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Secretary Cohen's Prepared Remarks at the Munich Conference on Security Policy

Presenter: Defense Secretary William S. Cohen
February 08, 1998
"NATO at 50: New Challenges in a New Age"

Munich Conference on Security Policy February 8, 1998

After President Harry Truman led America through the end of the Second World War, he tried to settle an age-old debate. The Marxists had declared that humans are but flotsam on the uncontrollable currents of history. But Truman said no, "Individuals make history, and not the other way around. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better."

I thought of these words as I prepared to come to Munich for several reasons. First, I thought of the founder of this Conference and how saddened I was that this would be his last Wehrkunde. There are few individuals in modern European history who prove the truth of Truman's words more than Ewald Heinrich von Kleist.

Baron von Kleist seized his first opportunity to make history in 1944 as a 22-year-old lieutenant in the German Army, when more than once he risked his life in attempts to assassinate Adolf Hitler. The reward for his courage was arrest and detention in a concentration camp. But Baron von Kleist did not give up the fight. After the war and the ensuing division of Europe, he seized every opportunity to help keep Germans and Europeans free, and established this annual Wehrkunde Conference in 1963, building it into the premier conference on NATO security issues.

For more than a third of a century Wehrkunde has, like a magnet, drawn together the leading figures from across the NATO alliance. As head of the American delegation to the Wehrkunde Conference from 1985 to 1996, it has been my honor and privilege to work with Baron von Kleist and count him among my most respected of colleagues and friends. Baron von Kleist, from all of us, "Thank you for the history you have made."

I also thought about Truman's words as I prepared to come here because I think that Truman would have been both proud and astonished by how members of the Atlantic community -- including many individuals here in this room -- have transformed the security of Europe.

For more than 40 winters, voices in Europe told us that the Iron Curtain was an inescapable peril, a permanent divide, while others preached that we would have to compromise our values and accommodate evil. The spirit of NATO proved these voices wrong. We stood together, stood fast and stood firm. The Cold War did not end with a bang or a whimper; thanks to NATO, it ended with the resounding crash of the Berlin Wall being toppled. The nuclear stand-off has been stood down. In Ukraine, missile fields have been transformed into sunflower fields. And our children stand to inherit not peril, but peace.

The end of the Cold War brought forth the question, "Whither NATO?" And some skeptics answered, "Let NATO wither," insisting that the Alliance had lost its purpose and had, itself, been consigned to the dustbin of history. Still others maintained that while NATO should continue to exist, it could never -- and should never -- reach out and accept new members from the old Warsaw Pact. That East was East, and West was West, and never the 'twain should meet. That these nations were far from ready to join the Western alliance. They also maintained that enlarging NATO would create new divisions on the continent and jeopardize Russia's move to democracy and its cooperation with the West.

Once again, the spirit of NATO has proved the skeptics wrong. The Poles, the Hungarians, and the Czechs are preparing to be contributors, not simply consumers of security, ready to share the costs and responsibilities of NATO membership. And in numerous actions, large and small, NATO and Russia are erasing old dividing lines every day. In so many ways, the spirit of NATO -- the spirit of the new Europe -- is triumphing over the past. And NATO has set forth a bold vision for itself as we approach 1999, NATO's 50th anniversary.

This vision includes:

  • An alliance of 19 that is larger and stronger, and holds the door open for future new members;
  • An alliance that is ready, willing and able to undertake new missions;
  • A Bosnia at peace and rebuilding -- perhaps even a candidate for Partnership for Peace activities;
  • An alliance whose cooperation with Russia is a routine activity, not a remarkable departure.
  • An alliance that is building a "distinctive partnership" with an independent Ukraine.
  • And across the continent, ancient capitals stifled by domination rising anew like so many Phoenixes.

This is NATO's vision, a vision within our grasp. But as T.S. Eliot noted, "[b]etween the idea and reality falls the shadow." And if we are to not to languish in the shadowlands, we must move beyond soaring words to the unglamorous work of turning our rhetoric into reality. Today in Europe, the battle between past and progress is still incomplete. As the American Mario Cuomo, the former governor of New York state, once noted, we "campaign in poetry, but we govern in prose." Now is the time for NATO to write the next chapters in its history with prose that is strong and sturdy. Putting pen to paper -- and making our vision for NATO at 50 a reality -- requires us to focus on five very specific challenges.

Our first challenge is to make NATO enlargement work. By making the historic choice to invite Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary to join NATO, we are projecting stability and hope across the breadth of the European continent. But enlargement can only be successful if we follow a two-track approach.

The first track is to ensure that new members develop and sustain the standards of military effectiveness that have made NATO so successful in the past. This means placing a priority on personnel, training, C4I, logistics and reinforcement infrastructure to ensure that each new member can operate effectively with current NATO members. Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary are making great progress. I am prepared to tell our Congress that these future allies will contribute significantly to NATO's collective defense beginning on the date of their ascension in 1999. I will tell them that these nations are building stable democracies with free societies and free markets and modern militaries that are serving under civilian leadership.

The second track we must follow to make enlargement successful is to ensure that we are able to satisfy the rising expectations of partner states by sustaining and enhancing NATO's hugely successful outreach programs. Among the countries that aspire to membership, there is enthusiastic support for the process that NATO has begun. They understand that with enlargement, no new democracy is permanently excluded, and that without enlargement, every new democracy would remain outside the window of NATO's security, destined always to be looking in, vulnerable to both domestic and external pressures, to turn away from the West, its ideals and traditions.

To maintain our momentum, we need to broaden and deepen Allied commitment to the Partnership For Peace. We need to make an enhanced Partnership for Peace work, to draw partner countries -- both those who aspire to membership and those who do not -- even closer to NATO's military and civilian structures. We need to make the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council work, to draw them into even more extensive political consultations with Allies. But the resources to realize these opportunities are not yet there. The United States cannot sustain PFP's future momentum toward this new European security architecture without considerable help from Allies. And so we are asking our Allies to do more.

Our second challenge is to ensure that this larger NATO can carry out new security missions. NATO's bedrock mission will remain collective defense of our borders. But we will be increasingly called upon to promote regional stability, prevent conflicts, reduce threats, and deter aggression and coercion beyond our borders. Both to defend enlarged borders and to conduct these new missions, NATO's European members must continue to improve their ability to project their forces. Just as we expect new members to meet certain standards of military effectiveness, so must current members meet the commitments they have made, especially their force goals for power projection capabilities. We must also continue to improve the ability of all NATO forces to counter new threats such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Some allies have done much to enhance their ability to project and sustain their forces and counter these weapons. But others can and should do more.

Our third challenge is to meet these first two challenges -- enlargement and new missions -- within constrained resources. Now that NATO has achieved a new sense of purpose, Alliance members must ensure that they invest sufficiently in security. Today, European allies are spending $11 billion collectively on research and development, while the United States is spending $37 billion. Europeans are spending only $33 billion on procurement, while the United States is spending $45 billion and we will increase this to more than $60 billion over the next three years.

Europe has said it wants to play a larger role in world affairs and in European security, as evidenced by initiatives such as the European Security and Defense Identity (ESDI) and the Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) concept. But with a larger security role comes the responsibility to put forth the resources and attention to do the job. But many in Europe seem distracted from this task, perhaps, in part, due to the focus on its pending monetary union, a process launched by the signing of the Maastricht Treaty six year ago yesterday. Indeed, some are resistant to looking beyond core Alliance self-defense responsibilities, and for many defense investment is taking a back seat. Even countries that recognize the need for military reforms are slow in implementing them.

While I see little prospect for dramatically increased defense budgets, we must at least stabilize defense budgets at around current levels, lest we see an erosion of the Alliance's military capabilities. Even if defense budgets are held steady, the peace dividend will not be over -- every year that our total defense spending remains below Cold War levels, we realize a peace dividend. But if defense budgets continue to decline, it will be the peace and not the dividend that will increasingly be at risk. The warning signs are clearly silhouetted on the horizon before us.

Each Alliance member must provide sufficient resources to sustain its own national forces, both for "Article 5" requirements and for other more likely missions. This is especially important as we enlarge the Alliance. Allies need to be able to protect their forces against the effects from weapons of mass destruction. And we must all embrace the Revolution in Military Affairs, which will transform the character of our forces and how they fight through the application of information technology and other advances.

This question of resources throws into sharp relief both the opportunities and the risks posed by technological advances in the art and science of coalition warfare. On one hand, these advances are making it possible for our forces to be both smaller and more effective, able to dominate the future battlefield with far less risk of casualties. But even in a successful operation like Bosnia we have seen the difficulties that can result when coalition forces are equipped with different generations of communications equipment or face other hurdles to interoperability. Ultimately, we risk diminishing our collective effectiveness as Allies unwilling to commit sufficient resources become less interoperable with those who make the necessary investment in modern war-fighting technologies. It is not just a matter of incompatible equipment, but, over time, incompatible doctrine. Even seven years ago, during the Gulf War, it was evident that some Allies' ways of warfare were as different as night and day. Since then, the gap has only grown and will continue to do so at an accelerating pace unless concrete action is taken.

One way we can ameliorate this risk is to strongly support international cooperation in defense research and development and procurement to ensure that together we have the right kind of industrial base for the 21st century. Almost a year ago, I announced a policy that recognized increased emphasis on coalition operations, the importance of interoperability in defense R&D and procurement, and the significance of developing a global industrial and technology base. The starting point for international cooperation must be coalition warfare needs, using lessons learned from past coalition successes and failures. Our goal must be a viable, competitive and efficient trans-Atlantic defense industrial base in which all share the costs and benefits of today's technological advances.

Our fourth challenge is to support the continuing progress towards true peace in Bosnia. Bosnia is a major success story for NATO. The Implementation Force, IFOR, and Stabilization Force, SFOR, have been far more effective than anyone dared imagine. The cease-fire is now in its 28th month, the killing has stopped, and the Old Bridge in Mostar -- whose destruction symbolized the hate and horror of war -- is being rebuilt, symbolizing both reconstruction and hopes for reconciliation.

NATO's forces have reaped the fruits of almost five decades of working and training together. They have smoothly integrated another eighteen non-NATO nations into their concept and execution of combined operations. And they have made NATO-Russian cooperation a reality on a mission of vital importance to European security and stability.

But our hard work in Bosnia is not yet finished. Right now, we are in the process of defining the mission and tasks of the force that will follow SFOR, accepting that in the near term an international military presence will be required to allow Bosnia's reconstruction to continue in an atmosphere of confidence. This force must build on the accomplishments of the past two years and continue underpinning the secure environment that has allowed some remarkable progress in the civilian implementation aspects of the Dayton Peace Accord.

Ultimately, the Bosnian people themselves must take responsibility for their fate. But we are not yet at this point. We must remain united in pressuring leaders of all three Bosnian factions to implement all aspects of the Dayton agreement. And we must realize that success in Bosnia requires a balanced commitment by all. As my President has said clearly, there are a number of conditions that must be met before a US commitment in principle to participate in the SFOR follow-on force becomes a commitment in fact.

One of these conditions is the support of the Congress and the American people. While each NATO ally is already contributing significant resources to the SFOR mission, the US Congress, as you know, feels strongly that more can and should be done, particularly in the critical area of public security. Training, vetting and equipping local police is critical to creating sustainable peace. The US continues to provide 90 percent of the International Police Task Force's budget in this area. We need your help. We also seek your support in establishing specialized units as a component of the follow-on NATO presence. The expertise of these units, under NATO command and strictly within the overall force's mandate and rules of engagement, will increase our efficiency in supporting civil implementation.

We must also remember that Bosnia is but part of a larger Balkan mosaic. The prospects for peace across the Balkans will be enhanced by further integrating the region into the European political and security architecture. These past two years the Balkan nations have made important strides in regional confidence-building and cooperation, replacing confrontation with cooperation and building trust where there used to be only suspicion. NATO will play a key role in this process through the Partnership for Peace and through the stability that will be projected as Balkan nations are considered for NATO membership.

Our fifth and final challenge is to help Russia and Ukraine become full and true partners in European security. This is a challenge that will require patience, flexibility and firmness of purpose by all parties.

We have a solid foundation that we can build upon. The relationship we have established with Russia in Bosnia has been unprecedented in its scope and success. We must work to ensure that the Bosnia experience becomes the rule rather than the exception. The NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council we established in Madrid can be a valuable tool in achieving this goal. I believe that Russia views as genuine our desire, and is determined herself, to build a Joint Council and security architecture that promotes peace and security across Eurasia. We must use the Council and other outreach efforts to reinforce progress and success in areas where NATO's and Russia's interests converge, such as regional security, threat reduction, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and environmental issues. At the same time, we must also deal candidly and speak frankly in those areas where we disagree. With such an approach, we can carry our relationship beyond the already remarkable military ties formed in Bosnia.

The NATO-Ukraine Commission is also off to a successful start. I am most impressed with the work program that was endorsed by the Commission last December and in particular, Kiev's ongoing efforts at defense reform that will be supported by that work program. These efforts, along with Ukraine's active participation in PFP, its economic reforms at home, and its efforts to reach out in a spirit of friendship to its neighbors are propelling that great nation toward the European mainstream. The NATO-Ukraine Charter and Commission signifies our recognition that an independent, democratic, prosperous and stable Ukraine is an essential element of a new security order for an undivided Europe.

Our vision for NATO at 50 is truly an expansive one. Indeed, we see nothing less than a Euro-Atlantic region from Vancouver to Vladivostok bound together by ties of military cooperation and security consultation among over 40 countries - an achievement unprecedented in European history. So in addressing these five challenges:

  • Making enlargement work;
  • Preparing NATO for new missions;
  • Doing both within constrained resources;
  • Supporting continuing progress towards peace in Bosnia;
  • And helping Russia and Ukraine become true partners in European security;

It is vital that we hold up the lamplight of history so that we not stumble on the footpath to the future. For one need look no further than the history books to understand that when Europe is safe, America is more secure. And that when stability in Europe is threatened, America cannot remain indifferent or unaffected. As President Clinton said last May, "Europe's fate and America's future" are inextricably linked.

One of Germany's noted poets -- Heinrich von Kleist, the ancestor of the founder of this Conference -- once wrote that, "the highest and only goal in my life is to find a truth which remains true until after the grave." Thanks to 34 years of Baron von Kleist's Wehrkunde Conference and thanks to 49 years of NATO, we have found such a truth. The inextricable link between America's security and Europe's security is, indeed, a truth that lives beyond the graves of the millions who have perished in Europe's wars, a truth that has set us free for the past 50 years and, if observed, a truth that will keep us free.