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President Clinton Delivers Naval Academy Commencement Address

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The Briefing Room

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 22, 1998


United States Naval Academy
Annapolis, Maryland

10:22 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thankyou. Thank you very much. Secretary Dalton, thank you for yourgenerous introduction and your dedicated service. Admiral Larson,thank you. Admiral Johnson, General Krulak, Admiral Ryan --Visitor's Chair Byron; to the faculty and staff of the Academy;distinguished guests; to proud parents and family members, andespecially to the Brigade of Midshipmen: I am honored to be heretoday. And pursuant to longstanding tradition, I bring with me asmall gift. I hereby free all midshipmen who are on restriction forminor conduct offenses. (Applause.)

There was so much enthusiasm, I wonder if you heard theword, "minor" offenses. (Laughter.)

You know, the President has the signal honor ofaddressing all of our service academies serially -- one after theother in appropriate order. This is the second time I have had thegreat honor of being here at the Naval Academy. But I began to worryabout my sense of timing. I mean, what can you say to graduatingmidshipmen in a year when the most famous ship on Earth is again theTitanic? (Laughter.) But then I learned this is a totally, almostblindly, confident bunch. After all, over in King Hall you eatcannonballs. (Laughter.) Now, for those of you who don't know whatthey are, they're not the ones Francis Scott Key saw flying over FortMcHenry, they're just huge apple dumplings. Nonetheless, theyrequire a lot of confidence. (Laughter.)

I will try to be relatively brief today. I was givenonly one instruction -- I should not take as long as your class tookto scale Herndon Monument. (Applause.) Now, at four hours and fiveminutes -- (applause) -- the slowest time in recorded history --(applause) -- I have a lot of leeway. (Laughter.)

But you have more than made up for it. You have donegreat things -- succeeding in a rigorous academic environment,trained to be superb officers. You have done extraordinary volunteerwork, for which I am personally very grateful. In basketball, youmade it to the NCAAs for the second time in a row. (Applause.) Youdefeated Army in football last fall. (Applause.) In fact, you were26-6 against teams from Army this year. And while I remain neutralin these things -- (laughter) -- I salute your accomplishments.(Laughter.)

Let me also join the remarks that Secretary Dalton incongratulating your Superintendent. Admiral Larson has performedremarkable service as an aviator, submarine commander, Commander-in-Chief in the Pacific, twice at the helm of the Academy. I got toknow him well when he was our Commander-in-Chief in the Pacific. Icame to appreciate more than I otherwise ever could have his uniqueblend of intelligence and insight and character, and passionatedevotion to duty.

In view of the incident on the Indian subcontinent inthe last few days, I think it's important for the historical recordto note that the first senior official of the United States who toldme that there was a serious potential problem there and we had betterget ready for it was Admiral Chuck Larson, several years ago.(Applause.)

When I asked him to return to the Academy, I thought itwas almost too much, and then I realized it might have been toolittle, for he loves this Academy so much this is hardly tough duty.He met all its challenges. He taught you midshipmen to strive forexcellence without arrogance, to maintain the highest ethicalstandards.

Admiral, on behalf of the American people, I thank youfor your service here, your 40 years in the Navy, your devotion tothe United States. We are all very grateful to you. (Applause.)

I also have every confidence that Admiral Ryan is aworthy successor, and I wish him well.

As I speak to you and other graduates this spring, Iwant to ask you to think about the challenges we face as a nation inthe century that is just upon us, and how our mission must be toadapt to the changes of changing times while holding fast to ourenduring ideals. In the coming weeks, I will talk about how theinformation revolution can widen the circle of opportunity or deepeninequality; about how immigration and our nation's growing diversitycan strengthen and unite America, or weaken and divide it.

But nothing I will have the chance to talk about thisspring is more important than the mission I charge you with today --the timeless mission of our men and women in uniform: protecting ournation and upholding our values in the face of the changing threatsthat are as new as the new century.

Members of the Class of 1998, you leave the Yard at thedawn of a new millennium, in a time of great hope. Around the worldpeople are embracing peace, freedom, free markets. More and morenations are committed to educating all their children and stoppingthe destruction of our environment. The information revolution issparking economic growth and spreading the ideas of freedom aroundthe world. Technology is moving so fast today that thetop-of-the-line, high-speed computers you received as Plebes todayare virtually museum pieces. (Laughter.)

In this world, our country is blessed with peace,prosperity, declining social ills. But today's possibilities are nottomorrow's guarantees.

Just last week, India conducted a series of nuclearexplosive tests, reminding us that technology is not always a forcefor good. India's action threatens the stability of Asia andchallenges the firm international consensus to stop all nucleartesting. So again I ask India to halt its nuclear weapons programand join the 149 other nations that have already signed theComprehensive Test Ban Treaty. And I ask Pakistan to exerciserestraint, to avoid a perilous nuclear arms race.

This specter of a dangerous rivalry in South Asia is butone of the many signs that we must remain strong and vigilant againstthe kinds of threats we have seen already throughout the 20th century-- regional aggression and competition, bloody civil wars, efforts tooverthrow democracies.

But also, our security is challenged increasingly bynon-traditional threats, from adversaries both old and new -- notonly hostile regimes, but also terrorists and internationalcriminals, who cannot defeat us in traditional theaters of battle,but search instead for new ways to attack, by exploiting newtechnologies and the world's increasing openness.

As we approach the 21st century, our foes have extendedthe fields of battle -- from physical space to cyberspace; from theworld's vast bodies of water to the complex workings of our own humanbodies. Rather than invading our beaches or launching bombers, theseadversaries may attempt cyberattacks against our critical militarysystems and our economic base. Or they may deploy compact andrelatively cheap weapons of mass destruction -- not just nuclear, butalso chemical or biological, to use disease as a weapon of war.Sometimes the terrorists and criminals act alone. But increasingly,they are interconnected, and sometimes supported by hostilecountries.

If our children are to grow up safe and free, we mustapproach these new 21st century threats with the same rigor anddetermination we applied to the toughest security challenges of thiscentury. We are taking strong steps against these threats today.We've improved antiterrorism cooperation with other countries;tightened security for our troops, our diplomats, our air travelers;strengthened sanctions on nations that support terrorists; given ourlaw enforcement agencies new tools. We broke up terrorist ringsbefore they could attack New York's Holland Tunnel, the UnitedNations, and our airlines. We have captured and brought to justicemany of the offenders.

But we must do more. Last week, I announced America'sfirst comprehensive strategy to control international crime and bringcriminals, terrorists and money launderers to justice. Today, I comebefore you to announce three new initiatives -- the first broadlydirected at combatting terrorism; the other two addressing twopotential threats from terrorists and hostile nations, attacks on ourcomputer networks and other critical systems upon which our societydepends, and attacks using biological weapons. On all of theseefforts, we will need the help of the Navy and the Marines. Yourservice will be critical in combatting these new challenges.

To make these three initiatives work we must have theconcerted efforts of a whole range of federal agencies -- from theArmed Forces to law enforcement to intelligence to public health. Iam appointing a National Coordinator for Security, InfrastructureProtection, and Counterterrorism, to bring the full force of all ourresources to bear swiftly and effectively.

First, we will use our new integrated approach tointensify the fight against all forms of terrorism -- to captureterrorists, no matter where they hide; to work with other nations toeliminate terrorist sanctuaries overseas; to respond rapidly andeffectively to protect Americans from terrorism at home and abroad.

Second, we will launch a comprehensive plan to detect,deter, and defend against attacks on our critical infrastructures--our power systems, water supplies, police, fire, and medicalservices, air traffic control, financial services, telephone systems,and computer networks.

Just 15 years ago, these infrastructures -- some withingovernment, some in the private sector -- were separate and distinct.Now, they are linked together over vast computer-electronic networks,greatly increasing our productivity, but also making us much morevulnerable to disruption. Three days ago, we saw the enormous impactof a single failed electronic link when a satellite malfunctiondisabled pagers, ATMs, credit card systems, and TV and radio networksall around the world. Beyond such accidents, intentional attacksagainst our critical systems already are underway. Hackers breakinto government and business computers. They can raid banks, run upcredit card charges, extort money by threats to unleash computerviruses.

If we fail to take strong action, then terrorists,criminals and hostile regimes could invade and paralyze these vitalsystems, disrupting commerce, threatening health, weakening ourcapacity to function in a crisis. In response to these concerns, Iestablished a commission chaired by Retired General Tom Marsh, toassist the vulnerability of our critical infrastructures. Theyreturned with a pointed conclusion: our vulnerability, particularlyto cyberattacks, is real and growing. And they made importantrecommendations that we will now implement to put us ahead of thedanger curve.

We have the best trained, best equipped best preparedArmed Forces in history. But, as ever, we must be ready to fight thenext war, not the last one. And our military, as strong as it is,cannot meet these challenges alone. Because so many key componentsof our society are operated by the private sector, we must create agenuine public-private partnership to protect America in the 21stcentury. Together, we can find and reduce the vulnerabilities toattack in all critical sectors, develop warning systems including anational center to alert us to attacks, increase our cooperation withfriendly nations, and create the means to minimize damage and rapidlyrecover in the event attacks occur. We can -- and we must -- makethese critical systems more secure, so that we can be more secure.

Third, we will undertake a concerted effort to preventthe spread and use of biological weapons, and to protect our peoplein the event these terrible weapons are ever unleashed by a roguestate, a terrorist group or an international criminal organization.Conventional military force will continue to be crucial to curbingweapons of mass destruction. In the confrontation against Iraq,deployment of our Navy and Marine forces has played a key role inhelping to convince Saddam Hussein to accept United Nationsinspections of his weapons facilities.

But we must pursue the fight against biological weaponson many fronts. We must strengthen the international BiologicalWeapons Convention with a strong system of inspections to detect andprevent cheating. This is a major priority. It was part of my Stateof the Union address earlier this year, and we are working with othernations and our industries to make it happen.

Because our troops serve on the front line of freedom,we must take special care to protect them. So we have been workingon vaccinating them against biological threats, and now we willinoculate all our Armed Forces, active duty and reserves, againstdeadly anthrax bacteria.

Finally, we must do more to protect our civilianpopulation from biological weapons. The Defense Department has beenteaching state and local officials to respond if the weapons arebrandished or used. Today it is announcing plans to train NationalGuard and reserve elements in every region to address this challenge.But, again, we must do more to protect our people. We must be ableto recognize a biological attack quickly in order to stop its spread.

We will work to upgrade our public health systems fordetection and warning, to aid our preparedness against terrorism, andto help us cope with infectious diseases that arise in nature. Wewill train and equip local authorities throughout the nation to dealwith an emergency involving weapons of mass destruction, creatingstockpiles of medicines and vaccines to protect our civilianpopulation against the kind of biological agents our adversaries aremost likely to obtain or develop. And we will pursue research anddevelopment to create the next generation of vaccines, medicines anddiagnostic tools. The Human Genome Project will be very, veryimportant in this regard. And again, it will aid us also in fightinginfectious diseases.

We must not cede the cutting edge of biotechnology tothose who would do us harm. Working with the Congress, America mustmaintain its leadership in research and development. It is criticalto our national security.

In our efforts to battle terrorism and cyberattacks andbiological weapons, all of us must be extremely aggressive. But wemust also be careful to uphold privacy rights and otherconstitutional protections. We do not ever undermine freedom in thename of freedom.

To the men and women of this class of 1998, over fouryears you have become part of an institution -- the Navy -- that hasrepeatedly risen to the challenges of battle and of changingtechnology. In the Spanish-American War, 100 years ago, our Navy wonthe key confrontations at Manila Bay and off Cuba. In the yearsbetween the world wars, the Navy made tremendous innovations withrespect to aircraft carriers and amphibious operations. In thedecisive battle in the Pacific in World War II at Midway, ourcommunications experts and code breakers obtained, and Admiral Nimitzseized on, crucial information about the enemy fleet that securedvictory against overwhelming odds.

In the Cold War, nuclear propulsion revolutionized ourcarrier and submarine operations. And today, our Navy and MarineCorps are fundamental to our strategy of global engagement, aidingour friends and warning foes that they cannot undermine our effortsto build a just, peaceful, free future.

President Theodore Roosevelt put it succinctly a longtime ago. "A good Navy," he said, "is the surest guaranty of peace."We will have that good Navy, because of you. Your readiness,strength, your knowledge of science and technology, your ability topromptly find and use essential information, and above all, yourstrength of spirit and your core values -- honor, courage andcommitment. I ask you to remember, though, that with these newchallenges especially, we must all, as Americans, be united inpurpose and spirit.

Our defense has always drawn on the best of our entirenation. The Armed Forces have defended our freedom, and in turn,freedom has allowed our people to thrive. Our security innovationshave often been sparked and supported over and over by the brillianceand drive of people in non-military sectors -- our businesses anduniversities, our scientists and technologists. Now, more than ever,we need the broad support and participation of our citizens as yourpartners in meeting the security challenges of the 21st century.

Members of the Class of 1998, you are just moments awayfrom becoming ensigns and second lieutenants -- and I have not takenas much time as you did to climb the Monument. (Laughter.) I thankyou for giving me a few moments of your attention to talk to you andour nation about the work you will be doing for them for the rest ofyour careers. You will be our guardians and champions of freedom.

Let me say just one thing in closing on a more personalnote. We must protect our people from danger and keep America safeand free. But I hope you will never lose sight of why we are doingit. We are doing it so that all of your countrymen and women canlive meaningful lives, according to their own lights. So work hard,but don't forget to pursue also what fulfills you as people -- thebeauty of the natural world, literature, the arts, sports, volunteerservice. Most of all, don't forget to take time for your personallives, to show your love to your friends and, most of all, to yourfamilies -- the parents and grandparents who made the sacrifices to

get you here; in the future, your wives, your husbands, and yourchildren.

In a free society, the purpose of public service, in orout of uniform, is to provide all citizens with the freedom andopportunity to live their own dreams. So when you return from anexhausting deployment, or just a terrible day, never forget tocherish your loved ones, and always be grateful that you have beengiven the opportunity to serve, to protect for yourselves and foryour loved ones and for your fellow Americans the precious thingsthat make life worth living, and freedom worth defending.

I know your families are very proud of you today. Nowgo and make America proud. Good luck and God bless you. (Applause.)

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