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Economic Strategy Institute Global Forum
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen , Ronald Reagan International Trade Center, Washington, D.C. , Monday, May 15, 2000

Ladies and gentlemen, I will try to be as brief as possible, and thank you for taking me out of order. A rescheduling of a meeting at the White House has allowed me to go before the panel this morning, and I appreciate that.

[Former] Secretary [of Defense, William] Perry, let me pay special tribute to you. You were a soldier during World War II and saw the devastation of that war. You have also been a great statesman. I recall the times I visited you in your office to see the picture of you standing beside one of those silos that had been destroyed under the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. We owe you a great deal of tribute for being one of the truly outstanding public servants of our time.

So I wanted to be here to express my sentiments, which you have known for some time, but to once again express how much of a contribution you've made to our national security over the course of the last half-century. You continue to do so in dealing with the North Koreans. So thank you very much, and thank you for arranging for me to appear before you.

I'd like to begin by sharing with you what I think are several timely newspaper excerpts. From the Washington Post, "Our scientific and intellectual activity has gone beyond our wildest dreams." From the San Francisco Examiner, "The oceans are obliterated. London and Paris and New York are neighbors." The New York Times declares that, "The unprecedented economic expansion has caused a virtual panic of prosperity on Wall Street" and calls the United States the "envy of the world."

I would suggest that those sentiments could be an apt description from this morning's newspapers, perhaps even from the rationally exuberant pen of Tom Friedman. In fact, they reflect the optimism at the dawn of the 20th Century, not the 21st. While the globalization of that era failed to prevent nations with the greatest promise in human history from slipping into the two greatest slaughters, I think that such events should not condemn us to the fate of flotsam on what Auden called the dangerous flood tide of history.

On the contrary, they remind us that the world that we want is not going to be realized by us passively resting on our laurels, on our lasers, or indeed, on our stock options, but rather in seizing and aggressively pursuing and shaping the problems of our time.

It was about a quarter of a century ago that Alvin Toffler warned us about the coming age of Future Shock. Today, we have the author James Gleick who observed in his recent book Faster that technology seems to have accelerated our lives to the near nanosecond level. And indeed, as technology continues to telescope both time and space, it is miniaturizing the globe, reducing it to not much bigger than a small ball spinning on the finger of science. It requires us not only to think faster and faster and to act faster and faster, but to act and think deeply and wisely.

In the global marketplace of ideas, the principles of free markets and free minds is clearly ascending. I saw this last year when I was passing through Warsaw. I was going past the old Communist Party headquarters, which now symbolically houses the new Warsaw Stock Exchange. More nations are choosing the path of economic integration and political cooperation. More of humanity now lives under the flag of freedom than ever before.

So in short, given the human tendency to believe, according to one observer, that the house of the future is always dark, I think any assessment of our present condition and the foreseeable future must recognize this as a truly bright moment in history.

The Department of Defense is required to peer into the opaque window of the future. We are required to ask questions such as whether globalization will continue to be seen by some as simply masquerading as Americanization, to be resisted and challenged at ever increasing times. What old threats are going to remain? What new threats will emerge? How should we try to structure our forces and our programs during this dynamic, kaleidoscopic shift in world events?

Yogi Berra, who was paid tribute over the weekend with a ship, I believe, named after him in New York, said, "Predictions are always difficult, especially about the future." [Laughter.] But I would like to talk a little bit about the future and try to tell you how we have lifted this opaque window and tried to make these determinations.

There are three issues I'd like to talk to you about this morning: this context of ideals and ideas; the issue of the change in demographics and its impact upon our security structures; and also the asymmetric challenges we're going to face in the future.

With respect to ideas and ideals, I think following the fall of the Berlin Wall the age-old search of how to organize human affairs was said to have been concluded. You're all familiar with Francis Fukuyama's thesis at that point about the End of History, which prompted Peter Vale, a South African academician to say, "Rejoice my friends, or weep in sorrow. What California is today, the world will be tomorrow." [Laughter.]

Following Fukuyama's thesis, of course, we saw Professor Samuel Huntington say that Fukuyama was mistaken, that we were not going to see this sweep of Western economic and political liberalization just streak across the world as a new, universal culture. Rather, according to Huntington, the lines of contact between Islamic, Confucian, Christian, Buddhist societies were going to be the fault lines of conflict.

Neither version has proven true at this moment in time. We have not seen the end of history. We have not seen this inevitable clash of cultures. But what we do see is that the notion of Western thought and institutions have not yet swept through two of the major countries that we have to contend with, Russia and China.

We have to try to determine whether Russia is going to follow the path of reform and cooperation with the West, or whether it will become more nationalistic, or, indeed, as Henry Kissinger in today's Washington Post noted, [whether it will revert to] its past, which has been imperialistic? Or will it choose this dynamic reform that was started under Gorbachev, and now we have Putin, to see whether or not it can be fully integrated into the international community? How Russia acts, what [path] it chooses will have profound impacts upon global security.

We know that there are scientists whose brains are full of knowledge and they may have pockets that are empty of cash. We do not want to see them go to the highest bidder. That's one of the reasons we have something called the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program that Secretary Perry was so instrumental in pushing. We want to see if we can find ways in which we can reduce the threat, where we can take down the numbers of nuclear weapons and chemical weapons and see if we can't find those areas of common interest that we can pursue in order to keep this dynamic world democracy moving in the right direction. We have a shared early warning program that President Clinton has proposed with the Russians, and we hope to see such a center established in Moscow next year so we can reassure ourselves that we are cooperating when it comes to dealing with nuclear weapons.

On China, I think we have to ask the question of whether it can open its doors to these hurricane winds of change that it finds beneficial while at the same time trying to slam the door on issues involving human rights or religious expression. Can they stem the flow of technology and information at the same time they're trying to embrace this new economy?

It's clear to me at least that this notion of trying to contain China would be an act of folly. It's futile. China is not going to be contained. China's economic and military power is going to increase. But the international community has an opportunity to help shape its future in ways that will be beneficial to peace and stability. That is one of the reasons I have spent so much of my career traveling to China. I will be going again this summer to reestablish our military-to-military contacts so that we can discuss how we can cooperate on humanitarian types of operations, such as peacekeeping, in the future and basically try to reduce tensions which could lead to confrontation between our two countries.

We are trying, in terms of economic interests, to promote engagement with China. That is why we favor so strongly Permanent Normal Trade Relations. I think that the economic argument speaks for itself. This would be beneficial to the United States, indeed to the Western world. But from a strategic point of view, for us to reject PNTR, it seems to me, is to say to the Chinese that we are treating you as an adversary. You are no longer going to be able to deal with us in ways that we'll find common interests and common principles that we can reconcile our differences, or resolve them, in ways that are peaceful and stabilizing as opposed to confrontation.

So the two big challenges we face in the future will be Russia and China: how we deal with them, and how China and Russia deal with their own internal dynamics.

I'd like to say a few words about demographics, because, as I understand it, you are going to be talking later about the population explosion and what that means to stability in the world. In the coming decades, there will be a 25 percent increase in population in the developing nations, mostly in the urban areas, putting increasingly strong pressures on the infrastructure, and health care and other types of necessities that these countries will need. It's already stretching them to the breaking point.

We have many, many millions of younger people who are without hope and without jobs. If you look at what is taking place in Kosovo by way of example, how many young people currently are out of work so they're simply hanging around. And the potential for being out of work combined with the ideological appeals being made to many of them, you can see that that is a prescription for conflict in the future. So economic opportunity is going to be critical to maintaining stability in the future. Those who have the least invested in society are most likely to challenge it, either with guns or with explosive power and bombs.

I traveled to South Africa and also to Nigeria during the last couple of months. There clearly are two countries that are striving mightily to overcome years of past oppression, and now they have to contend with HIV and AIDS, which if unchecked, certainly can destabilize those nations. Sierra Leone is the most the most recent of 15 nations during the past five years in Africa that has been consumed by war. It's a failed state, and the instruments of government have collapsed, causing us, the British, and others who want to evacuate all of our citizens [to support operations to do so].

So, again, these types of challenges will be the ones we have to confront in the future. The way in which we confront them and deal with them is really embodied in our strategy of shape, respond, prepare. Secretary Perry is familiar with this since he helped to develop them as well.

But we shape the political environment by being forward deployed. We are forward deployed in Asia, we are forward deployed in the Middle East, and in the Persian Gulf. We are forward deployed in Europe. By having our forces forward deployed, we are able to shape the environment in ways that are advantageous to us and that are stabilizing to the areas where we are forward deployed, thereby helping to promote investment and prosperity and therefore reinforcing the forces of peace and democracy.

We have created something called the African Center for Strategic Studies to try to indicate to the African nations the relationship between democracy and the military and how there must be civilian control over the instruments of the military. We promote IMET, the International Military Exchange and Training program. We try to engage the various countries at the military-to-military level to promote our ideals about the subordination of the military to civilian control.

We also need to be able to respond. We respond across a full spectrum of challenges. You may have read recently that some are suggesting that we should train some of our soldiers to be peacekeepers alone. I would advise that we reject that recommendation. Our soldiers can't simply be peacekeepers, because you can go from peacekeeping very quickly up to peace enforcement to a major conflict in a very short period of time. So our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, all of our services, must be trained to do everything.

Our forces must be trained if we go into a situation like Sierra Leone and evacuate our citizens. We call it non-combatant evacuations. They must be able to engage in peacekeeping and humanitarian type missions. They must be able to engage in something short of a major theater war. Our forces have to be fully prepared for that full panoply of responses. That's what makes our forces, in my judgment, the finest fighting force in the world; we can do everything.

We also have to try to shape the future. After we respond to current contingencies, how do we shape the future and prepare for it? We prepare for it by adjusting our current force structure and shaping it in a way to anticipate the kind of forces that we'll have to confront in the future. For example, the Marines are now trying to hone their skills for fighting in urban environments, so their Urban Warrior exercise is something that the Marines have really dedicated their recent activities toward. The Navy is going to have some [so-called "smart"] ships. They're going to have ships that can operate with far fewer personnel than we currently have. They will be far more lethal than they currently are. The Air Force is developing an expeditionary force. The Army is now in the transition phase of becoming lighter, more mobile, more quickly deployable, and ultimately, more lethal.

We face, however, something that I would call the Super Power Paradox. We have unconventional, or asymmetric, warfare that we have to contend with. Most of us tend to be mesmerized by this incredible flow of technology, but technology is a mixed blessing. Toffler said that, "the sword of technology can cut off the hand that wields it." I am also mindful of what Churchill said back during his famous Iron Curtain speech. He said, "We can return to the Stone Age on the gleaming wings of science."

So science and information technology is very democratic. It's very democratic in the sense that those who use it and acquire it could not only have progress or stability or peace or prosperity on their minds, but terror and destabilization on their minds as well.

We saw that a few years ago in the Tokyo subway when sarin gas was released by a religious cult. The same group had planned to use anthrax against our soldiers. We saw during the World Trade Center where the terrorists had been planning to use a chemical weapon as well as the bombs that exploded. We know it can come in the form of Usama bin Laden who seeks to drive the U.S. and the Western world out of the Arab world.

We're witnessing the age of cyber soldiers and the cyber spy. Think about the Love Bug virus. Orwell has come into the 21st Century when something called "love" can actually reflect hate. But consider how vulnerable we truly are when a couple of young men, who are the subjects of investigation right now, allegedly can cause havoc globally with a very simple process.

So the more technology to be had, the more vulnerable our societies are becoming. In 1998 and 1999 we witnessed cyber assaults on the Department. We had sensitive information that was literally copied from the Department of Defense and sent to sites near Moscow. It's not clear whether it was originated there or simply routed there. Last fall, we conducted an exercise on how little it would take to trigger blackouts throughout the country or shut down our 911 emergency systems. So we are looking into a world in which we are becoming much more dependent upon technology, and that technology renders us even more vulnerable than we would have been in the past.

Finally, we're looking at the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. There are some 25 nations who either have, or in the process of acquiring, weapons of mass destruction. That's the reason why we have devoted so much of our resources to theater missile defenses and why today's debate is centered upon whether we should go forward with a National Missile Defense system to protect us against those countries who have, or will have, a limited capability to place at risk the United States itself.

Let me close with a passage from the masterful biography of Winston Churchill by William Manchester. Manchester wrote that, "Among the perceptive observations and the shrewd conclusions of leaders such as Churchill were the clutters of other reports and forecasts completely at odds with these observations. All of it, the prescient, the cockeyed, all arrives in a rush and most men in power sorting through it believe what they want to believe, accepting whatever justifies their policies and their convictions, while taking out insurance wherever possible against the truth that may in fact line their wastebaskets."

Ladies and gentlemen, it is our obligation to try to sort out the truth and make sure it does not line our wastebaskets. Thank you very much. [Applause.]