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DoD News Briefing: Secretary of Defense William J. Perry

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William J. Perry
February 14, 1995 2:30 PM EDT
(NOTE: The following briefing was conducted at the State Department. Participants included Secretary Perry and Secretary of State Warren Christopher.)

Secretary Christopher: Secretary Perry and I are here today to outline our objections to H.R.872, the National Security Revitalization Act, a bill that we both feel is deeply flawed. We'll each make a brief statement and then we'll take your questions--hopefully at least the first of them will be directed to H.R.872.

Let me begin by stressing that we're here today not to present a partisan issue but one that we think is of fundamental importance to the United States. Our basic objection to the bill is that it would undermine not only this--but every future--President's ability to safeguard America's security and to command America's Armed Forces. We're committed to working with both parties in the Congress to address our concerns about this legislation, but should it pass in its present form, we have told the President that we would recommend a veto.

Secretary Perry will discuss a number of the issues raised in H.R.872 including those relating to missile defenses and the President's command and control authority over U.S. troops. I will focus my concerns on just two items.

First, the bill would disrupt what is now a steady, deliberate, and responsible process of NATO expansion. It would do so by unilaterally and prematurely designating certain countries for NATO membership.

Now there's no question that NATO should and will expand. But we strongly believe that new members must be ready to fulfill their obligations of membership, just as we should be ready to extend our solemn commitments to these new members.

Our present approach is to design to ensure that each potential member is judged--fairly and individually--according to the strengths of their democratic institutions and their capacity to contribute to NATO's fundamental goals.

The approach we're following gives every new European democracy a strong incentive to consolidate their reforms. But if we arbitrarily lock in advantages now for only certain countries, we're going to risk discouraging reformers in other countries--those not named--and also to foster a good deal of complacency in those that are prematurely and arbitrarily designated.

In a most unfortunate way, H.R.872 would really be a prejudgment of the frontiers of democracy in Europe. It would draw a dividing line between Central Europe and the struggling new democracies like the those in the Baltic states and Ukraine. Its effect would be instability in the very region that we seek to bolster.

The second item that I want to cover is that the bill would require the United States to violate its treaty obligations to the United Nations by deducting from our peacekeeping assessments the cost of operations that we conduct voluntarily under a UN umbrella. Operations, for example, like those to deter aggressors, to isolate pariah states, to support humanitarian relief in places like Iraq and Bosnia, [and]to maintain the no-fly zone in Bosnia.

Since the cost of these voluntary operations conducted by the United States now exceeds our peacekeeping dues, the effect of H.R.872 would be to cancel our entire peacekeeping payment. Other countries -- countries like Japan and our NATO allies -- would certainly follow suit and do the same thing, since they also make substantial voluntary contributions to peace operations.

As a result, UN peacekeeping would simply come to an end. In other words, the effect of the bill would be to eliminate an option that every President from Harry Truman on has used to advance American interests. It would leave us with the unacceptable choice... In the case of an emergency, the choice between acting alone and doing nothing.

That, for example, is the choice we would face in the Middle East if peacekeeping were no longer an option and UN troops were pulled back from the Golan Heights or the Iraq/Kuwaiti border. That's a choice we would face if peacekeepers were withdrawn from a host of other flashpoints around the world, including those in Cypress and Yugoslavia.

In all these cases, I believe the American people want their country to play a role in containing the conflict and protecting lives. But no American believes that the United States should have to take all the risks or that our soldiers should have to take all the risks or that our taxpayers should have to pay all the bills when the world responds to crises. That is why leveraging our resources through institutions like the United Nations is a sensible bargain that the American people certainly do support.

Our Administration has worked to ensure that peacekeeping missions are precisely defined, that money is not wasted, and that tough questions are answered satisfactorily before our new missions are approved. In short, our goal has been to ensure that UN peacekeeping is the effective tool that it must be to advance American interests.

H.R.872 would deal a lethal blow to international peacekeeping through the United Nations, and that certainly is not in the American interest.

What is at stake here is absolutely fundamental: the authority of the President to protect our national security and to use every effective option to advance our national interests -- whether by acting alone or by acting with others. In the present form, the bill unwisely deprives the President of the flexibility that he needs to make the right choices.

Now I'd like to invite Secretary Perry to address other aspects of the bill.

Secretary Perry: Thank you, Chris.

I would like to address, first of all, the so-called command and control issue in which H.R.872 places, I believe, quite unwise restrictions on the President's ability to place our troops under the operational control of another country--even a NATO ally--for UN operations.

The President as Commander-in-Chief will never relinquish command of U.S. Forces and can always withdraw them if he deems necessary. The issue here is not the command of U.S. Forces, it is the operational control.

As a matter of history, the Presidents through history have placed U.S. Forces temporarily under the operational control of foreign commanders in World War I, in World War II... Indeed, D-Day would not have been possible without that provision. He did it in DESERT STORM.

For example, General Luck, who was commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps, had a French division under him, and in the field he made a decision to assign an American brigade to that French division. That would have been not permitted under this provision without going back and having a 15-day debate with the Congress on whether to do it.

In Korea, the same General Luck, now wearing a different hat, is the Supreme Commander of the Combined Forces in Korea today. He has under him a Korean ground component commander, and that Korean commander has the 2nd Infantry Division under him. So our 2nd Infantry Division is under the operational control of a Korean commander.

In the last 50 years there have been hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops under the operational control of foreign commanders, and millions of foreign troops under the operational control of U.S. commanders. Without this flexibility, the U.S. would be forced to go it alone. In short, we would essentially lose our ability to perform coalition operations.

A final point on this operational control issue: no U.S. commander would recommend placing a U.S. unit under the operational control of a foreign commander unless he was satisfied with the competence and the experience of that foreign commander. Indeed, our experience through the decades has borne that out.

Now I'd like to switch to the other issue which is missile defense. In missile defense, we are envisioning a way--one way--of dealing with a nuclear threat delivered by ballistic missiles. For that threat, we have really three lines of defense, and we have to look at this problem in that context. The first line of defense is preventive--the things we can do to reduce that threat.

Under the Nunn/Lugar program, for example, this year--and it's projected to go on next year--we will have participated in the dismantlement of almost 1,000 nuclear warheads which had been on ICBMs directed to the United States. That's an important way of preventing the threat. Under the framework agreement with North Korea, we have taken actions to stop the North Korean nuclear weapon program in its tracks. So to prevent it is the first line of defense.

The second line of defense is deterrence. During the Cold War we had an immense program in strategic ICBMs and SLBMs and bombers directed to deter a nuclear attack against the United States. That program is very much reduced today. But even today in the FY96 budget going to the Congress, we have about $7 billion for sustaining the deterrence capability in the U.S.

Finally, the third line of defense is reaction to the threat--which is the ballistic missile defense. We have in today's budget $3 billion for the development of ballistic missile defense systems.

There is a threat now--and it's a threat which is growing--of short range ballistic missiles. That is a threat against our Forces in a combat theater. We have already deployed the Patriot system in Southwest Asia and in Korea as a first system that would defend against this particular threat. And we have in our program three different theater missile defense programs under development -- the Patriot III system which will have its first operational deployment in 1998; the Aegis system which will have its first deployment in 1999; and the next generation system which we call THAAD, and that will have its first deployment in 2001.

In addition to that threat, though, we see no threat at this time--no significant threat at this time--against the continental United States. We see countries like Iran and Iraq and Libya trying to develop a capability, and we would consider that a threat if they had achieved such a capability. We estimate that threat is more than ten years away.

In the meantime, we are developing the technology to deal with that threat, and we have to be prepared to hedge against unexpected developments. One of those might be a reversal of reform in Russia. Another of those might be a transfer of technology or weapons from one of the countries in the former Soviet Union to an Iraq or Iran. All of those things might shorten the time against which there would be a threat against the United States.

Therefore, we have what I would consider a vigorous program in national missile defense. The program underway today and proposed in the President's '96 budget will lead to the development of a national missile defense system in three years' time. At that point, we will be in a position to make a decision as to whether to deploy such a system. If we decide to deploy it then it will take another three years to deploy such a capability. So we have three years to finish the development and three years for deployment. This is a program which would cost about $5 to $10 billion. It is a system which would be capable of defending against what I would call a "thin" attack against the United States -- maybe a dozen or so warheads being launched at the United States. It would not be capable of the sort of a threat which the strategic defense initiative was originally designed to defend against.

This is the program underway. I believe that program is a sound program, and it's tailored appropriately to the threats that exist or the threats we may see in the future. I see no national security basis for accelerating or moving that program any faster than we are now going.

With that, I think we're ready to answer questions.

Q: Secretary Perry, this bill on missile defenses simply requires that the Administration, or in fact that you, shall submit to the defense committees a plan for deployment of antiballistic missile systems. From what you've just said, wouldn't you be able to then go up to the Hill and offer what you have just told us about as...

Secretary Perry: We have submitted such a program. It's called the fiscal '96 budget. That has a program and a plan for the national missile defense system. If that is all that is required, we have already complied with that.

Q: As you read this bill, do you see that it requires you to do something more than that?

Secretary Perry: This is what we are doing, and to the extent that that is compliant with the bill, then what we're doing is sufficient. To the extent that they want this program accelerated, then I would resist that acceleration.

Q: They also cite what they call the reports that Libya has obtained an SS-25 missile. Is there any credibility to those reports?

Secretary Perry: I do not believe that Libya has an SS-25 missile. Or if they have such a missile, they're not in a position to use it operationally. We can never preclude the possibility of what somebody might have stored away in a warehouse somewhere, but that is a far cry from having an operational capability.

Q: I'd like to speak to that point, Secretary Perry if I might, and Secretary Christopher. But first, let me ask about the H.R.7. Is there, in H.R.7, any common ground, anything that you do not take objection to? Something that can be hashed out in markups that will, indeed, be a positive benefit to the defense of this country? Or do you have a blanket objection to it?

Second, with regard to missiles, to terrorist-type delivery. What, sir, if we are wrong in our estimations about the time it's going to take the terrorist nations to develop their nuclear weapons and their delivery systems? Should we not be in a prevent type defense with regard to being able to take out any delivery system that they might use against this country?

Secretary Perry: On the first point, on the command and control, I don't see any redeeming virtue in that program, and I would like to see it simply removed as it now stands. I think it cripples our operational capability with no clear benefit.

On missile defense. As my previous answer suggested, unless they add more provisions to that, unless they push for acceleration, I think we are on essentially the course which is compatible with the objective of moving in a robust way to a national missile defense system.

I want to defer the decision on deployment until we have the system developed.

Q: But you do not see a conflict necessarily in the objectives of H.R.7 and the program that is in place?

Secretary Perry: As the language in H.R.7 is written, I do not see a clear conflict, and could support the language, provided, as I said, there is no intent in here to accelerate the program beyond what I think is an orderly development program we're on right now.

Q: Secretary Christopher?

Secretary Christopher: I'll answer quickly and say that there are some possibilities for amending H.R.872 in a way that could be helpful in peacekeeping and could be possibly agreeable in connection with NATO. But the efforts to get such conciliatory amendments in the House has been rebuffed, so we're dealing with the bill in its present form. And it's unacceptable in that form.

Q: How do you respond to the critics, including Newt Gingrich again today, of UN peacekeeping? The failure in Bosnia, what Gingrich calls the "double billing." He has a very different view than you of what this deduction from the peacekeeping accounts would be.

Secretary Christopher: I respond by saying first, in many instances UN peacekeeping has been extremely successful. Look around the world and see the places like Cambodia, Namibia, El Salvador, where UN peacekeeping has brought a good deal of peace and tranquility and improvement in the situation.

With respect to his other point, I think it's very important for the United States to have the flexibility to make voluntary contributions. Take the Haiti situation, for example. It was very important for us, under the UN umbrella, to be able to deploy a multinational force. The UN umbrella gave us a good deal of credibility, [and] made the whole operation much more acceptable in this hemisphere and worldwide. So I think the United States needs to have that capability and that flexibility. Those amounts expended there are amounts that we spend in the national interest, and they should not necessarily be made part of the assessment of other countries. If we ask that, other countries will, as I said in my statement.

Q: I wanted to ask each of you how much confidence you have right now in the command and control in Russia.

Secretary Christopher: I'll answer that first by saying that our best information and our best judgment is that President Yeltsin is in command in Russia--that he is making the major decisions. We think the nuclear facilities there are safe and secure and subject to stringent controls. So in that sense, we do believe that President Yeltsin is in command of the country and is making the principal decisions.

Q: ...apparently his illness in Kazakhstan last week?

Secretary Christopher: I've made it a practice--not just with respect to President Yeltsin, but all other leaders--not to comment on their personal situation or their illnesses, and I don't intend to start today.

Q: Did he sound forceful and healthy when he spoke with the President last night? Can you share that with us?

Secretary Christopher: I was not in on that telephone call, but I'm told that it was a good telephone call, it was a good discussion. He was very responsive. The President made the points that he wanted to make about Chechnya, and President Yeltsin responded. I understand it was a good, effective telephone communication both ways.

Secretary Perry: Let me follow up on Andrea's question. My personal observation of Russian--formerly Soviet and now Russian--nuclear facilities and ICBMs, and my personal discussions with the commanders who are responsible for the command and control of those, leads me to believe that these are the highest quality forces in Russia, and the ones under best control, and I have generally a good feeling about the capability of the nuclear forces and the tightness of the command and control over them.

Q: Secretary Christopher, as the Secretary of State and a lawyer, is this not to some extent a self-correcting problem under the Constitution? If it does, as you say, take the President's authority in terms of foreign policy away from him, wouldn't it, therefore, be unconstitutional and illegal?

Secretary Christopher: If you'll forgive me, I won't answer that as a lawyer. In my role as Secretary of State, I would say it's a very uncomfortable situation if Congress purports to diminish the authority of the President of the United States, confronts him with a bill that has passed Congress, puts him into a veto situation with the need to override that veto. I think the powers of the President are extremely important. He needs to be able to exercise them in dire emergencies with great swiftness, and anything that impairs or calls into question those authorities are not in the national interest. I don't think he ought to have to stand a lawsuit and take the matter to the United States Supreme Court to vindicate his power and authority.

Q: The President, particularly, on domestic initiatives such as crime or national service, has been quite clear that he would veto certain pending legislation in Congress. You and Secretary Perry have said that you have recommended to him that he should veto H.R.872 if that ever becomes law. Has he indicated to you whether he would accept that recommendation? And if not, why not?

Secretary Christopher: We haven't given him that recommendation. These bills are at a position where they've not come through the Congress. We simply wanted to make known our views, and in effect, give that early alert that we would recommend a veto. It's not come time for us to discuss it with the President, but I think Secretary Perry and I are clear that the bill, in its present form, is one that we would recommend that he veto.

Q: Do you have any doubt that he would veto it in its present form?

Secretary Christopher: We've not discussed it with the President, so I don't want to preempt his ultimate decision on them. But I think a recommendation from Secretary Perry and me will certainly be given a good deal of weight.

Q: Secretary Perry, the Marines who are going into Somalia in several weeks to do the cover for the final withdrawal of UN Forces are carrying with them, apparently, a bunch of non-lethal weapons that are sort of new in the approach in peacekeeping. Why so much secrecy surrounding the deployment of those weapons? Why not come out and detail the kinds of things that are being carried in? Is there some concern that the enemy is so great that it will somehow preempt your ability to do your job?

Secretary Perry: Let me make a few summary comments about the Somalia situation. We already have some Marines on the ground. Our advance party is already with the UN Forces in Mogadishu--about 50 of them. In addition to that, we have between 3,000 and 4,000 Marines in a Marine Expeditionary Unit on a ship off the coast, and we have the AC-130 gunships that are within an hour's flight of Mogadishu. The Marine Expeditionary Unit, besides having these 3,000 to 4,000 Marines, also has a strike and assault helicopter forces. That's the force we have there now.

Those forces are equipped with the conventional weapons which a Marine Expeditionary Unit carries. Those are sufficient to protect the force and to protect any UN Force that they are dealing with.

We also have equipped them with some non-lethal equipment in case they run into a situation involving requiring crowd control--where they want to avoid having to use weapons that could be lethal. I will arrange, if you would like, a briefing on the nature of those systems. From my point of view, there's nothing secret about them. They're new.. That is, they're not new systems, they have been used by law enforcement officers. What I meant to say is they are new to this Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Q: But there is a surprising reluctance on the part of people below you to describe in any detail the nature of the weapons that are being taken in, partly because they're experimental.

Secretary Perry: I'll see if I can correct that problem. If you check with me after the hearing, we'll see if we can arrange a briefing for you.

Q: Secretary Christopher, if I could switch gears to Croatia for a second. Some months back when the discussion of helping withdraw peacekeepers from Bosnia came up, officials from the President down said we had no choice. It came to a treaty commitment with our NATO allies to help with that. This morning you indicated we did have a choice with helping withdraw peacekeepers from the Krajina. Could you explain why that obligation does not necessarily apply there?

Secretary Christopher: I think perhaps you were reading a somewhat preliminary report of my testimony. What I said was... Or perhaps even an inaccurate one. (Laughter)

Q: I was just listening to you, sir. (Laughter)

Secretary Christopher: What I said was that a decision had been taken in Bosnia. And I said a decision has not been taken with respect to the allied forces in Croatia because a decision has not yet arisen. But I said that we had great concern for the troops of our allies, and we were not going to leave them in the lurch. We were not going to leave them in a situation of jeopardy if we were called on to help in my judgment. But that the President has not made a decision on that subject, and I think you'd understand why. Because the decision is somewhat hypothetical at this point, I was trying to protect the decision of the President on the matter. But if I left some uncertainty this morning, let me now say that although a decision has been reached in Bosnia, there's been no decision reached in Croatia. But I would think that the same considerations would apply and for the same reasons I would think a very strong case can be made that we should do in Croatia as we've done in Bosnia. But that decision will have to be ultimately made by the President and it will ultimately have to be the subject of extensive consultation on Capital Hill. I'm simply giving you my own views that the same considerations apply here in much the same way as in Bosnia.

Q: With the NPT renewal looming, and with Israel and Egypt more than at odds over that issue, and with that casting a cloud not only over NPT but the Middle East peace process, what are you counseling those two parties right now? What next action should they be taking?

Secretary Christopher: First I'm saying to both of those parties and all others as well, that indefinite renewal of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty is a very high goal of the United States. It's one of our highest priorities. That treaty is one of the most important treaties, I think perhaps of all times, and it's very desirable that its renewal be indefinite and not subject to periodic reconsideration. I'm urging all countries in the world to recognize it's in their self interest that this treaty be renewed, and that ways should be found to resolve whatever doubts might exist on that. I think that countries that are now within the non-proliferation treaty ought basically to judge what other countries within the treaty are going to do. And with respect to the two countries that you have mentioned, since they do participate in the same multilateral working group in the Middle East peace process, I hope they'll find a way to resolve their problems within that Middle East working group, or at least to resolve their problems on a bilateral basis.

One of the things that I think would be most unsatisfactory from the standpoint of the United States is if there are blocks of countries that for some reason outside the terms of the present treaty, or outside the present membership of the treaty, band together to prevent an indefinite renewal of the treaty which I think is in all of our very strong interests.

I've tried to communicate that view to all of those who were present over the weekend, and will be continuing to do that.

Secretary Perry: I'd like to just add one clarification. I referred to the 3,000 to 4,000 troops we have involved in the Somalia operation. My crack staff has informed me that only 2,600 of those are Marines. They're not all Marines.

Thank you very much. -->