Cohen Clarifies National Missile Defense Testimony
Defense secretary declares he "did not make any recommendation to be deferred, delayed, or that we go forward"

July 27, 2000--Reacting to conflicting press reports, Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen said Wednesday he did not recommend that President Clinton defer or delay a decision on National Missile Defense deployment during his testimony Tuesday before the Senate Armed Forces Committee. "I don't know how, frankly, based on my testimony yesterday, anyone could conclude that I've recommended one course or the other," Cohen said. " I tried to lay out the options that will be available to the president and did not make any recommendation to be deferred, delayed, or that we go forward."

"There's an old expression that what you see depends upon where you sit," Cohen continued. "I suppose you could add to that that what a journalist writes depends on what he hears. In this particular case there were some who wrote that I would somehow recommend that the decision be one to delay going forward. There were others who wrote just the opposite, saying I was going to recommend that we go forward.

"What I tried to convey yesterday is that there are arguments for going forward, there are arguments for delaying, and that I, after reviewing the deployment readiness review, would take all of the criteria that has been set forth by the president to then make a recommendation to him. So any conclusion that was reached by the journalists would have to be a personal one and not reflected by my own testimony.

Pressed for further clarification Cohen said, "What I indicated yesterday was that the decision that the President will make during the course of either August or early September would be a recommendation as to whether to continue the process so that his [successor would be in a position or have the option to go forward with the actual deployment of the system beginning with the radar construction in Alaska. What I indicated was the consensus from the legal perspective s that simply letting of the contracts would not constitute any breach of the ABM Treaty, and there is a consensus that until such time as the construction is underway that would lay the rail, so to speak, for the actual radar being deployed there, that that would not constitute a breach.

"So the actual deployment decision would not technically be made until at least next year or perhaps even beyond that, but all the president would do on this occasion would be to decide whether he would want to keep that option open to hit the initial operating capability in 2005, or 2006, or 2007, depending on whether or not one believe it's realistic or feasible to hit the 2005 date. So that will be a factor to take into account," he added. "What I also tried to point out is that a consideration will have to be made by President Clinton as to whether or not this puts any undue pressure on his successor by allowing the contracts or letting the contracts this fall, that that may put the p resident in a position that he would have a short timeframe in which to make a decision upon the recommendation of the Defense Acquisition Board to go forward with the contract itself to start preparing the site, pouring concrete, and taking the initial construction phases. So that's a factor that we will have to measure and weigh, but as far as a technical breach of the ABM Treaty, his decision in this either August or September would not constitute that in our judgment.

"In other words," Cohen concluded, "[we are] keeping the option open so that the date of 2005 would at least be available. . . So what we would do is saying if we want to keep that option open the president could make a decision to say I could allow the contracts, let the contracts for the fall, no construction would begin until next year. At that point his successor would be in a position to make a judgment, as I pointed out, that the new president could say I want to continue the process, therefore the contract should go forward, construction should begin. The new president could say I really reject the notion of a land-based system and want to go with something else so the next president would have the flexibility to do either one."

Posted 27 July 00