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DoD News Briefing: Secretary of Defense William J. Perry

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William J. Perry
July 25, 1995 12:00 PM EDT

Monday, July 24, 1995, noon

[At this event, Secretary Perry and others welcomed those attending the Defense Ministerial of the Americas, arriving at Langley Air Force Base, Langley, Virginia]

Secretary Perry: I am here to welcome defense ministers from thirty-four democracies of this hemisphere. In just a few minutes the Canadian Minister of Defense, my colleague David Collenette and I, will greet our colleagues from South America, Central America, and the Caribbean to begin this conference.

I would like to also introduce Mack McLarty who is here representing President Clinton, and Alice Watson, representing Secretary Christopher. The two of them were the prime movers in the Miami Summit. In that Summit last year, President Clinton and other heads of state focused on economic and social development. We see this meeting in Williamsburg as a follow-on to that Miami Summit meeting. A follow-on that focuses on mutual security, because that security provides the stability that is the foundation for economic development.

The major themes at this meeting are going to be confidence-building and security measures among the nations; defense cooperation after the Cold War; and how the military operates in a democracy. That involves issues of human rights, civil/military relations. This is going to be a very interesting meeting and we're really looking forward to it.

As democracies, we share a commitment to the welfare and security of the more than 600 million people in this hemisphere. And as neighbors, we share a commitment to work together to solve the common problems and to build a brighter future.

Now, with those opening comments, I'd be happy to take a few questions and David Collenette -- Minister Collenette -- has agreed to join me in this. I suspect some of you may have questions about Bosnia. I'll be willing to take those questions, but first of all, I want to focus on questions related to the Ministerial, or to hemispheric issues.

Q: Why isn't Cuba here?

Perry: That's a valid point of view, Charlie. Our judgment was that we should limit this conference to those nations which were democracies. We have more in common. We have a better chance of arriving at common views about how to approach the security problems that affect the issue, rather than having continual contention over these issues. But that was basically the judgment, that we should limit the attendance at the meeting to those nations in the hemisphere that are democracies. The only reason such a meeting was possible is because now

-- for almost the first time in history -- we have 34 nations in the hemisphere which are democracies.

Q: What does the average person on the street understand about this conference and what it's going to mean to them?

Perry: The average person on the street in the hemisphere should understand that we have more going with each other -- common economic interests, common social interests, common cultural interests -- and all of those depend on maintaining the security and stability which comes through our national security. Therefore, this gives us a chance to work together cooperatively for the benefit of all of these citizens -- all of these men in the street.

David, do you want to add anything to that issue?

Collenette: I'd just like to, first of all, concur with what Secretary Perry said in answer to this question. We're all vitally interlinked in this global society in which we're living and, whether it's on Bosnia, whether it's in dealing with our neighbors and allies in Latin and South America or in the Asia-Pacific, we have to learn to understand each other and initiatives of this nature are very important to further that understanding. And that's why Canada is very supportive of the Secretary's initiative in putting this particular conference together.

And, I might add, the Canadian defense policy -- the new defense policy which was published in a White Paper in December -- has broadened our traditional perspective from a wholly Euro-centric view to one which looks at the Asia-Pacific forum, and also to the Americas. Of course, with NAFTA, and with the potential of having the broader trade agreements in South America, it's vital that we have this broader understanding on all fronts, including defense policy.

Q: Are you just expecting open lines of communication, or are you looking for concrete goals?

Perry: I think, fundamentally, what I most hope to come out of this meeting is developing close working relationships with my colleagues. I'd like to develop working relationships with the ministers in South America and Central America, comparable to the working relationship that Mr. Collenette and I have had from the very first month that I became the Secretary. And this gives us an opportunity to develop those working relationships. But, in addition to that, we do have specific goals, and the confidence-building measures, and the ways of working together in cooperation in security areas. So it's a mixture of developing the personal relationships among the ministers and those specific goals.

Q: [On Bosnia] you've really drawn a line in the sand. I'm wondering if you both agree on where that line is? And, if you could explain to us what that line is exactly, because there have been various interpretations since the line was drawn on Friday.

Perry: The Friday meeting consisted of, I guess, 16 different nations -- the United Nations, NATO, the European Union. What came out of that meeting was an amazing consensus. That is, a unanimous agreement of all the nations that the status quo in Bosnia was unacceptable, and that stronger action had to be taken, and the first test of that action was whether we could stop... The first test of that action was stopping the Bosnian Serbs from attacking Gorazde. So that's not at the exclusion of all of the other objectives which the United Nations has had in Bosnia right along, to protect the other safe areas, for example. But the first, and most direct output of it, was the focus on the protection of Gorazde.

Now, in addition to the consensus of those 16 nations, a subset of those nations -- a very important subset -- resolved in a particular course of very strong military action -- namely, presenting an ultimatum to the Bosnian Serb government -- the Bosnian Serb officials -- that if they enter Gorazde, if they attack Gorazde -- they will be met with a major air campaign against them. That message was delivered by generals from the United States, United Kingdom and France to General Mladic last night in Belgrade. And that was very specific. That message was directed, specifically, at Gorazde, but it also reinforced the view that we continue to have our concern and we continue to take actions relative to the other safe areas as well.

Q: Secretary Perry, sir, does that specific warning on Gorazde, does that rule out possible heavy airstrikes in connection with continuing shelling of Sarajevo and attacks on Bihac?

Perry: It does not rule that out. Indeed, quite the contrary, we already have a United Nations and a NATO resolution that gives NATO the authority to attack heavy weapons, artillery, tanks, within the so-called exclusion zone a

20-kilometer circle around Sarajevo -- if those weapons are used for the bombardment of Sarajevo. So we already have authority in that direction. What is new about this authority is the extent to which it would be a major air campaign -- not a proportionate response. This would be a disproportionate response, and that could extend well beyond the neighborhood of Gorazde. It could extend over a much wider area.

Q: Will the response apply only to Gorazde?

Perry: The communique, which came out from the governments last night, said that we would take appropriate responses in the other safe areas. We are very precise and specific about what will be done in Gorazde because that is a new action. We have invoked the existing resolutions on safe areas relative to Bihac and Sarajevo. If it becomes necessary to extend additional authority to protect those safe areas, we would certainly consider doing that.

Q: Mr. Collenette, Canada has peacekeepers there. Do you think A) they should be withdrawn? B) it's been a bust putting them in there? And C) do you go along with the U.S. and other allies' actions since you have troops in there right now?

Collenette: Canada has always felt that the UN mission in Bosnia has achieved some considerable success -- despite the problems of the last couple of months -- in terms of saving people from death, mass murder; in bringing medical and food help. It's been very successful. But obviously, the mission has been ground to a halt in the last few weeks, and something has to be done. And the flagrant disregard by the Bosnian Serb faction against the will of the United Nations or the resolutions of the United Nations -- specifically, in dealing with the safe havens such as Srebrenica, Zepa, and Gorazde -- led us, of course, on Friday to take the actions the Secretary described. Canada was very supportive of the consensus as outlined by Mr. Rifkind.

But with respect to the point about being there at all, one point that should also be mentioned is that on Friday everyone agreed that the United Nations presence in Bosnia was vital, and that the UN should remain. The alternative would be too horrible to contemplate. So as far as Canada is concerned, we have been supportive of the mission. We have signed on for a specific tour of duty which has to be reviewed before the fall, and we have signed on to the specific consensus that emerged on Friday.

Q: Would Canada partcipate in an air campaign?

Collenette: That question hasn't arisen.

Q: Mr. Secretary, at what point in a Serb attack -- at what level of Serb attack -- would trigger the response that was announced and the threat delivered to General Mladic?

Perry: I'm not going to spell out the details of this ultimatum. It should be clear, though, that any attack -- any level of attack -- against Gorazde by the Bosnian Serbs will be inviting this response. I want to emphasize, though, we are not seeking or proposing an air campaign or airstrikes. What we are proposing is that the Serbians -- the Bosnian Serbs -- agree not to attack Gorazde, and that is a simple way for them to avoid this air campaign we're talking about.

I believe, and all of the ministers at the Friday meeting in London agreed, that there is no military solution in Bosnia. We're looking for a diplomatic solution. But we cannot let Gorazde fall, we cannot let further atrocities occur in Gorazde while we are talking. We have to, first of all, stabilize the military situation, and then we can get on with the...

Q: [Inaudible] if the AMERICA battle group leaves Hampton Roads for the Mediterranean -- and of course the Adriatic, too -- is there a chance that, during this critical time, you might hold the ROOSEVELT battle group that's over there due to be relieved, a little extra time to make sure you've got enough firepower over there for this critical time period?

Perry: I don't want to speculate on the future deployment of any of the American Forces. We have formidable, I'd say formidable, air power in the Adriatic and in the area today, not only the United States, but our allies who are joining us in this NATO operation. My own judgment is, we do not need to add, materially, to the numbers there. We may augment the force with some specialized kind of aircraft, particularly so-called SEAD aircraft Suppression of Enemy Air Defense-type aircraft. If we were to have to begin an air campaign, which I profoundly hope we do not, the first phase of that campaign would be disabling, dismembering the Bosnia Serb air defenses. We do not want to subject any of our aircraft to any unnecessary risk from the air defense system.

Thank you very much.

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