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Release No: 200-97
April 24, 1997

Remarks by Secretary of Defense Cohen to the Western Hemisphere Symposium

Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen


The Western Hemisphere Symposium

Miami, Fla.

Tuesday, April 15, 1997

When he won the Nobel Prize for poetry in 1971, Pablo Neruda wrote "All paths lead to the same goal: To convey to others what we are." And this symposium really is all about what we are as a hemisphere. And the best way I can think to convey this view in words is by describing an unusual map that hangs in the corridor of the Pentagon not very far from my office.

I must tell you I was astonished the first moment I walked by and saw it for the first time. It's a map of the Western Hemisphere, but to me, it seemed to be upside down. South America is on top. North America is on the bottom. The Pacific lies to the right and the Atlantic to the left.

On closer inspection, I found that the map was in fact, hung correctly. The names of the countries, the cities, the mountains, the rivers, they were all where they belonged. Indeed, the map is a wholly accurate portrayal in a much deeper sense, for it conveys a whole new way to look at our hemisphere today.

It's a map that shows a new reality. One which embodies a different perspective far different from that of the past. Instead of disunity, distrust and discord, our nations see a growing integration and harmony of interests. We see security partners, not security problems. We see governments chosen by the ballot, not by the bullet. We see nations sending envoys, not convoys, seeking broader pursuits, and not border disputes. We see an explosion of commerce and trade, and not of conflict and terror. And in the palm of this new serenity, we see the chains of poverty giving way to the chance of prosperity.

In short, we see a hemisphere of hope and of free people with free reign to choose a better destiny. It's a region in which the north-south divides are erased and the United States is committed to developing strong diplomatic, economic and security partnerships with and among our neighbors.

We have a lot to be proud of as a region. And I believe the Western Hemisphere has a lot to teach the world as the world reaches for the kind of progress we have made. And one of the simplest but most profound lessons that we can teach is that openness on defense matters with neighboring nations builds confidence and security, which in turn, serves peace.

This principle of openness was accepted by the nations represented at the first Defense Ministerial of the Americas at Williamsburg. It was advanced in Santiago at the OAS Conference on Confidence and Security-Building measures. It was reiterated at the second Defense Ministerial at Bariloche. So in the spirit of Williamsburg, Santiago and Bariloche, let me convey to you how the United States sees the world today from a security point of view.

We see a world in which our children are growing up free of Cold War, communist expansionism, and nuclear catastrophe. But they now face a world of new problems that are harder define and harder to handle, such as that of ethnic rivalries that are fueling the civil wars in southeast Europe. Of what is to become the nuclear scientist in the former Soviet Union. Of what we are going to do about the mass killings in central Africa. Of religious extremism leading to extreme violence in the Middle East and elsewhere. And yes, of the scourge of illegal narcotics, both the supply and the demand, which feed habits of crime and corruption, endanger our streets and poison our children.

And of course, compounding all of these problems are the more traditional concerns of regional aggression by rogue regimes that threaten peace in places such as the murky waters of the Persian Gulf and the cold, barren hills of the DMZ in Korea, where I was just a few days ago. And moreover, our adversaries may be tempted to use unconventional or asymmetrical means in order to achieve their goals, such as that of terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, information warfare, or even environmental sabotage.

But while on one side of this world coin is the danger of disorder, it's clear that on the other side is that of enormous opportunity. It's a better world where some of the most vibrant financial districts are found not only in places such as Tokyo and New York, but also in Warsaw, Budapest, Santiago, Sao Paulo, and Mexico City. Where the Western Hemisphere is the home to some of the fastest growing market economies and determined new democracies that, like a lighthouse on a rocky shore, have weathered nature's most turbulent storms. Where more and more, nations with mutual interests are pursuing them mutually through new trade agreements, security partnerships and military operations in the cause of peace and safety and humanity.

What we do see as the role of the United States in this world in the future? A former vice presidential candidate in the United States asked on a nationally televised debate two questions. He said "Who am I? And why am I here?" And that produced some measure of ridicule and laughter. But they're very important questions for us as individuals. They're also important questions for us as nations. What kind of a United States, what kind of nation, do we want to be among nations? Do we wish to be the world's solitary superpower or just one power among many? What are the cost and the risks and the benefits of each choice?

Well, the Department of Defense is asking these existential questions right now in a process called the Quadrennial Defense Review, the QDR. The QDR is asking what kind of military forces do we need to guard against the very real dangers of today and the uncertain ones of tomorrow. And how can we build the full range of defense we want under the current fiscal constraints, including trying to balance the federal budget by the year 2002.

How we're doing the QDR is more important than what we're doing. And how we're doing it may be useful to our Latin American partners as you reassess and reconfigure your national defenses and security realities.

The QDR is being led by highly experienced Defense Department officials, civilian professionals, working side by side with our uniformed military leadership and staff. Just yesterday afternoon, General Clark traveled to Washington to meet with other commanders in chief from all over the globe to sit with the services chiefs, myself, the Deputy Secretary of Defense and others to examine our policies -- policies about where we're going, what kind of a nation are we to be, what kind of a force structure are we going to have, how many people we're going to have in our military, what is the strategy.

All of these questions are now being examined with these civilian professionals sitting side by side with our military professionals. And this teamwork is critical because no strategy, no policy, no proposals are worth the paper they're printed on if they're not politically realistic -- and that's where civilian leadership comes into play. Or if they're not militarily realistic -- and that requires the judgment of our professional military, of people with their vast knowledge and experience.

Now come May 15th, I'm going to present our findings and recommendations to the Congress and begin to work with the members to develop, hopefully, a non-partisan approach to our defense needs; to bring the two political parties together to transcend any sense of partisanship about our national security interests. I'm also going to present a report to the national news media, which is going to analyze it and inform the American public. And in the spirit of openness with our security partners, I'm going to present a copy of this QDR report to all of my democratic counterparts in the hemisphere.

I can assure you that this report is likely to touch off a very lively debate over the future of America's defense forces. And I can also tell you it would be much easier to conduct this QDR process in the closed corridors of power without all the sound and fury of public participation. But the democratic experience tells us that when the smoke clears, the final decisions will be like tempered steel -- much stronger and more enduring -- because they will ultimately reflect the will of the people, whom the U.S. military serves to protect and defend.

I must tell you also, we have a lot of work to do in the next several weeks before I file that report on May 15th. We have already mapped out the basic contours of our defense strategy for the future that is anchoring all of our efforts. And I can tell you today that our approach to the Western Hemisphere is to continue to advance our security engagement with our partners in Latin American and the Caribbean.

That means that we're going to continue to support the growth of democracy. It means we will seek to build cooperative security relationships and partnerships. We will promote multilateral openness, trust and cooperation. And we're going to encourage defense reform founded on civilian control of the military and human rights.

In short, we are going to continue to advance the security principles that were accepted at Williamsburg. For in the two years since we met there, these principles have proven not only practical, but increasingly woven into the very programs and policies of all of our nations.

The people of El Salvador and Nicaragua have elected two successive governments while their militaries have remained committed to upholding democratic principles and ideals. Guatemala has begun the process of incorporating all of its citizens into the democratic process with the signing of the peace accord this past December. And when a coup was attempted in Paraguay, its neighbors rose to the occasion and pressured the plotters to stand down, and thus preserved a democratic nation in their midst.

One of the most important guarantees in a democracy is the protection of human rights. And we see a growing commitment in the region to protect individual life and liberty. SOUTHCOM's human rights conferences have been well attended successes. And the United States Army School of the Americas has transformed its curriculum to accurately reflect democratic values and respect for human rights. Now are all shared in this hemisphere.

Another foundation of democracy is the military under constitutional civilian leadership. And we see the region's efforts to build this concept into their systems of government. But to have effective civilian leaders, they need expertise and experience in defense matters. Now as Secretary of Defense, I must tell you I am blessed with a very knowledgeable and visionary staff who lead the Defense Department and who work closely with our military leadership and staff. And I meet with these leaders, civilian and military, on a daily basis. This team not only makes for a strong defense policy and the wise use of our military power, it also well serves the Commander in Chief, the President of the United States, President Clinton, and is held accountable to the public.

The system of civilian-controlled military has worked for the United States ever since George Washington hung up his uniform and became President Washington. And so we would like to share more than two centuries of our experience with other nations. And that's why the United States, in response to a regional request, has been closely working with our Latin American and Caribbean partners to create and oversee the Hemispheric Center for Defense Studies at the National Defense University in Washington.

Starting in November, the Center is going to offer practical lectures and coursework in several areas, such as how to plan for and manage defense resources; how to formulate defense policy; the role of armed forces in a democracy; and the dynamics of a civilian-military relationship.

There is a broader advantage to establishing this center. With 8 of the 14 members of the consultative committee overseeing the Center coming from Latin America and the Caribbean nations, it provides another venue for dialogue and idea sharing among our defense institutions.

As they embrace democracy within, we see the nations of the region committed to ensure peace and stability throughout the region. Several of our nations participated in the UN mission in Haiti to give peace a chance to endure in a restored democracy. Peru and Ecuador met this week in Brasilia to begin resolving a 55 year old border dispute. And four of our nations, Argentina, Brazil, Chile and the United States, as well Peru and Ecuador, have peacekeeping forces serving on the border right now to ensure that peace endures. This mission serves as a model not only for our hemisphere, but for the world as well.

To keep tensions from brewing in the first place, we see the region's commitment to undertake confidence and security building measures. Argentina and Chile have resolved a long-standing border dispute. Columbia and Venezuela are exchanging information about cross border guerrilla activity. And OAS nations are carrying out their agreement at Santiago to share military budgets, policies and doctrines.

The United States applauds the OAS for its leadership in hosting the Conference on Confidence and Security Building Measures. In international relations, as in human relations, frankness is the foundation of friendship.

You [may] recall the words of Secretary Perry at Williamsburg when he said "The art of war involves secrecy and surprise. But the art of peace involves exactly the opposite: openness and honesty." The simplest gestures by a nation can go a long way toward reassuring neighbors that its actions and intentions are peaceful. Gestures such as distributing reports on national defense philosophies, as Brazil has done, or distributing annual defense reports and budgets, as the United States began at Williamsburg and will continue to do.

We also see the region's commitment to tackle mutual security problems together. We have been conducting cooperative operations against drug traffickers supporting host nation governments, such as the seven-nation LASER STRIKE operation. And Panama has proposed establishing and playing host to a new multinational counterdrug center. Our militaries are training together to serve humanitarian disaster relief operations and they're sharing information about how to protect the environment. And the United States is opening its doors to providing technology transfers so that our militaries can help fight the narcotic scourge, conduct other multilateral operations together and build these military to military relations, which I think are so critically important.

And so we're seeing an increasing commitment by our nations to building a better world outside of our hemisphere. Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Brazil, all have contributed to peace operations as diverse as those in Africa, Iraq and Croatia. And Argentina's new peacekeeping center is going to be a valuable resource for the region to train future peace keepers.

Meanwhile, some 31 nations in our hemisphere have signed the Chemical Weapons Convention. Twelve of the signatories have gone on to support the extra step of ratifying this treaty. Let me take a moment just to talk about that as a matter of great importance to our country and a matter of great debate in the United States Congress.

The Chemical Weapons Convention represents, in my judgment, the best opportunity we have today to protect our nations, our citizens, our military forces from lethal, chemical agents. The United States has already abandoned the manufacture, the stockpiling and the use of these weapons and we're destroying our current stocks. Many people perhaps in my own country are not even aware of this. It was President Reagan who said enough, we are going to eliminate all of our chemical weapons. We took that action under the Reagan Administration leadership. And we will destroy all of our chemical stockpiles by the year 2004. And that was an act of great leadership on his part.

Now we have a situation, of course, where President Clinton is pressing the United States Senate to ratify the treaty before it goes into effect on April 29. If all the nations of our hemisphere sign and ratify this treaty, we not only can make it stronger, we can help make our half of the world free of chemical weapons.

Our hemisphere's contribution to world peace, stability and safety is the mark of global leadership for the 21st century.

And finally, we see the region's commitment to advance these principles and practices together by planning for the next Defense Ministerial of the Americas in Cartagena, Columbia.

What you will see is the United States intensifying its focus on building strong partnerships with the nations of this hemisphere in an entire spectrum of areas, from diplomacy to trade, to environmental protection as well as to security.

You're going to see President Clinton visit Mexico, Costa Rica and Barbados next month, and then in October, he's going to go to Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela. His goal is to advance our friendships as well as our trade and economic integration as we head to the next summit of the Americas in Santiago in 1998.

You will also see the Clinton Administration working to build on the successes of NAFTA and MERCOSUR to help create a Free Trade Area of the Americas by the year 2005, as we committed to do at the Summit of the Americas in Miami.

You'll also see somebody else traveling very extensively throughout the hemisphere -- President Clinton's personal envoy, Mack McLarty, who's going to be traveling to the capitals and conference rooms throughout the region. I met with him recently at the Pentagon and I must tell you how impressed I was with his enthusiasm. He is so optimistic about what he hopes to achieve in his meetings with each of you. He brings a great deal of energy and imagination to his plans to focus on working with our regional partners.

And you're also going to see someone else. You're going to see me visiting Latin America and the Caribbean. I'm personally committed to advancing the DMA process and to building stronger partnerships with and among my counterparts in this hemisphere.

My predecessor, Secretary Perry, whom I have always regarded as one of the finest public servants the United States has ever had, he was instrumental in changing the nature and the dynamics of our regional security relationships. And you're going to find me building upon his legacy.

I began this rather brief presentation, at least by Senatorial standards, with a quote from Pablo Neruda, who said that all paths lead to the same goal: To convey to others what we are. But Neruda said something more. He said. We must pass through solitude and difficulty, isolation and silence in order to reach forth to the enchanted place where we can dance our clumsy dance and sing our sorrowful song. But in this dance or in this song, there are fulfilled the most ancient rites of our conscience in the awareness of being human and of believing in a common destiny.

Well, our nations have passed through enough solitude, enough difficulty, isolation and silence. We've come to a place where we can fulfill our common destiny. It's a chronicle of destiny that was foretold by our heroes Bolivar, St. Martin, de Miranda, O'Higgins, Juarez and Washington. It's a chronicle of free people living in dignity, optimism and peace. And the United States is proud to be a part of this chronicle.

Thank you very much.

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