News Briefings

DoD News Briefing

Tuesday, October 26, 1999 - 1:39 p.m. EDT
Presenter: Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Welcome. Let me start with a couple of announcements.

This week the joint program office for national missile defense is sending a team to North Dakota to start public hearings that will lead to an environmental impact statement on the possible construction of a national missile defense site in North Dakota. Next week a similar team will go to Alaska to start hearings there. As you know, both these sites have to be reviewed in the course of assembling the information that the president needs to make a decision about whether or not to proceed with the construction of a national missile defense program. And no final decision will be made until these environmental impact statements are completed as well as a whole series of other tests and studies that are ongoing.



Q: Ken, you said that they're conducting an environmental impact study on a North Dakota -- possible North Dakota site for national missile defense. For months people have been saying that Alaska is the optimum site in terms of coverage for protection of the United States and given possible threats. Does the fact that we're doing a study on North Dakota indicate that North Dakota indeed might be chosen if the Russians will not back down on revising the ABM?

Mr. Bacon: No, and I think that it's an open question at this stage. There are advantages and disadvantages to each site. The biggest advantage to Alaska is that it does provide 50-state coverage. That is a huge advantage, obviously. When you're building a national missile defense system, you need to protect the entire nation.

However, moving -- building a site in Alaska would require -- is one of the things that would require an adjustment to the ABM Treaty. If we were to build in North Dakota, where we had a site some years ago, in that respect, it would not require an adjustment to the treaty.

So these will have to be weighed by the president and by Secretary Cohen in reaching the decision. I would say that Alaska has a powerful advantage, but until we complete the process of doing the environmental impact statements, studying the geometry of the system, of continuing our discussions with the Russians over changes to the ABM Treaty, I think it's impossible to say exactly which site it will be.

Q: What's the Pentagon reaction to comments by -- I believe it's the deputy defense minister for Russia, threatening to increase deployment of missiles to counter any system that we might put up?

Mr. Bacon: Well, I think it completely misses the point of what our system is. Our system is not designed and could not in fact counter any attack by the Russians. We assume the Russians will not attack us. They should assume we won't attack them.

This is a system that's designed against a totally different threat. It could easily be saturated by an arsenal the size of the Soviet arsenal -- the former Soviet arsenal, the Russian arsenal. It is designed against a very limited attack from a so-called rogue nation such as an Iraq or a North Korea that has a small number of missiles -- maybe one, or five -- with a small number of warheads. So that's what we're building it against. We've been very clear in describing that to the Russians.

We believe the Russians face a similar threat. After all, they are closer to North Korea than we are. They are closer to Iraq than we are. They are closer to Iran than we are. So they face, in theory, exactly the same type of threat we do. And we have proposed a number of ways to cooperate with them in helping them meet that threat, so we can do it jointly. But I think that anybody in Russia who thinks about this system would realize that it's not designed to counter the Russians in any way.



Q: Thank you.