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Cohen Confirmed as Defense Secretary

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 23, 1997 – The Senate unanimously confirmed William S. Cohen as the 20th secretary of defense Jan. 22.

Cohen replaces William J. Perry, who served at the Pentagon's helm for nearly three years and as deputy defense secretary for one year.

The Senate confirmed Cohen shortly after he appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee. During his confirmation hearing, Cohen said he will continue the administration's efforts to reduce the nuclear threat, establish relations with Russia, build NATO's Partnership for Peace and steer the security alliance toward expanding its membership.

Cohen said he intends to build upon these international security accomplishments. "While we are not and cannot be the world's policeman, neither can we become a prisoner of world events, isolated and tucked safely away in a continental cocoon," he said.

Cohen pledged to continue to attract the high quality of people necessary to preserve the nation's military superiority. "The increasing complexity of technology, the quickening pace of warfare and growing unpredictability of the international scene require that our people be more adaptable and agile than ever," Cohen said.

Maintaining high readiness will be a priority, he said, so U.S. forces can respond to any crisis. Cohen said he shared the view that quality of life -- pay, compensation, housing and medical benefits -- is a key element of readiness.

Modernizing the force will be another priority, Cohen said. "The massive reduction in force structure following the end of the Cold War allowed us to terminate or defer a multitude of programs within acceptable risks," he said. "This trend must now be reversed.

DoD will continue its progress in acquisition reform, dealing with excess infrastructure and adopting best business practices under his leadership, Cohen said. "Achieving a proper match of strategy, programs and resources to meet our security needs of the present and the future poses a major challenge," he said.

Cohen said he expects the Quadrennial Defense Review now under way will present tough but necessary decisions. During the process, however, he will not forget the review's main purpose is to ensure the U.S. military can fight and win the nation's wars.

The gravest responsibility a defense secretary has, Cohen said, is advising the president on the use of force. "The courage, loyalty and willingness of our men and women in uniform to put their lives as stake is a national treasure that should never be taken for granted," he said. "When our forces are sent to fight, clear objectives must be set to which we are firmly committed and which we have the means to achieve decisively."

The new secretary said U.S. forces not only respond to crises, but also perform important missions every day.

"When our ships patrol strategic waters, our aircraft fly distant skies and our soldiers deploy on exercises, they are not merely on call in the event something happens," Cohen said. "By those very actions, something is happening; they are influencing the views and decisions of foreign countries, be they friends in need of assurance or foes in need of deterrence. Our forces in their daily operations are shaping the world, not merely waiting to respond to the crisis of the moment."

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