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Clinton warns of emerging national security risks

In address to Coast Guard Academy, president calls for more money to fight terrorism

May 17, 2000
Web posted at: 2:22 p.m. EDT (1822 GMT)

NEW LONDON, Connecticut (CNN) -- President Bill Clinton on Wednesday outlined a full slate of security risks faced by the United States early in this century, urging the 2000 graduating class of the United States Coast Guard Academy to remain ever vigilant in the face of challenges on the seas, as well as in uncharted areas such as cyberspace.

Clinton
President Bill Clinton spoke Wednesday at the Coast Guard Academy.  

Delivering the commencement address to the Coast Guard Academy's 119th graduating class, Clinton revisited many of the security concerns he has outlined in previous wide-ranging speeches on this subject, with one subtlety added to Wednesday's address -- the acknowledgement that the end of his term is inching ever closer, and his recommendations would have to be impressed upon the incoming commander-in-chief.

He also took the opportunity to push Congress on next week's looming vote to grant Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) to China, and unveiled a proposal to inject $300 million into the nation's counter terrorism efforts, based on lessons learned in the days and hours leading up to New Year's 2000.

"Globalization is tearing down barriers," Clinton told the dignitaries, ambassadors, military officers and government officials gathered to wish the 300-member graduating class well.

"...And now, more than half of the world's people live in democracies for the first time in history, thanks in part to the explosive advance of information technology."

"But the openness of borders and technology makes us vulnerable," he continued. "Technological advances are making the tools of destruction cheaper."

As he has in many past speeches, the president said the importance of a "balanced security strategy," encompassing "military, diplomatic and economic elements," would be key to U.S. successes across the globe in the course of coming decades.

And in no part of the world was the usefulness of that strategy more evident or more necessary than in the Pacific rim -- specifically, in U.S. dealings with the People's Republic of China.

Central to U.S. goals in Asia, Clinton said, are next week's "once in a lifetime" congressional votes on the PNTR legislation now winding its way through both chambers of Congress.

Deliberations on the House and Senate bills began in earnest Wednesday, with votes scheduled in a number of overseeing committees.

"If Congress votes 'no' [on the PNTR bills next week], it will only strengthen the hand of the [Chinese] military and industrial elements that want America as an opponent," he said.

A 'yes' vote, he continued, could start an "unstoppable" chain reaction of change in China, resulting in greater market access for the U.S., and increased access to free-flowing information for China's 1.3 billion people.

"Just two years ago, there were only 2 million Internet users in China," the president said. "Last year there were 9 million. Next year there could be 20 million."

Counterterrorism funding

Clinton's move to add $300 million to the coffers of a variety of agencies involved in counterterrorism efforts stemmed, in great part, he said, of joint U.S.-Jordanian efforts undertaken at the end of 1999 to thwart expected terrorist attacks against Americans in a variety of locales.

Jordan and the U.S. detected and thwarted a plot to detonate explosives in a number areas across the Middle East where U.S. citizens were expected to gather to celebrate the dawn of the Year 2000.

The origin of the plot, Clinton said Wednesday, was most likely the terrorist camps run in Afghanistan by Saudi Arabian expatriate Osama bin Laden, the man suspected to be responsible for the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

He also said that the bomb-making materials found in the trunk of a car that crossed from Canada to the United States just days before New Year's Eve were consistent with the workings of the bin Laden organization.

The plan unveiled in Wednesday's speech calls for distributions of $89 million to the Justice Department; $87 million to the Treasury Department -- which oversees the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms -- and $159 for a variety of other intelligence and enforcement organizations.

The money would be used for new equipment and new hires, as well as stepped up border enforcement, especially along the vast northern frontier that abuts Canada -- where patrols and border checks are nonexistent in many areas.

These expended efforts, Clinton said, would not have been made possible without the cooperation of Jordan and Canada, meaning that while globalization, freedom of travel and quick access to information hold many dangers, they also bring incalculable benefits.

"If we wait for problems to come home to America to act," he said, "then problems will be more likely to come home to America."

More dangers

The list of further security challenges faced by the U.S. is lengthy, Clinton said, and includes such diverse problems as weapons proliferation worldwide, the conduct of so-called rogue states, cyberterrorism, global warming, disease, organized crime and the drug trade.

Clinton said he would soon decide whether to move forward with the initial stages of deployment of a national ballistic missile defense system, but his upcoming decision will be based on four criteria.

Those items of consideration, he continued, include assessments of the system's effectiveness, it's cost, "how far advanced" threats from rival states actually are, and whether the deployment of such a system will abrogate a number of previously signed arms control agreements.

China joined Russia last week in decrying the possible deployment of such a system, saying that if the U.S. were to move forward with system implementation, a new arms race could ensue.

 
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