CLINTON ON SECURITY ISSUES
MAY 22, 1996
Tonights presidential stump speech is an excerpt of a commencement address by President Clinton today at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy graduation ceremonies in New London, Connecticut. He focused on security issues.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: One of the most important lessons of the last 50 years is that democracy and free markets are neither inevitable nor irreversible. They need our support, the power of our example, the resolve of our leadership. My job as President is to match the need for American leadership to our interests and to our values, to act where we can make a difference, to do so wisely, not reflexively, relying on diplomacy and sanctions when we can, force when we must, working with our allies whenever possible, but alone when necessary, rejecting the call to isolationism, refusing to be the world's policeman. It also means, as the Secretary said earlier, from time to time making some decisions that are unpopular in the short run. But if you consider some of those, imagine the alternative.
Imagine what the Persian Gulf would look like today if the United States had not stepped up with our allies in Desert Storm. Then two years ago we had to do it again to stop Iraqi aggression. Imagine the ongoing reign of terror and the flood of refugees to our shore had we not backed diplomacy with force in Haiti. And, by the way, you ought to be proud that it was a Coast Guard cutter that led our forces into Port-au-Prince Harbor on that mission. Imagine the shells and the slaughter we would still be seeing in Bosnia, had we not brought our force to bear through NATO. Imagine the chaos that might have ensured that we not use our economic power to stabilize Mexico's economy. Imagine the jobs we would have lost if we hadn't taken the lead to expand world trade through GATT and NAFTA and over 200 specific agreements. In each case, there was substantial, sometimes overwhelming opinion against America's force, but because we followed the course, Americans are better off.
For all the new demands on our troops and our treasury, the basic tools of leadership still require a powerful military and strong alliances, but there is more to be done for America to keep moving forward and to pass on an even safer and more prosperous world to our children as we enter this new century and a new millennium. First, we must continue to seize the extraordinary opportunity to reduce the threat of weapons of mass destruction. We have set the most far reaching arms control and non-proliferation agenda in history, and I am determined to pursue it and complete it. Already, there are no Russian missiles pointed at our cities or our citizens. We are cutting our arsenals by 2/3 from their Cold War height. Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan have been convinced to give up their nuclear weapons. Our diplomacy backed with force persuaded North Korea to freeze its nuclear program. We have now secured the indefinite and unconditional extension of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. We must continue to help people who will work with us to safeguard nuclear materials and destroy those nuclear weapons so they don't wind up in the wrong hands. We have got to stop an entire new generation of nuclear weapons by signing a comprehensive test ban treaty this year. We have to ban chemical weapons by ratifying the chemical weapons convention now.
All of these things are focused on reducing the threat of weapons of mass destruction, but we also have to be prepared to defend ourselves in the extremely unlikely event that these preventive measures fail. That's why we're spending $3 billion a year on a strong, sensible national missile defense program based on real threats and pragmatic responses. Our first priority is to defend against existing or near-term threats like short and medium-ranged missile attacks on our troops, in the field, or our allies. And we are, with upgraded Patriot Missiles, the Navy lower and upper tier, and the Army Thad. The possibility of a long range missile attack on American soil by a rogue state is more than a decade away. To prevent it, we are committed to developing by the year 2000 a defensive system that could be deployed by 2003, well before the threat becomes real. I know that there are those who disagree with this policy. They have a plan that Congress will take up this week that would force us to choose now a costly missile defense system that could be obsolete tomorrow. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that this cost will be between 30 and 60 billion dollars. Those who want us to deploy this system before we know the details and the dimensions of the threat we face I believe are wrong. The right way to defend America includes eliminating weapons of mass destruction, stopping their spread, and building a smart missile defense system. It also includes continuing the fight against the increasingly inter-connected forces of destruction like terrorism, organized crime, and drug trafficking.
As Coast Guard officers, you will be on the front lines of this struggle against these forces of destruction, especially drugs. With every seizure like last summer's record haul of 12 tons of cocaine from a Panamanian fishing vessel, you are literally saving the lives of American citizens. Today I pledge this to you, with our military and law enforcement agencies, you will have the tools you need to get the job done. (applause) For 50 years now, our country has been the world's leading force for freedom and progress around the world. And it has brought us real security and prosperity here at home. If we continue to lead, if we continue to meet the peril and seize the promise of this new era, that proud history will also be your future and the future of your children.