Radio Address to the Armed Forces
Good afternoon. I'm coming to you from aboard the United States ship Theodore Roosevelt, which left yesterday from Norfolk, Virginia, on a 6-month mission. What I've seen on this ship today only increases my pride not only in the sailors and marines I met but also in every soldier, every sailor, every airman, every marine who serves our Nation, from Rhein-Main Air Force Base in Germany, where Americans are leaving to airdrop lifesaving supplies into Bosnia, to Somalia, where our Armed Forces have served with great distinction and made every American proud.
I'm honored to join you on Armed Forces Radio. I've had many blessings this year: the privilege of meeting Americans all across our Nation, the opportunity to hear about their lives and their dreams for our future, and of course, the opportunity to become the President of the United States. But there is no greater honor than actually serving as America's Commander in Chief.
Your work is often dangerous, even when times are quiet. Your day at the office can be 6 months or longer. And it's not for the money, it's always for the country. Because America's Armed Forces are more than the backbone of our security, you're the shining model of our best values: dedication and responsibility and the willingness of you and your loved ones to bear a tremendous level of sacrifice. You commit your daily energies and even your lives to benefit your fellow Americans.
Our armed services stand as one of history's great successes. Every color, every background, every region of our society is represented in America's Armed Forces. The American military pioneered our Nation's progress toward integration and equal opportunity. It's America's most effective education and training system. It's constantly adapted to change and always rising to the challenge of change. You, and all who wear America's uniforms, are what make the United States a true superpower. It is your skill, your professionalism, your courage, and your dedication to country and service that constitutes the muscle, the sinew, and the soul of our strength. And today I salute you.
I want to say a special word about the Navy since I'm on board this fine ship today. It means a lot to a Commander in Chief to have a ready fleet. When word of a crisis breaks out in Washington, it's no accident that the first question is: Where is the nearest carrier? This ship's namesake, President Theodore Roosevelt, once said, "The Navy of the United States is the right arm of the United States and is emphatically the peacemaker." Theodore Roosevelt was the first American ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize, in part with the help of the United States Navy.
We have a great stake, you and I, in maintaining a strong American defense and in working hard even at the end of the cold war. The Theodore Roosevelt played an important part in the end of the cold war. In 1988, it was here that an American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff first welcomed his Soviet counterpart to visit an American aircraft carrier. That was when my friend Admiral William Crowe and Marshal Sergey Akhromeyev stepped aboard this ship to meet the crew and watch flight operations just as I have done today. It was a key milestone on the path to the end of the cold war.
Less than 5 years later, the world has changed, faster than anyone could have possibly guessed. The cold war is over. The Soviet Union no longer exists. The Warsaw Pact is gone. The specter of Soviet tanks rolling westward across the northern German plains no longer haunts us. But the world remains a dangerous and increasingly an uncertain place. Saddam Hussein confirmed that. The tragic violence in Bosnia reminds us of that every day. The proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction is unfortunately a growing, not a receding, menace. And human suffering, such as that in Somalia, may not threaten our shores but still requires us to act.
These challenges are new in many ways, but we dare not overlook their significance. Blinders never provide security. A changed security environment demands that we change our security arrangement. Yes, we are reducing the defense budget because of the end of the cold war, but we're not downsizing for its own sake, we're trying to rightsize our security for security's sake. And as we change, we must keep a few core ideas in mind: Our military first must be exceptionally mobile, with first-rate sealift, airlift, and ability to project power. Our military must be agile, with an emphasis on maneuver, on speed, and on technological superiority. Our firepower must be precise so that we can minimize the exposure to harm for men and women who wear our uniform and reduce civilian casualties. Our military must be flexible so that we can operate with diverse coalition partners in different parts of the world. Our forces must be smart with the intelligence and communications we need for complex threats. And above all, our military must be ever-ready, given the unpredictability of new threats.
None of these goals are possible without a quality force. The people on this ship and all of you who are listening to me exemplify that quality. It is your skills, your experience, your training, and your dedication that will get the job done for America and guarantee that our vital interests can be protected.
While all of you carry out your mission so far from home, we back home will be engaged in many debates on defense policy. I will tell you that there are changes which lie ahead. Defense cuts are, and have been for the last several years, a fact of life, an inescapable consequence of the new world you've worked so hard to create. As you watch the news or read newspapers, you will hear us talk of new roles and missions and you'll see news about bases and budget cuts. But as we reduce defense spending, we must not leave the men and women who won the cold war out in the cold. As these bases close, as close some of them must, we must not close our eyes and our hearts to the need for new investments and a need to create new jobs in communities with old bases.
Defense spending has been declining since 1986, but there's been no real plan about what to do on it, no real plan for military personnel mustered out, no real plan for civilian workers who have lost their jobs or for the communities who have been hurt or for the companies who have been devastated. We can't repeal the laws of change, but we do have a choice: We can be buffeted by change, or we can act boldly to use this change to make our country stronger and safer and smarter. That's why it's so important to make the investments we need in defense conversion, in education and training and new jobs in new industries. I want to help ensure that those of you who choose to leave the military in the years to come return to a nation of jobs and growth and opportunity.
As you follow the news of all these changes, I ask you to remember this: I am immensely proud of who you are and what you're doing. And as these changes proceed I pledge that as long as I am your President, you and the other men and women in uniform will continue to be the best trained, the best prepared, the best equipped Fighting force in the world. There is no single decision I take more seriously than those involving the use of force. As I weigh crises that confront America around the world, you will be in my mind and in my heart.
This is, on balance, a very hopeful time. But still, it is full of challenges. We can be glad that your mission is not darkly framed by the cold war's confrontation with a nuclear adversary. But many new duties and dangers are taking the place of that single stark threat, some of them yet unknown. There is no sonar, no radar that can enable us to fathom all the changes in terrain over which we are about to set sail.
Napoleon had a standing order to his corps commanders to, quote, "March to the sound of the gun." He meant that when the shooting starts on a battlefield, it is the soldier's obligation to move into the fight. Today, there are many different security challenges into which we must all move. And at times, you who serve our Nation in uniform may be called upon to answer not only the sound of guns but also the call of distress, or a summons to keep the peace in a troubled part of the world, or even the cry of starving children. The cause may be more diverse, but our values must remain unchanged, our purposes clear. And your commitment to serve remains the linchpin in every new and continuing effort.
I know that for some of you listening to me today, this is a difficult time. You have left your family, your friends, your home. I hope you understand that your work is vitally important to your fellow Americans and to the President and to this very new and very hopeful world we are trying to nourish and to build. The American people have great faith in what you do. Their faith is well placed, and I thank you for your service.
NOTE: The President spoke at 3:03 p.m. from the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt.
William J. Clinton, Radio Address to the Armed Forces Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/220441