Podium: William Cohen: America will stand by its friends to the end

From a speech given by the United States Defense Secretary to the Global Crossing Annual Dinner in London
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The Independent Culture
THROUGHOUT HIS administration - and especially in recent weeks - President Clinton has strongly reaffirmed America's determination to remain a leader engaged in the world - politically, economically, diplomatically and militarily. Tonight, I want to take a few moments to expand on this final pillar of our national security strategy: how America's armed forces are shaping a safer world by promoting peace and security, responding to crises that threaten our common interests and values, and preparing for an uncertain future.

Among the most dangerous strains of this recent scepticism is the perceived flagging of American will.

One European commentator following the US Senate vote on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty declared: "The nations of the world have been left in confusion wondering who will take the lead."

No nation should look to a single vote as symptomatic of any corrosive deterioration in America's resolve. Quite the contrary; we need only sweep our fingers across the horizon to see how the United States is in the forefront of promoting security and stability in every corner of the globe.

In Asia, the 100,000 forward-deployed forces that the United States maintains are the foundation of regional stability, peace and prosperity. On the Korean peninsula, we are matching deterrence with diplomacy - beginning a process of gradual and reciprocal steps with North Korea with our eyes on a permanent peace. In the Middle East, we maintain some 23,000 forward- deployed forces to ensure the security of the Gulf.

Following the failure of diplomacy to persuade Saddam Hussein to uphold his UN obligations, we led last year's air strikes and we now lead the increasingly dangerous enforcement of the no-fly zones over Iraq - joined, of course, both times by our British friends. We remain deeply engaged - politically, diplomatically and economically - in the search for a just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East.

Here in Europe, our 100,000 forward-deployed forces serve as a cornerstone of Nato and regional security and stability. And while no one nation could have carried out the spring operations over Kosovo alone, the United States conducted half of all combat missions and virtually two-thirds of the support sorties.

To those who would still ask: "Whither American resolve?" I would answer: a nation content to go "gently into that good night" would not be engaged in more co-operative military activities than in all the previous four decades combined. A nation determined to retreat into a Fortress America would not be transforming its military into a more agile and flexible force that is capable of rapidly reaching flash points anywhere in the world. A nation bent on stepping into the shadows would not be inaugurating the first sustained increase in defence spending in over a decade - a clear contrast to what is taking place in European countries.

WH Auden once wrote that "history marches to the drum of a clear idea". Americans know that the march of history in the 20th century reveals one clear and crowning idea: that the survival prospects of an island of tranquillity are not promising if it is surrounded by a seething ocean of instability. That is why the United States invests so much effort and energy into shaping a more stable international environment and preventing sparks of instability from igniting into conflagrations.

That is the message I bring to you tonight: that after a century of struggle and sacrifice, Americans know that geography cannot be our security; that there can be no "splendid isolation" of years gone by; and that our fate and fortune are inextricably bound with yours and that of the world.

And so if the question must be asked: "Will America stay the course?" Let there be no doubt of the answer.

America will stay the course because that is our history. America will stay the course because that is our destiny. We will stand with you - and with our friends the world over - even to the end.