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Media Availability at the Informal NATO Ministerial in Toronto, Canada

Presenters: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Henry Shelton
September 22, 1999

Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Henry Shelton

Bacon: You're seeing three people here: Secretary Cohen of the United States; General Hugh Shelton, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Sandy Vershbow, the U.S. Ambassador to NATO. Secretary Cohen has a brief statement, and I believe the Chairman does too, and then they'll take your questions.

Cohen: First, let me express our thanks to Minister Eggleton and the government of Canada for hosting what I consider to be a successful meeting. Minister Eggleton and I are both former mayors of our cities, but I have as yet been unsuccessful in getting all of the NATO defense ministers to meet in Bangor, Maine. That will be my next chore.

This meeting comes at an important time in NATO's history, as we are achieving significant results. In Toronto, we are laying a foundation to build a NATO that is more coordinated, more efficient, more effective and more modern.

We won in Kosovo because NATO countries were politically united, well commanded by General Clark and equipped with precision, all weather weapons. But Kosovo also taught us that the alliance must do more to augment its military capability.

At the Washington Summit, our heads of state agreed to a Defense Capabilities Initiative-the so-called DCI-and focused on the need to improve five core capabilities: mobility, sustainability, effective engagement, command, control and communications, and force survivability. Kosovo showed the need for progress in these areas, and there is a clear agreement at this conference that we have to move forward on all fronts.

In some cases, countries will have to spend more money. But in many cases, we can achieve improvements by working together and spending our defense budgets more intelligently. For instance, Germany has proposed a European mobility command that promises to lead to greater coordination in the movement of troops and equipment.

And there are other examples. The Alliance is studying ways to increase the use of commercial sea and airlift to improve military mobility. Italy and the United Kingdom are working together to create performance standards or benchmarks for measuring improvements in capabilities. NATO is developing a Multinational Joint Logistics Center to help the Alliance manage and deploy its assets more efficiently. NATO is developing a new architecture for a unified, modern communications capability.

Ministers hope to achieve progress in many of these areas at our December meeting, and I'd like to take this occasion to stress that the United States learned of shortfalls in its forces during Kosovo and we are working to correct them. For example, we are buying more C-17 transport planes and additional ships for carrying heavy equipment. We are developing new precision guided munitions and increasing supplies of others that are already in our inventory. We are looking at the increased use of commercial off the shelf technology to improve our ability to detect chemical and biological attacks.

At this meeting, we also discussed the planned force reductions in Bosnia, where NATO forces have brought security and stability. But NATO members want to do more than reduce forces. They are determined to find ways to enable forces from NATO nations to work together more efficiently at integrating command structures and logistics.

We all know that the Alliance is stronger than its strongest members. We will leave this meeting more unified about how to address the challenges of the future.

Mr. Chairman?

Shelton: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. As the Secretary said, today's meetings were about looking ahead to a NATO that is agile, mobile and an effective force for the 21st Century.

One of the most important lessons that we take away from Operation Allied Force is that the strength of NATO can only be harnessed through our interoperability. And the key to interoperability is found in the common capabilities in the DCI, or the Defense Capabilities Initiative. If all NATO nations, regardless of the size of their defense budgets, are guided by this shared vision, NATO will remain a preeminent force for peace and stability in Europe.

Thank you.

Bacon: Time for questions.

Q: Secretary Cohen, you say that in some cases they'll have to spend more money. But in some cases of European countries-I'm thinking specifically of Germany-there have been severe economic issues. Do you have some new plan to raise this apparent budgetary cap?

Cohen: Well, what we did discuss today is ways in which money can be spent more efficiently. For example, if we can reduce the amount of revenues devoted to operations and maintenance and devote it procurement, that is one way to stay within existing-and perhaps in this particular case, somewhat declining-budgets. But there are ways in which budgets can be restructured in order to eliminate some of the perhaps older systems-getting rid of some of those systems designed to combat a Soviet thrust across a central front, and to take those resources and apply it to kind of capabilities that we have outlined in the Washington Summit. So in some cases, nations will not be able to increase their defense budgets-they may even face some budget reductions. But devising ways and learning from what is being done in other countries, to reshape their militaries can produce some efficiencies.

Bacon: Elizabeth?

Q: Mr. Secretary, did any countries-any European countries-say that they would increase their defense budgets?

Cohen: There were, in fact-yes. There were, in fact, some starting at a fairly low level in terms of where they have to come from, but most of them indicated that they needed to address these issues, and some indicated that they would be looking to get increases, yes.

Q: Which countries are looking to get increases?

Cohen: I will let them speak for themselves.

Bacon: Do you have another question?

Q: Which were the countries that were planning to increase the use of the commercial sea and airlift? Which ones need to do that, need to make those changes?

Cohen: Well, I think all countries have to look to that as one way to deal with the strategic lift requirements. What we've indicated is that a number of countries already have legislation in their countries that will allow them to turn to commercial aircraft and vessels, commercial vessels. Not everyone has that. We did not identify which countries have that legislative-the laws on the books that allow them to do that. But it was a suggestion that, certainly, I and others made as a way to achieve what we need in the way of strategic airlift and sealift by calling upon the commercial sector to make available their aircraft and vessels in time of crisis.

Bacon: Yes?

Q: What kind of timeframe are we talking about? When will you be able to sit back and say "We've found the shortcomings, and we're ready to roll"? Is this a very long term thing, or...

Cohen: Some of it short term, and some of it's long term. There are things that can be done in the short term by looking at command, control and communications, for example. We found out during the Kosovo conflict that a number of countries did not have as secure communications as we want to have. And therefore, Milosevic's forces were either trying to or were successful in intercepting some of the communications, putting our pilots at risk. So there can be some rather short term goals achieved there, and also in the form of greater logistical support activities.

But there are long term goals. It's not going to happen overnight. These capabilities have been identified that we need to identify. It may take a number of years to finally fully fund and acquire [them].

Bacon: We have a question in back, from the Washington Post.

Q: In the war in Kosovo, much of the fighting was done, many of the air missions were done on the frontlines, by American planes using very advanced technology-technology which is not now in the hands and is not possessed by the other Allies. Do you think that the other Allies-particularly the larger countries-will have to get into the business of either buying or developing that very expensive, high technology? Or is that not what you envision? Do you envision that to continue to be the American role and that other people do other stuff?

Cohen: No. We envision the NATO countries acquiring what we call precision guided munitions. This was demonstrated during the Kosovo conflict, compared for example to Desert Storm, where most of the munitions that were dropped were not precision guided. Where most of those that were dropped during this campaign-certainly during the initial phases-were all precision guided. So we think that other NATO countries will have to acquire those; those that have them in short supply will have to replenish them and increase their inventories; those that do not have them, we hope that they will turn to them as well for the future.

The second point I would make, however, is you say they are very expensive, perhaps implying they're behind the range of acquisition by a number of countries. What we have found is that a number of the new precision guided munitions are actually quite inexpensive compared to existing stocks, and so as a result of our research and development activities, developing lower cost precision guided munitions which we think can be available to those who wish to acquire it or they can develop it on their own-either way.

Q: The munitions may be affordable, but they can't be delivered by a Mack truck, they have to be delivered by a fairly sophisticated airplanes with fairly sophisticated electronics and communications. You guys fight a very high-tech war. It's all part of it-the intelligence has to be there, the ability to communicate with satellites and everything-it all has to work together. Are you saying they also have to purchase all the stuff that goes along with precision munitions?

Cohen: No. And the point we tried to make is that not every country has to have exactly the same thing that every other country has. One of the reasons we are devoting so much time to developing this Defense Capabilities Initiative is to have an allocation of resources to fit the countries and what they can do and what would be best suited for their capabilities to be fully integrated into a future type of campaign. So we don't expect every country from small to medium to large to have the identical equipment that the United States or Great Britain or France or Germany or Italy might have. So it's really a question of balancing it and integrating it, but those countries that do have the capability of delivering it, I believe, will focus on delivering precision guided munitions. There was unaminity on that point.

Bacon: Over here, in the front row.

Q: Mr. Secretary, what about the relations between the members of the Alliance? There are some members-like Greece and Turkey, for example-that many times came close to having a war. Is there any improvement in the inter-relations of those countries?

Cohen: Well, first of all, I would point out that we had the support of both Greece and Turkey. And as a result of having their support, we were able to hold the Alliance together for this period of time of 78 days during the course of the air campaign. Whatever their differences, they understood the consequences of NATO succeeding, or failing to succeed, in this particular campaign. I would also point out that prior to the Kosovo conflict there were efforts underway to build a better relationship between Greece and Turkey. As a result of some tragedy striking Greece and Turkey in recent weeks, I think they are developing a closer coordination in dealing with human tragedy on a very direct level, and I think that also is building a better relationship or has the opportunity to build a better relationship between the two countries. So, I'm actually quite encouraged about their relationship.

Bacon: Here, in front.

Q: Mr. Secretary, there's been a great deal of discussion about strains on intelligence capabilities. Only France has a intel satellite of its own. Are the Europeans going to have to begin to invest in these very expensive, highly technical pieces of equipment?

Cohen: Well, there has to be a commitment to acquire aircraft which are intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft-the so-called ISR. We had a shortage of that capability and when you have a shortage of that capability, it also impacts on your ability to deliver precision guided munitions. So the two act in concert. So the short answer is that there has to be a greater acquisition of these aircraft whether they're developed in Europe or acquired from the United States. The requirement remains.

Q: And satellites, as well?

Cohen: Well, to the extent that we share satellite capability, what we've tried to point out is in this particular campaign, we had an example of intelligence from a variety of sources-including satellites-that are communicated directly to the shooter. And that allowed those aircraft to acquire that information from the satellites to the United States over our European commanders out to the pilots within a matter of seconds, allowing them to change targets while on the mission itself. And that's the kind of sharing of technology that we'll have to continue to have in the future.

Bacon: Yes, in back?

Q: Mr. Secretary, can I ask you two points. As a consequence of this meeting, can you tell us whether there will be any new overtures to tend to the Russian relationship, and secondly, how would you characterize the American position going into tomorrow's discussions about European defense?

Cohen: First, with respect to Russia. I was in Moscow recently, meeting with a variety of officials there, and spent two days, as a matter of fact-one day meeting with the officials, discussing the agreement on the part of the Russians to send a delegation of their experts to Colorado Springs in Colorado for a Y2K center, so there will be no misunderstandings at a time when we have the transition to the Year 2000. That was a very positive development.

Secondly, there was an agreement during the course of those meetings that the Russians would move on the agreed shared early warning center that we set up in Moscow. That too was a positive statement.

Third is that we continue to support the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, the so-called Nunn-Lugar legislation, which is very important, not only to the Russians, but to us as well, and to the NATO countries as well-all of us. And they very much support that. In fact, the first deputy minister, Mikalov traveled with me to northern Russia to witness some of the destruction of the Yankee class submarines and the Typhoon class submarines under the START I agreement, through the Cooperative Threat Reduction funds. So that all spoke well of reengagement on the part of the Russians with the United States. It is our hope that we will see a comparable reengagement with NATO itself, so we will see Minister Sergeyev return to the meetings in Brussels in December-that is our hope. But in the meantime we are also discussing with them on fairly regular basis now questions of how we can structure a national missile defense system within the ABM architecture, and what kind of modifications will be necessary in order to allow the United States to defend itself properly, should the President decide to make an employment decision in June or July of next year. So all of that I think is very encouraging as far as the Russians relating to the United States in a more proactive way.

A final point I'd make is that the Russian contingent in Kosovo is performing with great professionalism and competence. They have earned high marks from the COMKFOR commander, General Clark and others and so that's another indication of Russian soldiers serving side-by-side with Americans in the American sector as well as in Bosnia. So we believe that we have some overarching issues with the Russians, NATO does as well and we hope to get those back on track and they are in the process of being put back on track.

Q: ESDI...?

Cohen: Oh, I'm sorry, on the ESDI? We are supportive of the concept of ESDI. What we would insist upon, and there is no disagreement on this, is that the Transatlantic link remain strong, that the European Security and Defense Identity is not something that is a separate bureaucratic institution, but something constructed under the umbrella of NATO itself, that whatever developments take place under ESDI, there must be a transparency between NATO and EU, that there should be a sharing of information representatives from EU to NATO so that as ESDI is developed the capabilities remain constant with those identified in the Defense Capabilities Initiative so we don't have one set of requirements developing in Europe and a separate set for NATO which would lead to certainly a disassociation of those kind of requirements and capabilities. So with that as a caveat and I think that everyone agrees with that principle, that ESDI is something that will be valuable for the Europeans to start developing capabilities they currently do not have and they must be compatible and consistent with the NATO objectives.

Q: Two brief questions. One, what should the relationship between DCI and the normal NATO forces planning process be, my understanding was the DCI was something that was supposed to speed that up a little bit. The second questions is what do you think of the British Italian Benchmarking Initiative and specifically do you think it would be useful for those benchmarks to be quantitative rather than qualitative in nature?

Cohen: With respect to DCI, the purpose behind the initiative was in fact to identify those areas where we saw weaknesses and deficiencies and that was the initiative we talked about in Vilamoura last year. A year ago, as a matter of fact we raised the issue of DCI, we finally adopted it--developed it and then adopted it-at the Washington Summit. So it really is part of the NATO planning process, but to specifically identify those things that we all should commit to improving.

With respect to the British and Italian initiative we are basically supportive of it. I can't give you an answer in terms of whether it should be quantitative or qualitative since I don't have enough information about the details on it yet, but we generally are supportive of what both United Kingdom and Italy are seeking to do.

Q: Mr. Secretary do you think that DCI should be realized by its own agency or is that a proposal which you have abolished?

Cohen: What we would be concerned about is that we not see a new bureaucratic structure developed-instead of focusing upon capabilities that we start talking about a bureaucratic structure. I haven't reached any judgment in terms of whether it should be a DCI office as such headed up by a group of individuals, but I think as far as the concept is concerned we want to make sure that we don't spend all of our energy and resources into creating a bureaucratic structure and not focus on what the Defense Capabilities Initiative is designed to do and that is put the resources into all of the capabilities we identified.

Bacon: Yes, in the fourth row.

Q: What lessons did you learn from the Kosovo conflict in relation to the use of Apache attack helicopters in a regional conflict following the decision not to deploy them in Kosovo?

Cohen: Well I will let the Chairman have a chance to comment on that. Let me just briefly indicate that both the Chairman and I supported the deployment of the Apache helicopters into Albania. But you have to go back and look at the time of that deployment. At the time it was requested to deploy the Apaches, Milosevic's forces were tended to be out in the field, they were in fact open and visible, clearly identifiable, and they were congregating. By the time the Apaches were able to be deployed to Albania, given the fact that we were also deploying C-17 loads of humanitarian assistance to a very sparse and under-developed air strip, we found our military men and women up to their hips-virtually-in mud trying to move this equipment, humanitarian equipment, as well. That delayed the actual arrival and setting up of those Apaches for nearly a month. During that time Milosevic changed his tactics and went into a dispersal mode; therefore, the use of the Apaches under those circumstances would not have been as militarily effective as we were able to achieve by using other means, such as UAVs and A-10 attack aircraft. So the circumstances changed, the Apaches were there to be used at a time and place of General Clark's choosing, but the weather changed, the circumstances changed and he was able to have an additional capability which was not necessary to use at that time. Mr. Chairman, perhaps you can clarify what I just said.

Shelton: Well, I think you were very clear, Mr. Secretary, and answered that very thoroughly. I would add that the three things we always look at for sure when we look at what type of weapon systems to employ is the mission that we are going to have for it, the conditions under which we'll employ it, and the risk associated with it to the crew members or to the aircraft. I think the very positive lesson learned out of this is, as the Secretary said, conditions changed from the time that we made the decision to send the Apaches forward until they were ready to be employed. And we maintained situational awareness, so that in judging again the conditions that existed at the time that we might have decided to employ them, that the risks were not worth the gain at that point, but they remained available to General Clark to use as he saw fit. If the conditions and situation had changed and his recommendation would have been to use them. So the positive lesson learned is that we constantly monitored what the conditions were and made the decision based on it at that particular time. As it worked out, by the time we got the Apaches there, the air was being quite effective even against the forces on the ground and in Kosovo and so consequently we did not need to increase the risk to the airplanes or to the crew members by using them.

Q: Tonight there is a demonstration of Canadians of Serb origin and basically what they say is that you destroyed their country and they are asking you to rebuild it. So I would like to hear you on that please.

Cohen: You are addressing to me that we destroyed which country?

Q: Serbia

Cohen: We made it very clear to Mr. Milosevic that we were going to go after those targets which allowed him to reinforce his military, which allowed him to maintain his command and control, which allowed him to maintain a logistical supply line, all of those things that were important to his maintaining his military were going to be attacked. We did so, and I would say with great precision. We spent a great deal of time analyzing targets, reviewing what kind of "collateral damage" would be involved if they were attacked, which time of day or night, a lot of factors were involved in order to minimize harm to innocent civilians. So the amount of damage that was done to Milosevic was--in our judgment at least-was far less than what he was doing to the people in Kosovo. He was on full alert that these targets were going to be hit. So if he wanted to stop the destruction of these buildings, these bridges, these rail lines, other lines of communication, all he had to do was to abide by what he ultimately capitulated to and that was to pull his forces out, to allow the refugees and the displaced persons back in and to allow for the autonomy and the protection of the NATO force going into protect them. So whatever damage was done is done as the result of what Milosevic brought about himself.

Q: Any plan of rebuilding the country?

Cohen: No, the United States has no plan of participating in rebuilding of the country, certainly not as long as Milosevic is in power. What we have indicated is that certainly if there are humanitarian needs we would be responsive. We don't want to see innocent people go without medical supplies and other types of necessities. But we do not intend to be part of the rebuilding of Serbia.

Thank you very much.