USIS Washington File

09 June 2000

Transcript: Slocombe Briefing in Brussels on NATO, Missile Defense

(June 8: Discusses NATO Defense Ministerial; Q&A focuses on NMD)

Walter Slocombe, U.S. under secretary of defense for policy, briefed
reporters June 8 concerning the morning meetings of the NATO Defense
Ministerial being held in Brussels.

Most of the reporters' questions dealt with the proposed U.S. missile
defense system and a Russian proposal for a cooperative defense
program, although as Slocombe pointed out, "no specific details have
been provided by the Russian side."

"We welcome the prospect of cooperation in principle but as a
supplement, not as a substitute, for the timely deployment of the
system which we have in mind," he said.

Slocombe also provided a detailed technical comparison of boost phase
technology and the mid-course interceptor system the United States is

Following is a Defense Department transcript of the briefing:

(begin transcript)

DoD News Briefing
Walter Slocombe, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy

Thursday, June 08, 2000

Joint Press Conference
NATO Headquarters
Brussels, Belgium

Also participating: Frank Kramer, Assistant Secretary of Defense for
International Affairs; Ted Warner, Assistant Secretary of Defense for
Strategy and Threat Reduction and Alexander Vershbow, U.S. Ambassador

BACON: Good afternoon and thanks for coming. We're actually going to
do this on the record, and I'd like to introduce the cast of
characters here. Walter Slocombe is the under secretary of defense for
policy. He will be doing most of the talking, but he's supported by
Frank Kramer, the assistant secretary of Defense for International
Security Affairs and Ted Warner, assistant secretary of Defense for
Strategy and Threat Reduction. We will be joined later by Alexander
Vershbow, U.S. ambassador to NATO.

And with that, I turn it over.

SLOCOMBE: The three meetings this morning were, of course, the NPG
[the Nuclear Planning Group], the Defense Planning Committee [DPC],
and one of the first of several sessions of the North Atlantic Council
meeting at the Defense Ministerial level.

In the NPG, the United States presented traditional briefings on the
state of alliance, American nuclear forces, and some developments. The
Secretary [of Defense] reported briefly on what had transpired at the
[Clinton-Putin] summit meeting in Moscow last week. The NAC had
received a full report from [Deputy Secretary of State] Strobe Talbott
who briefed the NAC on Tuesday. The most important development in
terms of arms control, although a lot of other issues were discussed
at the summit, was the Joint Statement of Principles on Strategic
Stability. In that document, both countries affirmed their commitment
to strategic stability and mutual deterrence and strengthening the
viability of the ABM [Anti-Ballistic Missile] Treaty. In addition, the
Statement of Principles includes recognition by both Russia and the
United States and the emergence of new ballistic missile threats and
the possibility of adapting the treaty to reflect that. It also
acknowledges the linkage between offensive and defensive measures and
the measures of arms control, and the presidents instructed their
governments to develop concrete measures that will allow both sides to
preserve strategic stability in the face of these new threats.

These elements represent a significant advance particularly in
recognizing the reality of the threat and the need to undertake
measures. But as Strobe told the NAC, there is no suggestion that at
this point we have the same concrete measures in mind.

Another recent development has been the ideas raised by President
Putin and other Russian spokesmen both before and after the summit,
including by President Putin yesterday in Rome, about some form of
cooperative defense to deal with the problem. No specific details have
been provided by the Russian side. The Secretary and the other NATO
ministers will meet with Marshal Sergeyev, the Russian defense
minister, tomorrow, and this will inevitably be a topic. The United
States is, like everybody else I think, uncertain what the Russians
have in mind or, indeed, whether they have in mind any kind of
technically detailed proposal. We hope that Marshal Sergeyev will have
some specific details to provide. We welcome the prospect of
cooperation in principle but as a supplement, not as a substitute, for
the timely deployment of the system which we have in mind.

In the DPC, there was a discussion of steps being taken by alliance
members to meet NATO force goals, particularly those related to the
DCI [Defense Capabilities Initiative]. Secretary Cohen, echoing what
the secretary general said, stressed the need for more investment in
modernization to correct the problems and shortfalls highlighted by
Kosovo and outlined as requirements in the Defense Capabilities

He outlined what the United States will be doing: buying additional
C-17s, additional Joint Stars aircraft and other surveillance
aircraft; some half billion dollars in additional funding for
electronic warfare support and jamming; and in the important area of
precision guided munitions, increased procurement of Tomahawks and
accelerated procurement of JDAMS [Joint Direct Attack Munition System]
to reflect both the expenditure of those munitions in Kosovo and their

Several of the European nations announced that they would be making
plans for increases, and this whole issue of capabilities would be
discussed further this afternoon. One of the additional points which
was made by the secretary was the proposals for reforming the American
defense export control system to make it more streamlined and more
flexible, particularly to adapt it to meeting the DCI requirements.

The third session was a discussion of the Balkans, particularly, of
course, Kosovo. The short version of the story is that, in Kosovo, a
great deal has been accomplished in the course of the last year. It is
less than a year since KFOR [Kosovo peacekeeping force] actually stood
up and began operating in Kosovo. There have been some quite dramatic
improvements. For example, despite a continuing level of inter-ethnic
violence -- and any level is too much -- the fact is that there has
been a dramatic drop in incidence of violence over the course of the
year. NATO forces are playing a crucial role in maintaining order and
in carrying out their other missions. In order to do that, they have
to maintain adequate force levels. In Bosnia, by contrast, where the
security situation is considerably stabilized, the force level is
being reduced to about a little over 20,000, down from 30,000 and
compared to 60,000 that were asked for in SFOR when the operation
began now nearly five years ago.

But, in Kosovo, there is still a requirement to maintain a force
adequate to carry out the missions. That will require some additional
national contributions, reflecting decisions by some allies to pull
out and/or transfer forces to other functions. The United States has
made modest increases in its contribution with the long-range
surveillance company and the Predator, an unmanned aerial vehicle for
surveillance. We are still in the guidelines which we have established
for our overall contribution.

A main focus of discussion, in addition to maintaining the military
forces, was the need to build up a civilian police force, a judicial
system, and in general, the civilian implementation side to maintain
the possibility of progress on restoring something of a normal life in
the area. Also in this context, a number of speakers welcomed the
declaration, which the secretary general noted by Carla del Ponte, the
head prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for
Yugoslavia, in which she declared there was no basis to investigate
allegations of war crimes by NATO in the course of carrying out the
air campaign in response to the campaign of ethnic cleansing in

That's an overview of what happened, and I will be glad to address
questions. Some of the more detailed questions about DCI and so on, I
will probably ask Frank to address.

QUESTION: Is there any intention to deal with nuclear issues?

SLOCOMBE: Of course, nuclear issues are discussed regularly in the
NPG. I don't think there was any plan for a comprehensive review of
NATO nuclear doctrine.

Q: How concerned are you that the Russian proposal is more palatable
to Europeans than NMD? And on DCI, is Secretary Cohen prepared to name
names about who is meeting DCI goals? And obviously and rhetorically,
you welcomed Russian proposals to the new thinking in Moscow. Clearly,
a lot of this has to be fleshed out yet. How concerned are you that
the Russians may be proposing something that might be rather more
palatable to sell to NATO's European members, certainly more palatable
to the scheme of the Americans are proposing at the ... treaty. And
secondly, on DCI we ... a lot of suggestions that reach through this
type of government speak ... How far ... are you prepared to name
names, to say who it is that effectively....

SLOCOMBE: Well, within the alliance, it's a matter of transparency to
everybody who is and who is not meeting which force goals. So, there's
no question of naming names. People know who are lagging. The
secretary general has published a set of brilliantly intricate graphs
relating contributions to GDP, percentage of GDP, per capita GDP,
relating number of troops per capita to procurement per capita and so
on, which show some very interesting insights. It is striking as to
which countries are high on most measures or low on most measures. So,
it's not a question of anybody having to name names, but there were
some very direct statements from a number of ministers about the need
to find the resources to do the things which we have undertaken in the

Back to the first quick question about the Russians. It is for the
Europeans to say which proposals are palatable and which are not.
Obviously, we all would like to see this problem dealt with in a way
which preserves the ABM Treaty, and the Russians are able to decide
not to oppose. It's important to look at any constructive suggestion
to see if it's a serious suggestion.

I should simply make the point that, by definition any system which is
deployed and tested -- as any system would have to be against ICBM
[inter-continental ballistic missile] type attacking weapons -- by
definition is an ABM system under the treaty and would require
appropriate modification of the treaty. It's a question of really how
the treaty would be modified. But, at this stage, we know very little
about what, if anything, the Russians have in mind in a detailed
technical level, and we will look at any reasonable proposal. I want
to make the point, though, that we see no prospect that any system of
this character, whatever it is -- and by definition it doesn't exist
now -- could be deployed nearly as fast as the system which we are
working on, for which our target for deployment is 2005. Unless
something very, very surprising turns up, we would regard all ideas
along these lines as potentially useful supplements but not
replacements for the program we are considering deploying.

Q: How does the U.S. view the Macedonian border incident?

SLOCOMBE: I have to get you names for that.

Q: On NMD, with regard to the notion of "a supplement, not a
substitute," has the U.S. already looked at and discarded boost phase

SLOCOMBE: Well, as to whether it was discussed this morning, Frank,
why don't you...

KRAMER: I think that everyone was pleased to hear about the plans that
the minister outlined in summary form and will give it greater written
presentation. It was discussed as part of the Defense Planning
Committee, and the restructuring goes a long way to meeting the goals
of the Defense Capabilities Initiative. Then, of course, the issue
will be whether the necessary resources are there to do that in a
prompt fashion.

Q: On ABM, has the United States (inaudible)

SLOCOMBE: The ABM Treaty limits what in ABM Treaty terms are called
anti-ballistic missile systems for defense against strategic -- that
is, long range -- ballistic missiles, and by definition a system which
is tested against long range targets and is subject to the limitations
of the treaty. So, if you have a system that, no matter whether it
operates in boost phase or terminal or in mid-course, as the one that
we are considering, would operate if it's tested in ways that are
necessary to obviously establish that it works, it becomes subject to
the limitations of the treaty; and unless it's going to be deployed in
Moscow or Grand Forks, North Dakota -- which is probably not an ideal
place to put a boost phase system in -- we would have to modify the
terms of the treaty to permit it to be deployed. It also would require
radar support, which would require modification of treaty.

To say a little about the idea of boost phase, there is nothing
physically impossible about building a boost phase system, but there
are serious technical challenges. One is that an IRBM or ICBM is in
boost phase for only two or three minutes -- I am sorry, it is three
to five minutes. Then, the engine cuts out, and it is in ballistic
mode. The whole idea of a boost phase system is that the system is
watching the hot exhaust plume from the rocketing engine while the
rocket is firing.

There are significant technical challenges in detecting the launch
fast enough, and in doing the tracking and characterizing it so you
can have the interceptor accomplished during this three to five
minutes of powered flight. (inaudible) interceptor, which has very
fast acceleration to get there and is fundamentally different from the
kind of interceptors we have been developing for other defense
concepts, either as theater missile defense systems or the
ground-based interceptors we use in the NMD program we are

The track that has to be followed is more complicated. The ballistic
missile, once its power cuts out, essentially operates on a ballistic
projectory which is highly predictable. While it's in powered flight,
it is moving and changing speed. For example, it accelerates as it
cuts out, and as each of the different stages cut out, it transfers to
the next state. So, you would have to have very accurate radar
tracking, and the timely relay of that information to this very fast
and highly maneuverable interceptor. By contrast, the mid-course
interceptor, which is a sufficiently complicated task, is trying to
hit a target on a highly predictable ballistic projectory.

There is also the problem of where to put the interceptor base. The
physics of the problem and engineering are such that you've got to be
within something like a few hundred kilometers from where the missile
is launched, and that's because you have so little time in which to
get the interceptor up to make the intercept. If it is launched from
farther away at any plausible acceleration and speed, you won't catch
the target on its way up. Also, you are looking at the plume, and it
doesn't do any good to fly the interceptor through the exhaust plume
to hit the booster. That would require quite a sophisticated set of
sensors to sort out what is going on.

There is also the nontrivial problem that this is going to have to be
a very fast reaction system, and you would have to find some way to
make sure that you didn't shoot down space launches of normal missile
tests of other kinds. The ground based interceptor system, by
contrast, can wait until there is confirmation that this is, in fact,
a missile that is headed on a projectory that represents a potential

None of these problems are probably insoluble in principle, but no
American, or so far as we know, a Russian defense system that is
currently deployed or under development has been designed to perform
this task, which is a challenging one.

The same is true, of course, of the mid-course interceptor system that
we are considering. In principle, you could design and develop and
test and deploy a system that meets all of these technical problems,
but you need a new interceptor, sensor, new radar, and a new command
system. It would take many years to do it, well beyond the planned
initial capability of 2005. Some boost phased systems are space based,
and they either use kinetic interceptors, the famous smart rocks or
brilliant pebbles, or lasers. That is a conceivable alternative. They
have their own problems technically and, most important, because they
would have a worldwide threat and a worldwide capability. They would
be, presumably, perceived as threatening by the Russians because of
their obvious potential to shoot down ICBMs coming out of Russian
missile fields. In that sense, they would be no different than the
ground based interceptor we're thinking about. There are also
potential counter measures to defeat the boost phased intercept
system. The most obvious is to generate a false heat source.

Those are the technical problems and the timing problems. There are
also significant political problems. As I told you, the base has to be
within a few hundred kilometers of where the missile is being launched
from, and generally, it has to be down range, that is, the missile has
to fly over the base.

In theory you could put interceptors and the command and control
systems and radar for them in Russia or conceivably in other
countries, but there are pretty obvious problems with either having a
unilateral U.S. base which entirely makes it's own decision located in
Russia, or a Russian base making its own decisions located in the
United States. That could pose even more serious problems than with
other potential host countries. It seems somewhat unlikely that a
potential host would be terribly keen on the idea of a U.S.
interceptor base, over which they had no control whatsoever because
its use would in some sense involve them in the conflict, and there
would be obvious drawbacks from the United States' point of view
depending on the affirmative cooperation of a third country in
operating the system. And as I said, whatever they do, they do not
eliminate ABM Treaty problems for the reasons I explained.

Q: (Inaudible)

SLOCOMBE: I think our position on that is the issue of conscription or
not is, for every country that has to face it, not simply a military
question, but it is also a question of social policy, history, culture
and tradition. There are things to be said on both sides of the
matter. That is a decision for the countries that have to make those
choices. Having made the choice one way or the other, they then have
to make sure that they find a way to meet the military requirements
that are important in the case of a volunteer force, that you were
able to recruit and retain. In the case of the conscription force, you
deal with the various problems inherent in having a conscript force.
From the point of view of the United States, we recognize that this is
a difficult decision that is entirely one which should be made by the
countries concerned. Having made that decision, they then need to make
sure that they meet the military requirements of being effective
members of the alliance.

Q: Since the boost phase technology takes a long time to develop,
would the U.S. accept the technology (inaudible)?

SLOCOMBE: It depends on the circumstances. There are plenty of
difficulties about meeting military goals with a volunteer army, in
which recruiting and retention is the most obvious. The point is that
each decision has its implications for military capability, and having
made the decision, it is then very much our position that the
countries in question should take the steps that are necessary to meet
their goals under DCI and, for that matter, their goals under headline
goals for the EU.

Q: On NMD, in light of the fact that it would take so much time to
develop, will the United States then reject the Russian proposal ... ?
Since the boost phase technology takes a long time to develop, would
the U.S. accept the technology (inaudible)?

SLOCOMBE: At the moment, we don't know enough about it to reject or
accept it on any basis, and we are hoping to get additional
information. I am only making a point that, if it is as it seems to
be, we don't know for sure in a boost phased system, there are
obviously technical problems that are timing problems, and there are
political problems that are presented. Secretary Cohen will be meeting
with Sergeyev here tomorrow and will also be going on to Moscow. It
may be that we will know more about their ideas on this matter after
those meetings, and it will give us a better basis for taking a
position. We're not rejecting anything at this stage except that it
seems extremely unlikely that it will provide a reasonable basis for
treating it as a substitute, particularly in terms of timing.

Q: Have the Russians given any indication that it would be acceptable
that their proposal be a supplement to NMD?

SLOCOMBE: The Russians have not. This is not necessarily a criticism,
but the Russians have not developed the idea in detail, in terms of
what they expect it to be technically or what they expect it to be
politically. Obviously, they oppose our system. That is certainly
true, but how they would relate their ideas to the U.S. system is
something that will have to be discussed.

Q: Was there any further discussion of the U.S. sharing technology
with Europe or Russia?

SLOCOMBE: Well, with respect to Russia, that's another issue. They
sometimes talked about a joint program, and that is an issue we have
to discuss.

With respect to the Europeans, what the president said in Lisbon
certainly applies. That is, we recognize that, in some sense, this is
the threat to a lot of countries, not just the rough [sic] state
missile threat. It is a threat, and not just in the United States, but
in a lot of countries. Then, we would be prepared to share technology
and cooperate in those countries, establishing a defense bill of
sales. If they chose to do so, that is obviously a decision for
individual countries and, in some sense, for the alliance or for
Europe as a whole. And don't think there has been any detailed
discussion and certainly not in any of the meetings today. I know from
talking to a lot of Europeans about the subject that there is a
certain amount of interest just in terms of options and what it would
take and how it can be done.

Q: In view of the political climate in the U.S. and the failure of the
last test, why not defer the NMD decision?

SLOCOMBE: Because I don't agree with your characterization of the
system that the results of the test are discouraging, and that is
central to the issue.

There will be another test. It is important to make a point that no
matter how the test takes place or the next one comes out, there will
be another dozen or so before the United States actually begins an
industrial scale production of interceptors. That decision won't be
made until 2003 after a whole series of further tests. Whatever
happens in this forthcoming test will not be the last test or the
decisive test.

The uniform judgment of the people who work on this issue and who were
charged to come up with a system which would be effective against the
threat that we anticipate coming into being in the next few years, was
that it is the way to do it most quickly and effectively is to do it
the way we are doing it. The penalty for deferral or stopping and
starting a new approach is that you open and you extend the time
before the system is available. Now, if nothing happens during that
period of time, then I suppose it is all right, but the estimates that
we have to deal with project the threat will emerge around the middle
of the decade.

It is interesting that the Russians, at least at some level of
generality, agree that there is a threat. Now, I don't know if they
necessarily agree about the particular timing, but the point is that
deferring or stopping and adopting a new approach carries a
potentially quite significant cost. That is, you have an extended
period of time before the defense is operational, and if you have a
problem during that time, then you made a mistake.

Thank you very much.

(end transcript)

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