[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[May 22, 1998]
[Pages 825-829]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Commencement Address at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, 
May 22, 1998

    Thank you. Thank you very much. Secretary Dalton, thank you for your generous introduction and your 
dedicated service. Admiral Larson, thank you. 
Admiral Johnson, General Krulak, Admiral Ryan, Board of 
Visitors Chair Byron; to the faculty and staff 
of the Academy; distinguished guests; to proud parents and family 
members, and especially to the brigade of midshipmen: I am honored to be 
here today. And pursuant to longstanding tradition, I bring with me a 
small gift. I hereby free all midshipmen who are on restriction for 
minor conduct offenses. [Applause] There was so much enthusiasm, I 
wonder if you heard the word ``minor'' offenses. [Laughter]
    You know, the President has the signal honor of addressing all of 
our service academies serially, one after the other in appropriate 
order. This is the second time I have had the great honor of being here 
at the Naval Academy. But I began to worry about my sense of timing. I 
mean, what can you say to graduating midshipmen in a year when the most 
famous ship on Earth is again the Titanic? [Laughter] But then I learned 
this is a totally, almost blindly confident bunch. After all, over in 
King Hall you eat cannonballs. [Laughter] Now, for those of you who 
don't know what they are, they're not the ones Francis Scott Key saw 
flying over Fort McHenry; they're just huge apple dumplings. 
Nonetheless, they require a lot of confidence. [Laughter]
    I will try to be relatively brief today. I was given only one 
instruction: I should not take as long as your class took to scale 
Herndon Monument. Now, at 4 hours and 5 minutes, the slowest time in 
recorded history, I have a lot of leeway. [Laughter]
    But you have more than made up for it. You have done great things, 
succeeding in a rigorous academic environment, trained to be superb 
officers. You have done extraordinary volunteer work, for which I am 
personally very grateful. In basketball, you made it to the NCAA's for 
the second time in a row. You defeated Army in football last year. In 
fact, you were 26 and 6 against teams from Army this year. And while I 
must remain neutral in these things--[laughter]--I salute your 
accomplishments. [Laughter]
    Let me also join the remarks that Secretary Dalton made in 
congratulating your Superintendent. Admiral 
Larson has performed remarkable service as an aviator, submarine 
commander, Commander in Chief in the Pacific, twice at the helm of the 
Academy. I got to know him well when he was our Commander in Chief in 
the Pacific. I came to appreciate more than I otherwise ever could have 
his unique blend of intelligence and insight and character and 
passionate devotion to duty.
    In view of the incident on the Indian subcontinent in the last few 
days, I think it's important for the historical record to note that the 
first senior official of the United States who told me that there was a 
serious potential problem there and we had better get ready for it was 
Admiral Chuck Larson, several years ago.
    When I asked him to return to the 
Academy, I thought it was almost too much, and then I realized it might 
have been too little, for he loves this Academy so much this is hardly 
tough duty. He met all its challenges. He taught you

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midshipmen to strive for excellence without arrogance, to maintain the 
highest ethical standards. Admiral, on behalf of the American people, I 
thank you for your service here, your 40 years in the Navy, your 
devotion to the United States. We are all very grateful to you.
    I also have every confidence that Admiral Ryan is a worthy successor, and I wish him well.
    As I speak to you and other graduates this spring, I want to ask you 
to think about the challenges we face as a nation in the century that is 
just upon us and how our mission must be to adapt to the changes of 
changing times while holding fast to our enduring ideals. In the coming 
weeks, I will talk about how the information revolution can widen the 
circle of opportunity or deepen inequality, about how immigration and 
our Nation's growing diversity can strengthen and unite America or 
weaken and divide it.
    But nothing I will have the chance to talk about this spring is more 
important than the mission I charge you with today, the timeless mission 
of our men and women in uniform: protecting our Nation and upholding our 
values in the face of the changing threats that are as new as the new 
    Members of the Class of 1998, you leave the Yard at the dawn of a 
new millennium, in a time of great hope. Around the world, people are 
embracing peace, freedom, free markets. More and more nations are 
committed to educating all their children and stopping the destruction 
of our environment. The information revolution is sparking economic 
growth and spreading the ideas of freedom around the world. Technology 
is moving so fast today that the top-of-the-line, high-speed computers 
you received as plebes today are virtually museum pieces. [Laughter]
    In this world, our country is blessed with peace, prosperity, 
declining social ills. But today's possibilities are not tomorrow's 
    Just last week, India conducted a series of nuclear explosive tests, 
reminding us that technology is not always a force for good. India's 
action threatens the stability of Asia and challenges the firm 
international consensus to stop all nuclear testing. So again I ask 
India to halt its nuclear weapons program and join the 149 other nations 
that have already signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. And I ask 
Pakistan to exercise restraint, to avoid a perilous nuclear arms race.
    This specter of a dangerous rivalry in South Asia is but one of the 
many signs that we must remain strong and vigilant against the kinds of 
threats we have seen already throughout the 20th century, regional 
aggression and competition, bloody civil wars, efforts to overthrow 
    But also, our security is challenged increasingly by nontraditional 
threats, from adversaries both old and new, not only hostile regimes but 
also terrorists and international criminals, who cannot defeat us in 
traditional theaters of battle but search instead for new ways to 
attack, by exploiting new technologies and the world's increasing 
    As we approach the 21st century, our foes have extended the fields 
of battle, from physical space to cyberspace; from the world's vast 
bodies of water to the complex workings of our own human bodies. Rather 
than invading our beaches or launching bombers, these adversaries may 
attempt cyberattacks against our critical military systems and our 
economic base. Or they may deploy compact and relatively cheap weapons 
of mass destruction, not just nuclear but also chemical or biological, 
to use disease as a weapon of war. Sometimes the terrorists and 
criminals act alone. But increasingly, they are interconnected and 
sometimes supported by hostile countries.
    If our children are to grow up safe and free, we must approach these 
new 21st century threats with the same rigor and determination we 
applied to the toughest security challenges of this century. We are 
taking strong steps against these threats today. We've improved 
antiterrorism cooperation with other countries; tightened security for 
our troops, our diplomats, our air travelers; strengthened sanctions on 
nations that support terrorists; given our law enforcement agencies new 
tools. We broke up terrorist rings before they could attack New York's 
Holland Tunnel, the United Nations, and our airlines. We have captured 
and brought to justice many of the offenders.
    But we must do more. Last week, I announced America's first 
comprehensive strategy to control international crime and bring 
criminals, terrorists, and money launderers to justice. Today I come 
before you to announce three new initiatives: the first broadly directed 
at combating terrorism; the other two addressing two

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potential threats from terrorists and hostile nations, attacks on our 
computer networks and other critical systems upon which our society 
depends and attacks using biological weapons. On all of these efforts, 
we will need the help of the Navy and the Marines. Your service will be 
critical in combating these new challenges.
    To make these three initiatives work, we must have the concerted 
efforts of a whole range of Federal agencies, from the Armed Forces to 
law enforcement to intelligence to public health. I am appointing a 
National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and 
Counterterrorism, to bring the full force of all our resources to bear 
swiftly and effectively.
    First, we will use our new integrated approach to intensify the 
fight against all forms of terrorism: to capture terrorists, no matter 
where they hide; to work with other nations to eliminate terrorist 
sanctuaries overseas; to respond rapidly and effectively to protect 
Americans from terrorism at home and abroad.
    Second, we will launch a comprehensive plan to detect, deter, and 
defend against attacks on our critical infrastructures, our power 
systems, water supplies, police, fire, and medical services, air traffic 
control, financial services, telephone systems, and computer networks.
    Just 15 years ago, these infrastructures--some within government, 
some in the private sector--were separate and distinct. Now, they are 
linked together over vast computer-electronic networks, greatly 
increasing our productivity but also making us much more vulnerable to 
disruption. Three days ago, we saw the enormous impact of a single 
failed electronic link when a satellite malfunction disabled pagers, 
ATM's, credit card systems, and TV and radio networks all around the 
world. Beyond such accidents, intentional attacks against our critical 
systems already are underway. Hackers break into government and business 
computers. They can raid banks, run up credit card charges, extort money 
by threats to unleash computer viruses.
    If we fail to take strong action, then terrorists, criminals, and 
hostile regimes could invade and paralyze these vital systems, 
disrupting commerce, threatening health, weakening our capacity to 
function in a crisis. In response to these concerns, I established a 
commission chaired by retired General Tom Marsh, to assess the vulnerability of our critical 
infrastructures. They returned with a pointed conclusion: Our 
vulnerability, particularly to cyberattacks, is real and growing. And 
they made important recommendations, that we will now implement, to put 
us ahead of the danger curve.
    We have the best trained, best equipped, best prepared Armed Forces 
in history. But as ever, we must be ready to fight the next war, not the 
last one. And our military, as strong as it is, cannot meet these 
challenges alone. Because so many key components of our society are 
operated by the private sector, we must create a genuine public-private 
partnership to protect America in the 21st century. Together, we can 
find and reduce the vulnerabilities to attack in all critical sectors, 
develop warning systems including a national center to alert us to 
attacks, increase our cooperation with friendly nations, and create the 
means to minimize damage and rapidly recover in the event attacks occur. 
We can and we must make these critical systems more secure, so that we 
can be more secure.
    Third, we will undertake a concerted effort to prevent the spread 
and use of biological weapons and to protect our people in the event 
these terrible weapons are ever unleashed by a rogue state, a terrorist 
group, or an international criminal organization. Conventional military 
force will continue to be crucial to curbing weapons of mass 
destruction. In the confrontation against Iraq, deployment of our Navy 
and Marine forces has played a key role in helping to convince Saddam 
Hussein to accept United Nations inspections 
of his weapons facilities.
    But we must pursue the fight against biological weapons on many 
fronts. We must strengthen the international Biological Weapons 
Convention with a strong system of inspections to detect and prevent 
cheating. This is a major priority. It was part of my State of the Union 
Address earlier this year, and we are working with other nations and our 
industries to make it happen.
    Because our troops serve on the front line of freedom, we must take 
special care to protect them. So we have been working on vaccinating 
them against biological threats, and now we will inoculate all our Armed 
Forces, active duty and reserves, against deadly anthrax bacteria.
    Finally, we must do more to protect our civilian population from 
biological weapons. The Defense Department has been teaching State and 
local officials to respond if the weapons are brandished or used. Today 
it is announcing plans to train National Guard and reserve elements in 
every region to address this challenge. But

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again, we must do more to protect our people. We must be able to 
recognize a biological attack quickly in order to stop its spread.
    We will work to upgrade our public health systems for detection and 
warning, to aid our preparedness against terrorism, and to help us cope 
with infectious diseases that arise in nature. We will train and equip 
local authorities throughout the Nation to deal with an emergency 
involving weapons of mass destruction, creating stockpiles of medicines 
and vaccines to protect our civilian population against the kind of 
biological agents our adversaries are most likely to obtain or develop. 
And we will pursue research and development to create the next 
generation of vaccines, medicines, and diagnostic tools. The human 
genome project will be very, very important in this regard. And again, 
it will aid us also in fighting infectious diseases.
    We must not cede the cutting edge of biotechnology to those who 
would do us harm. Working with the Congress, America must maintain its 
leadership in research and development. It is critical to our national 
    In our efforts to battle terrorism and cyberattacks and biological 
weapons, all of us must be extremely aggressive. But we must also be 
careful to uphold privacy rights and other constitutional protections. 
We do not ever undermine freedom in the name of freedom.
    To the men and women of this Class of 1998, over 4 years you have 
become part of an institution, the Navy, that has repeatedly risen to 
the challenges of battle and of changing technology. In the Spanish-
American War, 100 years ago, our Navy won the key confrontations at 
Manila Bay and off Cuba. In the years between the World Wars, the Navy 
made tremendous innovations with respect to aircraft carriers and 
amphibious operations. In the decisive battle in the Pacific in World 
War II at Midway, our communications experts and code breakers obtained 
and Admiral Nimitz seized on crucial information about the enemy fleet 
that secured victory against overwhelming odds.
    In the cold war, nuclear propulsion revolutionized our carrier and 
submarine operations. And today, our Navy and Marine Corps are 
fundamental to our strategy of global engagement, aiding our friends and 
warning foes that they cannot undermine our efforts to build a just, 
peaceful, free future.
    President Theodore Roosevelt put it succinctly a long time ago. ``A 
good Navy,'' he said, ``is the surest guaranty of peace.'' We will have 
that good Navy, because of you, your readiness, strength, your knowledge 
of science and technology, your ability to promptly find and use 
essential information, and above all, your strength of spirit and your 
core values, honor, courage, and commitment. I ask you to remember, 
though, that with these new challenges especially, we must all, as 
Americans, be united in purpose and spirit.
    Our defense has always drawn on the best of our entire Nation. The 
Armed Forces have defended our freedom, and in turn, freedom has allowed 
our people to thrive. Our security innovations have often been sparked 
and supported over and over by the brilliance and drive of people in 
non-military sectors, our businesses and universities, our scientists 
and technologists. Now, more than ever, we need the broad support and 
participation of our citizens as your partners in meeting the security 
challenges of the 21st century.
    Members of the Class of 1998, you are just moments away from 
becoming ensigns and second lieutenants, and I have not taken as much 
time as you did to climb the Monument. [Laughter] I thank you for giving 
me a few moments of your attention to talk to you and our Nation about 
the work you will be doing for them for the rest of your careers. You 
will be our guardians and champions of freedom.
    Let me say just one thing in closing on a more personal note. We 
must protect our people from danger and keep America safe and free. But 
I hope you will never lose sight of why we are doing it. We are doing it 
so that all of your country men and women can live meaningful lives, 
according to their own rights. So work hard, but don't forget to pursue 
also what fulfills you as people, the beauty of the natural world, 
literature, the arts, sports, volunteer service. Most of all, don't 
forget to take time for your personal lives, to show your love to your 
friends and, most of all, to your families, the parents and grandparents 
who made the sacrifices to get you here, in the future, your wives, your 
husbands, and your children.
    In a free society, the purpose of public service, in or out of 
uniform, is to provide all citizens with the freedom and opportunity to 
live their own dreams. So when you return from an exhausting deployment 
or just a terrible day, never forget to cherish your loved ones, and 
always be grateful that you have been given

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the opportunity to serve, to protect for yourselves and for your loved 
ones and for your fellow Americans the precious things that make life 
worth living and freedom worth defending.
    I know your families are very proud of you today. Now go, and make 
America proud.
    Good luck, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 10:22 a.m. in the Navy/Marine Corps 
Memorial Stadium. In his remarks, he referred to Adm. Charles Larson, 
USN, Superintendent, U.S. Naval Academy; Adm. Jay L. Johnson, USN, Chief 
of Naval Operations; Gen. Charles C. Krulak, USMC, Commandant of the 
Marine Corps; Vice Adm. John R. Ryan, USN, incoming Superintendent, U.S. 
Naval Academy; Beverly Byron, Chair, U.S. Naval Academy Board of 
Visitors; Gen Robert T. (Tom) Marsh, USAF, Chairman, President's 
Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection; and President Saddam 
Hussein of Iraq.