Center for Strategic Decision Research


Promoting Peace and Stability

The Honorable William S. Cohen
Former U.S. Secretary of Defense


I come to you all the way from Hawaii, where my wife and I had the pleasure of witnessing the premiere of the movie Pearl Harbor. The movie recaptures a moment in our history, indeed in world history-the moment that Tom Brokaw, the NBC newscaster and successful author, calls the time lived by the "greatest generation." That generation was also the wisest, because they understood that we need to have military capability, to be sure, but we also must develop the institutions that preserve and promote peace and stability, and indeed prosperity. So we look back and say they were the greatest and the wisest, because they realized that we have to have both military might and peace and prosperity.

You also have to have ideals and technique. A professor I once had said, "You know, if you have ideals without technique, you have a mess. But if you have technique without ideals, you have a menace." So you have to have both: you must have military capability and you also must have diplomacy. You cannot have one without the other. If you have diplomacy without military capability, you have a dangling conversation. But if you have only military power without diplomacy, then you run the risk of having a very dangerous, chauvinistic situation-a menace, which we have seen in the past.

When I met with Kim Dae Jung, the South Korean President, in the summer of 2000, I asked him what sustained him during those moments when he was in prison. He indicated that he is a deeply religious man, but he also said, "I used to read Toffler." I thought that rather strange. But those of us who grew up reading Toffler during the late '60s and early '70s know that he talked about the age of "future shock," in which time itself would be speeded up by events, in which we would see technology miniaturize the globe.

If you think about it, the vast oceans are mere lakes today. And those distant countries are neighboring counties. Today, I would describe the world as not much bigger than a small ball, spinning on the finger of science. Events come rushing at political leaders and military leaders with an almost terrifying velocity. So we must spend as much time as we can at conferences such as this and in deliberation to prepare ourselves for this age of future shock, when events come at us with great speed.

You may remember reading the words of Francis Fukiyama back in the '90s, at the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Empire. He wrote a thesis called "The End of History" in which he predicted that democratic capitalism was going to spread across the globe. And that prompted Peter Vale, a South African academician, to write, "Rejoice, my friends, or weep with sorrow/What California is today, the world will be tomorrow." Now, if you think about the rolling blackouts that occurred in California, we hope that they will not spread to the rest of the United States, and certainly not to the rest of the world. But Fukiyama's thesis was immediately challenged. Samuel Huntington came out with his own theory. He said, "Fukiyama has it all wrong; he's looking through rose-tinted glasses. He has forgotten that you're going to have fault lines between the Confucian, the Islamic, and the Christian societies, that we have these ethnic hatreds that are boiling up and bubbling over, and we are going to see a clash of civilizations."

Well, who was right? Both men were right. Fukiyama was right because if you look across the world, you see that democratic capitalism has taken root and spread virtually throughout every part of it. If you look at Europe, Asia, and South America, you see that the seeds of democratic capitalism have taken root and spread. But Huntington was also correct, and we have seen that in Bosnia and Kosovo, in Afghanistan and in parts of Africa. We still see the violent hatreds and people who would rather dig fresh graves than heal old wounds. We have to contend with both of these dynamics: the spread of democratic capitalism and the spread of ethnic rivalries, hatreds, and conflict.


This is where NATO and the EU come into play: whither NATO, or shall NATO wither. We have talked about "top-down examination," and tried to determine the threats that will be out there five, ten, and fifteen years from now. How will we recognize them, and how can we prepare for them? Yogi Berra, the famous catcher for the Yankees and a man renowned for his aphorisms, said, "You know, predictions are hard, especially about the future." But we have to make those predictions. We have to try to look into the opaque windows of the future and see what poses a threat to our security, our democracy, and our prosperity. That's precisely what the Bush administration is doing right now.

 This has caused some angst, however, and I would even say some anger, in European circles and other parts of the world. But I think back to Justice Holmes, one of our great justices, who said, "I find it pathetic that we should simply endorse rules that were enacted at the time of Henry V, and act out of blind loyalty to the past." I believe we must constantly examine our rules, the threats to us, and our responsibilities. I think that is what the Bush administration is doing, just as the Clinton administration did when I served as Secretary of Defense.

Some critics look at the Bush administration and say, "There's too much focus on adversaries and not enough on allies, and too much focus on power and not enough on influence-power being the ability to act either militarily or to renounce new or old international agreements and influence being the ability to use both power and the power of persuasion. These comments on power refer to discussions on National Missile Defense, and those on influence to the U.S.'s relationship to NATO and the European Union.


With respect to ESDP, many Europeans are saying, "Look, you have been beating us up for years, saying we have not been carrying our share of the load. Suddenly we are doing more and offering to do more, and now you are critical! How is it possible? How can you have it both ways?" That reminds me of what I once said to George Robertson when I was at a NATO meeting. I said, "George, first you accuse the United States of being arrogant toward our European friends, and then call us indifferent. Which is it?" And he said, in his own inimitable Scottish brogue, "Bill, if you can't ride two horses at the same time, what the hell are you doing in the circus in the first place?"

That more or less applies to how Europeans are looking at the United States now. And so you're seeking to construct a European security defense policy. Frankly, I and those in the Clinton administration heartily endorsed the creation of this ESDP (or ESDI, as it was known). But we did so with a great caveat and proviso: namely, that we supported strengthening the European pillar provided we were not supporting something competitive. Something complementary, something open and transparent-yes, we could support that. We supported the notion that you can create a 60,000-person force that is quickly deployable within 60 days and sustainable for a year. We could support that.

But there is apprehension on the part of the United States that Europeans, given their predilections, are very good at creating bureaucracies but not at creating capabilities. And so I made the statement at a NATO meeting that we do not want to see this process of ESDP degenerate into the political-military equivalent of trichonosis. While you have apprehensions that the United States may suddenly oppose the creation of a European pillar, we have apprehensions that the pillar will be more a pillar of salt: it will not be substantive.

So what we need to do is to make sure we work in concert. I think you will find that the Bush administration will raise the same questions the Clinton administration did, but as long as Europeans are prepared to create a capability that is complementary and not competitive, then I think you will find strong support for the concept going forward.

During the eight years of the Clinton administration, Americans looked over to Europe and your response to Bosnia and, frankly, saw a lack of capability. And you looked back at us and said, "Here is a country that is inward and lacking in commitment." It took us a few years to get it right, but the situation in Bosnia and Kosovo actually strengthened NATO. As we move into the new era, we must not focus on words that you may misconstrue. You rightfully can raise the question, "How can you complain that Europeans need to take more responsibility if you say that Europe is not as important as Asia, that your focus is going to be on Asia?" This is a legitimate question that has to be answered, and answered very directly, openly, and candidly. That is the way we should proceed into the future.


At the end of the Constitutional Convention, when the United States formed its Congress and its Constitution, someone asked Benjamin Franklin, "What have you given us?" He said, "A Republic, if you can keep it." If you were to ask the question, "What has NATO given the North Atlantic/European Alliance? What has it given us, the Euro-Atlantic Alliance?", we would say it has given us peace, stability, democracy, and prosperity. And we can keep it if we care to. That is precisely the reason that we all gather at these meetings: to reaffirm the strong bonds not only of friendship but of security that promote peace, democracy, and stability. So it is a pleasure for me to be here as a private citizen. I think I say the same things privately that I said publicly. And I say them with the same degree of passion. It is a wonderful relationship that we have; we need to continue to nurture it as we all move forward into this nanosecond world that Toffler described so many decades ago.


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