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Conference on Transforming NATO’s Defense Capabilities
Remarks as Prepared for Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, Norfolk, Virginia, Friday, November 13, 1998

Thank you, Admiral [Harold] Gehman for that gracious introduction, and thank you for your superb leadership as USACOM [U.S. Atlantic Command, Commander-in-Chief] and SACLANT [Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic]. Distinguished leaders from across the Alliance, thank you for being here and for your commitment to this process.

I would like to take a moment to honor the memory of Major General Istvan Szalai who was tragically lost this week. General Szalai was an original founder of the Partnership Coordination Cell and crucial figure in the transformation of the Hungarian armed forces. He was an officer with a bright future and our alliance will miss his vision and leadership.

Two days ago, on America’s Veterans’ Day, I joined in honoring all those who have served their nation in war. As in cities and towns across the Alliance, we also marked the 80th anniversary of the end of World War I. One who was there on the front on November 11, 1918 described the moment the guns fell silent; how soldiers on both sides slowly, cautiously lifted their heads, how for the first time in four years they were able to stand up outside their squalid trenches.

But, in the years that followed, that hopeful moment of peace was lost by leaders who failed to see the truth of their common destiny and see the necessity that free people stand up and defend one another. As a result, less than thirty years later Europe was staggering to the conclusion of an even more terrible conflict and watching as a shadow once again lengthened over the continent. But this time the western democracies did stand up together, before it was too late. In creating NATO, we at last embraced the concept of collective defense, an idea that has been at the core of our transatlantic partnership ever since.

Today, the shadow of a global conflict no longer threatens us. Our Alliance is strong, successful, and growing. Europe is free and undivided for the first time in history. And our values are advancing on every continent. At the same time, the world remains dangerous, a landscape of rogue regimes, rekindled ethnic hatreds, and the proliferation of dangerous weapons.

Fortunately, we know that the same cooperation and determination that created NATO and carried us through 50 years of Cold War can guide us through the challenges ahead. But while our fundamental security principles endure, our forces must be transformed to suit this new landscape.

We need a new NATO for the new century; one that allows us to seize opportunities and meet the challenges of the future, one that is designed for the missions ahead. As the famous Italian strategist, General Giulio Douhet said, "Victory smiles upon those who anticipate the changes in the character of war, not upon those who wait to adapt themselves after the changes occur."

In five months, our Heads of State will mark the 50th anniversary of the most successful military Alliance in history. In addition to commemorating the past, the Washington Summit presents a unique opportunity for the future; for the Alliance to focus on transforming its defense capabilities for the challenges of the next 50 years.

Our experience in Bosnia has been a significant success in both humanitarian and geo-political terms, but it also revealed that NATO’s transformation from a fixed, positional defense to a flexible, mobile defense is incomplete. Indeed, IFOR [Implementation Force] and SFOR [Stabilization Force] suggest that should we be forced to operate outside Alliance territory in the future, we should expect to do so without preexisting communications, logistics, headquarters, or other infrastructure. To merely maintain a force designed to defend against Warsaw Pact aggression, or to make only superficial adjustments, would be a serious dereliction of our duty to our soldiers, our nations, our Alliance, and our future. We must seize the historic opportunity of the Washington Summit to propel this necessary transformation.

It is certainly true that each nation here is making individual progress toward that goal.

But because we are modernizing and restructuring at different rates and with differing national visions, we are not as effective as we need to be as an Alliance. To move forward, we must build upon the emerging consensus evident at [the September 1998 NATO Defense Ministerial in] Vilamoura [Portugal] by creating a "common operational vision" and including that vision as part of the revised [NATO] Strategic Concept.

We must craft our common operational vision to include four core capabilities: Mobility;

Effective engagement; Survivability, and; Sustainability. We must be mobile enough to rapidly project joint forces and joint assistance. We must engage effectively by delivering the right assets when and where they are needed. We must enhance our survivability by improving our ability to protect our forces from terrorism and from chemical, biological, and electronic attacks.

And we must increase our sustainability by ensuring our ability to deliver supplies that can meet any requirement.

Achieving these core capabilities will, in turn, require three "enablers:" Responsive information collection, processing and dissemination; Interoperability, and; Joint Alliance exploitation of technological innovations.

In practical terms, our immediate focus must be on communications and logistics. A military force is only as effective as its flow of information, and NATO must develop a communications capability for the 21st Century if we are to remain effective. In the short term, let us agree at the Summit to field specific C3 [Command, Control and Communications] capabilities. In the long term, our Heads of States can work toward a specific timetable for the development and implementation of a single, integrated C3 architecture.

With respect to logistics, we have learned from experience that Cold War-style preparations are not useful for missions like IFOR and SFOR because they are not deployable.

As a short-term Summit objective, individual nations should ensure that an adequate deployable logistics capability exists in their force structure. Our commanders must have the ability to quickly locate and move assets. Over the longer term, I ask the Senior NATO Logisticians Conference to consider creative solutions, like a multi-national logistics center, which our Heads of State can bless in April.

In addition to transforming our physical capabilities, we must transform the way we think about operational challenges and how we move promising concepts from the desktop to the battlefield. To begin this process, we must identify those critical operational challenges we face in each of the core and enabling capabilities.

A revised Strategic Concept, and innovative Summit initiatives on defense capabilities, will require equally innovative processes for their implementation. We must prioritize, coordinate, and integrate our work to ensure that what the Strategic Concept says results in actions that improve our national and Alliance defense capabilities. As I suggested in Vilamoura, a High Level Steering Group, modeled on the DGP [Defense Group of Proliferation] or SLG [Senior Level Group], could serve as an effective mechanism. I am not implying that we abandon existing Committees, but rather use this group to ensure that the vision of the Strategic Concept -- mobility, effective engagement, sustainability, and survivability -- are better reflected in the daily work of the C3 Board and the Senior NATO Logisticians Conference.

These changes will require our common commitment. We can best achieve these goals by learning from each other. Each nation here has much teach, and each has much to learn.

And through this collaborative process, the Alliance looks to you to develop specific recommendations that can be refined in the coming weeks, reviewed in Brussels in December, adopted at the 50th Anniversary Summit next April, and implemented in the coming years.

Our goal is nothing less than the transformation of our military capabilities, creating 21st Century forces that are designed, equipped, and prepared for 21st Century missions. Forces that can be combined into a single, powerful, interoperable unit. A unit that can accomplish any mission that the people of our Alliance direct us to undertake. These are ambitious goals, but no more difficult than all we have accomplished together in our first half century.

We cannot allow this effort to be a paper exercise, a flash of rhetoric for our 50th anniversary that is then left to gather dust. Communiqués and good intentions will do little for the soldier in the field. The Dutch colonel commanding a multinational brigade in some future conflict will care little what we said today, but he will care deeply that his battalions can work together in battle. The German sergeant directing the supply of rations to ten thousand refugees will care little if our discussions were diplomatically correct, but he will care greatly that he can communicate with the Turkish transport bringing those supplies. And the Greek platoon leader targeting air support will care little that we issued a statement of high minded propositions, but he will care profoundly that his computer is compatible with that of the French pilot above him.

So make no mistake, the lives of our troops and the future success of our Alliance depend on what you do today and in the months ahead. Let the next generation of leaders of our Alliance gather fifty years hence, as NATO approaches it 100th anniversary, and say that we stood up and fulfilled our duty to prepare for the future. Let them note that when the world changed, we had the foresight to change with it. Let them look back on a second fifty years of progress and cooperation. And on that distant day, let all the people of our Alliance celebrate a full century of peace and stability.

Thank you all very much.