News Briefings

DoD News Briefing

Thursday, December 2, 1999
Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen

Press Conference at NATO Headquarters, Brussels, Belgium

Secretary Cohen: This meeting is taking place at a very important time, as we review the lessons of Operation Allied Force. Allies on both sides of the Atlantic recognize that we need new capabilities for a new century.

In his first defense ministers' meeting as Secretary General, George Robertson stressed that all members of the Alliance must do more to improve NATO's strength. European Allies are recognizing this as they prepare for the European Council meeting in Helsinki.

At their recent summits, leaders of the U.K., France, and Germany agreed to work together to build forces that are more able to deploy more quickly and fight more effectively for longer periods of time. The United States is taking similar action by making our forces more deployable and by purchasing new and better precision munitions. European leaders also agreed to avoid duplication as they work to improve their defenses, and these are important commitments, and it is important that everyone realizes that the need turn promises into performance.

A stronger Europe means a stronger Alliance, and a stronger Alliance is able to deter the threats and maintain peace and stability.

Let me entertain your questions.

Q: I realize that President Clinton has made no decision yet on ballistic missile defense. If the United States decides that it is in its national interest to do this, would you put the ABM treaty aside and put the START treaties at risk in order to build a missile defense?

Secretary Cohen: First, as you indicated, no decision has been made. Secondly, I should indicate that only one person could make the recommendation, and that is the President of the United States. Third, I would also indicate what George Robertson most recently stated here at this podium - that no decision will be made until next year. At that time, the President will consider many factors: the technological aspects of the NMD, questions about our relations with the Russians, questions about the importance of consulting with our allies and their opinions and taking it all into account, as well at the threat that has been emerging. So, those factors will all be taken into account by the President before he makes a decision. I did take the occasion today to lay out the architecture of what an NMD would look like, should the President decide to go forward. But I think it is very much premature to speculate what will happen next year.

Q: Mister Secretary, regarding the allies' reactions, their are concerns about this proposed ballistic missile defense. Are you confident that Britain and Denmark would agreed to upgrade their radar tracking system in order to build this system? Secondly, have Britain and France expressed any concern about the potential impact on their own nuclear deterrence if ballistic missile technology is built by the United States and then passed on elsewhere in the world?

Secretary Cohen: A number of issues were discussed during the course of the luncheon meeting today. First of all, with respect to our European friends, they have raised issues about their deterrent and issues about de-coupling as well as about whether this would be something they might be interested in themselves - is this some kind of technology that the European nations would perhaps be interested in. So, we covered the full panoply of issues. The United States would have to have the support of our allies to have an effective system. We believe it is important that we discuss the issue with them and lay out the nature of the threat - we had a threat briefing this morning - and to explain in great detail the nature of the system that might be deployed should the President decide to go forward next year. All of that was discussed. I think it is important for the allied countries to understand the threat is real; that it will, in all likelihood, intensify in the coming years as countries continue to acquire chemical, biological and nuclear capabilities; and that it would put at risk their populations as well as their forward deployed troops. So we discussed a full range of issues involved and I expect to continue this discussion throughout the coming year.

Q: Secretary Cohen, given the European Allies questions about the U.S. plans for possible missile defense; given the discussion about creating a separate European crisis response force; do you see a trend in which increasingly the United States, Europe, and NATO are going their separate ways? Do you think any of these stress points weaken the Alliance in any way?

Secretary Cohen: As Secretary Robertson just indicated to all of you, the NATO Alliance has never been stronger. This was a very positive meeting today where we had a full range of discussions and we will have these discussions continue tomorrow. This is precisely what nineteen democracies should do. We should raise issues of mutual concern; we should discuss them, debate them if necessary and ultimately resolve them. That is the essence of a democratic system. That is precisely what we have here, nineteen democracies that treasure the ability to engage in this kind of free and open debate and discussion. I would say to the contrary, that the Alliance is strong today, and by virtue of the kind of openness that we have and under leadership of Secretary Robertson, that will only strengthen the future. So I see no cracks as such developing in the institution.

The issue has come up as far as ESDI, the European Security Defense Identity. For many years, members of Congress have been asking Europeans to assume a greater share of the burden. That is precisely what is involved with ESDI: to strengthen a European pillar of the NATO Alliance. We welcome this, and as long as it is understood - as Secretary General Robertson outlined to you - that this is done within the context of having a European capability that will strengthen NATO itself, there is no ground for this speculation that somehow, this is leading to a division between Europe and the United States.

Q: Have you been satisfied today that the Europeans indeed will see their European defense pillar as being squarely in the framework of the Alliance? Have the other Non-EU NATO members been satisfied and do you have any expectations of what the Helsinki EU Summit should do on that next week?

Secretary Cohen: I think that all the members really are committed to the Defense Capability Initiative. The point that George Robertson and I have made separately and together is that the initiative undertaken pursuant to ESDI should and must be compatible with the objectives of the defense capability initiative: In other words mobility, flexibility, command control, communications that are secure, effective engagement and sustainability. Those are the key and core elements of the Defense Capabilities Initiative. They also should be the core elements of any ESDI, so that the two are compatible. You would not want to see the development of a separate capability, which is not compatibility with the NATO capability. So everyone, as far as the defense ministers are concerned, fully understands that proposition and endorses it. With respect to the non-EU members, I believe they are satisfied that their concerns and participation will be taken into account in any ESDI formulation. This is something that is very important to the non-EU members of NATO, and I believe that the formulation that was adopted today will satisfy their concerns.

Q: How do you commend the idea that the Euro-Corps should take over the command of KFOR in Kosovo? Is the United States going to help the Kosovo Protection Corps? We heard from General Rhinehart that they are having big problems with paying those people.

Secretary Cohen: First, there was no decision made that the Euro-Corps should take over the command of KFOR. It is a proposal that has been offered and one that will be studied and we will see how the Euro-Corps unfolds in the future. That is certainly a possibility of its future engagement. Secondly, on the Kosovo Protection Corp, we believe very strongly that nations must contribute to the Corps. Payments should be pledged and then honored. The United States has pledged some fifteen million dollars to the Protection Corps. We believe that is essential that it be supported. Otherwise, we run the risk of allowing people to go unpaid; to allow a situation to deteriorate which would undermine the effectiveness of what we have achieved so far. It was a subject of discussion today, and it was a point made by General Rhinehart which I, and others, strongly endorsed.

Q: Concerning this NMD, has there been a positive reaction of the European Allies to this idea? Are they interested in being involved in this initiative?

Secretary Cohen: There were several members who spoke positively about the nature of the threat that is growing and about the need to have some limited capability, but it is by no means a consensus within the Alliance. I think that the more information that is shared, and it was very helpful today to have that information presented to the members, that they will evaluate their own needs. It would be my own recommendation that the European member s of NATO look very closely at it so that they can make a judgment and evaluation as to whether the threat that is emerging places their own population at risk, which cannot be satisfied in terms of just having a deterrent capacity, but rather having some limited capability within the NATO Alliance itself. It is something that they will look at and we will discuss in the coming year or so, as this concept is being refined. I think it was helpful today. I think they appreciated having an explanation from me, in terms of the threat, and the type of response that we would propose.

Again, this is something that is of a very limited nature. It is designed to deal with rogue states. It is not directed against the Russians, or others, and it would not undercut the Russian strategic deterrent. This is something that we must make very clear. The Russians have many thousands of nuclear weapons, which they are trying to reduce in START II and, hopefully, going into START III. This would in no way undercut that strategic deterrent and capability they have. That is really the essence of what I tried to lay out for the members today.

Q: Concerning ESDI, do you share Turkey's objections of new defense initiative? Secondly, why today, the Defense Ministers could not reach an agreement on ESDI?

Secretary Cohen: I believe that they did, in fact, reach an agreement on the ESDI. I, like other members, was concerned that Turkey's interests be taken in to account. That was the reason for some of the delays in working out the language - to make sure that Turkey's interest were in fact addressed. And I believe that they are satisfied with the language.

Q: Secretary if I may go back to Kosovo, I am not sure exactly what General Rhinehart told the Ministers. When he spoke to the press, he said that all of the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been pledged to rebuild Kosovo, not a single dollar had yet materialized on the ground. Was he exaggerating? He said that the money was tied up in bureaucratic pipelines.

Secretary Cohen: I think that he is correct. Much of the money is tied up in bureaucratic pipelines. What he was trying to do is make sure all the members understood this so we could go back to other agencies to put as much pressure as we could to free those monies up and to secure the pledges that have been made to actually produce the money for the reconstruction aid and the rehabilitation of Kosovo. He made a very powerful presentation and one that had a major impact.

Thank you very much.