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Cohen Cites Major Defense Challenges

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 11, 2001 – Russia, China, asymmetric warfare, and weapons of mass destruction are issues likely to confront incoming Bush administration national security officials, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said Jan. 10 at the National Press Club here.

Cohen cited the Oct. 12 terrorist bombing of the destroyer USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, as an example of how enemies can use relatively low-tech weapons to strike American targets with devastating effect. The attack killed 17 sailors and wounded 39.

"[Asymmetric warfare] is a major challenge which is going to continue to confront the new administration and all of us for many years to come," Cohen said during his Press Club luncheon speech. "This is the kind of grave new world that we're going to face -- indirect, but highly lethal, attacks on our forces and our citizens, not always from nations but from individuals and even independent groups."

Cohen said he had briefed President-elect George W. Bush and his national security team at the Pentagon that morning on overall strategic military policies, the state of DoD and "areas we have to continue to focus on." With Bush were Vice President-elect Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary- designee Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State-designee Colin Powell and Adviser for National Security nominee Condoleezza Rice.

Russia, Cohen said, "is going to pose a major challenge for the new administration, and I think we can look to Russia with both hope, but also with concern." While U.S. and Russian soldiers are now successfully serving side-by-side on peacekeeping duty in the Balkans, he noted, it is unknown whether Russia can completely leave behind the autocratic policies of its former Soviet rulers and make the leap to a truly democratic government.

"It is unclear whether Russia is going to make the transition to free minds and markets. At times, it seems to me that President [Vladimir] Putin is intent on pursuing democracy almost by decree," Cohen said. He also noted that a recent study predicts Russia will experience economic, military and social strains in the near future.

Cohen also noted Russian concerns over a proposed U.S. National Missile Defense system.

"A limited national defense system, designed to protect the American people from a limited type of an attack, nonetheless is seen and viewed by the Russians as being somehow undercutting their own strategic nuclear deterrent," he said. "And so they continue to oppose it. ... This is an issue that no doubt will be of major concern" to the new administration.

The People's Republic of China is another important U.S. defense concern, Cohen said, especially in regard to the relationship between China and Taiwan. China maintains that Taiwan, an island off the Chinese coast, is its province. The situation has existed since 1949. The U.S. government supports "One China" policy, however it is also pledged to defend Taiwan from any Chinese reunification efforts using military means.

The periodic "saber-rattling" by Chinese officials over the status of Taiwan seems to have eased somewhat. Cohen noted that People's Republic of China President Jiang Zemin said to him during a visit to China last year: "We don't intend to use force against Taiwan. We reserve the right to do so, but we don't intend to."

Cohen expressed hope that issues of concern between China and Taiwan can be peacefully solved.

"I believe that if we can in fact cause both sides to lower the rhetoric, to seek ways in which they may engage - commercially, to be sure, but politically - quietly, they can bridge those differences. That is the message I gave to the Chinese leadership when I was there," Cohen said.

On asymmetric warfare, Cohen noted that shortly after the Cole bombing, he directed a special commission to investigate the incident, specifically the systems in place to prevent such occurrences. In its report released Jan. 9, the commission recommended that the U.S. military boost its intelligence-gathering capabilities to help deter such terrorist acts, and adopt more uniform anti-terrorism policies and force-protection training for in-transit units and personnel.

There are other asymmetric threats, he added, to include cyber or computer warfare. "There are a number of nations who now have dedicated professional cells who are honing their skills in terms of trying to be in a position to shut down our transportation systems, our energy systems, our financial systems, our banking systems and our communications systems."

"We're going to continue to see the spread of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons," he said. Cohen added that more than two dozen nations -- to include Iraq, Iran, and North Korea -- either have, or are in the process of acquiring, nuclear, biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction, and the long-range missile systems to deliver them.

To help address these and other pressing national security issues, Cohen announced that he and President Clinton and Congress have worked to increase the defense budget in recent years, and that current projections call for $227 billion more for defense over the next six years.

"We have doubled the amount that I requested just 18 or so months ago, and that tells you something about the commitment of this country to a strong national security system," Cohen said.

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