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DoD News Briefing - Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
November 23, 1999 1:05 PM EDT

U.S. State Department Foreign Press Center Briefing

MR. BACON: You're welcome, Marjorie. Thank you very much. I am glad to be back.

Let me start with a few opening remarks, and then I'll take your questions about what I discuss, or other topics of course.

Secretary Cohen, on Thursday evening in London, gave a very important speech on U.S. engagement around the world. The trigger for this speech, obviously, was the vote by the Senate on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, several weeks ago, in which the Senate voted not to ratify the treaty. And that vote triggered a series of commentaries around the world in almost every world capital, suggesting that the U.S. was withdrawing from its global responsibilities.

Secretary Cohen, following earlier remarks by President Clinton and others of the administration, wanted to stress that this clearly is not true. And he focused on just one aspect, which is the military engagement of the United States around the world. And let me just run through that very quickly. Many of you know this, but I think it's very important. And if you haven't seen a copy of his speech, there are copies available after this session.

The United States has troops stationed all around the world for one reason, and that is to preserve stability and peace in all corners of the world, where possible. We have nearly 100,000 forward-deployed in Asia, approximately 100,000 deployed in Europe, 23,000 deployed in the Gulf. And then, of course, there are ships sailing at sea, and Marines and soldiers -- taking place in exercises all around the world, working with military establishments.

We think that the deployment of American troops, particularly in Asia and in Europe, has helped lead to peace and stability that has been the foundation for economic progress and prosperity. And it has made it easier for other countries to avoid costly arms races because of the stability that has been created.

There's been absolutely no pulling back from these commitments recently. We have, of course, scaled down some in Europe after the end of the Cold War as the whole military was reduced by more than a third, from 2.1 million to 1.4 million, but we've continued to maintain very large concentrations of troops deployed to maintain stability all around the world.

We also continue to work very actively for arms control, and the decision by the Senate not to proceed with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, I think, reflected more a determination by the Senate not to carry out very detailed hearings that would have allowed compromises to emerge that could have addressed some of the very real concerns they had about the treaty. Instead, the whole consideration process was compressed into a very short period of time. President Clinton has said that he will continue to honor the terms of the treaty, and that is not to carry out nuclear tests. We will continue to develop other ways to test the reliability of our nuclear stockpile and Secretary Cohen has pointed out that he expects the treaty to come up again for ratification at a later date, probably after the next presidential election some time.

Before Secretary Cohen went to London to give this speech, he was in South America, and he was actually practicing the type of engagement there that he discussed in his speech. South America, of course, has been a real success story, particularly in the southern cone where what we call confidence-building measures. In the last 20 years, the -- Chile, Brazil and Argentine, the three countries that we visited, all had military regimes. And how they have all moved to civilian control of the military -- democratically elected governments that firmly control the military under civilian leadership.

So this has been a real change, and it's been one that has been accompanied by an astonishing and very gratifying reduction in tensions in the region. For instance, there were 24 border disputes at one time between Chile and Argentina. All those border disputes have now been resolved, and the Argentine and Chilean militaries who were on the brink of war 20 years ago now are working together. Argentine ships are being repaired in Chilean yards, the troops are exercising together. So there's been a very dramatic diminution of tensions in the southern cone of South America.

Chile recently sent its defense minister, Minister Perez Yoma, to Peru. I think he was the first Chilean defense minister ever to visit Peru, and they're beginning to work on resolving their long-standing tensions with Peru. There is talk that there will be leadership visits exchanged, at some time in the future, above the Defense minister level. So there's progress there as well.

And Brazil has just appointed its first civilian minister of Defense. They used to have -- the three military departments reported directly to the president. They've established a Ministry of Defense and a civilian defense minister, Minister Alvares, who began earlier this year to exert a new type of civilian leadership over the military in Brazil for the first time. So there has been considerable progress.

One of the forums that the U.S. has encouraged is something called the Defense Ministerial of America, which is ministers of all the democracies in the hemisphere -- and that's every country but Cuba; defense ministers getting together every several years to meet and to discuss mutual security issues. The last one was in Cartagena, Colombia, and the next one, which will be the fourth, will take place in Brazil in the year 2000.

So there is continuing progress towards peace and stability in South America. It's an area in which the U.S. has been involved through consultations, through joint military exercises, and also through providing assistance and any help we can through the Defense Ministerial process.

So with those remarks, I'll take your questions. Yes?

MS. RANSOM: Yes, our first question is right here. But wait for the microphone, please.

QHi, sir. My name is Andrei Sitov. I am with Tass, with the Russian News Agency. I have a question about the ABM, a two-part question. First is a specific thing. The Independent, on Sunday in Britain -- and of course the secretary was in London when he was making that speech -- reported that the United States was doing some work on ABM, according to the article, prohibited by the treaty, a few years ago. So the question is, has the United States been doing something in the north of England for the ABM, for the NMD?

And the second part is, probably the Russians, on their side, have been rather active recently with their weapons tests, and I wonder if you're worried about this activity and how you can comment on that?

MR. BACON: Okay. Well let me talk about the whole national missile defense issue broadly and then address your two questions specifically.

First, it's important to realize that national missile defense is exactly what it says; it is an effort to develop a defensive system, not an offensive system. And it's even more refined than that. We have no defensive system now against a missile attack, unlike Russia, which does have a system to protect Moscow. The United States has none.

We are, in looking at the -- the question facing the government today is whether we should develop a limited national missile defense system, and President Clinton has not made a decision to deploy such a system. One is under development, and he will make a decision in next summer as to whether we should begin to deploy such a system or not.

We have tested a system, and the system we've tested and will test further is a very limited defensive system that could protect the United States against a small attack from what we call an outlaw or rogue nation, such as North Korea or Iraq or Iran, who may develop a very small number of missiles capable of hitting the United States.

Since the end of the World War II and throughout the Cold War, we have depended on what's called deterrence to protect us against an attack from the former Soviet Union. And that was basically what we call mutually assured destruction; if they struck us, we would strike back with devastating force, and vice versa. And the threat of annihilation has deterred either side from using nuclear weapons for the last 40 years.

We think that in the new global environment of smaller, more radical states, deterrence may not work with the same effectiveness that it has over the last 40 years, and therefore we're contemplating the idea of a very limited national missile defense system that would protect us against a handful of missiles. It would not protect us against a massive attack, as could be launched by the former Soviet Union or by Russia today. So it is not even meant to deal with that type of a threat.

I saw the Independent article, and I believe it was factually in error. And in terms of the program itself, as I said, we have made no decision to go forward with it yet.

MS. RANSOM: Your next question is from --

MR. BACON: You had -- sorry, you had --

Q (Off mike) -- about the test, the weapons test in Russia? Are you worried about the --

MR. BACON: Well, the Russians have, of course, continued the development of offensive weapons since the end of the Cold War, and so it's not surprising that there would be tests from time to time. Although we have a START I agreement with Russia that is in the process of reducing the number of strategic countable weapons on both sides to about 6,000 from over 10,000, although we've negotiated a START II agreement that would reduce it down to 3,000, to 3,500, both sides, of course, have a right to continue developing new and more modern weapons, and the Russians are doing that. So we don't see that as a particular threat at this stage because Russia shows every sign of honoring the arms control agreements that it has signed.

Q (Inaudible) -- from La Nacion from Argentina. The Argentinean press reported, both after the meeting of Secretary Cohen with the new president and with President Menem, that one of the issues he brought up was the radar -- (inaudible) -- Argentina process, which was won by Thompson and has been objected by the French company that lost the process, and that in both cases, Secretary Cohen raised in some way the concern that this process might be stopped. Could you confirm that?

MR. BACON: First of all, Secretary Cohen said publicly in Buenos Aires that he did not raise this issue with Dr. de la Rua, the president-elect. As you know, he saw him in the hospital for about 25 minutes on Monday, and he said afterwards that this issue did not come up. The question of the radars is currently in Argentine courts, and Secretary Cohen said that it would be inappropriate for him to talk about the judicial process in Argentina.

The Argentine defense minister, Jorge Dominguez, has said that this contract for radar -- it's a Northrop-Grumman radar, actually, for part of an air traffic control system -- was awarded after open and competitive bidding. He believes it was awarded fairly. It's been challenged by some of the losing companies, and it's currently in the courts. Secretary Cohen, when asked about this, while not wanting to comment on the legal issues that are currently under review, did say that he was confident that the American radar was a very good and superior system and would do the job of managing air traffic control, flights, et cetera, in Argentina very well.

Q (Off mike.)

MR. BACON: I don't believe it came up there, either. It was discussed very briefly with Minister Dominguez, but the issue here is that this is now in the Argentine courts. That's the appropriate forum for reviewing whether the contract was awarded properly or not, and this is not the type of issue a secretary of Defense normally would get involved with -- a legal issue involving the terms under which a contract was granted. He did stress, time and time again, when asked in Argentina, the technical prowess of the American radar, the Northrop Grumman radar.

MS. RANSOM: (Inaudible.)

QI'm Satoru Suzuki of TV Asahi of Japan. As you can see, you have many representatives from many Japanese news organizations here today to get your comment on the latest development in Okinawa. Do you have anything to say about Governor Inamine's formal announcement earlier today to relocate the Futenma Air Station of the U.S. Marines to the city of Nago, the venue of the next G-8 summit? What's the next step for the two governments to take?

MR. BACON: Well, first of all, this is a very important step in the SACO process, and as you and I have discussed in the past, this is something that has to be worked out by the government of Japan and the government of the United States eventually. We are waiting for Japan to come forward with a plan that is acceptable to the people of Okinawa and to the government of Japan.

My understanding is that this is a very important first step, but it's not a final step, because there are still negotiations and discussions necessary between the governor of Okinawa and the mayor of Nago City. There are still details that have to be worked out. We're very hopeful that this can be worked out as quickly as possible and that the government of Japan will support a solution that works both for the United States and for the people of Okinawa.

Q (Off mike.)

MR. BACON: Well, this is a proposal, but my understanding is there were still details that have to be worked out in Okinawa and within Japan, that this was announced by the governor today. I believe that the next step are some discussions between the governor and the mayor of Nago City; isn't that correct?

QYes.

MR. BACON: And I have read that there is some opposition within Nago City to the solution, so that will have to be worked out by the governor of Okinawa and the government of Japan.

But this is certainly -- as you know, since the tragic event in Okinawa, the United States and Japan have taken a number of steps to reduce the footprint of the Marines in Okinawa, and also to reduce the intrusiveness of the Marine training in Okinawa. And this involves giving some land back, it involves changing the training routines, making them less noisy, less intrusive then they were in the past, and it also involves moving this Marine Corps Air Station from Futenma. And there has been a search going on for more than a year for the right new location for the Marine Corps Air Station. If this works, it will be a very important step toward meeting the obligations that the United States and the government of Japan agreed to as part of the SACO process.

MS. RANSOM: Your next question is right here.

MR. BACON: Yes?

QHi. I'm Carolyn Olsen, also with TV Asahi. I wanted to follow up on that question, if I could. Back when the election was happening in Okinawa, where Governor Inamine made some promises, some pledges that he would work for, he said that he wanted this new airport to be a dual-use facility and also for a military use to be a maximum of 15 years. And I'd like to ask you to comment on that. Do you think 15 years would be an acceptable time period? Or how does the U.S. respond to that?

MR. BACON: I think it's premature now to talk about time periods. We've said that we would accept a dual-use airport if that would work for the people of Okinawa.

In terms of time, that has to be worked out between the two governments. And we are obviously not looking for a limitation on our presence in Okinawa right now. We think that the security umbrella, that's provided in part by the U.S. troops deployed throughout Asia, is very important to Japan and to the stability of all of Asia. But this this particular issue is one that will have to be worked out specifically between the two governments as time goes on.

MS. RANSOM: Your next question is here on the right -- (inaudible).

MR. BACON: Yes?

QMaria Navaron (sp) from Clarin, Argentina. I have two questions.

First, I wanted to know if Secretary Cohen detected any kind of malaise between the militaries in front of the arrest of Pinochet and the demand of extradition of Argentinean militaries and also in Chile, in both countries; the impact -- (inaudible) -- country.

And second is it has been reported that De la Rua said that he was going to decrease the participation of Argentina in peacekeeping missions. I wanted to know if the U.S. has any preoccupation about this, and if the subject was discussed with De la Rua?

MR. BACON: Yes. In Chile, the issue of Pinochet was not brought up by Chilean authorities. Our position on that, of course, is well-known; that this is an issue for the courts in England, Spain and the legal authorities of Chile to work out. And I don't think Secretary Cohen detected any malaise on the part of the Chilean military, but that's a psychological thing. The issue did not come up in the course of his discussions.

In Argentina, it was not an issue of the discussions either, because Argentina realizes that this, again, is an issue between the Spanish courts and Argentina; it's not an issue that involves the United States.

The question of peacekeeping, of course, is a very important question because Argentina has played a leadership role in peacekeeping. It's one of the major participants in U.N. peacekeeping operations around the world. I think now Argentina has troops deployed to Bosnia, to Kosovo, to East Timor and to a number of other places. I think they may be in six or seven locations right now.

President Menem has made peacekeeping a very important contribution of the Argentine military and has set up a peacekeeping academy in Argentina to train peacekeepers, not only from Argentina, but from other countries in South and Latin America. And that has been very successful.

President De la Rua said that some of the quotes that have been attributed to him were wrong, that he obviously would take a look at peacekeeping operations -- as they came up and as the proposals came up, but intended to keep Argentina involved in important peacekeeping operations. Obviously, he couldn't talk about specific future operations, because we don't know what those will be. But he said that he intended that Argentina would continue to be a leader in peacekeeping.

Q (Off mike.)

MS. RANSOM: You have to wait your turn for -- (off mike). Yeah. After that, you know, we have a question way in the back -- back against the wall. Sorry.

QDeogratias Symba from the Congo. I'd like to ask you a question about the Lusaka peace accord. The United States has been championing for a Chapter 7 U.N. operation in the Congo, which is observation of what the parties are trying to do in achieving peace, when you know very well that in Angola that didn't work.

Now the last one -- my first question: What is your opinion on the outcome in the peace? Because now there are violations on both sides, on the government as well as on the rebel side. That's one question.

The second one: Today the Washington Times has published an article where they are saying that Iran has sold Scud missiles to the government of President Kabila. What is the Pentagon position on that?

MR. BACON: On the second question, I can't comment on it, because we don't comment on intelligence matters.

On the first question, the Lusaka peace process and the accords signed last summer, leading to a cease-fire, have produced a reduction in the fighting. It hasn't been perfect, but it's better than before the Lusaka process. So I do think there has been some progress.

We hope that all sides will continue to abide by the accords and work toward a lasting diplomatic solution to the problems in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the surrounding states. That is the U.S. view -- that we have to work toward a diplomatic solution that leads to a lasting peace and political solutions.

MS. RANSOM: The next question?

QI have three unrelated questions. You prefer me to do them --

MR. BACON: Did you say related or unrelated?

QOh, unrelated. (Laughs.)

MS. RANSOM: (Off mike.)

QDo you prefer me to do them all together or to wait for my turn for the future?

MS. RANSOM: (Off mike.)

QOkay. The first one: There have been reports that the Colombian guerrillas are getting --

MS. RANSOM: Please identify yourself.

QOh, I'm sorry. Agostino Della Porta with the German Press Agency.

There have been reports that the Colombian guerrillas are getting weapons from countries of what used to be the Eastern Bloc. I wonder if the precise sources have been ever identified, if any of the countries have ever been identified, and if the U.S. is doing something with the governments of those countries to prevent the supplying of weapons to the guerrillas.

Shall I go on?

MR. BACON: Yes.

QOkay. (Laughter.)

The second question is if there has been actually a breakup of the military cooperation with the Mexican military in the fight against (drug) wars.

And the third question is if the negotiations that took place to maintain a military presence in the Panama Canal have totally finished or if they have the perspective of restarting a dialogue.

MR. BACON: Okay. On the first question, it is certainly true that the narco-traffickers have a lot of money, and they are spending this money in the international arms markets to buy more modern arms for the guerrillas. They're -- of course, the international arms markets are awash with arms, and I think it's hard for us to identify that they're coming from particular countries. There are a lot of weapons available in sort of the ebb and flow of the international arms markets. This clearly is a source of concern to us and, more importantly, a source of concern to the Colombian military. And the problem is narco-traffickers are arming the guerrillas with more modern weapons.

The second question, about Mexico -- we continue to work with the Mexican military on counternarcotics. It's clearly a problem in Mexico, and a problem for the United States.

There has recently been some stories that I think reflect misinformation about helicopters that the U.S. provided to Mexico, and reports of dissatisfaction on the part of Mexico with these helicopters. As I say, I think these stories have some misinformation in them. We've tried to work with Mexico to train them to use the helicopters that we gave them. There have been some problems, but many of those problems have come from the fact that the Mexicans have used the helicopters for many more hours a month than we use the helicopters, and therefore, there was much less time for maintenance. Helicopters require a huge amount of maintenance, and in fact they require several hours of maintenance for every hour they're in the air. So if they're flown too often without maintenance, problems do develop. But we do continue to work with Mexico on counternarcotics.

And the third question, on Panama. We, of course, made a commitment to withdraw totally from Panama by December 31st, 1999. We are in the process of pulling our very last military people out of Panama. They will be out before December 31st, 1999. And I'm not aware that there are currently significant negotiations going on that would leave American troops there beyond December 31st. We intend to be out by then. We have always made it clear that we will honor that obligation, and we are doing it.

MS. RANSOM: The next question's here.

QHi. I'm (Ramon ?) Rodrigues, the Mexican News Agency. What is the position of the Defense about the School of the Americas? Because I understood that the Senate approved it, that no money from foreign operations will be given to the school unless Mr. Cohen certifies that, you know, a good -- (inaudible word) -- about this school.

MR. BACON: Well, I talked at the very beginning about the sweep of democracy through South and Latin America, and the enormous progress that's been made in achieving democratic control over the militaries and also in reducing conflicts throughout the continent. And I think that one of the reasons that's happened is that we have over the years trained large numbers of military officers from South and Latin America in democratic principles; specifically, how militaries operate in democracies in human rights, civil affairs and other important areas. And that training has taken place at the School of the Americas. You probably read over the weekend that the School of the Americas is reforming its curriculum to some degree to make this training even more valuable for militaries operating in a democratic context.

So we think the school has been performing a good job, has been performing well and will continue to perform well under this revised curriculum.

MS. RANSOM: We have time for one last question.

QJim Mannion, AFP. A Pentagon delegation met over the weekend with Chinese officials in Beijing. Could you tell us about the outcome of those talks were, whether there was an agreement to resume full military-to-military contacts, if there will be a visit by Secretary Cohen to Beijing?

MR. BACON: I think that they were productive talks and they will lead to more talks, specifically the Defense Consultative Talks that could lead to a visit by Secretary Cohen or by other high-level officials will likely follow early next year. That is, the talks held over the weekend between Kurt Campbell on our side and General Xiong Guangkai on the Chinese side, led to an agreement -- not an agreement, but the possibility that the Defense Consultative talks will occur probably in January, some time early next year.

Q (Off mike.)

MR. BACON: I believe they will be here. The next round is likely to be here somewhere in the United States. And those talks could then lead to a resumption of high-level visits. So it was a good start, but discussions are continuing.

MS. RANSOM: Okay, and thank you very much for being with us today --

MR. BACON: Thank you.

MS. RANSOM: -- for this very informative session. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.

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