THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY ROBERT BELL, SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR THE NSC FOR DEFENSE POLICY AND ARMS CONTROL
The Briefing Room
1:20 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. A little bit earlier today several of us were talking about the arms control aspects of the Helsinki summit. We really didn't get much of an opportunity on Friday to go through some of the very significant agreements reached by President Clinton and President Yeltsin with respect to the demarcation limits under theater missile systems and how that intersects and relates to the anti-ballistic missile treaty. And I think it's important to walk through that, particularly in light of some of the criticism from Speaker Gingrich about the nature of the agreements that the two Presidents reached.
By popular demand, here to brief you is Bob Bell, who is the Senior Director at the National Security Council for Defense Policy and Arms Control, who is going to go sufficiently into the nuance of arms control items that his mother will know for certain that what he works on is truly important. And now we'll know all those secret things that he's done all of his life. Bob can tell you a little more about what exactly the misconceptions have been about issues related to theater missile systems, what we agreed to, and how that will serve both the strategic interests of the people of the United States, but also in the long-term be in the security interests of the people of the Russian Federation.
Mr. Bell. Thank you.
MR. BELL: Thank you, Mike.
Well, as you know, Andy Warhol said that everyone in life has their 15 minutes of fame -- I don't know if every issue gets its 15 minutes of fame, but this will be ABM-TMD demarcation's 15 minutes of fame. What I want to do very quickly here, in less than 15 minutes, is just address what I would regard as the five principal misconceptions concerning this question of drawing a line in the treaty between permitted ABMs that are not banned, but restricted on the one hand, and theater missile defenses on the other that are outside the treaty -- what we call ABM-TMD demarcation.
I think there's been a lot of misconceptions that seem to permeate the statements and letters at least from some on the Hill about this issue, and this is an opportunity to try to set the record straight.
The first misconception, perhaps the most fundamental one, is that as written the ABM Treaty does not cover theater missile defenses. And I guess that statement's true as far as it goes in the sense that you do not find the words "theater missile defense" in the ABM Treaty.
On the other hand, it's very important to realize that the treaty does have a key provision, Article 6 of the treaty, that was put in the ABM Treaty at U.S. insistence during the negotiation, and has been there since it was signed in 1972, that was intended by the United States precisely to try to make sure that the limits on ABMs in the treaty were not circumvented by missiles that were given different functions, but actually had ABM capabilities.
As many of you know, what our concern was at the time was that the Soviet Union might take its surface-to-air missiles -- and they had about 10,000 of them -- and build them with such capability that they could function as ABMs and thus render meaningless the central limits of this treaty.
In fact, when this treaty came before the Senate for ratification in 1972 there was an exchange on this issue between Senator Proxmire and the then head of R&D in the Pentagon, Johnny Foster, about where this line was drawn in the treaty between ABMs that were covered and things that fell below that line that were not covered. There was a lot of ambiguity in the treaty on this point. The negotiators had never pinned it down. But Johnny Foster offered his personal view that then later became internal DOD guidance about where this line was. And that line at the time was if you shot a missile defense system at any target that went faster than two kilometers per second, or if you attempted to engage a missile at an altitude above 40 kilometers you would, in effect, capture or qualify that system as an ABM.
Now, what's extraordinary is in this agreement that we reached in Helsinki on Friday, we're now saying that you cannot -- it's okay as a TMD as long as you don't shoot at a target that goes faster than five kilometers per second or further than 3,500 kilometers. In other words, there's an elasticity in this treaty that we've been able to adapt it through the years to reflect the changing security environment.
And the kinds of restrictions that were in place in the Pentagon in 1972 that would have prohibited you from even shooting at a SCUD missile without the missile defense system, like a Patriot being captured as an ABM, has been in many ways moved way beyond that benchmark. And as I said, throughout the 1980s, we were going constantly to Moscow and to Geneva to press the Soviet Union on our concerns that their surface-to-air missiles, the SA-10 and the SA-12, were, in fact, ABMs masquerading under another name.
Now, the second misconception, I think, is that there has been this unalterable opposition from Congress to any negotiation to try to establish a line of demarcation in the treaty between ABMs and TMDs. That's certainly true for some members, and every member has their individual right to speak their views. But, in fact, the corporate view of Congress through the last number of years has been quite different. The Missile Defense Act of 1991 included a specific recommendation that we negotiate such a demarcation agreement; the Defense Authorization Act passed in 1993 urged us to negotiate such a demarcation agreement, and the Defense Authorization Act in 1995 included specific legislative language that said that -- that gave us a goal to achieve in these negotiations, an agreement based on two simple standards about targets that you would shoot at, which are in fact, the exact standards that we achieved in the Helsinki agreement.
Now, the third misconception, I think, is that because of this whole demarcation business, we're somehow hindering or blocking or dumbing down, if you will, our TMD systems, making them less capable than they need to be. And let me just say on that score, first, as Sandy Berger said in Helsinki, all six of our four TMD programs have been certified to Congress as compliant with the treaty, and there is nothing in the Helsinki agreement that contravenes those certifications. All six of our programs, in other words, are good to go.
Now, five of the six, the ones that are the so-called "lower velocity TMD systems," are covered in a Part I agreement; there are two different parts to this agreement in Helsinki, one that we had achieved last year, but it's been on the shelf, waiting conclusion of the second part. But in that first part, five of the six systems can be designed with any architecture, including any combination of space-based cuing as long as you never test any of those systems against a target that exceeds the limits identified in the agreement.
Q Could you repeat that last part one more time?
MR. BELL: For the slower velocity TMD systems, as long as you don't test one of these things, like the THAD or the improved Patriot against a strategic target which we define in the treaty, then it is deemed by mutual agreement with Russia to be compliant with the treaty no matter what the architecture is, including utilization of space-based cuing.
And with respect to the faster systems, we've retained that same test standard and agreed that beyond that determination of compliance with the treaty will be our national responsibility; we can discuss it with the Russians in Geneva, but it is our national responsibility to determine compliance. And in the case of the one faster system that we have, the Navy program, we have determined that and reported that to Congress.
Beyond that, there is no restriction in the treaty or in this agreement to advanced research on any other TMD programs. And, indeed, we're looking at a number of TMD options beyond the six core programs, including an aerial laser and different sorts of rockets that would be launched off aircraft or even remotely piloted vehicles that could catch a missile as it's coming off its launcher.
There are no speed limits established in the Helsinki agreement, and there is no moratorium established with respect to flight testing of systems.
Now, the fourth misconception I think is that there have been no, if you will, consultations with Congress. And I would just say from very personal experience, there have been innumerable, repeated briefings on the Hill on these issues. It's been the subject of intense engagement between the administration and Congress in hearings and on defense legislation on both the authorization and appropriation bills. There's been a steady stream of correspondence from the Hill that we've answered. And thanks to some in the media, and a few more than others, there's been almost virtual transparency throughout this process because of really an unprecedented amount of information that's been leaked to the press and appearing on the front page of papers in Washington.
Now, the last point I think is the most important, and that's the misconception that you can't have it both ways, if you will -- you can't maintain the ABM Treaty and still have highly effective TMDs. And I believe what we demonstrated in Helsinki in the agreement that the President reached with President Yeltsin is that we can have highly effective TMDs and adapt the ABM Treaty to permit them while still maintaining the basic benefits of the treaty. After all, it is the ABM Treaty as the cornerstone of strategic stability that is the key that lets us go forward not only through START I and START II, but down to this new level that we've reached agreement on for START III.
And because of the Helsinki agreement on demarcation, we can maintain the highly effective TMD systems that we need to deal with this growing phenomena of missile proliferation throughout the world. That, then, brings me to the last question, which has been raised today by the Speaker and by Chairman Livingston and Mr. Cox, and that is this question of space-based TMDs, and a provision in the Helsinki Accord that prohibits developing, testing, or deploying a space-based TMD.
Now, it is a fact that that is part of the agreement, as clearly indicated in the agreement itself in the fact sheet that was distributed. But it's important to put that in context and to understand three points. First, we have no such program, current or planned. We do not have a space-based TMD program. As I said, we have six core programs that we're spending about $2.5 billion a year on, beyond that, we have several other options that we're doing advanced technology on, but there is no dedicated program to develop such a TMD system.
Second, the ABM Treaty itself, from the very beginning, from 1972, has included an outright ban, a total prohibition on space-based ABM systems. This is really sort of the ultimate realization of the Star Wars vision of orbiting battle stations that would have high-powered lasers that could zap missiles coming through the air. The ABM Treaty prohibits that. It prohibits their development, their testing, or their deployment.
When we looked at this both as a matter of compliance law and as a matter of technological assessment, we determined that, in fact, it would be impossible to distinguish between an orbiting laser, an orbiting battle station armed with kinetic kill missiles that one side would claim was only designed to intercept theater-range missiles coming through space, and somehow not have the capability to destroy strategic missiles going through space.
After all, if you have a laser in space that has the power to burn a hole through the side of a missile and blow it up, it can do that whether the missile was an ICBM or an intermediate-range missile. So from our perspective, there was no demarcation possible between space, based TMDs and space-based ABMs, and we see this agreement as a logical corollary of the existing prohibition in the treaty.
Last point. Does that mean, as Speaker Gingrich said, in his statement today, that we've accepted unacceptable constraints on possible technological breakthroughs, and I would say no, not at all; quite the contrary. As some of you know -- I'm sure Barry knows as a student of this -- the ABM Treaty does not prohibit research. There was a time when Gorbachev was fighting the SDI initiative and tried to interpret it that way, but we didn't let that stand. You can conduct advanced research into futuristic technologies, like space-based lasers, and indeed we have just such a program -- an advanced technology. We're spending tens of millions of dollars on that; there's some on the Hill that want to spend more. And we can do that as long as the thing that it is, the hardware that we're developing is not put in the form of a full-up prototype and actually test it.
Now, does it mean we could never have such a system because of the Helsinki Agreement if this advanced technology we're looking into should bear fruit? Again, the answer is no. We have the right under the treaty, should we make the decision to do so, to go back and seek to negotiate an amendment to the ABM Treaty that would permit a space-based ABM, which would also have value then as a space-based TMD.
Whether we would do that, of course, is hypothetical, and I will just point out that the costs are somewhat staggering, because to have an effective space-based system, you have to put enough satellites up to have coverage over the world at any time. It takes about 20 of these, and the CBO and ballistic missile defense estimate of this is that the cost of such a system would be measured in the tens of billions of dollars. That's one reason why the sticker shock was so great last year when the Republicans unveiled their Defend America Act, because they left the door open in that act to such defenses.
Why don't I stop --
Q Is that Star Wars creep, though? Doesn't it mean that it does open the door for Star Wars?
MR. BELL: Well, it's a fine line, Helen, but as I said, the ABM Treaty was specifically negotiated not to prohibit advanced research. There's a line, another point of demarcation, if you will, in the treaty where you cross a line between research which is permitted --
Q -- research then?
MR. BELL: Well, because what we have shown is that the strategic security situation evolves through time. The ABM Treaty is 25 years old now. We have evolved, or adapted, the ABM Treaty here in Helsinki to reflect a world that's different than the world that existed when the treaty was signed in '72. As long as we can do that through a joint process, so we retain the benefits of the treaty, I think we'll be all right.
Q Bob, maybe the critics are taking a cue from Mr. Yeltsin's remarks -- of course, you can't speak for him -- but remember at the news conference he was asked why he could now confidently go ahead and push START III, and he said, because of the ABM agreement. So what did Russia get out of this, apart from more certainty over what's legal and what isn't legal? And five out of six of part one systems -- is that right, six is part two? Is there anything else that you can feel and touch that's in part two, or is it all theory now?
MR. BELL: Well, I think with this demarcation agreement we've filled a void in the ABM Treaty. We've ended, really, a 25 year period of sustained ambiguity and, indeed, controversy, throughout the '80s. There were times, you will recall, when previous administrations were close to considering renouncing the treaty because they thought Soviet surface-to-air missiles were being given ABM capability, or being tested somehow as covert, or closet, ABMs.
So we've brought some specificity to this issue that sort of removes what's been a festering sore for quite some time. And it also ensures, because of what we've committed to in terms of information and transparency and consulting with them, that they will have confidence that our TMD programs are really not aimed at Russia, if you will, but are aimed at protecting our troops wherever they're deployed in regions around the world.
I personally think the key turning point in this whole three-and-a-half year endeavor to negotiate this came the Sunday that Foreign Minister Primakov was here last, and went to the Pentagon and met with all of the chiefs. And each of them, in very personal and in some senses, passionate, terms, expressed to him the responsibility they feel in terms of protecting our troops, and that these TMD systems are not aimed at Russia. And that's a theme the President has spent a lot of time on with President Yeltsin in Helsinki.
Q Could you make some sort of statement, if you feel you want to, as to whether, as a result of Helsinki, U.S. troops and friends of the U.S., where troops may or may not be stationed will be sufficiently protected now under the six projects?
MR. BELL: Absolutely, it's not just my view, but that's the corporate view of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. To me, what's interesting about some of the criticism that's coming from the Hill about this agreement is that they are trying to second-guess, if you will, the corporate military counsel that the President of the United States is receiving on these issues, including the views of the Chiefs, as represented in the meetings in Helsinki by General Shalikashvili.
Now, what the Chiefs have said is that the six programs that we've identified as core programs, plus the advanced R&D -- which is an important part of the whole picture -- is what we need in the defense field, and it's the priority that should be attached. The voices that are calling for things like a space-based TMD at the cost of tens of billions of dollars that are not in our defense program are not voices that are coming from the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the Joint Staff, itself.
Q Could I ask you to explain the -- you say that a space-based TMD would not be allowed -- is not envisioned. But under your third point you said five of the six systems could be developed using any architecture, including space-based. I'm not sure I understand, since you said that you can't --
MR. BELL: The distinction is between a space-based interceptor -- in other words, something that is deployed in space, an orbiting satellite that actually kills a target either by shooting a rocket at it or zapping it with a laser -- on the one hand, and things that are orbiting in space that are sensors, or satellites that are designed as adjuncts to complement a ground-base missile defense program.
Now, these kinds of systems are specifically permitted in the ABM Treaty. The negotiators in 1972 grandfathered the existing early warning satellites that we had deployed and made clear that as long as the object in space that is passing information down to the missile defense system on ground isn't trying to itself replace, for example, a radar, or take over the function of a radar and actually control and guide the intercept, that that's a permissible use of a space-based censor.
So what I meant -- if I wasn't clear, what I meant to say with respect to the part one agreement, the first five of our six programs, is that we've agreed that any architecture of external cuing from space-based censors is permitted to complement this system as long as you don't test the interceptor against a strategic target.
Q What's the legal basis of this agreement?
MR. BELL: It doesn't have a legal standing, yet. It's a statement of intent -- an important statement of intent because it's signed by the two Presidents. But what you have is an agreement in principle signed by the two Presidents that there will be now this second part of a demarcation agreement that goes together with the first part that we'd finished last year. And the joint statement from Helsinki says there are four elements that are the agreement. The point of negotiation that went on for weeks with the Russians on this point was whether that last word would be -- that the four points that followed are the agreement or that the agreement would include the four points, and the door would be open to other suggestions when we got back to Geneva.
So what happens now is we will return to Geneva in due course. Our respective delegations will draw up in legal form an agreement that codifies the joint statement reached in Helsinki.
Q What happens to that document?
MR. BELL: Well, we have informed the Congress that the part one agreement already rose to the threshold, if you will, of representing a change to the treaty -- what we call a substantive modification -- and therefore, would require congressional approval. Sandy Berger is having a dialogue with the Majority Leader about these treaties and whether we will specifically ask the Senate, as opposed to both Houses of Congress, but the Senate to give advice and consent to this with a two-thirds vote. And I expect that Mr. Berger will be in touch with Senator Lott very quickly on this matter.
Q That's under review at this point whether it has to go?
MR. BELL: It's Sandy Berger's prerogative to inform the Majority Leader on that. The first response is due to the Majority Leader. With due deference to the fourth estate, I can't preempt that channel since we promised Senator Lott that we would give him that answer personally.
Q -- you need a majority, right? If you go the route of House and Senate, you think it's only simple majority, correct?
MR. BELL: If you were to go that route it would require a majority approval of both Houses.
Q But you're saying one or the other will take place.
MR. BELL: That's right.
Q And if either or both Houses -- can you walk through what would happen if either, one, it failed to get two-thirds in the Senate or, two, failed to get a majority in either the House or the Senate -- what happens then?
MR. BELL: Well, it would be the same as defeating a treaty, and we would not have an agreement because we have changed the ABM Treaty and that change can only be effective under the U.S. Constitution if the approval of Congress is obtained.
Q So just to -- in other words, if you choose to take it to the Senate and you don't get two-thirds, it is not ratified, it's non-existent? If you go the congressional route and you fail to get a majority in either House it is also --
MR. BELL: That's right. Now, this also has to go through the Duma, and the reaction from the Russian side from some quarters has been extremely critical as well. So we both have our work cut out for us in terms of explaining this and presenting it and making sure everyone understands how it serves both our national security interests.
Q Did you say that the agreements on restrictions on offensive missiles, the revisions to START II and the plan for START III, are contingent on under Helsinki on getting this ABM demarcation?
MR. BELL: Well, it's not contingent as far as the United States is concerned. It's the Russian side that has said that without an agreement on demarcation that they would not have pressed the Duma for ratification of START II. Our view had always been that START II was a fair treaty duly entered into by both sides and it should have been ratified on its own merits anytime after it was signed in January 1993. But we're now in the spring of 1997, four years later, still trying to get the Duma to act. The Russian side has said -- not only from the executive side, but what any number of Duma members themselves have said -- is that absent some sort of finality to this demarcation negotiation they were not going to take up the treaty.
Now, we did not establish that linkage, but we would hope that with this agreement now in hand that that removes, along with the START III commitments, two of the principle arguments, if you will, that have been raised against START II in the Duma.
Q Well, what I'm trying to find out from you is if we're likely to get in a situation where you could get political linkage and political blockage here. The Republicans in the Senate have already waited and perhaps killed ratification of the Chemical Weapons Treaty. If they dawdle or refuse to approve the demarcation agreement, does that then feed further resistance by the Duma, where they can say, well, if Washington is not interested in approving the demarcation thing, all bets are off on START II and START III?
MR. BELL: Well, let me say first that the CWC has not been killed in the Senate; quite the contrary. We're on a very positive path to get the advice and consent of the Senate, along with a long list of conditions that we've negotiated through a very intensive process the last two months, during the second half of April. And I am confident we're going to win that vote.
Now, on ABM-TMD demarcation, we have a law in which the Congress collectively said, this is the outcome we insist you obtain through this demarcation negotiation, based on these target restrictions. That is the agreement we obtained. So we have satisfied their conditions. There's a separate issue about the space-based TMD prohibition, which, as I said, we see as a logical corollary of what's already in the treaty. And we will discuss that with the Hill. But I would certainly hope that that would not provide a basis to kill the deal and, therefore, perhaps derail this extraordinary achievement that's available in terms of START II and START III reductions.
Q Can I ask you one other technical question? Is it up to the White House to decide whether it goes to the Senate or both Houses of Congress? And who, precisely -- is it up to the President? And if Congress disagrees with your decision on how it should go, is there any recourse?
MR. BELL: Well, this has been a point of constitutional dispute going back many administrations. The Clinton administration, as has previous administrations, believes that as a matter of constitutional law if you change a treaty you can get that change approved either through a two-thirds vote of the Senate or through legislation by both Houses.
The Senate -- this will not surprise you -- I know this because I worked there for 12 years -- jealously guards its prerogatives with respect to treaties. And its view is that any change to a treaty should and must come only to the Senate. They don't want the House being part of a treaty, if they can help it. There have been times in the past when Congress has passed laws saying if this is changed, it must come to the Senate. The President has signed the bill into law and put down the little marker saying that our reading of the Constitution tells us that we have two choices.
But I don't want to make this into a big issue standing here today, because it's all going to be resolved very quickly as soon as Mr. Berger and the Majority Leader have a chance to talk in the next day or so.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:49 P.M. EST