USIS Washington File

12 April 2000

Transcript: Avis Bohlen Identifies Key Arms Control Priorities

(U.S. official cites ABM Treaty, START III, CTBT) (2710)

Key U.S. arms control priorities currently include U.S.-Russian
discussions in Geneva on the 1972 ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) Treaty
and on START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) III, says Ambassador
Avis Bohlen, Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control.

"We are seeking to negotiate changes that would permit us on the one
hand to deploy a limited National Missile Defense, but on the other
would also allow us to preserve the core of the ABM Treaty and the
strategic stability that it embodies," Bohlen said in a recent

Predicting that it will be "a very great challenge to negotiate with
the Russians changes to the ABM Treaty," Bohlen said the Clinton
administration is "working very intensively with the Russians on

"We are also proceeding with discussions on START III," she said. "We
are not yet into negotiations, but we are having discussions with the
Russians. And those will be a priority, as well."

Following is the transcript of the interview conducted by Washington
File Staff Writer Dian McDonald:

(begin transcript)

QUESTION: What are the key priorities of your role as assistant
secretary for arms control?

BOHLEN: I think there are two main categories of priorities. First of
all, as you know, this bureau was, until just a little under a year
ago, part of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. So one of
my top priorities has been to see that the work of integrating the
Arms Control Bureau into the State Department proceeds smoothly. It
has gone pretty smoothly on the whole, but it still has to be a top

Second, on the substantive issues, the issue that is taking up a lot
of my time is work on the discussions that we are having with the
Russians in Geneva on the ABM Treaty and on START III issues. We have
been meeting regularly with the Russians. There were several meetings
in 1999. We met in January. We met at the end of February, and we will
probably meet again sometime after the Russian election on March 26.
And there is a lot of work involved in preparing for these
discussions. So that is a very high priority.

And, of course, trying to negotiate changes to the ABM Treaty is a
very high priority for this administration. We are seeking to
negotiate changes that would permit us on the one hand to deploy a
limited National Missile Defense, but on the other would also allow us
to preserve the core of the ABM Treaty and the strategic stability
that it embodies.

Finally, since the end of last year, we have been consulting
intensively on this subject with our allies in NATO and elsewhere.

Earlier last year, of course, we were working on ratification of the
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). As you know, it was not ratified
by the Senate. Recently, Secretary of State Albright created a small
task force that is chaired by (Senior Arms Control Adviser) John
Holum, and she appointed (retired Army) General John Shalikashvili as
special advisor to her and to the President to try to lay the basis
for a possible future ratification effort, to conduct a dialogue with
key Senators and key public figures to talk about the issues involved.

General Shalikashvili came on board March 13 and will be continuing
his efforts in the weeks ahead. At the moment he's very much in a
listening mode, gathering information and views from all concerned.

Q: Are you optimistic that it will be possible to bridge the
differences between the U.S. Senate and the Clinton administration on
ratifying the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty?

BOHLEN: The Secretary said very clearly when she announced General
Shalikashvili's appointment that we do not expect the treaty to come
up for a vote again this year. What we are trying to do is to lay the
basis for a future ratification effort that may or may not happen --
which of course this administration doesn't control -- and to try to
have the kind of low-key, nonpartisan dialogue about the issues that
was lacking at the time of the debate. It can only help to have such a
dialogue now.

Q: Do you believe that the rest of the world has gotten the message
that the United States has an ongoing effort to try to find a way to
reach ratification of the CTBT?

BOHLEN: They certainly have gotten the word, with the appointment of
General Shalikashvili, that we have not given up. We have briefed our
friends and allies about the appointment of General "Shali" and the
efforts that we are conducting with him and with the task force.

Q: How is the United States working with other nations to encourage
them to continue with their own efforts to ratify the CTBT?

BOHLEN: We are continuing our efforts to try to get all 44 states
whose signature and ratification is required by the treaty for
entry-into-force. So we are encouraging other countries to go ahead on
this. We have been engaged in this effort here in Washington and
elsewhere, because we believe that the treaty provides a good basis
for our non-proliferation efforts. It was very much on the agenda
during the President's visit to India and Pakistan. It certainly has
been very much on the agenda of Deputy Secretary Talbott's talks with
India and Pakistan.

Q: You recently characterized as "a burning issue of the day" the
complex of factors related to President Clinton's upcoming decision on
whether to deploy a limited National Missile Defense (NMD) system.
When will that decision be made, and what criteria will the President
consider in making it?

BOHLEN: The President will make a decision on whether to proceed with
deployment no earlier than this summer. He has already made a decision
to proceed with the development and testing, but the decision on
deployment will come later.

His decision will be based on four criteria. First, our assessment of
the threat as we see it at that time. We have said repeatedly we see
an emerging threat from countries acquiring ballistic missile
technology that is increasing and that will emerge during the next 10
years. So I think we can say that we believe the threat is there.

A second criterion will be whether a system is technologically
feasible. Secretary of Defense Cohen will submit to the President,
probably in July, a Deployment Readiness Review in which he will make
his recommendation to the President on that point.

Third, the cost. As of now, our cost estimate is $13 billion for phase
one; $29 billion for phase two. This is not excessive, given the scope
of the system.

The fourth criterion is the hardest to define and certainly the
hardest to quantify. It involves a range of national security factors
that include: the impact of NMD on arms control, on our relations with
our European allies and our Pacific allies, on our relations with
Russia and with China, and also on our non-proliferation objectives.
These are factors that are hard to quantify but are critical.

I mentioned that we are having discussions with the Russians on
possible modifications to the ABM Treaty. We want to be able, on the
one hand, to move ahead with a limited National Missile Defense
system, if that is what the President decides, but also to preserve
the ABM Treaty which we regard as very important. So we are having
discussions with the Russians. We are proceeding with them at quite an
intense pace. We don't see a contradiction between these two

We are also involved in consultations with our NATO allies and with
Japan. We are just getting under way with discussions now with NATO.
There have been many briefings already, and we will be moving ahead
with substantive discussions.

So these are the criteria that will weigh in the President's decision
sometime this summer.

Q: Could you elaborate on the threat that has led to the President's
decision to proceed to the development and testing of a limited
National Missile Defense?

BOHLEN: I think that sometimes there's a great deal of
misunderstanding about it. We see an emerging threat from the
potential development of a ballistic missile capability by three
countries over the next decade: most immediately, North Korea;
probably Iran; and possibly Iraq.

Sometimes people say, "How can the great United States be afraid of a
very small country with a bankrupt regime and a handful of missiles?"
But it is not so much the idea that one of these countries might pop
off a missile out of the blue at the United States, but that it would
give them a blackmail capability -- or what they would think is a
capability -- to deter us from acting in a regional crisis. Most of
these countries have primarily regional ambitions. These are the main
focus of their foreign policy. Often the United States is an actor in
the region and they would see it as being in their interest to have a
capability that could prevent the United States from coming to the
defense of an ally or from intervening in the region. We have
commitments to our allies, and we would never let ourselves be
deterred from fulfilling those commitments, but they might think that
they could influence our actions in a regional crisis.

It's enough to think back to Desert Storm, to the Gulf War: What would
have been the impact if Saddam Hussein had had an intercontinental
(ballistic) missile range capability? I like to think we would have
reacted the same way we did, but the knowledge that he had such a
capability certainly would have complicated our calculations and
weighed heavily on our decisions at the time. And if you think back to
the very passionate debate that took place in this country, what we
are talking about is not something trivial.

Q: How would you compare the administration's consultative processes
with the Senate on CTBT and on NMD?

BOHLEN: Without going over past history too much, CTBT was certainly a
very difficult debate. And, of course, we were very disappointed in
the results. But as I said, with General "Shali" as the President's
senior adviser, we are trying to turn the page at least in terms of
dialogue and to proceed in the manner that I indicated.

On NMD, we are consulting actively and regularly with Congress. Deputy
Secretary Talbott and Senior Advisor John Holum have had several
meetings with the National Security Working Group, a select group of
Senators who follow arms control. There have been individual
consultations as well. The Administration feels very strongly that it
is important to have a real understanding on the Hill for what we are
trying to do, and, as much as possible, a bipartisan consensus. On
both sides of the aisle, there is strong feeling in favor of
proceeding with a National Missile Defense system as soon as this can
be done. But there is also support for seeking to preserve the ABM
Treaty, modified to permit NMD.

We want to build on this. We want to explain to the Senate on a
regular basis what it is that we are doing, how our talks with the
Russians are going.

Q: What is the greatest arms control challenge that the administration
currently faces?

BOHLEN: It will be a very great challenge to negotiate with the
Russians changes to the ABM Treaty. We are working very intensively
with the Russians on this. And right now it is a very high priority.
We are also proceeding with discussions on START III. We are not yet
into negotiations, but we are having discussions with the Russians.
And those will be a priority as well.

I should also mention the ongoing negotiations in Geneva on the
Biological Weapons Convention protocol. Our objective is to try to
negotiate a protocol in time for the review conference in the year
2001. There is a lot of work still to do. The issues are very
difficult, but we are seeking to move ahead, and we are prepared to
work the issues through.

Q: Apart from the issues that you have already mentioned, are there
other key arms control concerns on the administration's agenda?

BOHLEN: Those are the main ones, but I should also mention that we had
very much hoped to negotiate a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT)
in the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. Unfortunately our efforts
to reestablish the ad hoc committee that was dealing with this have
been blocked in Geneva by some countries that want to attach
conditions to it. This has been very disappointing because an FMCT
would multilateralize some of things that we have been able to do
bilaterally with the Russians on halting fissile material production.

I also would like to say a word about the Conventional Armed Forces in
Europe (CFE) Treaty which was modified at the Istanbul Summit in
November 1999. This is a treaty that has required adaptation several
times since it was signed in 1990. We continue to think it is a very
important framework for European security. We think that the
transparency and limits on different kinds of equipment have been a
very valuable tool.

The adaptation that we signed in Istanbul has some particular
features. First of all, we knew at the time that we signed it that the
Russians had exceeded even the new negotiated limits on their
equipment in the southern flank because of their military campaign in
Chechnya. It is this administration's position that we will not submit
the treaty for ratification until the Russian forces have returned to
their limits. Of course the military campaign in Chechnya remains very
active and very much at the center of the Russians' attention. But
because the treaty exists they cannot and have not forgotten that
there are limits out there. That will be a useful tool.

The second set of agreements that we negotiated in conjunction with
this treaty at Istanbul were some very important understandings
between Russia and Moldova, and Russia and Georgia, which provide for
the withdrawal of all Russian forces from Moldova and substantial
withdrawals from Georgia. These were very important achievements which
we very strongly support and which we want to see implemented as soon
as possible.

Q: How would you assess the impact of the media on the arms control

BOHLEN: Two issues have had a lot of media attention this year. One
was, of course, the CTBT debate. The other is the National Missile
Defense issue. I wish the media would pay a little more attention to
the fact that we are negotiating with the Russians. Of course, the
negotiations themselves are confidential, but we are negotiating. This
is an important part of the picture which should be made known to
publics. But other than NMD and CTBT, I don't think that the media is
paying a lot of attention to arms control these days.

Q: What experiences have best prepared you for the key role that you
now have in U.S. arms control policy-making?

BOHLEN: I have worked on and off in the field of security issues and
arms control throughout my career. In fact, I began working for the
Arms Control and Disarmament Agency back in 1974 or thereabouts. I
worked on the MBFR Talks, short for Mutual and Balanced Force
Reduction. When I joined the Foreign Service two years later, I
continued to work on these issues intermittently, including the
strategic arms negotiations and conventional force reduction talks. I
was involved in negotiations for the first CFE Treaty (1990). After
that, I was out of the arms control field for 10 years, and, of
course, a great deal has changed since 1991. But certainly my previous
experience did help to prepare me for this job. And I have the
pleasure of working with a wonderful bureau, wonderful colleagues who
are real experts in their fields. Their support has helped me
enormously in my current role.
(end transcript)

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