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Senior Defense Official Summarizes NATO Meeting

Presenter: Senior Defense Official
June 07, 2001

Thursday, June 7, 2001

(Background briefing by a senior U.S. defense official on the NATO Defense Ministerials in Brussels, Belgium)

Senior Defense Official: The session is still going on obviously. They are busily talking about a full set of agenda items. The NAC [North Atlantic Council] session was an interesting and useful exchange of thoughts and ideas having to do with a variety of subjects the secretary [of defense] laid out for the council -- the broad concepts that lay at the heart of the evolving strategy review in the United States. He talked about the importance of looking at the world through new lenses, given the fact that we are in a new environment in which there are a wide variety of threats and concerns that are going to be confronting the alliance, that as part of that new range of threats that we are facing are weapons of mass destruction, and the missiles that are capable of delivering them. So the discussion on missile defense was embedded in the larger discussion of the evolving strategic concepts that are in discussion in the United States.

The council as a whole, I believe, received the discussion and engaged with the secretary in a discussion about the nature of that new environment, and agreed that indeed we are in a new environment. There was no difference of agreement on that subject, nor as far as I could tell, was there any serious difference on the need for the alliance itself to begin to take on board the characteristics of that environment and to adapt its capabilities to meet that environment.

On the specific discussions having to do with weapons of advanced destruction, ballistic missiles, and so forth, one minister opined that proliferation is an "incontrovertible reality," and as such, others around the table agreed that the alliance needed to adapt itself to meet those concerns, and that we needed to do so in a way that improved the stability that we presently enjoyed even as we meet the new concerns of the future.

There was a discussion as well about the threat. There was an extensive discussion about particular intelligence that was shared within the council. Then a discussion about the various technologies and system approaches that the United States, at least, is proposing to engage and counter those growing and present threats. Then a discussion about the state of the technical development of the systems that are being proposed by the United States to include some of the video tapes of a number of the intercepts that have in fact occurred in the test program in the United States.

And then finally there was a discussion of how then the alliance as a whole begins the process of moving forward to meet the evolving threat. I believe that the general consensus around the table was that -- with the secretary's presentation today -- we have begun sort of a new chapter in this process. And we have moved from the initial consultations, which followed from President Bush's statement May 1 -- the consultations that were taken by the high-level team that he dispatched in early May. Now with Secretary Powell and Secretary Rumsfeld having been here, with the president going to arrive next week, we are in a new chapter. We are now talking about how we go forward from here as the United States in particular moves to the development and deployment of missile defenses capable of meeting the new threat.

Q: In terms of the technologies involved, did he go into specific technology like the airborne laser? Did he mention...

Defense Official: Yes, there was discussion of the various system approaches to hit-to-kill vehicles, which are those which are launched either from the ground or from sea-based platforms to make intercepts, either in the mid-course, that is when a weapon is in its ballistic mode, or in the ascent phase when a missile is in powered flight. There was also a discussion of the airborne laser, which is an aircraft-based weapon system design for boost phase intercepts.

Q: Did he discuss any potential space weaponry?

Defense Official: No, we talked about sensors being in space and that was all.

Q: But no weaponry?

Defense Official: Excuse me, he did take a moment to underscore that the report that was released by the Space Commission at the beginning of this year was about organization of the United States military and not about, not about, weapons in space. His decisions to adopt any of those recommendations were about organization within the Air Force and within the Pentagon to look after the communications and navigation capabilities of these in space.

Q: A couple of quick points: Did he make it through the prepared remarks?

Defense Official: No, but I can give you guys a pretty good sense of what he covered. And those remarks that you guys have also have been distributed to all the ministers.

Q: Oh, they are.

Defense Official: Every one of them has a copy. He even made note of that. He said I gave out my remarks.

Q: Okay.

Defense Official: Given the amount of time it was --

Q: I understand.

Defense Official: It was part of the record. He is presenting --

Q: Another quick point of the videotapes that were shown. Were these the intercepts, the successful intercept tests, from the national missile defense? Do you know which ones?

Defense Official: There were three. One was for the Patriot PAC III; the second was for the THAAD, the Theater High Altitude Area Defense System, and for the Integrated Flight Test. I believe it was (IFT) 3, which is the intercontinental range exercise.

Q: This was the one over the Pacific?

Defense Official: The one over the Pacific.

Q: These were three successful --

Defense Official: And during the course of the briefing, it was noted that this is hit-to-kill technology; it is not easy. There have been failures in this test program. It was noted that THAAD had had an early history. It is now been successful in its last two tests, but that program consequently has been restructured with the expectation that indeed we have solved the major problems that we faced before, and this is a progressive effort over time. And so the point was made -- and this is important -- that the technology is going to require that we do this as a very deliberate process with a great deal of testing over time.

Q: One more quick follow up. When you mentioned that thing where there was some intelligence shared in the council, was that U.S. intelligence and can you characterize about the threat, can you characterize what was said?

Defense Official: No, beyond the fact that it was a presentation that the allies were happy to engage in, and had a great deal of interest in.

Q: (Inaudible) the defense missile system?

Defense Official: It concerned the proliferation and the actual test capability, the tested systems of various countries. Some of you may know, for example, that North Korea televised its launch of its Taepo Dong 1 back in August of 1998. So we discussed the implications of that kind of fact on these sorts of systems.

Q: Proliferation is not a new reality. It has been around for a long time. It has been very much a multilateral diplomatic exercise -- treaty regimes export. Do you see a growing interest amongst your allies in the idea that there has to be a military defensive response to these affairs?

What is it that actually has changed -- and I appreciate that you can not always share the detailed intelligence -- but you know is there some extraordinary sort of conceptual leap? You know, in the past, we talked about countries such as Iraq and Iran, now it is also a very vague threat or types of technology that may emerge one day from some location and you know not what. Do you see that sort of thinking in this day and age -- some support from the Allies? Last question: everything you say, and everything that Mr. Rumsfeld said seems to suggest that we are making it a digging in for the long haul, that you are going to realize that with all of the technological constraints and all that consultation and so on that, this is going to be a long slow process with the acceptance of this program.

Defense Official: On the question of the nature of the threat: The incontrovertible reality of proliferation has been so for some time. The question is whether there is a determination to take action with respect to it. The fact the allies and the United States together are recognizing the incontrovertibility of that proliferation and are prepared -- as they sit around the table to begin working together for not just diplomatic measures but other measures as necessary and appropriate -- is a good sign and is progress moving forward. With respect to the nature of the threats, the fact that if the missiles and warheads and chemical biological nuclear capabilities exist in countries like Iran, like Iraq, like Pakistan and so forth, this is sort of the leading edge of this changing world. And that is the underlying point here. That the other surprises that are out there, and the secretary in his notes talked about high technology threat, cyber -- there is a list of other proliferation activity, if you will. These are giving potential adversary capabilities far different than any they possessed before or those that we have organized ourselves to address. In the same way that the ballistic threats have become more apparent with the passage of the last few years, these threats, too, are going to be become increasingly apparent. Therefore, as an alliance we need to begin that process of arranging to meet those treats. Leading on the missiles and on to other. So the rest of it is not so much vague as it is just now beginning to take form to begin taking shape.

In terms of this being the long haul, the United States is prepared and determined to be able to deploy the capabilities to defend against missiles of all ranges, to do so by being able to intercept missiles in various stages of their flight. That process is moving forward at a deliberate pace. And part of the process includes and must include the consultation with our allies, which is the stage that we are at now. So we have gone from a determination announced by the president very early in his term, and reiterated in his May 1st speech. We went through the first stages I suggested before of the earlier broad notions. Now we are in the next phase of this: here is how it will unfold; here are the technologies involved. We will go to the next stage, which are the timelines and so forth. So this is a deliberate process done in the way NATO does things. It is not digging in for the long haul. It is making certain that we are all aware and conscious of how this process is going to unfold, and what the direction is.

Q: You say the allies, though, are in agreement on, as you put it, the incontrovertibility of a growing threat and the need to address it, they agree on that. But do they agree on -- as the secretary put it -- on the inescapability in which we have to move beyond the ABM treaty? That's what scaring everybody. What was the reaction to this thing was simply inescapable?

Defense Official: Well there is a desire on the part of everyone, I think, to be certain that as we take the steps that are necessary to meet what is a new threat, that the framework is put in place, that President Bush foreshadowed this in his May 1st speech, and that we are continuing to develop with the allies. It provides the equal the measure of international peace and stability that we have enjoyed in the past--even as we have to find new structures, new methods, and new agreements to use in that environment.

Q: Did they discuss how his intention to deploy assets, while they are still being tested, will effect the ABM?

Defense Official: We didn't get to that. When I say that we are in the new chapter, I expect now over the next two or three months that is the exactly kind of conversation we will start to engage in. We have to walk this down step by step to the very particular issues.

Q: Let me try to understand this correctly. He is essentially saying we will have to amend or withdraw from the ABM, even before we have a final architecture, but we won't know what the final architecture is until we have tested and actually deployed it.

Defense Official: That is right. The ABM treaty prohibits the defense of the territory of the partners to that treaty. And it also prohibits certain activities. The nature of the technology we are developing, and the nature of the threat that we are facing, are such that the development of the appropriate system capabilities is not simply possible. Research development testing of those capabilities in the context of the treaty is extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible.

Q: Did he provide even some general timeframe for when you...?

Defense Official: That is where we are at the present discussion. That is the next...

Q: The U.S. is still adhering to the ABM treaty for now. He hasn't spoken of a time line.

Defense Official: The ABM treaty is the current ABM treaty. It is what it is.

Q: Is it in force?

Defense Official: We have not announced any intent to with withdraw at all. So that is where we stand. And we have not violated it where we are.

Q: How much lead-time do you estimate that you'll have to persuade the Russians to substantially amend (the treaty)?

Defense Official: I don't know the answer to that. I can't answer that at this point.

Q: Does the secretary have a position on weather the ABM treaty is still actually in effect, now that the Soviet Union no longer exists?

Defense Official: I think his view is that it was a treaty that was made between two hostile powers during the depths of the Cold War. The Soviet Union posed a threat of a character that is now longer with us. So the utility of the treaty for managing this strategic environment in which we are presently engaged is not there. The purposes for which it was devised no longer exist, so what we require is to find a different basis upon which to establish a relationship, not only with Russia, but with other states as well. And so, therefore, a different foundation, a new framework, as the president has called it, needs to be devised for the environment that we are in.

Q: Can we go back to the framework? Are you seeking to amend the ABM treaty?

Defense Official: I think again if you go back to the President's address on the 1st of May, he laid out a range of possibilities. There were unilateral declarations; there were informal agreements; there are formal agreements. The door is open on the question of how we want to go and others might wish to go about setting up some set of discussions. But what is clear is, that we intend for this missile defense capability to be directed at the handfuls, not hundreds. The secretary underscored again that this not something that is intended to undermine in any fashion the security of Russia. We know that, the Russians know that, and the Russians know that we know that.

Q: Thank you.