News Briefings

DoD News Briefing

Monday, June 12, 2000
Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen

(Joint Press Conference with Swedish Minister of Defense Björn von Sydow at the Haga Palace in Stockholm, Sweden)


Q: Can you tell us what your view is about the U.S. proposal on national missile defense, versus the Russian proposal on missile defense?

Von Sydow: We have listened to the arguments surrounding the program and our comment has been that it is very important that this program is made in an international regime. All capabilities relating to nuclear, to biological, chemical warfare, these capabilities which are deterrent capabilities, they, in our view, should be regulated in international regimes. Otherwise, it may be so that we can foresee a development of more instability which countries do not have a joint context for the development and the doctrines surrounding these systems.

Q: Sir, by that do you mean only do NMD within the context of the ABM treaty, an amended ABM treaty?

Von Sydow: We are not a participant in that treaty. But we won't argue for treaties or international regimes in general relating to all these kind of systems but we have stressed no detail in or how this international regime should be attained.

Q: Mr. Minister, are you at all concerned that, if the United States proceeds with NMD, that it could have a destabilizing effect on relations with Russia, particularly in this part of the world?

Von Sydow: I think the experience during all the Cold War is that these kind of systems -- deterrent uses, nuclear warheads and the biological, chemical -- they are best handled within international obligations and transparencies between not just those involved but also the other world in general. So, definitely, we will strongly urge all countries to also, when technology is changing and the security of our world is changing, always to pay attention to adding or using the international regimes for the new developments.

Cohen: Could I add this footnote to the comment? That is precisely the reason why President Clinton has advocated that we seek to negotiate modifications to the ABM Treaty to take into account recent changes in technology and capabilities being acquired by the other countries that have been identified. And it's important that we try to, as best we can, negotiate these kinds of changes in a constructive fashion. Minister von Sydow also mentioned the need for transparency and we have yet to hear any transparent proposals coming from the Russians in terms of what exactly they would have in mind now that it recognized that new threats have emerged and what they would propose in order to counter them. The United States has spent the past year meeting with our Russian counterparts to outline the kinds of changes that we believe are necessary to defend U.S. and allied interests against emerging threats and we would hope, in the coming days, that the Russians would spell out with great detail and transparency exactly what they have in mind or the kind of threat they now recognize.


Q: President Putin made some pretty strong comments in an interview recently against the U.S. missile plan and actually said Russia would consider pulling out of arms control treaties because of it. Will your talks in Russia focus more on convincing Russia of the merits of the U.S. plans or are you going to talk about their plans?

Cohen: I think that we'll do both. The first thing that we want to do is to explain to the Russians, as directly as we can, that the system that the United States is now conducting research and development on can and will not pose any threat to Russia's strategic systems. It is limited in nature and limited in capability. The Russians can overwhelm any defensive system very easily. So this is not directed towards Russia. What it is directed to do is to provide protection to the American people against a few dozen missiles that might be in the hands of the so-called rogue nations and that's what we have been in the process of outlining to them for the past year. Frankly, the Russian proposal is very vague. It has no concrete dimension to it at this point. Now, if the Russians have a way to cooperate with the United States and with NATO members to defeat and defend against intercontinental ballistic missiles, then we certainly are interested in learning more about it. Because of the vagueness of the proposal, the fact that it was not even raised during the summit but only in a press statement or interview with a journalist, leaves much to be desired in the way of definitiveness. I will also point out that there has been some reference to a quote, "demarcation agreement or treaty," and according to that treaty, the system that the Russians presumably have in mind will be designed to deal with short-range and medium-range missiles but not long-range missiles. So the system that they have proposed will not even provide protection to most of the European members of NATO and no protection at all to the United States. There is much to be determined by the Russians in the coming days and I will be eager to hear from them and also rearticulate the nature of our system and why it will not pose any kind of a threat to the Russian strategic systems.


Thank you.