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DoD News Briefing: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
May 30, 1997 6:30 PM EDT
[The following media availability occurs at the Federal Building, Los Angeles, Calif., prior to Secretary Cohen's appearance at an awards dinner honoring Entertainer Bob Hope.]

Secretary Cohen: Thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, tonight I'm going to be speaking -- one of many speakers at the Bob Hope Dinner. And I think that it's very clear that few people over the years have been able to reach out touch our troops as much as Bob Hope has.

And he has traveled to visit them at a time when their morale needed boosting most, and that was during holidays when they were away from their friends and their families.

I've done a bit of traveling myself in the past four months. Since taking over this job I have traveled to visit our troops in Bosnia, in Japan, and Korea. And I can tell you that morale is very high, that they are protecting our troops and our nation's interests. They're well trained. They're well equipped. And as Secretary of Defense one my most important responsibilities is to make sure that our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines, remain the best in the world into the next century.

That means we have to develop today the weapons and tactics that our forces are going to be using tomorrow. And as many of you know, last week I sent to Congress a copy of the Quadrennial Defense Review and spent three days testifying before the Senate and the House.

The QDR is based on a strategy for the 21st century, and I can summarize that strategy in three very simple words. It is shape, respond, and prepare.

As a super power with global interests, we need to be able to shape the environment in which we are going to be living. And that means having a significant forward-deployed force, roughly 100,000 people in the Asia-Pacific region. That means 100,000 in the European theater. And it means that we have to maintain that forward deployment so that we can help shape both the calculations of our allies and, indeed, those of our potential adversaries in ways that are favorable to our interests.

Now we have to maintain the power-projection capability that we get from the units such as the Third Fleet in San Diego and from the equipment such as the C-17, which is built in Long Beach.

And wherever our interests are challenged, we have to be able to respond across the full spectrum of threats, all the way from humanitarian missions, to rescue missions, places such as Albania -- be prepared in countries such as Zaire -- or the former Zaire -- and respond to those types of contingencies, small-scale contingencies, all the way up to the major types of conflicts. So that capability of responding is also a critical part of this strategy.

The other part, of course, is where we're somewhat deficient, and that's in the prepare facet of it. We have been falling between $12 billion to $15 billion short each and every year and having that money moved from what we have allocated to procurement migrate over into the support and sustaining of our troops and elements. So we have to prevent that migration from going over to operations and support and put it into building and designing the kind of systems that will keep us well ahead of any potential adversary in the future.

It means building more Stealth fighters, the Army Force XXI, the sensor-to-shooter communications, fighting chemical and biological weapons threats. So as this country moves towards a balanced budget, it is my judgment that we will not be in a position to get much more in the way of Defense spending, absent any kind of a major conflict.

And so what we need to do is to try to channel what we have in ways that will allow to bring those systems that will keep us well ahead of our adversaries, at least one or two generations, to be able to channel those resources from operations and support into modernization.

And that is the essence of the QDR. Some parts, of course, are controversial. The recommendation for base closures, another two rounds of base closures, obviously has caught the eye of many in Congress, as we anticipated that it would. Some reductions -- and I would say modest reductions in force structure also have captured the attention of a number of members. But I tried to indicate -- I did indicate during my confirmation proceedings: No easy choices left.

We have made all the easy choices in recent years and now the tough ones are in front of us. And so to the members of the Congress who play a co-equal role in this entire process, we have presented the QDR saying here is our blueprint. Now it's open for your recommendations, your changes, your modifications.

And it's something that will take several years to build. This is not something that is going to happen in a very short period of time. And so members of Congress will have their recommendations. There is something called the National Defense Panel, the NDP, a group of outside experts who will give a second opinion about the direction that we should go. And they will make their report to the Congress by December of this year.

In addition to that I was not satisfied that we had done enough to look at my office, the Office of the Secretary of Defense. And so I formed a Defense Reform Task Force of a group of experts who will be consulting with corporate executives and others, who will look at the organization and the operation of the Office of Secretary of Defense, and Defense-wide agencies and make recommendations as to how we can eliminate some of the duplications, the redundancy, and the waste that one can find in my own operation. And that will be presented to the Congress next December, as well, to coincide with the recommendations of the National Defense Panel. All of this is basically a way of saying that we have got to change the way in which we have been doing business. We need to modernize as quickly as we can.

There were three essential paths that we looked at. How do we get from here to there? We could continue on path one, of doing precisely what we're doing today. We would be able carry out our missions. We could, for example, continue to shape the environment, as we are doing today. We could continue to respond to the full spectrum of all the threats that are out there. But we would not get to modernization. That still would be an elusive goal for us -- never quite measuring up to getting those funds out of our operations so we could invest it into future technologies.

There is another path we looked at, and that was path two, so to speak. And that was to take very substantial reductions in manpower, now, to cut our force structure by as many as half a million people active forces, take those substantial savings and put that into research and development.

And that, of course, would produce greater modernization at a much faster or accelerated pace. What you get in the way of accelerating that modernization is you give up something. You give up the ability to shape the environment, as we are currently doing. You give up the ability, at least in some fashion, to be able to respond to the full range of crises. But you would get modernization faster.

We decided on path three, and that was to make some modest reductions in force structure, to slow down somewhat the modernization program that we have underway, under design, and to use the savings that are derived from those modest cutbacks, including base closures, including changes in the way in which we procure items, to use all of those savings and to put them into modernizing at a somewhat slower pace, but allowing it to carry out the full range of activities that we see as part of our overall strategy. That, of course, is what the QDR represents. And that is something that we will see in the coming year or two or three, whether we can really build and sustain a bipartisan consensus for strong national defense in this country.

Without further speech from me, let me entertain your questions.

Q What other bases in California will be closed based on these projections?

A Well, there are no specific bases on any list. Through the BRAC process, as such, we've had four rounds, and I've had experience on the other side of those BRAC proceedings, some not as positive as I would have liked at the time, but nevertheless, that's part of the process. That is, the Commission makes up a determination as to what is excessive in terms of our capabilities.

We want to make sure that we retain as much of our core capabilities as possible and look at those elements that are excess -- much as I have used in the past, the metaphor of having excess weight, and you're told that you've got to get prepared for the Olympics and participate as a decathlon champion. You've got to be able to run fast, run long, jump high and be as flexible as possible in ten events. So if you are told by your professional coaches that you're overweight and you can't make it through all of those events, you'll have to give something up. Either you can try to compete at your current weight, knowing you will not be successful, or you can start going to training, slim down and become as agile, flexible and strong as one needs to be to compete around the full course of those competitions.

The short answer is there is no list. There is no BRAC Commission at this point. That depends on Congress, and it cannot take place without Congressional consent. What I've tried to indicate to Congress is if they do not wish to have BRAC proceedings, then they must also accept the consequences that there will not be sufficient resources over the long term to put into the kind of modernization that we have to achieve. So when I start presenting budgets in the coming years, they will notice that that line which is supposed to be climbing up -- we have come down from roughly $120 billion annually, procurement, at the height of the Cold War in 1985, to down to about $42 billion right now. We're trying to get up in the range of 55 to 60 on an annual basis. We will not see that line climb either as high or as fast as we need to have it climb if we are going to stay ahead of the kind of technologies that are being developed.

Congress will have to accept that so when I present the next budget, and the budget thereafter, they'll say the line is not going up, you are still way out into the future as far as the ability to modernize. I'll say, that's right, but I haven't had the ability to take the money, the savings, that we would otherwise achieve in this process and put it into modernization.

Those are some of the trade-offs that we have to make and Congress is a co-equal partner. In fact, they are a senior partner in this particular case because they control the purse strings. And if you control the purse strings, then you decide, but I want all my former colleagues to understand that there is responsibility that goes with that, that you can't just make the decisions in the abstract. They have real, tangible consequences. I think that is part of the element that I understand best. And because of my relationship with members of the Senate and members of the House, I think I can help build that consensus in the coming years.

Q: Without a list in front of you do you conceive base closures overseas?

A: I would say everything would have to be on the table. Base closures in the United States, overseas. As a matter of fact, there have been far more base closures overseas than there have been here in the United States. The key test should be, what is the most effective military that we have, given the nature of the threats and we will have to respond. Would it be in our national security interests to have a forward deployed base in some region as opposed to have been a base back here, which would take us hours longer or days longer in which to get from here to there in order to engage in combat?

And so what we have to do is make the best analysis that we can in terms of what will preserve America's national security interests the most. And so if there are excess facilities overseas, obviously they would have to be closed, but I will tell you that the bases, the number of bases that have been closed and facilities overseas that have been closed far exceed those here at home.

Q: Another subject, Sir. Bosnia, what do you see as the timetable for removing U.S. troops from there, the next year or so for example?

A: Well, according to the NATO mandate as such, our troops have to be removed by the end of June of 1998. Right now, what we have tried to do is not focus all of our attention on when we leave but what we do before we leave.

I've tried to point out on many, many occasions now, the military mission has been successful. Our military is doing an outstanding job. If you were to go over to Bosnia and see the morale, the discipline, the leadership, and the ability that they have demonstrated to keep a peace; if you will go into the fields, you will see farmers back in fields planting their crops, you will see buildings having their windows put back on, roofs put back on. You will see children who are now playing and not trying to run by the sniper's alley and being caught and shot by snipers in the hills.

There have been dramatic improvements in terms of the quality of life for many people in that region, and so what we need to do as far as Dayton is concerned is to put the kind of effort on the civilian side of things that we have on the military, and that means we've got to concentrate in the next 12, 13 months -- all of our allies have to be working together, shoulder to shoulder, to put the kind of dollars in from the international financial institutions into helping to rebuild that country's economy. We have to have an international police task force to do the kinds of things that have to be done by policemen and not by soldiers, and help with the return of refugees, helping to monitor elections. The IPTF is something that we have not been successful thus far in really creating an effective international police force.

So we have to do those things, but we still plan to be out, as far as SFOR is concerned, to conclude that mission by the end of June of next year. That's the plan. I see no change in that plan, and so what the President has said and what I have said is let's work together now and get our allies working with us to help come up with an effort to really try to solidify the civilian side of the equation.

Q: (inaudible) Dayton Accord to dominate this (inaudible). Are you satisfied with the pace at which the war criminals are being prosecuted, processed in The Hague? What would you like to see?

A: The answer is no, but, of course, under Dayton, that's, again, a responsibility that the United States or the U.S. participation in SFOR is not responsible for carrying out. Under the SFOR mandate, as articulated by the president, SFOR is to provide a secure environment but is not to engage in the actual arrests of war criminals, and that, of course, is to prevent our folks from becoming targets. So that's something that if there is going to be any shift in it, that would have to be a mandate coming from SFOR and the NATO allies.

And thus far, again, I point back to the IPTF, there has not been a creation of an effective international police force because soldiers, for the most part, it is not their mandate to arrest people but have an entirely different function. So if that's to be changed, it will have to be done by the NATO allies acting in concert; and if that's to be the case, we will have to wait and see that, but for now the responsibility is on the civilian side, not the military side. If that changes, there will have to be a policy change.

Q: I do have some questions. I would like to question work with the Korean peninsula. I understand that you did mention before the Senate Committee if North Korea attacked the South, Koreans and American troops in Korea will be counterattacked to the North right away. I would like to make sure with you that you did mention that at the committee?

A: I'm sorry. Did I say that?

Q: Yes.

A: If you read that, then I said that. I'm not sure I said it in quite that fashion, but what I have said while traveling in South Korea -- I visited -- my wife was with me at the time -- went up on the DMZ to look across the DMZ into the eyes of North Koreans, and we met with all of the South Korean officials. And I essentially said that the North does pose a continuing threat to the security of the South, that they have a formidable army and has had one for some years now, that they have devoted an excessive amount, I would say, but an extraordinary amount to their military capability as opposed to providing for the civilian or the needs of their civilian society -- food, clothing, and all the creature comforts that one would want to have for its citizens -- and they have devoted much of their resources toward the military. So they have a very potent military poised in an aggressive fashion within 100 kilometers of the DMZ, about 600,000 troops.

So, could they launch a very devastating attack upon the South, the answer is yes. Were they to do so it would be a fatal mistake on their part because the response would be overwhelming. And frankly, it would be a suicidal mission on their part were they to ever seek to attack the South. So, we have had a deterrent capability in the South. We intend to maintain that deterrent force.

And our hope is that by remaining strong and being capable of a counterattack, should it ever become necessary, that we would also pursue a peaceful path with them, and that is to bring them into negotiations and to see if we can't encourage them to reduce the level of their military threat and try to deal with the civilian side of their particular dilemma right now. And that is how to feed their people -- if there is going to be the prospect of mass starvation then are there ways in which we can work with the South Korean government, the Japanese government and others in the world community to help bring them to the table of rational integration of the international community? And that's what we hope we're able to do; deter them, encourage them to come forward, sit down and talk and find ways in which to avoid conflict. Because that's our goal.

Unidentified Speaker: We have time for one more question. The gentleman in the second row.

Q: Mr. Secretary, the Washington Times announced this morning, or at least they reported that General Ralston will be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Are you prepared to make that announcement?

A: No. I think it's premature. General Ralston is certainly a very strong candidate but ultimately the Commander in Chief will make that determination. And it would be premature to say that any decision has been made at this point. So, he's a strong candidate. There are other candidates. That particular projection, I think, indicated an announcement would be made today or tomorrow. No such announcement will be made. I will have conversations with the President in the next couple of weeks. We will go over a list of candidates at that point and then a nominated candidate will then be recommended.

Q: One more question, sir. Not too long ago, I think last year, the CIA director reported that North Korea might have one or two nuclear weapons. If they had it, do you think the (inaudible) primary defense policy roles (inaudible)? Will they insist, if they have a nuclear weapon?

A: Well, that still remains somewhat in the realm of speculation. But assuming they were to have a nuclear weapon what we have focused upon is that we have frozen -- whatever their program is we have frozen it in place. We have an agreed framework now in which we're working with the North Koreans and freezing that program of theirs that was underway. So, it won't go any further. We believe that that agreement is working. It's still viable. And that's the purpose of our trying to engage the North Koreans. Whether or not they have any nuclear material or nuclear weapons is something that's still a matter of speculation. But whether or not they do we think that we've frozen whatever they've had in place so it isn't being expanded.

Q: Have you any comments with regard to the Air Force 50th anniversary this year?

A: Well, I just completed addressing the Air Force Academy yesterday. And I must tell you it was one of the more exciting moments that I've had during a very brief tenure as Secretary of Defense. The cadets were extraordinary. They were inspired. They were also greatly relieved. But when I looked at their faces and saw the kind of talent that is coming up I think I can say we will still have the finest Air Force the world has ever known. We have that now. And based upon the quality of the students who are going through our academies the Air Force will continue to be dominant well into the future. And that's, of course, what our goal is, is to make sure that our fighting forces never have to engage in a fair fight. We want it to be an unfair fight, unfair in our favor.

And so what we will have in the future as a result of the kind of new programs coming into being, the new F-22 and the Joint Strike Fighter and the DUSTERS and all the other programs that we have under way -- we will dominate the skies. We will dominate it through technology. We will dominate it through the kind of men and women who are now entering our force and staying in our force.

And I can only tell you that after 50 years you have -- the American people have every right to be proud of the capability that we have today. There has never been a finer world power. And that, of course, means -- having that dominate air power is the key to that as well. We will continue to be dominate in the air for the next century.

Q: Any (inaudible) that said "Go Navy" at the Air Force?

A: I didn't see a single sign that said, "Go Navy." They were -- I must tell you, they were a very attentive group. I tried to be brief. We got through most of the ceremony until -- I shook every hand in the graduating class. And there were about 100 or 150 to go and the heavens opened up and it started to pour. And we got through every member. Nothing dampened their spirits. It was a great event. Thank you.

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