Remarks as Delivered
Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
Navy League Exposition
Thursday, March 27, 1997
John Adams once noted that "the counsel which Themistocles
gave to Athens, Pompey to Rome, Cromwell to England, DeWitt to
Holland, and Colbert to France, [is that] all reasonable
encouragement should be given to a navy. The trident of Neptune
is the scepter of the world."
For over 200 years, America's Navy has been our scepter, and
today, at the end of the 20th Century, America's naval, land, air
and space forces, combined with our economic might, permit us the
honor of being the sole superpower on the world stage today. But
it's a world that's made uneasy by the lightning pace of its own
progress and permutations. We are, as President Clinton has
noted, at a moment of change and choice. Nowhere are the
changes or the choices more conplex than in the field of national
security, where the threat of global nuclear holocaust has been
replaced by new threats and dangers. They're harder to define
and harder to contain. Today I'd like to talk for just a few
moments about some of the important security choices we face as a
nation as we move into the 21st Century, including the choices
made by President Clinton and President Yeltsin last week at the
summit in Helsinki.
We often speak about living in the post-Cold War era as if
we are simply left to the task of sweeping up the debris caused
by the collapse of the Berlin Wall. The term has lost its
relevance and its meaning in today's world, and it's time that we
discarded that phrase.
The President has rightly decided that the policy of
containment has to be replaced with a policy of engagement.
That we must be up front and out front on a multitude of diverse
and elusive problems -- problems such as ethnic rivalries that
are fueling the civil wars in Southeast Europe, of what is to
become of the nuclear scientists in the former Soviet Union, of
what we are to do about genocide in Central Africa, of drug
trafficking in Latin America, and of religious extremism, leading
to extreme violence in the Middle East and elsewhere. And, of
course, compounding all of these problems are the more
traditional concerns of regional aggression by rogue regimes who
threaten American interests in places such as the murky waters of
the Persian Gulf, and the cold, barren hills of the DMZ in Korea.
Moreover, the very fact of our superior conventional capability
may tempt our adversaries into using unconventional or
asymmetrical means in order to achieve their goals, such as that
of terrorism, or weapons of mass destruction, or information
warfare or environmental sabotage. So it's clear that on one
side of this world coin is the danger of disorder--but on the
other side is that of enormous and momentous opportunity.
We too, like Dean Acheson, are present at the creation,
where some of the world's most vibrant stock markets are not
found only in places such as New York and Tokyo, but also in
Warsaw and Prague and Budapest; where a luxury high rise now
stands atop the ruins of the Hanoi Hilton POW camp where Senator
John McCain spent some six years of his life on a slab; and where
closer to home we're building an entire Western Hemisphere of
peaceful democracies, and where the legacy of the past and the
promise of the future are evident in every single step that we
Both the past and the present were on display last week in
Helsinki, which I believe proved to be a major success for the
United States on many fronts, and I'd like to talk about a couple
First, on strategic nuclear reductions. Here, both
President Clinton and President Yeltsin underscored how important
it is to secure the ratification of the START II Treaty by the
Russian Duma, and that is by no means a guaranteed action on
their part. In response to the Russian concerns over the cost of
dismantling bombers, missile silos and submarines, both
Presidents agreed to extend START II's deadline for the
elimination of those weapons to the end of the year 2007. All
the systems scheduled for elimination under the treaty will,
however, have to be deactivated by the end of the year 2003 by
removing their warheads through an agreed-upon method. So by
stretching out the elimination period, it should help facilitate
the Russian ratification of START II (which is in their interest
and our interest) and the deactivation at the same time preserves
the security benefits of START II.
Then, to enhance our security even more, both sides also
agreed to pursue a START III Treaty that would establish a
ceiling of somewhere between 2,000 and 2,500 nuclear weapons for
each side by the year 2007. That's a substantial cut from where
we were when President Reagan first started this process -- about
two-thirds reduction from when President Reagan first began.
So in addition to these accomplishments, both Presidents
reaffirmed the significance of the ABM Treaty and they reached an
agreement that gives a green light to the deployment of theater
missile defenses that we need to protect our troops in the field
from ballistic missile attacks.
For years, I must tell you, both sides have been grappling
with the very difficult technical issue of how we distinguish
theater missile defenses from national missile defenses which are
limited by the ABM Treaty.
In Helsinki, I believe we appear to finally have cut this
First of all, we agreed that TMD systems will not be tested
against targets whose velocity exceeds five kilometers per second
or whose range exceeds 3500 kilometers.
Second, we agreed that neither side will develop, test, or
deploy space-based theater missile interceptors. Ladies and
gentlemen, this is not a concession. It's simply a recognition
there's no such thing as a space-based TMD interceptor. Any
space-based interceptor that's capable of knocking down a theater
missile defense, by its very nature, is also capable of taking
out ICBMs, which of course, is precluded by the ABM Treaty. So
this provision has given up nothing, given up zero. It simply
confirms the fact of where we are today.
Third, to help build confidence we've agreed to exchange
information, detailed information, annually, about our theater
missile defense plans and programs.
But I think it's important that we understand what was not
agreed to at Helsinki. The agreement reached by both Presidents
does not impinge on the development, testing, or deployment of
any of our planned TMD systems -- whether we're talking about the
Hawk, the Patriot, MEADS, THAAD, Navy Area, Navy Theater Wide or
Upper Tier systems. Every one of these programs can go forward
as planned. And the agreement places no limitation on the speed
of the TMD interceptors, contrary to what you may have read in
The agreement does not contradict congressional legislation
on the topic -- in fact, just the opposite. Congress has been on
record since 1990 as endorsing the negotiation of a demarcation
agreement so that our TMD systems could proceed without being
challenged as violating the ABM Treaty. Moreover, in 1995, the
Republican-led Congress endorsed the precise terms that the
President outlined in Helsinki -- limiting targets to a speed of
five kilometers per second and a range of 3500 kilometers. I
should know. I was a principal author of those laws.
I might add at the time that some members of Congress even
questioned whether the President would ever be able to get the
Russians to agree to this. Well, at Helsinki we pushed on the
door and the Russians opened the door, so we should be very
pleased with that particular result.
Finally, we have not foreclosed our future options on
national missile defense, including the option to conduct
research on space-based lasers. Nothing agreed to in Helsinki in
any way is inconsistent with the 3+3 proposal that was really
authored by former Secretary Perry, whom I just talked to on the
phone a few minutes before coming here. He's doing very well,
thank you, in California, and enjoying his life. [Laughter]
But he helped develop the concept of the 3+3 approach.
Namely, that for the next three years we would conduct research
and development of a national missile defense system--by the year
2000. We should then make an assessment as to whether we should
deploy that system based upon the intelligence we have available
at that time.
Of course, the demarcation agreement on the thresholds of
five kilometers per second and 3500 kilometers of range have no
applicability whatsoever to the national missile defense program
which we can test against any target at any velocity of any
So these agreements that are reached in Helsinki, they are
important in their own right. On the one hand, the START
agreements help us close a chapter on the past; the demarcation
agreement helps us deal with the present as well as the future.
But I want to say that Helsinki is just a piece of a much
more fundamental issue that we're grappling with today. That is,
what is the geopolitical role of America today and into the
You may recall that back in 1992, Vice Presidential
candidate, Admiral Jim Stockdale, asked the question, "Who am I,
and why am I here?" That produced some criticism on the part of
some saying that perhaps they made light of his question, but
they're very important questions. They're important questions
for every individual, but also for our country to ask. Who are
we? Why are we here? Why are we over there? Exactly where do
we wish to be in the future? Do we wish to remain the world's
sole superpower, or are we going to be just one power among many
in the world?
At the Pentagon right now the Quadrennial Defense Review,
what we call the QDR, is now asking what it means in military
terms to be the world's sole superpower. What choices are
involved if we're going to maintain that status? What kind of
military forces do we need to guard against the very real dangers
of today and the uncertain dangers of tomorrow? Are we a
continental-based power with global interests? Or a maritime
operating power with global reach? How ready should our forces
be, and ready for what? What kind of weapons do we need and how
many? Can we do everything under the current fiscal restraints,
or do we have to make some tough choices among desired
capabilities? What are the tradeoffs? What are the risks and
benefits of those tradeoffs?
I made it very clear from the beginning that the QDR is not,
in essence, a budget exercise. It is being driven by our
national security strategy and our defense strategy. Just as we
have to be realistic about the many threats that we face in the
world today, we have to also be realistic about the kind of
environment that we're operating in as far as fiscal restraints.
So I am operating, and the entire building is operating, on
the assumption that barring a major crisis, the defense budget is
likely to be no more than roughly $250 billion in real terms for
the foreseeable future. This reflects a judgment of America's
body politic that we want to balance the budget by the year 2002.
This, in turn, reflects an opinion, shared by me, that balancing
the budget is very important to the national security and long
term economic health; that ultimately, national security begins
here at home.
So what we're doing in this QDR process is trying to find
the right match of strategy, programs, and resources. The only
way to do that, in my judgment, is to put everything on the
table. That means reviewing strategy, force structure,
modernization, readiness, infrastructure, human resources and
information operations and intelligence. We have to be willing,
and I would indicate to you we are willing, to challenge all pat
answers and all pet projects. And nothing is going to be immune
We have quite a ways to go until the May 15 deadline when I
intend to submit this report to Congress, but let me just give
you a brief outline of where we are today.
We have a three-part basic strategy that's starting to
emerge, which is anchoring, if I can use that term, anchoring all
of our efforts. I even wore my special cuff links here in honor
of you today. [Laughter]
First, we want our military forces and posture to be able to
shape the strategic environment. Shaping the environment can
involve actions that range all the way from the forward
deployment of forces, joint exercises with these new emerging
democracies, to dismantling nuclear weapons in the former Soviet
Union under START I, START II, and, hopefully, START III. All of
these activities help make the strategic environment more
hospitable to our interests and to lessen the chances that we're
going to have conflict or that will increase the chances for
peace and stability.
Secondly, we want our military forces to be able to respond
to the full spectrum of threats and contingencies. That means
having forces that can get to a crisis area quickly and be able
to dominate the battlefield once they are there. We also want
those forces to be flexible--flexible enough to be able to carry
out missions besides full-scale warfare, whether it's the
enforcement of no-fly zones, counter-terrorism operations, or
peacekeeping and humanitarian relief operations.
Third, we want to prepare our military forces for the
uncertain types of threats that they're going to face tomorrow.
That means that we're going to go forward with what we call the
Revolution in Military Affairs by investing in leap-ahead
technologies and developing the tactics and the doctrine to
Just last week I went out to the National Training Center at
Fort Irwin where the Army is harnessing the power of information
technology and they're field testing what they call Force XXI. I
must tell you, it's very, very impressive. The Navy is doing
much the same thing with its fleet battle experiments; the
Marines' Sea Dragon warfighting experiments. They're all trying
to combine to look well into the future in terms of what kind of
technology we're going to need to face the kinds of dangers that
will be out there.
Over 20 years ago, Alvin Toeffler warned that unless you
tame technology, you will encounter future shock. Well, today,
I must tell you that our services are taming technology and they
are turning "future shock" into "future security."
So given this strategy of shaping the security environment,
responding to threats, preparing for the future, how do we pay
for it? Big question. How do we pay for it?
When I first presented our fiscal '98 budget to Congress, I
testified that the Department of Defense did, and it must
continue, to do the outstanding job they're doing now in terms of
recruiting high-quality people and retaining them, and producing
ready forces. So it's people, it's readiness, and what else?
It's modernization. The fact of the matter is, we have slipped
We have continued to push modernization further and further
into the future, which means we've got a much steeper hill to
climb. I've alluded to it as being much like the climb of, in
this audience, an F-18. I think I said F-15 during my testimony,
but it's an F-18 today. It's a very steep climb that we have to
reach in order to achieve our goal of having roughly $60 billion
a year for modernization. That's what it's going to take--
roughly that amount of money. So by deferring this over the
years we find that it's going to be even more difficult to
How do we do that? How do we achieve that kind of
expenditure for our modernization program?
Part of the answer lies in reforming the Department itself.
We need to carry out a Revolution in Business Affairs that will
bring the same kind of efficiencies to our support elements that
the Revolution in Military Affairs is bringing to the warfighting
elements. There is no excuse for not operating more efficiently.
Acquisition reform is already beginning to revolutionize the
quality, speed, and cost of incorporating this new technology
into the force. We have to extend it. We have too much
infrastructure, and so we have to cut it. We still have a
tendency to do many things in-house that private firms can do
better, so we have to curb it. And we still use a logistics
supply system that operates according to the old military mindset
of "just in case," instead of the modern business mindset of
"just in time." So we've got to change it.
But even assuming we do all of that, it's still highly
unlikely there's enough savings from these initiatives to achieve
that $60 billion procurement budget by the fiscal year 2001. So
all of the easy choices have been made, and that's why this
process we're going through right now is so important.
After we issue our report on May 15th, we're going to have
an independent group of experts--the so-called National Defense
Panel--that's going to review this work. In fact, we're already
working with the National Defense Panel. I'm meeting with them
this afternoon, as a matter of fact, to discuss their overview of
the work being done at the Pentagon right now. Of course, once
this QDR report is presented to Congress that's just the
beginning of the process. Then, of course, the Hill will have
major input into those recommendations. The National Defense
Panel is sitting on my shoulder overlooking the QDR process, and
they will report to the Hill by the end of this year, by December
30-31st of this year. Then, of course, we have to develop a
national consensus on how do we get from here to there.
So I think the process is well underway. I've been very
impressed with the dedication of the Department of Defense
looking at how we achieve these goals, producing the best force
in the world for the future. We have the best force in the world
today. We have to maintain that for the future. In that regard,
let me quote from Donald Kagin in his book, "On the Origins of
War." He said, "A persistent and repeated error throughout
history has been the failure to understand that the preservation
of peace requires active effort, planning, and the expenditure of
resources and sacrifice, just as war does."
When I accepted the job as Secretary of Defense, I did so
because I firmly believe that President Clinton recognizes that
the preservation of peace requires effort, planning and
sacrifice. It also requires skillful diplomacy and a strong,
ready, military force.
I'm familiar with the expression that if you have ideals
without technique, you have a mess. But if you have technique
with ideals, you have a menace. The same is true as far as
diplomacy is concerned. If you have diplomacy without power, you
have a situation where you have endless discussion without
decision; and if you have power without diplomacy, you have the
potential for arrogant chauvinism and miscalculation. So we need
both. We need diplomacy; we need military power. The military
force is the muscle behind our diplomatic will, and both are
essential in order to have an effective foreign policy, and both
are essential to have a building of peace.
Finally, this really is what it's all about as far as the
QDR or the NDP is [concerned] reaching this bipartisan consensus
for the long-term future of this country.
One of George Washington's favorite pieces of literature was
Joseph Addison's 1713 drama called "Cato." It was about the last
stand of Cato the Younger, who was a Roman republican politician,
who sought to defy Caesar, and it contains a wonderful line. It
says, "Tis not in mortals to command success, but we'll do more
. . . we'll deserve it."
Today it's not for us to command another American Century as
outstanding and wondrous as the last has been, but we'll do more
. . . because the American people deserve it.
Thank you very much.