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

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
January 20, 2000 1:50 PM EDT

Thursday, January 20, 2000 - 1:52 p.m. EST

 Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. Secretary Cohen is on his way to New York where he'll meet with Ambassador Holbrooke at the United Nations and also with Secretary-General Kofi Annan to discuss a range of issues. One will be Africa, because the secretary is going to Africa next month and because this is Africa Month at the U.N. while Ambassador Holbrooke is chairman, or president, of the U.N. Security Council, the temporary chairman this month. He'll talk about peacekeeping with the secretary-general, he'll obviously review the situation in Iraq, and express the U.S. support for Rolf Ekeus as the head of the new monitoring and inspection commission as proposed by the secretary-general.

And he'll discuss a range of issues with Ambassador Holbrooke, focusing to a large extent on peacekeeping and what the U.S. and other countries can do to advance the peacekeeping roles of the U.N. in the Balkans, East Timor and elsewhere.

So with that, I'll take your questions.


Q: Did the Navy discuss its decision to go ahead and reunite with Tailhook with the secretary and what does he think of it?

Mr. Bacon: Well, I mean, this has been in the works for some time and the secretary was certainly aware of the decision. Secretary Danzig, Secretary of the Navy Danzig, informed the secretary of what he was doing.

Q: I assume that means that Cohen supports the idea?

Q: Does he support --

Mr. Bacon: Well, he was informed. I don't think he expressed feelings about it one way or another. This is clearly an appropriate action for the Navy Department to take. It's a Navy issue involving Tailhook. The secretary is a former member of the Armed Services Committee, was very involved in Tailhook, following the Tailhook issues and the disciplinary issues closely. And, as you know, Secretary Danzig sent a team out to a Tailhook meeting several months ago. He's had extensive discussions with -- or the Navy has had extensive discussions with the leaders of the Tailhook organization and they've concluded that this is an appropriate action to take.


Q: Ken, can you bring us up to date on Vieques? I understand a battle group will need to start training around March, or something like that, for deployment.

Mr. Bacon: Well, the George Washington Battle Group will be in the area in March and April training around Puerto Rico. We hope, of course, that it will be able to do some training on Vieques, but that hasn't been determined yet. We're still in the process; there are still discussions going on with the government of Puerto Rico. These are being done primarily at the White House level, but there are active discussions going on. I don't know what's happened since Christmas, but there have been active discussions, and those discussions are continuing.

Q: I believe we were going to send an admiral down there. Has that --

Mr. Bacon: Admiral Kevin Green is not there yet. He'll go at the appropriate time, and I don't know when that will be.

Q: Ken, there have been news reports in recent days saying that the Pentagon and/or the Navy is reformulating the offer, if you want to call it that, to the Puerto Ricans on how to phase-out or end live-fire training there. Is there some sort of new offer on the table or about to be put on the table?

Mr. Bacon: I'm not aware that there is a new offer on the table. We've obviously been discussing, within the government and with the Puerto Ricans, the details of what we've already put on the table. I don't anticipate there will be major changes in that. This is not a negotiation, this is a question of trying to understand each other's positions and try to emerge with a solution that we can both buy. So far, we're not there.

Q: Is it looking less likely that there will be a solution that will enable the George Washington Battle Group to --

Mr. Bacon: Well, I wouldn't want to prejudge the outcome of the current discussions.


Q: Ken, on National Missile Defense, is there any consideration being given to delay the decision about the deployment from the target of this summer, based on the progress so far on the tests?

Mr. Bacon: I think it would be premature to think about changing the schedule at this stage. We've always known that we had three tests before the Deployment Readiness Review, which is scheduled for June. We have done two of those tests and we have one left to do.

Right now, we are in the process of evaluating the outcome of the Tuesday test, trying to figure out what went right and what went wrong, and focusing on what went wrong, how to fix it so it doesn't go wrong the next time. As you know from yesterday, we think that the leading problem was the malfunction of some infrared sensors. Those sensors worked in the previous test; they apparently didn't work in this test. So the question is why? They were the same system. So when we figure that out, if this in fact is the problem -- and remember, all our results are still preliminary and we won't have a clear idea of what happened until massive amounts of data are reviewed, when we find that out, we'll try to fix the problem. If we think we can fix the problem, it's possible that the next test won't be delayed.

Right now, no decision has been made to change the date of the next test. That's scheduled for April or May -- late April or early May. If that test goes off on schedule, and if the results are good, I wouldn't anticipate that there'd be a delay in the Defense [sic] Readiness Review.

And that's scheduled for June.

But there are a lot of "ifs" in there. And I think we have to be governed by the findings, by really the science of the operation and the technology. And we'll take it from there. We are not going to rush ahead if we don't understand what the problems are and if we don't think we have a good solution.


Q: Ken, what went right? I take it most systems functioned perfectly, and it was just a minimal failure at the end. Is that correct?

Mr. Bacon: Well, it was a minimal failure at the end, but this is a system that has to work. And although when deployed, it will be deployed in a way to give us several shots at incoming target, we want to increase our chances by having every single one work as well as expected.

So we think that the battle management control system worked; at least the early indications are that it did work. And the significant part of this test was that that, the crucial battle management control system, was integrated for the first time into the test. And it appears that that did work as expected or as predicted.

It appears that the radars worked as predicted. So those are two good signs. It appears that most of the interceptor systems worked as predicted, but not for the final seconds of the flight, and that was the problem. So now we have to figure out what caused the problem and how to fix it.

Yes, Jim?

Q: There are pretty clear and obvious political benefits to making these decisions after three tests. But what's not clear to me is what the technical -- what is magical about the technology, about what you will know after three tests, that drives a decision in June rather than after four tests or 10 tests or something? What's special about three?

Mr. Bacon: There are a lot of judgment calls built into this. But you have to remember that we are building this system in the first place because we face a threat. And it takes a long while to develop, build, and deploy such a system. And we want to get going on that schedule, as soon as possible, because one of the lessons we learned from the Rumsfeld Commission, and other studies, is that there is a threat and the threat is nearer-term than we once thought.

So we want to be ready. And it's just a matter of working out a schedule that we think meets our national security needs. We think we're on that schedule.

But we've made no bones about the fact that it's an extremely demanding and challenging schedule. And it's one that requires an awful lot of hard work on the basic technology of this difficult system.

So I think it's premature to think about slipping the schedule at this stage, because we're -- work through in a very professional fashion the problems we've got, try to solve them, and keep to the schedule, if we can.

Q: But probably, Ken -- probably the better way to ask that is, how can you recommend with some confidence -- with some confidence -- that this program will work after only three tasks -- a very expensive program? I mean, if the Congress has demanded that you prove the F-22 is viable before going ahead with production on it, how can you recommend with some confidence that it's going to work after only three?

Mr. Bacon: Well, this is --

Q: It's a very expensive program.

Mr. Bacon: Well, this is a judgment that we will have to make at the appropriate time. But based on the best knowledge of the people who are running the program, we think that if this test schedule works, if we can maintain the current schedule -- in other words, get the third test done in April or May -- and if it works out, that will give us enough confidence in the major elements of the system to decide to go forward.

Now if -- and that is something we've known was a challenge from the very beginning. It's no less of a challenge now. It's no more of a challenge now. As I said, there's an element of judgment in this, and the people who are putting this program together think that three tests will give them a good foundation for making a deployment readiness recommendation.

Yes, Pam?

Q: Different subject: Do you know anything about the U.N. mine-detection folks? I think that a Canadian and a Swede disappeared yesterday in Kosovo.

Mr. Bacon: I'm afraid I don't, no.


Q: Yeah. Could I go back to the missile defense for a second? Have you received any of the results of the 48-hour review, and if so, do they indicate anything different than what we heard yesterday?

Mr. Bacon: I haven't. And of course, 48 hours isn't over.

Q: Secondly, when you talked about the third test and the -- if it succeeds, you'll find a basis for a favorable decision, have the terms of success been defined fully yet?

Mr. Bacon: Well, the ballistic missile defense organization has said that their minimum standards for recommending a move forward would be two hit-to-kill tests, one of which is an integrated systems test. We've had one hit-to-kill test and we've got one more test left. So we'll have to see what happens. I just -- the point I'm trying to make is I think it's too early to prejudge the program based -- Just as it was too early based on the test last October, the successful test, to say everything is fine, this program is going ahead with no problems, it's too early to say, based on Tuesday's test, that the program is deeply troubled or flawed. We don't know that. And we still have one more test, and that will be a very important test, obviously.

Yes, Steve?

Q: On the security concerns you mentioned the demand for this program. Should we understand that basically the question that will be on the table in the next few months is whether to make a decision to go ahead or whether to delay the program; that the option of simply scuttling the program is probably not one that's going to be considered at this point?

Mr. Bacon: Well, this is a decision, obviously, that the president has to make, and I'm going to be the last person to prejudge his decision or to try to give him the terms for making the decision. But remember, this is a program that has considerable congressional support because of the perceived threat, and it has considerable support in this building because of the perceived threat. So we'll have to weigh a whole series of factors. One clearly is, can we do it: is the technology there; will the program work? The second is the threat: has the threat changed, has it gotten worse; has it gotten -- has the threat increased or decreased? He'll obviously have to look at the cost of the program and look at whether the schedule as laid out by the Defense Department is a reasonable schedule. Those are a number -- and clearly, the president will have to look at the diplomatic implications of moving ahead with this program.

And that involves where discussions with the Russians stand, as well as where discussions with our allies and other countries stand. So those are all factors that the president will have to weigh.

But what got us into this program in the first place was the, I think, irrefutable fact that countries that are unfriendly to us are working very hard to build delivery systems for weapons of mass destruction. Whether they are North Korea, whether it's Iraq, whether it's Iran, we know that there are countries working very hard to build ballistic missile systems.

And that's why we are working hard to develop, first, theater ballistic missile defenses for our troops in the Gulf, or in Asia or elsewhere, and a national missile defense system, to protect us against a very limited potential attack from one of these unfriendly nations.

So I don't think the threat has gone away; I don't think it has diminished. But it's always possible that we could end up having certain diplomatic breakthroughs or new intelligence assessments that would give us a different view of the threat. And these are the factors that the president and his team will have to weigh, after he gets a Deployment Readiness Review from the Defense Department.

Q: But realistically -- I mean, if we just talk about the DOD recommendation, basically the options are: Let's go ahead, or let's push back the date for this decision. I mean, those are probably the options that will be considered.

Mr. Bacon: Yeah. I think that we have made a major commitment to this program. We see it as an important defense program. And that's why we put so much time and money into what is a very technologically challenging program.


Q: Ken, what is your reaction to the campaign by a number of law professors in various NATO countries, who are arguing that NATO should be investigated for war crimes, and perhaps even prosecuted for war crimes, during the bombing of Yugoslavia?

Mr. Bacon: Well, I think it's, one, misguided; and, two, betrays a certain amount of ignorance of how we conducted the bombing over Kosovo; and, three, completely overlooks or misstates the facts of what we were doing in Kosovo.

Remember, the Kosovo campaign was launched after diplomatic efforts failed, and we certainly gave Milosevic and his team many opportunities to negotiate peacefully an end to the violence and the depredations against the Kosovar Albanians. Those diplomatic efforts did not work because he didn't seize the moment.

We made it very clear that the price of refusing to agree to a diplomatic resolution would be the use of force, and we used force as surgically and as delicately as possible, taking extraordinary actions, I think, to hold civilian casualties to a minimum. The fact is that combat is dangerous and it's messy, and you can't be 100 percent sure that there won't be collateral damage from time to time. But we took every possible step to avoid that. The real issue here is what steps did he take to hold down casualties in Kosovo, and I think darn few steps. This is a -- these arguments just don't seem to add up, to my mind.

Q: Has the United States received any assurances from the International War Crimes Tribunal that no member of the U.S. military is currently under investigation for any war crimes?

Mr. Bacon: Well, they've made no announcement that any member is under investigation.

Yes, Jim?

Q: You mentioned earlier on the NMD that the threat has not gone away and has not decreased, leaving open the possibility that it might have increased. Is there any new assessment that the threat is more serious in the last few weeks, few months than --

Mr. Bacon: I'm not aware that any expected developments have taken place -- unexpected developments -- I'm not aware that there have been any unexpected developments or progress.


Q: Ken, apparently the U.S. military support presence in Haiti is coming to an end this week. Can you give us a bit of information about that? And why haven't we heard anything about it, any announcements from the Pentagon?

Mr. Bacon: Well, first of all, it doesn't officially end until January 31st. We are down to four people left in the permanent support group in Haiti, and they will go on January 31st.

We made a decision some months ago to pull out the permanent support group in -- or to pull out the support group in Haiti -- it was based mainly in Port-au-Prince -- and to replace that with a series of intermittent military exercises called New Horizons. This is a name that applies to exercises that we conduct throughout the Southern Hemisphere in the area of operations for the Southern Command, and they tend to be engineering exercises, medical readiness exercises. The exercises we conducted to repair Central America, after Hurricane Mitch last year, were New Horizons exercises.

So, on Tuesday 126 people left Haiti -- part of the support group.

There are four remaining there, and they're basically turning out the lights, shutting down the mission, making sure that the final bureaucratic paper-keeping tasks are taken care of.

And the latest New Horizons has started to arrive. It's not going to Port-au-Prince; it's going to Cap Haitien, and it will concentrate on some engineering projects as well as some medical projects. They'll be working on schools and things like that. They are exclusively, I believe, a Guard and Reserve units. There is a medical unit from the Wyoming National Guard in Cheyenne; there are some engineers, Air Force engineers, from Nellis Air Force Base; some military police from the Army at Fort Polk; some translators from the Army at Fort Hood and Fort Bragg; and some communicators from the Air Force, Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. And there are 120 people setting up a base camp at Cap Haitien now and Task Force Creole will come in and do some engineering and some medical readiness projects. They will be there approximately through the end of March, with various units circulating in and out, working in this New Horizons task force.

Then we will have other New Horizons, at least one more New Horizons iteration there before the end of the year.

Q: So were the efforts of the U.S. military there a success, Ken? How do you assess that?

Mr. Bacon: Well, I think we had some very notable successes, yes. And -- you have to go back to 1994 when this began. We were being flooded by refugees trying to escape a merciless dictatorship known for crime and corruption. The flood of refugees has stopped, the dictatorship was replaced by a democratically elected government. That government was then replaced again in a peaceful transfer of authority after elections. So in those respects, I think that it was a success.

We always knew from the beginning that the U.S. military was not going to be able to rebuild or remold Haiti. In the end, this is something that only the Haitians can do for themselves. But the military has been instrumental in training a civilian police force. It's been instrumental in giving them a period of stability during which they've held some elections. It's been instrumental in providing some engineering and medical and other support to rebuild parts of the country, or to help them rebuild parts of their country. So in those areas, I think it's been a success.

Q: What was the cost, do you know?

Mr. Bacon: I don't know the cost. That's a good question. I'll try to get you the cost, but I just don't know.


Q: What was generally the -- what was the military -- the U.S. military role in recent years, and just do you have any round numbers of what the troop levels were in recent years? Has this last year or two -- has this been a pattern -- there have been thousands of U.S. troops in Haiti, or just hundreds or several hundred or --

Mr. Bacon: Hundreds. I think we've probably had around 400 recently. Of course, we had 20,000 when we moved in on September 19th, 1994, and built up very quickly to 20,000 troops. They spread out under the command of Lieutenant General Shelton, at the time, throughout Haiti. And then the size of the force came down over the years. I mean, we could give you a chart showing how it's come down. But for the last year or so, I think there have been about 400 people there.

Q: I guess my question is, at some point it became a U.N. mission --

Mr. Bacon: Right.

Q: -- and do you when that was? And then after that point, what was essentially the U.S. military role? Has the U.S. in recent years still been providing security, or has it all been limited to civil support functions? Or what has the U.S. --

Mr. Bacon: There have been some civil support functions. We've trained. We set up an academy to train Haitian national police members at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. And people were screened in Haiti, brought up to Fort Leonard Wood, trained, outfitted, and sent back to Haiti to provide a civilian police presence.

I think the U.N. mission -- I'd have to go back and review the dates. I don't know when it became primarily a U.N. mission. I think -- '96 sticks in my mind, but I'm not certain about that.


Q: Ken, what are the plans for the visit of the Chinese general next week? I know he's going to meet with Walter Slocombe, but is he going to meet with the secretary? Are you going to have an availability? What about that?

Mr. Bacon: Well, he's -- he will have a brief meeting with Secretary Cohen. We don't plan a press availability after that, or before it.

Q: Is that Monday?

Mr. Bacon: It will be later in the week, I think Wednesday, that he meets with the secretary.

Q: Is he going to get an honors greeting or anything like that? I mean, is it going to be kept generally low profile?

Mr. Bacon: Well, I mean, he's mainly coming here to meet on a whole variety of issues, and, you know, we will review -- this is part of an effort, obviously, to rebuild our relationship after the mistaken attack against the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. It's an effort to rebuild contacts and discussions between the U.S. and the Chinese militaries. So discussions will cover a wide range of areas. He will -- we will talk about our -- compare our strategic assessments of the 21st century. We will talk about the geopolitical conditions in the Asia Pacific. We will talk about our military modernization programs in the two countries, just a variety of things we'll talk about.

We'll also talk about what sort of military relationship we should have during the year 2000, what sort of visits there should be, whether there are exchanges of leaders, whether there are ship visits, et cetera. That's the type of thing that we'll discuss. And he will also -- the person who is coming is Lieutenant General Xiong Guangkai -- will meet with some China experts and also some members of Congress while he's here. He's the deputy chief of the General Staff and is the military representative of President Jiang Zemin.

So there will be several days of discussions with a wide variety of people, and as I said, will cover a fairly wide number of issues. And there will be no honors when he arrives.

Q: Has he expressed a desire not to have an availability, or could we ask, if it's amenable to him, to maybe get Slocombe, he and Slocombe to answer questions?

Mr. Bacon: I think it would be -- I encourage you to ask the Chinese Embassy if he is prepared to have a media availability.

Q: Will Secretary Cohen express regret or apologies for the bombing of the embassy when he meets him?

Mr. Bacon: I think we have already done that on many occasions.


Q: On Russia. Russia has published a new national security concept that underscores its reliance on its nuclear arsenal to guarantee its security. Is that something that's troubling to the Pentagon, the United States?

Mr. Bacon: I don't think there's a radical change in its doctrine. Let me just read you two statements. This is from 1997.

Russia said, "Russia reserves" -- this is in a strategic concept paper of 1997 -- "Russia reserves the right to use all the forces and systems at its disposal, including nuclear weapons, if the unleashing of armed aggression results in a threat to the actual existence of the Russian Federation as an independent sovereign state."

So they make it clear that, in response to aggression against the Russian Federation, they can use the full panoply of weapons in their arsenal.

And the 2000, the one that just came out, it says: "The application of all forces and means, including nuclear weapons if necessary, to repel armed aggression, if all other measures for resolving the crisis situation have been exhausted or have proven ineffective." So the idea that they reserve the right to use nuclear weapons to protect themselves against an attack is not new.

Yes, Bill?

Q: Ken, could I go back into the area of rogue nations with the potential missile threat to the United States?

Question one is: Is North Korea, Iraq and Iran, are those the only three nations you would consider rogue nations that might threaten the U.S.? Or could there be --

Mr. Bacon: I think we have to be alert to threats from a range of nations and also from non-national actors, such as terrorists.

Q: "Such as terrorists"? That's what I was going to ask.

Mr. Bacon: I answered the question for you. (Laughter.) It shows how responsive we are here at the Pentagon. (Laughter.)

Q: Excellent. Thanks.

And then finally I would ask, of the three types of weapons of mass destruction, is it really feasible -- a real possibility that biological and chemical weapons would be placed on an ICBM and used against the U.S., or is it more likely that a nuclear weapon would be the weapon of choice?

Mr. Bacon: I think it's much easier to weaponize chemical or biological agents than it is to make a nuclear weapon. And because it's much easier to do that, we can't rule out that that would be a chosen way to attack the United States, should somebody try to do that. Obviously, we take every step we can to discourage these attacks.

Q: Thank you.

Mr. Bacon: Pam?

Q: Could you state the U.S. policy on the use of nuclear weapons? Is it any different from Russia's?

Mr. Bacon: We maintain a variety of weapons to deter attacks against us and against our forces, and we reserve the right to use them if necessary.

Q: We don't have a "no first strike" limitation that we put on ourselves?

Mr. Bacon: I think I have just stated what our policy is.

Q: Thank you.

"This transcript was prepared by the Federal News Service, Inc., Washington DC. Federal News Service is a private company. For other defense related transcripts not available through this site, contact Federal News Service at (202) 347-1400."

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