News Briefings

DoD News Briefing

Thursday, June 15, 2000 1:35 p.m. EDT
Presenter: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. I have one brief announcement, and then I'll entertain your questions.


Q: In light of the announcement yesterday in Pyongyang of the agreement to work toward unification, reunification in Korea, does the Pentagon see an opportunity now, down the road -- or immediately or down the road -- to reduce U.S. troops in Korea, eventually to withdraw from Korea?

Mr. Bacon: Well, first, we are extremely encouraged by the news out of Pyongyang and by the fact that President Kim Dae Jung and President Kim Jong Il have met. We think it's a very positive step forward. We think it's the latest step in a series of encouraging events over the last six or seven years, starting in 1994 with the framework agreement, in which North Korea agreed to stop work on its nuclear weapons and opened its facilities to inspectors from the IAEA.

The second encouraging event, obviously, was the Perry process and some of the dealings we've had with North Korea in the course of that. The most significant part of the Perry process was an agreement by North Korea not to continue testing its longer-range missiles.

This summit follows, I think, those two previous achievements, and it's another sign, apparently, that North Korea wants to become more integrated into the world, less isolated. But we'll have to see what comes out from this. All the signs are encouraging, all the talk about reconciliation and reunification is encouraging. The fact is, North Korea remains a major regional power with approximately a million people under arms, heavily armed along the DMZ.

In terms of our troops in South Korea, President Kim Dae Jung has told Secretary Cohen and other U.S. leaders, that even if there is unification in the future, he would like U.S. troops to remain in Korea because they are a stabilizing force. Basically, they help assure peace and stability throughout the entire region, and that's why we have nearly a hundred thousand troops stationed in Japan and Korea and throughout the Asia Pacific region.

Q: But does Secretary Cohen share that view in the sense that -- wouldn't this offer an opportunity for the U.S. military to reduce its international commitments? Couldn't it conceivably?

Mr. Bacon: Well, I think everybody appreciates that this summit has just concluded. The U.S. troop presence in South Korea apparently was not discussed. That's at least according to accounts I have read on the Associated Press. An interview with the South Korean ambassador to Washington said that U.S. troops were not discussed in the course of this summit. It may be something that's discussed in the future.

I think there is a lot of reason for exuberance right now about what's happening on the Korean peninsula, but I think it needs to be somewhat warier controlled exuberance at this time. There's been one summit; it's turned out well. There is talk of another summit with President Kim Jong Il going to Seoul later this summer. And I think we just have to wait to see how events unfold.

Right now North Korea continues to have a large well-armed force deployed close to the DMZ. We hope that will change. It's 50 years this summer, since the Korean War began. It is time to have a peace settlement; it's time to have reconciliation. I think both presidents, both Presidents Kim, see that, and they are apparently trying to move in that direction. But how this unfolds, how 50 years of hostility and distrust and suspicion can be unfolded, and how quickly remain to be seen. We hope very quickly, but I think that time will have to tell.

Q: Ken, doesn't this take some of the edge off the deadline to field the first phase of national missile defense by 2005, because that has been tied to development of a ballistic missile threat from North Korea?

Mr. Bacon: Well, it's been tied to a ballistic missile threat from more countries than just North Korea. Obviously, we welcome any diplomatic progress that reduces ballistic missile threats to the United States, to our allies and to our troops stationed around the world. If this does in fact lead to such a reduction, we will welcome that. But North Korea is not the only country we worry about. We worry about Iraq, we worry about Iran, and we worry about other countries that are working on long-range missiles or that already have chemical and biological weapons and would like to have ways to deliver them with long-range missiles. So this is not a problem that exists with just one country; it's broader than that.

Q: Correct me if I'm wrong. Isn't the 2005 deadline tied specifically to North Korea? Is there any intelligence estimate that Iraq or Iran will have intercontinental ballistic missiles that can reach the United States by 2005?

Mr. Bacon: I think the lesson of the Rumsfeld report is that countries have been able to develop these capabilities more quickly than we had hoped or anticipated at one time.

So you're right, we have been worried about North Korea, but we are also worried about other countries as well. And one of the things the president will have to decide, when he sits down to look at whether or not he should make a deployment decision later this summer, is what the threat is and whether it's changed. That's one of the four factors he'll have to consider. So he will be looking at what's going on on the Korean peninsula and what's going on elsewhere when he makes that decision.


Q: Ken, with regard to the national missile defense and Mr. Cohen's and your recent trip to Moscow, is it correct that there was little detail forthcoming from the Russians on their missile defense proposal for Europe? And is it also correct that the U.S. and Russian technical people will be meeting in the near future? And what is the timing on that meeting? Do you have an idea yet?

Mr. Bacon: Let me give you a little background. Secretary Cohen was in Moscow on Monday and Tuesday, and on Tuesday he met -- had about a 45-minute meeting with -- private meeting with his Russian counterpart, Marshal Igor Sergeyev, the minister of defense of Russia. Then he had about a 45-minute meeting with President Putin, and that was followed by about an hour session with Marshal Sergeyev's team and Secretary Cohen's team. A primary topic of conversation in all these meetings was national missile defense.

At the end of the meeting with President Putin, President Putin said that he expected Marshal Sergeyev and his team and Secretary Cohen and his team to get together and gradually bridge the gap between the two sides. And in that spirit of trying to bridge the gap on questions involving national missile defense we, working with our Russian counterparts, identified three areas that need further exploration.

The first is in analysis of the threat. As Marshal Sergeyev said, the Russians see a potential threat in the future; we see an actual threat today. So both sides agree that there is an emerging threat, but we have different views of the timing of that threat. So one area where we've agreed to sit down and talk is on threat assessment, to see if we can come up with more unified view of the threat. Or at least explore why we differ on the threat assessment.

The second has to do with -- the second area of further discussion deals with Russian proposals for a theater missile defense system that would protect Europe. This is something that we support. We have talked to our European allies for several years about working with them on theater missile defenses that would protect Europe. Unfortunately, a theater missile defense system that would protect Europe would not protect the United States. But we have agreed to talk with the Russians and with our NATO allies further about TMD systems in Europe.

The third area is an idea that President Putin and Marshal Sergeyev have proposed just recently, and that's a so-called umbrella or cap over threatening countries, potentially enemy countries that would have missiles that they might want to fire at the United States or at Russia.

Now, there have been two descriptions given to this by Russian officials. President Putin and others have talked in terms of a missile defense system, an umbrella that would involve an active defense system. Marshal Sergeyev, the Russian defense minister, has talked in terms of a political umbrella that would consist of diplomatic and economic efforts designed to stop countries like Iran or North Korea from building long-range missiles that would threaten the United States or Russia or Europe or other countries. So Secretary Cohen and Marshal Sergeyev also agreed to sit down and talk about this so-called umbrella concept.

I think there are several aspects to that: One, we need to have a better idea of what they mean. Two, we need to know if they have ideas for making an umbrella concept work that would involve missile defenses, presumably shooting missiles down, shortly after they have launched, within minutes of launch, in the so-called boost phase.

We think a boost-phase defense system offers some fairly daunting technological problems. And you may have seen a briefing that Under Secretary Walter Slocombe gave at NATO, last week, on Thursday, that ran through in considerable detail what some of the technical difficulties are for a boost-phase intercept system. And then we want to also explore how we might be able to work together on a so-called political umbrella that was suggested by Marshal Sergeyev.

So we proposed that these first meetings on threat assessment and boost-phase intercept be held in Moscow on June 25th and 26th -- I believe is the date. That's the date we have a prescheduled meeting with the Russians of something called the Defense Consultative Group. That's a group that meets -- teams meet -- from time to time to review defense issues of mutual interest.

We proposed in Moscow on Tuesday, that two topics be added to that group. The Russians said that they would consider that. They did not agree to it; they said they would consider it. They wanted to make sure that they would be able to have enough to make a worthwhile consideration or discussion at that time; in other words, preparation, I guess.

Q: What were those two topics going to be?

Mr. Bacon: The topics were going to be threat assessment and boost-phase intercept.

Q: Now, on the agenda that you laid out there, one thing that is pretty clear is none of those things have anything to do with the national missile defense, from the U.S. point of view, as far as I can tell, right?

Mr. Bacon: Well, boost-phase intercept is certainly an idea that's been talked about in the United States. It's promoted by some here.

Boost-phase intercept in certain situations might work. In many other situations, we believe, it would be extremely difficult. And the point most worth making is that it would not meet our schedule for fielding a national missile defense system. And that schedule right now is to try to have a system operating by 2005.

Q: I guess I should have said this agenda did not meet the -- the proposed national missile defense did not seem to have anything to do with that and working out differences with the Russians about that.

Mr. Bacon: About our proposed -- well, that is strictly true, yes. I mean, what they've suggested are other approaches.


Q: So, is there -- it doesn't appear that on this agenda there's any room for further discussion of amendment to the ABM Treaty or discussion of what steps might be allowed in the construction of the initial phases of an NMD system without abrogating it; is that correct?

Mr. Bacon: Well, first of all, President Clinton and Secretary Cohen -- I believe Secretary Albright as well -- have all said that we want to deploy a very limited national missile defense system within the ABM Treaty. The ABM Treaty has a provision that allows it to be amended, and it has been amended once, there's no reason why it couldn't be amended again. We've made the argument with the Russians that we believe it's possible to deploy this system within the framework of an amended ABM Treaty, and we would like to do that because we think it would provide the strategic stability that the ABM Treaty has provided since 1972.

Your question about early deployment steps -- the issue here is if we are to meet our deployment goal, our operational goal of 2005, we have to take the initial steps to build a new X-band radar on Shemya Island this year, and we have to begin building -- doing the initial work on the radar next year and the year after. Because of the weather situation there -- and there was a recent report that showed how windy it was -- there is a limited amount of time for building, and we have to plan years ahead in order to get it done on time.

So, to go back to Jamie's earlier question, what our lawyers have been looking at are the options we have for beginning to build this -- the initial phases of this radar within the restrictions or terms of the ABM Treaty.

And they have looked at that, and they have made some -- they have come up with some options, which the president hasn't -- has not had a chance to decide on yet.

Q: Let me just rephrase that question. I mean, there's one point you didn't address, which is, in my understanding, in terms of the talks that are now going forward between the two tactical teams, there's -- in the agenda you mentioned, there is no discussion of the ABM Treaty. There is no agenda item on possible amendment of the ABM Treaty. That issue didn't appear to be under discussion anymore, at least according to the agenda you described. Is that correct?

Mr. Bacon: The ABM Treaty is the responsibility of the State Department. There have been extensive discussions between State Department officials and Russian officials on the ABM Treaty and our hopes to amend it. Those are ongoing. They are happening at high levels and at other levels.

Secretary Cohen specifically dealt with other issues. It doesn't mean we care any less about the ABM Treaty, because I didn't mention it. It's just not his responsibility to renegotiate or amend the ABM Treaty. So he dealt with issues that are under his area of responsibility.

Yes, Jim?

Q: Did Secretary Cohen raise with the Russians what the lawyers are now saying in terms of when construction could begin on the Shemya radar without violating -- without being in violation of the treaty and --

Mr. Bacon: He did not specifically, but it had been raised with the Russians at an earlier time.

Q: And was there any reaction from the Russians as to whether they would --

Mr. Bacon: Well, I think that I won't get into diplomatic discussions.


Q: Ken, if threat assessment is discussed at this June 25th, 26th meeting, will U.S. officials provide the Russians with classified information on our threat analysis, something like classified NIE, anything like that?

Mr. Bacon: I don't know the details, and I can't answer that question. I just don't know at this stage.

Q: Why is it so important to deploy this missile defense within the ABM Treaty? And the second part of that question is, on what basis does the administration believe the treaty is still in effect, despite the fact that many critics, Jesse Helms and others, insist that it's not really legally enforceable anymore because it was made with a Soviet Union that no longer exists?

Mr. Bacon: Well, we don't believe that's the proper interpretation. We believe that the treaty is still in effect, and if we -- and we're operating on the assumption that, one, it is in effect today, and we would like it to remain in effect.

Your first question was "Why?" You know, the initial idea behind the ABM Treaty was that if people built very extensive missile defense systems, it would then provoke the other side to proliferate, build more and more and more missiles to overwhelm any defensive system, because you could always, by multiplying the number of missiles and warheads, overwhelm a defensive system.

And the feeling was that you could not have a stop in the arms race, let alone a reversal of the arms race, as we have had, without an anti-ballistic missile treaty.

So the treaty was -- dates back to 1972. And since then, we have, through a period of long negotiations, reached first the SALT I agreement, then renamed to START I, and now the START II agreement. And we have seen the arsenals come down. Initially after the treaty was signed, the arsenals continued to grow, but after we began achieving arms control agreements with first the Soviet Union and now the Russians, we've seen the arsenals come down, from over 10,000 strategic nuclear warheads on each side to a little over 6,000 now on each side. And as you know, under the START II agreement, they would come down to 3,000, to 3,500. And President Clinton and previous -- former President Yeltsin agreed that there would be a START III agreement that would strive to bring the warheads down to 2,000 to 2,500.

So we have reversed the growth and actually begun to achieve reductions. And I think that what's made that possible is the ABM Treaty. We would like to keep that treaty, which has helped bring strategic stability to our relationship, in effect because we think it will continue to make the world more stable and give a degree of predictability that we would miss without it.


Q: Now Ken, did you say that the U.S. national missile defense program, if indeed approved this summer, is going to be quite a bit in advance of anything the Russians have proposed, and that their proposals to us, our conferences with them upcoming later in June, that those would not -- in other words, we would not slow down our program to meet the Russians halfway? And secondly, does the conferences that are coming up this June 25 and 26, are those going to -- oh, how do I say -- is that talking with the Russians and cooperating with the Russians going to have anything to do with the president deciding about the national missile defense? Or is that -- or can you clarify?

Mr. Bacon: We right now are building a national missile defense -- developing, working on a national missile defense system designed for deployment in 2005 because we believe a threat will exist in 2005.

So we want to have the national missile defense system, which is very limited, and would not protect us against any major attack, a huge size attack of the type the Russians could launch. We don't expect them to, but they could. We are working on a program to get a defense system in place by 2005. We are not aware that either of the suggestions made by Russia could be done in time to meet the threat we see. So we, right now, will continue to move forward.

Now, remember, the president has made no decision to deploy a national missile defense system. He won't do that for several months. First, we have to wait for the test in July and then he'll have to sit down and evaluate the results of that test along with information in the three other areas that I suggested. So that's why we're aiming for 2005.

I would not read a huge amount of significance into this defense consultative group meeting between U.S. and Russian teams in June. It was previously scheduled, it was dealing with a number of bilateral defense issues. We proposed that we add two other areas. One is threat assessment or analysis, and two is boost-phase intercept, which the Russians have talked about. We proposed that because we would like to get more information on their thinking and we would like to begin engaging in more detail than we've been able to do so far. They have not yet, as far as I know -- at least they didn't in Moscow on Tuesday -- immediately accept that suggestion. I don't believe we've heard from them yet on whether they will add those two issues to the agenda.

But I wouldn't -- and even if those two issues were added to the agenda, it will be the first of several discussions we'll have with them in these areas, and I don't think that either question will be resolved by the time the president sits down to make his decision later this summer.

Q: (Off mike.)

Mr. Bacon: Just a second.

Q: I did not see the Slocombe remarks, so maybe the answer to my question is somewhere in all of that, but when you spoke about boost-phase intercept, it almost sounded like a fairly strong repudiation of our own boost-phase intercept, since you talked about the notion that the technology isn't really suitable.

Mr. Bacon: Well, it depends -- I think you should read the remarks because they go into considerable detail. But basically, in order to have an effective boost-phase intercept system -- and some of our theater missile defense systems are based on that -- you have to be relatively close to the launching missile. There are certain areas of the world where we could be close to launching missiles. North Korea happens to be one of them where we could be close if we deployed certain types of systems, particularly sea-based systems. There are other countries where it would be very difficult to get close enough. Iran would be one where it would be difficult to be close enough. So the boost-phase intercept system is dependent in part on geography.

There are also other technological problems. One is that you have a very short amount of time, probably 300 seconds or less, to acquire the target and to shoot it down. And shooting it down we don't think would be easy in all cases.

So you should really read the Slocombe remarks because they're very detailed on this. But he was just raising some of the technical challenges. It doesn't mean we couldn't solve the challenges, it doesn't mean that we won't try to solve these challenges. But we don't think that we could solve the challenges in time to have a system deployed in 2005.

Q: But we're still committed to our boost-phase intercept program?

Mr. Bacon: We are still working on boost-phase intercept programs in theater missile defense.


Q: Ken, I'm confused a little bit about the agenda of these meetings coming up. You mentioned three things initially -- the threat, the theater idea of the Russians, and then the boost phase thing. Then you say that the threat and the boost phase, the U.S. had asked be added to the agenda, but there's no response; is that right? Does that mean that the theater idea of the Russians is definitely on the agenda of these talks?

Mr. Bacon: No. No. The two we suggested were the ones that we think we need the most information about soonest, which are the common threat assessment and boost-phase intercept. The Russians suggested to us that they have some ideas for making boost-phase intercept work, and perhaps something we could pursue jointly. We would like to know what these ideas are, we would like to know what their technological prowess in this regard is, and what their thinking is about a joint project. We don't know, and that's why we proposed that we add it to the agenda.

Q: Then how about the theater?

Mr. Bacon: Well, the theater is something that's been discussed for some time. We'll continue to discuss it.

It's something that can be discussed at NATO, it can be discussed at the Permanent Joint Commission, which is Russia and NATO, and it can be discussed bilaterally between the U.S. and Russia. That didn't happen to be -- as I said, we focused on the two things we wanted to pursue most urgently, which are the threat assessment and the boost phase intercept.

Q: (Off mike.)

Mr. Bacon: No, we just saw that as a moment of opportunity, when our teams would be meeting and it would make sense -- the top person in our team would be Ted Warner, Assistant Secretary Warner, who plans to go to Moscow for those talks. And it seemed to be a reasonable time to take up President Putin's charge to try to gradually bridge the gap between our two sides.


Q: Can you tell us what the Pentagon's position is on proposed Senate legislation that would make disclosing classified information to the news media a felony punishable by up to three years in prison?

Mr. Bacon: Well, we are certainly in favor of steps that restrict the misuse of classified information or the improper publication of classified information. This is -- we do not -- we're not a law enforcement agency, and we don't write or enforce laws in the way the Justice Department does, and the Justice Department has spoken out on this. They're the ones who are working on the details. But we support in general the idea of steps that reduce the misuse of classified information.


Q: I want to jump back to the North-South agreement.

Mr. Bacon: Sure.

Q: I don't want to make you repeat anything that you already said at the top of the briefing.

Mr. Bacon: Thank you.

Q: But, again, the fact that the two leaders met face to face and they, you know, agreed to work together towards eventual reunification, while the United States thinks about and prepares for eventual reunification, are we more open to a review of the size and composition of U.S. forces in South Korea and Japan as well?

Mr. Bacon: Well, that question is just, I believe, somewhat premature, because we have a very -- we've just completed an extremely hopeful summit that has, I think, a large amount of very good feelings and real possibilities for progress, but a very small amount of details and clear paths for reaching that progress.

We hope, obviously, that the two President Kims can flesh out a path to peace and travel down that path. And we hope that they can end the hostilities between their two countries. And we hope eventually that they will be able to work out what they both want, a reunification on fair and reasonable terms that work for both countries.

That's not going to happen next week, it's probably not going to happen next month; and it may not happen next year, although I think the whole history of the spread of democracy through the former Soviet Union is that change can happen very quickly once it starts.

But our goal is to remain a force for peace and stability, not just in Asia, but all over the world. And in Asia, we think that the foundation of the stability we have been able to bring is our forward- deployed forces. So we plan to maintain forces forward-deployed.

It's also -- I will repeat just one thing, which is that President Kim Dae Jung has said to American officials, including Secretary Cohen, that it's his desire that U.S. troops remain in South Korea even after unification, because he sees U.S. troops there as an important and powerful and effective force for stability.

Q: If there was some change within Kim Dae Jung's statement, the president's statement; if he changes his mind on that aspect, would the U.S. then respect his wishes to decrease?

Mr. Bacon: We can't remain in countries where we're not wanted, and we have not. We have, I think, brought peace and stability to the Korean peninsula and certainly helped protect the South Korean people in conjunction with their own forces. And we plan to keep doing that as long as we can.

Q: Are we preparing, or would we be open to prepare, for that in the event he would ask --

Mr. Bacon: Well, the summit just ended today. And it's very -- as I say, it's high on promise, but we haven't yet had the performance that will turn those promises into reality.

I hope we can. I think everybody hopes we can. Everybody sees this as an enormously exciting possibility. It's a bold step by both presidents, and it's one that could enormously pacify that part of the world, and one of the longest-running hostilities in Asia. We're very much in favor of that, but we're not there yet, and I just think we have to be very clear that we intend to remain a force for stability in that area as long as we are needed. And President Kim Dae Jung has suggested that we'll be needed for a long time to come.

Yeah, Pam?

Q: With regard to the threat -- I assume the answer is yes -- is the U.S. intelligence community going to do another threat assessment or national intelligence estimate before the president makes his decision?

Mr. Bacon: I mean, I assume that he will be able to use the latest information, but I don't know about the formal steps we'll take.

Q: And with regard to the threat again, in the Defense Consultative Talks in Russia when Warner talks about the threat assessment, is the United States at all open to lowering its view of the threat in keeping with more of what Russia views is the case? Or is the agenda there to convince Russia that the threat is higher than they think?

Mr. Bacon: Well, I think initially the agenda is to find out -- is to explain to them why we see the world as we do, and to find out on what basis they see the world as they do. That's the first thing, is to understand each other's views. As Marshal Sergeyev said, we do have different views. It's not that they deny there's a threat, they just see it farther out than we see it. So we would welcome an opportunity to sit down and discuss that with them.

Yes, Jim?

Q: On the Korean thing, are there any mutual steps that the United States could envision that North and South Korea and the United States could take to try to ease some of those military tensions along the border -- something that could be done very quickly?

Mr. Bacon: Well, as I said, the issue of U.S. troops, as far as I know, was not discussed during the summit. And I base that on comments I've read by the South Korean ambassador to Washington. So I think it's --

Q: Something more in the way of confidence-building type --

Mr. Bacon: Well, that's something that could evolve.

Obviously, if there is going to be a real reduction of tensions, there'll have to be confidence-building measures and, presumably, a movement of troops away from the border. But I think we're -- we hope that happens, but it hasn't happened yet, and I think it's premature to speculate about it right now.

We obviously want to see a firm and convincing and lasting movement toward peace and reconciliation on the Korean peninsula, and we will do whatever we can to help that happen. I think we've already played a major role, through the Perry process. I think we've worked very hard to engage with North Korea, not only with Ambassador Gallucci's negotiations that led to the framework agreement, but the talks that Charles Kartman of the State Department has been holding with the North Koreans for several years. We have been very determined to work with the North Koreans. At the same time, we're providing a substantial amount of food aid. I think the Agriculture Department is announcing today that it is providing an additional 50,000 metric tons of food to help alleviate starvation in North Korea.

So, we have engaged with North Korea, we've worked with North Korea, and we will continue to do that. But nothing we can do can substitute for face-to-face negotiations between North and South, and that's why this summit has been so encouraging.


Q: Coming along in a few days will be Mr. Putin, who will visit the North Koreans. Was anything said in Moscow to Mr. Cohen or his team about Mr. Putin and the Russian group talking to the North Koreans about the missile program and the problems that it is causing, the concerns that it is causing Russia and China?

Mr. Bacon: Well, I think Russia is well aware of our concerns about North Korea's missile program. Mr. Putin himself, President Putin himself, brought it up very briefly, and he's certainly, I think, looking for ways to reduce the threat of -- that other countries feel from North Korea's missiles. But I think he would have to discuss that himself, and I can't predict what will come out of his meetings with North Korea.

Q: Thank you.

Mr. Bacon: Thank you.