Cohen Stresses Need for National Missile Defense in Context of Arms Control
By Susan Ellis
Washington File Staff Writer
Defense Secretary William Cohen stressed his continuing support for a
National Missile Defense system "in the context of arms control" to a
business group in Chicago September 26.
Without taking arms control into account "from a military point of
view, it's much easier to overwhelm a defensive system just by
proliferating the numbers of missiles. So what you really want to do
is to construct a missile defense program in the context of having
arms control so that you'll have a reduction in the numbers of
missiles rather than a proliferation of them," he said.
"That's precisely what this administration has tried to do. To say
that we need a limited national missile defense against a limited type
of an attack," Cohen added.
No nation should have a veto over the security interests of the United
States, Cohen said, "not Russia, not China, not even our European
friends. But in terms of having a national missile defense system, we
also have to take into account the concerns of our allies. We cannot
have a National Missile Defense system unless we have forward-deployed
X-band radars. You can have all the interceptor missiles in the
world... but if you don't have forward-deployed radars, you can't see
them coming. "
The support of U.S. allies is essential to achieving this, he said,
and "That is why we have tried to work with our allies and to work
with the Russians as well."
Cohen said the dilemma facing this country is that "the Russians have
said to date, no NMD because it requires an amendment to the ABM
(anti-ballistic missile) Treaty."
To those in his own Republican party who say the ABM treaty is no
longer relevant and is not needed, Cohen said "Well, our European
friends think it's relevant. And they see this as a great stabilizing
force in our relationship."
Therefore, the United States must talk to the Russians and try to
negotiate with them "and be reasonable and responsible," he said,
adding that "ultimately, if they say 'no,' we still have the
obligation to protect the American people against this type of
With respect to those who say "we must have the most robust" system,
sea or space-based, he continued, "I take the position that you really
can't have an effective NMD system unless it's within the context of
an arms control regime, otherwise you can overwhelm it very easily
with offensive systems."
His concern, Cohen said, is that while there has been broad,
bipartisan support for a national missile defense system, he has
detected in the past six months "members on the Democratic side moving
away from the system, saying 'Perhaps we should rely on arms control
alone.' I found Republicans... saying 'The system is too limited. We
need something more robust.' And so what you have is a lack of a
solid, cohesive central support for a system."
Once one starts a program of this size, Cohen said, "You need to have
a solid, bipartisan support for its continuation. Otherwise...it
starts to fragment and fracture and you end up, after spending a lot
of the taxpayers' money and you get nothing."
Cohen said he hopes the NMD issue will be debated during the current
election campaign "because I believe the threat is not going to go
away. It will continue to intensify, and that we need to continue our
research and development." There are 16 more tests to be conducted, he
said, and a "solid consensus" is needed to support NMD.
Responding to a question about the need for the United States'
European allies to develop better military capabilities after the
experience of the Kosovo conflict, Cohen said that Kosovo "exposed all
the weaknesses and deficiencies we'd been talking about...."One of the
problems we have politically is that the United States is going to
have to spend more on defense spending," while the Europeans are
spending less, he said.
Cohen said the United States supports the ESDI -- the European
Security and Defense Identity -- "provided the Europeans wrap up their
spending increases and requests in the garb of a European defense
identity. If they have to use the rhetoric to get support from their
constituents for greater defense spending, we support that; provided
that our European allies build capability and not bureaucracies."
"We need more air power, precision-guided munitions, more airlift, we
need greater command and control communications. If they put their
resources, however they reform their militaries, into building
capability and they call it ESDI so they can have a separate,
independent capability to deal with a Kosovo-type situation -- we
support that. But don't try and drive a wedge between NATO and Europe.
Don't use the EU's (European Union's) ESDI as something that is a
dividing mechanism. It should be something that is complementary to
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