[EXCERPTS] DoD News Briefing

Thursday, April 30, 1998 - 12:15 p.m. (EDT)
Minister of Defense Alain Richard, Republic of France


Q: Secretary Cohen, the Pentagon today will let another big contract in the national missile defense area. How confident are you that this investment of billions of dollars will eventually result in a workable system?

A: (Cohen): Well, we're confident that we are devoting the level of resources necessary to produce a system that will work. Obviously with anything as complicated as hitting a bullet with another bullet is going to involve lots of resource and lots of effort, and occasional failures along the way, but those failures have been instrumental in terms of gathering the kind of technical information that would help us produce a successful system.

So it's going to be a challenge, but I believe it's a challenge that we can, in fact, measure up to. We are making great progress in terms of the use of the technology, and I believe that we will have a system that is ready for deployment, but that deployment decision will be based upon whether the intelligence assessment would warrant its deployment.

As I've indicated in the past, I believe that we have to adopt and stay with this three plus three agreement that was negotiated in the past. We are on track with that, and I believe that we'll have a system, at least, that could be deployed if the situation would warrant it, and that's a determination the President will have to make in the year 2000.

Q: What would you say to critics who say the Clinton Administration is not committed enough to fielding a national missile defense?

A: (Cohen): I would say look at the effort. You just pointed out that we're spending a good deal of money devoted to the research and development of a system. Take a look at the amount of revenue that we are devoting to this effort. I would say it's a very strong commitment that has been made and we will keep that commitment.

Q: Mr. Secretary, to follow up, would the Administration support legislation that mandated that the program go forward?

A: (Cohen): You mean deployment?

Q: Yes.

A: (Cohen): The answer would be no. Precisely because of the agreement that was structured previously, that we would devote three years to research and development. At the end of that three-year period should the intelligence assessment warrant a deployment, at that point the President would make such a determination. But to mandate that it be deployed without consideration of either the intelligence assessment or considerations as far as arms control are concerned I think would be a mistake.

There is the issue of the ABM Treaty, and we are fully compliant in our research and development efforts to date with the ABM Treaty. We would hope to be able to field a system that would be fully compliant with the ABM.

In the event that we are not able to do so, and the situation would warrant it, then obviously negotiations would have to be undertaken with the Russians as far as modifying that treaty. And if that were not possible, then the President and the Congress have to make a determination at that point as to whether one should stay in it -- the United States should be a part of it. But right now, to mandate that in advance, it seems to me, is to make a decision which should not be made before we determine what the research and development is going to produce, what the intelligence situation would warrant, and whether or not we should have a debate on the advisability of either modifying the ABM Treaty or abandoning it.

Q: Looking down the road to a transition to defensive systems sometime in the future, do you think that a new negotiated arms control regime will have to be made? You seem to be totally reliant on the existing ABM Treaty, which a lot of people think will not really work in the future.

A: (Cohen): The ABM Treaty is designed, obviously, to encourage restraint in the proliferation of offensive systems as well. One of the easiest ways to overwhelm a defensive system is simply to proliferate the offensive side and capability. That's something that we would not want to see take place. So there is merit in trying to restrain offensive systems. We are currently negotiating... We're waiting for the ratification of START II, but are prepared to start immediate negotiations on START III to get the numbers down to much lower than where they are today; to the extent that one were to suddenly say that that no longer is the goal in terms of trying to reduce the level of offensive capability, that we're going to start increasing our defenses, and then think that other countries won't simply try to overwhelm that with greater numbers I think is mistaken.

But, I think, obviously, I've issued reports that show there is an increase in the proliferation of missile technology that is going to put pressure on all countries, including Russia, to deal with the issue of missile technology proliferation, and developing the kind of theater missile systems that we are currently undertaking. We have a number of programs underway. Again, they're very complicated and they're very challenging, but we believe that that's going to be essential as far as protecting forces that are forward deployed, and hopefully that technology also can be integrated in the research and development efforts of the national missile system.