Booster Phase Interceptors Vs. Ground-Based Interceptors
U.S. Secretary of Defense and Russian Defense Minister Air Opposing Views on Missile Defense

Thursday, June 16, 2000--U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen and Russia Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev exchanged opposing views on National Missile Defense and the Antiballistic Missile Treaty Wednesday during a Moscow press conference.  Russia has proposed a "boost phase" interceptor, perhaps similar to the U.S. Air Force's developmental Airborne Laser (, as an alternative to the United States' proposed deployment of ground-based interceptors, which it views as destabilizing. The United States considers boost phase interceptors theater missile defense systems that would b unable to adequately defend the United States or Europe from long-range missile attacks

"We have also indicated our willingness to explore ways in which we can cooperate on issues involving [national] missile defense," Cohen said, "but I will also indicate that there is continued disagreement over the urgency that the United States feels in terms of the nature of the threat coming from rogue states and how it should be addressed. The United States believes it's important to continue our research and development efforts in the field of National Missile Defense for the possible deployment of a limited type of system.

"In the meantime, we certainly are willing to explore the concept that the Russian president and the military leadership have in mind for protection against rogue states by defending through a shield that would be over the rogue states--something like an umbrella, over the rogue state areas. We are interested in exploring that.  We do not see that as a substitute for a limited National Missile Defense system, but something that would be in addition to. We have agreed that our experts should continue to meet to discuss the nature of the concept and the technology that might be involved in establishing umbrellas of protections against the rogue states in the future.

"There are many problems associated with a boost phase type of intercept from a technological and practical point of view," Cohen added. "We certainly are interested and willing to explore these issues with our Russian friends. "

"First of all," responded Sergeyev, through a translator, " I would like to mention that we did exchange our views on how to promote our cooperative efforts, particularly in the area where our uniformed personnel are working together in the territory of the former Yugoslavia. We did exchange some views on how to improve our work together in the peace-making efforts. We do share the concern of the United States regarding the questions of terrorism because terrorist operations have been increasingly more and more organized.

"We have just signed a plan of cooperation between the two militaries for the year 2000. The focus of the bilateral program is to improve the quality of exchanges, rather than to raise the numbers of exchanges.

"Of course, most of the time in our conversation has been taken by our exchanges on the ABM matters," he continued. "We do welcome the United States' interest in continuing our exchanges on the establishment of the non-strategic ABM assets. We do support the idea of continuing our bilateral efforts on the level of specialists or experts.

"At the same time," Sergeyev added, "we kept our policy positions on the question of the so-called NMD, [or] national missile defense. First of all, the Russian policy position is that we don't see the feasibility of opportunity at this point in time to modify or update the 1972 ABM Treaty. To take out the outstanding concerns of both of us, we do propose that a political effort should be undertaken in order to establish a so-called political umbrella for the United States and the Russian Federation against the so-called other rogue states through the system of arrangements and agreements.

"Of course," he added, "such a protection system should be based on the dedicated commitments of both sides and of the dedicated agreements, and those obligations should be appropriately verifiable. Our view is that this version of implementation of such a political umbrella is going to be more effective; it is going to be less costly; and it will be less dangerous and detrimental to the national interests of either side. Also, it is of greater importance because it will be in the interest of many other lands and in the interest of strategic stability.

"The interest of strategic stability -- did I mention that I particularly emphasize this and would like to say something more in this regard -- will be a promising arrangement, having the capacity for many years to come," he said. "Pulling out of the 1972 ABM commitment would amount to restarting the arms race. Should the very cornerstone of strategic stability become eroded, we will have a big problem of putting things in check in this area. Should we fail to reach an arrangement in this area, the battle or war between the shell on one hand and the armor on the other hand will continue indefinitely. "

During a question and answer session, Sergeyev, still speaking through an interpreter, said, "There has been one more disparity in this regard. This disparity of views in this matter has to do with our different approaches to the assessment of security threats. Well, if you take some threat, we regard it as a potential threat or a virtual threat, while the Americans might be tempted to regard the same threat as the actual threat, the real threat. So, I think it would be a good idea to join forces with on a bilateral level to arrive at some arrangement to assess the quality of the threats, meaning what we have to do is arrive at some criteria, at some benchmark, in order to view the degree of threats and which we are lacking today. We don't have that in place now. The positive movement in this area would really produce good results in the area of stability."

"Basically, we are exploring the differences between our assessment of how soon the threat will emerge," said Cohen. "The United States believes that North Korea, by way of example, will have an intercontinental range by the year 2005. There's some disagreement in terms of the Russian assessment of that date. We will continue, of course, to discuss it with our Russian friends, but that is our intelligence community's assessment. In addition, we will always explore ways of politically providing protection for our respective countries, but we also have to look at the capability as well as intent.

"Our focus is on capability," he added. "The third point that I would make is that we will continue to examine Russian proposals in terms of providing protection in a boost phase against any of the rogue nations, but we still do not see this as a substitute for the limited system that the United States is now considering. We made no decision on deployment as of this time, but we cannot see this as a substitute for it, given the fact that a great deal needs to be done in terms of the technology involved, such as boost phase systems, and the practical implications of it. We are continuing to discuss this and continue to share information amongst our experts."

Posted 16 June 2000