News Briefings

DoD News Briefing

Monday, November 22, 1999 - 1:05 p.m. EST
Presenter: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA

U.S. State Department Foreign Press Center Briefing


QHi, sir. My name is Andrei Sitov. I am with Tass, with the Russian News Agency. I have a question about the ABM, a two-part question. First is a specific thing. The Independent, on Sunday in Britain -- and of course the secretary was in London when he was making that speech -- reported that the United States was doing some work on ABM, according to the article, prohibited by the treaty, a few years ago. So the question is, has the United States been doing something in the north of England for the ABM, for the NMD?

And the second part is, probably the Russians, on their side, have been rather active recently with their weapons tests, and I wonder if you're worried about this activity and how you can comment on that?

MR. BACON: Okay. Well let me talk about the whole national missile defense issue broadly and then address your two questions specifically.

First, it's important to realize that national missile defense is exactly what it says; it is an effort to develop a defensive system, not an offensive system. And it's even more refined than that. We have no defensive system now against a missile attack, unlike Russia, which does have a system to protect Moscow. The United States has none.

We are, in looking at the -- the question facing the government today is whether we should develop a limited national missile defense system, and President Clinton has not made a decision to deploy such a system. One is under development, and he will make a decision in next summer as to whether we should begin to deploy such a system or not.

We have tested a system, and the system we've tested and will test further is a very limited defensive system that could protect the United States against a small attack from what we call an outlaw or rogue nation, such as North Korea or Iraq or Iran, who may develop a very small number of missiles capable of hitting the United States.

Since the end of the World War II and throughout the Cold War, we have depended on what's called deterrence to protect us against an attack from the former Soviet Union. And that was basically what we call mutually assured destruction; if they struck us, we would strike back with devastating force, and vice versa. And the threat of annihilation has deterred either side from using nuclear weapons for the last 40 years.

We think that in the new global environment of smaller, more radical states, deterrence may not work with the same effectiveness that it has over the last 40 years, and therefore we're contemplating the idea of a very limited national missile defense system that would protect us against a handful of missiles. It would not protect us against a massive attack, as could be launched by the former Soviet Union or by Russia today. So it is not even meant to deal with that type of a threat.

I saw the Independent article, and I believe it was factually in error. And in terms of the program itself, as I said, we have made no decision to go forward with it yet.

MS. RANSOM: Your next question is from --

MR. BACON: You had -- sorry, you had --

Q (Off mike) -- about the test, the weapons test in Russia? Are you worried about the --

MR. BACON: Well, the Russians have, of course, continued the development of offensive weapons since the end of the Cold War, and so it's not surprising that there would be tests from time to time. Although we have a START I agreement with Russia that is in the process of reducing the number of strategic countable weapons on both sides to about 6,000 from over 10,000, although we've negotiated a START II agreement that would reduce it down to 3,000, to 3,500, both sides, of course, have a right to continue developing new and more modern weapons, and the Russians are doing that. So we don't see that as a particular threat at this stage because Russia shows every sign of honoring the arms control agreements that it has signed.