[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1995, Book I)]
[May 31, 1995]
[Pages 765-770]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at the United States Air Force Academy Commencement Ceremony in 
Colorado Springs, Colorado
May 31, 1995

    The President. Thank you very much, General Stein.
    Audience member. Soo-o-ey! [Laughter]
    The President. That's my home State cheer, for those of you unused 
to foreign languages being spoken here in Falcon Stadium. [Laughter] 
Thank you very much.
    General Stein, thank you. Secretary Widnall, General Fogleman, 
Governor Romer, Congressman Ramstad; to the distinguished faculty and 
staff; to the proud parents, family, and friends; to the members of the 
Cadet Wing: We gather here to celebrate this very important moment in 
your life and in the life of our Nation. Gentlemen and gentleladies of 
this class, the pride of '95, this is your day. And you are only one 
speech, one pretty short speech--[laughter]--away from being second 
    I am honored to share this day with some exceptionally accomplished 
alumni of the Air Force Academy: General Fogleman, the first of your 
graduates to be the Air Force Chief of Staff; General Hopper, the first 
African-American graduate of the Academy to serve as the Commandant of 
Cadets; and a member of my staff, Robert Bell, who is the first graduate 
of the Air Force Academy to be the Senior Director for Defense Policy 
and Arms Control at the National Security Council. As I look out at all 
of you, I imagine it won't be too long before there's a graduate of the 
Air Force Academy in the Oval Office. If it's all the same to you, I'd 
like to delay it for just a few years. [Laughter]
    I also want to congratulate the Air Force Academy on extending its 
lock on the Commander in Chief's trophy here that--I'm in your stadium, 
I think I ought to mention that your winning squad came to see me in the 
White House not very long ago, and I said that before I became President 
I didn't understand that when I heard that the Commander in Chief's 
trophy was a traveling trophy, that meant it was supposed to go back and 
forth between Washington and Colorado Springs every year.
    I want to do my part in another longstanding tradition. By the power 
vested in me as Commander in Chief, I hereby grant amnesty to cadets who 
are marching tours or serving restrictions or confinements for minor 
misconduct. Now, General Stein, I have to leave it to you to define 
which offenses are minor, but on this day, even in this conservative 
age, I trust you will be fairly liberal in your interpretation of the 
term. [Laughter]
    Members of the class of 1995, you are about to become officers in 
the United States Air Force. You should be very proud of what you have 
already accomplished. But you should be sobered by the important 
responsibilities you are about to assume. From this day forward, every 
day you must defend our Nation, protect the lives of the men and women 
under your command, and represent the best of America.
    I want to say here as an aside, I have seen something of the debate 
in the last few days on the question of whether, in this time of 
necessity to cut budgets, we ought to close one of the service 
academies. And I just want to say I think that's one of the worst ideas 
I ever heard of.
    It was General Eisenhower who as President, along with the Congress, 
so long ago now recognized that national defense required a national

[[Page 766]]

commitment to education. But our commitment through the service 
academies to the education and preparation of the finest military 
officers in the world must never wane. And I hope your commitment to the 
cause of education as an important element in what makes our country 
great and strong and safe will never wane.
    As President, my first responsibility is to protect and enhance the 
safety of the American people and to strengthen our country. It is a 
responsibility that you now have chosen to share. So today, I thought 
what we ought to do is talk about the steps that we will have to take 
together to make the world safer for America in the 21st century.
    Our security objectives over the last 50 years have been dictated by 
straightforward events often beyond our control. But at least they were 
straightforward and clear. In World War II, the objective was simple: 
Win the war. In the cold war, the objective was clear: Contain communism 
and prevent nuclear war. In the post-cold-war world, the objectives are 
often more complex, and it is clear that American security in the 21st 
century will be determined by forces that are operating both beyond and 
within our own borders.
    While the world you will face is far from free of danger, you must 
know that you are entering active service in a moment of enormous hope. 
We are dramatically reducing the nuclear threat. For the first time 
since the dawn of the nuclear age, there are no Russian missiles pointed 
at the people of the United States.
    From the Middle East to South Africa to Northern Ireland, Americans 
are helping former adversaries turn from conflict to cooperation. We are 
supporting democracies and market economies, like Haiti and Mexico in 
our own region and others throughout the world. We are expanding trade. 
We are working for a Europe allied with the United States, but unified 
economically and politically for the first time since nation-states 
appeared on the European Continent. Just yesterday, Russia's decision to 
actively participate in NATO's Partnership For Peace helped to lay the 
groundwork for yet another important step in establishing a secure, 
stable, and unified European Continent for the next century.
    Clearly there are powerful historical forces pulling us together: a 
worldwide thirst for freedom and democracy; a growing commitment to 
market economics; a technological revolution that moves information, 
ideas, money, and people around the globe at record speed. All these 
things are bringing us together and helping to make our future more 
    But these same forces have a dark underside which can also lead to 
more insecurity. We understand now that the openness and freedom of 
society make us even more vulnerable to the organized forces of 
destruction, the forces of terror and organized crime and drug 
trafficking. The technological revolution that is bringing our world 
closer together can also bring more and more problems to our shores. The 
end of communism has opened the door to the spread of weapons of mass 
destruction and lifted the lid on age-old conflicts rooted in ethnic, 
racial, and religious hatreds. These forces can be all the more 
destructive today because they have access to modern technology.
    Nowhere are the forces of disintegration more obvious today than in 
Bosnia. For the past 2\1/2\ years, the United States has sought to 
contain and end the conflict, to help to preserve the Bosnian nation as 
a multistate entity, multiethnic entity, to keep faith with our NATO 
allies, and to relieve human suffering.
    To these ends, we have led the NATO military responses to calls by 
the United Nations for assistance in the protection of its forces and 
safe areas for the people of Bosnia, led efforts to achieve a negotiated 
settlement, deployed peacekeeping troops to the Former Yugoslav Republic 
of Macedonia to contain the conflict within the present borders of 
Bosnia, and conducted the longest humanitarian airlift to the people 
there in history.
    Two weeks ago, the Bosnian Serbs unleashed 1,400 shells on the 
civilians of Sarajevo. The United Nations called this attack a return to 
medieval barbarism. They asked for a NATO air response, which we 
supported. Now we have joined our allies to develop a coordinated 
response to the Serbs' continued refusal to make peace and their illegal 
capturing of United Nations personnel as hostages.
    We believe still that a strengthened United Nations operation is the 
best insurance against an even worse humanitarian disaster should they 
leave. We have a longstanding commitment to help our NATO allies, some 
of whom have troops in the U.N. operation in Bosnia, to take part in a 
NATO operation to assist them in a withdrawal if that should ever become 
necessary. And so, if necessary, and after consulta-

[[Page 767]]

tion with Congress, I believe we should be prepared to assist NATO if it 
decides to meet a request from the United Nations troops for help in a 
withdrawal or a reconfiguration and a strengthening of its forces.
    We have received no such request for any such assistance, and we 
have made no such decision. But in any event, we must know that we must 
continue to work for peace there. And I still believe that we have made 
the right decision in not committing our own troops to become embroiled 
in this conflict in Europe nor to join the United Nations operations.
    I want to say to you, we have obligations to our NATO allies, and I 
do not believe we can leave them in the lurch. So I must carefully 
review any requests for an operation involving a temporary use of our 
ground forces. But we have made the right decision in what we have done 
and what we have not done in Bosnia.
    I believe we must look at all of these problems and all these 
opportunities in new and different ways. For example, we see today that 
the clear boundaries between threats to our Nation's security from 
beyond our borders and the challenges to our security from within our 
borders are being blurred. One once was clearly the province of the 
armed services, the other clearly the province of local law enforcement. 
Today, we see people from overseas coming to our country for terrorist 
purposes, blurring what is our national security. We must see the 
threats for what they are and fashion our response based on their true 
nature, not just where they occur.
    In these new and different times, we must pursue three priorities to 
enhance our security. First, we have to combat those who would destroy 
democratic societies, including ours, through terrorism, organized 
crime, and drug trafficking. Secondly, we have to reduce the threat of 
weapons of mass destruction, whether they're nuclear, chemical, or 
biological. Third, we have to provide our military, you and people like 
you, with the resources, training, and strategic direction necessary to 
protect the American people and our interests around the world.
    The struggle against the forces of terror, organized crime, and drug 
trafficking is now uppermost on our minds because of what we have 
endured as a nation, the World Trade Center bombing, the terrible 
incident in Oklahoma City, and what we have seen elsewhere, the nerve 
gas attack in Tokyo, the slaughter of innocent civilians by those who 
would destroy the peace in the Middle East, the organized crime now 
plaguing the former Soviet Union--so much that one of the first requests 
we get in every one of those countries is ``Send in the FBI; we need 
help''--the drug cartels in Latin America and Asia that threaten the 
open societies and the fragile democracies there. All these things we 
know can emerge from without our borders and from within our borders. 
Free and open societies are inherently more vulnerable to these kinds of 
forces. Therefore, we must remain vigilant, reduce our vulnerability, 
and constantly renew our efforts to defeat them.
    We work closely with foreign governments. We share intelligence. We 
provide military support. We initiate anticorruption and money-
laundering programs to stop drug trafficking at its source. We've opened 
an FBI office in Moscow, a training center in Hungary to help combat 
international organized crime. Over the past 2 years, we've waged a 
tough counterterrorism campaign, strengthening our laws, increasing 
manpower and training for the CIA and the FBI, imposing sanctions on 
states that sponsor terrorism.
    Many of these efforts have paid off. We were able to arrest and 
quickly convict those responsible for the World Trade Center bombing, to 
stop another terrible planned attack in New York as well as a plan to 
blow up American civilian airliners over the Pacific, and help to bring 
to justice terrorists around the world.
    In the aftermath of Oklahoma City, our top law enforcement officers 
told us they needed new tools to fight terrorism, and I proposed 
legislation to provide those tools: more than 1,000 new law enforcement 
personnel solely working on terrorism; a domestic antiterrorism center; 
tough new punishment for trafficking in stolen explosives, for attacking 
members of the Uniformed Services or Federal workers; the enabling of 
law enforcement officials to mark explosive materials so they can be 
more easily traced; the empowering of law enforcement officials with 
authority to move legal, and I emphasize legal, wiretaps when terrorists 
quickly move their bases of operation without having to go back for a 
new court order; and finally, in a very limited way, the authority to 
use the unique capacity of our military where chemical or biological 
weapons are involved here at home, just as we now can call on those 
capabilities to fight nuclear threats.

[[Page 768]]

    I'm sure every graduate of this Academy knows of the posse comitatus 
rule, the clear line that says members of the uniformed military will 
not be involved in domestic law enforcement. That is a good rule. We 
should honor that rule. The only narrow exception for it that I know of 
today is the ability of law enforcement in America to call upon the 
unique expertise of the military when there is a potential threat of a 
nuclear weapon in the hands of the wrong people. All we are asking for 
in the aftermath of the terrible incident in the Tokyo subway is the 
same access to the same expertise should chemical and biological weapons 
be involved.
    The congressional leadership pledged its best efforts to put this 
bill on my desk by Memorial Day. But Memorial Day has come and gone, and 
only the Senate has taken the bill up. And even there, in my judgment, 
there are too many amendments that threaten too much delay.
    Congress has a full agenda of important issues, including passing a 
responsible budget. But all this will take time. When it comes to 
terrorism, time is a luxury we don't have. Some are even now saying we 
should just go slow on this legislation. Well, Congress has a right to 
review this legislation to make sure the civil liberties of American 
citizens are not infringed, and I encourage them to do that. But they 
should not go slow. Terrorists do not go slow, my fellow Americans. 
Their agenda is death and destruction on their own timetable. And we 
need to make sure that we can do everything possible to stop them from 
    Six weeks after Oklahoma City, months after the first antiterrorism 
legislation was sent by the White House to Congress, there is no further 
excuse for delay. Fighting terrorism is a big part of our national 
security today, and it will be well into the 21st century. And I ask 
Congress to act and act now.
    Our obligations to fight these forces of terror is closely related 
to our efforts to reduce the threat of weapons of mass destruction. All 
of us, I'm sure, ached and wept with the people of Japan when we saw 
what a small vial of chemical gas could do when unleashed in the subway 
station. And we breathed a sigh of relief when the alert officers there 
prevented the two chemicals from uniting and forming poison which could 
have killed hundreds and hundreds of people just a few days after that. 
The breakup of the Soviet Union left nuclear material scattered 
throughout the Newly Independent States and increased the potential for 
the theft of those materials and for organized criminals to enter the 
nuclear smuggling business. As horrible as the tragedies in Oklahoma 
City and the World Trade Center were, imagine the destruction that could 
have resulted had there been a small-scale nuclear device exploded 
    The United States will retain as long as necessary an arsenal of 
nuclear forces to deter any future hostile action by any regime that has 
nuclear weapons. But I will also continue to pursue the most ambitious 
agenda to dismantle and fight the proliferation of nuclear weapons and 
other weapons of mass destruction since the dawn of the nuclear age.
    This effort is succeeding, and we should support it. No Russian 
missiles are pointed at America. No American missiles are aimed at 
Russia. Because we put the START I treaty into force, Russia is helping 
us and joining us in dismantling thousands of nuclear weapons. Our 
patient, determined diplomacy convinced Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus 
to give up their weapons when the Soviet Union fell apart. We are 
cooperating with these nations and others to safeguard nuclear materials 
and stop their spread.
    And just last month, we got the indefinite and unconditional 
extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which will benefit not only 
this generation of Americans but future generations as well by 
preventing scores of countries from developing and acquiring nuclear 
weapons. More than 170 nations have signed on to this treaty. They vow 
they will either never acquire nuclear weapons or, if they have them, 
that they won't help others obtain them, and they will pursue arms 
control and disarmament.
    We have to now go even further. There is no excuse for the Senate to 
go slow on approving two other vital measures, the START II treaty and 
the Chemical Weapons Convention. START II will enable us to reduce by 
two-thirds the number of strategic warheads deployed at the height of 
the cold war. The Chemical Weapons Convention requires the destruction 
of chemical weapon stockpiles around the world and provides severe 
penalties for those who sell materials to build these weapons to 
terrorists or to criminals. It would make a chemical terror, like the 
tragic attack in the Tokyo subway, much, much more difficult. Both START 
II and the Chemical Weapons Conven-

[[Page 769]]

tion will make every American safer, and we need them now.
    There is more to do. We are working to complete negotiations on a 
comprehensive test ban treaty, to implement the agreement we reached 
with North Korea to freeze and dismantle that country's nuclear program, 
to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention. It is an ambitious 
agenda, but it is worthy of this moment, and it will make your future as 
officers in the United States Air Force, American citizens, and when 
you're parents and grandparents more secure.
    Finally, let me say that none of this will work unless we also are 
faithful to our obligation to support a strong and adaptable military 
for the 21st century. The men and women of our Armed Forces remain the 
foundation, the fundamental foundation of our security. You put the 
steel into our diplomacy. You get the job done when all means short of 
force have been tried and failed.
    We saw your strength on display in Haiti, where a brutal military 
regime agreed to step down peacefully only, and I emphasize only, when 
it learned that more than 60 C-130's and C-140's loaded with 
paratroopers were in the air and on the way. Now the Haitian people have 
a second chance to rebuild their nation.
    We then saw your speed in the Persian Gulf, when Iraq massed its 
troops on the Kuwaiti border and threatened regional instability. I 
ordered our planes, ships, and troops into the Gulf. You got there in 
such a hurry that Iraq got out of the way in a hurry.
    We saw your compassion in Rwanda, where you flew tons of supplies, 
medicines, and foods into a nation torn apart by violence and saved 
countless lives.
    All over the world, you have met your responsibilities with skill 
and professionalism, keeping peace, making peace, saving lives, 
protecting American interests. In turn, your country has a 
responsibility to make sure you have the resources, the flexibility, the 
tools you need to do the job. We have sought to make good on that 
obligation by crafting a defense strategy for our time.
    And I'd like to say here today that one of the principal architects 
of that strategy was our recently deceased former Defense Secretary, Les 
Aspin. During his many years in the Congress as head of the Armed 
Services Committee, as Secretary of Defense, and as head of the 
President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, he devoted a lifetime 
to this country's defense. And we will miss him terribly. And we are 
very grateful for the legacy he left: a blueprint for reshaping our 
military to the demands of the 21st century, a blueprint that calls on 
us to make sure that any force reductions we began at the end of the 
cold war do not jeopardize our strength over the long run, that calls on 
us to provide you with the resources you need to meet the challenges of 
a world plagued by ancient conflicts and new instabilities.
    All of you know here that after World War II a major drawdown left 
us at a major disadvantage when war broke out in Korea. And just 5 years 
after the post-Vietnam drawdown, in 1980, the Army Chief of Staff 
declared that we had a hollow Army, a view shared by most experts. We 
have been determined not to repeat those mistakes.
    Even as we draw down troops, we know we have to be prepared to 
engage and prevail in two nearly simultaneous major regional conflicts. 
Some argued that this scenario was unrealistic and excessively 
demanding. Recent events have proved that they were wrong and shown that 
we are pursuing the right strategy and the right force levels for these 
    Last summer, just before the North Koreans finally agreed to 
dismantle their nuclear program, we were poised to send substantial air, 
naval, and ground reinforcements to defend South Korea. Just a few 
months later, we deployed tens of thousands of troops to the Gulf and 
placed thousands more on alert. And in between those crises, I gave the 
go-ahead to the 25,000 troops engaged in Operation Uphold Democracy in 
    In Haiti, the operation was especially historic because it was the 
most fully integrated military plan ever carried out in our history. The 
four services worked together, drawing on each other's special abilities 
more than ever before. And for the first time, we were ready to launch 
Army infantry and an air assault from a Navy aircraft carrier. When we 
decided to send our troops in peacefully, we did it in hours, not days. 
That kind of innovation and the ability to do that is what your country 
owes you as you walk out of this stadium today as officers in the United 
States Air Force.
    This then will be our common security mission, yours and mine and 
all Americans': to take on terrorism, organized crime, and drug 
trafficking; to reduce the nuclear threat and the threat

[[Page 770]]

of biological and chemical weapons; to keep our military flexible and 
strong. These must be the cornerstones of our program to build a safer 
America at a time when threats to our security have no respect for 
boundaries and when the boundaries between those threats are 
    Abroad, as at home, we must measure the success of our efforts by 
one simple standard: Have we made the lives of the American people 
safer? Have we made the future for our children more secure?
    Let me say to this class, I know that the rewards of serving on the 
front lines of our foreign policy may seem distant and uncertain at 
times. Thirty-four years ago, President Kennedy said, ``When there is a 
visible enemy to fight, the tide of patriotism runs high. But when there 
is a long, slow struggle with no immediate visible foe, your choice will 
seem hard indeed.'' Your choice, your choice, ladies and gentlemen, to 
take on the problems and possibilities of this time, to engage the 
world, not to run from it, is the right choice.
    As you have learned here at the Academy, it demands sacrifice. In 
the years ahead, you will be asked to travel a long way from home, to be 
away from your loved ones for long stretches of time, to face dangers we 
perhaps cannot yet even imagine. These are the burdens you have 
willingly agreed to bear for your country, its safety, and its long-term 
    Go forth, knowing that the American people support you, that they 
admire your dedication. They are grateful for your service. They are 
counting on you, the class of '95, to lead us into the 21st century, and 
they believe you truly do represent the best of America.
    Good luck, and Godspeed.

Note: The President spoke at 11:13 a.m. at Falcon Stadium. In his 
remarks, he referred to Lt. Gen. Paul Stein, USAF, Superintendent, and 
Brig. Gen. John D. Hopper, Jr., USAF, Commandant of Cadets, U.S. Air 
Force Academy; Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman, USAF, Air Force Chief of Staff; 
and Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado.