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Transcript : DoD News Briefing : Secretary of Defense William J. Perry

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William J. Perry
February 09, 1996 12:40 PM EDT

Tuesday, February 6, 1996 - 12:40 p.m.

[Secretary Perry addressed the Aspin Institute (Washington Institute for Near East Policy) on U.S. National Strategy in the Middle East]


Dr. Perry: Just prior to his untimely death, Les Aspin said, "These times demand that we challenge ourselves to think anew." Les was challenging us to think anew about our present security and to have the vision to think anew about security in the future as well. The Department of Defense has accepted Les' challenge.

As a result, my job as the Secretary of Defense has taken on a very different focus from that of previous secretaries. One example of new thinking that you may not be familiar with is the Defense Ministerials of the Americas, by which we reached out for the first time, really, to Central and South America.

Last July, we invited the defense leaders from 33 democratic countries of this hemisphere to come to Virginia to discuss security issues. Just a few years ago, the Defense Ministerial of Americas would have been truly unthinkable. Because our hemispheric colleagues were simply not interested in having such discussions. But, with democracy, peace, and market reform going into the neighborhood, we seized the opportunity to promote trust, cooperation, and security.

I was warned by many of my colleagues, particularly those who knew more about Central and South America than I, that the idea of trying to connect on security issues with Central and South American countries was a bust and that the ministerial would be a bust. They were wrong. The ministerial was a resounding success and one of the best indications of that is that one of the participants, Argentina, has already stepped forward and volunteered to host the second Defense Ministerial of Americas which will be in Argentina this coming October.

Another example -- oh, let me just make one other comment on Central and South America. I did something a few months ago which would not seem unusual. I made a visit to Mexico City to meet with the Mexican Minister of Defense. I want to point out to you something I'm sure you would never have guessed. This was the first time in history that an American Secretary of Defense had ever gone to Mexico to meet with his counterpart. We are making some changes and we are embodying some new thinking.

Another example of new thinking -- and one you're probably more familiar with -- is the Partnership for Peace, by which we reach out to the new democracies in central and eastern Europe. A few years ago, I never imagined that a Secretary of Defense would be welcoming troops from the Warsaw Pact nations to a joint training exercise in the United States. But, there I was, last fall, in Fort Polk, Louisiana standing on the reviewing stand watching platoon after platoon of troops march by from these former Warsaw Pact nations. There were the Baltic nations: Albania; Slavonia; Bulgaria; Romania. The Visegrad nations: Slovakia; the Czech Republic; Hungary; Poland. The Baltic nations: Latvia; Estonia; Lithuania. And, three Central Asian Republics, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Each of them carrying a flag and each marching by the reviewing stand alongside the American troops. Each of them getting ready for training with U.S. troops by day and sharing by night Po' Boy sandwiches with them.

This Partnership for Peace has become the most successful European security initiative since NATO itself was founded. It's only two years old, and we already have more than 40 members between the 16 NATO members and the roughly 27 Partner nations. It's helping us to work together for peace and stability, and it is encouraging those nations that want to join NATO to accelerate the reform in their countries -- not only in the military, but in economic and political reform as well.

One consequence of this new thinking is that I have visited over 40 countries in the last year as part of our strategy of forging new security relations in the interest of peace and in the interest of promoting democratic and military reform. Most of these 40 nations are ones which a Secretary of Defense has never visited before. Some of them did not even exist five or six or seven years ago. Now, in the course of these travels, I have had some remarkable culinary experiences. In Kazakhstan, the Minister of Defense served me the local delicacy, which was the ear off a pig. In China, the general from the Peoples Liberation Army served me rendered Manchurian toad fat. [Laughter] Not just Manchurian toad fat, but "rendered" Manchurian toad fat. [Laughter]. And, in Uzbekistan, the Minister of Defense served me shish-kabob and fermented mare's milk, while we were both listening to a song by an Uzbeki colonel who thought he was Frank Sinatra. [Laughter]

These examples illustrate Les Aspin's point when he said, "the old world of bipolar rigidity has been replaced by a new world of fluid complexity." And, I can't think of anything any more fluid complexity than those meals that I have been enjoying. [Laughter]

As Mike indicated in his introduction, I've just come back from a whirlwind trip to, first of all, to Hungary; Bosnia. It was associated with our troops that are based there. Then, to Ukraine; and then followed by stops in Oman, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Israel. On those latter four stops, I was accompanied by our new ambassador to Oman, Francis Cook [ph]. And, I see Francis here, today. Welcome. Every stop on this trip was a new lesson in Les' idea of fluid complexity and another example of how we are employing new thinking in our security strategies.


The most dramatic example can be found in Bosnia. We have a chance, after four years of terrible violence, to bring peace to Bosnia. In order to make this chance work, we have turned to our traditional security alliance, NATO, and have employed it in a new and untraditional role; peacekeeping. We've also taken the truly unprecedented step of inviting non-NATO nations to help NATO in this peacekeeping mission.

In fact, there are more non-NATO nations involved in the Bosnian operation than there are NATO nations. All 15 of the military -- of the NATO nations that have military forces are participating. But there are more than 15 non-NATO nations participating as well.

Included in these non-NATO nations is a truly historic joint mission between Russia and the United States. As we speak, there's a brigade of Russian soldiers operating in Bosnia in the American multinational division, reporting to General Nash, who is the commander of that division. I can hardly think of a more profound example of new thinking than having a Russian brigade operating in an American division in a peacekeeping mission in the Balkans. But, that is what is happening today.

The progress toward peace in Bosnia is moving along far better than any of us had ever expected. The warring parties are cooperating and meeting the requirements of the Dayton Agreement that deal with re-deploying the personnel and weapons. And, NATO itself is doing a superb job at separating the warring parties and making sure that the terms of the agreement are being met.

The key to NATO's success has been American leadership, and the courage and the talent of our servicemen and women who are deployed. I visited hundreds of them when I was in Bosnia. They are doing an absolute superb job. The morale and confidence are high. What we see -- what I had seen as problems -- weather, mines, flooding -- they saw as challenges. Challenges which they are overcoming with the true grit that is the hallmark of the American soldier.

When I landed at Tuzla, I was taking from our C-17 off to the Sava River, which was experiencing the greatest flood that has occurred this entire century. And our troops, just the day before, had finished building a pontoon bridge across that river after two weeks of very difficult effort. It turned out to be the longest platoon bridge ever built in history, and twice as long as our original plan, before the flooding started. We landed into Croatia and then walked across the bridge into Bosnia. And, about halfway across the bridge, I met 20 or 30 of the soldiers, the combat engineers who had built that bridge -- dirty, tired, but quite proud. And, one of them came forward -- his enlistment, his term was up -- and asked us to re-enlist him. And, so, General Joulwan and General Shalikashvili and I re-enlisted this sergeant in the U.S. Army for another four years. That's true gut. Believe me.

The chance we are taking for peace in Bosnia is not without risks, but consider the alternative if we do not take these risks. Without question, the war would start up again and the human tragedies of the past four years would repeat themselves. And, the threat to European and U.S. peace and security would grow even more menacing.

I left Bosnia and I went to the Ukraine, where I met with the Ukrainian and the Russian Ministers of Defense, which was -- I'm sure -- the first time in history that a Ukrainian and Russian and American defense minister had ever got together for a trilateral meeting.

What was even more remarkable is what we did while we were there, which was we all got into a Ukrainian airplane and flew out to the Pervomaisk missile site. The Pervomaisk is a site designated by the START treaty for decommissioning. And, this is my third time of visiting that site. The first time I went there, I went there to observe the removal of the warheads. That was in December of `94. I mean, March of `94.

In March of `95, I went to observe the removal of the missiles, and this time, I went to see the destruction of the silos. The Russian Defense Minister, the American Defense Minister, the Ukrainian Defense Minister -- each had a launch control key, and it was rigged up so that the three of us had to simultaneously turn these keys to cause the silos to explode -- which we did, and which it did.

A year ago, at Pervomaisk, there were 700 nuclear warheads, all aimed at targets in the United States. By this June, that missile field will have been converted to a wheat field. This is new thinking, and this new thinking without question benefits U.S. security.

These same kinds of dramatic security changes are happening

in the Middle East, where Israel is leading the region in taking carefully calculated risks in the hopes of securing a lasting peace. The whole world applauded when Israel made a historic agreements with the Palestinians and then with Jordan, and we strongly support Israel's bold attempt at making peace with Syria.

Israeli leaders also welcomed my announcement that the U.S. would supply a squadron of F-16 fighters to Jordan. A few years ago, Israel and Jordan were in a state of war and this weapons transfer would have been truly unthinkable. Today, it is another step towards regional peace.

Israel understands the important role that Jordan's ground forces play in the stability of the Kingdom and of the region and even backing the initiative with an offer to provide maintenance services to support Jordan's F-16 fighters. This is truly an example of new thinking by the Israeli government. Indeed, Prime Minister Rabin told me, just two weeks before his assassination, he said Jordan must receive the fruits of peace.

The United States will stand by Israel as it works boldly towards peace with friends like Jordan. We remain committed to Israel maintaining its qualitative edge in defense forces. I told Prime Minister Rabin, when he last visited here in the United States -- and I told Prime Minister Peres, in my visit to Israel, just a few weeks ago -- that I personally assure him that I would take every action necessary to assist Israel in maintaining its qualitative edge in the military.

We will continue to underwrite Israel's military with $1.8 billion dollars of foreign military funds, the largest assistance given to any country and we will strengthen our cooperative efforts to protect Israel by continuing our joint effort to further develop the Arrow anti-tactical missile system through a new commitment of $500 million dollars over the next three years.

The problem of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction continues to plague Israel, the Middle East, and indeed, the whole world. There is no lack of rogue nations seeking to acquire these weapons, to include the world's three most dangerous proliferators: Iraq, Iran, and Libya. These three countries are also well known as purveyors of terrorism, supporting extremists groups in an attempt to destabilize the moderate countries of the region.

I had the opportunity in Saudi Arabia to visit the workers and their families at the American Project Managers Office that was attacked with a terrorist bomb. This was in Riyadh, of course. These people knew the tragedy of terrorism firsthand. But, despite their loss and the suffering, they remained committed to the work of training the Saudi National Guard and helping bring peace and stability to the region. Their resolve is America's resolve as well. We will not let acts of terror intimidate us into abandoning our vital security partnerships in the Middle East.

Although violent extremism and proliferation present new and greater challenges, we must remain ready to face the conventional threat from Iraq and Iran. Iraq still has the largest military in the region and it shows no signs of foregoing its belligerent, aggressive stance towards its neighbors. Iran also has a growing military, and its aggressive posture near the Strait of Hormuz is a threat to the free passage of oil from the Gulf to the United States and friends and allies.


We have put in place a three-part strategy to deter and defend against the dual threats which we see from Iraq and Iran: First, we have deployed in the region powerful military forces in the form of air and naval assets;

Second, we have prepositioned equipment in the region with proven plans to fall in on that equipment. This includes the ground armored equipment, which our armored brigades exercise with and, in the matter of a few days, can join and become a formidable ground fighting force;

And, third, we have close bilateral security relationships with each of the countries in the region on helping them improve their own defense capabilities.

Our security relations with these countries are at an historic high. These countries support forward deployed U.S. forces by granting access to airfields and ports during peacetime, with contingencies for rapidly expanding this access during periods of increased tension or even outright hostilities. They're also allowing increased quantities of prepositioned equipment in the region, which could be used by forces rapidly deployed from the United States or other locations. The upshot of all of these initiatives is a dramatic improvement in the military capability in the region.

During DESERT STORM -- during DESERT SHIELD, more accurately, it took more than a month to insert a significant military force in the region. Today, it would take less than a week. And, this dramatic improvement in our own capabilities has been complemented by a growing willingness of the Gulf states to enhance their self-defense capabilities.

The three countries that I visited are good examples: Oman has one of the most professional militaries in the region, and they have committed to strengthening our security dialogue by agreeing to initiate a joint military commission this spring; Saudi Arabia has made significant improvements in their armed forces. It is looking to expand in its security contributions to the international arena by leading Islamic efforts to help Bosnia recover from the war, and has offered to send its own detachment of peacekeepers to serve with the NATO forces in Bosnia.

Jordan has already committed to participating in the NATO operation in Bosnia, and it was one of the leading contributors to the U.N. forces there as part of its growing commitment to be a contributor to security and stability wherever it can play a positive role. While I was in Jordan, I informed King Hussein that the U.S. was willing to provide a squadron of F-16 fighter planes that he had requested, along with a ground force package, which includes M-60 tanks. These, and other initiatives, promise to draw Jordan even closer to the international community in its efforts to promote peace.

Today, the Middle East is at a historic moment. Through the courage of leaders by Yitzhak Rabin, King Hussein, Shimon Peres, there is now a real chance not just for peace between two countries, there's a real chance for comprehensive peace. President Clinton is committed to doing everything possible to help bring about that peace. If lasting peace is achieved between Israel and Syria, we will work to broaden and deepen peace and security for all the nations of the region.

Abba Eban once said, "Men and nations do behave wisely once all other alternatives have been exhausted." Today, perhaps, the Middle East nations have finally exhausted the alternatives that resort to violence and will exercise the opportunity to behave wisely and find the path to peace. Thank you very much. [Applause]

Mr. Stein: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for that thoughtful and thought-provoking presentation. I understand you're able to take a few questions before you have to depart. We have a bit of a tradition here, where I rather softball at our guests. If I can build on one of the themes of your talk, last month when you were visiting Jordan, you not only underscored the strength of the new Israeli-Jordanian partnership and what America can do to foster that, you also indicated your support for the efforts that the King is taking toward building a more hopeful future in Iraq. Do you think that there are things that can be done by America, and America's allies, to hasten the day when we can have a post-Saddam Iraq.

"Softball," huh? [Laughter]


A: Yes. I think there are things which we and Jordan, and other nations of the region, can do to accelerate the demise of the present regime in Iraq. We are already cooperating in such actions. I'm not able to discuss the details of those actions. But they are -- we are cooperating in such programs already.

Q: Marvin Forrer [ph]. Mr. Secretary, there was no one more dedicated to U.S.-Israel's continued cooperation than your predecessor, Les Aspin. On your recent visit to Israel, there were press reports indicating you'd agreed with Prime Minister Peres to look more deeply at ways of enhancing U.S.-Israel's strategic relationship. Could you please outline for us your vision of where you hope those relations will be going in the coming years and, perhaps, what you hope to achieve this year in that relationship?

A: On the two principle points we discussed -- and discussed in some detail, in my meeting -- one of them had to do with what the United States can do to assure the continuing qualitative advantage of the Israeli military. We discussed that. I not only reaffirmed our nation's commitment, and my personal commitment to achieving that, but we discussed very specific plans and programs of how that can be achieved. And, I have a good feeling of confidence that it will be.

The second is, we responded to Prime Minister's Peres' proposal that he had made at his previous meeting in Washington, to start thinking about regional peace, a comprehensive peace, that could be possible if -- and there's a big "if" on this -- if an Israeli-Syrian peace agreement was reached. That is, I would have to say, in the conceptual and the thinking stages, but we are working together and thinking together with the Israelis about what form that comprehensive peace agreement -- or that comprehensive regional program should take.

I don't -- it would be premature to try to foreshadow what the results of those studies would be, but I do want to put some limits on it. And, that is, we're not -- I'm not imagining that anything like NATO would come out of this; a regional security. I think that's far over-reaching what could be achieved.

But, we are definitely looking at a program which would involve the whole region, or as much -- as many nations of the region that are willing to participate. And, that's the germ of Prime Minister Peres' idea, to extend this into region-wide security arrangement. Yes?

Q: Yacov Yakova [ph] here from Israel TV. Mr. Secretary, you have said a little bit more about the idea of stationing American troops in the Golan Heights, should Syria and Israel reach a peace agreement? What form -- what are the numbers? How far did Israel and the U United States discuss this question, or maybe with Syria, too?

A: The simple answer to your question is, "No, I can not elaborate on that." It is, at this stage, still hypothetical in that we don't have a peace agreement. And, that we certainly would have to have a peace agreement. [We know what the form of the peace agreement would take.]

In the peace agreement, it would have to be specified -- some form of peacekeeping and monitoring. We don't have that yet. And, then, from the point of view of the United States, we would have to have a request from both countries for the United States to participate.

Now, if all of those conditions are met, we are quite open to considering U.S. support for that. But, there is no -- nothing more than the hypothetical situation I've described to you. And, specifically -- to be very clear on this -- I did not discuss with the Israeli government what they envisioned for this support nor did I offer any particular form of support. So, I want to be very clear; this is still very much in the hypothetical stage.

Q: Steve Rosenfeld from the Washington Post. Sir, if the regime in Iraq is powerful and aggressive, and whose demise we would like to accelerate, then are we going to prevent Saddam from getting to sell oil through the humanitarian loophole [inaudible] the U.N.?

A: We have -- we support the U.N. initiative to allow Iraq to sell oil for humanitarian aids, under the proper supervision. To this point, Iraq has not agreed to that because they do not agree with the forms of supervision [we've] provided.

Our view is that we provided that the proper supervision can be put on those funds, so we have a reasonable assurance that they're being used for humanitarian purposes, we would continue to support that.

I see where your question is heading, that we would be -- to try to hasten the demise of the [inaudible], we should as much pressure as possible, even including the pressure which would include increasing the hardships on the people. We have not taken that step. We still support that U.N. initiative if it can be achieved with proper safeguards.

Q: Larry Goldman. Mr. Secretary.

A: Hi, Larry.

Q: Mr. Secretary, your predecessor, Les Aspin, coined the phrase the non-deterrables, speaking about certain countries in the world. And, you have coined that phrase from "MAD to MAS" mutually assured destruction to mutually assured security. Could you give us your vision of how you apply MAS not only to Russia, but to the so-called, "non-deterrables?"

A: Well, Les, as he often did, focused on a very important concept of security for today's world and when he defined his "non-deterrables" view. In many ways, that's the most difficult challenge in the security problems we face today compared with five or ten years ago. We have one important benefit compared to that time in that we believe that Russia today does not pose a nuclear threat, threat of nuclear warfare to the United States or other countries, even though it has the nuclear capability.

Our concern is that their nuclear weapons or some other nuclear weapons or technology could spread to countries which are truly non-deterrable. I mentioned three nations which could very well fall into that category, if not non-deterrable, at least, we may not know enough about how their calculations, their deterrence calculations work, to know how properly to deter them.

That says several things to me. First of all, we should try to understand better what might deter them, because I don't quite accept non-deterrables, because we don't understand what deters them. So, we should try to understand better.


And, secondly, we cannot give up our own deterrent capability, our own nuclear capability. We can reduce it dramatically, and we are reducing it dramatically. I do not see a prospect of ever bringing that down to zero in the foreseeable future.

And, third, we -- in my judgment, we have to be prepared to have defensive systems to defend against potential nuclear attacks from non-deterrable nations. That is why one of the -- our defense programs, which were originally focused on defending against a mass missile attack from the Soviet Union, have gone through dramatic changes, and now the focus of that program, which still continues -- the focus of that program is preventing -- is defending against medium-range missile attacks against U.S. forces deployed in-theater, or against allies. And, we will have -- we already have a system with limited capabilities deployed.

When I was in Saudi Arabia for example, one of the things I did was go to our Patriot battalion, which is at the Riyadh airfield. But, we are -- that system has limited capabilities, and it's not able to reach out and catch warheads until they're very near the target. It has what we call a "bloody-nose defense."

So, we're developing a next generation of systems, THAAD --

T-H-A-A-D -- is one of those systems, and it has the capability of being able to reach farther back into the trajectory and destroy the warhead in the missile before it comes close to target. We learned during DESERT STORM, something we, really, already understood in concept, but we saw it illustrated in DESERT STORM -- that destroying a missile over the target is of limited benefit, because the debris still falls on the target and it can still do damage.

But, defense has to be one aspect. Missile defense has to be one aspect of our defense program to deal with this non-deterrable problem.

Mr. Secretary, how seriously do you take the increasingly bellicose talk from China about Taiwan? And at what point could America become militarily involved in protecting Taiwan?

Q: Can you repeat the question, please?


Q: How seriously do you take the military threat to China -- from China, and your assessment of prospects or confrontation between China and Taiwan?

A: I do not see the prospects for military confrontation between China and Taiwan in the foreseeable future. But, I am concerned. I'm concerned about the military maneuvering that the Chinese are doing to, in not so subtle ways, threaten Taiwan, try to influence their election. I'm concerned about the military build-up that's going on in China today. I do not see that as a threat yet, but I am concerned about it.

Both of these -- we have to watch both of these very carefully, both what the Chinese are doing in developing their military capability and what they are saying and threatening relative to Taiwan or other neighbors.

In short answer to your question, Dan, is I do not anticipate military conflict from either of these, but nevertheless, it is a concern and something we will have to watch very carefully. If it takes a turn to the right, if it takes a dangerous turn, then that concern could be greatly accelerated. But, at this point, that's something we're concerned about and watching, but we do not see it as a threat.

Q: What is the nature of the American military commitment to Taiwan, if any?

A: Dan, I would refer you to the Taiwan Relations Act, which is the most concrete statement of that relation, I mean, of that commitment. In terms of going beyond that, I don't plan to do that. I will observe that our assistant secretary of defense last year -- Joe Nye

-- told the Chinese in his last meeting with them, just a few months ago, when he was asked, basically, the question, "What would you do if forces -- if we threatened Taiwan?" And, his answer was, "We don't know what we would do, and you don't -- because it's going to depend on the circumstances, and you don't know what we would do."

So, it does depend very much on the circumstances, and at this point, at least, with the present level of concern, but no imminent danger. I do not believe we will make a statement more definite than that.

Moderator: Mr. Secretary, I need to apologize to people that can't ask and I want to thank you very much for giving us such a provocative speech today. It's clear the Middle East, among all the regions of the world, remains not only at a height of our priority, but also a region that deserves our attention. And, on behalf of the institute, I want to thank you very much for joining us for this Les Aspin Lecture. [Applause]












Admiral Leighton Smith

Thursday, February 1, 1996

Dr. Perry:

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