News Briefings

DoD News Briefing

Thursday, June 08, 2000
Presenter: Walter Slocombe, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy

Joint Press Conference NATO Headquarters, Brussels, Belgium

(Also participating: Frank Kramer, assistant secretary of Defense for International Affairs; Ted Warner assistant secretary of Defense for Strategy and Threat Reduction and Alexander Vershbow, U.S. ambassador to NATO)

Bacon: Good afternoon and thanks for coming. We're actually going to do this on the record, and I'd like to introduce the cast of characters here. Walter Slocombe is the under secretary of Defense for Policy. He will be do most of the talking, but he's supported by Frank Kramer, the assistant secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs and Ted Warner, assistant secretary of Defense for Strategy and Threat Reduction. We will be joined later by Alexander Vershbow, U.S. ambassador to NATO.

And with that, I turn it over.

Slocombe: The three meetings this morning were, of course, the NPG (the Nuclear Planning Group), the Defense Planning Committee, and one of the first of several sessions of the North Atlantic Council meeting at the Defense ministerial level.

In the NPG, the United States presented traditional briefings on the state of alliance, American nuclear forces, and some developments. The Secretary reported briefly on what had transpired at the summit meeting in Moscow last week. The NAC had received a full report from Strobe Talbott who briefed the NAC on Tuesday. The most important development in terms of arms control, although a lot of other issues were discussed at the summit, was the Joint Statement of Principles of Strategic Stability. In that document, both countries affirmed their commitment to strategic stability and mutual deterrence and strengthening the viability of the ABM Treaty. In addition, the Statement of Principles includes recognition by both Russia and the United States of the emergence of new ballistic missile threats and the possibility of adapting the treaty to reflect that. It also acknowledges the linkage between offensive and defensive measures and the measures of arms control, and the presidents instructed their governments to develop concrete measures that will allow both sides to preserve strategic stability in the face of these new threats.

These elements represent a significant advance particularly in recognizing the reality of the threat and the need to undertake measures. But as Strobe told the NAC, there is no suggestion that at this point we have the same concrete measures in mind. Another recent development has been the ideas raised by President Putin and other Russian spokesmen both before and after the summit, including by President Putin yesterday in Rome in some form of cooperative defense to deal with the problem. No specific details have been provided by the Russian side. The secretary and the other NATO ministers will meet with Marshal Sergeyev, the Russian Defense Minister, tomorrow, and this will inevitably be a topic. The United States is, like everybody else I think, uncertain what the Russians have in mind or, indeed, whether they have in mind any kind of technically detailed proposal. We hope that Marshal Sergeyev will have some specific details to provide. We welcome the prospect of cooperation in principle but as a supplement, not as a substitute for the timely deployment of the system which we have in mind.

In the DPC, there was a discussion of steps being taken by alliance members to meet NATO force goals, particularly those related to the DCI. Secretary Cohen, echoing what the Secretary General said, stressed the need for more investment in modernization to correct the problems and shortfalls highlighted by Kosovo and outlined as requirements in the Defense Capabilities Initiative. He outlined what the United States will be doing: buying additional C-17s, additional Joint Stars aircraft and other surveillance aircraft; Ö some half billion dollars in additional funding for electronic warfare support and jamming; and in the important area of precision guided munitions, increased procurement of Tomahawks and accelerated procurement of JDAMS (Joint Direct Attack Munition System) to reflect both the expenditure of those munitions in Kosovo and their utility.

Several of the European nations announced that they would be making plans for increases, and this whole issue of capabilities would be discussed further this afternoon. One of the additional points which was made by the secretary was the proposals for reforming the American defense export control system to make it more streamlined and more flexible, particularly to adapt it to meeting the DCI requirements.

The third session was a discussion of the Balkans, particularly, of course, Kosovo. The short version of the story is that, in Kosovo, a great deal has been accomplished in the course of the last year. It is less than a year since KFOR actually stood up and began operating in Kosovo. There have been some quite dramatic improvements. For example, despite a continuing level of inter-ethnic violence, and any level is too much, the fact is there has been a dramatic drop in incidence of violence over the course of the year. NATO forces are playing a crucial role in maintaining order and in carrying out their other missions. In order to do that, they have to maintain adequate force levels. In Bosnia, by contrast, where the security situation is considerably stabilized, the force level is being reduced to about a little over twenty thousand, down from thirty thousand and compared to sixty thousand that were asked for in SFOR when the operation began now nearly five years ago.

But, in Kosovo, there is still a requirement to maintain a force adequate to carry out the missions. That will require some additional national contributions, reflecting decisions by some allies to pull out and/or transfer forces to other functions. The United States has made modest increases in its contribution with the long-range surveillance company and the Predator, an unmanned aerial vehicle for surveillance. We are still in the guidelines which we have established for our overall contribution.

A main focus of discussion, in addition to maintaining the military forces, was the need to build up a civilian police force, a judicial system, and in general, the civilian implementation side to maintain the possibility of progress on restoring something of a normal life in the area. Also in this context, a number of speakers welcomed the declaration, which the Secretary General noted by Carla de Ponte, the head prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, in which she declared there was no basis to investigate allegations of war crimes by NATO in the course of carrying out the air campaign in response to the campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.

Thatís an overview of what happened, and I will be glad to address questions. Some of the more detailed questions about DCI and so on, I will probably ask Frank to address.

Q: Is there any intention to deal with nuclear issues?

Slocombe: Of course, nuclear issues are discussed regularly in the NPG. I donít think there was any plan for a comprehensive review of NATO nuclear doctrine.

Q: How concerned are you that the Russian proposal is more palatable to Europeans than NMD? And on DCI, is Secretary Cohen prepared to name names about who is meeting DCI goals? And obviously and rhetorically, you welcomed Russian proposals to the new thinking in Moscow. Clearly, a lot of this has to be flushed out yet. How concerned are you that the Russians that the Russians may be proposing something that might be rather more palatable to sell to NATO's European members, certainly more palatable to the scheme of the Americans are proposing at the Ö treaty. And secondly, on DCI we Ö a lot of suggestions that reach through this type of government speak Ö How far Ö are you prepared to name names to say who it is that effectively Ö ?

Slocombe: Well, within the alliance, itís a matter of transparency to everybody who is and who is not meeting which force goals. So, there's no question of naming names. People know who are lagging. The secretary general has published a set of brilliantly intricate graphs relating contributions to GDP, percentage of GDP, per capita GDP, relating number of troops per capita to procurement per capita and so on, which show some very interesting insights. It is striking as to which countries are high on most measures or low on most measures. So, itís not a question of anybody having to name names, but there were some very direct statements from a number of ministers about the need to find the resources to do the things which we have undertaken in the alliance.

Back to the first quick question about the Russians. It is for the Europeans to say which proposals are palatable and which are not. Obviously, we all would like to see this problem dealt with in a way which preserves the ABM Treaty, and which the Russians are able to decide not to oppose. Itís important to look at any constructive suggestion to see if itís a serious suggestion. I should simply make the point that, by definition any system which is deployed and tested, as any system would have to be, against ICBM type attacking weapons, by definition is an ABM system under the treaty and would require appropriate modification of the treaty. Itís a question of really how the treaty would be modified. But, at this stage, we know very little about what, if anything, the Russians have in mind at a detailed technical level, and we will look at any reasonable proposal. I want to make the point, though, that we see no prospect that any system of this character, whatever it is, and by definition it doesnít exist now, could be deployed nearly as fast as the system which we are working on, for which our target for deployment is 2005. Unless something very, very surprising turns up, we would regard all ideas along these lines as potentially useful supplements but not replacements for the program we are considering deploying.

Q: How does the U.S. view the Macedonian border incident?

Slocombe: I have to get you names for that.

Q: On NMD, with regard to the notion of "a supplement, not a substitute," has the U.S. already looked at and discarded boost phase technology?

Slocombe: Well, as to whether it was discussed this morning, Frank, why don't youÖ

Kramer: I think that everyone was pleased to hear about the plans that the minister outlined in summary form and will give it greater written presentation. It was discussed as part of the Defense Planning Committee, and the restructuring goes a long way to meeting the goals of the Defense Capabilities Initiative. Then, of course, the issue will be whether the necessary resources are there to do that in a prompt fashion.

Q: On ABM, has the United States (inaudible)

Slocombe: The ABM Treaty limits what in ABM Treaty terms are called anti-ballistic missile systems for defense against strategic, that is long range ballistic missiles, and by definition a system which is tested against long range targets is subject to the limitations of the treaty. So, if you have a system that, no matter whether it operates in boost phase or terminal or in mid-course, as the one that we are considering would operate, if itís tested in ways that are necessary to establish that it works, it becomes subject to the limitations of the treaty. And unless itís going to be deployed in Moscow or Grand Forks, North Dakota, which is probably not an ideal place to put a boost phase system in, we would have to modify the terms of the treaty to permit it to be deployed. It also would require radar support which would require modification of treaty.

To say a little about the idea of boost phase, there is nothing physically impossible about building a boost phase system, but there are serious technical challenges. One is that an IRBM or ICBM is in boost phase for only two or three minutes. I am sorry. It is three to five minutes. Then, the engine cuts out, and it is in ballistic mode. The whole idea of a boost phase system is that the system is watching the hot exhaust plume from the rocketing engine while the rocket is firing.

There are significant technical challenges in detecting the launch fast enough, and in doing the tracking and characterizing it so you can have the interceptor accomplished during this three to five minutes of powered flight. You need an interceptor which has very fast acceleration to get there and is fundamentally different from the kind of interceptors we have been developing for other defense concepts, either as theater missile defense systems or the ground based interceptors we use in the NMD program we are considering.

The track that has to be followed is more complicated for BP intercept. The ballistic missile, once itís power cuts out, essentially operates on a ballistic projectory which is highly predictable. While itís in powered flight, it is moving and changing speed. For example, it accelerates until it cuts out, and as each of the different stages cut out, and it transfers to the next state. So, you would have to have very accurate radar tracking, and the timely relay of that information to this very fast and highly maneuverable interceptor. By contrast, the mid- course interceptor, which is a sufficiently complicated task, is trying to hit a target on a highly predictable ballistic trajectory.

There is also the problem of where to put the interceptor base. The physics of the problem and the engineering are such that you got to be within something like a few hundred kilometers from where the missile is launched, and thatís because you have so little time in which to get the interceptor up to make the intercept. If it is launched from farther away, at any plausible acceleration and speed you wonít catch the target on its way up. Also, you are looking at the plume, and it doesnít do any good to fly the interceptor through the exhaust plume; you have to hit the booster. That would require quite a sophisticated set of sensors to sort out what is going on.

There is also the nontrivial problem that this is going to have to be a very fast reaction system, and you would have to find someway to make sure that you didnít shoot down space launches or normal missile tests of other kinds. The ground based interceptor system, by contrast, can wait until there is confirmation that this is, in fact, a missile which is headed on a trajectory that represents a potential threat.

None of these problems are probably insoluble in principle, but no American, or so far as we know, Russian defense system that is currently deployed or under development has been designed to perform this task, which is a challenging one. The same is true, of course, of the mid-course interceptor system that we are considering. In principle, you could design and develop and test and deploy a system that meets all of these technical problems, but you need a new interceptor, new sensor, new radar, and a new command system. It would take many years to do it, well beyond the planned initial capability of 2005.

Some boost phase systems are space based, and they either use kinetic interceptors, the famous smart rocks or brilliant pebbles, or lasers. That is a conceivable [alternative boost phase concept]. They have their own problems technically. Most important, because they would have a worldwide threat and a worldwide capability, they would be, presumably, perceived as threatening by the Russians because of their obvious potential to shoot down ICBMs coming out of Russian missile fields. In that sense, they would be no different than the ground based interceptor weíre thinking about.

There are also potential counter measures to defeat the boost phased intercept system. The most obvious is to generate a false heat source.

Those are the technical problems and the timing problems. There are also significant political problems. As I told you, the base has to be within a few hundred kilometers of where the missile is being launched from, and generally, it has to be down range, that is the missile has to fly over the base.

In theory, you could put interceptors and the command and control systems and radar for them in Russia or conceivably in other countries, but there are pretty obvious problems with either having a unilateral U.S. base which entirely makes its own decision located in Russia, or a Russian base making its own decisions located in the United States. That could pose even more serious problems with other potential host countries. It seems somewhat unlikely that a potential host would be terribly keen on the idea of a U.S. interceptor base over which they had no control of whatsoever, because its use would in some sense involve them in the conflict, and there would be obvious draw backs from the United Statesí point of view in depending on the affirmative cooperation of a third country in operating the system. And as I said, whatever they [boost phased concepts] do, they do not eliminate ABM Treaty problems for the reasons I explained.

Q: (Inaudible)

Slocombe: I think our position on that is the issue of conscription or not is, for every country that has to face it, not simply a military question, but it is also a question of social policy, history, culture and tradition. There are things to be said on both sides of the matter. That is a decision for the countries that have to make those choices. Having made the choice one way or the other, they then have to make sure that they find a way to meet the military requirements that are important-- In the case of a volunteer force, that you are able to recruit and retain--In the case of the conscription force, you deal with the various problems inherent in having a conscript force. From the point of view of the United States, we recognize that this is a difficult decision that is entirely one which should be made by the countries concerned. Having made that decision, they then need to make sure that they meet the military requirements of being effective members of the Alliance.

Q: (Inaudible)

Slocombe: It depends on the circumstances. There are plenty of difficulties about meeting military goals with a volunteer army, in which recruiting and retention is the most obvious. The point is that each decision has its implications for military capability, and having made the decision, it is then very much our position that the countries in question should take the steps that are necessary to meet their goals under DCI and, for that matter, their goals under headline goals for the EU.

Q: On NMD Ö In light of the fact that it would take so much time to develop, will the United States then reject the Russian proposal Ö ? Since the boost phase technology takes a long time to develop, would the U.S. accept the technology (inaudible)?

Slocombe: At the moment, we donít know enough about it to reject or accept it on any basis, and we are hoping to get additional information. I am only making a point that, if it is as it seems to be--we donít know for sure-- a boost phased system, there are obviously technical problems that are timing problems, and there are political problems that are presented. Secretary Cohen will be meeting with Sergeyev here tomorrow and will also be going on to Moscow. It may be that we will know more about their ideas on this matter after those meetings, and it will give us a better basis for taking a position. Weíre not rejecting anything at this stage except that it seems extremely unlikely that it will provide a reasonable basis for treating it as a substitute, particularly in terms of timing.

Q: Have the Russians given any indication that it would be acceptable that their proposal be a supplement to NMD?

Slocombe: The Russians have not. This is not necessarily a criticism, but the Russians have not developed the idea in detail, in terms of what they expect it to be technically or what they expect it to be politically. Obviously, they oppose our system. That is certainly true, but how they would relate their ideas to the U.S. system is something that will have to be discussed.

Q: Was there any further discussion of the U.S. sharing technology with Europe or Russia?

Slocombe: Well, with respect to Russia, thatís another issue. They have sometimes talked about a joint program, and that is an issue we have to discuss. With respect to the Europeans, what the President said in Lisbon certainly applies. That is, we recognize that, in some sense, this is the threat to a lot of countries, the rogue state missile threat. It is a threat, and not just in the United States, but in a lot of countries. Then, we would be prepared to share technology and cooperate with those countries, establishing a defense capability for European states if they chose to do so. That is obviously a decision for individual countries and, in some sense, for the Alliance or for Europe as a whole. And donít think there has been any detailed discussion and certainly not in any of the meetings today. I know from talking to a lot of Europeans about the subject that there is a certain amount of interest just in terms of options and what it would take and how it can be done.

Q: In view of the political climate in the U.S. and the failure of the last test, why not defer the NMD decision?

Slocombe: Because I donít agree with your characterization of the system that the results of the test are discouraging, and that is central to the issue. There will be another test. It is important to make a point that no matter how the next test takes place or the next one comes out, there will be another dozen or so before the United States actually begins an industrial scale production of interceptors. That decision wonít be made until 2003 after a whole series of further tests. Whatever happens in this forth-coming test will not be the last test or the decisive test. The uniform judgment of the people who work on this issue and who were charged to come up with a system which would be effective against the threat, that we anticipate coming into being in the next few years, was that the way to do it most quickly and effectively is to do it the way we are doing it. The penalty for deferral, or stopping and starting a new approach, is that you open a gap; you extend the time before the system is available. Now, if nothing happens during that period of time, then I suppose it is all right, but the estimates that we have to deal with project that the threat will emerge around the middle of the decade. It is interesting that the Russians, at least at some level of generality, agree that there is a threat. Now, I donít know if they necessarily agree about the particular timing, but the point is that deferring or stopping and adopting a new approach carries a potentially quite significant cost. That is, you have extended the period of time before the defense is operational, and if you have a problem during that time, then you made a mistake.

Thank you very much.