Foreign Press Center Briefing Transcript



THURSDAY, APRIL 20, 2000, 2:10 P.M. EDT

     GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: Thank you very much. I will be very brief, because I am sure that you would much rather ask me questions than listen to a prepared statement.

     The first thing I want to tell you is that I am very sorry that we're meeting inside. The weather is absolutely gorgeous out there, and we should be meeting on a sidewalk someplace. (Laughter.) I think we would all enjoy that much more.

     That said, I do want to take just a second to tell you why it is that I undertook this task for the president and what I have done so far and what I intend to do in the weeks and months ahead. And I assure you that I am, in fact, very much looking forward to this discussion with you, particularly at a time when we have just found out that the Russian Duma has, in fact, favorably acted upon START II, which we are very happy to hear. When in just a very short time the conference on the NPT will meet in New York and so it's a very good time, I think, to take a deep breath and talk a little bit about the efforts to prevent proliferation, of which the CTBT, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, is a very important part.

     Let me start out by telling you that when I was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and today -- I was then and I am today convinced that the treaty is a very important part of a larger framework for preventing proliferation, and that the United States would be better off with that treaty than without it.

     I took this task when I was asked to do so because, first of all, I believe strongly in the value of the treaty and also because I believe it is important to use these weeks and months ahead of us in trying to have a constructive, low-key, nonpartisan dialogue with all those members of the Senate and people outside of government, those opinion shapers and other important people, on trying to understand the different points of view on the treaty, trying to find bridges to bring those of us on opposite sides of the various issues closer together so that in time we can have a more reasoned debate on the treaty that will, hopefully, lead to a ratification of the CTBT by the United States.

     So in fact, I intend, and I have already started, to speak to as many senators as are willing to speak to me about the issues, and particularly the issues that cause them problems; to engage them in an effort to find these various bridges and to not only find those bridges on my own and with the team that surrounds me in this effort, but also go to various think tanks and other organizations that could be helpful in trying to find solutions so that in the end, we can agree that we can go forward with this treaty.

     Now, I must tell you that because of the period we are in here in the United States right now in this election year and with a very short congressional calendar, that, in most likelihood, will not occur until the next administration arrives here. But the effort that I will be involved in I hope will allow the next administration to make a more reasoned and more informed judgment as to how to proceed with the treaty.

     It is very important to understand -- and I know all of you do, but I don't know how of your listeners and reader understand -- in the United States, in order for a treaty to be ratified, it has to have two-thirds of members of the Senate standing in support of that treaty. That was not the case last October, when the treaty went before the Senate. And so our task now is through this low-key, non- partisan, serious dialogue, to persuade enough members of the Senate that this treaty in fact is good for the United States. I think that's an effort that's worth every bit of energy that I and my colleagues can put into it. And that's why I've undertaken that.

     With that said, I'd be delighted to try to answer any of your questions if I could.

     MS. RANSOM: All right. Let's start here.

     Q I'm Ramesh Chandra (sp), from Times of India. General, I want to refer to this recent visit of President Clinton to South Asia where he referred to the region as amongst the most dangerous places in the world. I think much of his concern was the fact that both are newly -- new weapons -- new nuclear states. One of the criticisms in India has been that, well, the president came away without having achieved any of the benchmarks.

     So one of the criticisms of India is that -- about the treaties that when the American dialogue has been taking place, that you haven't ratified it in the Senate.

     And secondly, in India, they have been saying that there is a national consensus that's going on. So I wonder what your comments are, and how do you see progress on the CTBT as far as India and Pakistan are concerned?

     GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: Before I answer your question, let me make one point clear. I am not here as a member of the administration. I am retired, and I am -- have been asked to be the adviser to the president on the CTBT. So when I give you my answers to these and other questions, it is hopefully as a citizen of the United States -- hopefully, a somewhat informed citizen of the United States -- but I do not speak for the administration.

     I happen to share the view of those who say that India and Pakistan now live in one of the more dangerous parts of the world. Why do I say that? It's because I think, since both countries have become nuclear powers, you have been become less secure than you were before, in my judgment.

     And so I was very glad to see that the president undertook to visit -- long overdue that an American president went to the region -- and that he tried his level best to persuade both governments of the wisdom of signing up to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

     I'm also not very surprised that he did not achieve that immediately, but I don't think that is something that is achieved by one speech or one visit, for that matter. But I think it remains an extraordinarily important and extraordinarily worthwhile goal for both India and Pakistan to become members of the CTBT, just as I believe it is important for the United States to become a member of the CTBT family.

     MS. RANSOM: Here. (Off mike.)

     Q My name is Talal Haj (sp) from Al Jazir (sp), a satellite channel in Qatar. While you're pursuing the nonproliferation policy and asking more states in the world to join the club and sign the treaty, people in the Middle East are accusing the United States of a double standard, accusing them of turning a blind eye to the Israeli nuclear weapon arsenal. Do you have any comment on that, about the hypocrisy of -- what's seen in the Middle East as hypocrisy of the position of the United States?

     GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: I think from my perspective it is every bit as important a goal for Israel to become a member of the CTBT family as it is for India or Pakistan, as it is for the United States. You well understand the technicalities of all of this, and so I won't go into it. Suffice it to say that I think it is my view that proliferation is in fact one of the more serious problems that we face. I think in this country it is an issue on which Democrats and Republicans agree. We might have some disagreements how to get there from here and how to build the best regimes to prevent proliferation from occurring, but it is an important goal for us, and I submit it is an important goal for everybody, including for people living in the Middle East.

     Q So do you support the Egyptian position, the Egyptian government, to ask for dismantlement of all nuclear weapons in the Middle East area as a whole, including Israel? Would you support that position?

     GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: I believe that we should all enter into regimes that prevent proliferation.

     On the issue of the Egyptian position vis-a-vis Israel, I think that it's such a politically charged issue that in my effort here now to gain the consensus of the United States on the CTBT, it would not be terribly useful to that effort if I were too public on that view.

     Q (Name off mike) -- Tokyo Chunichi Shimbun. Two questions for you, sir, if I may. Assuming that the ratification does go through tomorrow; one, could you predict United States reaction to this motion?

     And two, can you predict the outcome of U.S.-Russia relations?

     GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: You mean the CTBT?

     Q Yes, sir.

     GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: Clearly, those of us who believe in a value of the CTBT; this will be very important step forward. There might be some in the United States who oppose the CTBT, who would greet that perhaps with less favor, but they have to speak for themselves.

     I think on balance, it's a very important step forward. It will hopefully assist us in our efforts to get the CTBT favorably considered here in the United States. And so I welcome it, and my suspicion is that the majority of the United States' people would welcome it very much.

     Will that help us in our relationship? I think anytime we have a common goal and we are able to close on that, it certainly helps. So I see that as a -- certainly a very favorable step should it occur tomorrow.

     MS. RANSOM: You have another question from India here.

     Q Parasuram, with the Press Trust of India.

     As you know -- if you sign the CTBT and yet keep the nuclear weapons -- and so I was wondering; in the case of India, India said it wants to get rid of all nuclear weapons. And on the other hand, the United States says that for the indefinite future, it needs nuclear weapons.

     Well, I find that some of the military men who are settled in the United States now say it can be abolished. What's your view on it? Do you really see the need for nuclear weapons for the United States? And if so, it's not like a drunkard preaching temperance, when you ask countries like India -- to say that "You don't need them; you can give them up"?

     GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: I think each country has to deal with it from its own perspective. I will repeat what I answered in response to a question by one of your colleagues. I think it is hard to argue that India today, as a result of India and Pakistan possessing nuclear weapons, is safer than it was before. But that's a judgment that you must reach.

     From the case of the United States, I think the world for us is such that while we very much strive -- and certainly when you look at the record, it's hard to fault the United States -- we strive very much to reduce our nuclear stockpiles to the minimum essential. For the foreseeable future, I do not see it as a realistic goal to consider the total elimination of nuclear weapons in the United States. But as you look at where we were at the end of the Cold War, where we went with START I, where we hopefully are now on the way to implementation of START II, and the discussions that now have started on START III, that is by any measure a dramatic effort on the part of the United States and Russia to reduce those huge nuclear stockpiles that existed during the Cold War.

     MS. RANSOM: We now have a question from Egypt.

     Q Thomas Gorguissian, Al Wafd, Egypt. General Shali, it's always great to listen to you. And I know you are a U.S. citizen, but former Joint Chief of Staff, and I will try to ask -- get your experience and knowledge and respect from that point of your former, General. Assume that I can put my shoes in the -- my foot in the shoes of -- my feet in the shoes of either the United States or Israel. Why the United States or Israel have to join this club?

     GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: Why do they have to join the CTBT?

     Q Yes.

     GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: Because I think that a regime that prohibits testing, makes testing more difficult, is one that will be helpful in arresting the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

     Now, no treaty is a panacea to everything. No treaty is perfect; neither is the CTBT. But as part of all the other treaties, as part of the other arrangements that limit proliferation, it is a very important part. And so, because I am a great believer that the world will be safer the less proliferation there is, I must conclude that the world will be safer if the United States is a member of the CTBT; for that matter, if all countries would become part of this nonproliferation regime.

     So I, having looked at the CTBT very carefully and not being naive to some of its shortcomings, I do believe that, on balance, the world will be safer, the world will be more stable, the United States will be better off with it than without it and, by extension, so will Egypt, so will Israel, and so will all the other countries.

     MS. RANSOM: You have a question from India --

     Q Chida Rajghatta, from the Indian Express. General, a lot of people are, outside the United States particularly, are mystified by the ardor with which a country which conducted more than 1,000 tests now advances the cause of CTBT. My question to you, sir, is when you go to the 50-odd senators who are still against this treaty, what is the premise on which you will try to sell this treaty? Do you tell them that A, nuclear testing is bad; or do you tell them that the United States is ahead in the game and therefore we need to preserve our lead or the edge in the kind of weapons we have, and therefore this treaty has to come into effect? Which of these two arguments would stand a better chance of winning?

     GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: (Chuckles.)

     Q And my second question is, if you say proliferation is bad, which is something universally accepted, how will you justify the constant improvements the United States makes in weapons design, getting better and better weapons all the time? And too, in talking about more advances like missile defense, if proliferation is bad, isn't this bad? Isn't this proliferation?

     GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: I will try my best to remember all the questions that are contained in this one question. (Laughter.)

     First of all, it is true that the United States conducted a great, great number of nuclear tests.

     But it was in a different time and a different set of circumstances, when we were locked in a Cold War with the former Soviet Union, and both of us saw our security anchored in very sophisticated and very large nuclear stockpiles.

     Those days clearly are over. The race that we are now involved in or the competition that we are now involved in with Russia is how to rapidly and safely reduce those nuclear stockpiles, and equally important, not just the numbers of weapons that we have, but also how to in fact dismantle those warheads and make the world safer. That's the competition we are in.

     So you -- we find ourselves and you in the rest of the world find yourselves now in a totally different environment. The issue today is how to reduce those nuclear stockpiles in a realistic, safe, and rapid way.

     We are not arguing that we can stop testing because we're ahead of the world. We are arguing that we all find ourselves where we are because of circumstances that existed before and that we cannot change. But we can change the future. And a future where there is no nuclear testing is better for all of us than one where there is nuclear testing, for reasons that I don't need to repeat here.

     With my discussions with members of Congress and with my discussions with other interested individuals, the point that I try to make is that if you do not support this treaty, then tell me what it is about this treaty that you would like to have adjusted or changed, so that you can in fact support it, because I have not yet found a person who argued the world will be safer if we can all test nuclear weapons. No one in this Congress in October -- in the Senate in October said that we all ought to return to testing. They said that what -- that they did not, for one reason or another, like this particular treaty.

     So for me, the task is to find out -- away from the political chorus, to find out really what it is that they find objectionable, and then see if, through understandings, conditions that we can include in our signing statement, we can satisfy those parts that bother people, short of having to go back and renegotiate the treaty, because I happen to believe that that would be such a lengthy process, and perhaps even such a non-starter that a much more realistic effort is to see if legally accepted conditions, legally permitted understandings could possibly answer the questions that now bother people.

     That's the approach that I try to take.

     And I know there is another part to your question, and as I was afraid, I probably forgot it. Or did I answer it all?

     Q (Off mike.)

     GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: Oh, the ABM Treaty?

     Q Yeah.

     GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: I am very hard pressed -- I am very hard pressed to equate some nation's debate about having a defensive system with the issue of proliferating nuclear weapons.

     Q And improvement in weapons design.

     GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: We are not involved in improving our nuclear weapons. We have the beginnings, very robust beginnings, of a Science-based Stewardship Program for our existing nuclear stockpiles. That Science-based Stewardship Program allows us to make judgments whether our current nuclear weapons remain safe and reliable. It is not a program that's designed to develop improvements in our nuclear weapons or to develop new nuclear weapons. For that you need testing. And it is for that reason that we are opposed to testing.

     Now, admittedly, very crude nuclear weapons can be built without testing. I am not aware of any sophisticated nuclear weapon system that can be built without testing. And it is for that reason that we support the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, because it will make just what you imply not possible. In order to develop sophisticated nuclear weapons and have any kind of confidence that they will work, you need to do testing. And that, I think, would add to proliferation. And that, I think, is what we all ought to try to prevent.

     MS. RANSOM: Do we have additional questions?


     Q (Name and affiliation off mike.) You just mentioned a minute ago that you do find some shortcomings in the treaty. Could you tell us more about them, please?

     GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: I think it's fair to say, at the risk of oversimplifying, that the objections that some members of the Senate have found with the treaty fall into three categories.

     Some do not like the idea that this is a treaty in perpetuity; that is, that it is does not have an end point at which time you will have to renegotiate it. So that is one part that I find, as I speak to senators, that they object to because they say, "You don't know what will be 20 years from now.

     And you are about to perhaps lock this country into a treaty that will give us difficulty later on, simply because conditions change."

     The second part is the issue of the Science-Based Stewardship Program, the series of computers and lasers, and what not, that will allow us, and already allow us to a large extent, to verify the safety and reliability of our existing stockpiles. They say: "Number one, it's not complete yet, and it could be another five, eight, maybe even 10 years before it's completely done. So how can you sign up to a treaty that prohibits testing before you, in fact, have this Stewardship Program fully in place and you are certain that it will work?" So that's the second one that they find is a shortcoming.

     And the third one is the issue of verification: "How can you have a treaty that prohibits any kind of nuclear explosion, supercritical explosion, if you cannot adequately detect that even with the seismic's 321 -- some seismic stations that are going to be established, the challenge inspections that will be -- and so on -- should you not limit the yield to that which you can detect?" That's the third kind of -- so these are generally the three broad categories of difficulties that senators had when they were considering this treaty in October.

     Q Do you foresee -- (inaudible) -- these objections?

     GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: I personally -- I will tell you again what I said at the beginning -- I personally think that the United States is better off with this treaty than without it. Now that the Senate has spoken on the treaty last October and we have this time, it is worthwhile for us to look at each one of those points all over again and see how, without renegotiating the treaty, how through understandings, changes internally how we do things, we cannot strengthen the regime for us in such a way that it better meets to the satisfaction of the Senate and yields ratification, and also makes it safer. Let me give you an example.

     For instance, if the issue is that the Science-Based Nuclear Stewardship Program is -- we are not there yet and so on -- is there a possibility of having some kind of understanding that we will increase the amount of resources that we put into it, to speed this up? So it's through such internal systems -- or that we have dome kind of an internal review of something, to give greater assurances to members of Congress that we are watching the right things or doing the right things. It's at these sort of ways that I am looking.

     Q Realistically speaking, do you think the time will come, within a year or so, that the Congress will -- (inaudible)?

     GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: If I did not think -- (audio break) -- go on the assumption that every senator who voted against it did so after doing his homework and carefully having considered the treaty; and so these are not frivolous issues.

     And they demand very serious and thoughtful responses on my part, and that I promise to do.

     But in the end, those men and women who make up their mind on their own based upon their own judgment, I have no idea whether I will be able to either bring about the changes in the government that will make it easier for them or to produce arguments that make sense to them.

     MS. RANSOM: We have time for two more questions. One here, one here. Both from India. (Chuckles.)

     Q Parasuram, Press Trust of India. I noticed that in your statement, as well as all the other U.S. spokesmen, you always mention the -- discuss the context of Indian nuclear testing in the context of Pakistan. As you know, India has got also another frontier, and as a very distinguished strategist and top military leader, would you say that India can remain naked against China? And that while the Chinese have nuclear weapons, and as you know, they are increasing their capacity with all the things they have stolen from the United States. Would you say that India will be better off and safer if we are completely naked, we abolish CTBT, join the NPT and whatnot, against the Chinese?

     GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: You are asking me a very large question.

     Q (Off mike.)

     GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: Yeah. And I will answer it in a much narrower -- I will answer it for you in a much narrower frame.

     I believe it is in India's best interest to become part of the CTBT. I believe it is in China's best interest to become a full member of the CTBT, just like I believe it is in Russia's best interest, it is in America's best interest to do so. I understand that your question is larger than that, but I take the liberty, as the presidential advisor on the CTBT, to address only the CTBT part of it, and of what I just told you, I am absolutely convinced. It is in your best interest and it is in the best interest of Pakistan and it is in the best interest of China and Russia and the United States and the U.K. and France -- all of us -- to ratify and become full members of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty family.

     MS. RANSOM: Yes?

     Q General, my question of course also refers to China, but more specifically, are you concerned about the miniaturization program, the ability that the Chinese now have, and whether you think the CTBT can impede that?

     GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: Again, that's a larger question, because much of the program, the military program that is ongoing in China, is the conventional military program, and that's a separate issue. I think that the CTBT, in the case of China, is very important to this world because it signals that China, too, a major power, major nuclear power, has foregone testing.

     And the signal that that sends, I think, is terribly, terribly important. Never mind the fact that China has to become a member of the CTBT for the CTBT eventually to go into -- in fact, just like it's the case with -- for the United States.

     So I think it is important for the stability and the security in the world that all of us, including China, ratify that treaty and become full members of it.

     MS. RANSOM: General Shalikashvili, thank you very much for being with us today. Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.

     GEN. SHALIKASHVILI: Thank you. And now I invite you all to go outside and enjoy this beautiful weather. (Laughter.)