|NEWSMAKER: SEC. COHEN|
April 1, 1998
Defense Secretary Cohen will release a report Thursday that shows significant savings from closing military bases. In this Newsmaker interview, he discusses the report along with the country's relations with Kosovo and Iraq.
JIM LEHRER: Now, a Newsmaker interview about military base closings and other matters with the Secretary of Defense, William Cohen. Mr. Secretary, welcome.
WILLIAM COHEN, Secretary of Defense: Good evening.
JIM LEHRER: First, on base closings, your proposal that you're announcing today is actually a repeat of one that you tried last year and didn't get, right?
WILLIAM COHEN: Right.
JIM LEHRER: What's the deal?
WILLIAM COHEN: Well, the deal is that it's my job to bring this report to the attention of the Congress. It's been requested by the Congress, an analysis as to why base closures are necessary. Last year we came close. A tie vote in the Senate Committee--hopefully we'll be able to get it out of the committee to the full Senate floor this year. But my job is to lay out the facts, and the facts would dictate that we need at least two more base closures. I recommended they begin in the year 2001 and 2005. And once they are completed, we will have annual savings of some $3 billion, but during the period of time between the years 2008 and 2015, we will save almost $20 billion. And that $20 billion can be invested in the kind of systems and weaponry and readiness and quality of life that our forces need.
|Is there no other way to save money?|
JIM LEHRER: And you are convinced beyond any doubt that that's the way to save the money, there is no other way to save this money, these bases must be closed?
WILLIAM COHEN: That's one way, but there are other ways. We have a defense reform initiative. We're adopting best business practices and how we do business in the Pentagon. There are many ways to save money. What we have in this particular case is an excess capacity. We have had a substantial downsizing in our force structure since 1989. We've come down, for example, in ships, some 46 percent, and yet, we've only decreased the berthing space about 18 percent. With respect to army instructional space, personnel have been cut by 43 percent, instructional space seven percent. So basically we're carrying a lot of excess capacity, and that, in essence, is a waste of taxpayer dollars. They want us to get the best value, so we can use those savings to put in the hands of our people, our young people, who are serving us in terms of quality of life, readiness, training, and a procurement of the best systems that we have to provide them with.
JIM LEHRER: One of the reasons that some of the opponents of base closings in the Congress gave for shooting you down last year was that President Clinton had politicized this, and the prior base closings, he kept the base open, he found a way to keep a base open in California and another one in Texas for pure political reasons. How do you counter that kind of talk?
|"Well, first of all, the Congress didn't shoot me down; they're shooting down the young men and women who were serving our country."|
WILLIAM COHEN: Well, first of all, the Congress didn't shoot me down; they're shooting down the young men and women who were serving our country, they're the ones who will pay the penalty, either in terms of quality of life, in terms of their training and their readiness capability, and acquiring the kind of systems that we had to keep us the finest military in the world, so it's not shooting me down. But some--
JIM LEHRER: Okay. I meant to say your proposal.
WILLIAM COHEN: Secondly, with respect to the proposal, itself, I have been on the other side of base closures. I've had several bases, two major bases close in my own state. So I understand the pain and suffering that's involved in all of that. But what I found is when I didn't like the way the system operated in the past, I changed it. I worked with Senator Nunn when I was in the Senate with him, and we made modifications to it. So I think if there are changes that need to be made, the Congress ought to face up to it and say we didn't like the way certain matters are handled, we have two facilities that we are now competing, those jobs with the public sector, private sector. I think that's going to work out again to the advantage of the taxpayers. And so if Congress doesn't like what has taken place in the past. That can be changed in the future. I don't think it's an alternative to simply say we don't like what happened two or three or four years ago. And we're not going to agree to any further modifications in terms of saving money so we can put it in the hands of our young people, who were defending this country.
JIM LEHRER: Do you have any reason to believe you're going to be more successful this time than you were last time?
WILLIAM COHEN: Well, I'm hoping I'll be successful. We have the national defense panel, which was created by Congress, to also take a second look and give a second opinion about what needs to be done in the Pentagon and defense spending. They also have recommended strongly that we have at least two more BRAC proceedings. There are--
JIM LEHRER: BRAC, that's the base closing--
WILLIAM COHEN: Right. The Base Realignment And Closure. That we--there is a group called BENS, which are Business Executives for the National Security. I think they're going to be very strongly in favor of this, and we have to build this support from the grassroots. I would think that not only are soldiers and sailors, airmen, marines, and coast guardsmen concerned about this, but also manufacturers of the weaponry that we have; they will not be able to have production of their systems in the event the dollars are not there. So there's a broad base support that we can build for this but ultimately Congress is the one that decides. And so Congress has full responsibility. It's not just the Defense Department. Congress is a coequal partner. I would say even a superior partner. They are a senior partner, and a full one. I might be a limited one because they have the purse strings, and they're the ones who control the dollars. And so what I need to do is to persuade them this is in the overall national security interest of this country. And to do this, again, we will save some $20 billion during the period of time from the year 2003 to--2008, rather, to 2015, and we will save on an annual basis, given what we've done to date, we will save $5.6 billion annually for the first four rounds that we've had, and then we'll start saving another $3 billion on top of that, in addition to all we've saved in the meantime.
JIM LEHRER: Now, have you drawn up a list?
WILLIAM COHEN: I don't have a list. This is the attractiveness of a BRAC proceeding. We have a commission that's created by Congress. That commission is independent. It makes an evaluation based upon information provided by the services. It evaluates that information, then makes a recommendation to the president, who sends it on to Congress, and then Congress has a chance to vote it up or down. So we don't make any predispositions, and they have no prior lists. They simply, the services submit what they think are excess capacity that needs to be reduced.
JIM LEHRER: But the list will come from the Pentagon of what you all think Base A, Base B--
WILLIAM COHEN: Each service--
JIM LEHRER: --is going to say we don't need this one anymore; we don't need that one anymore; and then the fun begins, right?
WILLIAM COHEN: Each service would submit what it believes to be those facilities, installations which are no longer necessary. Then the independent commission makes an evaluation. They have professional staff; they make an evaluation as to whether any games are being played, whether or not they have a different judgment in terms of the allocation of what should stay, what should go, and then they make that recommendation; it goes to the president, then to the Congress.
|On the international front: an update on the Iraq situation.|
JIM LEHRER: Okay. On to some other things, Mr. Secretary. The build up of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf during the weapons inspector conflict, the U.S. forces are still there, are they not?
WILLIAM COHEN: That's right.
JIM LEHRER: How long are they going to stay?
WILLIAM COHEN: Well, we're going to stay there until the president decides that he's satisfied that Saddam Hussein intends to fully comply with the U.N. resolutions. So far, he appears to be complying with the memorandum of agreement that was negotiated by Kofi Annan. But that's only part of the obligational part of Saddam Hussein. He must fully comply with the U.N. resolutions. And that means he must satisfy the UNSCOM, the U.N. inspectors, that he has, in fact, destroyed what he claims he has destroyed. There is a vast discrepancy between what the Iraqis have claimed they've destroyed and the proof that they've given to the UNSCOM inspectors, so there's a long way to go yet, and the president has yet to decide at what point in time we will downsize to what the level we were prior to the escalation caused by the Iraqis. That decision was made by the president, and I can't say when that will be made.
JIM LEHRER: All of the public statements at least from U.N. officials, including Mr. Annan, as well as Mr. Butler, the head of the inspection process, they've all been upbeat. The Iraqis are cooperating. They're letting everybody into the various things. Do you have any information that is negative about this?
WILLIAM COHEN: What I'm saying is that they've had months in which to hide either materials or documents or other evidence of their past activities. It is, I think, unreasonable to expect a team of 20 or 30 people going into an area the size of Wyoming, some 170,000 square miles of territory, looking through haystacks for needles that might be chemically or biologically tipped. That's a job the UNSCOM inspectors have, but for them to--for anyone to say that they've fulfilled their obligation, the Iraqis, by showing empty buildings or empty drawers is not really of the entire story. What needs to be done is they have to file final complete full disclosures of exactly what they've had and what they've destroyed. They have yet to do so. And so I don't think the Iraqi people can expect to have any relief from the sanctions until they fully satisfy the UNSCOM inspectors that they have demonstrated that these materials--the Scud missiles that are armed with anthrax on their warheads--they claim to have destroyed 50. They've only demonstrated to the satisfaction of UNSCOM 30. There are 20--at least 20 missing. They claim to have destroyed four tons of VX, no evidence.
JIM LEHRER: VX, that's-
WILLIAM COHEN: That's another nerve agent.
JIM LEHRER: Nerve agent, right.
WILLIAM COHEN: That kills within a matter of minutes. One drop will kill you within the matter of a few minutes. They have claimed to have destroyed thousands of gallons of anthrax. They have yet to satisfy the UNSCOM inspectors. So they've got a lot of proving to do. Until that takes place, we should not even assume that they are in full compliance.
JIM LEHRER: So you're talking about a matter of months--even a year or more, before this thing can be resolved?
WILLIAM COHEN: We're talking--I think that we have to be satisfied, UNSCOM has to be satisfied that there has been full compliance, that there's been a good faith compliance with the U.N. resolutions, and so it's going to take more than just a few inspections on the part of UNSCOM.
JIM LEHRER: You don't see any good faith up till this point?
WILLIAM COHEN: At this point there appears to be compliance with the memorandum of agreement, but that could change tomorrow. We may find that they start to raise complaints several weeks or months from now. I think the president will make a determination in terms of how we can reduce our presence consistent with our security interest in the region, and that's his decision.
|Could the Kosovo situation erupt into another Bosnia?|
JIM LEHRER: Kosovo, how concerned are you that that situation there could erupt into another Bosnia?
WILLIAM COHEN: Well, it's a flashpoint. I think we all have to be concerned about it. That's why it's so important that the contact group really come to grips with--
JIM LEHRER: Contact group--that's six countries, including the United States, that put this thing together?
WILLIAM COHEN: Yes. That they meet and come up with a real consensus of what needs to be done. What we have to do is to persuade the Serbs that they should not crack down violently, as they've done in the past. We also have to indicate to the Kosovos that we are not supporting the independence. We support certainly moving toward autonomy, but we're calling for reason on both sides. And that's something that I think the contact group, the European countries that are engaged in this, need to really come to grips with and develop a consensus, along with the United States.
JIM LEHRER: Is the United States with NATO in the contact group prepared to take military action to prevent this thing from escalating?
WILLIAM COHEN: Well, nothing has been ruled out by anyone at this point, but I think the emphasis has to be on diplomacy, looking at economic sanctions, as such, limitations on weaponry, other types of actions that can be taken without even considering a military option at this point.
JIM LEHRER: Finally, Mr. Secretary, the Paula Jones matter that was just discussed brings this to mind. Of all of the things that have been going on--the investigations, the allegations involving the president--has it made it difficult for you to be Secretary of Defense?
WILLIAM COHEN: Not at all. As a matter of fact, I have worked very closely with the president, and he gave me--asked me to do one thing--concentrate on my job, and that's what I've done, and I've worked very closely with him. And I must say that he has been completely focused on the national security issues. When we're dealing with Iraq or any other crisis, he is well informed; he's focused; and he makes, I think, very incisive decisions and observations. So it has not distracted him one bit from the national security objective that we have.
JIM LEHRER: Any problems for you?
WILLIAM COHEN: None.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Secretary, thank you.