Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright Remarks to the American Legion Convention New Orleans, Louisiana, September 9, 1998. As released by the Office of the Spokesman U.S. Department of State
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you very much, Commander Jordan, National Adjutant Spanogle and members of the American Legion and honored guests. I know that you will be addressed later by Secretary Togo West and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Hugh Shelton. I’m delighted to be able to be here today with them.
I want to begin by saying good morning to all of those here in the ballroom and in the grand salon. I also want to say congratulations. In New Orleans, just being awake at 9:00 a.m. is quite an accomplishment.
For my part, I am delighted and honored to participate in this convention. The American Legion is one of our country’s truly great organizations. For almost 80 years, you have helped the United States remain strong and free. From sponsoring baseball to promoting child welfare to ensuring that veterans receive the respect they have earned, you serve our country well and you remind us daily of what it means to be Americans. As Secretary of State and a very proud citizen, I salute you and wish you many more decades of success.
This convention is a wonderful occasion for bringing veterans together; but it is more than that. For it is also a time to remember those who are not here — the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for us. May we never cease to honor their memory.
Unfortunately, sacrifice has been much on my mind in recent weeks. As the Commander said, about a month ago I had the sad duty of bringing ten of the 12 Americans who perished in the embassy bombing in Kenya back home to US soil.
As I flew on that mission of pride and sorrow, accompanying the flag-draped coffins, I studied the pictures I had been given of our fallen colleagues; among them, the Marine guard, the career foreign service officer and his son, the epidemiologist from here in New Orleans, the Army Sergeant with the boyish expression and the future in his eyes. Theirs were the faces of America.
Like the members of this Legion, and your compatriots of long and not so long ago, they went in harm’s way for our country. But there is a difference between them and you, for they were not participants in a war as we have long understood that term. They were caught up, instead, in a new kind of confrontation that looms as a new century is about to begin.
This is a confrontation not so much of armies as of values and emotions; of reason versus hate; of faith versus fear. It is not as much a clash between cultures or civilizations; it is a clash between civilization itself and anarchy — between the rule of law and no rules at all.
In this struggle, our adversaries are likely to avoid traditional battlefield situations because there, American dominance is well established. We must be concerned, instead, by weapons of mass destruction and by the cowardly instruments of sabotage and hidden bombs. These unconventional threats endanger not only our armed forces, but all Americans and America’s friends everywhere.
We must understand that this confrontation is long term. It doesn’t lend itself to quick victories. To prevail we must summon our courage, and we must equip ourselves with a full range of foreign policy tools. Our armed forces must remain the best led, best trained, best equipped and most respected in the world.
And as President Clinton has pledged, and Defense Secretary Cohen and General Shelton ensure, they will.
But we also need first-class diplomacy. Force, and the credible possibility of its use, are essential. On most occasions, we rely on diplomacy to cement our alliances, build coalitions, and find ways to defend our interests without putting our fighting men and women at risk. At the same time, our diplomacy is stronger because we have the threat of force behind it. In this way, force and diplomacy complement each other.
It’s a little like having the best pitchers in the league and also having Mark McGwire to do bat clean-up.
(Laughter and applause.)
This morning, I would like to discuss with you the new struggle we face and describe our efforts — using diplomacy backed by the threat of force — to keep Americans secure.
First, there is the challenge posed by international terror. This plague is not new; we’ve long been fighting it a long time But what is new is the emergence of terrorist coalitions that do not answer fully to any government, that operate across national borders and have access to advanced technology. Well-financed terrorist leaders, such as Osama Bin Laden, have vowed to kill Americans worldwide. Their goal is to cause America to abandon its friends, allies and responsibilities. To that, I can only say — to use an old US Army expression — “Nuts!”
(Laughter and applause.)
The nation whose finest planted the flag at Iwo Jima and plunged into hell at Omaha Beach will not be intimidated.
In the aftermath of the embassy bombings, President Clinton did the right thing by striking back hard; and we are grateful to Commander Jordan and the Legion for your support.
The terrorists should have no illusion: Old Glory will continue to fly wherever we have interests to defend. We will meet our commitments. We will strive to protect our people. And we will wage the struggle against terror on every front on every continent with every tool, every day.
For example, although we do not publicize it, we often use law enforcement and other assets to disrupt and prevent planned terrorist attacks. We use the courts to bring suspected terrorists before the bar of justice, as we are trying to do in the case of Pan Am 103, and as we have done in the World Trade Center case, the CIA murders and already in the Nairobi bombing.
At home, we have changed our laws to prevent terrorists from raising funds here and allowing us to bar foreigners who support them. At anti-terrorist instruction facilities here in Louisiana, and elsewhere, we’ve trained more than 19,000 law enforcement officers from more than 90 countries.
Around the world, we’re pressing other nations to crack down hard on terrorism and have imposed economic sanctions against state sponsors of terror. Every nation has a responsibility to arrest or expel terrorists, shut down their businesses and deny them safe haven. Despite this, some regimes still help terrorists train, like Osama Bin Laden. Those regimes help terrorists acquire funds, train and get the travel documents they need to commit and escape punishment for their murderous acts. That’s not legal; it’s not right; and it’s got to stop.
Finally, as our recent actions demonstrate, we will employ military force where necessary and appropriate to prevent and punish terrorist attacks.
Some suggest that by striking back, we risk more bombings in retaliation. Unfortunately, risks are present either way. Firmness provides no guarantees, but it is far less dangerous than allowing the belief that Americans can be assaulted with impunity. And as President Clinton has said, our people are not expendable.
Amidst the emotions stirred by recent events, it is vital to understand that our struggle is directed against terror, not against Islam, as our adversaries want the world to believe. Terror is not a legitimate form of political expression and it is certainly not a manifestation of religious faith. It is murder, plain and simple. And we must strive to ensure that sooner or later, one way or another, terrorists are held accountable for their crimes.
America has been targeted by terror because we are the strongest force for peace, freedom, progress and law in the world. But no threat, no bomb, no terrorist, can diminish America’s determination to lead.
A second major threat to America’s security also has entered a new phase, and that is weapons of mass destruction and the systems that deliver them. For decades, we viewed this threat primarily through a narrow Cold War lens. Now, our concerns have broadened. We are deeply disturbed by regional tensions in South Asia, where both India and Pakistan have conducted nuclear tests; by Iran’s test of a new missile and its pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability; and by clandestine chemical and biological weapons programs, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa.
Some point to this array of threats and throw up their hands. They say there is no way to stop the spread of such weapons and that because nonproliferation standards are sometimes violated, we ought to accept a world with no standards at all. That is dangerous nonsense.
Certainly it will take more than arms control treaties to keep Americans secure. We need the best defense we can devise, the best intelligence we can develop and the best emergency planning we can prepare. We must, and we are, taking steps to protect our troops against exposure to biological weapons and poison gas. But we also need the best legal framework we can create to detect and diminish these threats and discredit those who brandish them. By so doing, we can cut the number of such weapons we might one day face and reduce the chance that the deadliest arms will fall into the wrong hands.
For example, we will be safer if the United States and Russia are able further to reduce their nuclear arsenals. We will be safer if we continue to work with Russia — as we pledged during last week’s summit — to share data on missile launches worldwide, dispose of bomb-usable plutonium and prevent nuclear smuggling. No nukes should become loose nukes. We will be safer if the agreed framework can be fulfilled — if North Korea’s dangerous nuclear program is forever put to rest; and if we are able to persuade North Korea to end its reckless development and sale of missile technologies.
We will be safer if the Chemical Weapons Convention is implemented, the Biological Weapons Convention is strengthened, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is ratified by the Senate and enters into force, and if a treaty to halt the production of fissile materials is negotiated. Finally, we will be safer if we can develop an effective bipartisan approach here at home to the issue of ballistic missile defense.
We all worry about long-range missiles in the hands of potential adversaries. Missiles are fast flyers. They can be fitted with nuclear, chemical or biological warheads. And they are devilishly difficult to shoot down. That’s why we have pressed hard and successfully to reduce the number of countries that develop ballistic missiles.
In the early 1980s, for example, Argentina agreed to stop its “Condor” project, which it was developing with — of all nations — Iraq. In 1987, many of the world’s leading nations agreed to President Reagan’s plan to limit missile-related exports. Since then, South Africa and most Central and East European countries have voluntarily terminated their missile programs. And we are continuing to press nations that have advanced missile technology to keep that technology to themselves.
Because of these efforts, combined with the formidable difficulties and costs of developing intercontinental ballistic missiles — or ICBMs — Russia and China are the only countries thus far to develop missiles capable of reaching the United States.
The intelligence community tells us that, of the nations that now concern us most, none except perhaps North Korea is likely to deploy a missile able to reach our shores before the year 2010. A panel of outside experts, however, has expressed a more pessimistic view, warning that Iran, for example, could be ready to deploy such an ICBM within five years of a decision to do so. In addition, there is the more immediate threat posed by shorter-range, or theater missiles, in hot spots such as the Middle East, Persian Gulf and Korea.
The risks for us are two-fold. The first is that we will be complacent and leave ourselves unprepared to deal with emerging missile threats. The second is that we will rush to deploy systems that don’t work or that cost so much they hurt other defense priorities. As General Shelton recently wrote, the threats we confront must be addressed consistent with a balanced judgment of risks and resources.
The Administration’s strategy is to develop missile defense systems to protect our territory, troops, friends and allies as a complement to other deterrence and nonproliferation measures. Currently, six theater missile defense programs are under way, and we are committed to developing and testing a National Missile Defense system by the year 2000 for deployment, if circumstances warrant, as early as 2003.
But even as we develop missile defenses, we know it would be foolhardy to put all our hopes in that technologically-unproven basket, just as it would be foolhardy to entrust our security entirely to the prescriptions of arms control. We must devote attention and resources to all the capabilities we need to deter and defeat potential adversaries. And we must be prepared — as recent events demonstrate we are — to act preemptively if American lives are in danger.
Countering terror is one aspect of our struggle to maintain international security and peace. Limiting the dangers posed by weapons of mass destruction is a second. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq encompasses both of these challenges, while posing yet a third.
Unlike World War II, the Persian Gulf War did not end with the surrender and prosecution of enemy leaders. Although humiliated and weakened, Saddam Hussein and his military survived. Since then, the goal of the UN Security Council has been to deny Saddam the capacity to strike again. Its tools have included the toughest economic and military sanctions ever imposed and weapons inspections by the UN Special Commission, or UNSCOM.
In recent weeks, some in Washington have suggested that the United States has not done enough to support the UN inspectors. It has even been suggested that we have tried to prevent UNSCOM from doing its job. The critics are sincere – we are, after all, on the same side – but they are sincerely wrong when they blame America for the world’s failure to uncover the full truth about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction program.
In fact, the United States has been by far the strongest international backer of UNSCOM. I, along with Secretary Cohen and other members of the President’s foreign policy team, have traveled the world demanding that Iraq cooperate with UNSCOM. We have provided indispensable technical and logistical support. We’ve pushed and pushed and pushed some more to help UNSCOM break through the smoke-screen of lies and deception put out by the Iraqi regime. And we have made important progress.
Thanks to UNSCOM, more Iraqi weapons of mass destruction capacity has been destroyed since the Gulf War than during it. And just this summer, UNSCOM was able, for the first time, to conduct inspections of sensitive sites where it found new evidence that Iraq had lied about the size of its chemical weapons stocks.
Now, we have reached another critical point. In August, Saddam decided once again to cease cooperation with UN inspectors. This is a direct challenge to the authority of the Security Council and a rebuff to the Secretary General. As a Council member, the United States seeks a firm and principled response.
But I don’t have to tell this audience the value in any confrontation of being able to choose your own timing and terrain. Saddam’s tantrums have a political purpose: to spark a reaction; divide the Security Council; isolate the United States; and diminish support for sanctions. We have not taken any option off the table, including military force, which we have used against Iraq on three separate occasions since the end of the Gulf War. But our strategy is to keep the world spotlight not on us, but on Saddam’s ongoing failure to meet his obligations.
In the Security Council, even the members who have been most sympathetic to Iraq’s point of view can find no excuse — or even any sense — in Saddam’s latest actions. The Council is united in demanding that Iraq resume its cooperation with UNSCOM.
From the perspective of our own security, we are in a position of strength. Our ability is significantly more robust now than it was a year ago. We have added a rapid reinforcement capability. With our allies, we are tracking Iraqi troops closely through the enforcement of Operations Northern and Southern Watch. The multinational Maritime Interception Force is keeping the teeth in UN sanctions, having seized more than 30 vessels since January.
For all its bluster, Iraq remains within the strategic box Saddam Hussein’s folly created for it seven years ago. As we look ahead, we will decide how and when to respond to Iraq’s actions based on the threat they pose to Iraq’s neighbors, to regional security and to US vital interests. Our assessment will include Saddam’s capacity to reconstitute, use or threaten to use weapons of mass destruction. The bottom line is that if Iraq tries to break out of its strategic box, our response will be swift and strong.
Before closing, I want to say a few words about resources both for our military and our diplomats.
When I go overseas, I always try to visit with the men and women of our armed forces. It’s a testament to their skills and to the unsettled nature of the world that they are present in many trouble spots from the Gulf to the Balkans to the Korean Peninsula. The risks are always present, the tangible rewards are few and the living conditions are never the best. But they are doing a magnificent job for America.
And so I will tell you what I tell them. As long as I am Secretary of State, I will do all I can to see that the operational tempo of our armed forces is the right one so that training is sufficient and equipment does not run down; and that whenever and wherever US forces are deployed, important American interests must be at stake, the mission must be clear and our military must have all the tools and backing they need to get the job done.
I have to tell this audience that our diplomats, too, deserve backing. This month, Congress will take final action on President Clinton’s request for funds for the entire range of international affairs programs. It will also consider a special emergency request we intend to put forward in response to the recent terrorist bombings.
After what happened in Africa last month, we can no longer consider any American mission overseas to be a low-threat post. We will seek funds to restore our operations in Kenya and Tanzania and increase security worldwide. We will seek, as well, to augment our anti-terrorism training program and improve our ability to track terrorists and their munitions, seize their assets and respond to terrorist threats.
I hope we will have your support. Whether the specific challenge is building a security fence, easing a financial crisis or preventing a regional rivalry from erupting into violence, we cannot lead without resources; and we cannot be secure unless we lead.
Fifty years ago, President Harry Truman told this convention that America will continue to take a firm position where our rights are threatened, but our firmness should not be mistaken for a warlike spirit. Those words still ring true. History has taught us that firmness in defense of reason and law is the best way — perhaps the only way — to ensure not only peace, but also freedom.
In this century, we have endured Depression, prevailed with our allies in two global wars, defended liberty through decades of Cold War and answered the call in numerous other crises and conflicts. Now, we confront new dangers at a time of great turbulence and complexity.
We are learning, as former Secretary of State Dean Acheson once said, that the problems of American foreign policy are not like headaches when you take a powder and they are gone. We’ve got to understand that all our lives the danger, the uncertainty, the need for alertness, for effort and for discipline will be upon us.
Notwithstanding all this, we are not weary. We are confident. We look to the future with optimism and faith.
Long ago, when Hitler invaded my native Czechoslovakia, my family sought and found refuge in London. Europe was our world then, and the war a battle for its survival. When my family was not in a bomb shelter, we were glued to the radio. Through the darkness, we were sustained by the inspiring words of Eisenhower, Roosevelt and Churchill, and by the courage of Allied soldiers. I was just a little girl; even then, I developed deep admiration for those brave enough to fight for freedom. And I fell in love with Americans in uniform.
The story of my family has been repeated in millions of variations over more than two centuries in the lives of those around the world who have been liberated or sheltered by American soldiers, empowered by American assistance or inspired by American ideals.
For our country, there are no final frontiers. We are doers. Whatever threats the future may hold, we will meet them. With the memory alive in our hearts of past sacrifice, we will defend our freedom. Together, we will honor our flag, meet our responsibilities and live up to our principles.
That, this morning, is my pledge to you — the heroes of our past, the guardians of our present, the builders of our future, the members of the American Legion.
Thank you all very much, and may God bless the United States.