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Western European Union’s Transatlantic Forum
Remarks as Delivered by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, Willard Hotel, Washington, DC, Wednesday, June 28, 2000

Ambassador [Robert] Hunter [former U.S. Ambassador to NATO], thank you very much for your kind words. I was about to say that your introduction was probably going to be longer than my perspective delivered from this podium. And to show you how misinformed even we can be here in the United States, I was told that everybody was going to sit at round tables so we could have an air of informality and, therefore, I would not be in a position to unload or relieve myself of a major policy paper from a podium. And yet here I am!

I want to say that it's a pleasure for me to be here. You may recall that the last time we got together in Washington, a great deal of gas had seeped into the room, causing the immediate evacuation of all of you to the street outside of the Ronald Reagan Center. And that, of course, occurred prior to my getting on my feet to deliver a speech, [laughter] so I take some comfort in that. But we do not have any fear that any contractors are outside digging up any of the gas lines, and so we should be reasonably secure in this room today.

I want to say what a pleasure it is to be here with our host, Minister [of Defense of France, Alain] Richard. He and I have developed a good friendship over the years. We have, as I have said on many occasions, quite similar backgrounds, none more telling than the fact that we were mayors of our home towns and understand what grass root politics really is all about.

I want to say that it's a pleasure to see Minister [of Defense of Portugal, Julio Castro] Caldas here. We had the pleasure of being together in Brussels when Portugal signed up to the F-16 Group, and that was a major step for them and for us. He's going to be following me, so I intend to be reasonably brief because we do want to have a discussion following both of our comments.

I would also say that recently I was at the change of command of the SACEUR [Supreme Allied Commander, Europe], and as I listened to the Sergeant Major give a briefing to all of us, I said, "This sounds to me like it's going to take at least two hours." And he said, "Sir, that all depends on how long your speeches are." [Laughter.] Quite diplomatic for a Sergeant Major, I thought. He has since been dismissed! [Laughter.] But in any event, I will try to take that into consideration as I deliver a few remarks to you.

After the meeting that we had in Brussels, I had the good fortune to travel to Vilnius [Lithuania] and attended a Nordic-Baltic Ministerial. And I must tell you, I was very much encouraged with what I saw and heard during that particular ministerial. [I have been] very, very impressed with the progress I've seen to date, and I'm looking forward to continuing this relationship and working with the Baltic states.

But after that meeting, I went to Stockholm, and Minister [of Defense of Sweden, Bjoern] Von Sydow took me on a tour of the Vasa Museum. I assume that many of you have been there as well. It occurred to me that the Vasa would be a great metaphor as to how we approach discussing ESDP [European Security Defense Policy] and [NATO’s] DCI [Defense Capabilities Initiative], the acronyms we have developed for ourselves.

The Vasa, as you may recall, was a ship that was built during the 17th Century, and it was monumental in task, size and ambition. Unfortunately, it sunk on its maiden voyage as it left the harbor. It was lying at the bottom of the sea and took 300 years before some brilliant scientists and discoverers decided they were going to raise the ship and reconstitute it.

I thought that was a good image and a metaphor for this discussion because despite the spending of a huge portion of the national treasury to build that ship, it capsized on its maiden voyage. It had misdirected investment. There was too much attention paid to the facade as opposed to the function. It was too cumbersome. It was top heavy; they had some 64 bronze cannon aboard. It was untested, it was an experimental design, and it was a dangerous design because the gun ports were too close to the water line.

In contrast, if you think about why it sunk and then think about its recovery and restoration, it's a tribute, I think, to vision and perseverance. It was a monumental task to raise this ship up. It took a cooperative international effort. It harnessed the most advanced tools and technology of the century. As a result, we now see a fully restored Vasa that's a remarkable and, I think, inspirational sight.

And so these are the lessons that came to me as I thought about what I might say to you this morning. As we develop ESDP and the Defense Capabilities Initiative – which all of the NATO countries signed up to not too far from this building just a year ago [at NATO’s Washington Summit] -- we have to pay real attention to function and capabilities as opposed to façade. We have to make sure that neither NATO nor the EU [European Union] become too cumbersome to meet their missions. We have to be sure that the design of the institutions reflect the future demands that will be placed upon them. We have to recognize that it will take many years of great international cooperative efforts and advanced technologies to succeed. And so we ought to use the remainder of our time this morning, perhaps, to suggest a course that will allow us to achieve this.

You will read in the American press, and I suspect in the European press, that somehow what the Europeans are embarked on is going to be destructive to NATO. I have read many articles myself. I have listened to certain parliamentarians in Europe suggest that a strong EU necessarily means a weak NATO. We should be clear on this as far as the United States is concerned. We support [a stronger Europe on defense matters], whether it is currently called the ESDI [European Security Defense Identity] or the ESDP.

We support it in concept because we believe that a strong European pillar will mean a stronger NATO itself -- and here is the caveat -- provided that we make sure that the capabilities that are now being discussed and debated and, hopefully, fulfilled, will be consistent for both the EU and also for NATO. The last thing we want to see is separate capabilities developed or weak capabilities developed and bigger bureaucracies, much like those cannons that were floating around on top of the deck of the Vasa. We need to make sure that the capabilities that we develop are consistent and consonant with each other, and that they end up strengthening NATO rather than diminishing it. So the articles that I've read should not be taken to heart. Our position is that we want to see the EU develop a capability consistent with the Headline Goal that have been discussed [deploying, and sustaining for up to a year, a force of 50-60,000 by 2003] and hopefully are on the way to being met.

I think very often of [NATO Secretary-General] George Robertson's "Three I's." George Robertson has talked about improvements in capabilities -- again, that's DCI, that's ESDI – and the indivisibility of the transatlantic connection and our security. Once again, we have to emphasize that we do not want to see a division. We do not want to see a situation where it's an EU solution not a NATO solution. The ESDI, the ESDP should be, generally speaking, under the umbrella of NATO itself; separable, but not separate.

Yes, there will be decisions that will be made by EU, but within the context of situations where NATO decides not to take action. We support the creation of a 50,000 or 60,000-person force that can be deployable by 2003. That, to us, is something that we can strongly favor. But we must always be mindful that we do not want to see a separation of our capabilities or a separation of the United States from NATO or a weakening of NATO. So the indivisibility of the transatlantic security relationship is critically important to maintain.

Finally, of course, there is inclusiveness. And here I must pay tribute to what has been done to date to make sure that the six non-EU NATO members are players, not spectators. They need to be brought into this process rather than simply having a decision being made and then being called upon [to join later]. And that's why it's important that we look to the common pool of assets and structures to make sure that we're not talking about something too separate or autonomous, independently functioning capabilities, because that, I think, has the potential to undermine the effectiveness of both.

So if the "Three I's" can be adhered to, I think that will strengthen NATO and it will strengthen Europe, all to our benefit.

Let me talk just a moment or two -- I guess I've already exceeded my 15 minutes -- on National Missile Defense. This is something that is very much on the agenda over here in the United States. It's something that I have talked about for the past year in dealing with our NATO allies and our Partnership [for Peace] countries. Bob Hunter really deserves the bulk of the credit for the development of the Partnership program because he was in the forefront of making sure that this was real and not illusory; that the partners would undertake to develop and modernize, and to undertake to make their military capabilities something that was at least consistent with what we had as far as NATO itself is concerned; to contribute to stability rather than to weaken it. And so the Partnership program has been an immense success, largely due to Bob Hunter.

So to all the countries who are here, I want to say a few words about National Missile Defense because it is a matter that will come to the forefront of our agenda here in the United States.

For the past year, we have tried to illuminate the issue about the NATO threat. We have had briefings at our NATO meetings in which we've had [Frank] Miller [Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy & Threat Reduction] present the nature of the threat, which is increasing. The spread of technology has not abated. We see a continuation of the spread of missile technology and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. We are absolutely satisfied that a number of countries, formerly known as "rogue states" – and I will refer to them, for the purpose of this meeting, as rogue states until they demonstrate by their actions that they are otherwise -- present a threat to our security.

There is no American president who can put himself or herself in the position of saying, "There's a threat to our security, but we have no defense against it." So we have tried to, number one, identify and lay out the threat to all of our allies; then, number two, to show what we have in mind as far as an architecture for a defensive system that will not in any way pose a threat to the Russians, but will, in fact, provide limited protection against a limited type of an attack. That is what we have been discussing with all of our allies and with our partners.

We will have another test that will take place here in the United States on July 7th. We hope that test will be successful. We will analyze it if it is successful; we will analyze it if it fails, and what the nature of that failure might be. But we believe we are very close to having the technology, which is quite demanding -- like being able to hit a bullet with a bullet -- and that is essentially what we have in mind as far as a land-based system. We would begin with a deployment of a limited number of interceptors based in Alaska.

We would obviously need the cooperation of several of our NATO allies because in order to have an effective defense against a limited type of attack, we need to have forward-based radars. Radars are the critical element in tracking in the event of a missile [launch]. And so we have been working closely with our allies to lay out the architecture of what we have in mind, and also working with the Russians. For the past year we have laid out with great specificity exactly what this system would look like, what its capabilities would be, and why it poses no threat to the Russian's strategic systems.

Nevertheless, as you gathered from press reports, President Putin has indicated that he would like to offer the Europeans a theater missile defense system which would protect [Europe]. There are several problems with this. Number one, a theater missile defense system would not protect all of Europe. But we have indicated that we are fully prepared to work with the Russians on TMD [Theater Missile Defense]. We have a number of major systems under research and development, and we are happy to work with the Russians on a theater missile defense system.

[President Putin] has also indicated that they have a technology in mind which would provide protection against those states formerly known as rogue states -- troublesome areas -- whatever we're going to call them. But they have been identified in the Russian mind, and this represents a change in the position of the Russian officials, because they now agree that, yes, there is an emerging threat. And so they would have a technology that would provide an umbrella over those areas or against those areas. And what it appears that they have in mind is boost-phase intercept system. We have said to them is that we are willing to work with them to put our experts together to see if such technology is feasible and workable.

In the meantime -- not as a substitute for what we're doing, but perhaps as a complement to it, and maybe a major part of it in the future -- we will continue to do research and development on the limited system that we have in mind. So that is where we are now. We are working cooperatively with the Russians to be sure that what they have in mind is more than simply an idea, but really a program, and we will have to continue to work with them on that.

Ambassador Hunter, I think I should probably desist here, but [allow me to] say one other thing in terms of how we can strengthen our cooperative abilities and capabilities. The United States has proposed changing, I think, very dramatically our export technology control policies. We want to work and to be much closer with our European friends in terms of your consolidation of your industries, realizing that we need to achieve efficiencies and find ways in which we can cooperate so that we don't have a Fortress Europe or a Fortress America. And so we are in the process of changing our export control laws as it pertains to technology, and we are hoping that you will find this beneficial. We certainly think it will be beneficial to us, and we think beneficial to Europe.

But let me cease and desist here because you have another speaker to make a presentation to you before we get into a discussion. So let me simply say thank you for your leadership, Ambassador Hunter. Thank you, Alain, for your leadership in hosting this meeting. I look forward to working with you and all of the others here through the balance of my term. Thank you. [Applause.]