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Global Crossing Annual Dinner
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, Claridge's Hotel, London, England, Thursday, November 18, 1999

The American Civil War soldier and Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. once wrote, "I believe in my country. Next to my country, my crowd, and England is my crowd." So let me say that I am both honored and humbled to stand before this distinguished crowd tonight. I’ve visited 18 countries during the past 40 days, so when Lod asked me to come to Global Crossing I took him literally, travelling 16 hours from Chile.

The spirit of this evening, and of recent world events, was also captured at a dinner that Winston Churchill once hosted for the American journalist Stuart Alsop. After the meal, the Prime Minister indulged in some champagne, a touch of brandy, and then posed a grave question. He looked at Alsop and he said, "America. America. A great and powerful country. Like some strong workhorse, pulling the rest of the world behind it out of the slough of despond and despair towards peace and prosperity." And then he fixed his eyes on Alsop and asked, almost accusingly, "But will it stay the course? Will America stay the course?"

Half a century after Churchill posed that question, his words are echoing anew. From Asia to Africa, from the Middle East to Europe, the press, pundits and politicians are asking,

"Will America stay the course?"

The origin of the anxiety? Some cite votes in Washington as an incremental withdrawal from our international obligations. Others point to the voices of would-be-leaders in America that lure the disenchanted to their ranks with the siren song of isolationism. Still others look darkly at our vision of a defense against a limited missile attack from a rogue nation.


Whatever the source, the critiques have been as withering as they have been widespread.

From the editorial pages of Tokyo: "The only superpower has turned inward and surrendered its global leadership." From Brasilia, which I visited earlier this week: an "increasing isolationism in U.S. society raises serious doubts about America's capacity to honor its international commitments."

One respected publication here in London, The Economist, proclaimed across its cover that this is "America's World" in which "the United States bestrides the globe like a colossus," but then questioned in its following editorial whether America was comfortable with the use of power or was too bound by indecision or timidity.

The essayist Walter Lippmann once cautioned that "we dare not make our judgements by the transient events recorded on the front pages of daily newspapers." At the same time, we ignore these doubts and declarations at our peril, doubts that seem to revolve around three nascent misperceptions.

First, that the United States somehow is afflicted with a case of Superpower Fatigue, exhausted from a half century of global leadership and ready to relinquish its leading role on the world stage.

Second, that in those occasions when the United States does step onto the stage, it will increasingly do so as reactive soldier rather than as proactive statesman guided by a comprehensive and coherent strategy of engagement.

Finally, that the United States will embrace an increasingly unilateral approach to world affairs rather than one grounded in multilateral partnerships with allies and friends.

Such perceptions are as disturbing as they are dangerous; disturbing because they are so completely at odds with the true picture of America’s role in the world today; dangerous because in this information age of instant analysis, even the mere whisper of misstatement can have profound consequences by emboldening those eager to exploit any American ambivalence, real or imagined.

Throughout his Administration, and especially in recent weeks, President Clinton has strongly reaffirmed America’s determination to remain a leader engaged in the world --politically, economically, diplomatically, and militarily. Tonight, I want to take a few moments to expand on this final pillar of our national security strategy: How America's Armed Forces are shaping a safer world by promoting peace and security, responding to crises that threaten our common interests and values, and preparing for an uncertain future.

Among the most dangerous strains of this recent skepticism is the perceived flagging of American will. One European commentator following the U.S. Senate vote on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty declared, "The nations of the world have been left in confusion wondering who will take the lead."

No nation should look to a single vote as symptomatic of any corrosive deterioration in America’s resolve. Quite the contrary, we need only sweep our fingers across the horizon to see how the United States is in the forefront of promoting security and stability in every corner of the globe.

In Asia, the 100,000 forward deployed forces the United States maintains are the foundation of regional stability peace and prosperity. On the Korean Peninsula, we are matching deterrence with diplomacy, beginning a process of gradual and reciprocal steps with North Korea with our eyes on a permanent peace.


In the Middle East, we maintain some 23,000 forward deployed forces to ensure the security of the Persian Gulf. Following the failure of diplomacy to persuade Saddam Hussein to uphold his U.N. obligations, we led last year's air strikes and now the increasingly dangerous enforcement of the no-fly zones over Iraq, joined, of course, both times by our British friends.

We remain deeply engaged -- politically, diplomatically, and economically -- in the search for a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East.

Here in Europe, our 100,000 forward-deployed forces serve as a cornerstone of NATO and regional security and stability. And while no one nation could have carried out the spring operations over Kosovo alone, the United States conducted half of all combat missions and virtually two-thirds of the support sorties.

To those who would still ask, "Whither American resolve?" I would answer: A nation content to going "gently into that good night" would not be engaged in more cooperative military activities -- exercises and exchanges – with more countries, in more corners of the world since the collapse of the Berlin Wall ten years ago, than in all the previous four decades combined.

A nation determined to retreat into a Fortress America would not be transforming its military into a more agile and flexible force capable of rapidly reaching flash points anywhere in the world.

A nation bent on stepping into the shadows would not be inaugurating the first sustained increase in defense spending in over a decade, a clear contrast of what is taking place in European countries.

Of course, the question gripping so many today is not merely whether the United States will lead, but how. Here the second strain of skepticism rears itself: That the United States, somehow enchanted with its own military might, will increasingly advance its interests by exclusively responding with overwhelming military force rather than investing in the hard work of promoting stability and preventing conflicts.

Auden once wrote that history marches to the drum of a clear idea. Americans know that the march of history in the 20th Century reveals one clear and crowning idea: That the survival prospects of an island of tranquility are not promising if surrounded by a seething ocean of instability. That is why the United States invests so much effort and energy to shaping a more stable international environment and preventing sparks of instability from igniting into conflagrations.

Those forward deployed forces in Asia, in the Middle East, and here in Europe, most notably through NATO and the remarkable Partnership for Peace that has brought together foes who once peered at one another through the crosshairs; the many peacekeeping and humanitarian missions in which we serve; the great web of exchanges and exercises and training that we conduct, such as our effort to train peacekeepers in Africa and our global effort to wipe landmines from old battlegrounds; all of these efforts not only deter foes, they deepen friendships that increase trust, confidence and stability which in turn decreases tension, conflict and instability.


We shape the world by stemming the seepage of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons into the global arms bazaar. Notwithstanding the recent Senate vote on the Test Ban Treaty, we have no intention of resuming tests of nuclear weapons. We have every intention of persevering in our myriad of arms control endeavors such as our Cooperative Threat Reduction Program where the U. S. has been spending billions to destroy and dismantle the Cold War’s legacy of nuclear and chemical weapons in Russia and the former Soviet Republics; such as our

strong support of arms control and non-proliferation regimes that reduce the chance of rogue nations adding these horror weapons to their arsenals.

We will also continue the fight against terrorists who seek their security or salvation through the barrel of a gun. We will act with others whenever we can, but we will act alone whenever we must.

We shape a safer world by focusing on our crucial relationships with Russia and China. Indeed, we need no Delphic Oracle to know that our security a decade hence will rest in great measure on how we manage our relations with these two nations today.


Just as their soldiers have stood with us in Bosnia, the close collaboration between Russia and NATO in Kosovo is giving hope for better communication and cooperation across a range of issues. During my visit to Moscow two months ago, I met with a number of their leaders to discuss moving from START II to START III and plans for a historic shared system for early warning of missile launches.

Given the strong support in America for the National Missile Defense system, I also had the opportunity to explain how such a system would be designed to both protect the United States from a limited ballistic missile attack from a rogue nation and preserve the strategic balance between the United States and Russia. And it is important to note that Russians and Americans will soon be sitting side-by-side at a command center in the United States to avoid any misunderstanding between our nuclear forces when the bells toll for the Year 2000.

We have a critical interest in a durable, stable relationship with China as well. Indeed, we cannot fully address the great economic, political and security challenges in Asia, without the largest Asian nation. We cannot fully address the great challenges to world peace and stability without this member of the United Nations Security Council. That is why we hope for a resumption of military-to-military contacts; contacts that underscore our commitment to base our future security, not merely on a strong military deterrent and capability, but on a coherent, comprehensive and constructive approach to shaping a safer world.

Our efforts to engage Russia and China, in fact, every endeavor I have mentioned this evening, would not even have a glimmer of hope for success if they were not grounded in a great and growing web of partnerships with allies and friends. Indeed, the third and final strain of the recent skepticism -- that the United States seeks to "go it alone" -- ignores a fundamental tenet of America’s attitude and actions in the world. Close cooperation with our allies and friends is not an afterthought, it is an article of faith, a cornerstone of our global strategy.


Our forward presence in the Asia-Pacific, our support to the international peacekeeping effort in East Timor, would be impossible without our enduring alliances with Japan, Korea, and Australia and our partnerships across the region. And that is why we are strengthening our ties and training with virtually every one of these countries.

The world’s efforts to contain Saddam Hussein would be impossible without the cooperation and critical support of Great Britain and our Gulf partners. And that is why I emphasized even closer defense cooperation during my visit to the region several weeks ago.


As I noted earlier, NATO’s efforts to bring peace to the Balkans would have been impossible without the support and participation of our European allies who provide the vast majority of the peacekeeping forces keeping in Bosnia and now in Kosovo; who provided the vast majority of the humanitarian support during the refugee crisis and who are now taking the lead on reconstruction efforts.

As our reliance on such coalition operations increases, so too will such burden sharing. And that is why we are working so hard on an initiative to enhance the defense capabilities of the alliance so that it can operate together even more effectively in the future. That is why it is so critical for our European allies to devote themselves, not only in rhetoric but in resources, to this great task of building a NATO that is not merely larger but that is even stronger, even more capable of meeting the new challenges of the new century.


Of course, no ally has stood with America so closely over so many years as this nation.

And so it was quite fitting that former Secretary Robertson and Lady Mary Soames joined my wife, Janet, and me this spring at the Bath Iron Works Shipyard in my home state of Maine for a most historic occasion -- the christening by Janet and Lady Soames of one of our newest warships after the man who embodied the partnership between our peoples. Indeed, like the grand alliance it symbolizes, the U.S.S. Winston Churchill will grace the world for generations to come.

The three enduring constants that I have touched upon tonight -- America’s undiminished and active role on the world stage, our comprehensive strategy of engagement designed to help shape the international environment, and our unwavering commitment to working in close partnership with allies and friends -- were also revealed in a snapshot from the birth of the special relationship between our two nations.

You are all familiar with this story but it bears repeating tonight. Harry Hopkins was one of President Franklin Roosevelt’s most trusted aides. And in early 1941, as Hitler tightened his stranglehold on Europe, Roosevelt dispatched him here to London to obtain an appraisal of Great Britain’s war prospects.


For an entire month Hopkins and Churchill reviewed Whitehall’s plans and preparations. And at a farewell dinner, Hopkins rose to give a toast. He turned to Churchill and said, "I suppose you wish to know what I am going to say to President Roosevelt on my return. Well, I’m going to quote to you from that Book of Books, ‘Wither thou goest, I will go, and where thou lodgest, I will lodge, and thy people shall be my people.'" And then Hopkins added quietly, "Even to the end."

Ladies and gentlemen, that is the message I bring to you tonight. That after a century of struggle and sacrifice, Americans know that geography cannot be our security, that there can be no "Splendid Isolation" of years gone by, and that our fate and fortune is inextricably bound with yours and that of the world.

And so if the question must be asked, "Will America stay the course?" let there be no doubt of the answer. America will stay the course because that is our history. America will stay the course because that is our destiny. We will stand with you and our friends the world over, even to the end.

Thank you for the honor of joining you this evening.