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Cohen: Vigilant to World Threats

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 25, 1997 – The spread of weapons of mass destruction presents the gravest threat the world has ever known, said William S. Cohen, the new defense secretary.

Cohen talked about the nation's military strategy and world threats during his Jan. 22 Senate confirmation hearings and in a Pentagon interview Jan. 23.

"Our strategy is to preserve and promote peace, prosperity and democracy by being militarily strong, by being forward deployed and by being diplomatically engaged," he said. The Cold War may be over, but the United States must remain vigilant and its armed forces prepared to counter newly emerging threats, he said.

Many countries are acquiring missile technology and developing chemical and biological weapons for theater-level and long-range use, Cohen said. Some Middle East nations have vast quantities of chemical and biological weapons, and bomb-building instructions are available on the Internet, he said.

"The threat is out there. It's real," he said. "It's not something that will come tomorrow; it's here today. We have to devise [not only] deterrent strategies, but [also] greater detection and protective measures against that kind of threat both here at home and for our troops who are forward deployed."

Second only to the high threat of weapons of mass destruction, he said, is the threat of terrorism. Rogue nations are acquiring an ability to infiltrate the United States, he added. Terrorists used a bomb with a chemical weapons capability in the attack at New York City's World Trade center, he said. "Had that chemical weapon then exploded and dispersed, it could have caused enormous damage in that city."

The potential for regional conflicts threaten U.S. interests around the world, Cohen said. Hostile regimes and instability threaten Southwest and Northeast Asia. "Korea remains troublesome. We don't know quite how that will unfold, and we have to be prepared for any contingency," he said.

U.S. defense officials are trying to establish a better working relationship with China, Cohen said. He said he plans to continue the U.S.-China military-to-military contacts established by former Defense Secretary William Perry. "Hopefully, we can encourage China to come into the international community as a full partner and not one that would seek to any way destabilize the region," Cohen said.

Instability, nationalism and ethnic tensions pose dangers in Europe and the Middle East, Cohen said. "We have to be concerned about what is taking place in the gulf region -- Iran, Iraq. Saddam Hussein still poses a threat to the stability of the region. Iran poses a threat to U.S. interests in the region."

While the United States now has a much better relationship with Russia thanks to the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, Cohen said, U.S. officials remain wary. They are unsure how Russia's political events will develop. "We have greater military-to-military cooperation -- their role in IFOR and now SFOR -- all of which has contributed to a more stable relationship with Russia," Cohen said.

U.S. and NATO officials are working to dispel Russian opposition to NATO expansion, he said. "We're trying to promote a much better relationship in terms of how NATO enlargement unfolds and measures we can take to reassure the Russians this is not designed in any way to encircle them or pose a threat to them.

"We also have to convey to them that an enlarged NATO is not going to pose a military threat to them," he said. "We're trying to stabilize Central and Eastern Europe in ways that will make war in the future less possible. What has led to war in the past has been regional conflicts and ethnic hostilities. The enlargement of NATO hopefully will contribute to reducing that kind of a threat."

Preparing to face whatever threats the future holds takes the kind of vision the Joint Staff is employing in its Joint Vision 2010, Cohen said. "They are looking into the future to see what the battlefield might look like at that time, what kind of forces we should have -- to configure them in a way to take advantage of our technological superiority" he said. "Maneuverability, domination of air space, land warfare -- all of that will be important in the year 2010, if not before."

Cohen's plan for the future is to take advantage of the expertise that exists within the military itself, plus calling upon outside experts to formulate a vision -- to anticipate what the world might look like 10, 15 or 20 years from now.

"We have to devise strategies, plans and programs that will put those systems on line by that time," he said. "It's a combination of relying upon sound, proven strategies and then try to modify them to where the future is likely to be."

Cohen called the world an unsettled, dangerous place and said people should not be lulled into a false sense of security just because the Russians no longer pose a threat. It's a dangerous mindset to believe that "because we're not engaged in combat, there's no need for a combat capability," he said.

"We have to have a very strong commitment to remaining the world's superpower," Cohen said. "If we wish to maintain the quality of life we have ... to diminish the chance for regional strife and conflict, then we have to be militarily prepared. We have to be militarily strong. We have to be forward-deployed. And we have to be diplomatically engaged."

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