News Briefings

DoD News Briefing

Thursday, June 8, 2000
Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen

(Also participating in this press conference at NATO Headquarters, Brussels, Belgium was General Henry H. Shelton, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff)

Secretary Cohen: Good Afternoon. You hardy band of few? We spent much of the day discussing the Defense Capabilities Initiative that was adopted by NATO leaders at the Washington summit last year. All of the NATO members are committed to strengthening and modernizing our forces by making them more mobile, sustainable, survivable, and effective. We are also working to improve command, control, communications, and intelligence. A few allies have begun to take tangible steps to improve their capabilities and others have some ambitious plans to do so. But improvement doesn't come from mere intentions, it requires more investment and higher defense budgets. Since Kosovo, the United States has committed to increase purchases of C-17 transport planes, to augment and upgrade systems for electronic warfare and ground surveillance and to increase the purchases of precision guided munitions.

These additions alone will add more than $2 billion to our defense budget. Several weeks ago we took another important step that should lead to improvements in U.S. and allied forces. We streamlined our export control rules. This is going to make it easier for companies on both sides of the Atlantic to share technology and to work together on weapons projects. As a result, allies should be able to operate more efficiently together. Tomorrow morning, in fact, I will join the defense ministers of five allied countries to announce two important steps toward improved alliance operations.

I came to Brussels from New Orleans where I attended the opening of the National D-Day Museum. The museum honors the soldiers who began the liberation of Europe by landing on Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944 and carried out other amphibious landings in Europe and Asia during World War II. This museum reminds us that freedom is not free, it's a lesson that must guide us in war and peace alike.

Now, the Chairman and I would be happy to entertain your questions.

Q: Do you expect Putin's proposal could change something on the NMD or the schedule of NMD?

Secretary Cohen: Well, we're not quite sure what President Putin has in mind; that was not really raised during the summit, but prior and then subsequent. However, there has been very little detail given on what he is proposing. So we will have to wait to see exactly what the details are. This is a subject which was raised for the first time, basically in the press and we simply don't have enough information to make a responsible comment on it. It comes after a year in which we have been talking to the Russians about the need to modify the ABM treaty to accommodate a limited national missile defense system and so it was raised for the first time only last week. We will have to have much more detail before we can really comment on it.

Q: Are you worried that the U.S.-European allies will go more towards the Russian proposal because it would in essence protect them whereas the U.S. proposal is a more unilateral system? Also, what kind of feedback did you get today when you discussed it with people?

Secretary Cohen: First of all we don't know what the Russian system is, basically it was an idea that was proposed and we don't know if the system, that is only in concept, whether it's something the Russians have in progress. If so, what it would look like and whether it would be a jointly-manned system, where it would be located, what the technology is, how soon could it be deployed, if it could be deployed, whether it would be directed toward a theater missile system or an ICBM and if so how soon it could be developed to track such a system with very limited time? I think all of you had a briefing to indicate that in dealing with a boost phase, if he is talking about a boost phase system that you have to really track that and identify it within and under 300 seconds. Somewhere between 180 and 300 seconds you would have to target, identify it and be able to hit it, during that time frame in order for it to be effective. It's very unclear exactly what the Russians have in mind and I think that all of the defense ministers will listen and inquire and ask for far more details than certainly has been provided today.

Q: Mr. Secretary is there any way though that this Russian proposal for boost phase system could substitute for NMD?

Secretary Cohen: Number one, we do not know that it is a boost phase system. But, assuming that is what President Putin is talking about then, we do not see it as a substitute for an NMD system, it might be a complement to it conceivably, but not as a substitute. In the time frame that we are looking at, 2005 as a potential deployment date, we have seen no technology either in the United States or elsewhere that would permit or accomplish a deployment of such a system at that time. So conceivably depending upon the nature of what the Russians have in mind, it might be a complement to, but not a substitute for it.

Q: You were quoted to have said yesterday, that the Russian proposal could be a tactic to divide the Europeans within NATO from the United States can you explain that?

Secretary Cohen: It could be real, it could Memorex. It could be substantive, it could be tactical. We don't know, as I said, the first time that it has even been suggested was in the past week. So after a year of discussions with the Russians outlining what the United States has in mind for the deployment of a limited national missile defense system to protect against a limited type of attack, this was surfaced for the first time on the eve of President Clinton's arrival in Moscow. It could be substantive. It may have merit to the proposal. It could be tactical. We simply don't know at this point and so we will be very interested to hear what Field Marshall Sergeyev has to say tomorrow as well as when I meet with him in Moscow next week.

Q: Have you talked with any of the allied defense ministers either in this meeting or off-line over the last couple of days about sharing NMD technology with them, what President Clinton talked about?

Secretary Cohen: Yes, we have talked about the potential sharing of information with our allies and that is something the president indicated very clearly, that we would be willing and eager to do. It's something I think that each of the allied nations would have to consider. We are a bit premature on the issues because the president hasn't made a decision on deployment yet. We have to wait for my recommendation to him sometime in August and then we will see how it proceeds from that point. He did indicate should the United States go forward with a deployment decision that we would be sharing that technology, willing to share it with those allies who are interested in acquiring it.

Q: Has anyone expressed that interest?

Secretary Cohen: We talked in general, a number of ministers certainly would want to have the opportunity, at least, to acquire it if they felt it was in their security interests to do so.

Q: Do you understand that this proposal emerged on the eve of President Clinton's visit to Moscow. Does that mean this proposal was something that was put on the table during the summit during that weekend?

Secretary Cohen: My understanding is that it was not discussed during the summit itself but rather prior to the summit publicly and then post-summit with statements coming from President Putin at that point. My understanding is it was not discussed during the summit itself.

Q: Given the potential for friction over this issue between the United States and certain public opinion in European countries, what can you do to convince the European public, that what is driving this push towards the missile defense is actually a genuine threat rather than the political calendar and the impending U.S. presidential race? Wouldn't it be much better for all concerned to postpone it until the new administration is in the White House? You don't even agree with Capitol Hill on what sort of system you should deploy.

Secretary Cohen: First your question is very rhetorical in making an editorial statement, which is incorrect. The proposal for a national missile defense system was not conceived by this administration in order to achieve some sort of political legacy in the final year of President Clinton's tenure. It was something that has been raised for a number of years now as our intelligence community's assessment indicate that due to a proliferation of technology, more countries are acquiring the capability to pose a threat to the United States, to Europe, and to our allies. And that is the reason why the United States has under taken a fairly rigorous and vigorous, expensive R&D program. In order to explore whether or not we can develop the technology that would provide protection against a growing threat.

Secondly, I would point out that the time frame that we are talking about, 2005, is really based upon the intelligence assessment in terms of when that threat will emerge as a reality. That capability is in the process of being developed by the North Koreans and others, so that is what the driving factor is, not the politics of this year. And so, what President Clinton, I and the entire administration have been talking about for the past year is looking to the architecture and pointing out to the Russians that this not something that is designed and directed toward their strategic systems, but rather quite limited in nature to protect against a limited type of an attack. So there are no politics involved as far as the president is concerned. That deadline was set out, or that time frame was set out by virtue of the intelligence assessment, which members of Capital Hill, and which I used to be a member, were well aware of in terms of our requesting the president at that time to start an R&D program which he has done. In which I have carried out.

Q: What is your opinion or do you think there is a different interpretation between the Russians and Americans about the impact of NMD and the Russian initiative of a new system may have on the START I and START II. And second, would you agree with the conclusion that sometimes Milosevic and Kosovo are used by Russians as blackmail concerning NMD?

Secretary Cohen: The Russians are cooperating with NATO in Kosovo. They were an important contributor to resolving or coming to a peace arrangement for cessation of the war. They are important contributors to keeping the peace as we speak. So I do not see the Russians trying to use Milosevic in any way for blackmail on NMD or any way trying to exploit that. I think that they understand that he is going to continue to be a problem for stability in the Balkans as long as he remains in power. I dismiss that issue out of hand. As far as is there a difference in interpretation on understanding on the part of the Russian and the United States, that is precisely the reason why we have spent the past year briefing key members of the Russian leadership on the nature of the NMD system that we are proposing. At least we are doing the research and development to consider deploying. And so there will be no misunderstanding that they will fully understand the architecture and the capability so they will not see it as a threat to their system. That is something we will continue to work on. President Clinton again raised it during the course of his meeting with President Putin. I will continue to talk with Minister Sergeyev and others when I am in Moscow.

Q: Minister Scharping informed you yesterday about the proposed reforms of the Bundeswehr. Are you satisfied with those figures he gave you and are you satisfied with the figures he might have given you about the financing in the future years?

Secretary Cohen: Even angels fear to tread in another country's financing of its military. So I will resist the temptation to comment on the adequacy of the German defense budget. I think I've already indicated in the past that I think more needs to be done on the part of many of our allies. We cannot continue to simply seek to achieve the capabilities through the Defense Capabilities Initiative, through reform only. There has to be real dollars put behind those reform efforts. So I am hoping that many countries will see the need to increase their budgets. In fact, we have as many as I believe as seven, who indicated during the course of this day that they are anticipating getting increases this year or next year in order to accomplish the goals of the DCI.

Q: Did you speak to the Greek minister of defense about the shooting of the British attach to Greece and if so what did you tell him?

Secretary Cohen: Minister Tsohatzopoulos approached me this morning to alert me at the very first moment that I arrived that of what had taken place. He is deeply troubled by it. He has pledged every effort on the part of his government to track down and apprehend those who committed this atrocity and we expect that to be the case.

Q: You mention your briefings on the Russian side on NMD, and so on. Supposing eventually it was just a possibility that they will not consider that they are satisfied with this and that basically the new system will constitute a threat. Which would in fact mean a break down of the present arms control negotiations. Would the administration consider the continuation of this project more important, vis-a-vis, a possible increase of nuclear weapons?

Secretary Cohen: Well, President Clinton has tried to make it very clear that there are four factors that he will consider, four criteria. Number one, the nature of the threat. I think it is clear, even President Putin has indicated now that the threat exists or will exist. That is a significant change in the Russian position. Because up until this past week they have denied that such a threat exists certainly in the time frame that we see it as developing. So there has been a shift in the Russian position on the nature of the threat. Now everyone should be satisfied that this is not something that has been exaggerated. But now even admitted to by the Russians that this will be a threat that all of us will have to consider for the future.

The second thing that the president has outlined, is the technology. Do we have the technology? We have spent billions of dollars trying to develop a technology that will protect our people against such a threat.

A third criterion is that of the cost. There we have seen a number of figures. They tend to change depending upon how many interceptors are involved, whether it's phase one or phase two, but it's a fairly significant amount of money that's involved on the part of the U.S. tax payers should such a system be deployed.

And then the fourth criterion would be the impact upon strategic balance and arms control itself. So, the president will weigh all of that after I make a recommendation following our next test.

Q: What would be your answer to the Serbs, including those so called moderate Serbs from Grozny, that are accusing the United States that their troops in their area of responsibility in Kosovo, are supporting Albanian extremists. And they think that in various orchestrating campaigns from the Serbs to create attempt from Kosovar on this first anniversary of liberation of Kosovo.

Secretary Cohen: I am going to turn to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs to answer the first part of your question. But I can only tell you from my perspective as secretary of Defense for the United States that under no circumstances are the United States Forces acting in any way but neutral toward Serbs and the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. We are not choosing sides as such. We are trying to enforce the UN Security Council Resolution. And we are doing so on an impartial basis. I turn to the chairman for his comment on that issue.

Gen. Shelton: I think the secretary has summed it up rather nicely. Our mandate there is to provide a safe and secure environment for all members, that's Serbs and Kosovar Albanians and certainly that, and I visited there on numerous occasions, is what our forces are attempting to do on both sides. And any allegations to the contrary, we monitor the numbers of types of crimes, what precipitates these, whether its Albanians or Serbs. We watch this very closely and we apply pressure on both sides to make sure their leadership is in fact doing everything within their power to preclude incidents against the other side. And we will continue to do that on an equal basis providing a safe and secure environment for both sides. Not just for one.

Secretary Cohen: On the second question, we certainly cannot read the mind of Mr. Milosevic, but we hope that he does not seek any opportunity to stir tensions and to try to exploit any tensions that currently exist in order to try to cause greater instability in the region.

Q: If I may go back to NMD for a moment, what is the fallback position if it doesn't work? I mean you still have the threat, do you have to develop a whole new technology or what? What is the thinking if the current system you're envisioning proves technologically unsuitable?

Secretary Cohen: To the extent that the threat exists, we will continue the R&D program. We have not excluded other types of approaches. As you know key members of Congress and other experts have advocated a sea-based system. We have not ruled out a sea-based component for some time in the future. But we will continue to look at those technologies that we can develop. We believe that a land-based system consistent with the architecture that we have proposed is the system that can be put into place the soonest, to give us the limited protection that we have always envisioned. To the extent that that technology is not mature, we will continue to do R&D. We will explore other opportunities as well, be it sea-based or land-based.

Mr. Bacon: Thank you very much.