are innocent civilians, and we have to do much more in the way of force protection which, as a result of this meeting that we had this week, I can tell you that the CINCs are very involved in this. There's an effort underway to standardize that force protection across the board. Standardization is not always easy, because you may have different standards... The State Department might have different standards than we have in the Defense Department, but there is a serious effort underway to raise the level of concern and caution on the part of our military officials across the board.
Q: The specific threat you feel U.S. troops face today?
Secretary Cohen: The specific threat is their potential exposure to terrorist bombs, to chemical, biological weapons, weapons of mass destruction, present the greatest threat to not only our troops, but to our civilians -- both military, serving in a military capacity, and also to just our citizens who travel abroad.
Q: Are you in favor of lifting the arms embargo against South America?
Secretary Cohen: That's a matter that's currently under review right now, and I think I should defer any comment until the President makes a decision on that.
Q: Mr. Secretary, it has been one year now since the U.S. Senate ratified the START II Treaty. It's jammed up in the Russian Parliament, Mr. Yeltsin doesn't appear to be in a position to mount any kind of aggressive lobbying campaign. How troubled are you by this state of affairs, and what can we do?
Secretary Cohen: I think it's clear that without a very strong push coming from the Russian leadership as such, it will not pass the Duma. I look forward to working with Vice President Gore, who is going to be meeting with Mr. Chernamyrden early in February, next week, and that issue, obviously, will be very much on the agenda. But in the meantime there have been efforts underway to see how we can accomplish that objective. It's in the Russians' best interest to ratify START II. It's certainly in our best interest that they do so so we can move forward with even further reductions in a proposal for START III.
So I think it's high on certainly our agenda. We hope to put it very high on the Russian agenda as well.
With respect to Mr. Yeltsin, I can't say what his situation will be. There seem to be recent reports that he is recovering somewhat, and we hope that he'll be of sufficient status to either be able to travel or certainly to meet with President Clinton.
Q: Mr. Secretary, some of your former colleagues on the Hill over the past week or so have been going after what they call corporate welfare programs. I know [Clinton] has asked you to take a look at the policy in DoD that helps share costs through defense consolidations, through mergers. I wondered why, if you think that the consolidation within the defense industry might be getting too far, and if you will look at this policy again and see to what extent the government should cost share.
Secretary Cohen: I've already indicated that we ought to be concerned in terms of the level of consolidation, in terms of vertical integration. In other words, I think by virtue of the rather steep reductions in defense spending in recent years, that this consolidation was not only inevitable, some of it was very desirable, in order to make those who remain competitive internationally, to say the least.
But my concern would be on the vertical integration. Are we losing subcontractors who also play a very important role in making up the various budgets that we have to look at in terms of producing the various types of equipment? There I think we have to be concerned. I'm not in a position to comment as to whether or not we've gone too far, or whether a particular merger is not in our best interest. What I want to make sure is that we still have a level of competition so that the taxpayer is well served.
With respect to the type of government cost sharing, that also was of some interest to me, to say the least, and I have spoken with Dr. Kaminski and also Dr. Perry about this -- Secretary Perry, now Dr. Perry -- about this, and they felt that this was, overall, in our best interest. That there were no golden parachutes included or large executive bonuses, but rather monies that were spent to help soften the blow for people who lost their jobs, and that it actually worked to the favor of the federal government.
That's something I'm going to look at. I have not really gotten to the details of it myself.
Q: Mr. Secretary, are you confident that with that current level of forces deployed in the Persian Gulf region that the United States and its allies could stop another invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein if he were to try some sort of quick invasion?
Secretary Cohen: Yes.
Q: What steps are being undertaken at the moment to counter or alleviate Russian opposition to NATO's expansion? And if Russia's opposition cannot be overcome, will the expansion process continue anyway?
Secretary Cohen: The process is going on, it's going forward. We hope to be able to persuade the Russians that this should not be seen as a threat, that stability in Central and Eastern Europe is as much in their interest as that of the West. But that nonetheless, the enlargement, as such, is going to go forward. But there are efforts underway at fairly high levels to try and communicate that message, and I assume that efforts were made to try to ameliorate any concerns that they might have in that regard.
Q: Can you tell us your greatest concern as you look toward the future?
Secretary Cohen: My greatest concern is that we be able to persuade the American people that having a viable, sustainable national security policy is important, even when there is no clearly identifiable enemy on the horizon. We still live in a very dangerous, disorderly world. In many cases we face dangers that are comparable to those we faced in the past, namely the proliferation of missile technology, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the spread of terrorism. So we have to have a viable, sustainable national security and foreign policy, and we have to do that on a bipartisan basis and persuade the American people that it's important that we remain militarily strong, and that we remain forward deployed, and that we remain energetically and diplomatically engaged. Those are the...
Q: I wanted to take a second shot at exports to South America. Dr. Perry actually did say (inaudible). I just wondered if you saw any advantages that you could describe to opening that market to South America.
The second question is, you will sort of oversee during your tenure the withdrawal of troops from Panama. Can you see any advantages or disadvantages to maybe keeping some troops down there?
Secretary Cohen: Again, with respect to Latin America, I have not had an opportunity to really study what the implications are. I'm aware of Secretary Perry's comments about that.
To the extent that there are democracies that are now burgeoning in Latin America, to the extent that we now see civilian control over the military, and to the extent that we can, through arms sales, have a closer relationship with those countries, then I think you can make the case that they ought to proceed on an ad hoc basis. That is not a view that has been endorsed by the Administration at this point, but I think you have to look at it on an ad hoc basis.
The second part was on Panama. I think it will be important that we have some sort of residual contact and presence in Panama. What level that might be would have to be taken into account in terms of the Panamanian government's feeling about that, obviously. If they felt it was important to have some presence for a stabilizing presence, that would be, from my perspective, well received. But if they felt we should have no presence there, then we'll have to do the best we can by relocation.
Q: This is for both of you. Dr. Perry characterized the 11,000, 12,000 enlisted men on foodstamps as a small problem. It's been hanging around for a number of years, as you know, General Shali. Why can't we do something to augment their income, their living situation, to get these 11,000, 12,000 guys off foodstamps.
Secretary Cohen: I'll let General Shali answer that question, but let me offer a few comments about it.
I think if you have anybody on foodstamps in the military it's not acceptable, it shouldn't be acceptable. Part of the difficulty is, as you know, in calculating those who are on foodstamps, housing allowances are not included. So if you had that factored in, the number would go down substantially.
Secondly, the reason that they're on foodstamps is that they have quite a few in the family. If you had either a single individual or married couple, they wouldn't qualify. So you have a situation today where more and more people, number one, are married in the service. A very high percentage now are married, and with children. So it presents a problem in terms of how high we can raise the level of compensation. It's something that Secretary Perry is very concerned about, and that is quality of life. Having people on foodstamps does not contribute to the notion of quality of life high standards.
So maybe we can address it, but I think the number would be substantially lower if you factor in the housing allowance that not counted for foodstamp purposes. But I don't think we ought to accept the fact that there are people living on foodstamps, taking advantage of...
Q: Admiral Boorda was going to eliminate it in the Navy. I don't know how well he did before he died.
General Shalikashvili: Let me make two points, if I may. On the one hand, I think all of us would like very much to eliminate the conditions that cause people in the military to avail themselves of foodstamps. On the other hand, I ask you not to paint that in such a way that this is something demeaning to them, because the last thing I would want is some young wife or young soldier be reluctant to avail himself of foodstamps and thereby penalize his family because he thinks it's something that is not looked upon, or that is looked upon with disfavor or it's something shameful.
It's very important that those that are in need do in fact avail themselves of foodstamps, so we need to keep that perspective open. On the other hand, we all ought to work towards changing their conditions in such a way that people who are wearing America's uniform and are willing to defend their country do not have to use foodstamps.
Press: Thank you.