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Air Mobility Museum, Dover Air Force Base
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen , Dover, Delaware , Wednesday, December 15, 1999

Senator [Joseph] Biden, thank you. Thanks for inviting me to be the after-dinner speaker. [Laughter.] Of all the introductions I've had during the course of 30 years, that's been the longest. [Laughter.] But then again, I knew that coming. Having been such a great friend of Joe Biden for all of these years, when he invited me to come, I could not help but appreciate that if he was going to introduce me, it was going to be a long afternoon. [Laughter.]

But I must say that I truly appreciate his friendship. I truly appreciate what he's been able to do in the Senate. And I'll talk about it in a moment. But let me say, [Dover] Mayor [James] Hutchison, Colonel [Taco] Gilbert [Commander, 436th Air Wing] and General [Peter] Sullivan [512nd Air Wing] -- thinking about Gilbert and Sullivan somehow [laughter] what a unique combination to have at the Dover Air Base! [Congressman] Mike Castle, and ladies and gentlemen.

I was thinking, as Joe was talking, about the wonderful line that Warren G. Harding once said. [Voice, off mike.] Republicans don't think about Harding much either. [Laughter.] But Harding said that government is, after all, a very simple thing. And some years later there was Felix Frankfurter, the great Supreme Court justice, who said there never was a more pathetic misapprehension of responsibility than in Harding's superficial conclusion, because we all know that government isn't a very simple thing. It's a pretty complex thing, and it requires the dedication, the hard work, and the energy of our most gifted men and women.

In fact, it was Ronald Reagan, when he was Governor Reagan, who said that he happened to have a definition of government, that it's like a baby's alimentary canal. It has a healthy appetite at one end and no sense of responsibility at the other. [Laughter.]

And I think of that because when I talk about responsibility, I look to the congressional delegation in Delaware. I have worked with every single one of them. For Joe, we've been there 24 years together. Mike Castle, the former governor, was there in the Congress when I was in the Senate. Your governor, who had to depart, was also in the House when I was in the Senate. Bill Roth I served beside, along with Joe, for 18 years in the Senate.

I will tell you that when I look to a delegation of that caliber, and I look in terms of how they conduct themselves and who they are and their world vision, I always pick up the phone and call them on an issue involving national importance, national security. I can always call Mike in the House and I can call Joe in the Senate and I can call Bill in the Senate and say, "I need your help. NATO enlargement's at stake." Or, "We've got to have a better relationship with Russia." Notwithstanding all the problems we have, we have to deal with Russia.

And I mentioned this at a press conference this morning. The mark of Joe Biden, in terms of his commitment to bi-partisanship, to me really came into clear view back in 1984. As you may recall, there was something going on at that time called the Nuclear Freeze Movement. We had problems taking place in Europe, where the Russians -- the Soviets, at that time -- had deployed SS-20s targeted at the European members, and we were going to try to offset that with Pershing II missiles.

And I, working with others, came up with a concept called the "guaranteed nuclear build-down." And I said somehow we've got to have more modern systems that are less vulnerable to first-strike attack, but we've got too many, so let's have a two-for-one swap. For every two we take out, we can put one new one in which is modern and mobile. It won't be able to be attacked, and everybody will be more secure: lower numbers, more survivability.

It's pretty simple in concept, but I needed to go over to persuade the Russians that it made sense for them as well. And I knew going over as a Republican then in the Ronald Reagan Administration [that I] wouldn't have too much credibility. I said, "I need a Democrat." I picked up the phone and I called Joe Biden. I said, "Joe, you've got to come with me." He said, "No question about it. When are you leaving?" I said, "I'm leaving in a couple of days." And he said, "Okay, but I can only go over and spend the day with you. I've got to come back and be at the Delaware Chamber of Commerce dinner."

Now, that is the kind of commitment [Joe has] to serving Delawareans, but it also showed his commitment to bailing me out at that time to go over there to say, "This is not a Ronald Reagan, Republican kind of subversive attack on Russia. This is no Trojan horse. This is real. This is substantive. I am genuine. This is not partisan." He came over and he validated that. And I will never forget that because it said something to me in terms of how we should conduct ourselves in the future. There shouldn't be any test for Republicans or Democrats when it comes to national security or foreign policy.

So when Joe said, "Please come to Delaware," I said, "Absolutely." Number one, I want to be here at Dover to talk to the men and women who are serving us here, to talk about how great they are, what an incredible job you all do. I see it day in and day out. I didn't have a chance to talk as much as much as I wanted to today to the men and women who were there in the audience at that little gathering we had. But I see the benefit of what they do. They may load the pallets, they work on the aircraft when they've got the parts, and they may fly on those missions going over on TDY [Temporary Duty Travel]. But I get to see it almost every day. I see the benefit of our strategic airlift. I see not only what we deliver to our warriors; I see the humanitarian effort that also is made.

And when I went into Kosovo earlier this year, and I saw Urosevac, which had just been liberated, and I saw the people rushing toward me to thank me, not only for having the war having been conducted, but the relief that was coming, the supplies and blankets and tents and medicine. We truly had liberated a people from a horrendous and horrific situation.

Now I see that the world over. When I was in China before we had our little difficulty with China last year, they had a tremendous earthquake that took place. It was in January. The temperature was at least 20 to 30 below zero. And about two hours north of Beijing they had almost 10,000 people who were sitting out in the cold and had no clothes, blankets, tents, and shelter. We were sending one of our aircraft over there, and I met with President Jiang Zemin. I said, "Would you like some more blankets and tents?" And he said, "If you send the plane, we'd be happy to have them." They not only were happy to have the aircraft come, they filmed it with American airmen and women who were unloading the aircraft, with "U.S.A." stamped on it, shipping it out.

Again, we have global responsibilities. I mentioned this today in my statement to the troops. We are engaged in world affairs because it's in our interest to be engaged in world affairs. We are influencing world events in ways that are advantageous to us.

Now there are some, as Joe Biden was just talking about, who would like to say, "Let's let the Europeans take care of Europe. Let the Asians take care of Asia. Let's just take care of good old U.S.A." And everybody in this room understands you can't just take of "good old U.S.A." by staying in the U.S.A. We have to be out there shaping people's opinions about us.

And it's comforting to think that somehow we could influence it by sending a few B-2s to drop some precision-guided munitions from time to time, and that will be a shaping of world opinion. I don't think so. We have to be out there, in person, doing good things, promoting security, promoting ideals, promoting democracy, promoting the freedoms that we enjoy. And when people see us out there, and they make a judgment about us, then we are shaping world opinion.

Joe mentioned the fall of the Berlin Wall. I mean, how much has taken place in the past 10 years! I went out to Indiana couple of days ago, and I said nothing has been more earth-shaking than the past 10 years. You can all remember where, exactly where, you were when that major event occurred: when Larry Bird announced his retirement from professional basketball. But second only to that, of course, was the fall of the Berlin Wall. And how much has transpired in 10 years' time! It is radically different.

I used to enjoy reading Alvin Toeffler, talking about Future Shock and what was going to happen as all of our culture and history and values and customs would be shaken in a hurricane wind of change. A lot has taken place. He wrote it back in the early '70s, late '60s, and look what has taken place today globally.

When the fall of the Berlin Wall came, came down, you had Francis Fukuyama. Remember that name, Joe? He was an academician who wrote a book, he wrote a thesis, actually, called "The End of History." And he said that with the fall of the Wall, democratic populism was going to spread all across the globe, everywhere.

And then that prompted a South African academician by the name of Peter Vale, who said, "Rejoice, my friends, or weep with sorrow; what California is today, the world will be tomorrow." If you're from California, you may not like that, but that's what Peter Vale had to say about it.

And it prompted somebody else, another academician, by the name of Samuel Huntington to say, Fukuyama's got it all wrong. This is very nice and comforting to think that our values are going to spread without any obstruction or hindrance. You see, there's something called ethnic conflict out there. There are ethnic hatreds and there are religious animosities. There is going to be a clash of civilizations. That in itself has become controversial in terms of what the world is going to look like with all of these countries bubbling up out here.

What we have seen take place is a world no longer facing each other with the Russians and Soviets eye to eye with the United States in terms of a nuclear holocaust. We no longer face that kind of a threat. But we face a very different kind of threat today. I didn't mention it here, but during the last two months I have visited 21 countries. That's not counting Texas and California. Twenty-three if you count the two of them. And wherever I go, you can see the impact of what we have done.

If I go, for example, to Southeast Asia, things have changed dramatically. In Singapore, they're building a pier now that's going to accommodate our aircraft carriers. They say, "Send them as often as you can."

In the Philippines, where we had a presence until '91, they now have signed a new agreement and ratified it by the Philippine Senate. They want a Visiting Forces Agreement to mark this new relationship that we have.

If you look at East Timor. I was in Darwin, [Australia] visiting our troops who were helping support the peacekeeping mission in East Timor.

If you look in Europe, I was in Brussels. I was in Germany about 10 days ago, addressing the Bundeswehr. And the top 4[00] to 500 of the German military officials were there, all of their top generals. And oddly enough, I gave a message that they were very happy to receive. The Chancellor of Germany, [Gerhard] Schroeder, came in the day before, and in this large hall -- there must have been at least 1,500 or 2,000 people in that hall -- he said he'd have to cut the budget for the military for the year 2000. I, of course, unaware of this, came in the day after and said, "You must increase your budget in the military." I suspect you know who got the louder response.

But now we see that, as a result of what has happened in Europe, their recognition of what Joe Biden was just talking about, the recognition following Kosovo that we have the most capable military in the world: we, the United States.

NATO, of course, has it, in terms of an institution, but all the Europeans understand that there were a number of strengths that NATO demonstrated, but there were a number of weaknesses as well, some of it in strategic airlift, strategic sealift, precision-guided munitions, in command and control [and secure] communications. We had pilots in some of our NATO countries talking on open lines, letting Milosevic know when we were coming.

So we saw some of the cracks as well as the strength, and they have now pledged to change that. We will see. They're talking about creating an ESDI, a European Security Defense Identity. Again, we will see. We support them. We want them to bear more responsibility.

But as you look around the world, we are engaged everywhere. We're re-engaging China. We are -- and I can point to Joe Biden once again -- we are still engaged with Russia. Aside from what's going on. We're terribly concerned [about] what's going on in Chechnya. We have an issue with Russia that we have to address, namely, the level of nuclear weapons they still have at their disposal.

We have something called the Cooperative Threat Reduction Act, [the] Nunn-Lugar [Act]. That Nunn-Lugar act says we have to spend our money to help them dismantle their nuclear weapons and their chemical weapons. And that's in our interest to do that. And so when I went to Moscow recently to meet with my counterpart, Marshal [Igor] Sergeyev, we went up into northern Russia, where there used to be a secret base up there, and I saw a really frightening sight. I saw a Typhoon submarine. It is two football fields long. It's about to be cut up into many small pieces, part of our historic agreement [under which] the Russians are now going to reduce the level of their nuclear weapons. So here we have an interest with them. We want to get the level of nuclear weapons down. We have to deal with them. That's one of the programs.

We should take some comfort. All of you must be concerned about Y2K. What's going to happen with the turnover of the millennium? Are our computers going to work? Are our systems secure? Will there be any kind of a mistake? So we now have between 15 and 20 Russians who are out in [Peterson Air Force Base near] Colorado Springs, and they'll sit at a shared early-warning site, so that we can monitor together what's taking place around the world, so there will be no miscalculation from December 31st to midnight; that suddenly, if there's a failure of their early-warning system, [it will not be a] prelude to any kind of an attack. We want to build upon that and make a permanent joint early-warning center in Moscow next year.

So we've got issues we've got to deal with them on, all of which, I'm telling you, is [to say] that we have to remain engaged. If we sit back and come back to the continental United States like there's some kind of a cocoon, and we're going to watch events unfold on CNN. That cannot happen. It's not even desirable or possible. The world has been miniaturized by technology. It has reduced this giant globe to a small ball spinning on the finger of science. That's how small it is. And so what we have to do is remain engaged diplomatically, economically, and militarily.

A couple of final comments. I had a long speech I was going to give, but it's sort of like the time that a senator appeared on a stage with Mark Twain. And Mark Twain got up, and he gave a brilliant presentation, covered everything, and the audience warmly applauded. And then the senator got up and said, "Well, you know, Mark Twain and I had an agreement. We agreed to swap speeches this evening. He has given you the speech that I have written, and I'm delighted that you so warmly received it. And I now have the one that he gave me, but unfortunately, I lost it, and I can't remember a word he was going to say." And that's sort of the way I feel about following Joe Biden up here. [Laughter.]

But I will tell you what is happening in the world. There's a lot of criticism taking place today that somehow we are suffering from three things: Superpower fatigue, that we are disengaging from world events and I won't bore you with the basis of that. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty vote that was taken in the Senate is but one of those indications that people think we're retreating from leadership. The second one is that when we act, we always act, or are inclined to act, militarily instead of through a comprehensive diplomatic, economic type strategy. And the third is that when we act, we will act alone, unilaterally.

And I will tell you, I am willing to stand on any podium and rebut each of those allegations. Does a nation that is tired of its world engagement, put 100,000 troops in the Asia Pacific region? Does it put 100,000 troops in Europe? Does it have 23,000 troops in the [Persian] Gulf region? Does it have 37,000 in Korea? Are we disengaging from world events? Does a country that's prepared to step off and go gently into that good night suddenly say we're going to increase our defense budget by $112 billion over the next six years? Is that the mark of a country that's willing to step off the stage?

And I point to my European counterparts. They're all talking about what they have to do for their militaries, [but] they're cutting their budgets. We're increasing ours.

And I look out and I see the uniforms that are here today, and I want to say to all of you who are wearing that uniform, the pay raise that has been voted is the largest one in the last generation. We're changing the way in which we compensate people at their mid-career levels. We're changing retirement rates. We are going to try to take as good care of you as you've been taking care of us. We need to do that if we're to remain the world's superpower.

Secondly, I want to say something to the community, the people who are civilians [and the] retired military who are here. Unless the military has your support, it's not going to remain at the level it does today. I just saw another survey. The military is the most respected institution in our country. By far over any other institution, [Americans] point to the military. And the reason they do that, of course, is because of the quality of people we have in our military. So the way which we can keep our military strong is through community support.

You may have seen me on television from time to time saying we've got too many bases, and we do. We've got too much infrastructure for our force structure. We have saved, and will have saved, $25 billion from the four rounds of base closures we've had, and I've seen them up in Maine, as well. Dow Air Force Base and Loring Air Force Base have had to close. So I know what the consequences are.

We need to have two more rounds of closure in order to save another $20 billion totally, and $3 billion a year annually, so you can take the $3 billion annually and put it into buying parts for the C-5, modernizing our equipment, keeping our best people, with the best possible weapons in the world. We've got to do that.

There's another side to that, however, and I recognize it. Whenever you consolidate bases in order to achieve efficiency, what happens? The military, the people that you see here today, you don't see them in the community any longer. And when [Americans] don't see our military in their daily lives, they tend to forget about the great sacrifices [the military is] making day in and day out.

You have a unique situation here in Dover. I've been told, and I have seen it. You have one of the most active community engagements with the military of any place in the United States or elsewhere where we have a presence. That is a strong testament to how you feel about the military, but it also gives our military the sense that they are part of a community, that you really care about their lives. And I can't tell you how important that is.

One of the problems that I have, as I'm continuing to try to downsize, is say, "Yes, but how do we continue to reconnect America's military and its communities?" Because when I talked about Samuel Huntington before, long before he wrote his book on The Clash of Civilizations, he talked about the clash [between civilian and military cultures.]

[Audio break.]

[So I want to] thank all of the men and women who are serving us, the leadership that we have here at Dover. We talk about strategic airlift, how important it is to commend the men and women for all that they have done, in terms of making sure that we not only have the tip of the spear that we throw out there, but you are the arm that throws it, and to make sure that arm is as strong and as accurate as it can be, but also to thank all of the people in the community, all of the community leaders who are here. I know you have a self-interest. Every community has a self-interest. It means a lot to the local economy. But that's true of virtually any place, here especially. Here it's special. There is a connection here that you don't find in very many places, if any, [beyond what] I see here at Dover.

So I wanted to come back and come down here, I've been here on a number of occasions, and perhaps conclude with an observation made by Alistair Cooke, who's one my favorite authors. He wrote a book about America that came out back during the celebration of our bicentennial. And he went through the comparison between the United States and Rome. Most historians do. He said that we, like Rome, were in danger of losing that which we professed to cherish most, and that "liberty is the luxury of self-discipline." Liberty is the luxury of self-discipline, and "that historically, those nations who have failed to discipline themselves have had it imposed by others."

He said, "America is a country in which I see the most persistent idealism and the blandest of cynicism. And the race is on between its vitality and its decadence." And then he paraphrased Benjamin Franklin, who said, "We have a great country, and we can keep it, but only if we care to keep it."

And we have the greatest military in the history of the world. And as a result of having the greatest military in the history of the world, we have the greatest country. Because it is that military which keeps us free, that keeps us democratic, that keeps us proud, and allows us to hold that flame of liberty up for everybody to take comfort and warmth.

And so I am satisfied that with people like you and the Dover community, and the men and women who are serving us here at this base, that that persistent idealism will continue to triumph over that blandest of cynicism. God bless you. [Applause.]