News Briefings

DoD News Briefing

Thursday, January 21, 1999 - 2:30 p.m.
Presenter: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA


Q: Missile defense? Today, Bob Bell at the White House said that the administration had not made a decision to approach the Russians about modifying the ABM Treaty. Yesterday, Secretary Cohen said we will propose to explore with the Russians modifications that would allow for a limited system of missile defense. That's exactly what he said. How do you square those two? Who is right here?

A: We have kept the Russians informed at every step of the way. We've been talking to them. We have informed them about this decision to devote $6.6 billion to the deployment of a national missile defense system. We have, and we will continue to discuss this issue with them. Secretary Albright will discuss this issue when she's in Moscow.

Q: Modification of the treaty?

A: We have not... No. She will continue to talk to the Russians about what we're doing. But let's be clear. Secretary Cohen said yesterday that we have made no decision to deploy and that won't be made for 17 months, until June of the year 2000. That's when we will address the deployment issue.

We have not decided on the architecture of the system, and, therefore, we can't discuss specific modifications until we decide what the system is going to be. All of this will be resolved over the next 17 months, obviously, as we get closer to the deployment decision and as we carry out tests and continue with the development work. But we haven't done that yet.

Q: The Secretary made it pretty clear, I thought, that the intention is not only to discuss it with the Russians, because it would be necessary in order to deploy a system, that the intention also was to go ahead and deploy a system when it's ready.

A: That...

Q: The White House is now saying that none of those decisions have been...

A: I think the Secretary also made it very clear that no deployment decision has been made. He said that in his statement very, very clearly. I can read it to you if you want. But he said that no deployment decision had been made.

What we're doing is positioning ourselves to deploy or to make a decision to deploy in the year 2000, and realizing... In order to make that a real option we have to allocate funds, and that's what we've done.

Q: In order to make it a real option, you also have to modify the treaty, right?

A: I think we have to decide what the architecture of the system is. As you know right now the ABM Treaty allows both sides to have 100 interceptors at one site. Russia has, we believe, 100 interceptors around Moscow. We have no interceptors. Our one site is in Grand Forks, North Dakota. We haven't had interceptors there for probably a quarter of a century. So if we were to use that site in Grand Forks, North Dakota, it would be authorized under the ABM Treaty and there would not be any change.

But what we're trying to decide is whether we can use that site or we're going to have to move the site to Alaska. Should we do that, that would require a modification. If we need more than one site, that would require a modification.

What we have told the Russians every step of the way is that we feel that we are facing increased threats from smaller nations with embryonic ICBM forces, but that these forces are going to become more of a threat if they continue to test them, and the nations obviously are nations such as North Korea, Iran, possibly Iraq. But North Korea and Iran are primary ones right now.

We are not building this... If we go ahead and deploy this system, it will not be a threat to the Russians. It will not be designed to deal with the type of attack that Russia could launch with its large nuclear arsenal.

We maintain an equally large sophisticated nuclear arsenal as a deterrent against any country that would attack us. We'll continue to maintain that arsenal. Deterrence has worked since our nuclear forces were established in the 1940s, and we believe it will continue to work against countries such as Russia. We don't anticipate an attack from them.

What we're trying to do is decide whether and when to deploy a limited national missile defense system that could protect this country against a very small attack from a rogue nation or perhaps a misfire from another nation. That's what's on the table here.

How we do that, how it's designed, where it's set up, all has to be decided in the future. So when we reach those decisions, then we will decide what we have to discuss with the Russians.

Q: Just to be perfectly clear, you're saying that the United States has made no decision to deploy a national missile defense.

A: That's what I'm saying, and that's what Secretary Cohen said yesterday.

Q: Despite the fact that when Cohen discussed yesterday the fact that a decision would be made in June of 2000, he gave the clear impression that this was not a decision of whether to deploy, but when to deploy. In fact he went on to explain that if the, that they could even deploy sooner if all went well.

A: Let me be perfectly clear. Let me repeat what he said yesterday. He said, "No deployment decision has been made at this time. That will be made in June of 2000." That's what he said. In fact that is correct. But we have to position ourselves to be able to deploy, and that's what the significance of allocating $6.6 billion for the program is.

Q: Is there an intention to deploy if it is found to be technologically feasible? He also said that the threat criterion basically had been met.

A: On that, I have nothing to add to what he said yesterday. He was perfectly clear about that. There's no way I can be clearer.

Q: Have the Russians responded in any way?

A: I'm not aware that they have responded. I don't believe this came as a surprise to them. As I said, we've been consulting informally with them. There were stories in the press several weeks ago about a major augmentation of our spending on national missile defense. We consulted with them around that time before those stories ran, so those stories weren't a surprise to them, and we consulted with them before yesterday's announcement, and we will consult with them when Secretary Albright meets with them next week.

So they've been kept well informed of what we've been doing. Not just over the last few weeks, either, but over a long period of time. And we've made it, in every single intervention with the Russians, every single discussion we've had with them, we've made it very clear that this is not a system that is designed to thwart them in any way. This is dealing with a new emerging threat that we believe we face, and for all I know Russia itself may face some day. But this is a threat we believe we face, and it's a threat we believe is growing nearer every day.

Q: When President Reagan first brought up SDI, he said he'd share the system with the Russians. Is that still our intention with this system?

A: I'm not in a position to discuss that aspect because I don't know the answer. But let's remember that these are totally different systems. The SDI system was designed to provide sort of an impermeable umbrella over the nation, a missile shield so to speak; and this is a much more limited hit-to-kill system designed to deal with a small number of attacking missiles.

But that's exactly why the system is not a threat to the Russians. And as I say, the Russians already have a very extensive interceptor system ringing Moscow, an ABM system.

Q: Can't we just buy their system? (Laughter)

Q: Their system is not a national system. The ABM Treaty prohibits a national system. We're talking about a national system here. So that notion by itself would require changes in the treaty, regardless of if you had only one site, right?

A: We are talking about a national system, but I go back to what I said earlier. We can't talk specifics until we have a clear idea of what the architecture of our system is.

Q: It's a generality, but that generality is encompassed in the treaty that says no, you can't do that, regardless of what the specifics are.

A: I think... It's very clear that we have started discussing this with the Russians. If the treaty has to be amended to fit the system we will discuss that with them, but right now it's premature to say that because we haven't even designed, we haven't designed the system yet or made fundamental decisions about where it's going to be based, what it's going to be, etc. Those will all come relatively quickly in the next 17 months or so but they haven't been made yet.

Q: On ballistic missile defense again. Yesterday, after General Lyles was finished, he was asked about the Arrow system that the Israelis had such a success with, and he said the technology from Arrow was going into our missile system, I presume THAAD.

My first question is, if the Arrow is working and THAAD is not, then why? And secondly, I asked you before about using the Arrow. Is the Arrow not useable for medium-range missiles because it has such a short range, or because it's unidirectional? Why isn't Arrow itself a feasible defense that could be used for certain applications?

A: I don't know the full answer to that question and rather than fumble around, let me try to get an answer.

Q: But can you say anything about the technology of Arrow?

A: Well, no, I just said I...

Q: Oh. I thought you said you didn't know...