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Joint Press Conference with SecDef Cohen & MOD Scharping of Germany

Presenters: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and Minister of Defense Rudolf Scharping, FRG
November 24, 1998

Secretary Cohen: Good morning.

It gives me great pleasure to welcome Rudolf Scharping to the Pentagon as Minister of Defense. He has been here on quite a few occasions in the past, but not in this capacity. He's a new colleague, but I might say he's an old friend. For many years we have attended the Wehrkunde Conference in Munich, and each of us has been called upon to speak in our prior capacities, certainly.

The defense relationship between the United States and Germany is fundamental to the strength of the NATO alliance itself and to the security of Europe.

At our meeting today we reviewed a range of important bilateral alliance issues. We discussed the Defense Capabilities Initiative that emerged from the Norfolk Conference, and the relationship between the core capabilities of mobility, effective engagement, survivability, and sustainability and the German Defense Review that Minister Scharping has launched.

We discussed next year's Washington Summit to mark the 50th Anniversary of NATO's founding, and to welcome the new members.

We reiterated our commitment to NATO's enlargement, the open door policy, but stressed that the new members must meet high standards.

We discussed NATO's nuclear policy, and I made it clear that the United States opposes any change in this policy because we believe that the current doctrine serves to preserve the peace and to enhance deterrence.

In particular, the alliance's nuclear forces continue to fulfill an essential role by ensuring uncertainty in the mind of any aggressor about the nature of the allies' response to military aggression, and because the strategy continues to serve NATO's interests, there's no reason to consider changing it.

In our discussion, Minister Scharping explained the German position and said that Germany has no intention to question these core elements of NATO's strategy and that Germany remains prepared to contribute to the nuclear element of NATO's strategy. I welcome these statements.

Finally, we discussed the current situation in Bosnia and Kosovo -- two places where German contributions are helping to restore stability. In Kosovo we agreed that both the Serb and Albania sides must show restraint while moving toward a political settlement.

Our meeting today was warm, productive. I look forward to working with Minister Scharping in the spirit that makes Germany and the United States strong friends and allies.

Minister Scharping: Ladies and gentlemen, we talked about the bilateral relations between Germany and the United States and that is a very solid, a very good relationship; also, indispensable for our future based on common values, based on common interests, based on a common heritage.

NATO is the most successful alliance we have ever seen in history, so the main goal of our government in Germany is to strengthen NATO and its cohesion, and to make NATO able to face the challenges for the next century. We are expecting a successful summit here at Washington not only in strengthening NATO in its cohesion but enlarging it, too. After that enlargement by three new members we need a phase of consolidation within NATO so that we have to combine an open door policy on the one side with that phase of consolidation on the other side.

Concerning international issues, we are fully agreeing that, for example, in Bosnia, for example in Kosovo, we will be engaged to solve problems and prevent conflicts. Especially in Kosovo it's necessary to take that small window of opportunity which is given by the Milosevic/Holbrooke agreement on the one side and the development in the last few days on the other side. But there are some risks because of Milosevic and his policy on the one side and the UCK on the other side. That is why we are establishing not only the USCE mission to verify that agreement on the ground, but also to have an air verification and to have an extraction force led by France and within the command chain of NATO.

Concerning NATO strategy, we agree commonly that NATO not only has to face the challenges of the next century but NATO must be developed in terms of interoperability, deployability, maintainability, sustainability of its forces and its engagements.

Concerning the no first use point, I explained that the German government on the United Nations level for the whole globe is following the vision of a nuclear weapons free world, but on the other side we are debating about NATO and its strategy. I made clear that any conclusion must be drawn in consensus. I also made clear that there is no intention to take unilateral decisions which have an impact on the security of the alliance.

And as Secretary Cohen said, there is no intention in my government to question any core element of NATO's strategy including the fact that nuclear forces play a fundamental political role -- although the necessity to use them may be extremely remote as it is written down in the actual NATO strategy.

I think it was a very fruitful bilateral talk among partners who know each other for a long time, and I'm looking forward to having close contacts with the United States and with my colleague Bill Cohen, and among the two governments.

Q: Minister Scharping, might I ask, you seemed a bit embarrassed yesterday when this issue broke about the no first use of nuclear weapons. Both you and the Secretary have said that the German government has no intention of questioning the core policy of NATO over nuclear weapons.

Does your government, however, intend to formally push for a change in the NATO first use policy of nuclear weapons?

Minister Scharping: Well, in my understanding, NATO itself is a no first use organization for common security. We are saying all our weapons, all our weapons we will not use first. Only in the case of defense. And as I said, and it's our common understanding, that the nuclear element within NATO strategy plays an eminent political role and it will play such a role in the future, too.

It's different if you are looking on a global level and if you are looking on the strategic concept of NATO because we have to act within a world which is not the world we wish. But it's the world we have to deal with.

Q: Are you saying then that you will or will not push for a change in NATO...

Minister Scharping: As I said, there was some talk about it, but at least the decision and consensus based on that main goal to strengthen NATO in its cohesion and not to go any way, Germany on its own.

I saw a statement saying that the security situation with Germany is a unique one in Germany's history. That's right. In the future we will be surrounded by partners and allies which is the first time in German history since many, many centuries.

Q: I take it you're not willing to create a rift.

Minister Scharping: I understand, but we are not debating German security strategy, we are debating NATO's strategic concept, and that's a different thing.

Q: Secretary Cohen, Minister Scharping made clear he wants no changes in the core security elements while Foreign Minister Fischer made a move toward NATO Secretary General. In your view, who's speaking for the Germany government here?

Secretary Cohen: I think it's up to the German government to articulate and explain who's speaking for it itself.

Based on my conversations with Minister Scharping, I think that we have a meeting of the minds that the strategic concept is critical for NATO's security, that the strategic concept as far as the nuclear component should not be altered. It has worked well to date. We believe it continues to serve a vital security purpose for the NATO organization and should not be changed.

Whether or not there is debate at other levels of the German government, it's clear from our perspective that we should adhere to the policy we currently have and not change it.

Q: Secretary Cohen, a question about U.S. defense spending. Is it now generally conceded that the Pentagon's budget is underfunded, and will it take a significant increase in defense spending to correct the readiness problems that you're now experiencing?

Secretary Cohen: I think we've indicated, Jamie in the past -- the President met with the Joint Chiefs and also with the CINCs back in August and it became clear during the course of that meeting, and even prior, that we needed to have some relief from the budgetary constraints in order to make sure that readiness does not fall below levels that are acceptable, and that we continue on our modernization pace.

We are now in the process of putting together our budget. We're working very closely with OMB and hope to have that budget prepared, certainly by the middle of December if not the end of December. But we're looking to make sure that the readiness does not fall below acceptable levels.

The President has indicated he wanted me to work with OMB and the Congress to make sure that we are funded at levels that meet our needs.

Q: Just a quick follow-up, will you be proposing a reform or an increase in retirement pay for military personnel?

Secretary Cohen: As I've indicated, the retirement issue is one that is of paramount interest to our men and women in uniform. Pay and retirement are two of the top issues, as well as operational tempo. We intend to address all three issues, but certainly the pay and the retirement.

Q: A question for Minister Scharping.

Do you consider what you described yesterday as an irritation to be resolved? And will you address when you come home tomorrow this issue in the Cabinet meeting? Will you talk directly to Minister Fischer to provide further clarification?

Minister Scharping: We will meet tomorrow at Berlin and I think that will be a good chance to talk with my colleague Fischer.

Q: Minister Scharping, on defense consolidations, what are your views about transatlantic consolidations between the United States and German defense companies? Are there many opportunities you see for consolidation?

Minister Scharping: I see some opportunities, but I get some information to Bill Cohen saying that during the last WEU Ministers Council we decided about a master plan to develop a European Armament Agency which is an important step on the demand side. Also we are pressing on the point to the success of the European defense industry which is a little bit difficult because some countries do have private owned defense industries, others state owned defense industries.

In my view it's necessary to go ahead in restructuring the European defense industry. Both the European Armaments Agency on the one side, a restructured European defense industry on the other side, are co-elements of a European defense and security identity within NATO. And that is, in our view, a very important point.

We do not want to have any element which is weakening NATO so we do not want to have double structures between WEU or among WEU and NATO. Separable but not separate. That's the point.

Q: Secretary Scharping seemed to play down the differences a little bit by saying all our weapons will not be used first. I understood Secretary Cohen's remarks yesterday that this option should remain, that it has been proved to be worthwhile. So a question to both of you, how do these different readings fit together? I obviously don't understand the sophistication.

Secretary Cohen: The distinction should not be one that's too metaphysical to describe. On the one hand, Minister Scharping has indicated that NATO, as an organization, is a defensive organization. It is not designed nor intended to be used as an offensive military organization. It's primarily designed to defend the members of NATO itself. That is the sense in which Minister Scharping referred to a policy of defensive use.

But within that concept we reserve the right to call upon whatever armaments we have that would protect and preserve the integrity of the members of that organization.

So on the one hand it's defensive in nature. It is not intended to attack. It is intended to defend. And how we choose to defend will continue to call upon all armaments including nuclear, if necessary, and that's a judgment that NATO would reserve for itself.

Q: Mr. Secretary, are the U.S. forces in the Gulf going to have a quiet Thanksgiving?

Secretary Cohen: A lot depends upon how much progress is going to be made on the part of the Iraqis cooperating with UNSCOM. We are following it day by day very closely. Thus far we've seen the Iraqis claim that they have fully cooperated. I think that is clearly in doubt. It's clearly in doubt in the minds of the UNSCOM inspectors. They have asked for and demanded a number of documents. They have yet to receive them. They have been told that they either have been destroyed or they're irrelevant. I don't believe that Iraq should be in the position of declaring unilaterally that documents are irrelevant to the needs and requests of the UNSCOM inspectors.

So we will continue to follow it, but much depends upon the level and degree of cooperation on the part of the Iraqis.

Q: Are you maintaining the increased number of aircraft there for the time being?

Secretary Cohen: For the time being there will be an increased level of aircraft. There is a changeover taking place with our carrier battle groups, but nonetheless, we have added additional aircraft to the region and they will remain for the time being.

Q: Mr. Secretary, how did you answer the German request for maintaining funding for the MEADS air defense system?

Secretary Cohen: We indicated that it's still under review. We understand the importance that Germany and Italy place upon this particular program. We've looked at the costs of the program. We're trying to find ways in which perhaps it can be reformulated in a way that's acceptable to all parties and affordable. So that's something that's going to continue to be discussed.

We'll have more talks on this at lunch. We have Mr. Jack Gansler who has met with his counterpart in Germany to discuss this. So we're hopeful we can resolve it soon.

Q: Minister Cohen, there is a meeting today with Iraqi opposition leaders in London with a representative of the U.S. government. Many of those groups have said they don't exactly understand what it is the United States is really trying to offer them. Can you help define what the United States is willing to do to support the Iraqi opposition?

Secretary Cohen: First, the United States is going to be working with key members of Congress in order to work our way through the congressional action that was taken by proposing and appropriating some $97 million to work with opposition groups.

As I indicated last week, the purpose would be to take this step by step to make sure that we are not proceeding with great haste and without a serious evaluation of the opposition groups to make sure they are broad based and support democratic reforms, and have credibility and reliability in putting such an opposition group together. That's going to take some time. It's not something that's going to resolve in the short term.

So we're looking at this carefully. We'll work with key members of Congress to make that determination.

Press: Thank you.

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