Under Secretary Holum Discusses Arms Control Issues
Says NMD delay has had positive and negative effects
Under Secretary of State for International Security and Arms Control
John Holum says President Clinton's decision to leave a final decision
on deploying a limited National Missile Defense system to the next
president has eased international pressures, but has had both positive
and negative ramifications overall.
"It's given us more time to work diplomatically," he said, "not only
with Russia but also with our allies and others around the world."
Over the past year, Holum said, considerable progress has been made
"in explaining to our allies and to others around the world why we are
considering this step and why it is consistent with the basic
purposes" of both the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and
The Under Secretary, who served as the director of the former U.S.
Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, says postponing the decision on
NMD also "gives more time for the technology to be proven as well as
to explore possible alternative technologies."
On the other hand, he said, "the Russians are drawing from this the
conclusion that if they keep up an intense political effort against
the program, they can negotiate further reductions in START III
without facing up to the need to update the ABM Treaty to permit
In an October interview with Washington File Security Affairs Writer
Jacquelyn Porth, Holum also discussed proliferation with respect to
North Korea. While the North Koreans have declared a moratorium on
additional missile developments, he said, that alone is insufficient
"for us to slow down the National Missile Defense program."
The United States is at least five or six years from having an
operational National Missile Defense, Holum said, while the North
Koreans "are a matter of months away" from a long-range
intercontinental ballistic missile. "We can't stop NMD testing and
development based on hopes," he added.
Following is the transcript of the Holum interview. ("Billions" equals
"thousands of millions."):
QUESTION: What can you share about the outcome of the discussions that
were held with North Korean envoy Cho Myong-nok and senior U.S.
officials on proliferation issues?
HOLUM: I don't want to get into specifics at this point, although I
can say that it was a productive series of meetings. We'll have a
better sense of where things stand, now that the Secretary has
concluded her trip to North Korea. The Perry Review (conducted by
former Defense Secretary William Perry) has certainly helped foster
this contact and dialogue. We want to pursue that effort with every
bit of seriousness. Pyongyang well knows that it will have to address
specific U.S. concerns, particularly those related to missiles and
nuclear activities, for progress to continue.
As a general matter, it is important to have in mind the near-term
potential for a North Korean ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile)
capability, and that is a large part of the rationale for the National
Missile Defense architecture we're currently considering. The (U.S.)
National Intelligence Estimate changed dramatically as the result of
two events: The Rumsfeld Commission Report, and North Korea's test of
the Taepo Dong I missile. The North Koreans have declared a moratorium
on further missile developments while discussions continue, but the
moratorium is not a sufficient basis for us to slow down the National
Missile Defense (NMD) program. We are five or six years away, at best,
from having an operational National Missile Defense, and they are a
matter of months away from a long-range ICBM. We can't stop NMD
testing and development based on hopes.
That said, I think any administration - I can't speak for the next
one - will use criteria similar to the ones President Clinton used in
evaluating National Missile Defense. The four criteria are technology,
cost, threat analysis, and the strategic environment, including arms
control and the views of our friends and allies. And if the threat
were to abate, this would have an effect on the scope and pace of our
pursuit of National Missile Defense. It is way too early to tell where
this will lead.
Q: What are the positive and negative aspects of President Clinton's
decision to hold a decision to deploy a limited National Missile
Defense (NMD) system for the next President?
A: It's taken a lot of international pressure off. It's given us more
time to work diplomatically, not only with Russia but also with our
allies and others around the world.
We've been working on this since the summer of 1999. The decision to
have a notional NMD architecture to talk with the Russians about
commanded everybody's attention. Now there is no longer that immediate
I think over the last year we've made a lot of progress in explaining
to our allies and to others around the world why we are considering
this step and why it is consistent with the basic purposes of the ABM
(Anti-Ballistic Missile) Treaty and disarmament. There is still a lot
of uncertainty, and I think it is important to work with Russia and,
of course, it gives more time for the technology to be proven as well
as to explore possible alternative technologies. So overall it has
been a positive outcome.
I also think there has been some downside in the sense that the
Russians are drawing from this the conclusion that if they keep up an
intense political effort against the program, they can negotiate
further reductions in START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) III
without facing up to the need to update the ABM Treaty to permit
Q: To what degree do you think there is a general Russian
comprehension of U.S. efforts to get Moscow to agree to changes to the
1972 ABM Treaty that would allow the United States to pursue a limited
A: I don't think this is generally understood because the entire focus
of the Russian posture has been that any change to the ABM Treaty will
destroy it. And that is manifestly not the case.
For example, we have already changed the Treaty to clarify the
dividing line between theater and strategic systems. And that
strengthened the Treaty because it made clear that, while preserving
the Treaty, we could address the evolution of the security
The Treaty also already permits 100 interceptors. And the amendment to
the Treaty we are proposing would have a limit of 100 ground-based
interceptors, which means that the Treaty number wouldn't be any
greater than Russia already has, in its permitted deployments around
It would help preserve the Treaty because, again, it would demonstrate
that it is allowing for reasonable responses to emerging new threats.
Q: What do you think - now that time has passed - of Russian
President Putin's notion of U.S.-Russian joint cooperation on a
limited NMD program?
A: I think there is something there to be explored. We are interested
in finding out more about what they have in mind. I think they are
still developing their thinking. As you know, at the Okinawa Summit
and the UN Millennium Summit, Presidents Clinton and Putin agreed to a
number of initiatives on strategic stability, including joint efforts
in the areas of early-warning, pre-launch notification, theater
missile defenses, joint threat assessment, and in trying to develop a
global missile non-proliferation regime - like a code of conduct --
complete with possible incentives to encourage other countries not to
When I went to Moscow in October I discussed all of those areas. We
are approaching this very much from an attitude of cooperation - not
only cooperation on amending the ABM Treaty, but cooperation on
early-warning and possible collaboration on elements of missile
defense. I think to be fair, we've probably put more specific ideas on
the table on cooperation than the Russians have, but they have
demonstrated their interest.
Q: What is your reaction to press reports that North Korea has
delivered its No Dong (surface-to-surface) missile and launchers to
A: I generally don't comment on press reports, particularly where
matters of intelligence are concerned. I will say, however, that
transfers of No Dong capabilities elsewhere are, as a matter of
principle, a serious issue for us, and we will continue to raise it
with the North Koreans.
Q: Do you expect any U.S. humanitarian demining aid will be offered to
the two Koreans for their project to remove mines along a planned rail
A: It is quite possible that they will ask us how to go about it.
Q: What short-term non-proliferation measures does the U.S. want India
and Pakistan to adopt to bring more stability to South Asia? And what
are the prospects for achieving them?
A: There are a few steps: CTBT (Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty)
signature and ratification, cessation of the production of fissile
materials and support for Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty negotiations
in the Conference on Disarmament, restraining nuclear and missile
developments, and adoption of strict export controls. We'd also like
to see India and Pakistan engage in bilateral discussions on security
We want to prevent the situation from getting any worse.
Unfortunately, we haven't made any great headway in any of those
areas. Securing CTBT signature should be the easiest because both
countries have said they wouldn't test. Indian Prime Minister Bihari
Vajpayee said there would be no nuclear tests before the CTBT enters
in force, and Pakistan has taken the same position. The most important
area of concern is restraint in the nuclear and missile areas. The
draft Indian nuclear doctrine still reflects a desire for a very
robust nuclear and missile capability.
Q: Is there any unclassified evidence that Iran's chemical weapons
A: Not unclassified. But Iranian chemical weapons production is a
concern. The full range of capabilities including biological weapons
and advanced missile delivery systems are a concern.
Q: What proliferation issues should the Russians be concerned about
A: The problems that bear watching involve missile technology
transfers from Russia to Iran, which carry sanctions implications, as
well as certain dual-use technology transfers to countries such as
Syria and Libya and other countries of concern to us. Our principle
concern, in terms of Russia's immediate activity, is in the nuclear
Longer term, there are some issues we are working collaboratively:
good and promising programs to deal with the transfer of technological
know-how for weapons of mass destruction. But, there is a lot more to
be done. Our concern is that the deliberate transfer of relevant
technology, either as a matter or government policy or as a result of
enterprising individuals circumventing controls, could have a large
and negative impact on WMD (weapons of mass destruction) programs in
Iran and elsewhere.
There is a gap between the Russian government's policy pronouncements
and its actions. Why? Partly, it has to do with the end of the Soviet
state and the end of controls. Part of it is related to the interests
of specific entities and the need for resources. Part of it has to do
with the capability to control versus the willingness to control.
Q: What can you say about U.S. efforts to persuade Russia not to
provide advanced conventional weapons to Iran?
A: Russia agreed in 1995 not to make new contracts with Iran, and to
phase out such transfers by the end of last year. No judgment has been
made on how to address the fact that this phase-out has dragged on, as
distinct from the question of no new contracts. Time, arguably, is not
the key question. What is key is that Russia refrains from new sales.
It's something that we've been talking to them about over a long
period of time.
Q: Do you want to say something about Iraq?
A: The core issues with Iraq center around the UN resolutions. We
didn't say that Iraq must be sanctioned for a set period of time. Now,
the issue is how to convince Iraq to comply with the resolutions.
Saddam Hussein is still there and has said no to the entry of weapons
inspectors, and that is prolonging the sanctions.
Q: Do you think the Russian people have a real sense of the amount of
foreign currency that has been spent in the past eight years to reduce
the Russian WMD proliferation threat? Would you please give the issue
A: Since the end of the Cold War, the amount invested in these
programs has been rather dramatic. When you consider the International
Science and Technology program, the various programs in Cooperative
Threat Reduction (CTR), the Energy Department Labs - it comes to more
than $3 billion dollars from the U.S. alone.
Not all of the Cooperative Threat Reduction program funds are aimed at
curbing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Some of this
money is used for military dismantlement. As the Russians dismantle
their nuclear weapons, the resulting fissile material could be useful
to someone else. Therefore, a new program will purchase the blended
down product of 500 metric tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU) from
their weapons program. And over the life of the program, that will
yield about $12 billion dollars to the Russians. This is not
government money; most of it is private money. The Russians have twin
incentives: one is clearly financial and the other is their own
interest in a world in which proliferation is contained.
Q: Does this apply to a broad spectrum of proliferation activities?
A: It applies across-the-board. Our aid appropriately links our
willingness to cooperate and permit commercial opportunities in the
space launch area with their behavior on non-proliferation. It doesn't
make any sense for the U.S. to be in commercial relationships with
Russian companies if Russian entities are at the same time dealing
with Iran. I think we are making some headway, but we're not satisfied
yet. I think the head of the Russian Space Agency, Mr. Yuriy Koptev,
is taking this issue seriously. He knows that the resources that can
be made available for the Space Agency through cooperation with the
U.S. aerospace industry are many times what can be gained from
technology transfers to Iran.
Q: Why is the U.S. promoting the conversion of nuclear weapons plants
A: This is really the only secure outcome to the dilemma produced by
the success of disarmament. We are more secure if they are no longer
producing weapons of mass destruction and, instead, are occupied doing
other things. Then the risk of proliferation is diminished. So there
is an immediate benefit.
It is not in our interest for the Russian economy to fail. There is
enormous expertise that is wrapped up in their missile programs, in
nuclear programs, and in chemical and biological weapons programs,
that can be applied to civilian profit-making enterprises. Some of the
most creative scientists are former weapons producers who could use
their talents for commercial development to help build the Russian
economy from the ground up. This is an important part of our purpose.
Q: I have seen statistics that the United States has reportedly helped
fund the work of more than 20,000 former Soviet nuclear weapons
specialists as a disincentive for assisting rogue-like nations. How
are these specialists identified? What is the scope of the program and
do you expect it to continue?
A: That 20,000 figure is accurate. Some of them are brought in through
the International Science and Technology Centers in Kiev and Moscow
and are selected, in part, by the Russians and, in part, through our
own knowledge because their work has become transparent.
In the near term, we are having a fair amount of success in terms of
preventing leakage. There were many reports in the early 1990s of
Russian proliferation marketing efforts - some of which were false
and some of which resulted from sting operations. Such reports have
now diminished significantly. Progress has been made through
cooperation with the Russians on better border controls and on export
controls. A lot of these efforts, particularly those involving human
expertise, have to become self-sustaining. Commercial spin-offs,
through Department of Energy efforts and private sector initiatives,
are promising. We are on the threshold of success in a number of these
efforts, but we need to make a difference over the long term. There
are a lot of potential opportunities. There is a lot yet to be done to
end proliferation as a profitable venture.
Q: What is your reaction to Russian press reports that attempted
thefts of nuclear fissile material are down? Is any more anti-theft
A: I have no basis to dispute this. I think it really comes down to
what are the controls at the individual locations where materials are
kept. Reports are mixed. Two things are going on: nuclear materials
are being consolidated at new locations, and then, once this is
accomplished, there must be better security. The process is not
finished yet. Improvements have to be made. There has to be a set of
priorities for the areas with the most vulnerabilities.
Q: How high a priority are U.S.-Russian efforts to prevent the loss or
theft of nuclear materials from Russian submarines? And what is your
assessment of that process?
A: I think the problem with submarines is primarily one of safety:
with nuclear reactors on board submarines that are sitting at the peer
rotting. It is something that we and the Norwegians have worked on
very closely. The Norwegians have provided a leadership role.
Q: What are some of the aspects of the Cooperative Threat Reduction
and follow-on programs and what are the prospects for future funding
A: Cooperative Threat Reduction programs have been generally well
received by the Congress. The Cooperative Threat Reduction Initiative
sought to address the troubled Russian economy and to generate
economic activity in a useful way. Because they had fewer resources of
their own, the Russians were unable to spend more on such efforts. The
Expanded Threat Reduction Initiative was developed as a way to be
opportunistic and productive in all of the priority non-proliferation
and disarmament areas we've identified and are discussing today.
For example, CTR funds are being used to help finance implementation
of the START I agreement in Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan through
dismantling missiles and launchers, and to help build a secure
facility for storing nuclear materials from dismantled warheads.
This is all very much in the interest of both Russia and the United
Q: What positive steps has the Russian government taken to control
sensitive technology and equipment transfers? And what else needs to
A: One of the most important things has been the adoption of their new
export control law that includes catch-all controls for particularly
sensitive technologies as well as controls on nearly everything
exported to an entity in a country that is actively engaged in
developing long-range missiles, nuclear weapons, or WMD programs.
Their law is quite strong. We have set up seven different U.S.-Russian
working groups in various areas of technology to collaborate in
implementing the law and strengthening controls in specific areas.
They are strengthening export control mechanisms at key companies that
have missile and space capabilities. They're doing this using experts
from those companies as well as from the Space Agency that have come
to the United States and gone to U.S. companies that are known for
having strong internal controls. On the plus side these working groups
are setting up a legal framework and accumulating expertise.
On the negative side, they are not all working at an equal pace. And
we have a number of areas where there has been an invasion of
government policy. For example, it has been alleged in press reports
that laser enrichment technology will be transferred to Iran. The
Russian government has suspended that while an assessment is under
way, which is an important step. The transfer to Iran of sensitive
technology that can provide weapons grade material is a very serious
Q: What exactly does the U.S. mean by repeated references to the ABM
Treaty as a cornerstone of strategic stability?
A: The ABM Treaty underpins a stable strategic relationship because it
gives both the U.S. and Russia confidence that the other is not
pursuing large-scale strategic nuclear defenses. Competition can be
stimulated if one side or the other pursues, or even maintains,
large-scale offensive forces and comprehensive defenses. Without such
defenses - defenses much more comprehensive than the U.S. has
proposed - neither we nor Russia have concerns that the other side
would even consider using strategic nuclear weapons - it would be
suicidal. By creating such assurances, the ABM Treaty has enhanced
stability and allowed deep reductions in strategic nuclear arsenals to
Q: What can you say about the ABM resolution the Russians are pushing?
A: They are proposing an ABM resolution in the United Nations that is
the same as the one they proposed in 1999. In essence, it argues that
the Treaty should not be amended and that any national missile defense
should be ruled out. We think it is a mistake to bring this issue to
the UN General Assembly; the UN shouldn't be involved in what is a
bilateral issue. We think that the best way to preserve the Treaty may
be to amend it because it is a cornerstone of strategic stability.
Q: What are future expectations for START III? And what has to happen
to bring about a third round of strategic cuts?
A: Two things must happen: One is that we need to do as the presidents
said in the Cologne Joint Statement issued at the 1999 G-8 meeting,
and that is to pursue START III and the ABM Treaty in parallel. It
makes sense to proceed with both at the same time and to build on the
1997 Helsinki framework. We have to take the first steps not only with
respect to reducing missiles and bombers, but the warheads themselves.
The Russian side has laid out their arguments. We have even gotten to
the point of exchanging treaty language. But we are not close together
on how a START III Treaty should take shape. For example, the Russians
are arguing that the number of warheads should be 1,500 rather than
2,000 to 2,500, as agreed by the two Presidents in Helsinki. I think
the 2,000 to 2,500 number is the right place to start.
I would not expect there to be an agreement on START III during the
balance of President Clinton's term. I think we have accomplished in
both the ABM and the START III discussions some understanding in
detail about what the shape of an agreement might be, so if there is a
political decision to proceed to negotiations, that could happen
Q: What has been the official attitude of Russia toward U.S. efforts
to ensure that Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine became and remain
A: They provided very strong support and were actively engaged because
a lot of this required bilateral agreements. All of the nuclear
weapons have gone back to Russia for dismantling and
Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine are all now members of the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty as non-nuclear weapon states. Russia and the
countries involved all have collaborated on that, I think, quite
Q: How are efforts proceeding to bring complete transparency to
biological weapons efforts in the former Soviet Union?
A: Not as well as we'd like. The bilateral effort hasn't worked. The
focus now seeks to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC)
through multilateral efforts.
In 1992 Russia admitted its biological weapons program had not been
terminated when it joined the BWC. One of the arguments for developing
a Protocol to strengthen compliance with the BWC derives from
statements made by then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin.
Q: Do you give any credence to Western press reports that some Russian
Defense Ministry facilities are still closed to the outside because
there are ominous BW secrets concealed there?
A: My conclusion, based on a variety of press reports, is that the
Russians have the capacity, and apparently the interest, to pursue
quickly biological weapons if they concluded that such weapons were
Q: Where do you think the whole field of arm control is going in the
A: I have thought a lot about this subject. I think we need to do a
better job explaining the discipline. The CTBT vote in the Senate last
year shows that the bipartisan consensus that prevailed in arms
control has eroded. Because arms control officials spend so much of
their time negotiating agreements and treaties, there is less time to
explain how arms control fits into the national security rubric. Arms
control is vitally important because it limits threats and makes the
job of defense easier. Producing arms control agreements serves U.S.
security interests, but that point does not always come across.
The other issue is that as the field of arms control has grown, it has
also become more technical and complex with the end of the Cold War.
With that, many of the pre-existing restraints on technology transfers
are gone, but they need to be replaced. We also need to build
international constituencies to continue the work of non-proliferation
and arms control by doing a better job of explaining it and its
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Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)