USIS Washington File

27 March 2000

Excerpts: Defense Secretary Cohen on National Missile Defense Program

(Stresses need for unity within NATO on NMD) (4200)

Defense Secretary Cohen says that America's European allies have
raised a number of concerns about a limited U.S. National Missile
Defense (NMD) program including the possibility that pursuing NMD will
upset the existing U.S.-Russian strategic stability that they see is
provided by the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

In March 24 remarks to reporters at The Christian Science Monitor,
Cohen said he has also heard European concerns about the possibility
that a limited NMD program might precipitate some "kind of disconnect
between the trans-Atlantic relationship."

U.S. officials have sought to address these various concerns, Cohen
said. The Clinton administration is not saying that the ABM Treaty is
irrelevant, the defense secretary said, only that "it wants to modify
it to allow for a limited type of system against a limited type of an
attack. This is not the former 'Star Wars' redux."

Cohen said a classified briefing was organized to explain the U.S.
position to the Europeans in detail. He emphasized the importance of
remaining united within NATO on NMD. "The more solid we are the better
off we're going to be as far as negotiating with the Russians," he

The Russians are unlikely to agree to anything regarding modifying the
ABM Treaty, the secretary said, if "they feel they can split the
alliance on this, because we will need the cooperation of several key
allies as far as forward deployed radars. Not only do you need to
upgrade existing radar capability, but to actually build new radars
called X-Band radars."

Cohen reminded his audience that missile defenses are designed to deal
with nations such as Iraq, Iran, Libya or North Korea and not Russia.

Following are excerpts from Cohen's session with reporters:

(begin excerpts)

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, yesterday a pretty substantial group of
Republican leaders on the Hill and former Reagan and Bush
administration defense and national security officials issued a kind
of manifesto on missile defense urging Governor Bush to make it a
focal point of the fall campaign.

They had about three major criticisms of your policy on missile

Secretary Cohen:  Not my policy.

Q:  Well, the Administration's policy.  Kind of yours.

I'd ask you to respond to each of them. One was that the threat is
much more immediate than you have portrayed it. That there is a clear
and present danger now, not four or five years off.

Second, that a sea-based system based on existing technologies with
some add-ons would provide a kind of interim defense.

And third, that the Clinton administration is willing to negotiate
limits on future sea and space-based systems in order to get an
agreement with the Russians to allow your current plan for a
land-based system.

Q:  How long do I have to answer these questions?

Q:  Half an hour.

Secretary Cohen:  Okay.

Q:  Last question of the day.

Secretary Cohen: Let me go to the first one. I can't speak for others,
but I have made it very clear I think the threat is here. I don't put
the threat off into the future. I have said there have been four
criteria the President has spoken of frequently that he would base his
judgment on whether to deploy a system or not, number one, the threat.

I maintain the threat is here today. If it's not here right now it
will be here tomorrow. So I don't look for it in terms of off into the
future. So I see it quite more immediate than perhaps others do.

Number two, the issue of getting an interim system. I was one of those
who helped negotiate the compromise up on the Hill when I was in the
Senate on the 3+3. The reason that 3+3 was negotiated was to try to
get a system in place as quickly as possible. That is the reason the
land-based system was in fact chosen, and that's the reason we put so
much into NMD as opposed to even our theater missile defense system
because we saw this threat as emerging quite near term and this was
the best way to have the technology we think we can develop to get it
deployed as quickly as possible.

Now there have been suggestions....

Q:  Excuse me, Sir.  3+3?

Secretary Cohen: Okay, it was three years of research and development
and then a decision would be made to try to deploy them in three
years. When I took over I extended that to five years so it's three
years of R&D (Research & Development) and then over a five year period
to deploy because I became convinced that this system was being rushed
to the point where it would not be effective in the sense that we
needed more time for testing and to make sure we're doing the right
thing from a technological point of view.

So the notion that you can have an interim system that is sea-based, I
have not seen support for that in the sense it would be an effective
system. The information that has been brought to me is that you would
have to have a new missile with new radars, and those would take
longer to develop than the actual land-based system that we have in
mind right now.

Now is it conceivable you could have some kind of a short-term system
where you base it off the coast of one of the countries in question
using a system of systems? It depends, you'd have to be really lucky
in that case.

I think we're on the right track as far as a land-based proposal, and
that the CNO (Chief of Naval Operations) has said when you're looking
at future systems don't discount sea-based, and we've said we won't.
That's still open.

As far as the third point, the administration has made it clear that
the current proposal that we have is a limited system against a
limited type of an attack. It will be land-based. It will be in
roughly two phases. The first phase being in Alaska; the second to be
determined, but would come fairly quickly in terms of negotiations.

So that's the posture that we're in, and frankly, when I was on the
Hill and negotiated, that's the reason we went with the land-based

Q: Mr. Secretary, on missile defense. It's understandable perhaps why
the Russians and the Chinese are sort of skittish on this. But you
were in Munich last month talking with our European allies and there
seems to be a fair level of anxiety there. Can you tell us, number
one, why you think they're so anxious? And number two, how you're
going -- What do you want from them? Do you just want them to stay out
of the way? Do you want them actually to participate? What's the
situation there?

Secretary Cohen:  Can I go back and finish on the....

Q:  Sure.

Secretary Cohen: Tie this in. We talked about threat, technology,
cost, and the fourth factor was arms control. That's something the
President has to take into account, namely, do you get more security
or less? Do you cause an arms race to be rekindled? Do you undercut
the whole movement on START II and III and IV? That's something that
has to be factored into this and will be factored in. The President
made it very clear, it's not just the first three, it's the fourth as

With respect to the European allies, there are a number of concerns
that they raise. Number one, they see the ABM Treaty as being the
stabilizing factor in the overall relation for the United States and
Russia. They do not want to see that destabilized.

Number two, they're concerned whether there's any "decoupling". The
British and the French say what will this do to our systems? So they
want to make sure they still have an effective retaliatory system
should the Russians ever decide to attack them.

The third is whether or not there would be any kind of disconnect
between the trans-Atlantic relationship.

So we have tried at least to address those. That this would not
diminish, number one, would not diminish their retaliatory capability.
It would not decouple the United States from them. And that
potentially they too can evolve into a defensive type of arrangement.

They are concerned about TMD (Theater Missile Defense), for example.
The Germans, the Italians are joining the United States in a theater
missile defense system called MEADS (Medium Extended Air Defense
System). So they see an emerging threat as well.

When I spoke to the NATO allies at the meeting in Brussels, once we
laid out what our program was, number one, we are trying to negotiate
changes to the ABM Treaty. This is not an administration that says the
treaty is irrelevant, it wants to modify it to allow for a limited
type of system against a limited type of an attack. This is not the
former Star Wars redux.

I think that once we laid out the threat, and we did that in a
classified briefing, and then showed what we had in mind for that, a
lot of minds were changed. They at least were opened. Did you change
everybody? The answer is no. Did it open minds? The answer is yes. I
had some who came in and said before this meeting we were totally
opposed. Now I can see your point and we support it.

So it's going to take some time, but what basically the Russians would
seek to do is to find if they can divide the alliance by saying that
we don't have unanimity or solidarity of the alliance, that's the most
effective way to try to terminate any NMD on the part of the United
States. I've also tried to convey that message to the alliance. The
more solid we are the better off we're going to be as far as
negotiating with the Russians.

The Russians are unlikely to agree to anything as long as they feel
they can split the alliance on this, because we will need the
cooperation of several key allies as far as forward deployed radars.
Not only do you need to upgrade existing radar capability, but to
actually build new radars called X-Band radars. So their cooperation
is going to be important.

So we have undertaken to meet with them regularly. I was with the
Italian Minister of Defense yesterday. He received a briefing before I
met with him and we discussed it during the meeting as well. So I
think there's a lot more equanimity about what we have in mind and the
fact that we're seeking to work within the ABM context of modifying it
for a limited purpose.

The fact remains that we, you cannot defend against an all-out assault
by the Russians. This is designed to deal with the rogue nations, to
prevent a Saddam Hussein or Iran or Libya or another rogue nation,
North Korea, to try and intimidate the United States saying don't
think about responding. Or don't deploy Desert Storm because I might
put one in downtown LA (Los Angeles) or New York City or Washington,
D.C. Then you have a different calculation. Would the allies be as
willing to join up to Desert Storm in those circumstances?

Q: But have you gotten agreement from England and from Denmark to
upgrade those two first radars for the initial....

Secretary Cohen: We're still, we haven't even sought agreement at this
point. We're going through the educational process and I think we're
having some pretty substantial, positive signs.

Q: Mr. Secretary, a big flaw was found in the Patriot system the other
day, and that system's been around for quite awhile. Does that suggest
that maybe the whole technology is a lot more fragile than has been
known at this point?

Secretary Cohen: I can't give you a good answer on that, Paul. Right
now there's, the situation -- I think our security situation has been
corrected so there's adequate protection for our forces and for our

We're still going through a very detailed examination in terms of what
was the specific cause of failure so I think it's too early to tell
how to correct those.

Q: But in terms of the broader sort of whole missile defense concept,
does it raise questions about that as well?

Secretary Cohen: Not in my mind, no. I think any time you have high
technology instruments there's always a potential for a defect or
failure. How long have we been building cars? Because we have recalls
that take place from time to time doesn't mean we haven't been
successful in building cars.

I don't want to minimize the situation, but whenever you're dealing
with high technology, you've got to check it, constantly test it to
make sure that all the components are fully capable of carrying out
the particular mission.

Q: Nuclear missile defense. What do you think of this idea of putting
over the decision to the next President?

Secretary Cohen: I think it's too early to make that decision right
now. As far as I'm concerned what we should do is complete the tests,
allow for an examination of the tests. It's going to come now later
than we anticipated, now sometime in June. It takes about a month to
evaluate that. Then I have to look at it and make a recommendation. I
think there's, at this point we should just press ahead and complete
the tests and resolve that question later, but it's too early to say
that it should be postponed.

Q: The argument is made that if this President makes the decision it
is more likely we could get a limited nuclear system plus limited
modifications of the ABM Treaty which is held in high esteem all
around the world.

Secretary Cohen:  As opposed to....

Q: If the Republicans should win, that we just go for broke on the
whole thing, you know? ... bigger than your budget.

Q:  ... go to hell.

Secretary Cohen:  Please note that Bud said we were going to hell.

Q:  Could you just focus on that question a little bit?

Secretary Cohen: Right now there is bipartisan support for deploying a
limited missile defense system. Both the House and Senate, Republicans
and Democrats have spoken on this issue.

To say that if a Republican is elected that he is going to simply
disband any consideration of the ABM would imply that he doesn't care
what our allies have to say, or that we can deploy a system without
the support of our allies, which I don't think is realistic.

As I tried to point out, there are some who argue, Henry Kissinger and
others may argue that the treaty is no longer relevant today. But it's
relevant in the sense that certainly diplomatically it's relevant to
our allies, and from a technical point of view we still need their
support because we have to have forward deployed radars in order to
make a national missile defense system effective.

So I think anyone who is elected -- Democrat or Republican -- has to
take that into account. You cannot simply devise a system, not in the
short term at least, to say that we don't care what our allies have to
say about this and we're just going forward, because you do need their

So I don't think.... I think it's too easy to say if the Republicans
get in they're just going to abandon everything, abandon, "all ye who
enter here in the Republican booth abandon all hope". I don't think
anyone can say that. I think that you'd say that once, if a Republican
takes office, if George Bush is elected, he will have the same
considerations that President Clinton has. How do I hold this system
together, how do I hold the support of the allies, what kind of a
system do I deploy that is persuasive to them that also engenders
their support?

Now conceivably, you can come up with a project to say that we can do
it all on our own, but that's further away, and that's not likely to
build a real nexus of consensus for our relationship with our allies.

Q: I just have one other thing. I read Mr. Perry's report on North
Korea. He does not recommend the building of a missile defense.

Secretary Cohen: It was under Bill Perry that the 3+3 was negotiated.
As a matter of fact....

Q:  But he doesn't in the report.  At least in the unclassified one.

Secretary Cohen: You'd have to ask him on that. I think Bill Perry
does in fact support a limited type of system, but I can't speak for

Q:  It's a lot of trouble for one little country, don't you think?

Secretary Cohen: It's not just North Korea. North Korea is also
exporting its technology. You also have Iran developing long range
missiles. You have the potential should Iraq get back in the business,
they certainly were very close to having long range missile
capability. So it's not just North Korea.

Q: It's got to be a quarter to 9:00 and I promised myself, I want to
ask a question now, if you don't mind.

The year is almost over. You'll be out, the President will be out.
It's a time already when we can look back a little bit. It's been a
little interesting having a Republican Secretary of Defense under a
Democratic President. I'd just like to, just for a few minutes if you
don't mind, if you could reflect a bit on how this relationship has
been. Has it all been smooth as can be?

Mary, in a way, reminds me too that there are sometimes differences
between Republican and Democratic views on defense matters.

Secretary Cohen: I would say there have been no differences of views
between myself and the President, or the Vice President, or his entire

Q:  On defense.

Secretary Cohen: That's all I deal with. Fortunately, I do not engage
in politics any longer. But only on defense issues we've had a very,
very good relationship, and I must say it has been an experiment which
has been, from my perspective, and you can judge that, but has been
remarkably successful.

If you look when I came into office where we were in terms of the
problems associated with the military, the procurement, the level was
down around $43 billion, it's now up to the $60 mark that Bill Perry
and General Shalikashvili were trying to get to, and it was always
sort of an illusion, kind of an illusory goal that kept getting
further and further extended. We're now there.

We have in fact changed.... When I came in I was looking at a fixed
budget, and within 18 months I was able to persuade the Administration
that we needed more. The President responded with a substantial
increase in defense spending to deal with the problems of readiness
and pay for our people.

So I think it's been, from my perspective, remarkably successful
because I've kept it strictly on defense issues and I have never been
called upon and never had to engage in any kind of political

The only time the political issue even surfaced was during the time of
Desert Fox when the House was prepared at that point to bring out an
impeachment resolution. We had in fact conducted a lightning strike
over in Iraq. I went up to the House, and I had a call from Newt
Gingrich and Bob Livingston at that time, and they said the House
members were steaming, furious. And they thought it was political.

I went up that evening, it was the first time I'd been back to the
House of Representatives in 20 years, stood in the well of the House
of Representatives. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was there as
well. I spoke for about three hours that evening, laying out exactly
the process whereby we had decided that Saddam Hussein had violated
his agreement, that Butler had been totally frustrated and we had
given Saddam his last warning.

Once we finished, there was quite a round of support -- Republican as
well as Democrat. But that's the only time that the question of
politics came into those....

Q:  During the....

Secretary Cohen: I just want to say, and I think I was in a unique
position to be able to go up there and say here's what we did, why we
did it, and I'm here to put my entire career on the line to tell you
there was not ever a single political consideration by the President
of the United States on this. And there wasn't.

Q: I think here's a question that the historians may focus on at some
time. That is during that scandal period which lasted well over a
year, certainly the President was preoccupied. But in his dealings
with you on important matters, did you find any diversion, any
preoccupation in any way that curbed his ability to address the
question of the day?

Secretary Cohen: As a matter of fact perhaps the most remarkable thing
about this is, and you can check with anyone in the military, the
Chairman, Vice Chairman, any military official who was part of the
deliberations during that entire period of time, it was absolutely
astonishing to see his ability to focus specifically on the issue
before him.

Q:  Remarkable ability to compartmentalize.

Secretary Cohen: He would look with absolutely laser intensity on an
issue, raise the questions that needed to be raised, and show that he
had done his homework and understood the issues with remarkable
clarity. So we walked away from those meetings saying this is truly a
remarkable individual in terms of his ability to focus on the national
security issues before him.

Q: Mr. Secretary, two questions. One, President Eisenhower warned in
his farewell address of a military industrial complex that would have
undue influence on American foreign policy. Based on your experience
at the Pentagon and as a member of Congress from a state that has
relied quite heavily on defense spending, do you share any of those

And two, if your successor were to ask you what are the two or three
major problems that he has to worry about at the outset, what would
you tell him?

Secretary Cohen:  The last question of the morning once again.

As far as the military industrial complex, what we have seen is a
remarkable shakeup in the military industrial complex, so to speak. We
have far fewer contractors today. Because of the end of the Cold War
there was a reduction in demand forcing a number of consolidations
within the industry. They in turn have had to compete on Wall Street
for equity investment, and that has been a great challenge to them.
Major companies, be it Lockheed or Raytheon or General Dynamics or any
of them, can find themselves with a record of their production and
accomplishment over the years not being valued as much as a new IPO of
a new computer firm. So I don't see that kind of influence that
Eisenhower talked about at that time.

Do they still perform a vital role as part of the economy? The answer
is yes. But what we're seeing take place today is a further
integration that we're concerned about a fortress Europe being erected
against a fortress America, and we don't want to see that take place.
That's the reason why we have spent a good deal of time number one
looking at how we can revise our Export Control Act to deal more
effectively with integrating our industrial relationship with our
European allies, Australia and others, Canada. We have very good,
strong bilateral relations with them in terms of military cooperation.
But we want to make sure that we don't see this kind of competition
because of the reduction in demand. So I don't see that undue
influence that President Eisenhower was concerned about at that time.

What we're seeing, as a matter of fact through the globalization we're
seeing economics play a much greater role in terms of influencing
behavior at the diplomatic level than in the past.

As far as to my successor, what kind of problems. The problems will
be, as Mary raised it, continuing to deal with the issue of arms
control reduction. We have START II we've ratified. The Russians
hopefully will ratify that soon and then move on to START III. So
those will continue into the next administration.

Secondly, this issue again of rationalizing the kind of cooperation
we're going to have with our counterparts in Europe and elsewhere.

Number three, how to manage the relationship with both China and

Then at the separate level, dealing with recruitment and retention to
make sure that we still are able to get the very best and brightest
people we can in the military.

So those are just four of the challenges that will be faced.

(end excerpts)

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