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Press Conference with Secretary Cohen and Minister Lower, Oslo, Norway

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
July 12, 1999

Press Conference in Oslo Norway with Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and Norwegian Minister of Defense Eldbjorg Lower

Norwegian Ministry of Defense Spokesman Runar Todok: I think that both the Ministers are ready to give a few introductory comments after this one hour bilateral meeting. I give the word to our Minister, Eldbjorg Lower.

Minister Lower: Thank you. Secretary Cohen and I have just finished one hour of fruitful bilateral talks. During our discussions we have covered a variety of defense topics, and found a lot of common ground, confirming that our bilateral relations are indeed very good, and that we are ready to continue along the same track. As far as topics are concerned, we have emphasized issues within NATO cooperation, in the implementation of defense and related initiatives in the wake of the Washington summit, we have discussed the DCI, we have agreed to work hard to prepare satisfactory arrangements for the ESDI and a number of issues pertained to upholding the cohesion of the North Atlantic Alliance. Furthermore we have touched upon the situation in Kosovo, and the deployments of KFOR. We also addressed the important issue of armaments cooperation between our countries, and found that there is sound basis for continued cooperation within different areas. Thank you.

Secretary Cohen: Madame Minister, you have left me with very little to say since you covered virtually everything we talked about for the past hour. But let me once again thank you for hosting a very successful meeting, I enjoyed having the opportunity to meet with you during the Washington summit, and to be able to follow up that meeting with the very successful meeting today.

Next year Norway is going to celebrate her first millennium and begin her second, and while the rest of the world recovers from its Y2K either joy or sorrow, we want to pause and think about Norway's commitment to fairness, and to freedom, and to peace through strength. These values have kept Norway secure and they have made Norway and the United States great friends and enduring allies. It's our shared commitment to defense that can be measured by one very simple fact; the United States and Norway spend more money per capita on defense than any other NATO country. And what's more, Norway devotes an unusually large share of her defense budget to procurement, and so Norway is well positioned to meet the goals of NATO's Defense Capabilities Initiative. As Madame Minister has pointed out, we covered a wide variety of topics, including Norway's modernization program, our shared determination to improve security, consultations between NATO and Russia, and the situation in Kosovo. I'm particularly pleased that Norway is preparing to send a substantial peacekeeping force to Kosovo on top of the troops it already has in Bosnia. I think it's sometimes tempting to take good allies for granted - that's not the case between Norway and the United States. We want to assure you that the United States is grateful for Norway's unbending commitment to a strong NATO and a secure Europe. To Mr. Diamond, I hope that has given you enough philosophical fodder for your weekend column (laughter).

Q: I'm afraid not (laughter).

Q: Secretary Cohen, earlier today we heard about some of the troop requirements from the NATO countries, and we noticed that some of them were in August and even into September. Is that fast enough? Are you satisfied with the troops moving in soon enough, and would you do anything to (inaudible)?

Secretary Cohen: As a matter of fact, I did raise the issue of the need to accelerate as much as we possibly can the full deployment of those forces that have been contributed to the KFOR mission. We have roughly 28,000 forces out of the 52-plus thousand that will be committed to Kosovo that are currently there. We have to balance the need to accelerate the deployment of those forces with the need to make sure that they are properly trained. And so each individual country, both NATO and non-NATO members who are contributing forces there, must undertake to make sure that their forces are adequately prepared and trained to go into Kosovo, and to measure and balance those two competing interests right now. We think we have a good portion of forces underway, but more needs to be done sooner, so that there will be no significant gap in terms of what is needed to maintain the peace that has been established. So we did discuss it, and I did raise it, but we also have to take into account proper training. That's one reason that you and I and others in the room were in Denmark yesterday, to witness a live fire and a demonstration that those Danish forces who are prepared to go to Kosovo will go in three weeks, but they were in the process of completing the training necessary for them to be effective and secure in that environment. So, we think more has to be done, we have to increase that as much as we can consistent with protecting the troops that are going.

Q: If I may follow up, NATO is an alliance that has been in effect for more than 50 years. It's been conducting exercises and training repeatedly all that time. Why aren't these troops ready to go now? Does this suggest a readiness problem in that some NATO troops aren't ready to respond evenly from NATO countries even with small contingencies of troops (inaudible)?

Secretary Cohen: As we've pointed out on so many occasions in that past, peacekeeping is not a primary mission, certainly of the U.S. forces, and I suspect that is the case for many of the other NATO countries as well. Peacekeeping involves a different type of training, and capabilities. What we need to do is to have more police on call, ready to deploy to Kosovo, as they were required to be deployed into Bosnia, we need much more in the way of civil implementation than is currently taking place. But the forces that are trained are trained for a different type of mission, or have been trained for a different type of mission, and so there has been some gap in sense of the training for the peacekeeping mission which is not necessarily consistent with the warfighting mission we've had in the past.

Q: (inaudible)... why weren't these troop being trained all along? Why wait until after the end of the war?

Secretary Cohen: Each nation will have to account for itself in terms of its forces. Many of the forces are committed in substantial numbers to other areas, for example the British have substantial commitments to Northern Ireland, they are committed to Cyprus and to other areas, and so this does represent a significant contribution on the part of individual members to the Kosovo operation as they are also committed to Bosnia itself. Not every nation is fully prepared with their forces to go into Kosovo, so it's taking some time. I think each country will have to answer for itself on that.

Q: Mr. Cohen, as you know Norway is about to buy new fighters for its Air Force. How strongly have you recommended the U.S. F16 contra the Eurofighter which is produced in Europe?

Secretary Cohen: Well, I have a somewhat biased opinion (laughter) but I believe the F16 is clearly a superior aircraft to any of its competitors.

Q: In what way should Norway participate in NATO in the future? What would you expect from Norway and Norwegian troops (inaudible) ?

Secretary Cohen: Well, Norway has been a very valuable member of NATO, as I pointed out in my remarks, they performed admirably during the Kosovo conflict, their F-16s were flying alongside U.S. and other NATO aircraft, carrying the air campaign's mission. They have contributed and are about to contribute forces to the KFOR mission, they are already engaged in Bosnia, they have contributed generously to help the refugees, so I think Norway has measured up to its full responsibilities, and I would expect it would want to continue to do so in the future. But perhaps your own minister might have some comments about what she foresees as Norway's future in NATO.

(To Minister Lower) I'm trying to get you involved in this (laughter).

Minister Lower responded in Norwegian.

Q: Our neighboring countries here, Sweden and Denmark, are in the process of dramatically cutting down the defense forces. Do you think that's prudent in this international climate?

Secretary Cohen: Many countries are in the process of reforming their militaries. The United States for example, at the end of the Cold War, downsized its military. Each of the countries will have to decide what is in its best interests in terms of making the forces more flexible, lighter, more easily deployable, more capable inflicting lethal harm to the enemy, all of the issues involved in the so-called Defense Capabilities Initiative. I think that there is a point of diminishing returns, no doubt, that if there is a continued reduction in the size of the force, and a continuing reduction in the size of the defense spending, that will lead to a growing gap in capability between the United States and other NATO members, and that's something we should strive to avoid. It's an issue that I have raised as well as others, in the NATO meetings, and its something we have to keep a very vigilant eye on, to make sure that there is a sufficient commitment to responsible defense spending, in view of the fact that we have these commitments and are likely to have need for these kinds of forces in the future.

Q: Mr. Secretary, do you see the Kosovo conflict as a lack of security in Yugoslavia as really the end of the line for this series of civil wars? One of the ministers mentioned the idea that there could be other national collapses that NATO would have to respond to. Do you see that kind of NATO responding to internal collapses in Europe or areas right around Europe as an important mission for NATO?

Secretary Cohen: I don't have the prophetic powers to look beyond the horizon to see which other nations might be in a state of collapse, or so-called "failed" state. I think the reason and rationale we have used for NATO enlargement in the past, and an argument that I think still holds, is that with NATO membership, we promote stability, democracy, and the prospect of prosperity. Those become self enforcing, and that is one of the reasons, among others, that many countries wish to seek NATO membership. I think it is incumbent upon all of us to try to promote security and prosperity for as many countries as possible, as well as a free and open market so that the circle of prosperity can be widened, thereby diminishing the chances that there will be the types of conflicts that we have seen in the past; with respect to the kind of ethnic conflict that we have seen generated in Kosovo and Bosnia. I think that the discussion that took place this morning with the Baltic states, and it was mentioned at that time by Hans Haekkerup this morning and at noon, that perhaps they will serve as the model of how they have dealt with their ethnic minorities, in a way that is civilized, responsible, humane, and working through differences in a fashion that is consistent with being a civilized nation. So, hopefully countries can learn from what has taken place with this horrible program of ethnic cleansing and purging and see that there is a better way. Certainly it is imperative that we do not see this take place again in the future. To the extent that we can promote greater cooperation through various forums: NATO, E.U., and other types of institutional mechanisms, we hope to avoid a future Bosnia. I don't think anyone can tell you what type, or how many states will fail in the future, and what that might entail for any kind of NATO or E.U. action.

Q: I would like to quickly follow up. There was a lot of talk that NATO gained ground and that the Kosovo effort could turn into a disaster that NATO couldn't survive. Do you find that (inaudible) there's renewed enthusiasm for NATO membership (inaudible) ?

Secretary Cohen: One, I was always convinced that NATO, if it persevered, would be successful, and that Milosevic would eventually have to capitulate; or he would end up losing his forces on the ground, by virtue of the fact that the KLA would gain in numbers and strength, while his military would be systematically diminished. During that time, I did not witness any diminution of interest on the part of any country that wanted to seek NATO membership. I think that we should look at the Kosovo conflict as something perhaps unique in terms of Milosevic organizing, planning and unleashing his forces to conduct this kind of horrible purging and cleansing of people. Hopefully, it will not be repeated in the future, but I saw no reduction in interest on the part of countries who aspire to NATO membership. I would expect that the same nations who aspire to it will continue to do so in the future.

Q: Could you please address the question we asked earlier - why your forces won't be ready (inaudible) September? (inaudible) Why weren't they in training earlier?

A: Minister Lower: In Norway, we have conscription -- we have to have people on contract and we have to train them in a group before we send them to Kosovo. This is another kind of operation than Norwegian personnel are used to - peace keeping. This is a bit more difficult with some risks involved. We have to use these weeks - that's the best we can do. We proposed a white paper in the Parliament so that for the future we can do better.

Q: Minister Lower, you've been in NATO for a very long time and you're, of course, a neighbor of Russia and you've got to somehow balance the need for full integration of the Baltic states with the need to not antagonize Russia? Have they called on you for your experience to try to draw on the lessons you've learned being both a NATO member and a neighbor of Russia? To try to find a way of balancing those two things?

Minister Lower: I will respond in Norwegian. Can someone translate?

Chargé translating: This is a very loose translation, but the Defense Minister said that in Norway we have worked to build up confidence with Russia over the years, and now after Kosovo we are working to renew that confidence. And that is a very important part of the stabilization in Europe. Regarding the Baltic nations, and their interest in becoming NATO members, they might also follow the same example of working in dialogues with Russia, and to build up that type of confidence that would enable them to go further in terms of the integration in Europe.

Q: Have you made any plans (inaudible) ?

Secretary Cohen: I am sure, I know that SACEUR, the head of our strategic planning, has taken into account what would be required in the event that there would be a breakout of war in Kosovo.

Q: (Further discussion of what was asked in the question was inaudible.)

Secretary Cohen: Well, we have the KFOR there. One of the reasons that so much time is being taken for the peacekeeping is that it is a very volatile situation. Passions arising quite high with every discovery of a new atrocity, or an old atrocity that is newly discovered, have the potential to inflame passions and causes conflict to break out. One of the reasons that perhaps there have not been a sufficient total number of troops deployed as rapidly as possible is as you may recall, initially, it was anticipated that a peacekeeping force in Kosovo would be roughly 30,000. That was then elevated to 50,000 because of the tensions that were likely to endure there. The initial estimates were roughly 30,000 and we have roughly 28,000 forces there. But, we have contingency plans in the event that there is any action taken by Milosevic against KFOR forces. We have the accord which remains in effect. We can take action against Milosevic should he try to strike those forces. I don't foresee that. I think that everything we have seen to date would indicate that he intends to fully comply with the agreement. The forces are out, KFOR is in. It is going in very robustly. The forces that are going in are trained for virtually every contingency and so I do not anticipate that Milosevic would seek to start another conflict. We are prepared in the event that should occur.

Q: Do you fear that NATO's involvement in the Balkans now will have a delaying effect on the membership of the Baltic states in NATO?

Minister Lower: The membership action plan for the Baltic states is on-going and they are preparing to reach the level of quality and different measures to seek membership in NATO and they have a plan for some years to come, but I don't see that the Balkan situation will interfere with that.

Secretary Cohen: Let me just confirm what the minister has said. The proposal as far as the Baltics are concerned is that they have to measure up to very high standards. They may or may not reach those standards. First, any consideration given to new members will be in the year 2002. During the time between now and 2002 there will be a number of countries, including those from the Baltics, who will aspire to NATO membership. Our "preoccupation" with the Balkans, will in no way affect their efforts to measure up to the standards for NATO membership, to the extent that they undertake the kind of reforms necessary to bring their forces up to the compliance necessary for NATO membership. That will go on independently of any efforts ongoing in the Balkans. There will be no reduction or diversion of attention. It will depend upon the individual countries. Some of them will make a greater effort than others. NATO itself will then have to evaluate which countries they feel sufficiently measure up to the requirements.

Moderator: That will be the end of the questions now, I'm afraid. They have a very strict time schedule. Thank you all for coming and spending the day with us in this beautiful weather, and have a good trip home.