United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

News Transcript

Press Operations Bookmark and Share


Roundtable with Secretary Cohen

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
May 28, 1999

Subject: Roundtable with Secretary Cohen

Secretary Cohen: As you know, I have, since this allied operation has begun, I have given a number of television interviews. And I thought it appropriate that I speak to all of you just to bring you up to date on where everything is.

We believe that the air campaign, in fact, is working consistent with our goals of diminishing and damaging and degrading Milosevic's military and his infrastructure. We had planned on intensifying that air campaign. That intensification is now well underway. As of today, we have some 24 F-18D models, Marine Corps F-18s, that are operating out of Hungary. We will soon have F-15s and F-16s operating out of the region as well. And that will intensify the campaign, coming at Milosevic's forces from a wider degree or arc of attack. And so, as we look at the progression that's taken place, yesterday there was some 271, I believe, combat sorties, almost a total of nearly 700 sorties that took place yesterday with one of the heaviest ground attack campaigns that we've had.

We are increasingly finding forces in the field. We are going after the tanks, artillery pieces. They continue to be hit with increasing frequency and the better the weather, obviously the better it's going to be as far as carrying out that mission.

To date, there is still strong unified support for the air campaign with our allies. And we -- they intend to see to it that the intensification takes place so that we can bring about in a shorter period of time, at least, the objective of having Milosevic come to a conclusion as to whether he's going to witness the destruction of his military infrastructure or see the UCK grow stronger each day. There is some indication that the numbers of the UCK are increasing. It is likely that they will get money and revenues in order to acquire weaponry. And over a long period of time, they are going to pose a significant threat to a diminished Milosevic.

So let me stop here. I'm sure you have many questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary, doesn't the indictment of Milosevic make it much more likely that he's going to want to just hunker down and not cooperate? And doesn't that in turn increase the odds that a ground invasion will be necessary?

A: It's not clear whether it will complicate or complement actions to date. I think the Secretary of State yesterday indicated it's too early to tell what the consequences will be. We have indicated from the beginning that we support the War Crimes Tribunal. I met personally with Mrs. Arbour when she was in Washington a couple of weeks ago. We indicated we would do whatever we could to cooperate with her investigation and we have done so.

The timing and the judgment as to whether or not they should go forward with this indictment was purely that of the Tribunal and her recommendation. Whether it will complement the negotiating -- it's not negotiating, but the process of trying to reach a resolution of this on NATO's terms or not remains to be seen. It could complicate it, but it also might complement it, namely by sending the very strong signal to the Serbian people that they have at their helm someone who is now under indictment by the international community for alleged war crimes. That may very well send the signal that they have to reconsider their support for him.

Q: Mr. Secretary, what do you say to people who say that Milosevic will never, in fact, be arrested and brought to trial and that this is -- amounts to a political exercise? I mean, you know where Mladic and Karadzic are, and yet, they're not arrested.

A: As we've indicated with all the indicted war criminals, that there's no statute of limitations on the war crimes. That they run the risk and they are open to being apprehended and arrested and brought before the Hague at any given time when the circumstances permit. And so, the same would apply to Milosevic himself.

Q: You're convinced that he will come to trial?

A: One day, he will. The purpose of the indictment is to put everyone in the world on notice that he stands accused of having committed war crimes by the direction of the campaign against the Kosovars. So to the extent there's no time limitation on that, at some point in time, he will be brought to justice.

Q: Mr. Secretary, Karadzic and Mladic, you said when conditions permit. They were indicted four years ago. There's never been a time in that four years when they could have been apprehended?

A: Under the Dayton Accords, SFOR has the authority to arrest and apprehend them when circumstances permit, when they come into contact with them and when it's under circumstances that would allow for their arrest. We've always taken into account whether we have the right kind of intelligence, the right kind of force so that they can be apprehended with a reasonable risk to the surrounding neighborhood and people of the region as well as to our own forces. So when we get the right kind of intelligence and circumstances permit, they, too, will be apprehended.

Q: They're holed up somewhere, as they probably are, the likelihood of them ever coming in contact with --

A: That was said about all of the others as well and you've seen an increase in those who have been indicted also apprehended. The persons indicted for war crimes will continue to be arrested when appropriate. So we have to have the right kind of intelligence with the right kind of force circumstance in the right environment so that you don't have a major military type of situation involving lots of innocent civilians.

Q: Mr. Secretary, Gen. Shelton said earlier this month that there were two conditions for the bombing to stop. One could be when there's a balance of power between the KLA and the Serb forces or Milosevic negotiates a settlement. Do you perceive a circumstance where the bombing could stop without a peace settlement?

A: The only circumstance where I could see where the bombing would stop is when Milosevic agrees to the conditions that NATO has set forth and manifests an intent to comply with them. For example, after agreeing to those conditions, he would have to take steps to pull his forces out. I've said this in the past, that if he agrees to the conditions about his forces out, the others, the Kosovars back in, international peacekeeping force, NATO at the core and agree to the greater autonomy for the Kosovars and then started to pull his forces out, that would be a situation in which I don't see that we would start attacking his forces as they're pulling out. Absent that, simply pulling a few hundred forces out of Kosovo would be completely insufficient. So it would have to be a declaration and then some manifestation of an intent to comply with his declaration.

Q: And a quick follow up on the Cox Committee report, what was your reaction to that report? Were you surprised at the extent of technology and espionage -- technology transfer and espionage that had gone on?

A: Well, I had been apprised along the way in terms of the dimensions of the espionage. It's not surprising to me that countries are trying to acquire America's technology. I think that it comes from not only China, but a variety of countries. The size and the scope of the effort alleged is quite significant and I think it does point to the need to cure the laxity that has been apparent in the nuclear labs.

Q: Do you think that nuclear weapons development should be taken out of DOE and put back in the Pentagon?

A: I think it should be placed where ever the greatest security is. We are looking at that now in terms of working with Energy and DoD to see where that should be.

Q: Mr. Secretary, on the question of ground troops, possible use of ground troops in Kosovo, the President has made clear recently that that remains an option. Can you describe for us the state of thinking in the administration about that eventual possibility? And isn't time running out to make such a decision?

A: What the administration has said is, that there is no consensus for a ground force. And until there is a consensus, we should not undertake any action for which we could not measure up in the way of performance. There has been a consensus on air power. And so, the air campaign will, in fact, continue. The President indicated that nothing was going to be taken off the table, but also very clearly that there has to be a consensus. There is no consensus for --

Q: (Inaudible)

A: It's been made very clear that one does not exist. And so, there is a serious question in terms of trying to push for a consensus that you really diffuse or in any way diminish the commitment to the air campaign. We saw some evidence of that with the surfacing about a week or so ago of Chancellor Schroeder's comments. The one thing we have to continue is to make sure that we have the allies consolidated in strong support of the air campaign. They are. And they are in favor of its intensification, so that's where we intend to put the emphasis.

Q: Sounds like you see no reasonable possibility for this campaign to change gears.

A: The President said he would not take any option off the table, but it's clear to me that there would need to be a consensus. There is not a consensus for a major ground effort.

Q: Mr. Secretary, talking about increasing the pressure on Milosevic's forces, you have (inaudible) that you're not using, the Apaches. And I understand the risk associated with using them, but you also have the MLRS ATACMS systems, which (inaudible) and could be used against the ground forces and -- Serb ground forces and on the border. Why aren't those being used?

A: Well, the ATACMS would conceivably be used in conjunction with the Apaches. And when a decision is made by Gen. Clark, if he believes it's appropriate to use the Apaches, he may very well use the ATACMS in conjunction with it. We have tried to indicate from the very beginning that the Apache would be used when the circumstances would warrant their use. To the extent that the weather has cleared and that we're able to pick up those targets with UAVs and to do significant damage with our fixed wing aircraft, we have chosen to do that. To the extent that Gen. Clark feels he'll be more effective and efficient with the Apaches, then he will make that recommendation. I've spoken to him as recently as this morning, and we stay in touch with him at least twice a week, that we are doing it with the fixed air right now. There are other opportunities for the Apaches that he's exploring in the mean time, but if he's satisfied that this is the best way to carry out the damage to forces in the field, then he will make that recommendation.

Q: There's been no discussion at all using the MLRS as an independent system --

A: We could use that. We could use that. That also is a possibility at this point, but we haven't decided to use it at this time.

Q: Mr. Secretary, we've been at this now for over two months. What's your assessment of how long we can go on before there's significant problems with American forces and equipment? Before the war started, you and Gen. Shelton were warning the Hill that things were stretched close to the limit.

A: It can go on as long as necessary. We have made it, I think, fairly clear that this is the equivalent of a MTW, an air campaign, at least, so it's a major campaign on the part of the Air Force. Right now, we are replenishing those munitions that have been used.

I think the support coming from the Congress has been important in terms of the size of the supplemental. And so, we can carry this as long as necessary. We're using the different types of munitions now from day to day and we are increasing the production JDAMS and other munitions. So we can carry this out as long as necessary. I pointed out that there is two sides to this. One is that morale is way up. Readiness as far as the forces being used is at the highest point it could be. They are, in fact, carrying out their activities, and so their readiness is at an extremely high state. If it extends over a long, long period of time, then sure, it could have an impact at that point. But right now, we're satisfied we can carry it on indefinitely.

Q: Just to follow that, you don't see any problems for morale in terms of the frustration that the Apache forces feel and that we go on for month after month and Milosevic appears to hold out.

A: Well, let's look what's taking place right now. We're having more and more indications that morale is being affected on the part of the Serbs. We're seeing more defections taking place, we're seeing more demonstrations taking place. We're seeing a good deal more damage taking place. And I know you've heard me say this on a number of occasions before, but out of that two months, which to me is not an excessively long period of time when you're taking on a military force that has been so redundant in terms of its capabilities, to take that two months and then to say you've got 15 days out of the two months in which you've really had unrestricted weather. And now that we're seeing the weather no longer being an inhibiting factor, each day that goes by, more and more damage is being inflicted. And so, I think we're reaching the point now where you're going to start seeing a much different reaction on the part of the Serb forces.

Q: Mr. Secretary, Gen. Clark is meeting today or is supposed to be meeting today at NATO for the time since Rambouillette with the leader of the KLA, (inaudible). Do you foresee closer cooperation between NATO and the KLA as move forward into the summer?

A: I don't think it's a cooperative relationship that has been established between the KLA and NATO as such. I think the KLA obviously watches what NATO is doing as far as carrying out its military operations, but there has been no coordination and no level of cooperation in that sense. I think that they look to see what we're doing and try to take whatever advantage they can of it. We are not coordinating activities with the KLA.

Q: Why shouldn't there be closer coordination and cooperation?

A: We've indicated before, this campaign is being carried out against Milosevic's forces. So we did not seek to become the KLA's air force. We do not seek to maintain that now. This is -- our operation is directed against Milosevic, but we are not coordinating our activities with the KLA.

Q: Mr. Secretary, a question on air power in general. There's been a continual string of stories and criticisms of the air campaign in flying, that you didn't get down low enough, slow enough, early enough to stop the ethnic cleansing. Can you address that? Is that a valid critique not two months into the campaign?

A: I think we've indicated that had the United States been planning this operation, it would have ended differently. I've mentioned this to USA Today and others, that the planning process took some time to iron out a lot of difficulties in terms of how this was going to be put together. And it was a planning process which had some delays in the approval process. It, for the most part, has been worked out now where Gen. Clark has almost complete flexibility. So, by holding the allies together, the 19 countries, it did present some challenges in the first month or so, but I think since that time, we have gotten to the point where he has enough flexibility to do the kind of damage that needs to be done.

Q: How would the U.S. going alone have changed the equation? Would the targets have been wider the first three or four days?

A: It would have been wider and more intense from my perspective. I think that any time you're dealing with an alliance, you have to take into account the need to hold that alliance together. And this is the first time NATO has had to operate in this fashion. And so, satisfying the command and control structure and the selection of the targets, I should say, and approval of those targets, I think presented some initial challenges which have since been worked out for the most part.

Q: Mr. Secretary, given the trouble of doing war by consensus, by committee, what does this say in terms of the future of NATO now that it's started to engage in areas beyond its original reason for being? Does it have to be restructured? How can it be restructured? Is it a viable institution still?

A: It's certainly a viable institution. And I would say, as compared to what. As compared to the United States acting unilaterally, this was certainly the best option and the only option. We had to have an alliance effort and that requires consensus building. And I think whatever impediments that we saw in the organizational aspect of this have been for the most part worked out. You have most of those have been removed. And I think Gen. Clark is satisfied he has the kind of authority now in terms of target recommendation selection and approval, that it's very quick as opposed to going through a process where targets were taken off a list by -- from time to time delayed. And so, that contributed, I think, to the lack of a much intensive campaign in the beginning.

Q: Are we going to face more of this, though, in the future as we go against -- asymmetrical type of threat?

A: I think this has been a good learning experience for NATO itself. NATO has gone through this process for the first time. And I think that learning curve is up substantially now, that should this ever be required in the future, that those kinds of problems initially encountered will not be there.

Q: To follow Tony's question, Mr. Secretary, (inaudible) a few days ago that the leadership targets and infrastructure targets in Belgrade itself were off limits. Has that been lifted? Does Clark really have the authority that you're talking about?

A: I think the proof is in the BDA each day. You can take a look at what is being hit and reach a judgment that Gen. Clark has had the authority to extend the range of targets and the types of targets and the areas from which -- where they are hit and from where they are hit. So I think what you're seeing is what he has talked about now. You will have nearly a thousand aircraft and they will be coming at Serb forces from all angles 24 hours a day. That is quite significantly different when it started out.

Now, part of it had to do initially with the weather. We talked about that from the very beginning. Part had to do with in terms of what kind of aircraft we could use and who had the aircraft and how many could be used, but now that you have clear weather, that a significant part of his integrated air defenses are affected and that we're able, as Gen. Wald talked about yesterday and the day before, able to operate with moderate risk throughout Serbia itself, more and more targets will be hit. So it's taken some time, weather was a factor, the integrated air defenses had to be taken out first, that took some time. But the weather was the biggest impediment that we had.

Q: Mr. Secretary, Colin Powell and Gen. Schwarzkopf did a great job in educating all of us on what it takes to win a war. And it was overwhelming force, clear objective and good strategy. And when this started, it seems like that stuff was developing now, but when this started, it didn't seem to be there. And that engendered a lot of criticism of the operation. How do you respond to critics that say DoD is ignoring its own lesson?

A: Well, DoD is not ignoring its own lesson. Part of the Powell doctrine was also to make sure that we had a strong political consensus behind the overwhelming force. And what you're seeing is overwhelming air power being applied to Serbia at this point. It's very difficult if not, I was going to say, anomalous to try to compare Desert Storm with this particular operation. In Desert Storm, you had one country basically in charge. Even though you had many participants, it was the United States leading the effort. Number two, you had a staging area which was open to all of our forces going in without any restriction. Number three, you had no weather impediments. Number four, you had massed forces dug in in the ground, but clearly open to attack by our air forces without the kind of restraints that we have as far a geography, weather in Kosovo. So you have an entirely different circumstance. And plus here, you have 16 countries which became 19 countries involved in the effort. So even though it's the United States in the lead of NATO, nonetheless, when you're trying to carry out a campaign on the basis of consensus, it presents many more impediments.

Q: Given those difficulties, do you anticipate more wars by consensus or do you want to go back to that Persian Gulf construct?

A: It depends on where it is. If it's the United States having to carry on a campaign against Saddam Hussein, then we certainly have a different circumstance as opposed to something in the heart of Europe. I hope we don't see any more Kosovos. That's one of the reasons we're talking about the need to have a Balkans strategy. That's something that all the NATO countries are eager to develop.

Q: What about (inaudible) more than two-thirds of the planes involved, why didn't the United States take charge in the beginning rather than let it be a consensus and a lot of cat fighting?

A: Even though the United States has a preponderance of aircraft involved, I'd point out that the combat sorties break down roughly 58 U.S., the balance being the European members of NATO. The combat support, we have a much greater proportion of combat support that we're carrying out. This is recognized, by the way, on the part of the Europeans. I think they want to increase their aircraft contributions, recognizing there is an inequality in the contribution right now.

But secondly, because this is a NATO operation, we can't dictate that. If we're going to have the support of all 19 countries, it requires them to participate, not just to be dictated to. This is different than the Persian Gulf effort, where clearly, we were the ones in charge and leading the effort and the others were making contributions. But it was basically a U.S. operation. Here, it required because of the geography, because of the need to have staging areas where planes were going to fly from, under what conditions, to have the political support necessary to carry this forward required consensus. That's simply the nature of NATO itself. If we're going to have NATO conduct the campaign, then it's not the United States dictating, but basically consolidating.

Q: The extension team in North Korea finished their inspection of that facility. There were some indications of activity prior to that inspection. Are you concerned that the North Koreans are still hiding nuclear related material from that site at Kumchang-ni or what do you think is going on there?

A: I haven't seen the report of the inspectors, what they found there and I don't want to prejudge as to what they were doing. I think we have to continue to watch the North Koreans in terms of their compliance with the Agreed Framework. They maintain they have complied with it and the fact that the inspectors did not find significant or substantial evidence of any violation of that leads them to the conclusion that we are raising false charges against them. I think we have to continue to watch the North Koreans very closely. But I haven't seen the report, so I really can't comment on it.

Q: Mr. Secretary, is there any kind of a timeline, at least unofficially, for this air campaign given the fact that winter is approaching, (inaudible) for the refugees to get back in their homes or in some kind of shelter? And also, let's face it, the time needed to assemble logistics and other factors that would go into, let's say the ground option if we actually had to go to that?

A: As you know, there has been a commitment made to an enhanced KFOR at that point, and there is a force generating plan that will be brought before the NAC next week. And at that point, a decision will be made in terms of who is going to contribute and how many and from whence they will come; also, I think as a recognition that there needs to be a substantial winterization program started now to winterize facilities for the Kosovars. So there's no limitation on the air campaign. That can continue indefinitely, but there is a recognition that we have to move on the winterization program.

Q: There's no point where you might say all right, we've bombed another three weeks, Milosevic is still on (inaudible) thumbing his nose, we've to go --

A: We're still going to continue.

Q: I just wanted to follow up on that. You said that there are plans for an accelerated winterization program, but if the air campaign does not succeed by the end of the summer, there will be 500,000 refugees inside Kosovo who will be at the mercy (inaudible) how can NATO stand by under those circumstances and allow the winter to move in and those people to face certain death?

A: Well, one of the reasons that there is an effort now to get humanitarian assistance to those IDPs and that is being undertaken by several countries, recognizing that they're in need of food and shelter. It is our belief that by intensifying the air campaign and not showing any inclination to have a pause as some have argued, I probably should talk about that, any pause until such time as Milosevic demonstrates that he is going to agrees to the terms that have been laid out, we're just going to intensify this until such time as we're satisfied that this can be brought to a successful conclusion.

Q: Are you confident, though, that it can get done before the winter?

A: I am increasingly confident given the amount of damage that we're doing day by day. I'm also -- we're seeing signals coming out again, more anecdotal at this point, but increased discontent on the part of the VJ forces, concern of the losses that are mounting, demonstration by families by the soldiers who are either not returning or being killed. So much of that is starting to surface now and it's precisely the wrong time to be talking about a pause. Right now, we should intensify it and not talk about pausing.

Q: (Inaudible)

A: Pardon?

Q: Militarily, there's no way to end.

A: It can end tomorrow.

Q: But not by your doing.

A: Our effort will contribute to its ending, we believe, by intensifying (inaudible).

Q: Mr. Secretary, there are analysts who are saying now that Milosevic has fundamentally lost every high value target inside the country, he's now been indicted as a war criminal and that his incentive strongly suggests sitting out, waiting for NATO to make a series of ugly mistakes that just fundamentally fracture the global support for the operation. What is the military reason why Milosevic should counter all of that logic and move now to capitulate?

A: That's a decision that he is going to have to make in terms of whether it's in his interest to see his country day by day economically deteriorate, politically be isolated as he is now and militarily be seriously damaged. From an economic point of view, political point of view, military point of view, he is on a descending slope right now and it's getting steeper each day. Whether he has any interest in his country, that remains to be seen or whether he puts his own personal position and power as paramount to his county, we'll just have to wait and see. But we think that there are many more targets that have to be struck and will be struck in the coming weeks and months.

Q: Mr. Secretary, may I ask a business question. Litton and Newport News have been notified by the Pentagon after preliminary assessments, they don't approve of the potential transaction. Can you give you a little bit of the Department's thinking? And should industry see this as a signal of your slowing down approvals?

A: No, the fact is that there was a preliminary analysis done on this and the word, I believe, was given yesterday or the day before to the industries involved that there was a proposal to acquire Avondale on the part of Litton and that has been approved.

Q: Why not Newport News?

A: The same kind of considerations that were involved when G.D. also sought for that kind of approach, namely the concentration of power and the anti-competitive aspects of it. It was just, again, preliminary determination that that kind of concentration would be contrary to our interests in maintaining separate facilities.

Mr. Bacon: We've got time for one more question. I'd like to bring you back to Kosovo, which was the --

Q: Mr. Secretary, given the difficulties that have arisen because of this conflict in terms of the stretching thin of forces, depletion of munitions and so forth, what does this say to the concepts of fighting two simultaneous regional wars? And also, the program of downsizing that's been going on for quite a while, have we downsized too much?

A: I believe the Chairman addressed this yesterday, but we have the capability of carrying out two MTWs. As I indicated a few moments ago, this is another MTW, but it's an air MTW. And if we were called upon to respond to the other regions, then we would have to call upon our European allies to do much more in the region. But we would protect those other two MTWs.

Q: More direct question about Kosovo. The assembly or the plan is to assemble an enlarged K-4. What can you tell us about planning for the U.S. contribution, where are you in identifying them?

A: Well, that's the purpose of going -- the force generation analysis that will take place next week.

Q: Has the U.S. already made some plans about what type of forces or which forces?

A: Not yet. Not until -- well, I assume it will be the same percentage range as we had committed to before, that 14 - 15% of that force. There's still some question about the numbers in terms of the total that will be required, but it's been at least discussed in the range of 48 to 50 and the President will have to decide this. He has not had this presented to him yet. There have been other numbers that have been lower than the 48 - 50, but whatever the figure is, I would assume that we would be in the 14 - 15% category.

Q: Did you get any sense that any Guard and reserve troops would be called up as a result of that?

A: I can't say at this point. I can't say. I have to see what the plan is first and what kind of forces will be required and then make a decision where they would come from.

Q: Have you finished your investigation into the Chinese embassy bombing?

A: Not yet. I have not.

Q: (Inaudible)

A: I think that the agency is the lead on this. And I'm not sure whether they've completed their investigation.

Q: Thank you.


Additional Links

Stay Connected