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Secretary Cohen's Press Conference at NATO Headquarters, Brussels, Belgium

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
December 05, 2000

(Press conference at NATO Headquarters, Brussels, Belgium)

Cohen: Good evening. This is my last NATO ministerial, and I would like to use this occasion to talk about four years of decisions that have helped prepare NATO for the 21st century.

During the entire history of NATO -- and especially during the last four years -- the United States has seen its security firmly linked to the security of Europe.

It is a fundamental tenet of American foreign policy that the United States cannot be secure and prosperous unless Europe is secure and prosperous.

I believe that the next administration, whoever becomes president, will continue to adhere to that principle.

As a result of NATO's actions over the last four years, Europe has never been more secure.

The enlargement of the alliance, the expansion and maturation of the Partnership for Peace and the first steps toward building an effective relationship between Russia and NATO -- including shared peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Kosovo -- have expanded Europe's zone of stability and the Euro-Atlantic security community.

Last year, NATO used force to maintain stability in Europe by halting ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.

Operation Allied Force, while successful, revealed huge disparities in the military capabilities of NATO members and showed that significant new investment is necessary to improve NATO's ability to fight effectively as a unified, militarily modern alliance.

The Defense Capabilities Initiative, the so called DCI that was adopted at the Washington Summit last year, calls for concrete steps and investments to make NATO forces more effective, mobile and survivable.

The United States strongly supports the EU's efforts to create a rapid reaction capability that can deal swiftly and effectively with local challenges to Europe's security, where NATO itself is not engaged militarily.

Every European member of NATO will have only one set of forces and one defense budget, not one force and one budget for NATO and another force and military budget for the EU.

Therefore, I proposed, as part of the close NATO-EU link, a common defense planning process involving all 23 NATO and EU countries as the only logical, cost effective way to ensure the best possible coordination of limited forces and resources.

I also emphasized the need to assure the EU access to NATO operational planning machinery, which has proven itself in war and peace.

Assured access to NATO's operational planning has other advantages: it would provide a forum to work out the arrangements for the EU to use NATO assets in EU-led operations, and it would provide a flexible and generous approach to participation by non-EU allies.

Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has begun a transition from a collection of static, defensively postured forces into a cohesive combination of deployable, sustainable forces that can deal with a wide range of challenges to the Euro-Atlantic community.

The success of NATO rests on the fact that it is a military alliance with the clear purpose of keeping Europe and North America safe and secure.

It is not a political organization designed to balance competing agendas.

If NATO and the EU with its ESDP are seen as autonomous and competing institutions, rather than integrated, transparent and complementary ones, then NATO and collective security are likely to suffer, leaving North America and Europe alike to rely on uncoordinated, inefficient and ad hoc responses to destabilizing threats.

Such threats include ethnic rivalries, cyber-terrorists and those who would release vials of anthrax, smallpox, ebola, or some genetic monster cultivated in not so sterile laboratories. These terrorists of course would rejoice in the anarchy that their destruction could sow.

Benjamin Franklin was asked after the Constitutional Convention, "What have you given us?" And Franklin replied, "A republic, if you can keep it." What have the allies given to the people of North America and Europe, through the institution of NATO? Peace and security. And we can keep it if we care to keep it.

So I leave four years of NATO meetings confident that the Atlantic Alliance is up to the challenge of protecting and enhancing the security of Europe and North America as long as it remains unified and militarily effective.

I would like to take your questions.

Q: What you say seems simple enough. Why, a year after you announced to do this, is there no agreement? And what political agendas are you talking about? What about the reports that France might want to use this force with a non-cooperative planning group in order to erode U.S. influence on the continent?

Cohen: Well, what I have said at Birmingham and prior to Birmingham, was the need to support the creation of this EU rapid reaction capability provided -- provided that it was not seen as being in competition with NATO itself, that we should not have dual planning institutions. As I pointed out in testimony before Congress a year or more ago, what we need to avoid is the creation of new bureaucracies, but not have the capability that all of us have signed up to at the Washington Summit.

That was the question I raised, to make sure that we keep this clearly in front of all the NATO allies and EU members. That we need to measure up to the capabilities outlined at the Washington Summit and that any increases or any capabilities created through EU and the ESDP should be consistent with those of the Defense Capabilities Initiative. As far as any effort made to weaken the link between the United States, NATO and European security -- anyone who would suggest the creation of separate bureaucracies and planning organizations, I think, runs a danger of precisely what I have talked about for so long. So I don't know if anyone is doing that. I simply wanted to raise a warning flag, that while we see the need to create and we strongly support the creation of this capability, it should not come to be in competition or in conflict with NATO capabilities in the NATO institution itself.

Q: Why no agreement after a year?

Cohen: Well, because you have 19 countries at NATO and you have a number of countries who are not members of the EU who are NATO members, and a number of NATO members who are not EU, etc. It takes time to work our way through this and so a year's time -- as Secretary General Robertson has indicated, it is important that we get it right and if we don't get it right in terms of the authority, the responsibility and the capabilities, I think he used the word, that NATO would likely become irrelevant. And so I think all of us recognize the need that we get this process right as the EU develops its capability. That we make sure it's consonant with, complementary to and consistent with the goals of NATO itself.

Q: You used the term relic I believe.

Cohen: Well if you prefer Secretary General Robertson's word, irrelevant, I could use that as well. I think it means the same thing. I think it is important that it becomes relevant to 21st century threats. To do that we must have new capabilities, consistent capabilities, so that we can operate effectively together and not have duplicative or redundant planning and operational planning institutions.

Q: Mr. Secretary, just to clarify, your message is clear: there are benefits in this European initiative for the alliance as a whole if it goes right. Your warning, though, of the dangers of what could happen if it goes wrong. But just how serious are your concerns as you stand here today, that it could go wrong? I mean do you really believe it could go wrong with serious consequences?

Cohen: Well there are several things that we look to. Number one, I am reasonably confident that the NATO allies understand the need to modernize their forces, to shape them in a way that is consistent with the threats that have been identified as being the most likely type that we will confront.

Secondly, there has been some important progress made on the part of many of the allies to provide the kind of capabilities that were identified in the Defense Capability Initiative at the Washington Summit. What also has to be of concern, however, is that a number of allies are going in the opposite direction. Namely their budgets are remaining flat, or some are even decreasing in real terms.

Those are the dangers -- number one, on military capabilities that I have tried to call attention to for several years now.

Secondly, we want to make sure that this is an inclusive process, that non-EU members of NATO are not discriminated against or excluded from consideration as the EU -- through its ESDP plans -- do not in any way discriminate or exclude members of NATO in discussions, consultations, to make it an open, transparent, and inclusive process.

So the danger would be if it should start to be exclusive. If it starts to discriminate against non-EU members, then you run the risk of having a line, a division, which can cause fragmentation and a loss of that cohesion which is so critical to having a unified position for NATO members.

Q: Could you give us an assessment a year on with DCI? What do you feel is perhaps a creative solution to some of the capabilities needed when there is not enough money and also what gaps can you look to it at this point that need filling?

Cohen: Well there are a number of things that individual countries can do. They certainly can reform and reshape their military. Some will get smaller, but more mobile, more quickly deployable, more sustainable as such. All of the goals have been identified in the DCI. That can be done through some restructuring, some can be done through base closures, and consolidations which we have been through in the United States and which we need to go through in addition to achieve more savings. Some can be achieved through cooperative measures by joint efforts to procure certain specific items. Some can be done through transatlantic cooperation. But as I pointed out in my remarks to the NATO members today, you can not achieve the goals of the DCI, through savings alone. There must be increases in spending.

That is going to be required if we are going to do what we have to do in terms of achieving those goals. So a good deal can be done by purchasing off the shelf technology, commercially available technology, joining in some sort of joint ventures as such in terms of sharing the resources necessary to acquire certain types of capability. But ultimately, there has to be a commitment to defense spending and increases in that spending.

And that is why I pointed out it is incumbent upon us not to be led by public opinion but to shape it. That we have to remind the American people, the Canadians, all of the European members of NATO, of history's very stern lessons.

We do not want to see our forces in any way lose their capability and that requires sacrifice, that requires commitment. And a failure to try to shape public opinion to support adequate defense spending to deal with the threats that I mentioned, acts of terrorism -- we are familiar with that as are a number of countries -- of dealing with cyber terrorists who can shut down one's critical infrastructure, who can bring chaos and spread chaos in a nanosecond. We have to be protective and spend resources to develop that kind of protection for our information systems. Or the threat of biological or chemical warfare for our troops and indeed even our civilian populations.

Those threats have to be addressed. We need to remind our constituents and our people that the threats are real. That the capabilities we've identified as being deficient, and the time for correcting them does not grow longer, it grows shorter.

So that is the burden of leadership. That is what each elected official must do. That is what each minister defense must do in dealing with their foreign ministers, finance ministers and general parliaments. That is the burden of leadership that is necessary.

Q: Mr. Secretary, is an agreement setting forth in terms of the relationship between the EU and NATO such as you suggested, is that doable by the end of this year and if not, will it have to be negotiated from scratch by a new U.S. administration?

Cohen: I think it is achievable by the end of the year, but if it is not I doubt very much whether one has to go back to square one. There is solid support for proceeding along the lines that we have constructed. Namely, to have a rapidly deployable capability at some 60,000 person military that can respond to a crisis within a 60-day period and be sustainable for up to a year. All of that, I think, the members of NATO strongly endorse and support.

But they also support what I have outlined in my statement in Birmingham. Some have suggested that this is somehow a departure from Birmingham. This is entirely consistent with Birmingham and Birmingham was entirely consistent with everything that I have said to the United States Congress. And so there is no difference. This is the same statement that I made. I'm looking at it now: "It would highly ineffective, seriously wasteful of resources, contradictory of the basic principles of close NATO-EU cooperation that we hope to establish if NATO and the EU would proceed along the path of relying on autonomous force planning structures..." and on and on. So this is simply consistent with everything that I have said to date and I believe that all the members would continue to proceed along the path that we are currently on.

And I believe the next administration will see the benefit, as far as the U.S. administration, the next administration will see the benefit of building on what we have achieved to date if we don't resolve this by the end of the year.

Q: Was any progress made at this meeting towards an agreement? I mean were the details of how this relationship will work out, were they actually discussed, were there any agreements on issues on operational planning?

Cohen: At the ministerial level, there was general agreement along the lines that I have outlined. Some of our experts have been meeting all day and will continue to meet this week, next week, and to the end of the year. This matter obviously will be taken up by foreign ministers ultimately and hopefully there can be a decision by the end of the year. The experts have been meeting trying to work out any language differences that might exist and trying to make sure that we are completely clear in our goals, and if there is any ambiguity, to remove those ambiguities prior to resolution.

Q: Your French colleague, Alain Richard, says that he disagrees with you on planning. On smaller operations, the planning could be done by national headquarters of EU member states. I wonder if France is really the only ally that believes that this is the case. Is this an obstacle, which if removed would, by and large, clear the way to a quick agreement?

Cohen: Certainly, there is no intent to substitute for France's ability and need to examine its response to some kind of local crisis. But if we are talking about the use of NATO assets, then clearly this should be done within the NATO context and not through a separate bureaucratic planning structure. That would be contrary to the goals that have been set forward. I think there is virtual unanimity on this matter and hopefully the wording can be worked out so that there is no confusion about the need to have a unified planning approach as opposed to having separate bureaucracies.

Q: Mr. Secretary, my concern is you are all in a negotiation period now. But once this works its way out, how is it going to affect GI Joe on the ground?

Cohen: GI Joe on the ground.

Q: On the ground, especially in Europe.

Cohen: If you have a unified approach, if we have a situation in which there is coordination, cohesion and a singular approach to dealing with crises that I have identified that can evolve, that helps to eliminate confusion in time of crisis. If there is a deployment on the part of the EU where NATO chooses not to act, they certainly have total access to NATO assets and planning capabilities. It certainly removes this element of any doubt or confusion if you would to have separate bureaucratic systems.

And, if we have what I have advocated, and what all members advocate -- a consistency in terms of dedication of resources to capabilities consistent with NATO-identified initiatives -- then the person on the ground is going to have more capability to deal with the threats. To the extent that resources are devoted to bureaucracies but not to capabilities, then, as you mentioned, GI Joe on the ground is going to be at a disadvantage as opposed to having an advantage. So, we need to put the resources to capabilities, the capabilities for the EU, ESDI, ESDP must be consistent with those identified for NATO so they are complementary and not inconsistent.

As we have seen through the Kosovo operation, the fact that with all of our planning and all of our commitment to Article 5 operations, we found serious deficiencies in terms of compatibility when it came time to taking action. Fortunately we were able to overcome those, but we identified something we knew about prior to Kosovo, but the Kosovo Allied Force operation itself exposed those deficiencies. So, now is the time to measure up and to meet them. And you can do this by calling it an ESDP, if you want to call it an ESDP, but it must be consistent with those capabilities identified as being critical to the effectiveness of NATO operations. That will benefit GI Joe, or Jane, on the ground.

Q: The secretary general described the development of the ESDI or the ESDP with the speed of the light.

Cohen: Speed of what?

Q: Speed of the light.

Cohen: Lightning speed?

Q: Yes, in the last months. Is there any way that the U.S. can avoid this, or get things on track as you would like to have it?

Cohen: I must say I misunderstood you. If he said that we are moving with the speed of light, that is pretty fast.

Q: EU is moving with the speed of light in the last two months. Is there any way that the States can put things back on track as you would like?

Cohen: Well, what we have to be careful of is that we don't have a situation where NATO members who are not EU members are precluded from participating in some decisions because the EU has not made a decision. Then, the EU makes a decision, and NATO members are told that they cannot reverse an EU decision. So that is important that we avoid that type of conflict or inconsistency.

I think that anytime you are dealing with 19 democracies, that it is going to take time to work our way through in dealing with the EU. What we have talked about most recently is the ESDI which is fairly new, and merging these two in a compatible way I think it is important, as George Robertson said, to get it right.

I think that we are moving with deliberate speed, and we want to make sure that we don't sign up for something that there is confusion about. So in a time of crisis or in a time in future years, when budgets don't match the requirements, no one can say they didn't understand. So it is important they we do it right.

Q: In Europe it is often said that the French try to undermine NATO and the American influence in Europe with an EU-led force. Are you 100 percent sure that it is not their goal?

Cohen: The goal of all members of the NATO alliance is to remain effective in critical situations to promote the peace and stability of North America and Europe. That has been the goal for the last half-century; it is a stated goal for the next half-century and beyond. So I don't think any nation is determined to undermine the significance of what NATO has been able to accomplish because it does not work to the advantage of any country to have a weak NATO. A strong NATO means a strong and prosperous Europe, a strong and prosperous North America. All NATO members are dedicated to that.

Q: Mr. Secretary, [Russian Defense] Minister Sergeyev today repeated his strong opposition to any changes in the ABM treaty. Do you think he is speaking for the Russian government? Or do you see perhaps some conflicting political maneuvering going on within Russia because of confusion over security issues?

Cohen: It is really unclear exactly what the Russian policy is. They have stated in the past that they have strong opposition to a national missile defense system that the United States still has under research and development. We understand that.

Also, you must be mindful of the fact that when President Clinton went to Moscow to meet with President Putin, that President Putin charged Minister Sergeyev and me to examine ways in which we might be able to deal effectively with a national missile defense system. Upon my arrival in Moscow, General Yakolev, the head of the Strategic Rocket Forces, was quoted in the Moscow papers as saying that he believed, yes, there were between five and eight areas that were emerging as potential areas of concern in terms of missile proliferation.

We have heard other statements coming from General Yakolev most recently in terms of some sort of relationship between lower numbers as far as strategic systems are concerned in exchange for having a defensive capability.

We also heard today that Minister Sergeyev has talked about the need for NATO and Russia to cooperate on theater missile defense systems because of the proliferation of short-range and medium-range missiles. It is important to keep that in mind, and we want to explore cooperation with Russia on theater missile defense systems.

At the same time, there is a proliferation of long-range missile systems, which calls into question the need for having a limited type of national missile defense system. So, the United States will continue to do the R&D, we will continue to talk with our colleagues and we will continue to work with the Russians, but ultimately the United States must make a determination for itself.

We hope to do it within the context of the ABM Treaty, that it can be modified to accommodate our needs as well as those of Russia and others -- Europe and NATO members -- but I think we have to wait and see how this unfolds in the future in terms of a consistent policy on the part of Russia.

They have indicated they are opposed to any changes. At the same time they have sent signals that there is an emerging threat that we will all have to contend with in the development and proliferation of long-range missiles in the hands of states that formerly did not have them.

Thank you very much.

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