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Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, Pakhus (Readout of the Multilateral Ministerial), Copenhagen, Denmark, Saturday, June 13, 1998

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
June 13, 1998

Q: Can we ask you if there has been a time set for the exercise to take place?

A: Let me begin by saying that we just completed a very productive session of members that are in attendance, the Baltic States and Nordic friends, hosted by Minister Haekkerup. We discussed ways in which the individual countries can provide for their defense and how we can help provide information, and guidance in terms of potential membership in NATO itself. I thought that the studies that have been done we have conducted studies in the past to examine the individual countries, as far as the Baltic states are concerned, what measures have to be taken, what the priorities should be. Overall I thought we had a strong consensus that we have to focus on building the essentials: from the very basic requirements of equipment for NCO training, developing a noncommissioned officer corps, for training in the English language and for our ability to command and control communications. Basically, the fundamentals that each country would have to develop for its own national defense also would be important in setting the steps that they will have to climb for NATO membership. But I thought it was a very productive meeting, and I want to thank Minister Haekkerup for his leadership.

Now, I'll answer the first question.

Q: About the exercise. Has a time been set?

A: There has not been a specific time set. I talked with General Clark yesterday, and the key for an air demonstration, as such, or exercise will be determined by the number of people the countries will be committing to the exercise. The compatibility of making sure it is well organized and to be effective as possible. So that will be determined by the military authorities. And I would expect that to be resolved within the next several days.

Q: Would it be before or after Mr. Milosevic meets with President Yeltsin?

A: It could be either. It could be before but it might come after. I think there has been no set determination on that.

Q: Do you have a sense at this point of what U.S. aircraft will be involved in the exercise?

A: I don't. I have not talked other than at the level I mentioned, with General Clark who is tasked to go out and put together an air capability and demonstration.

Q: Have you signed any warning orders, or moved any assets at all to prepare for the possibility of taking part in the exercise?

A: I have not.

Q: On the Baltic question. Did you discuss with the Baltic states their arms needs, and what sort of priority will that have?

A: Well, as we discussed, all of the members agreed. This is not the time to be indulging in expenditures for highly sophisticated equipment as such, but rather to focus on the basics. That is, having well trained troops who are capable of inter-operating with NATO members, certainly through the PFP program, and other types of operations and exercises, sharing information, command and control communications, those types of systems. So basically to go at the fundamentals of military readiness, and those were the items we discussed.

Q: Regarding Kosovo. If President Milosevic doesn't bolt from the pressure what is then, in your opinion, the most probable military response?

A: Well, I think that we ought not to face that, and don't have to face that at this point as a result of the meeting in Brussels. There was undivided opinion on this. There was unanimous opinion on the part of the NATO members and I would say the Partnership of Peace members who attended the session yesterday. Some 62 or 63 countries were represented. It was unanimous that this violence must stop. I believe that unanimity of opinion will carry great weight with President Yeltsin when he meets with Milosevic on Tuesday to help persuade him that it's in Milosevic's interests to resolve this issue peacefully and that failure to do so would have very serious consequences. What those consequences are, and what form they will be remains to be determined. But I think you can assess from the statements coming out of the NATO Ministerial, and from the Contact Group, that there are a number of military options that are being looked at and that could be resorted to in the future. Its too early to say and hopefully they will not have to be used, but the examination of what those options are is under intense review right now, and I think Mr. Milosevic has to take that in account. The second point, I want to make, is that we have to be very careful that the UCK does not see the strength of NATO opinion on this matter, and that is within the Security Council, as in any way endorsing their efforts to gain independence. We support greater autonomy. We do not support independence. And we also have to remind them, that assuming that Mr. Milosevic does in fact cease from the utilization of force, overwhelming repressive force against innocent people, that this is not an opportunity for the UCK to exploit that cessation, and then to launch its own attacks. That will come at great consequence to them as well, in terms of the possibility of Milosevic then reacting militarily. We do not want to see that take place. And so we're trying to send the signal to the Kosovars that they must also consider seriously sitting down and negotiating this resolution peacefully.

Q: Several NATO countries have said that they won't participate in a military action unless there is a mandate from the UN. You said the exact opposite. Is this disagreement a problem?

A: No. There was an agreement that there should be a legal basis for any military action. There was a difference of opinion on the part of NATO members as to whether that means you must have Security Council authority. It is our position, the United States, that NATO should not be required to have Security Council mandates as a categorical imperative. Namely we think it's desirable, we think it can be very useful and very helpful and it would show that there is in fact united support for this kind of action. But NATO should not be required in each and every case to go to the UN for its authority. NATO should be in a position to make its own decision. NATO operates by consensus. That means that all of the countries have to ultimately agree or there is no action. But to subordinate NATO's concern for security, its security to the United Nations we think is unadvisable and not necessary. So there is a difference of opinion in terms of what the legal foundation is. Our opinion is that we can look to the UN charter itself and find sufficient legal basis, so that is an area of disagreement in terms of what the foundation should be. There is no disagreement that this action is condemned, and that there should be a sound legal basis for military action.

Q: Did you have any indications from the countries here that they will be participating in the exercise?

A: Well, I think that if a consensus is reached that there should be military action, I would think that some of the members would be willing to devote resources to that effort. We have, for example, participation in Bosnia on the part of Denmark, very active, as are the Norwegians, and others who are here today. The members are participating in peacekeeping operations. And I can't speak for them, you'd have to ask them individually what the reactions of their countries would be, but I think that we've seen demonstrations on the part of our friends here that when there was a crisis situation in the Gulf we had support. So I think looking at the situation in Kosovo, given the potential for it to destabilize other countries in the region, that the Baltic countries, the Nordic countries would be as helpful as they could. But that is up to each country, and you're better off asking them. They've been very helpful in peacekeeping wherever required, and I would expect that to continue. But it's a matter for them.

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