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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 43, January - February 2000

US Defense Secretary Speech on Ballistic Missile Defence

"European Security and Defense Identity", Speech by US Defense Secretary William Cohen, 36th Munich Conference on Security Policy, February 5, 2000.

"… Pascal once observed that 'the strength of a man's virtue should not be measured by his special exertions, but by his habitual acts.' Such is the case with nations who must make a habit of adapting to the changing realities of security. More than any single decision, the pace and arc of our efforts will decide our future.

This habit of adaptation - the constant reevaluation and reappraisal of the threats of our day and age - is the reason that the United States is moving forward in areas such as ballistic missile defense. We must recognize the iron law of modernity: as technology spreads and improves, the security threats beyond our borders - and the security expectations within our borders - both increase.

For America and Europe, the threat of missiles from rogue nations is substantial and increasing. North Korea is building - and selling - long-range missiles and has assembled an arsenal with nuclear, chemical, and biological capabilities. Iran, with foreign assistance, is buying - and developing - long-range missiles. It has chemical weapons, and is seeking nuclear and biological capabilities. Iraq had an active missile program and chemical and biological weapons, and was close to nuclear capability. Saddam has been trying since 1991 to maintain a production base for all of these and, if the world community allows him to flout with impunity its UN Security Council resolutions, he will resume his activities where he was stopped. Libya has chemical capabilities and is trying to buy long-range missiles.

We must be clear: these countries do not need long-range missiles to intimidate their neighbors, much as they seek to do. They want long-range missiles to coerce and threaten us - the North American and European parts of NATO. We project that in the next 5 to 10 years these rogue countries will be able to hold all of NATO at risk with their missile forces. In the United States, we have concluded that we cannot wait to begin to deal with this threat until we are in the midst of a crisis in which one of these rogue states attempts to blackmail the United States from carrying out its alliance obligations and protecting its interests.

The solution is clear: America needs both theater missile defense systems and a limited national missile defense system. Would a national missile defense system mean the United States is abandoning deterrence? Absolutely not. Missile defenses are a logical adjunct to our traditional policy. Defenses enhance deterrence by reducing the political and military value of rogue missiles. They can prevent damage if a rogue leader miscalculates. Will missile defenses protecting the United States weaken our defense commitments to allies? No, just the contrary. They will make it clear that even in the face of rogue long-range missiles, US defense commitments - including those to NATO - will be upheld. Importantly, it is also becoming increasingly clear that effective limited defenses are technologically achievable.

Russia understands the value of missile defenses. The only ABM system in the world is the one around Moscow. We have made very clear to the Russian government that the limited defense contemplated for the United States is not directed at Russian forces. Indeed, it would not be capable of defeating those forces or undermining their strategic deterrent. In no way would it create any rationale for Moscow to increase its offensive forces or, indeed, to balk at additional reductions.

We have also made clear that we do not want to abandon the ABM Treaty. We are working with Russia to modify the treaty to allow us to defend ourselves against threats while preserving its basic purpose of promoting strategic stability between the United States and Europe. The threats that we will soon face were not envisioned when the Treaty was signed 28 years ago. The Treaty did envision, however, that the strategic situation might change such that the Treaty would need to change. There is no reason to force a choice between arms control and strategic stability, on the one hand, and defending our population from rogue-state missile threats, on the other.

Finally, I should note that President Clinton has made no decision to deploy a national missile defense system and will consider multiple factors before doing so: the evolving threat; the costs; the technical efficacy of such a system; and the strategic issues and considerations that involve our European allies and Russia itself.

So I hope to have a vigorous and forthright discussion here and in the coming months about how we should make these advances in missile defense fit into our larger plans for trans-Atlantic security, rather than debate why such a defense is becoming necessary. …"

Source: Text - Defense Secretary Cohen at Munich Security Policy Conference Feb. 5, United States Information Service, February 7.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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