Cohen Tells Cadets to Expect Change
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 5, 1998 Defense Secretary William S. Cohen told newly commissioned officers at the U.S. Military Academy the world has changed since they took the oath of enlistment in 1994, and they can expect change to be constant.
He also gave the graduating cadets a tour of the dangerous world in which they will serve. Cohen spoke May 30 at the commencement ceremony at West Point, N.Y..
One point Cohen stressed was that America's diplomacy works because a strong military force backs it up. He told the graduates that when they took the oath to serve in the military in 1994, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had rushed troops to the border with Kuwait and then backed down after U.S. troops arrived.
"This past fall and winter, Saddam again challenged the world by trying to cripple the efforts of international inspectors who are working to prevent him from rebuilding his arsenal of terror," Cohen said. "We ... responded by building up a formidable force ready for action. And once again Saddam retreated because diplomacy was backed up by strong and credible military power."
With that crisis over, President Clinton said the United States can draw down the forces in the Persian Gulf. However, Cohen said, U.S. defense planners will reconfigure forces in the area to retain much greater firepower than before the crisis. The changes will make it easier to augment the forces if the need arises, he said.
Cohen spoke of what the world was like in 1994 when the cadets first donned the distinctive gray uniforms of West Point. He said in Asia, nations such as Thailand, Indonesia and South Korea were the so-called Asian Tigers because of the strength and growth rates of their economies. "Today, many Asian nations are struggling to emerge from beneath a tidal wave of currency crises, financial shocks and political transitions," he said.
In 1994, the last Russian troops boarded trains to leave Central and Eastern Europe. Many commentators questioned the need for NATO. "Today NATO is reinvigorated and reaching out to embrace new members and new missions across Central and Eastern Europe," he said.
In 1994, Bosnia was a place of death and despair. "Today, new leaders give hope that all Bosnians can one day live together," Cohen said. "A new common flag now flies over Bosnia's government buildings, and more Bosnian families are going home while more war criminals are going to the international court at The Hague."
He returned to the threats posed by weapons of mass destruction. "Recent nuclear explosions detonated by India and Pakistan stunned people the world over," he said. "But they served as a powerful reminder that we cannot relax or diminish our efforts to control the spread of weapons of mass destruction."
Cohen said this is particularly true of Iraq. He noted Iraq's use of these weapons in the past and U.N. inspectors' unanswered questions about Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological programs. The inspectors, he said, "found that Iraq has provided no credible evidence that it has ended its biological weapons program, and that Iraq may still retain missile warheads and the supplies to produce 200 tons of VX, a chemical nerve agent, a single drop of which can kill a person in a few minutes."
Cohen said it is not up to the inspectors "to find biologically or chemically tipped needles in the Iraq haystacks." Rather, Iraq must provide evidence it has fulfilled its obligations, he said.
He told the cadets that to serve as America's guardians they must hew to the highest ethical standards. They must exhibit the highest standards of character, integrity, excellence, service and teamwork.
"You must treat every man and every woman with dignity and respect," he said. "We have worked hard to build a military based upon the values of mutual respect and dignity and cooperation -- not because we are social engineers or determined to be politically correct, but because these values are essential for the teamwork that is central to the military effectiveness of our country."
Cohen said some commentators believe the military is preaching Victorian values, "that our standards are unrealistic, or maybe even undesirable when contrasted with contemporary mores," Cohen said. "I disagree. I believe the reason that our military is the best in the world is because we refuse to accept the least."