01 September 2000
Transcript: Berger Briefing on Clinton's NMD Decision, September 1
(NMD technology is "promising but unproven" NSC Advisor says) (5260)
U.S. National Security Advisor Samuel R. Berger told reporters at the
White House September 1 that the technology for a National Missile
Defense "is promising but unproven" and "we have to be cleared-eyed
He said the administration simply has "not obtained the information
that would allow us to conclude that the system is technologically
feasible, operationally effective and can work reliably under
"There are critical elements of the program that have yet to be
tested, like the intercept booster. And there are questions to be
resolved about the ability of the system to deal with countermeasures,
decoys," said Berger.
"We believe," he said, "that the problems encountered in the two most
recent tests, where we failed to achieve an intercept, presumably can
be corrected, but more time is needed and information is needed to
confirm ... that this is possible."
Following is the White House transcript:
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
September 1, 2000
PRESS BRIEFING BY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR SAMUEL R. BERGER
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
1:22 P.M. EDT
MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon. You've obviously heard from the President
and the decision that he's made regarding national missile defense.
Here to provide you some of the perspective on the process, the
serious process that went into the President's decision we have the
National Security Advisor, Samuel R. Berger.
MR. BERGER: Thank you, PJ. The President said last year that he would
make a decision this summer on whether to go forward with deployment
of a national missile defense system. Today, he made that decision and
announced it. As you heard, the President has decided that while our
NMD program is sufficiently promising and affordable to justify
continued development and testing, there is not sufficient information
available to us at this stage about the technical and operational
effectiveness to move ahead with deployment.
The Pentagon will continue the development and testing of the system,
including flight tests, ground tests and simulations. Now, in making
this decision, the President considered four criteria that you've
heard often, and that he's talked about often, as the framework with
which he would approach this issue: the nature of the threat, the
cost, the technical feasibility of a system and the overall impact on
national security. And let me just quickly go through those four
criteria and how we see them.
With respect to the threat, we believe there is an emerging threat
that countries such as North Korea, Iran, Iraq, could over the next
decade develop ballistic missiles that were capable of delivering
weapons of mass destruction to the United States. Although, we believe
that deterrence, the knowledge that an attack on the United States
would be met with a devastating response, remains the cornerstone of
our defense posture.
There is also the possibility that in the future a hostile state with
nuclear weapons and long range missiles may simply disintegrate, with
command and control over such missiles falling into unstable hands.
There's a possibility that in a moment of desperation a hostile
country might miscalculate, believing it could use nuclear weapons to
intimidate us from defending our vital interest or from coming to the
aid of an ally.
And as the President said, we cannot rule out the possibility that a
terrorist group in the future could gain the capability to strike us
with such capabilities, particularly if they were to come into control
of a state with an existing nuclear weapons establishment. So there is
an emerging threat. We have to take it seriously. We have taken it
seriously and we have to explore what the best response is.
Now with respect to cost, we have spent approximately $5.7 billion so
far in developing this NMD system. We've budgeted an additional $10.4
billion in fiscal 2001 through 2005, to support possible deployment of
the initial NMD architecture that presumably now will slide somewhat.
DOD's current estimate for developing, procuring and deploying our
initial Phase I system -- that is, 100 interceptors in Alaska -- an
ABM radar upgrades to five early warning radars, is about $25 billion
for fiscal '01 to '09. This is an ambitious program, and the cost
cannot be disregarded. But to put it in perspective, it represents
less than 1 percent of the defense budget over the coming six years.
On technology, obviously a crucial point, we simply cannot conclude
with the information that is available to us today, that we have
enough confidence in the technology and operational effectiveness of
the entire system to move ahead with deployment. Now, again, I would
underscore, as the President did, that our NMD program is making
progress. Last October, in its first flight test, it demonstrated that
it is possible to hit a bullet with a bullet when our prototype
interceptor and kill vehicle struck a dummy warhead over the Pacific
We've also begun to show that the different parts of the system, the
space-based sensor, early warning radar, ABM radar, battle management
command and control, et cetera, can work together.
And I would say that this system is the most affordable, most mature
technology that anybody has suggested with respect to national missile
defense. However, as the President said, we have to be clear-eyed
about this. The technology for NMD is promising, but unproven. We
simply have not obtained the information that will allow us to
conclude that the system is technologically feasible, operationally
effective and can work reliably under realistic conditions.
There are critical elements of the program that have yet to be tested,
like the intercept booster, and there are questions to be resolved
about the ability of the system to deal with countermeasures, decoys.
Now, we believe that the problems encountered in the two most recent
tests, where we failed to achieve an intercept, presumably can be
corrected, but more time is needed and information is needed to
confirm that this is possible.
The fourth criteria, national security considerations, including arms
control, in effect addresses the largest question -- whether NMD in
the context of the overall security environment will enhance our
overall security or diminish it. Now, an effective NMD could play an
important part in an overall national security strategy, although an
overall national security strategy cannot rely or rest simply on NMD.
We must work with our allies and others to prevent others from
obtaining the technologies that threaten us. We must continue to work
with the Russians to build down nuclear dangers left over from the
Cold War, and an important part of this effort is the array of arms
control agreements with Russia, including the ABM treaty the President
The ABM treaty, which as you know, limits defenses so that neither
side can deploy a system that would undermine the other's nuclear
deterrent, and thus tempt the other to strike first, or take counter
measures that would, on balance, make us less secure, is still
important to us today. It continues to be relevant today.
It's the cornerstone of the overall -- it's a cornerstone of the
overall arms control regime, including START. It continues to be
important to strategic stability, including trust and reducing the
risk of confrontation between the world's two largest nuclear powers,
whose relationship is still in transition.
The President's decision today will provide the United States with
additional time to pursue the goal of adopting the ABM treaty, to
provide for limited missile defenses, that will not undercut strategic
stability. I do not believe that we have yet exhausted the
possibilities for reaching such an agreement.
Now, as the President made clear, no one has a veto over America's
security decisions, and it may be the judgment of the next President
that, not withstanding an inability to secure a change in the ABM
treaty, it still remains important to go forward with an NMD system.
But I believe it would be far preferable to move forward in the
context of arms control and not in the context of undercutting arms
Finally, our decision today, the President's decision, gives us more
time to continue to consult with our allies, all of whom want us to
pursue NMD in a way that preserves the ABM treaty. And as the
President noted, many of these allies are quite critical to the
deployment of an NMD system, since elements of the system itself need
to be deployed on their soil.
So let me just say, in conclusion, that those are the major factors
which went into the President's decision. And let me just repeat what
the President described as his bottom line. The emerging threat is
real, we have an obligation to pursue a missile defense system that
could add to our defense, we've made progress, but we should not move
forward until we have further confidence that the system will work and
we have made every reasonable diplomatic effort to minimize the costs.
One final point I would like to make is the decision today taken by
the President should not have a significant impact on the date this
NMD system could be deployed if the next administration decides to go
forward. The best judgment of the experts who have examined this
question -- including the independent review team led by former Air
Force Chief of Staff, Larry Welch, who has been a principal advisor to
the Defense Department on this -- is that if we were able to commit
today to proceed with our NMD, the system would most likely be
operational around 2006 or 2007. So even if the next President made
the decision next year to go forward with the first steps here, in
terms of radar on Shemya Island, it would still be within that window
of 2006 or 2007.
And with that, I will take your questions.
Q: When did Secretary Cohen make his recommendations to the President,
and how? And could you say, out of the four areas, which was the most
important, the technology or the analysis of the threat or --
MR. BERGER: Well, of course, Secretary Cohen has been an integral part
of this all along. He met with the President most recently on Tuesday
night, when we returned from -- what continent were we on Tuesday?
MR. BERGER: Cairo. The President got here about 4:00 p.m. and
Secretary Cohen met with him at 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, but there had
been previous discussions with him and phone conversations.
In terms of what factors most important to the President, I think
they're all important. I think that, clearly, the technological
questions here at this stage are quite important. It is very difficult
to justify moving forward with deployment, given the questions that
are raised if there is not confidence that the system really is ready
to go forward.
By virtue of this decision, the President enables, I think, the next
President not only to make the decision for himself, but also to
engage with allies and engage with Russians and others to see whether
this can be done in the way in which it would be most advantageous to
Q: Sandy, when will the United States be vulnerable? When, in the view
of the advisors to the President? Is there a risk that the U.S. could
be hit by an intercontinental missile from elsewhere? Because he
mentioned a date, and I wondered -- and it was 2006 or 2007, I believe
-- but the Pentagon had, until recently, been talking about a threat
that might begin in 2005.
MR. BERGER: Let me make some distinctions which I think are quite
confusing. Two thousand five, 2006, 2007 are all dates that pertain to
when this system could be finished if you started building it now.
They are not threat-based dates. So 18 months ago, the judgment of the
Pentagon was that if a decision was made this summer, you could be
ready in 2005. I'll come back to threat in a minute.
I think in the last -- particularly since the failure of the last two
tests, I think most experts have concluded that there are a number of
problems, including the booster rocket here that needs further work
and that finishing this in 2005 is unlikely, and it is more likely
that it could be completed in 2006 or 2007. Those dates pertain to how
long it would take to get the system up and ready.
There's no other technology that will be ready earlier than anybody
Now, the threat -- the intelligence community has looked at the
threat, as have others, and they have basically identified in the
short term, in the next decade, three locations or three potential
sources -- North Korea, Iran and Iraq. With respect to Iran and Iraq,
they have indicated -- and this is without regard to intention, with
regard to capability -- that by the end of the decade it is
conceivable, possible, that they will have a capacity to launch a
intercontinental ballistic missile at the United States.
The earlier threat is the North Korean threat, and there's no one --
the intelligence community has never put a date on this, because it
really relates to their testing program. Now, they have, as you know,
undertaken a moratorium on their testing, as a result of negotiations
that we have had with them; and as a result of their recent diplomatic
flurry of activity, have at least raised some questions about whether
or not they might be prepared to negotiate about their missile
If on the one hand they were to turn -- go off in a different
direction, break the moratorium, proceed with their testing, that
threat could be mature much earlier, and there's never been a specific
date, but it could be earlier than sometime during the decade.
Q: You don't care to name a date that you think --
MR. BERGER: I don't think that I've ever seen a date from the
intelligence community specifically. I think they would tie it to a
resumption of testing, and once there was a --
Q: Sandy, wasn't there a blue ribbon panel, a bipartisan panel that
came up with the 2005 date?
MR. BERGER: The 2005 date, again, a 2005 date relates to -- relates to
when the Defense Department has believed, 18 months ago, believed that
Q: This was a threat-based --
MR. BERGER: Well, Steve, do you want to add anything to what I'm
saying? I guess the Rumsfeld Commission is what you're referring to.
Did they say something different?
MR. ANDREASEN: I think the Rumsfeld Commission, which issued its
report in the summer of 1998, in effect said that they were concerned
that countries could develop technologies over a period of
approximately five years to go from basically the technology to a
deployed capability, and that the United States intelligence community
may not actually determine that the activity is underway until well
into that five year period.
But I don't think the Rumsfeld Commission, itself, set a target date,
they just noted this set of factors.
MR. BERGER: I think the bottom line is that there could be a threat
really; the threat could mature earlier than the end of the decade,
particularly if the North Koreans were to change direction.
Q: I think the question is that this gap, is it going to be the
security gap -- during the year 2005 as we're moving to 2006, '07, or
is that sort of silly to even contemplate?
MR. BERGER: There's no gap -- this system was begun several years ago
in development. It was believed that it could be completed by 2005. It
doesn't matter what -- even if the threat was yesterday, it could be
completed by 2005.
Of late, the experts now believe they probably can't be completed
until 2006, 2007. Is there a potential threat before then? Yes. Is NMD
our only defense against that? No. Deterrence has served us quite well
for quite some time. And I think the President pointed out that most
countries -- any country would know that if it launched an attack on
the United States, it would be pulverized.
Now, that doesn't vitiate the argument for looking at a system because
as you look down the line and you begin to look at scenarios in which,
as the President indicated, a state disintegrated or terrorist
organizations took over states where the kind of general rational
calculation might be diminished, there is that possibility that
deterrence will not be sufficient. But I would -- we have lived quite
well over the last 50 years with Russia with a deterrent policy.
I think what causes us to look at as a country national missile
defense is that as missile capability begins to spread horizontally
and into hands over time that are increasingly subnational or
transnational and irrational, do you want to have an extra capability.
And that's ultimately the judgment that has to be made. And that has
to be compared with what are the costs of building that system in
terms of the arms control regime, in terms of our relationship with
our allies, in terms of the Chinese reaction and what that will do in
South Asia, et cetera. This is a balancing act that has to --
balancing decision that has to be taken.
Q: Sandy, what about the timing of this decision today? Does this help
you with your meeting with President Putin next week in New York, and
does it take ABM off the table for that meeting?
MR. BERGER: I don't think the timing is related to the meeting. As you
all painfully know, we've been doing a lot of traveling in the last
two or three weeks. We have the test, the Pentagon's period of
evaluation of that test. The last couple of weeks we've been on the
road quite a bit, and I think we all thought, the President thought it
was important, having made the decision to get it out.
In terms of the meeting with Putin, I would hope that we would
continue the conversation that we've had with President Putin, not
only about the ABM treaty, but also about the cooperative programs
that we can undertake, with respect to missile defense, technology
sharing. We've already initiated a program to share early warning data
with the Russians, and the more we can engage the Russians in
cooperative programs, the more over time they may see this
As the President noted, if you look at the geography of Russia, and
the geography of where the threats may be emerging, they're not by any
means immune to this kind of a threat.
Q: Sandy, the President talked about the extent to which NMD
deployment would spawn proliferation among existing nuclear states
today. And he seemed to suggest that that risk was greater than the
risk of a rogue state acquiring such technology.
Is that a fair assessment, and can you talk a little bit about the --
MR. BERGER: No, I don't think that he said it was greater, I think he
said it was part of the equation. I think that this gets to sort of
our criteria for. The way I ask the question is, will we be more
secure or less secure? Will the threats that we diminish be greater
than the threats that are increased?
One of the concerns about an NMD system is the impact it will have,
particularly in Asia, where all of the Chinese already have plans to
increase their ICBM program. It's not inconceivable that that system
would accelerate those plans, that could have an effect on India, that
could have an effect on Pakistan, Japan, et cetera.
I think in the final analysis, when the technology is ready, if and
when the technology is ready, I think a President will need to decide
whether the enhanced security that we will have against the scenarios
that I've described -- the possibility of an ICBM being launched at
the United States by a failed state that has nuclear weapons is taken
over by terrorist, hostile characters -- whether that enhanced
security to the United States is of greater importance than whatever
negative consequences may come from the way in which countries adjust
to our system.
And I think one of the important values of the President's decision
today, that is to not go forward with deployment, is to give the next
President an opportunity to engage with the Russians, to engage with
our allies, to engage with the Chinese and others, and try, as we have
begun to do, to find ways in which this is not a zero sum proposition.
Q: Governor Bush has issued a statement which says in part, "President
Clinton and Vice President Gore first denied the need for missile
defenses, then delayed. Now they are leaving this important unfinished
business for the next President." Comments?
MR. BERGER: Well, I haven't seen the statement and I don't want to
comment specifically in a campaign context. I would say there has been
no delaying this. We've been working on this program for years. We've
spent $5 billion on this program. It has moved, I think, quite
vigorously. Any new program has a technological curve, as does this
I think the President was very clear that we don't minimize, by any
means, the threat. I think we've acted responsibly by developing a
system, an NMD system which will be ready to be deployed before any
system that anybody else has proposed. But I don't think the President
felt that it was right to make a premature decision to deploy it. I
think he decided on the merits that that is -- we're not ready to do
that, and he's not going to do it simply for political reasons.
Q: You and the President repeatedly characterize this as a decision
whether or not to deploy the system. Given that the actual decision
before the President was whether or not to start construction at
Shemya Island, is it fair, then, to assume that the administration's
position is that that construction would constitute deployment, a
decision to deploy under the terms of the ABM treaty?
MR. BERGER: No, but I don't think that we will go ahead with that
construction. I think having decided that this is not a system -- the
system is not ready to be deployed, it doesn't make a lot of sense to
engage in, essentially, predeployment activity. The discussion about
when is deployment deployment and when is breach breach, is kind of
mooted by this decision today, because the President is not going
forward with deployment.
But he will not also be going forward with activity that might be
called predeployment activity, because I think he believes we ought to
wait and make a coherent decision based on all of the criteria about
whether this is in our national interest; and if it is, we should go
ahead with it, and if it isn't, we should go ahead with it; and not
moving forward with construction on Shemya Island in the next year is
not going to delay the ultimate 2006-2007 date.
Q: Mr. Berger, two questions. One is, in the past, we've heard a lot
about the threat from rogue nations, but all of a sudden today it
seems that there is a new scenario being introduced, that of a
disintegration of a nation. Is that a specific reference to either
Russia or Pakistan? And my second question is can you comment on the
reports that a PATRIOT battery has been put on alert for Israel?
MR. BERGER: Well, first of all, I think what the President -- the
immediate threats we face are North Korea, Iraq and Iran. Those are
the ones that are most mature, if I can use that somewhat anomalous
word. And I don't think the President is saying that that's something
we can dismiss. But I think what he was suggesting is, it is easier to
see deterrence working, in the context of a North Korea, or even
perhaps an Iraq. But that doesn't mean we can just put this problem
under the rug.
There are scenarios over the next -- not so long, next decade -- where
you could imagine rational behavior not -- you could imagine
intercontinental ballistic missiles with weapons of mass destruction
in the hands of those who would not act rationally. And that's why we
have spent the last several years developing this program.
So I don't think it's either/or, I think he was suggesting that even
if you believe that deterrence would work in a North Korea situation
or an Iran situation, that intellectually and strategically cannot
enable you to put this problem aside.
Now, in terms of the PATRIOT issue, I know of no threat against Israel
from Iraq. There have been over -- we are always vigilant about Saddam
Hussein, and always mindful of his propensities. And over the past
month or so he's made some quite vituperative statements about Kuwait
and about Saudi Arabia. We are in New York debating and discussing
whether U.N. inspectors should go back into Iraq, and so a decision
was made that it would be prudent to put these batteries on a shorter
leash time than ordinarily.
Q: Going back to the decision making, Mr. Cohen's visit here on
Tuesday -- was he called in by the President, requested to come in
with his best wisdom as of that date? Or was this at the Pentagon's
instigation his decision that -- his recommendation was ready to
MR. BERGER: I think that's far more formal than the way things work.
Secretary Cohen was -- this was not the first time he talked to the
President, it was actually the second time he talked to the President
in the last two or three weeks, and he had undertaken his review and I
think it was mutual. I think he wanted to talk to the President and
the President wanted to talk to him.
The President, I would say, has also consulted with his other national
security advisors in the context of doing this as well.
Q: Secretary Cohen issued a statement not three weeks ago saying that
he was obliged to delay his recommendation to the President by
sometime into September because of a number of issues, some of which
remain unresolved at the Pentagon -- the issues he specifically cited,
such as -- so it seems the schedule has accelerated a little bit.
MR. BERGER: It was not accelerated. I think he believed that it was --
that he was ready to talk to the President. I think that September --
as I understand it, that September comment in the briefing was a
little bit inadvertent, in terms of a level of precision that wasn't,
perhaps, intended. He felt he was ready to talk to the President, the
President wanted to talk to him.
Q: Mr. Berger, a quick question back on the PATRIOT issue. What do you
mean by a shorter leash time for a possible deployment of the missile
batteries? And is this a full battery that's going?
MR. BERGER: Well, I don't want to get into the specifics, but in any
situation you may have a week, from the time that -- a week lead time
or four days' lead time or three days' lead time or two days' lead
time. And I think they've simply just cut down the lead time.
Q: These rogue countries, wouldn't we just bomb them if they developed
a nuclear missile --
MR. BERGER: Excuse me?
Q: These rogue nations, these psychotic nations you talk about --
Korea, Iraq, Iran -- if we knew they were developing a nuclear
capability, wouldn't be just bomb them? Isn't that less expensive than
MR. BERGER: Well, it is certainly an option. (Laughter.) And
preemptive action is always something that any President has to
consider. But I think the mere development of a nuclear capability --
for example, bombing North Korea probably would have some implications
on South Korea, since there are a million North Korean troops along
the border and one would have to assess that.
I don't want to rule out any options -- (laughter) -- but I don't
think it's the first option.
Q: Sandy, a cost question. You mentioned that the Pentagon's latest
estimate for the C-1 capability was $25 billion. Up until recently
they've been saying it's $20.2 billion. Is it fair to say that you've
been briefed that the cost has gone up between $3 and $4 billion just
in the last few months on the basic C-1 system?
MR. BERGER: That's a very good question. I'm going to ask Steve
Andreasen to answer it.
MR. ANDREASEN: There's a lot of cost estimates, of course. The figure
that Sandy gave, which is approximately $25 billion, is really looking
back to '91, and looking ahead to '09. It's basically the cost to
develop, procure and deploy the system. I would add it's not the life
cycle cost of the system.
I think you're right, that the earlier figures had been somewhat below
$25 billion. We tried to give this figure not so much as a matter of
precision for budgeting terms, but to give a ballpark figure as to
what we were talking about, again in terms of development, procurement
So we will come up with a more exact -- exactly how does our next
budget projection compare to the previous one that we submitted There
may be some adjustment. There have been adjustments in the past two
years, where there's been some small incremental increase, in terms of
our estimates for the C-1 system.
Q: So it's fair to say that the cost has gone up in the latest
estimate presented to you?
MR. ANDREASEN: Well, it's fair to say that costs have gone up over the
last couple of years, I would say incrementally, and I certainly
wouldn't rule that out, in terms of what our next budget projection
will look like, compared to this one.
MR. BERGER: I would just note that the President's Press Secretary,
Mr. Lockhart, has entered the room. He's not been here for most of
this briefing, but I'm certainly flattered that he would come in for
MR. LOCKHART: I just came down to find out what "vituperate" means.
Q: Can I just ask --
MR. LOCKHART: Let me do one thing, which is, there are some people who
have to go catch the press plane -- so for the purposes of that I'm
going to through a few housekeeping things, any of you who have
additional questions, I will not be insulted if Steve, who will stay
out here, stays behind and answers some of those questions.
Q: What was the Vice President's role in this decision, if any?
MR. BERGER: The Vice President consulted with -- the President
consulted with the Vice President on this, his views were communicated
to the President. As always, I'm not going to characterize anybody's
particular views. But he's issued a statement this afternoon, as I