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DoD News Briefing: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
April 16, 1997 12:45 PM EDT
Secretary Cohen's speech to the Western Hemisphere Symposium at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Miami, Fla. Also participating is General Wesley K. Clark, commander in chief, U.S. Southern Command.

Secretary Cohen: Thank you very much. Good Afternoon.

Mayor Panavis and I had a very good meeting this morning. We discussed the move of Southern Command headquarters to Miami. The relocation is on schedule and it should be completed by the end of September. SOUTHCOM's move will further establish Miami as the capital of the Americas and we are building strong partnerships with countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. With one exception, our hemisphere is democratic, increasingly prosperous.

President Clinton, as I indicated during my remarks earlier this morning, plans to make three trips to the region in the next year. His first trip is going to be to Mexico and the Caribbean in May. I plan to visit the region later this year. Stability throughout the region benefits all of us, allows us to focus on common problems such as drug trafficking and economic growth and I'm glad we've been able to participate in this important conference, but the message should be very clear, we're all more secure when we work together.

So let me entertain your questions. I hope you have more questions than the audience.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I know that (Inaudible) on the sale of F- 16s to Chile? . ..

(Interruption in tape)

A: . .. question of my position is ultimately President Clinton's decision. And President Clinton is now reviewing whether or not there should be a change in the policy that we currently have, and that is not to engage in weapon sales throughout Latin America. I think it's fair to say that obviously we would prefer to see restraint exercised by all countries as far as arms purchases are concerned, but there are countries who need to modernize their equipment as well for their own self-defensive needs. And so the President is looking at it very closely to see whether or not we should approach it on a case by case basis.

We have taken the position that our American manufacturers should at least be in the position of submitting technical data in order to be competitive should that decision be made in the future, but I would expect the decision be made some time within the next month or two, hopefully that the President will then make that determination. But I felt, obviously, that our manufacturers should at least be not handicapped and not put in the non-competitive position, but should at least be able to supply technical data so if a decision to reverse the policy is made, they will be able to compete.

Q: (Inaudible)

A: I have not made a recommendation to the President at this point. He wants to study the matter more thoroughly and we will have consultations. Secretary Albright, myself, the National Security Advisor, all of us will participate in the discussions. At this point, we simply wanted to not prejudice the American companies who might be competing against other foreign countries as far as sales of weapons, so we need to have that -- have more study done.

Q: Secretary, do you have any more word missing A- 10(inaudible)?

A: No. I've heard nothing new as far as the missing pilot.

Q: (Inaudible) A lot of people are asking questions about how (inaudible) Could you give us any insight into that as well?

A: Well it would be virtually impossible to conduct a psychological examination of every person or pilot in the military. I think this was an unusual event. It's something that appears to be completely out of character with this particular pilot. As best to my knowledge, there were no well known indices or indicators that would lead one to believe that he was unstable or in any way had some disaffection that would cause him to either to break away, so it's still very much of an enigma and I think that I can't contribute to the speculation because I really don't have any inside information about his psychological profile, if he had a profile. Everything that I've read to date would indicate that he appeared to be a very well adjusted member of the military. But we don't go around profiling individual members unless there's some exhibition of bizarre behavior and I'm not aware of any indication of that in his case.

Q: (Inaudible) and there's some concern that the brazenness of that act would inspire other terrorist activity. Would you make an assessment of the terrorist threats in Latin America and the military's role in addressing it?

A: I think any time that you have a terrorist action, there are others who might seek to emulate it. I cannot say that that particular activity has emboldened any would be terrorists in the region. I think it's too hard to say whether others are now planning such missions.

I think terrorism is one of the most likely threats that all of us will face in the coming decades. That will be perhaps the preferred method of operation of a number of groups who are spread globally, and they may have one particular cause or another, but I think that's one of the threats that we face for the indefinite future, increase in terrorism, either domestic or international. So it's something that we have to confront in the coming years.

Q: What should be the role...(Inaudible)?

A: Well, obviously, as far as the drug war is concerned, that remains very much up to the individual countries in terms of how they will conduct their police efforts, drug control, essentially, or narcotic control is essentially police function. It is in our own country and it's up to each individual country to decide it shall structure it's forces, how it shall handle it. But we interested in cooperating in any capacity we can.

We are in support of the Latin American countries' efforts. We do not conduct military activities as such on our part, but we lend support consistent with the countries request. So it's up to the individual country how they wish to structure their forces. One of the many benefits of this conference and the center for the study of matters will deal with how do we have civilian control over the military, educate our military in the forms of constitutional government, try to share ideas on how we're combating the control of drugs in our country, what policies can be implemented in other countries to cut down the flow of drugs, and as was raised during the course of the question and answer period upstairs, what can we do in our own country to cut down on the demand. If you have such a demand, you're bound to have pressure to produce the supply. So we have a major effort to cut down on the demand in this country that we have yet to meet.

Q: (Talking over each other.)

A: This gentleman here first.

Q: Thank you. In your remarks after the speech, you talked about strategy of engagement for Latin America. There is, of course, one exception. Recently, President Clinton, in conjunction with his Canadian counterpart said definitely, the strategy, each one, Canada's and United States' don't seem to be working in regards to Cuba. What is the strategy now? I mean, where do you go from here?

A: It's the law as far as the Helms-Burton law, which will continue in effect until it's changed. The President has indicated he has reached an accord with the EU to seek some relief from the Helms-Burton Act, but Senator Helms has not indicated any eagerness to reverse or modify the act, so I suspect that the policy will remain in effect (coughing) excuse me, until it's changed.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you mentioned that a number of countries in Latin America need to modernize their militaries for self defense needs. What countries might those be and who would they be defending themselves or need to defend themselves against. What's the perceived threat?

A: That's really up to them to decide what they need and what they would require. I think most countries do feel a need to protect their own borders, to protect against potential threats in the future which they can't foresee at this time. It would be similar, for example, to southeast Asian countries, which are enjoying an enormous growth rate and prosperity. They also are modernizing their countries' military. Modest, it is consistent with their own defined goals. I would say the same thing applies to Latin American countries to the degree that any country feels it should have a standing military, should be well equipped, well trained for their own protection, that is protection either now or for the future. They can't necessarily foresee what the future will unfold, how it will unfold. So most countries would feel that we have to have some measure of protection. And it's up to them as free societies to determine what the shape of that protection should take.

Q: (Inaudible)

A: Well, we hope there will be no arms race at all, but frankly, as I indicated before, one would hope that there could be a regional accord on restraint so that there is not an arms race. But nonetheless, I think it's foreseeable that there will be some modernization, and at what levels remains to be seen. But that's for elected officials working together in a democratic society to decide exactly what the form and shape of that defense capability should take.

Q: Could I ask you a couple questions about the ship rider (?) agreement, please, for the BBC? I'd like to ask a supplementary after this first question. The first question is: Is the United States prepared to decertify Barbados and Jamaica if they refuse to sign the ship rider agreement?

A: I'm not even in a position to answer that question. It's not something that's come before me.

Q: Do you hope to be able to get an agreement with Jamaica and Barbados about the ship rider?

A: It really is not before the Defense Department at this point, so I can't comment on it.

Q: (Inaudible) areas on arms smuggling?

A: On arms smuggling?

Q: Arms smuggling.

A: First question, how soon can we get a replacement for General Clark, as soon as possible. He has done an outstanding job in a very short period of time. And I must say that he has, to his great credit, mixed emotions about being named to head up SACEUR as such, head of the European forces and supreme Allied commander. And his initial, if I can breach a matter of confidence here, when I called him to tell him about the nomination, his immediate reaction was well, what are going to do about SOUTHCOM?

His primary focus and concern has been on SOUTHCOM and the great work that he has undertaken here. And to me, it was a remarkable statement because I think many of the people say that's great news, when do I leave, when do I take my new job. But his was rather how can I finish this job and how much time do I have. And of course, he has several more months before that transfer takes place. I will try to make a decision in the next several weeks about a replacement.

With respect to arms smuggling, I think I'd have to defer that General Clark in terms of the level of activity taking place.

Q: (Inaudible)

A: I think I would defer that General Clark.

General Clark: Mr. Secretary, with your permission, we do know it is a concern, it's discussed by several of the ministers and heads of government as we have gone through the region. It's something we work with them on in a very low level way because it is primarily a problem for their own police and for their customs and coast guard and naval activities to prevent this kind of activity.

Q: (Inaudible) As the lines between international crime and war blur, info war, cyber crime with international respect, there are resources available in DoD that can be used to combat these new threats and how are they -- what do you foresee in their use? It'll look as if DoD will be taking more of anti- crime role, but it's part of the changing nature of crime/war, no?

A: Well, indeed. I think you point out something that I mentioned just in passing upstairs during the course of my remarks. But information warfare is going to pose great challenges to all of us in the future. As we become more and more sophisticated in our technology, obviously, there will be others who are not nearly as robust in the development of their particular systems who will seek ways to bring ours down, to crash our systems, to manipulate information, to pour in misinformation, ways to insert viruses and on and on.

What we have to do and what we will be doing is sharing information. We will, as part of this process of working together in this hemisphere with our partners, is brining military leaders together with those in the Pentagon, to bring civilian leaders together with members of -- civilian officials with members of Congress, sharing information and joining in the combat of terrorism. And you can have computer terrorism as well as explosive type of terrorism. You can have people who can alter information, which can produce catastrophic consequences. And so we are, I think, will be proceeding along the track of sharing our information as we develop it and ways in which we can combat those who would seek to bring down our countries or in any way destroy our institutions by sharing that information and helping to -- in many cases, even co-develop or share that technology.

Q: Mr. Secretary, one more question. You can't come to Miami and not have a question on Cuba, sir.

A: Well, I can. (Laughter)

Q: You'd be the first one to get away with it. Does the Pentagon look at Cuba still as a military threat? What exactly is the definition of Cuba in military terms, how do you view it?

A: I would say General Clark probably in a better position to talk about it as a military threat. I think that Cuba stands out as an anomaly more than anything else today. Every other country in this region has moved away from the communist ideology, the kind of repressive regime that is posed by Castro. And to the extent that he's a military power, I think that power perhaps is waning if it still exists in terms of threatening neighbors to any significant degree. I think it's just a situation where it's ultimately going to fall to the forces of freedom and democracy, ultimately. I think we'll see a gradual withering away of the communist state, which is consistent with the Marxist doctrine.

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