[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[January 29, 1998]
[Pages 137-141]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at the National Defense University
January 29, 1998

    Thank you very much. Thank you, General Shelton, for those kind remarks and for your little walk through 
memory lane about our association together. My most vivid memory of my 
association with General Shelton is when he walked out of the water and 
looked down at the Haitian dictator and said he thought he would have to 
go. And I thought to myself, we should have just sent him down there by 
himself. [Laughter] I thank you for your leadership.
    Thank you, Secretary Cohen, for your 
remarks and for your extraordinary leadership of the Defense Department 
and for helping us to demonstrate every day that this is not a 
Democratic or a Republican effort, or a Democratic or Republican 
administration when it comes to the defense of this country and the 
welfare of the American people and our men and women in uniform.
    To the members of the Joint Chiefs, the commanders in chief, General 
Chilcoat, the students of the National 
Defense University, faculty, and others; I am delighted to be here, at a 
place where education, experience, and excellence make a common home. 
I'm especially pleased to be here with the members of the Joint Chiefs 
and our commanders in chief, whose 68 stars form a shining constellation 
of talent and achievement.
    We have just had a wonderful meeting, and each of the commanders in 
chief has shared a few moments with me, and we've had a little 
conversation discussing the whole range of America's security interests, 
the whole range of the concerns of people who are managing the welfare 
of our men and women in uniform. And I must say that I couldn't help 
thinking, during the course of this meeting, I wish every person who 
wears the uniform of the United States could be watching this on closed-
circuit television, because they'd have so much confidence in the 
leadership of our military.
    And in a larger sense, I wish every American citizen could have seen 
it because they would feel so much more pride, even than they do now, in 
the way our military is led, the thinking about the future that is going 
on, the innovation that is going on, and the profound concern for the 
people who wear our Nation's uniform, as well as what I consider to be 
an enormous sensitivity to the increasing interdependence of our United 
States with other countries and the necessity of more creative, positive 
partnerships around the world. And I know we have people here from other 
nations in this audience today, and I welcome you here.
    Twelve of the commanders in chief behind me are graduates of the 
National Defense University. They indicate the value of this university

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to the Nation. They also indicate that in the not too distant future, 
some of you out there will be sitting up here or will otherwise be 
helping to shape the future of the United States. For that I am very 
    In my State of the Union Address, I talked about what we all have to 
do together to strengthen America for the 21st century. Today I wanted 
to meet with you, the future stewards of our national security, to talk 
about the foundation of our strength, our military, and the essential 
role it will play in this era of challenge and change.
    You all know that we live in a time of tremendous promise for our 
Nation in the world. Superpower conflict has ended. Democracy is on the 
march. Revolutions in technology and communications have literally 
brought a world of information to our doorstep. Americans are more 
secure and prosperous than ever. And we have a rare opportunity and a 
profound responsibility to build a new era of peace and cooperation in 
the world.
    Even as we welcome this hopeful new moment, we all acknowledge, 
especially those of you who are here studying it, that the world is far 
from free of risk. Challenges persist, often in more complex guises, 
from the spread of weapons of mass destruction to the menace of rogue 
states to the persistence of religious, ethnic, and regional conflict. 
The openness and freedom of movement that we so cherish about this 
modern world actually make us more vulnerable to a host of threats, 
terrorists, drug cartels, international criminals, that have no respect 
for borders and can make very clever use of communications and 
    In this new world, our global leadership is more important than 
ever. That doesn't mean we can go it alone or respond to every crisis. 
We have to be clear where our national interests are at stake. But more 
than ever, the world looks to America to get the job done. Our Nation is 
leading in building a new network of institutions and arrangements to 
harness the forces of change, while guarding against their dangers. We 
are helping to write the international rules of the road for the 21st 
century, protecting those who've joined the family of nations and 
isolating those who do not.
    To advance this strategy, we have to preserve and strengthen the 
tools of our engagement of fully funded diplomacy backed by a strong and 
modern defense. Diplomacy and force are two sides of the same coin. Our 
diplomacy is effective precisely because it is backed by the finest 
military in the world. Nothing illustrates the scope of our interests or 
the purpose of our power better than our unified commands. No other 
nation in history has achieved a global force presence, not through 
intimidation, not through invasion, but through invitation. That is an 
extraordinary thing. No other nation has acquired mastery of land, sea, 
sky, and space and used it to help advance world peace, instead of to 
pursue conquest.
    The military commanders who share this stage and the forces they 
lead know their first mission must be always to be ready to fight and 
win our Nation's wars. But day-in and day-out, around the world, they 
are shaping an international environment, enhancing the security of 
America and the world so that peace can endure and prevail. In our own 
hemisphere, where elected civilian governments now reign, American 
leadership is spurring greater military cooperation than ever, promoting 
regional confidence, working together as peacekeepers, supporting law 
enforcement efforts against drugs. Through the defense ministerial of 
the Americas, with the assistance of the NDU, we are finding new ways to 
advance common goals, such as healthy civil-military relations and 
respect for human rights.
    In Europe, our Armed Forces are reinforcing the foundations of an 
undivided democratic continent. They've helped new democracies to 
restructure their own defenses. They have participated in dozens of 
joint exercises with new partners. They stopped a brutal war in Bosnia, 
and they're helping to heal its scars.
    During my meeting with the CINC's, I talked with General 
Clark, our Supreme Allied Commander in 
Europe, about our Bosnia mission. I am very proud of the men and women 
who are representing all of us in Bosnia. But perhaps even more 
important, they're pretty proud of themselves. They know that they have 
stopped the guns, enabled free elections, made it possible for refugees 
to come home, given the children of Bosnia the precious gift of peace.
    Yes, the progress has been slower than we had hoped, but clearly, it 
is moving forward. If we walk away, it could backslide into war, costing 
the lives of more innocent people, jeopardizing Europe's stability. Last 
month I concluded that our troops should take part in a follow-on 
security presence when the SFOR

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mission leaves in June. Soon, NATO will finish its review of what forces 
are appropriate for the new mission. And this spring, I will submit 
funding requests to ensure that we can pay our share without 
undercutting our readiness. I'll be working closely with Congress to 
ensure approval of this important legislation.
    The NATO-led efforts in Bosnia reflect our hope for Europe's future 
as former rivals work together for stability and peace. Soon, I'll ask 
the Senate to give its advice and consent to make Hungary, Poland, and 
the Czech Republic NATO's newest members. By enlarging the sphere of 
security in Europe, we can secure democracy's roots and help to prevent 
conflicts like Bosnia from happening again.
    We're also working to strengthen democracy and peace in Africa by 
helping Africans to help themselves. Through the Africa Crisis Response 
Initiative, we're helping African militaries to improve their 
peacekeeping capabilities so they can respond to crises more quickly and 
effectively and stop trouble from escalating into tragedy.
    And just as our interests span the Atlantic, so they bridge the 
Pacific. In our meeting today, Admiral Prueher, the Commander in Chief of our Pacific Command, and General 
Tilelli, the Commander of U.S. Forces, 
Korea, confirmed that the 100,000 troops they lead continue to perform 
superbly. From the soldiers of the Korean DMZ who sleep in their 
uniforms, ready to stop an invasion at a moment's notice, to the marines 
and the sailors on the ships of the 7th Fleet forward deployed in Japan, 
our troops provide the bedrock of stability on which Asia's peace and 
America's interests depend.
    In recent years, we've strengthened our treaty alliances with Japan, 
with Thailand, with South Korea, Australia, and the Philippines. We 
persuaded North Korea to halt its dangerous nuclear program. We've 
launched talks that can bring about a lasting peace on the Korean 
Peninsula. We're deepening our areas of agreement with China, while 
dealing with our differences frankly and openly. We're working with our 
partners to restore Asia's financial stability, as we build a secure and 
prosperous Asia-Pacific community. Our troops make clear that America is 
committed to remaining a Pacific power, and every day they help the 
Pacific region live up to its name.
    America also has vital interests in a stable Persian Gulf region. 
It's home to two-thirds of the world's oil resources and some of its 
most hostile regimes. General Zinni, our 
Commander in Chief of the Central Command, provided me today with an up-
to-date assessment of Saddam's latest 
challenge to the community of nations. Since Desert Storm, America has 
worked steadily and persistently to contain the threat Saddam poses, 
through sanctions that deny him billions every year to rebuild his 
military and, where necessary, with force. We struck Iraq's intelligence 
headquarters after its agents plotted to murder President Bush. We convinced Saddam to pull back his troops from 
Kuwait's border in 1994. We tightened the strategic straitjacket on him 
by extending the no-fly zone when he attacked the Kurds in 1996.
    As I said in the State of the Union Address, we know that Saddam has 
used weapons of mass destruction before. We again say he should comply 
with the UNSCOM regime and the will of the United Nations. But 
regardless, we are determined to deny him the capacity to use weapons of 
mass destruction again. Preventing nuclear, chemical, and biological 
weapons from winding up in the wrong hands is among the primary 
challenges we face in the new security environment. Nineteen ninety-
eight will be a decisive year for our arms control and nonproliferation 
    I'm very pleased that four Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs, General 
Shalikashvili, General Powell, Admiral Crowe, and 
General Jones, have just this week announced 
their support for Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban 
Treaty. The treaty will help to prevent the development of new and more 
dangerous weapons and make it more difficult for non-nuclear states to 
build them. The Senate should ratify it this year.
    We are also committed to toughen the Biological Weapons Convention 
by establishing an international inspection system to track down and 
crack down on cheating. And we'll continue to urge the Russian Duma to 
ratify START II, paving the way for START III, and even deeper nuclear 
weapons reduction. General Habiger, 
Commander of America's Strategic Command, understands the importance of 
arms control and addressing the threat of weapons of mass destruction. 
Today he and I reviewed the steps we've taken to ensure that our nuclear 
deterrent force remains safe, reliable, effective, and unchallenged well 
into the 21st century.
    One of the key reasons that all of these efforts can be successful 
is the skill of our military.

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And one of the greatest privileges of my job, as I said earlier, has 
been seeing our military at work. At home and abroad, from Haiti to 
Bosnia, from Japan to Kuwait, at sea and on shore, it makes no 
difference where they're stationed, the rank they hold, or how many 
ribbons they wear; our service men and women reflect America's highest 
standards of skill, discipline, and service. They are the patriots who 
answer the call whenever our Nation needs them, heroes who man their 
stations around the clock so the rest of us can sleep without fear. 
Hardship, uncertainty, and separation from loved ones are a part of the 
job. Many have missed the birth of their own sons and daughters to make 
the rest of our children safer.
    Part of the reason I wanted to come here today, to one of our top 
military educational institutions, in the company of our military 
leadership, is to bring home to the American people the extraordinary 
service of our military men and women and all they do to protect our 
Nation and bear the burden of our global leadership. In times of peace, 
it's tempting to ignore that the dangers to that kind of service exist, 
but they do. When the guns are silent, it's easy to forget that our 
troops are hard at work, but they are. We must never, never take our 
Nation's security or those who provide it for granted. Defending our 
Nation is difficult and dangerous work, even in peacetime.
    Most Americans, for example, have absolutely no idea that we lose 
about 200 of our service men and women in training accidents and in the 
course of regular duty every single year--people like Private Michael 
Harrington and Private First Class Brenda 
Frederick, who were killed just this week 
in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, when their truck rolled over and burst 
into flames during a night blackout drive training; people like Captain 
Lynn Svoboda, who went down with her A-10 
fighter while training in Arizona last summer, the first female Air 
Force fighter pilot to die in a military plane crash.
    I think the American people ought to know that. And I hope all of 
you, as you go out and you have communications with your family and 
friends around the country, will just say that in passing, and ask your 
family members and your friends to share it with their fellow citizens. 
It is not easy to wear the uniform, and it is never a completely safe 
    As President, the hardest decision I ever have to make is to put our 
troops in harm's way. Force can never be the first answer, but 
sometimes, still, it is the only answer. We must and we will always do 
everything we can to protect our forces. We must and we'll always make 
their safety a top priority, as I did on the issue of antipersonnel 
mines. But we must be strong and tough and mature as a nation, strong 
and tough and mature enough to recognize that even the best prepared, 
best equipped force will suffer losses in action.
    Every casualty is a tragedy all its own for a parent or a child or a 
friend. But when the cause is just and the purpose is clear, our 
military men and women are prepared to face the risk. The American 
people have to be, as well. As the inscription on the Korean War 
Memorial says, ``Freedom isn't free.''
    Our obligation to our service men and women is to do all we can to 
help them succeed in their missions, to provide the essential resources 
they need to get the job done. This week I will submit to Congress my 
defense budget request for the coming fiscal year, a budget that is 
fully consistent with the quadrennial defense review.
    Readiness remains our number one priority, and my budget provides 
for the readiness we need in a hopeful but still hazardous time. It 
makes the enhancements in quality of life that our service personnel and 
their families deserve. It funds the procurement of sophisticated 
weapons to make sure our troops can be certain of victory, no matter how 
uncertain the future.
    Our military leaders understand that tomorrow's force must be agile, 
effective, and lean, not only in its personnel but in its operations. 
Secretary Cohen, working with General 
Shelton and General Ralston, has put together a far-reaching defense reform 
initiative to revolutionize the way we do the business of defense, 
streamlining operations, spurring competition, emphasizing efficiency. 
If our Armed Forces are to have the training, the readiness, the 
equipment, the personnel to man the frontiers of freedom abroad, 
Congress must do its part by making tough choices here at home. That 
includes closing down bases we no longer need, stripping away excess 
infrastructure, not adding funds for unneeded or lower priority 
    Let our common commitment be to support our troops. Let that be the 
bottom line. And

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let us uphold in the future, as well as the past, the legacy of our 
American leadership.
    Earlier today, as I walked into my meeting with our CINC's and 
members of the Joint Chiefs, I saw emblazoned on the wall a quote from 
General George Marshall. It read, ``We are now concerned with the peace 
of the entire world. And the peace can only be maintained by the 
strong.'' Those words are no less true today than the day they were 
spoken by General Marshall. America's leadership is no less imperative 
today than the day General Marshall spoke those words. Our strength is 
every bit as important. But more than just maintaining the peace, now we 
have a chance to shape the future, to build a world more secure, more 
prosperous than any we have ever known, to give our children a world 
that our own parents could not even have dreamed of.
    Our Nation will continue to look to our Armed Forces to pursue that 
historic mission. And I know, because of people like you, our Armed 
Forces will never let us down.
    Thank you, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 2:55 p.m. in Baruch Auditorium, Eisenhower 
Hall at Fort McNair. In his remarks, he referred to Gen. Henry H. 
Shelton, USA, Chairman, and Gen. Joseph W. Ralston, USAF, Vice Chairman, 
Joint Chiefs of Staff; Lt. Gen. Richard A. Chilcoat, USA, President, 
National Defense University; commanders in chief Gen. Wesley K. Clark, 
USA, Adm. Joseph W. Prueher, USN, Gen. John H. Tilelli, Jr., USA, Gen. 
Anthony C. Zinni, USMC, and Gen. Eugene E. Habiger, USAF; President 
Saddam Hussein of Iraq; and former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff 
Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, USA (Ret.), Gen. Colin Powell, USA (Ret.), 
Adm. William J. Crowe, Jr., USN (Ret.), and Gen. David C. Jones, USA 
(Ret.). The President also referred to the United Nations Special 
Commission (UNSCOM) and Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties (START) II and