Foreign Press Center Briefing Transcript

Arms Control -- A Review of 1999
and a Look Ahead to the Year 2000

John Holum, Senior Adviser to the President and Secretary of State
for Arms Control, Nonproliferation, Disarmament

Thursday December 9, 1999

     MR. HOLUM: ................
     And, of course, we have the challenge now of dealing with the ABM Treaty issue. The ABM Treaty remains a cornerstone of our strategic stability and of our arms control efforts. But at the same time, the world has changed dramatically since the treaty was negotiated in 1972. The threat of weapons of mass destruction and missiles to carry them from a few rogue states is growing, it's real, it's unpredictable, and it's in the near-term. And so we're considering the possibility of deploying a national missile defense, which would require changes to the ABM Treaty while still preserving its essential purpose. And we're engaged in discussions with Russia on that front.

     With that, I'm happy to take your questions.

     MR. SILVER: Okay, let's start in the back and we'll work our way forward, okay?

     Q (Inaudible) -- Chinese Television Network of Taiwan. Two questions, actually. How do you see the Chinese missile buildup against Taiwan? And in a related matter, Taiwan's vice president, Ben Jon (ph), and a presidential hopeful, says that Taiwan should develop long-range land-to-land missiles as part of the national defense strategy. How do you see that?

     MR. HOLUM: Well, I would echo -- on the first question, I'd echo the president's statement that we view with very serious concern any buildup and any threatening gestures that suggest a violent approach to the Taiwan Straits and to the issue of China and Taiwan relations. The president's also made clear that our policy remains that of recognizing one China. But at the same time, consistent with the three communiqués and the Taiwan Relations Act, we believe that the future of Taiwan should be determined in a peaceful way between China and Taiwan, and we view with grave concern any indications or preparations for military action.

     As you know, under the Taiwan Relations Act, we've provided a great deal of defense technology and support to Taiwan, consistent with its security. And we'll continue to evaluate requests and programs in that light. I don't want to prejudge any particular kinds of programs.

     In the broadest sense, it seems to me the right direction for both Taiwan and China, and certainly consistent with U.S. policy, is to draw back from more ambitious military programs rather than embark on new ones. But we obviously review Taiwan's security very carefully as we go through the process each year.

     Q (Inaudible) -- on the second question, do you have any -- would you support or oppose Taiwan's development of a long-range land- to-land missile?

     MR. HOLUM: I was answering that question when I talked about how we would review these programs, but I don't want to prejudge an outcome.

     MR. SILVER: A question from this side of the room.

     Q Mark Reich (sp), American University Observer. So far, Russia doesn't seem like they're willing to negotiate on the ABM Treaty. And for us to deploy our national missile defense program by the year 2000 -- well, first of all, we're looking to deploy it in Alaska, which would be a violation of the ABM Treaty. And, of course, if we go ahead and deploy, it would be a violation of the ABM Treaty. Do you think if we cannot come to an agreement with Russia that we will walk from the agreement, like we are allowed to, by giving six months' notice?

     MR. HOLUM: I don't want to prejudge or speculate on what the decision will be next year. That's clearly a decision for the president to make. Our job as negotiators is to avoid putting the president in that situation, putting him in that position, which means we need to work very hard to negotiate amendments to the ABM Treaty that would permit the kind of limited deployment that we have under discussion.

     It is an accurate statement to say that Russia, as of this point, has not shown overwhelming interest in amending the ABM Treaty. But I think, over time -- I'm hopeful that over time, Russia will see it in its interest, as well as our interest, in not putting the United States in the position of having to choose between a defense against real threats that can be done without defeating the purposes of the ABM Treaty, or leaving the ABM Treaty, in which case there'd be no constraints on the kind of program we would build. That is not a decision we're in the process of making now. It's something that I hope we won't have to confront.

     Q (Inaudible) -- of Lebanon. Mr. Holum, I have just attended a press conference upstairs less than an hour ago that was concentrating on the problem of coming back from the brink, which is the problem of de-alerting the arsenals of the two countries, the U.S. and Russia. My question is, how high is re-alerting on the agenda of arms control policy of the United States, if it is in any way part of that policy, because the image reflected by that conference was really scary, to be true to you.

     MR. HOLUM: We have looked very closely at the whole question of de-alerting, because there's been a lot of interest in it, particularly in the NGO community. And we have developed, in response, one specific initiative, which is the assistance to Russian early warning and shared early warning, to avoid or make far less likely the possibility of a mistaken response to what is perceived to be but is actually not a nuclear attack. And we've had some episodes that suggest that there has been some risk of that.

     As far as specific de-alerting proposals are concerned, no one has yet, that I've seen, come up with a reliable means of doing that that would be verifiable and at the same time something each side would be willing to do. There's also the risk that de-alerting in a crisis situation, if countries move to re-alert, could, in fact, cause a crisis to boil out of control. So it's an area of inquiry that has a great deal of popular appeal on the surface, but when you dig into it, it becomes far more difficult to pursue. The concern it addresses is a real one, and we're trying to address it in other ways, such as through the shared early-warning effort.

     MR. SILVER: Just identify yourself.

     Q I'm sorry. I'm Chris Wilson from Reuters. Just coming back to the ABM Treaty for a moment, could you tell us if there is any incentive for the Russians to agree to a modification of ABM? And if, by this missile defense system, you intend to move away from the idea of mutually assured destruction, and really the missile defense system is aimed more at defending against rogue states than it is against Russia or China, what benefit is there for Russia in agreeing to a modification? And how is this tied in to the broader START talks and other arms control talks with the Russians?

     MR. HOLUM: Well, let me begin with the latter point. Just as a matter of process, we are engaged in discussions with Russia, pursuant to the two presidents' agreement at Cologne in June, on both ABM Treaty issues and START III issues. Now, as to START III, our position remains that before we actually begin negotiations on START III, Russia should ratify START II. We're still hopeful that will occur. But in the meantime, we are laying the basis for negotiations by sharing ideas, fleshing out in some detail what the two presidents agreed at Helsinki in 1997.

     Now, as to Russia's incentive, Russia has, in many respects, some of the same interests we have in developing the capability to defend against unpredictable countries with nuclear capabilities. Both North Korea and Iran, for example, are much closer to Russia than they are to the United States. So it's quite conceivable to me that Russia will want to have some of these same capabilities itself over time.

     In addition, both we and Russia have a strong stake in preserving the benefits, for our own bilateral relationship and strategic stability, of the ABM Treaty. And we can do now again what we did previously in 1997 when we agreed to adjust the treaty to make clear that very robust theater missile defenses are permitted under the treaty. I contend that that agreement strengthened the ABM Treaty by making clear that it doesn't stand in the way of legitimate defenses to real, new emerging threats.

     By the same token, I think we can strengthen -- and this should be in Russia's interest as well as ours -- we can strengthen the ABM Treaty, again, by showing that it doesn't stand in the way of defenses against longer-range missiles from unpredictable sources and that we can do that at the same time as we preserve the core benefits of the treaty.

     The kind of national missile defense that we're discussing would not have any significant capability against Russia. It poses no threat to Russia's deterrent. But at the same time, it does answer something that we feel very strongly needs to be addressed in our own national security interest. So Russia has the opportunity here to preserve and strengthen the ABM Treaty, and also to provide a basis for responding to threats it may well also face.

     Q Can I just follow that up? Does this imply that you might be prepared to share some of your national missile defense technology with Russia?

     MR. HOLUM: Yes. Part of the discussion and part of our plans for pursuing national missile defense includes cooperative steps. The obvious first area of cooperation is in cooperating to modify the treaty. But we're also talking about technical and operational cooperation in various ways with the Russians.

     MR. SILVER: Let's go to the back.

     Q Ambassador, I'm Andrew Shin (sp) with VOA. I have a question with regards to China. What kind of technology has China put into the M-11 missiles for Pakistan? And has China stopped its nuclear proliferation, and what will be the U.S. reaction to China's behavior?

     MR. HOLUM: We've seen -- some of that touches on intelligence matters that I can't go into. We've obviously seen press reporting over a period of time on China's missile relationship with Pakistan. We have, as you know, a missile proliferation law that includes sanctions. We have applied that in the past in the case of Chinese transfers to Pakistan, imposing sanctions I think twice in '91 and '93. And if we take those laws seriously, if we accumulate the level of evidence that is required to invoke the law, we would apply it again, including sanctions.

     MR. SILVER: We have time for maybe one or two more questions. Let's go here.

     Q Yeah. Floyd Davis (sp) with the Arms Control Association. Returning to the ABM treaty, you noted that the current U.S. NMD plans pose no threat to Russia's deterrent. However, it would seem to negate China's. Could you discuss what steps we're taking to alleviate China's concerns with the U.S. NMD plans and possibly how this relates to breaking the logjam in the conference on disarmament on prevention of an arms race in outer space talks?

     MR. HOLUM: Just let me begin -- I'm answering everybody's questions backwards. But I just don't want to miss the CD part of this.

     We have proposed in the conference on disarmament some flexibility with respect to outer space talks. We still don't see a need for, or rationale, for a formal negotiation on outer space, but we have been willing to consider discussions of some kind, if it's part of a comprehensive work plan that will include the Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty, which really does need to be addressed.

     But that's -- I view that as distinct from the other part of your question, and one of the things we need to do to address any concerns China may have about our national missile defense is to resume the strategic dialogue that we've been trying to hold and has been interrupted for some time. I don't want to go into the content of those discussions or what we plan to say at this stage, but it seems to me it's extremely important for us to be able to engage with China so they have a fuller understanding of what our plans are and whether or not they have implications for China.

     MR. SILVER: With that, I'd like to say thank you very much, Mr. Holum.

     MR. HOLUM: Thank you. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.