News Briefings

DoD News Briefing

Friday, January 28, 2000
Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen


Q: Mr. Secretary, I wanted to ask you about national missile defense. In light of the outcome of the intercept test last week, I guess it was, are you considering or do you think you might consider pushing back the time table of the decision making this summer? And how confident are you that this is on the right track and the right time table?

A: I think the technology is certainly proving to be on the right track. The miss that was involved was not by much. And if you think about the technology involved in trying to hit these two speeding bullets, colliding with each other, is a remarkable display. They were coming in at about 100 feet, or less than the distance or perhaps from home base to second plate. So it was not much of a miss. There were some mechanical aspects that I'm not in a position yet to talk about, the analysis hasn't been completed yet. But it was a mechanical or engineering type problem rather than a science one. So the science is there, and I believe that the problems that accounted for that miss, near miss, will be corrected in the future.

So I've made no judgment in terms of whether or not it should be delayed. We've got one more major test coming up and then we'll see where we are at that time.

The President has said consistently, and I have supported his decision on this, to say let me look at all the facts, let me see where the technology is, let's look at the cost, let's also take into account the opinions of our NATO friends, discussions with the Russians and others, and then make a determination as to whether or not we should go forward. He won't make that decision until sometime this summer.

Obviously the next test will ...[cough]...


Q: Beyond the base closing issue, could you share with us your major concerns of what Congress will do for and against you in the upcoming session? Like force your hand on the ABM Treaty, break the bank with military health care, curtail peacekeeping? What are your major concerns as you go into this new session about how they're going to handle your budget.

A: I really don't anticipate any kind of a major confrontation with Congress going into this year. I think there's always the general sentiment that they would like to do more. [Not only to] support the budget we submit, but at least to take into account what they would like to do as well. We will ultimately have to arrive at some kind of a compromise with the Congress as we always do. But generally they have been supportive. I don't expect that they are going to force my hand as such on the ABM Treaty.

I think that the sentiment that I've heard and seen up on the Hill is saying they recognize that I have really tried to put our money where the articulation of policy has been. We put the money in the budget and I have been pressing to ensure that money is included to show that we are serious about the NMD program. I don't know that anyone, many on the Hill would say we don't care what your results are. We'll just let you go forward. You've heard Chuck Hagel and others who perhaps want to take a second look to see whether or not it's going too fast. You have General Welsh who has filed a report in the past saying this is a high risk program, we're pushing pretty hard, and we are. That's something that I've always tried to point out to members, that we are pushing this.

I was very much involved in the formulation of the 3+3 program. I have been intimately involved with putting the money in for NMD because I believe the threat is there and it's likely to grow. So I want to do whatever I can to make sure sufficient money for the testing is there so that the President can make the decision as to whether to go forward with the deployment.

So I don't see Congress pushing me in a direction that I don't want to go, and that's part of the reason I've tried to maintain very good relations with both the House and the Senate, spend a lot of time to see what differences there are and how we can work them out.

Q: Is there deployment money in the next budget?

A: There is sufficient money for I believe the deployment should it be (inaudible).


Q: I wanted to talk about Russia. You mentioned (inaudible) Kosovo war, and there seem to have been some changes on the part of the Russians concerning their military, more Cold War style exercises, there's been this recent change in their national security policy, viewing NATO as a greater potential threat as before. Just this week they've announced that they want to increase their procurement budget for the military.

My question is, is there a danger that if the United States proceeds with NMD and the deployment of that NMD will push Russia down a path that in the future could lead to greater tensions and possible confrontations?

A: One of the reasons that we have made an effort in the last six or eight months in meeting the Russians is to lay out exactly what we have in mind for the NMD system. To say that this Administration would like to continue to operate under the umbrella of the ABM Treaty which by its own terms contemplated modifications in the changing security environment.

Strobe Talbot has had a number of meetings with his counterparts. I've spent considerable time in Moscow with Sergeyev with Primakov, with members of the Duma and others laying out exactly what our proposal would entail, how it would be implemented, why it would be no threat to their strategic deterrence, and why they should not see this as something designed to undercut them.

Hopefully over a period of time through these meetings we'll be able to allay their fears and apprehension and also deal with our allies. The allies look at the ABM Treaty as being one of the more important documents that helps to stabilize the relationship between the United States and Russia, and that's important to the (inaudible), and we have to take that into account.

That's the reason that NATO in the last meeting in Brussels spent a good deal of time talking to all of our NATO allies in Europe about what this system would do, why it is not a threat to Russia, why it would not undercut the (inaudible), why it would not in any way decouple the United States from our European friends.

So I think through a lot of discussion and dialogue we can make a good deal of progress in dealing with the Russians, and also pointing out to them that they should also consider a future where this proliferation of technology may pose a threat to them. Just as in years in the past we talked about terrorists, and then the fact that they have been supporting terrorist groups, weapons (inaudible), now we find a situation where they're experiencing terrorism for the first time on their own territory. It turned out that when I was in Moscow one of the last bombs went off killing 80 or 90 people. I don't know if you were with me on that trip, but I went on national television, Moscow television and radio, to indicate to the Russian people that we were going to join with them in sharing information, intelligence, technology in combatting terrorism. Because we were adamantly opposed to it, and we thought we should work together to defeat it.

So I think part of the problem is we need to have more contact with some of the Russians. They have felt in recent years that they no longer enjoy the status of super power status overall, that we would not take into account any of their concerns. Frankly, we need to spend more time with them. We need to have more congressional delegations go there, and more of the Duma members come here, and to try to work through a problem which otherwise could prove to be very contentious. But I think there's been a lot of effort on our part to say that we can in fact modernize the system, we'll be providing for a limited system, a limited protection for us. It will not pose a threat to the strategic deterrence. That's going to take a lot of effort, but that effort's been underway.

Q: But so far they don't seem to have been persuaded by...

A: So far.

Q: Are you concerned about the direction in which they're moving?

A: As far as their conventional forces. We know that it's been in a state of some deterioration. I do not find that particularly troubling that they have to rebuild their conventional forces. We're doing the same. Here we are talking about what we're going to do to build up our military, and we have a $112 billion increase over the next five years in order to make sure that we have modernized our forces, and to say that the Russians should have a force that is old and obsolete. That is unrealistic.

So to the extent that they're going to try to modernize their force, we should not necessarily see that as some kind of threat. But rather here is a country that has been a major power, that is likely to regain its status at some point in the future in terms of its economic (inaudible), and they want to modernize their conventional forces. To say that's threatening, I don't think so. We have to engage them and to continue the diplomatic engagement and our military-to-military engagement, which we are doing. I will plan to go to Moscow again sometime during the course of a year. I would hope to have their Minister over here to meet with me as well. That's part of our policy of a very proactive engagement with both China and Russia.