News Briefings

DoD News Briefing

Friday, June 9, 2000
Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen

Press Conference at NATO Headquarters, Brussels, Belgium

Secretary Cohen: Marshal Sergeyev and I just finished a bilateral meeting. It's our second since we met in Helsinki last year to work out the details of Russia's participation in the peacekeeping force in Kosovo.

As always, I found Marshal Sergeyev very direct, straightforward, and professional. I am glad that Russia is back at the Permanent Joint Commission because an expanded dialogue between NATO and Russia will be an important contribution to European security.

As you know, missile defense has emerged as an important element of the European security dialogue, and the reasons are clear. Russia and the United States now agree that we face a growing threat from rogue nations, such as North Korea, Iran, and Iraq, who are attempting to either buy or to build weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles to deliver them.

Some European nations also worry about this emerging threat. Russia and the United States agree that we must respond to that threat through diplomatic efforts to stop proliferation and by developing defensive systems to protect our nations from possible attack.

Russia and the United States agree that we should explore ways to cooperate in defending against an emerging threat that we all face. President Clinton and President Putin agree that the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty should remain a cornerstone of strategic stability. The treaty allows amendments to fit new strategic realities, such as the emerging new threats that we face.

The problem, unfortunately, is not limited to North Korea's active program. Iran, by way of example, has chemical weapons and is seeking nuclear and biological capabilities and, working with missiles based on North Korean design, is also trying to develop missiles capable of reaching major cities in Europe, Russia and, eventually the United States. Iraq has not given up its desire to acquire long-range missiles with similar capabilities. Obviously, we will need to hear more details on the Russian proposal, but I understand that Minister Sergeyev said that the system he has in mind would be a theater missile defense system according to the parameters of the so-called "Demarcation Agreement" signed by Russia and the U.S. in 1997 and would therefore not need any modification of the ABM Treaty.

This means, in effect, it would have the capability only against attacking missiles with ranges less than 3,500 kilometers. If that, in fact, is what Russia has in mind, there is a serious problem. Any effective defense for Russia, the United States, or Europe would have to work against long-range missiles -- those with a range of greater than 3,500 kilometers -- and defenses against missiles of that range would require an amendment to the ABM Treaty.

Specifically, most European nations are more than 3,500 kilometers from potential launch sites in Iran, and obviously, it's more than 3,500 kilometers from North Korea to Europe. A system limited to shorter-range threats would not protect the American population. As we discuss this issue, we will continue to insist that if there is going to be a defensive system deployed -- a decision yet to be made -- but, if there is to be defensive system deployed, it must protect all of the United States territory. If it's a European defense, I would certainly assume that Europeans would want it to defend all European countries as well.

Today, Marshal Sergeyev amplified on President Putin's suggestion that Russia and Europe work together on the development of a missile defense system. Such a system could supplement, but not substitute, for the system that the U.S. is developing. He also suggested exchanges of information on the threat and the notification of planned missile launches.

I welcome these proposals, and I hope to explore them further in discussions he and I will have in Moscow next week. We are ready to explore ways to meet the security needs of Russia, the United States, and Europe as long as these solutions emerge in time to meet the evolving threat, and the United States looks forward to working with Russia and our NATO allies to meet the emerging threats that we face.

With that, let me entertain your questions.

Q: After meeting with Marshal Sergeyev, have you changed your assessment that this could be just a dividing tactic? Does it seem like a serious proposal?

Cohen: Well, as far as I can determine, it's an idea, but an idea based upon a theater missile defense system and something with shorter range capability or intermediate capability. So, it's not a system that would provide any protection to the United States or much of Europe. At this point, it's an idea that does not, at least to me, appear to be feasible or desirable for protecting us against the kinds of threat that are emerging. This is something that we will continue to discuss as I receive more information about what exactly they have in mind. So far, no details have been proposed other than the implication of the Demarcation Agreement of 1997, and again, that would mean those systems that have a range less than 3,500 kilometers.

Q: Sir, the cooperation between Europe and America depends always on the defense sector but also on the restriction high technology exports from the U.S. to Europe and the rest of the world. It is now eased at the beginning of this year by the decision of Clinton. Are there discussions going on to ease it more?

Cohen: As you may be aware, Secretary Albright announced in Florence last week that we are changing our export control policies. We are going to make it easier for the United States to cooperate with our European allies in terms of export of technology.

This will certainly contribute to greater interoperability and greater cooperation between our industries. We have a fairly lengthy pamphlet that I can give to you that lays out exactly the changes that we have proposed.

Q: My first question is concerning the 1244. The impression we are getting here after the press conference of the secretary general and Marshal Sergeyev and your press conference is that the Russians, bit by bit, are seizing their differences with NATO countries concerning security issues in Balkans. Will that mean, according to you, that the Russians are discussing their different interpretations of several aspects of 1244, and I missed the clarification here regarding your statement that Sergeyev agreed that their system cannot be a substitution to your NMD. If yes, will that lead in the future to antiballistic --

Cohen: No, no, I make it very clear that it is my statement that the proposal, the idea which is yet to be identified or defined, could not be a substitute for the American NMD program that is currently under research and development, and I tried to make that clear. No, no, Marshal Sergeyev did not agree with that, and that is the U.S. position. With respect to the implementation of the 1244, I think that all agreed during the course of our meeting that it needs to be fully implemented and fairly implemented without prejudice to any of the parties involved, and we are determined to do precisely that. The Russian soldiers who are part of KFOR and SFOR are making valuable contributions to establishing peace. We believe that the meeting we just had of the PJC was an important reinstitution of the cooperation that we have between NATO and Russia, but Russian soldiers are making a fine contribution to establishing peace in Kosovo and maintaining it as well in Bosnia.

Q: Secretary Cohen, as a politician, how do you read the fact?

Cohen: I am not a politician. (laughter).

Q: As a former politician, how do you read the fact that President Putin, although he must have had in his mind this proposal while he was talking to President Clinton during his summit in Moscow, did not mention it until he went to Rome at a press conference?

Cohen: Actually, he mentioned it prior to the summit in an interview with Tom Brokaw and then after the summit at his meeting in Rome. Frankly, I have not met with President Putin, and I don't seek to scribe any motivation to his statements. I can only point out that this "idea" has only surfaced in the last few weeks. It had not surfaced before that time. If it is something that the Russians have talked about in the past, it could be a revival of the theater defense program and that has been discussed for the past 10 years or so. It's unclear to me exactly what Russia has in mind, and that is the reason we will try to get more facts and information. As I understand it and as it has been presented so far, it seems very much like an endorsement of the Demarcation Agreement of 1997. In that case, it would provide protection only against short range or intermediate range ballistic missiles, non-strategic systems as he has defined them, and if that is the case, then much of Western Europe would not be covered by such a system and nor would the United States. So, it would not, in any way, be a substitute for what is required for the United States and much of Europe.

Q: Yesterday, you, as far as I remember, invited the Europeans to participate when it is decided about NMD. Could you imagine also inviting the Russians to participate in some way? Haven't they also become part of the game, so to say, when they agreed with you about the strike from North Korea or Iran or someone else?

Cohen: Well, we have talked to the Russians about a number of ways in which we can cooperate in dealing with the emerging threat, and I wouldn't exclude anything at this point. We will continue to talk with them and to share information and, hopefully, come to a consensus on what needs to be done.

Q: Did you discuss President Putin's trip to North Korea, and if so, did he give any indication of what the purpose of that trip is? Also, what is your view of the Russian president going to North Korea at this time?

Cohen: We did not discuss it, and I have no idea why President Putin is going to North Korea.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I'm sorry if I'm being dense about this Demarcation Treaty. I understood American official, Mr. Slocombe, yesterday to say that no matter when you knocked out a ballistic missile, whether it was a thousand feet off the ground or in space, you had an anti-ballistic system and that would require a revision of the treaty. Can you explain to us what is allowed by the 1997 Demarcation Treaty?

Cohen: In 1997, there was an agreement which has not been ratified by either country. Frankly, it is an agreement that would define what a theater missile system was compared to a strategic system. A theater missile system would be a missile interceptor which could operate would have a range less than 3,500 kilometers. Anything in excess of that range would be defined as a strategic system. That's the demarcation.

Q: Did Minister Sergeyev specify where in the Russian proposal the interceptor should be installed?

Cohen: No, there was no discussion whatsoever. Those were details that he suggested be examined by experts, but there were no details other than a general expression of a concept. There is nothing that we are aware of in terms of either capability, and even if there were the capability it would not really apply to the intercontinental ballistic missiles, the long range missiles, which could hold Europe and the United States and even Russia at risk.

Q: Mr. Secretary, do you believe that the opportunity for the United States to sell more military technology, maybe even to Russia, could be an incentive for your country to agree with the Kremlin for a joint anti-ballistic missile system? Maybe not in the way the Russians are proposing it now but in another way, in the middle between the American and Russian proposals.

Cohen: We are not proceeding on the basis of a potential arms sale to anyone. We are proceeding on the basis that there is an emerging threat. That threat must be addressed, and that is a reason why we have spent so much of our resources engaged in research and development of a type of system that would give us the protection. We have not done so with the notion that there will be a market for this system. We certainly will look for ways in which we can cooperate with the Russians, the Europeans, and all who also share the concern that, because of the proliferation of missile technology and weapons of mass destruction, there has to be a defense capability against rogue nations that could pose a threat or engage in a type of blackmail.

Q: Did Sergeyev suggest that the U.S. and Russian experts should get together to further define this system? Or is it going to be a purely Russian proposal?

Cohen: So far, we don't know what the proposal is. Again, it's basically a statement about an idea, but not a system. I've raised the questions--is it a boost phase system? If so, it raises questions about the locations of interceptors. It raises a number of questions which Walt Slocombe addressed yesterday, and so at this point, there is nothing more than a statement of a concept or an idea. As it has been stated, it would be completely insufficient to provide the kind of protection against long range missiles. So, we don't know at this point.

Q: Did he say whether the proposal was for a boost phase system or could they be talking about a system that would defend against missiles at the point as they are about to land?

Cohen: There is no reference made to boost phase or post-boost phase or exoatmospheric etc. None of that has been really examined or proposed. What we have heard to date was a reference to the Demarcation Agreement, and that would be a limitation for the 3,500-kilometer range.

Thank you.