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Cohen Calls for Dividing Lines in Europe to Go

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

THESSALONIKI, Greece, Oct. 10, 2000 – Against the backdrop of historic changes in Yugoslavia, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen told defense ministers of southeast Europe Oct. 9 that old dividing lines must go.

Cohen, speaking to the fifth Southeast Europe Defense Ministerial here, also said that multilateral cooperation is the key to a stable, democratic and prosperous future.

The ministerial, hosted by Greek Minister of National Defense Apostolos-Athanasios Tsokhatzopoulos, also welcomed Croatia as a member. The countries participating were Greece, Turkey, Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, Italy, Slovenia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Croatia and the United States.

Cohen congratulated the ministers for the progress made. He said when the ministerial started in March 1996 few people had high hopes. Many in the West saw the Balkans as a region of long-standing troubles -- systematic economic and political failure, large and inefficient militaries and long-standing enmities within and between nations, Cohen said during a speech to the ministers.

But, he said, leaders also realized that Europe could not be stable, peaceful and prosperous without incorporating the nations of Southeast Europe.

Since the first meeting in Tirana, Albania, in 1996, the effort has produced significant results. The most important aspect of the organization is the way it promotes regional cooperation, thus building stability. Examples of this are hot lines that link the countries and regular meetings at all levels to discuss regional defense problems.

Further, Cohen said, the ministerial has fostered the emergence of networks, partnerships and contacts. These include seminars and workshops on common issues ranging from defense personnel management to environmental security.

The ministerial also builds confidence in the region through improving regional defense capabilities. One prime example is the Multinational Peace Force, South Eastern Europe, which the organization established in 1998. It has exercised and, Cohen said, the organization is on its way to becoming operational. Part of this effort is the South Eastern Europe Brigade, which has formed up and will deploy to Kosovo or Bosnia at the earliest opportunity.

Another example is the Engineer Task Force. This group, which will build roads in Albania next summer, is the kernel of an important regional asset for mutual support in times of crisis, natural disaster and humanitarian need. Cohen said the ministers must ensure the task force is regularly and realistically trained and exercised.

The Civil Military Emergency Planning Program sponsored by the nations is another program that shows great promise. This will coordinate disaster response and humanitarian relief in the region.

Finally, the group helps build a bridge for member nations to integrate into the Euro-Atlantic Community, Cohen said. All members of the group are either in NATO or members of the Partnership for Peace.

The ministerials activities are thus always tied to NATOs pan-European security architecture, he said.

While the past has been successful, the members must build on these programs, Cohen said. First, we need to further develop regional capabilities, he said to the ministers. We should take realistic next steps for existing projects, and consider modest, feasible proposals for concrete new projects.

Cohen said the organization needs to coordinate related projects such as the Civil-Military Emergency Planning program, the Crisis Information Network, the Engineer Task Force and the South Eastern Europe Engineer Brigade.

The Southeastern Europe Defense Ministerial has many good programs, but they are sometimes disconnected parts rather than an effective whole, he said. The defense ministers later voted to authorize such a coordinating committee.

Cohen called for more multilateral cooperation, which he said "leverages assets to build capabilities that might not be possible for a single country alone. Building on existing structures, organizations and patterns of cooperation, he continued, countries of the region can form groups of twos, threes or larger to save scarce defense money, enhance capabilities and interoperability, and demonstrate the ability to operate by consensus.

He suggested countries band together to buy weapon systems and other materials. He said the countries should develop common training facilities and ranges and should look at common logistic depots and repair stations. He said they should also look at joint operational arrangements including integration of air surveillance centers and establishing more multinational units.

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