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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 46, May 2000

US Deputy Defense Secretary Remarks on NMD

"DoD News Briefing: Deputy Secretary of Defense Rudy de Leon," US Department of Defense, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense, May 1, 2000

"Question: 'Is it possible to give the Russians any assurances as to how large the national missile defense system will ultimately be, how many interceptors there are, how capable it is?'

De Leon: 'This is a system that is designed really to deal with the rogue threat. In the discussions, and it's very clear in some of the briefings, this is not a system that is designed to deal with the Russian strategic deterrence. This is a limited application. A hundred interceptors in the West and then a follow-on deployment for…the East Coast of the United States later. But it is designed to be a limited defense, largely against the potential proliferation of missile technologies in the next decade and beyond, and it is not designed to negate the Russian strategic deterrence. If that were your focus, you would design a different system.'

Question: 'I guess what I want to know is, are you able to promise them that it won't be 1,000 interceptors ten years from now? Or is there some reason that you can't make such a promise?'

De Leon: 'I think we've presented the capabilities of the program to the Russians. I think they're starting to understand the configuration and how it works. But I think that will be a point that will be elaborated as Deputy Secretary Talbott goes to Moscow; as the President does; as Secretary Cohen does.'

Question: 'I just want to make sure that I understand what you're saying when you talk about elaborating. I guess what I want to know is if somebody raised with you the issue of putting in a tree that will only grow so large, could you do that from a national defense perspective, or are there reasons that you couldn't do that? …'

De Leon: 'It's a good question because it's a question that's come up in discussions. I think if you were trying to develop a more robust system you might look at a different architecture, like space-based architecture rather than the limited number of missiles that are envisioned.' …

Question: 'What do you say to critics who say that this limited missile defense system is too limited, and that it would be easily defeated, and that in the interest of getting an agreement with the Russians, that you're too willing to lock into something that is too limited, cutting out for instance maybe a slightly bigger land-based system or even a sea-based system, and that you're trading that off, and down the road it may turn out that you need a more robust capability.'

De Leon: 'I guess if you look at the threat that comes from the proliferation of missile technology and specifically the North Korean threat today, that's really the capability that you're trying to design the system to deal with. That is a rogue threat. This is not a system designed to check the Russian strategic arsenal.'

Question: 'But would this preclude, for instance, developing as ship-based missile defense that would be against the same sort of a threat?'

De Leon: 'It depends on what the diplomats conclude in the negotiations. Even if you were going to add a sea component to it, the Aegis has been discussed, that would come later on, and that technology is not here today. You would also have to deploy the Aegis close to where you thought the threat was. …'

Question: 'What do you tell the Russians about whether or not the treaty they believe is binding on the US is a legal document or not? Referring to Jesse Helms' maneuver…'

De Leon: 'There are a host of arguments along those lines. The treaty was with the Soviet Union, the treaty had a certain shelf life, etc. I think we're operating from the perspective that the US relationship with the Russians is still, from a military point of view, one of the most critical relationships we have in the world. And to create an environment consistent with the other arms control agreements, to create an environment that allows the United States to deploy a limited missile defense and at the same time maintains the appropriate relationship with the Russians, I think is very important. So I think that's why the diplomatic track as well as the technological track.'

Question: 'It doesn't answer the question. When they say what about the Jesse Helms business that negates everything, what do you say? You say well, we still want to talk to you but really in legal terms this treaty is not binding on us? Or do you just skirt it and pretend that you want to have a good faith relationship with them, and let's just not talk about that legal-schmegal stuff?'

De Leon: 'We could fill a Pentagon-sized building full of lawyers and they would disagree over all of the elements of the 1972 treaty…'

Question: 'How do you negotiate a treaty with the Russians when you've got Jesse Helms back here saying "over my dead body"?'

De Leon: 'You have to…present whatever agreement there is to the full United States Senate, present it on its merits, and then there will be a very significant debate that will extend into the next administration. I think there are some that want a different configuration, but there are many others that understand what this system was designed to do and support it in the Senate. There are critics on the left and the right. So I think you work the details, you work the substance, and then you present it to the Congress.'

Question: 'Is the ABM Treaty a binding treaty on the United States today?'

De Leon: 'I'd have to get a roomful of lawyers…'

Question: 'So you can't say yes or no.'

De Leon: 'I think we're proceeding [on the basis] that it is. That it's been a significant agreement. You can go as recently as last year's congressional language that says we need to deploy a missile defense at the earliest opportunity, and then the amendment that was offered said consistent with all the arms control agreements. So there is a policy ambiguity even in the most recent congressional language on this. So that ambiguity exists in diplomacy as well as international law.'

Question: 'The point is this administration for matters of policy is treating the ABM Treaty as an important structuring element to the future, whereas a future possible Republican Administration is very prepared to say bye, bye ABM Treaty, you're no longer relevant. There's a very big difference.'

De Leon: 'I think that brings us back to the engagement with the Russians and the diplomatic track and the fact that May and June are going to be very interesting and busy months.' …

Question: 'It just occurs to me that anyone suggesting that the Russians had better make a deal now because the next administration is going to tell them they have no basis for a deal and no leverage whatsoever.'

De Leon: 'I think they figured that out.' …

Question: 'Has the administration talked about the possibility of putting certain architectures off limits? Basically saying [to the Russians that] this architecture is not designed to counter you. We'll stick with this. We won't go with a space-based system. We won't go with a sea-based system. We'll do what we're doing now and promise in writing to do nothing more.'

De Leon: '…that's essentially what we've done.' …

Question: 'Are you offering to put that in writing as part of this treaty?'

De Leon: 'It certainly exists in the written form of all of the relevant briefing and budgetary charts. Again, we'll let Deputy Secretary Talbott and the President convey these and determine what the language would be in the agreement, but I think we've worked hard so that the Russian representatives understand what the system is designed to do and what it is not designed to do.'

Question: 'How close is the Pentagon coming to the recommendation to the president? And also, how involved has Gore been in terms of are you keeping Gore up to date so that he would also share the same views as Clinton?'

De Leon: 'I think the next test is scheduled for late June, early July. So that next test would occur, then there will be an analytical period, analyzing the test results. Then there is a deployment review that would occur probably in late July. Then a recommendation would go forward to the President.' …

Question: 'You talked in the beginning about 100 interceptors in Alaska, a limited defense. Then if I understood you correctly, are you then saying the plan already, or the thinking already calls for an additional 100 interceptors on the East Coast to protect the Eastern United States? … [W]hen you talk to the Russians these days, when you sort of brief the formal program, it's actually 200 interceptors?'

De Leon: 'Right now what is on the table is the deployment to Alaska. With an indication that there would be a follow-on at some later point. … [W]ith the Alaskan site, you get coverage for all 50 states.'

Question: 'So what does the East Coast site give you with the additional 100 interceptors?'

De Leon: 'It would give you more coverage and more time to react. If a missile came from the Middle East you would have to react sooner from an Alaskan site than you would from an East Coast…'

Question: 'Does East Coast coverage give Europe any protection? Can we offer the Europeans anything?'

De Leon: 'It really focuses on the 50 states.' …

Question: 'Forgive me if I missed this, but there have been conflicting statements about whether this next test is a make or break test. It's been said I think by [Pentagon spokesperson Kenneth] Bacon that we need another success. We have to do two out of three. Then I think the last time we had a briefing it wasn't that we had to have a success to get a recommendation to go forward. You've just called it critical. What does critical mean? Does it have to succeed to support a recommendation to the President to go forward? Or does it not have to succeed?'

De Leon: 'I think it's very important for the test to succeed, to learn, so I'll just leave it at that. I think it's an important test. We said two out of three, or one for one. On the other hand there is lots of additional time built into the schedule for both developmental testing and operational testing. But this is a very important test, no doubt about that.'

Question: 'Is the second test considered a success or a failure in the greater scheme? … It failed to achieve intercept, but people have sort of gone to great lengths to say it worked.'

De Leon: 'The physics of a bullet hitting a bullet worked. There was a malfunction in the final tracking phase because sensors overheated. So no surprise, spending a lot of time working those sensors and making sure that the cooling apparatus works. … It's going to be critical that there be successful test information in it. So I think it's an easier case to argue if the test is successful.' …

Question: 'I've been reading this symposium from the Arms Control Association…[in which] they make a point in there that the last NIE [National Intelligence Estimate] significantly lowered the bar in what it takes to become a threat these days by saying North Korea could deploy within five, ten years. And that has never been a standard which has shown up in NIEs before. …'

De Leon: 'There are lots of briefings and lots of discussions. I think if you look at the trend generally, things that the US and the Soviet Union had a monopoly on during the Cold War are technologies that are likely to be available in one form or another in future decades. It is most seriously manifested by the North Koreans today, but the capability for that kind of delivery system to be obtained by other countries, Iran, Iraq or someone else, is serious and shouldn't be underestimated. … I think if you look at things in terms of the classic model of the US and the Soviet Union over the last 50 years, you look at it one way. If you look at the proliferation of technologies in the future you look at it a different way. We can't uninvent nuclear weapons, and for better or worse, the US and then Soviet relationship gave the world a fair amount of strategic stability. I think the US and Russian relationship is very important, but the proliferation of missile technologies is something that is real and it is growing. It's seriously manifested with the North Koreans, but there are plenty of other folks that are either trying to develop this or to obtain it. …"

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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