[EXCERPTS] DoD News Briefing

Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
Tuesday, April 1, 1997 - 1:30 p.m.


Q: There's a piece in the Washington Times about evidence that Moscow has had an aggressive underground bunker-building program going on with four separate projects in and around Moscow, and also a related story about there having been at least four alerts during the 1990s when Russian nuclear weapons were placed on a higher-level alert. Can you shed any light on either of those reports? Is the Pentagon aware of it? Concerned about it?

A: The Russians are building--and have been for some time- -various underground facilities in Russia. These were done in the Soviet Union and they're being continued by Russia today. We also have hardened structures to protect our leaders in the event of nuclear war, and we also have other ways to protect our leaders, by moving them, by putting them in the air, etc., from nuclear attack. So this is something that both the United States and Russia have done.

Russia is continuing the program. We do not regard the program as a threat. It is not an offensive program. It's a program to protect their officials. We don't understand why they're continuing to do this, but they are.

Q: This doesn't bother you in light of Russia talking about not having the funds to go with further reductions of START? Yet they're putting all this money into that kind of...

A: First of all, Russia has agreed, President Yeltsin has agreed to bring START II up before the Duma, so the Duma will have a chance to vote on the START II Treaty. The Russian leadership, led by President Yeltsin, thinks that this is an important treaty and it's a necessary precondition to further arms reductions which both Russia and the United States want.

Secondly, Russia has been reducing its nuclear arsenal in compliance with the START I agreement. That takes arsenals down from 10,000 or more nuclear weapons down to about 6,000 as defined by the START I agreement. They've been doing that and they've been doing it quite aggressively. Just in recent weeks they've destroyed 19 submarine launched ballistic missiles, in the last 7 to 14 days they've destroyed those. So they are moving forward with their weapons destruction as required under the START I Treaty and we fully anticipate that they will under the START II Treaty, after the Duma ratifies it.

Q: You said they destroyed 19 missiles. Do you mean submarines or missiles?

A: No, they destroyed 19 submarine-launched ballistic missiles in the last week or so.

Q: You don't think that the resources they're using could be used in a better way?

A: Every country makes decisions about how to defend itself and how to defend its people and its leaders. We make those decisions every day and Russia makes those decisions, and this is how they decided to do it.

As I pointed out, we do have facilities for protecting military/civilian leaders, for protecting our national command authority.

Q: Does the United States discuss this issue with Russia? About maybe these funds would be better spent elsewhere?

A: First of all, money that's being spent on digging tunnels is not being spent on developing new missiles; it's not being spent on developing new offensive capabilities. I think that's a very important distinction. These are on defensive measures. We are worried primarily about offensive measures.

As you know, we have a program--the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program--that is helping Russia destroy its nuclear arsenals. It helps them cut the wings off bombers; it helps them dismantle missiles. We provide all of that assistance in kind to Russia. Not in terms of money. We provide them equipment, we provide them technological advice, technical assistance, etc. So these are entirely different programs and it's not, they can't take money from the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, also known as Nunn/Lugar, and divert it to other purposes.

As I said, we're worried primarily about offensive capability, and we've started a very aggressive arms reduction regime with Russia to limit their offensive capability and our offensive capability. In Helsinki, the leaders of both Russia and the United States made it very clear that they want to go beyond START II to a START III agreement that will reduce even further the nuclear arsenals of both countries.

Q: To kind of put this story in perspective, has the United States or the Pentagon noticed an accelerated movement in the construction of these bunkers, or is this something that's been going on for some time?

A: They've been burrowing away for some time in various underground facilities. They have always placed a heavy emphasis, going back to Soviet times, on civil defense and protection, underground protection and other types of protection. I can recall decades ago Harold Brown, then the Secretary of Defense, used to talk, there was a big debate during the Carter Administration about civil defense. The debate went that the Russians were outspending us by some huge margin on civil defense, and, therefore, we were leaving ourselves exposed by not spending as much money on civil defense.

Harold Brown said, "We practice civil defense every Friday afternoon when people leave cities and drive out into the country. We have ways of disbursing our populations very, very quickly." The Russians have not paid as much attention to dispersion as we have, and they've paid more attention to underground protection.

But I think this development which has been going on for a long while and is not new, deflects attention from two more important developments. The first is the progress that we're making on arms reduction today. The START I Treaty, as I said, brings it down to about 6,000 countable weapons. START II which our Senate has ratified and we hope the Duma will ratify soon, brings the numbers down between 3,000 and 3,500 on each side -- a significant reduction. And START III, as outlined by President Clinton and President Yeltsin, would bring the arsenals down to between 2,000 and 2,500. So this is a reduction of about 80 percent or will be a reduction of over 80 percent in arsenals in a 10 to 15 year period. This is an extraordinary development. That's just one of them, though.

The second is that both the United States and Russia have agreed to stop targeting their strategic nuclear weapons at each other. So we no longer have the hair trigger that we lived with for decades under the Cold War. This, again, is another important development. It's an effort by both sides to build stability and confidence in a continuing peaceful environment.

We still maintain very extensive nuclear forces, as do the Russians. What we're trying to do is to limit and contain those forces as much as possible.

Q: Do you think this positive development could come to a halt considering that Russia might be threatened by possible NATO expansion?

A: No, I don't. And I don't think President Yeltsin does either. In Helsinki he talked about moving to START III. I think the Russians understand that NATO is going to expand and it will expand in a way that's not threatening to Russia. NATO expansion is not against Russia, it's for stability in Europe, increased stability in Europe. We've spent a lot of time talking to Russia about that. We're working hard to find ways to incorporate Russia into a consulting arrangement that will make them feel part of rather than outside of security decisions made in Europe. They'll have a voice, not a veto in these decisions.

So I gather from what President Yeltsin said that they fully intend and want to go ahead with further arms reductions, even as NATO expands.