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Secretary Cohen's Remarks at NATO Headquarters, Brussels, Belgium, June 11, 1998

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
June 11, 1998

Today's meetings were very important because of the challenges that NATO faces today and those the alliance will encounter in the 21st century as missions change and we work towards increased interoperability.

Obviously, Kosovo was the most urgent topic that we addressed today, and I will have more to say on that in just a moment, but first I want to review some of the things that we discussed in a very comprehensive way today.

Besides Kosovo, we did two important things. First, we discussed the strategic concept that will carry NATO into the 21st century. And second, we talked about creating the forces and capabilities that we'll need to implement that concept.

This morning at the Defense Planning Group, I presented some of the challenges that NATO is going to face in the future and some of the responses to those challenges.

Broadly speaking, the challenges include adapting to new missions, such as Bosnia... rapid technological change, and what that means for the NATO Alliance. The nuclear, biological and chemical threat, and threat of long range and accurate ballistic and cruise missiles.

As an alliance whose core function is collective defense, NATO's responses to these challenges must focus on force compatibility initiatives.

I see six compatibility priorities to bring the Alliance into the next century. I'll just list them very briefly, and I have a prepared statement that I used today to make a presentation, and any information that you would like in the way of amplification should be found in that statement, but the six items are: communications compatibility; sustainability of forces; adapting our operation doctrine and concepts; information assurance-this is something that's going to be of critical importance to NATO as we move more and more into the world of information technology, the systems are increasingly vulnerable to external attack, and so information assurance will be critical to our operations; biological and chemical weapons risks; and the Combined Joint Task Force.

The NATO of the 21st century must both harness the potential of advances in technology and renew its commitment to the basics of military effectiveness. And this is going to require a partnership of NATO military organizations, NATO defense managers and industry.

But as we address these important challenges of the future, we are faced with the urgent challenge of Kosovo. Today we took some important steps to ensure that Mr. Milosevic knows that his indiscriminate use of force is unacceptable.

Kosovo is more than an internal problem. It is one that transcends national boundaries. An ethnic conflict in the immediate neighborhood of NATO members threatens stability in the whole region.

We continue to believe that the best solution is a diplomatic one with a resumption of talks between the Belgrade authorities and the Kosovar representatives.

Today we agreed to direct NATO military authorities to conduct an early and appropriate air exercise in the region. This exercise is going to demonstrate NATO's capability to project power rapidly into the region, and I expect it will begin soon.

We also directed NATO military authorities to assess and develop, for further consideration, a full range of military options. These options would be designed largely to respond to actions by the Belgrade government. They would have the mission of halting or disrupting a systematic campaign of violent repression and expulsion in Kosovo.

But we also want to make clear that all sides should avoid provocation. This should not be misinterpreted by the Kosovar Albanians. We certainly do not intend to send any signal that we are supporting the drive for independence.

I want to emphasize that we believe a diplomatic solution is best for Kosovo, but that our action today will develop the military options appropriately. We are determined to do all we can to stop the violence and the indiscriminate use of force in Kosovo.

Now I'd be happy to take some questions.

  • Q: Mr. Secretary, could you tell us what U.S. forces are available and ready to participate in the exercise?
  • A: Well, we have NATO forces; obviously we have U.S. forces that participate on a regular basis with NATO forces. They are deployed throughout Europe, and they are available for any air exercise and anything that might follow. So the forces that are currently here are certainly capable of carrying out any air exercise.
  • Q: Would you bring in any outside forces such as the USS Eisenhower that's on its way to the Mediterranean, or would you use Marine amphibious units, perhaps to bring in the air element? What specifics might you be looking at?
  • A: I think that's up to the military authorities. It's not something I would prejudge in the way of what would be required. They are going to look at all of the options that are available. It's not simply an air exercise. They are also tasked to develop military options that would include a wide range of activities beyond air itself. So, we leave that to the military authorities to make a recommendation, and see where it goes.

Q: You mention that a diplomatic solution was obviously the preferred solution, and also the but when action is necessary, the statement on Kosovo says clearly that it would be on a relevant legal basis. What do you consider this relevant legal basis to be? A: Well, as most members agree, I believe, that we would like to have U.N. or OSCE endorsement. The United States does not feel that that is imperative-it's desirable, not imperative-but we believe that under the U.N. charter itself that nations are certainly permitted to engage in self defense and even collective defense, and so we believe it would be desirable to have a U.N. mandate, but it's not imperative.

Q: Would you consider action without U.N. mandate would be possible, even though in fact this would not be, strictly speaking, self-defense? A: It could, strictly speaking, be collective defense, however, in terms of the instability that could be created by a continuation of the situation. And so I'd leave it at that.

  • Q: Mr. Secretary, there's been detailed planning going on for at least several weeks now, and just late today, the Serb forces have launched some of the biggest attacks in months. If this signal is not adequate, what would it take to trigger the use of air power in...would it be in Kosovo, or the rest of Yugoslavia, closer to the command control centers of the Yugoslav armed forces?
  • A: I believe the Secretary General just a few moments ago indicated that he would expect the air exercise to take place in a very short period of time, and so I think that is something that is on track to take place soon. With respect to the planning, this is something that the military authorities have to give some detailed thought to, in terms of exactly what steps lead to other steps. This is not going to be any one step at a time. The military authorities have to take a comprehensive and well thought out examination of exactly what is involved before there is a commitment of military force into the region. So it will take some time. There is an acceleration of that time frame, there is a sense of urgency to it, and it had been hoped, obviously-President Clinton sent Ambassador Holbrooke to try to see if there couldn't be a negotiated settlement, so the administration has been actively involved in trying to promote a diplomatic solution. In the event that that has failed, then we have to look at other options. We're hoping that when Mr. Milosevic apparently is going to travel to Moscow soon, that he will at least have the understanding that NATO collectively feels very strongly about the issue, and hopefully, the Russians will also persuade him to seek a peaceful settlement.

Q: Mr. Secretary, are you going to talk about the Kosovo issue with Marshall Sergeyev tomorrow, on a bilateral basis? A: I think it will be on the agenda, yes. I will meet with him on a bilateral basis. I assume that other members will also meet with him on a bilateral basis, and the subject will undoubtedly come up during his own presentation to the PJC.

Q: How soon could the military options be ready for a decision, and are there any military options, which military options are being given priority?

A: First let me correct what I said, the PJC-it is the EAPC that is meeting tomorrow. But how soon they will be available, I really can't speculate. It will be within a short time frame. I believe that SACEUR will work with all of the military planners at this point to present a comprehensive examination and a series of option recommendations. I can't tell you how soon that will be, I think it will be in a relatively short time frame.

Q: Milosevic is someone who I suspect is probably very, very aware of what kind of fire power and air power that NATO already possesses. Are you confident that the mere display of an air exercise would be enough to dissuade this man to continue his campaign? Thank you.

A: I don't think anyone can predict what will impress or persuade Mr. Milosevic. We believe very strongly that we will send a signal, and that there is not only solidarity of opinion, but an ability to rapidly deploy forces that could engage in significant activity in a very short period of time. There is an expression in the United States that there is no educational value in the second kick of a mule. We think there is some educational value.

Q: You took note of the target first goals of three future members today. Are you happy with the extent to which they are going to implement these goals, and you are going to Warsaw, what would you like to discuss with the Polish authorities? Thank you.

A: What I would hope to discuss with the Polish authorities is ways in which we can be helpful, and helping them to achieve some of the reforms that will be necessary as they meet and measure up to the NATO standards. It will be my very first visit to Poland. I'm looking forward to it. But we will concentrate on obviously the NATO membership and reforms that can be implemented and ways in which the United States and NATO can be helpful.

Q: Sorry my first question was about target first goals of those three future members Poland, Czech Republic and you took note of them. Are you happy with the extent to which they are going to implement them?

A: The answer is yes. They gave a very fine presentations about their commitment to the force goals.

Q: At the risk of asking something a little on the margins of things here, Mr. Secretary, on Monday representatives of nearly every nation on earth are going to meet in Rome to try to hammer out to the creation of an international criminal court. The Pentagon has had strong misgivings about the creation of this court. What is the status at the moment of the Pentagon's view of this matter?

A: Well first of all the President is committed to the creation of an independent criminal court. But having said that there is also a genuine concern that such a court be very specific in terms of what its jurisdiction is , how it would exercise that jurisdiction, what the guidelines would be in terms of defining what would constitute a war crime. As far as the Pentagon is concerned, we are very much committed to making sure that there is one hundred percent protection for our forces which, after all, are deployed all over the globe. We are also certainly concerned that we make sure that there is no arbitrary exercise of jurisdiction that would in any way undermine our own judicial system. We have a mature recognized judicial system to handle any allegation dealing with war crimes, and we would not want to see that subordinated to international criminal court. So to the extent that there can be a formulation that takes into account the need to protect-not only the United States men and women who are in the service-but those of NATO members and those of Partnership for Peace. Any time you have military men and women who are deployed in foreign countries, they ought to have a full protection of the law. If the countries that they represent have mature judicial systems that can deal effectively with any allegation of misuse of power of allegation pertaining to war crimes. That should be recognized.