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DoD News Briefing: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
June 18, 1997 4:00 PM EDT

Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen

Thank you. Admiral, thank you very much and General Peay. Please be seated, this is going to be a long speech. No, it's not. It's hazardous duty for you to bring me into an auditorium or gymnasium along with General Jim Jones, who is my Senior Military Assistant. he played guard for Georgetown some years ago, and he and I made the mistake a couple weeks ago -- we went out to address the U.S. Air Force Academy graduation, and he and I ended up playing basketball with the Academy. We have both been limping ever since. He is not nearly as young as he used to be, and not as agile either, but, agile enough to take me to the cleaners during the Course of that. I should tell you that one thing that is always omitted, at least in my introduction, is that I had aspirations to become a professional basketball player. But there were a couple of things that held me back. One was size, the other was talent. In addition to wanting to be a basketball player, a professional player, 1. also had an alternative to be a Latin professor. All of my colleagues in the Senate said that I achieved both of my dreams, - that I continue to speak a dead language, and dribble at the same time. In any event, I just want to take a few moments of your time -- and I don't want to stand here unnecessarily and listen to a long speech. You might have gathered, in over 18 years in the Senate, I learned to speak a long time. Not to say much, but to speak for a long time at least, and that is a rule that I'm glad they don't follow in the House of Representatives. But I won't give you a long speech today. I want to tell you why I came out here.

You are fulfilling one of the most important missions that our military has. Some of you may have read that we completed a Quadrennial Defense Review recently -- the so-called QDR. One of the things that the QDR wanted us to assess is, do we have the right strategy? What should be the role of the United States in the world now that the world has changed so dramatically? The Soviet Union has crumbled, the Berlin Wall has been torn down, we don't have an enemy like the Soviet Union to face anymore. China is a building power, but not really a challenge for the next 10 to 15 years. Why do we have to have the kind of military that we have today? So, that is something Congress demanded that we take a look at. What's our strategy. what does it mean to be superpower? What are the obligations of a superpower? What are the burdens? What are the benefits? Should we simply be one power among many'? What does it mean to have this multiplication of powers of which we are only one? So, we have to look at that and we spent the last six months trying to analyze what our strategy ought to be.

The strategy that we finally came down to, really, comes to three words, shape. respond and prepare. We determined that it is important to the national security interest of our country to be able to shape events, to be forward deployed -- in the Pacific, and the Atlantic, and the Gulf region. . . throughout the Gulf That it is important that we be present so that we can send signals to our allies that we're there, that we are strong, that we are ready, that we're reliable and that we are also sending a signal to any potential enemies. Don't mess with the United States, because you are really going to take on the finest fighting force in the world. And that helps to stabilize the world. That helps to stabilize the world so that you have prosperity that can build.

Because, if you have instability, you will not enjoy prosperity. That's what everyone has learned over in Asia. The Asia-Pacific Region, the (inaudible) countries, all of those countries -- they want us there. Japan wants us there.

The Europeans want us there. I just came from Brussels a few days ago which we debated the issue I announced, that we were going to expand NATO, but only by three countries. And that is our position. (Inaudible) would want to take it a little more slowly than some would like. But everybody wants to be associated with us, Everyone wants to identify with us. And everyone wants our protection. And that is because we are the best in the world. We are only the best in the world because we attract the best and the brightest into our military.

So, when you hear I've talked about all the wonderful systems that we are about to design and develop, and we need them. We are looking off into the future of the year 2010, 2015. We have to start designing the systems now that won't come on line for another l0 to l5 years. Just like the C-17. When I was serving on the Armed Services Committee, way back in the late '70s, early '80s, the C-17 was only on paper. We were debating it for years, as to what it should look like, how much was it going to cost, what was it going to do? We now have the C17 in the force. It took 17 years, practically, to get it. So, what we are doing today, is trying to design new systems for the future that will continue to make us the very best in the world , and that will help us maintain the peace, so that no one will ever want to challenge us. Because every soldier knows, the last thing that you want to do is have to go to war. But you have to be prepared to go to war in order to prevent it from breaking out.

So what we are doing now is looking at the first priority that we place in our entire military structure -- it is not the system. It is not the F-22 or the Joint Strike Fighter, the F- 1 8 E&F, it is not the new aircraft carrier, it is none of those things; The first thing that we place the priority on is people. If we don't have you, if we can't recruit you and attract you and equally important -- if we can't retain you... it doesn't matter how good our equipment is because we won't have you to operate it. We won't have you to train, we won't leave you to be ready. And so, keeping you in, deals with quality of life . . . and that is something that really is important to us.

I know that it is important to you, because many of you now are without your families and they are a long way away. We want to take that into account when we talk about how we deploy individuals, how long they are going to be, what kind of quality of life are they going to have here-- and places like Bahrain, in which you have a great community and great country that really loves the American people. But, we have to deal with quality of life and look at compensation, bonuses, family housing, daycare... all of that is taken into account because we want you to remember that we place you number one. First come people, secondly come the resources and third comes preparing for the future -- the machinery, the equipment and the other weapons.

So I came from Washington to Brussels, and over to Saudi Arabia and out here to Bahrain and will finish up with UAE and virtually every country in the region -- in order to convey the message that we are here, we are prepared, we are reliable, we are the best and we are going to defend America's vital interest in this region. And everyone of you understand -- that's how important it is. If Iraq were to try to attack Kuwait again and the Iranians were trying to shut down the Gulf, then we have to be prepared to open it again. We have to be prepared to deter that from ever taking place. Because if you shut down that pipeline, the worlds economy will go into a real tailspin. Most of the industrialized world depends on the oil flowing out of this region. That means in Europe, it means the United States, it means Japan, it means most of the industrialized countries. That is why it is important that, if you ever lie awake at night in the heat and say why am I here? You are here defending the vital interests of the United States of America.

I must tell you this is the best position I ever had. I used to say being a United States Senator was the best job in the world, and in many ways, it still is. This is perhaps the most difficult and the heaviest responsibility one could have. I take it real seriously, and I must tell you -- it is the proudest thing that I can say -- that I represent people like you. And make decisions, hopefully, that will be in your overall best interest as you carry out your responsibilities.

So, I wanted to come by, no long speeches, I'll take a couple of you on in basketball if you want for shooting (inaudible) with Jones and myself -- but to say thank you. On behalf of all of the people of our great nation. And on behalf of the people of Bahrain too. They really appreciate you being here. They know that their security, their prosperity, their stability depends upon your presence.

So thanks very much. I'm delighted to be here. And I hope that I can get back here before you leave. I know that you'll be rotating in and out, and I intend to get back at least once more in the coming months, perhaps by next... in February? There is a big celebration coming next February and perhaps I can get back to let you know that we are proud of you and we appreciate the sacrifices that you are making. Thank you very much.

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