Saturday, May 27, 2000

General Christman; Secretary Caldera; Senator Reed; Representative Gilman; Representative Norwood; faculty and staff; family and friends – I am honored to address the United States Military Academy’s first graduating class of a new century.

I am also honored to share this stage with General Wes Clark, who graduated first in the Class of 1966, and who was at the center of so many key events of the past decade. As commander of the National Training Center, he helped train the armored force that prevailed in Desert Storm. As a member of the Joint Staff, he helped negotiate an end to the brutal war in Bosnia.

And as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, he mounted one of the most remarkable military campaigns in history – the air war that forced Milosevic to abandon his repression in Kosovo. On behalf of the nation, General Clark, let me thank you.

And I want to congratulate the remarkable Class of 2000. You have earned this day.

Of course, we all know who you want to acknowledge for giving you the talent, the drive, and the tenacity to survive one of the world’s toughest testing grounds. We all know who you want to acknowledge for instilling in you the values of service and patriotism that you will now bring to your country. Let me take this moment to congratulate the parents of the Class of 2000 – and to give all of you a chance to thank your families.

On my way here, I tried to remember who spoke at my commencement when I received my baccalaureate degree, and I have to confess, I have no idea. And I dare say that 30 years from now, some of you won’t remember… Unless I just tricked you into remembering.

I was deeply honored by the invitation to come here today. I have spoken to the Corps of Cadets before, but not at a commencement. But I have done some research, and I have watched the video of your 100th Night Show, entitled “What Went Wrong With the Class of 2000?”

The real question is “What Went Right with the Class of 2000?” Your class produced four Rhodes Scholars, more than any class in 30 years. You have an All-American track star. And you sent four teams to NCAA tournaments this year. There is only one way to describe the Class of 2000 -- phenomenal.

Today, you trade Cadet gray for Army green, and join the ranks of the most respected military force in the world. This is an extraordinary and unprecedented moment in all of human history. Our values are ascendant in the world because they represent the hopes and longings of people everywhere. This nation is founded on a single proposition that all are created equal. Our principles, although self-evident, have been repeatedly challenged throughout our history. Repeatedly we have had to prove that we could sustain a nation governed by the people, for the people, of the people. At times, that proposition has had to be tested on the battlefield. At such moments, you, the men and women of West Point, have always risen to that test.

Here on this field, in a few moments, you will take an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”

I know that oath well; it’s the oath I am sworn to uphold as Vice President. But I first took that solemn oath when I was your age – graduating into a far different world – and enlisting in the United States Army during the Vietnam War.

I served as an enlisted man – an Army journalist - in the 20th Engineer Brigade in Vietnam, rising all the way to the rank of Spec-Five.

I know that my military experience doesn’t match that of others on this stage – or what you will see in your careers.

But I also know what it’s like to meet a responsibility to our country. I know what it’s like to serve our country in changing and even uncertain times.

Those experiences have given me very strong beliefs about the burdens you will shoulder – and the obligations America’s leadership has to you – as you carry the banner of freedom, close to home and in distant parts of the globe. And that is what I want to focus on today.

The oath you take today is about fealty to subordinates as well as superiors. Any commander – from platoon leader to Commander-in-Chief – exercises great authority, but also shoulders awesome responsibility. Your soldiers will look to you, as officers, for the leadership that wins battles -- and also for the courage, loyalty, and strength of character that braves the odds, or saves lives in battle.

Your leaders in Washington also have a duty to you and to the American people.

You are about to join the ranks of the very best men and women who have worn the uniform of the United States. Throughout your careers, we must make sure that that excellence is preserved. We must insist on recruiting and retaining the highest quality soldiers and leaders. We must provide competitive pay, which is why we have implemented the largest pay raise in nearly two decades, and why we have proposed additional raises, because pay in the lower ranks and middle ranks needs to be more competitive. All who serve and risk their lives deserve a decent living. We must ensure that soldiers and their families have access to adequate, affordable housing, and better access to medical care and educational opportunity.

Tipper and I know what it’s like to live on a private’s pay on the outskirts of an unfamiliar Army post – where helicopters sometimes blew our laundry off the clothes line. We certainly remember what it was like to say goodbye to each other on our first Christmas together, as I headed off to Vietnam.

We must recognize that soldiers spend increasing amounts of time away from their families. We must manage the demands on you, to make them more predictable so that the lives of your families will be improved.

We also owe our soldiers rigorous and realistic training -- because that is the best guarantee of your survival and success. And we have to pursue the right kind of research and modernization programs -- to put the best and most effective new weapons into your hands.

As students of military history, you know that victory often belongs to those who seize cutting-edge technologies, and mold them into decisive new capabilities. Army officers have been at the forefront of strategic and tactical innovation – seeing the potential of airpower and armor between the two world wars; and forging land, air, and space-based forces into the invincible military machine that brought victory in Operation Desert Storm.

We have to rise to the challenge again – to transform today’s armed forces into tomorrow’s Information Age force, one that fully invokes America’s strategic advantages in talent and technology.

That will require foresight, technical skill, and a clear understanding of the nature of war. It will require the courage to stand up to conventional wisdom and ingrained habits. And it will also require a new level of cooperation and joint endeavor among the branches of our armed forces. You, along with your colleagues in the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, must stand together as never before – not just in joint operations on the battlefield, but in the shared development of operational concepts, weapons systems, and fully integrated support networks.

All these things – decent pay, a high quality of life, modern equipment and advanced war-fighting doctrines – are important. But what is essential is to use military force only in the right way, at the right time, for the right reasons. The lessons of the past eight years show that the nation must be prepared to use force when American interests and values are at truly stake; when we can assure ourselves that nothing short of military engagement can secure our national interest; when we are certain that we have the military forces available for the task; and when we are certain that the use of force can indeed accomplish our goal; and when, if at all possible, we can join with allies; and when the cost is proportionate to the objective. America cannot be the world’s policeman. But when our national interests dictate the use of force, we dare not hesitate -- and we cannot fail.

America is at peace today. The values we have proclaimed, defended, and sought to live by are now rising on almost every continent. We are militarily stronger and economically stronger – relative to any other nation – than at any time since the Second World War.

We have reason to be confident. But we cannot afford to be complacent. The classic security agenda is still with us. We still face competition among nations that can lead to war.

Russia and China, our Cold War adversaries, are in the midst of revolutionary transformations. Yet the change is far from complete – and we must align ourselves with those still pressing for reform.

India and Pakistan confront each other across a fragile nuclear frontier.

Hotspots dot the globe, from Cyprus, to Sierra Leone to the Taiwan Strait.

Rogue states, like North Korea, seek dangerous weapons technologies.

And nuclear weapons and intercontinental missiles still shadow the peace. We have made dramatic progress in reducing the number of nuclear weapons. In the last decade, the United States and the countries of the former Soviet Union together have taken about eight to nine thousand strategic nuclear weapons out of commission.

We need to continue on a course of deeper reductions. But it is critical that we have the right approach in doing so.

We are urging the Russians to tighten cooperation with us to protect nuclear weapons materials and stop the transfer of ballistic missile and nuclear weapons technologies to rogue states. It is these states that represent the emerging threat to our country.

The Administration has been working on the technology for a National Missile Defense system designed to protect all 50 states from a limited attack at the hands of a rogue state. We believe, however, that it is essential to do this in a way that does not destroy the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The ABM Treaty is the cornerstone of strategic stability in our relationship with Russia.

It prevents either the Russians or ourselves from deploying defenses powerful enough – assuming anyone can solve the engineering problems – to neutralize the deterrent of either side. The Russians have made clear that their response to a powerful U.S. defensive system would be to halt arms control and increase the numbers of their offensive nuclear weapons. Thus, the ABM Treaty is a pre-requisite for the deeper reductions in nuclear arms that we are seeking in START III, which is under discussion with the Russians even as we speak.

We and the Russians agreed in Helsinki in 1997 that START III would involve reductions to totals in the range of 2,000 to 2,500 weapons. That is a cut of up to 1,000 weapons from START II levels. Such reductions are possible only through careful negotiation. Next week, President Clinton will go to Moscow. This is an historic meeting. The President should leave with the full support of the American people.

An approach that combines serious unilateral reductions with an attempt to build a massive defensive system will create instability, and thus undermine our security. Nuclear unilateralism will hinder, rather than help, arms control.

Strategic stability can never be a one-way street. It either exists for both the United States and Russia – or neither. Reductions alone do not guarantee stability – it is how reductions are made and how they interact with defensive systems that makes the difference.

That is why arms control and strategic modernization have to be built upon planned and negotiated agreements.

The National Missile Defense system that the President will review this summer is intended to meet threats from proliferant states like North Korea while preserving strategic stability. It can co-exist with the ABM Treaty, if that treaty is adjusted. It can be compatible with further arms reductions.

Sound, sensible arms control is critical to our national security – as it has been for the past half-century.

The new contours of this Global Age are another great force that will affect your careers. And as you lead our armed forces, there must always be a clear strategic vision that is suited for a new time. In the Global Age, even the most distant problems can arrive on our doorstep.

New forces – from environmental degradation to cyberterrorism -- can challenge the international order, raise issues of peace and war, and affect the basic safety and security of Americans at home and abroad.

In your training at West Point, you have learned the importance of shaping the battlefield – dominating airspace, disabling the enemy’s command and control, disrupting his logistics, stopping his movements. Shaping the battlefield before joining battle is the key to victory.

This same principle applies to our security policy as a whole. We must shape the field of history so that it does not lead us inexorably to fields of battle.

We must create conditions of peace and stability -- prosperity and opportunity -- democracy and human rights – so that the international order develops to our advantage.

We need a security strategy that addresses potential threats at their farthest possible point in space and time, and creates conditions that give rise to peace, not war.

Creating such conditions is no easy task. It demands a new brand of statecraft that integrates all our strengths – economic, political, and military. It demands that we devote new energy and fresh resources to global affairs. And it demands that we see our domestic and foreign policies not as separate areas, but as a single, interrelated fabric– for we know that the security challenges of the Global Age no longer recognize national borders.

One of the great advances of our military doctrine has been the recognition of the strategic advantage of jointness. We should take it one step further and make sure our diplomacy and our statecraft are all of a piece: and are joined seamlessly in a common purpose.

But in the end, the new statecraft rests upon a strong military. As our future military leaders, therefore, you will play a decisive role.

The threat of force remains an indispensable tool of diplomacy. We must continue to stand firm against aggression – wherever America’s interests and values demand it. As always, you must be prepared to fight and to win our wars – for that is your ultimate duty to the nation. Our Army has never failed us – and it never will.

But your role is not just to stand ready to fight our nation’s wars. For many decades now you have been teaching other militaries how to protect their own societies and helping the victims of humanitarian disaster.

In this Global Age, peacekeeping takes on new importance, and along with war-fighting, is a critical mission of the armed forces of the United States.

Let me cite one example: Second Lieutenant Nate Self, West Point Class of 1998, a Platoon Leader in the 1st Infantry Division serving in Kosovo. Lieutenant Self and his unit are protecting the peace in the village of Pasjane, and as they do so, they are also helping rebuild the foundations of self-government and civil society. This is waging peace by every means.

Our Armed Forces will always be the power behind America’s promise. You will be the ones to open new avenues to peace, and close the gates against war.

I know how hard that can be. I know how much is demanded of you, each and every day. I know what you need to do your jobs.

Today, you join the ranks of the Long Gray Line. Looking out at the Class of 2000, I know you are more than equal to that high standard, and to this moment in our history.

You now inherit the great legacy of West Point, as guardians of Duty, Honor, Country. I know you will lead with strength, with bravery, and with a tireless will to defend the land you love.

God bless you all -- God bless the soldiers you will lead – and God bless the nation we all serve.

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