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Cohen's Vision for Strong Defense

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 21, 1998 – Bipartisan support, adequate military funding, along with interagency and international cooperation are needed to maintain a strong, flexible national defense, according to William S. Cohen.

The secretary of defense outlined his vision for protecting the United States in a mid-September speech before New York's Council on Foreign Relations. He said the United States faces three complex challenges -- terrorism; rogue nations with weapons of mass destruction; and ethnic, religious and economic strains undermining security in key world areas.

The United States no longer faces a single, powerful enemy or the "balance of terror" of the Cold War, he said. Instead are terrorists and the terrorizing possibility that some nation or group will try to use a deadly chemical or biological weapon against the United States.

The wider range of threats today places a greater burden upon service members, Cohen said. "We are deploying to more places than 10 years ago, and we are doing that with a military that is 36 percent smaller than at the end of the Cold War."

Dealing with today's challenges requires interagency cooperation and bipartisan support for defense policy, Cohen said. "The security issues we face today transcend partisanship. They aren't Republican or Democrat challenges; they are national challenges."

Adequate military budgets are also needed to maintain strong, ready forces, he said. Readiness remains high among tip-of-the- spear forces in Bosnia, Korea and the Persian Gulf, Cohen said, but follow-on forces are strained.

Recruiting problems hinder the Navy and Air Force, and the Army is using operations and infrastructure funds to pay for training, Cohen noted. "In any given year, it is tempting to slow development and procurement of future weapons in order to fund today's operations," he said. "This is a costly mistake."

Modern technology enables American forces to see through the fog of war and strike precisely over long distances, he said. What's known as the "revolution in military affairs" means fighting with more stealth and surprise and being more effective with less risk.

Last year's proposed management reforms and base closings were designed to produce billions of dollars in savings that could be channeled into readiness and procurement, Cohen said. "We need to achieve these savings if we hope to maintain the best fighting force in the world to face future challenges."

International cooperation is also key to meeting today's threats, Cohen said. "While the United States is the world's undisputed leader, we cannot solve problems alone," he said. Combating transnational terrorism, in particular, "demands a coordinated, resolute response."

"No government can permit others to attack its citizens with impunity if it hopes to retain the loyalty and confidence of those it is charged to protect," he said. "We can remain free only as long as we remain strong and brave. We intend to do precisely that."

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