THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY ROBERT BELL, SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR NATIONAL DEFENSE AND ARMS CONTROL The Briefing Room
1:34 P.M. EST
Q Has there been any response yet from Yeltsin?
MR. BELL: Helen, if I could just begin with a statement, then I'll ask you to pose the first question, please. It's related to the ABM treaty, Sam.
For the last three years, the United States has been committed to the development, by the year 2000, of a limited national missile defense system, that is being designed primarily to counter emerging rogue state missile threats. Now, I say "for the last three years" because it was in April of 1996 that then-Secretary of Defense Perry made the decision to upgrade our national missile defense research efforts from a technology-demonstration status to what we have called a deployment-readiness status.
Yesterday, Secretary Cohen announced a restructuring of this program that would orient the developmental efforts towards fielding the system in the year 2005, instead of 2003 as previously envisioned, assuming -- assuming -- a go-ahead deployment decision were to be made in the summer of the year 2000.
I want to emphasize this point: No decision has been taken on whether to proceed with deployment. A decision on whether to deploy a limited national missile defense will not be made, as I said, until the year 2000 or later.
The Secretary also confirmed yesterday that, when the President's next six-year budget for the Pentagon is presented to Congress in a few weeks, it will include funds that would be necessary -- should we later decide to deploy this limited national missile defense system. The amount added to the President's budget for fiscal years 1999 through 2005 to cover the contingency that we decide on deployment amounts to nearly $7 billion. But none of the deployment dollars that are being added are in the fiscal year 1999 or fiscal year 2000 budget years.
Again, no decision has been taken on whether to proceed with deployment. A decision on whether to deploy will not be made until the year 2000 or later, at which point we will again assess our evaluation of the threat, review the program in terms of its technology and its maturity and program risk as of that date, assessing flight tests that we hope to have conducted by that date, and further refine our cost estimate.
Now, adding this money, then, does not represent a change in policy. Rather, we are adding this money to protect the deployment option in the event a decision is made in the year 2000 or later to field this system.
I would also emphasize that all issues involving the national missile defense program must, of course, be addressed within the context of the ABM treaty. The ABM treaty remains, in the view of this administration, a cornerstone of strategic stability, and the United States is committed to continued efforts to strengthen the treaty and enhance its viability and effectiveness. Secretary Cohen underscored yesterday that he believes it's in our overall interests to maintain the treaty, and that the treaty is important to maintaining the limitations on offensive missiles that are contained in the START Treaties.
Quoting him: "To the extent there is no ABM Treaty, then, certainly Russia or other countries would feel free to develop as many offensive weapons as they wanted, which would then set in motion a comparable dynamic to offset that with more missiles here."
In short, as Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin agreed at the 1997 Helsinki Summit, the ABM Treaty is of fundamental significance to realizing our strategic arms reduction objectives under the START II and START III treaties. Now, in this regard, it has been our longstanding policy to conduct activities related to the development -- the development -- of this limited system in full compliance with the ABM Treaty, and senior DOD officials have repeatedly and recently testified to Congress that the program is in complete and strict compliance with the Treaty.
Finally, with regard to the option, the possibility of actually fielding this system should that decision be taken, we have said many times before that deployment may or may not require modifications to the Treaty. If deployment required modifications, we would, in good faith, seek agreement on the needed amendments. We've not made a proposal to negotiate ABM amendments as some have reported because, as Secretary Cohen made clear yesterday, we have not yet made determinations as to what specific amendments might be required to accommodate the various options that are being considered in the Pentagon with respect to a final architecture for this defensive system.
Q Could you give us an example of --
Q But -- can I say "but"? But Cohen also pointed out that we would withdraw -- probably would withdraw if Russia doesn't go along.
MR. BELL: Well, I think it's important to be clear on exactly what the Secretary said. The Secretary did not threaten to withdraw from the treaty as has been reported; the Secretary merely noted that the ABM Treaty, as in the case with every arms control treaty, contains a clause that gives that option.
Q Well, my follow-up is, are these -- I mean, Albright yesterday or today said that we have the nuclear situation under control with North Korea. I mean, what are we really worried about?
MR. BELL: We are concerned with the recent accelerated trends in the threat, particularly with regard to long-range missiles. There has been a real and growing threat for some time with respect to shorter and theater-range missiles against which we're also developing and in some cases deploying now very sophisticated theater missile defenses.
What has changed over the last six or seven months has been an acceleration in the threat with respect to the programs that various rogue states, including North Korea and Iran have in the category of long-range missiles -- missiles that have the potential to reach our homeland if launched.
Now, what the Secretary said yesterday as well as the other officials who testified in the Pentagon is that we now expect, our assumption is that those trend lines, by the time we get to the point where we will address a deployment decision for the first time at the earliest is 18 months from now, our expectation is that we will conclude, then, that this threat criterion that we've been talking about for two years now has been met. But we will see when we get there, and we don't need to decide that today.
Q Secretary Albright's trip, is she going to discuss this with the people she sees on her trip?
MR. BELL: Certainly.
Q In what sense? The same way you've just explained it, or how?
MR. BELL: Well, I imagine the Russians will have a number of questions of their own. We have been in touch with their government at various levels, almost every level, over the last week or so, as has been our practice throughout the development of this limited national missile defense option.
Q Tell us what their initial reaction is.
MR. BELL: The Russian government is wary of changes in the ABM Treaty that could be construed to constitute a threat to their strategic deterrent, that they would deem to have the actual or potential capability to counter their strategic forces. We have been very clear in all our discussions with the Russian government that that is not the design or intention of this limited national missile defense program.
This program is aimed at providing us with the capability of defending the American people against a rogue state that acquires, either through an indigenous development program or an outright sale or transfer, a handful, at the most, of long-range missiles on top of which they could equip either chemical or biological, or in the worst case, nuclear weapons.
Q Are you saying that the object, then, of a possible decision to deploy would be to deploy the type of system that could deter rogue state missiles but would not deter a Russian missile attack?
MR. BELL: The word "deterrence" is important, Sam. We would hope that any state, rogue or otherwise, that contemplated attacking our homeland with long-range missiles would be deterred not only by the prospect of a defense in being if we decide to deploy this NND option, but also deterred from doing so by the certitude of what our reaction would be with our considerable military capabilities against the state itself. But in the case of Russia, there is no requirement that's been identified by the Joint Staff in this planning process that we are working against that envisions a defense so robust that it would provide a capability to negate Russia's strategic force.
Q A question -- you say "so robust" -- is that the key? In other words, we could deploy a system which would be sufficiently strong to take out a North Korean missile, but could be overcome by Russian attack?
MR. BELL: It operates on two levels. First, there is an issue of numbers. Fundamentally, you would have to have a very large number of interceptors deployed to have any fighting chance, if you will, of negating the Russian strategic force. A subordinate question is whether an individual missile -- for example, if an individual Russian, or for that matter Chinese ICBM was launched by accident or inadvertence, whether this system in a technical sense would have the capability to intercept a very sophisticated missile that had, for example, multiple warheads or penetration devices to help those warheads get through.
We have tried in many ways to make sure, particularly in the case of Russia, that we remove that threat of an accidental or an unauthorized launch of even a single missile, for example through the detargeting agreement. But the design of this system is primarily aimed at the capability to defeat a rogue state that acquires a very small number of ICBMs equipped with weapons of mass destruction warheads, that that state might presumably try to use for nuclear or attack blackmail purposes in some regional crisis.
Q Bob, did you say what the status is of any of Russian ABM program? Are they still working on anything now? And secondly, there have been proposals over the last few years, feelers put out by the Russians talking about a collaborative effort with the United States on some kind of a limited system, and it seems like these proposals, which I think there was something only a few months ago to this extent, have really not met much of a response from the U.S. side -- at the point there was no concern, where ABM systems were not at all discussed, this is understood. But now that the issue is coming up again, is there any consideration of some kind of a proposal -- collaboration to also assure the Russians that this is not directed against them?
MR. BELL: I think you raise two very important points. The first is that it is important to recognize that the government of Russia has maintained an ABM system around Moscow throughout the period following the end of the Cold War; in fact, the ABM limited defense of Moscow that's deployed around that city, that capital city, is now in its fourth generation.
Q Which is allowed under the treaty.
MR. BELL: It is permitted under the treaty. The ABM treaty, as Sam correctly points out, does not prohibit limited ABM systems, it strictly regulates the numbers and locations of those defenses. But this is not a case in which Russia, not only during the era of the Cold War as the Soviet Union, but since the end of the Cold War, has foresworn limited ABM defenses of its capitol, it has maintained and upgraded those system over the years.
With respect to collaborative efforts, we work very hard to try to identify opportunities to cooperate with Russia, not only at the level of theater missile defenses -- where we've done joint exercises, proposing missile-data-warning sharing to allow them to use the information we have about incoming threats that their TMDs could counter. But actually planning to field, side by side, Russian and American TMD systems, operated by our respective forces, to get some sense of the interoperability of those systems, were we operating together in some coalition warfare situation.
But even at the national missile defense level, I think it's important to recognize that there has been a program of collaboration with the Russians. In fact, we are now waiting -- the test was scrubbed yesterday, and today as well, because of weather -- but we have a major exercise planned, to be launched our of Alaska, now scheduled for tomorrow morning, about dawn, that involves collaboration between Johns Hopkins Advanced Physics Laboratory in Baltimore and the Russian Academy of Science, where they're going to actually explode a plasma generator in the ionosphere -- with Russian participation -- to help test this issue of being able to discriminate warheads as they enter the atmosphere.
So this is a case where we have contracts with Russia, with the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the Ballistic Missile Defense Office is pursuing an important collaborative program.
Q Between India and Pakistan, first it was missile testing, then nuclear testing, and now, again, Pakistan is ready to test another missile, and then India will follow. So what do -- the solution?
MR. BELL: Well, I'm going to refer that question to the State Department and Jamie Rubin. As you know, the Deputy Secretary of State, Strobe Talbott, has engaged in a series of visits, both to Islamabad and to New Delhi. Part of our agenda is to urge restraint on the part of both parties with regard to further missile tests and further deployments, not to mention any further nuclear test or weaponization of nuclear capabilities that both countries have demonstrated to date.
But I can't give you an update on the status of those talks. You'd be better served by going to State for that question.
Q Has there been any one issue or event that has brought this to the fore? Bob Dole, for years, and the Republicans have said that we needed this, and the administration hasn't moved on it as fast, but was it the North Korean nuclear test precisely? Or was it some other incident in the world that made you think that this was, now, a credible threat, and would be?
MR. BELL: First, let me remind you as I said in the opening that it was three years ago, April in 1996, that we made the deliberate decision to upgrade our NMD effort from a technology program to what we intentionally called a deployment readiness program. Now, three years ago we said that we were going to try to get our NMD option moved to the point where it would be available for deployment if we deemed the threat warranted.
Now, what's changed in the last number of months going back, let's say to last summer, I think the Rumsfeld Commission made a very important contribution in terms of a peer review of how our intelligence community was assessing the possibility of a faster than predicted emergence of the threat, particularly with foreign states transferring technology know-how or equipment. There was the fact of the North Korean three-stage test that tried but failed to put a satellite in orbit, but demonstrated at least a rudimentary technical capability to move a missile, the third stage of that missile, to ranges that began to come into a zone that encompassed Hawaii, for example.
But finally, I would just note, that we have been saying for over two years that we had a three-plus-three program in the first three, if you will, came due in the summer of 2000. We have just finished putting together our budget proposal for fiscal year 2000. So the other thing that's changed is that that bill has come due, if you will, in terms of moving another year towards that milepost that we had identified back in 1996 for how we wanted to conduct the program.
That said, I need to emphasize again that the money is being put in the budget to protect the contingency, to protect the option of deploying if we conclude, at the earliest in the summer of the year 2000, that this system is ready in terms of technology and technical risk; that it's costs are under control; and again taking another check on where the threat has moved from now to the summer of 2000, the urgency of the threat as of that decision point.
Q A nation being able to launch rockets is one thing, but how many rogue states do we know that have or are close to getting to the intercontinental ballistic missile type which will be required, which this system would defend against --
MR. BELL: The reality is that the threat becomes real when one state now gets -- or just based on the pattern of proliferation we've seen -- and this, I believe, was just one of the real contributions that the Rumsfeld Commission made to our appreciation of the problem.
North Korea is exporting its missile capabilities. They are quite blatant about their intentions in that regard. They see it as not only something that no one has any business talking to them about, though we do continue to press our agenda for missile restraint with them in the talks, but beyond that they see it as a major source of export earnings. We cannot assume that if North Korea perfects a three-stage ICBM capable of striking the American homeland with a meaningful military warhead, particularly one that has weapons of mass destruction capability, that North Korea will not seek to sell that capability to other states.
Q Basically the difference then between this and Star Wars is essentially anticipating the volume of --
MR. BELL: Well, this is not Star Wars. Let me be very clear. I've been present at the creation of this saga going back to 1983. Remember the day that the Pentagon testified before the Senate Arms Control Committee in 1983, in April, that we had no requirement for a more robust missile defense program. And the next day President Reagan gave a Start Wars speech. President Reagan was talking about an extremely capable and robust space-based total shield defense, one that would be capable of stopping a determined attack from the Soviet Union in excess of the START I levels. This was before START I had been completed. In other words, he was projecting the vision of a defense that could stop tens of thousands of incoming warheads from a determined adversary like the Soviet Union.
This is an extremely limited defense that's designed primarily, as I said, to be able to provide real defense against a rogue state that gets a handful, at the most, of missiles that it tries to blackmail us with or actually use against us in a crisis. And there's a considerable difference, not only land-based in terms of the architecture, which presents much better prospects of being able to accommodate the ABM Treaty to meet this requirement -- if we determine that's necessary, as opposed to space-based, which I think by anyone's calculation meant the ABM Treaty would be at a point of history in terms of any way you could imagine such a set of changes in the treat to accommodate that system.
Q Is there no way, Bob, to penetrate their computers and somehow countermand the orders from their computer electronically without going through all of this?
MR. BELL: Well, there are a lot of options available in any crisis if you feel that you're being threatened by, or someone's attempting to blackmail you with, any military capability, whether it's a missile or any other military system. But you still owe it to yourself -- it's just a matter of simple prudence -- to provide as wide a range of options as you can to deal with that crisis. You don't want to reduce yourself to simply a pre-emption option to take the threat away.
That doesn't mean, though, that you decide to deploy something that is not going to work. It doesn't do your national security any good to deploy a system that hasn't proven it will work.
Q Bob, are you talking about a limited NMD option? What's the difference, then, between that and the theater high-altitude systems that the U.S. has already been --
MR. BELL: The THAAD system -- Theater High-Altitude Area Defense, THAAD -- the THAAD theater missile defense system, that has been under development but has undergone a series of setbacks in its test program, is a TMD, a theater missile defense system, for purposes of the ABM treaty, or, for that matter, for purposes of our regional defense strategy. We would use THAAD, for example, to deploy with a force in the Gulf, if we were engaged in a war with Iraq, or in Korea, if we were in hostilities on the peninsula.
But the THAAD system has been formally assessed and certified to Congress as not having a technical capability to intercept an incoming ICBM warhead, and thus, for purposes of this demarcation, or distinguishing, for purposes of the treaty, between an ABM that is restricted, and TMDs that are unrestricted, we have formally reported to Congress that the THAAD system is not an ABM and is therefore not captured, if you will, by the terms of the treaty.
Q Is that distinction because of the range of the THAAD system or other specifications?
MR. BELL: Capability is a function, essentially, of the inter-relationship between the interceptor missile speed -- the faster, the more capable, on the one hand -- and the power of the radar on the other. With tactical or theater systems, particularly ones that are mounted on ships, you necessarily have to limit the power of the radar.
If you take an AMB radar, like the one we built at Grand Forks back in the '70s and then decommissioned, and put it on a cruiser, you would get a very capably TMD -- it would also sink the cruiser because the radar would weigh too much. So there are always trade-offs here for a tactical system like THAAD that's going to accompany forces that are in a maneuver warfare situation, where the radar power is restricted necessarily, and in an AMB system, where you can build a huge, powerful radar because it's not intended to go anywhere.
Q Bob, China is still continuing missile technology to Pakistan and other countries. Is the U.S. doing anything or having more talks with Chinese? Because they promised in the past they will not do again, but they are still continuing.
MR. BELL: I'm going to defer that question as well. Gary Samore, our Senior Director for Nonproliferation, has the expertise on that subject and I think you ought to go to the source.
Q Is the system you're talking about, is this going to be based on kinetic weapons, missile-to-missile, or are you going to be using more exotic technology?
MR. BELL: This is intended and will be a kinetic kill system. It's not nuclear. It's designed to hit the target and destroy it through that collision.
COLONEL CROWLEY: Thank you very much.
END 1:59 P.M. EST