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DoD News Briefing: Defense Ministerial Overview at NATO Headquarters

Presenter: Defense Ministerial Overview at NATO Headquarters
June 12, 1997 12:10 PM EDT

Walter Slocombe, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy

[Joining Secretary Slocombe in this briefing is Ambassador Robert Hunter]

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon, this first of all is on the record, secondly it's Walter Slocombe, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, and Robert Hunter, the United States Ambassador to NATO. Walt will start off with some opening remarks, and then we'll take your questions.

Secretary Slocombe: What I'd like to do briefly is to review the events of this morning and then to outline some of the issues which we expect will come up in the rest of the meeting. This is the last NATO ministerial-level meeting before the Summit in Madrid. So of course, the focus is on issues which will come up there. But it also is addressing NATO's core military business, the annual force planning guidance, the nuclear planning group, and also will discuss issues related to Bosnia. In the nuclear planning group this morning, Secretary Cohen reviewed the United States' continuing commitment to nuclear disarmament, and the status of arms control -- particularly, our desire to complete the ratification of the START II agreements, and move on immediately to further substantial reductions under START III. There was also a briefing on Russian strategic command and control which laid out for the allies, our understanding of the system and the basis for our conclusion that despite real concerns for the future, and various press reports, the United States believes that Russian command and control of strategic nuclear forces is now adequate. But it does bear watching as the Secretary has said in May when he addressed this subject when then Defense Minister Rodionov was in Washington. The DPC, the Defense Planning Committee, is the NATO body which deals with the force planning process. In the course of that meeting this morning, the Secretary briefed on the quadrennial defense review in general, and particularly its implications for the Alliance. He pointed out that it represents a commitment to an active U.S. role in international affairs, and to the military forces necessary to sustain it, and in particular, the U.S. decision to retain a force level of about 100,000 here in Europe. It was in that connection that he made the point that it continues to be essential for the Allies to meet the goals which have been set at previous Defense planning exercises to improve the flexibility and mobility of NATO . . . the NATO European military forces. A NATO enlargement will make this decision, which is already important, all the more important.

In the course of the rest of the meeting, we expect that there will be discussion of enlargement issues, of Bosnia -- in particular the importance of emphasizing the civil implementation during the remaining 12 months of SFOR's presence in Bosnia. My understanding is that there will be a discussion among the Ministers at lunch . . . the implications of the NATO Russia agreement which was just reached. And we will also be talking about the ways to improve and deepen the activities of the Partnership for Peace in the context of allowing that to be a structure for countries both who are aspirants to become NATO members, and for those who choose to cooperate with NATO but remain outside the structure of the Alliance. With that background Ambassador Hunter and I will be pleased to try to address your questions.

Q: You say the issue of NATO enlargement has not yet been discussed . . .

A: The agenda for the meeting is such that it comes up in discussions this afternoon. The Secretary will be meeting with the press this afternoon, and I assume will address that issue.

Q: The Secretary indicated to us on the aircraft that he felt personally that while they emphasized that no decision, or formal decision, he felt personally that he hopes more in terms of what . . . {inaudible].

A: I would be surprised if the Secretary said anything different to the Ministers than what he said to the press last night on the plane.

Ambassador Hunter: Let me add one word, that clearly we will also be emphasizing whatever numbers are arrived at. That the door to other countries remains open. Just as part of a package is not a once for all deal. This is the first time since we took in Spain that NATO will be taking in new members but there are going to be other enlargements and there will be a vigorous program, statements and actions, to make that clear to countries that are not invited.

Q: Mr. Secretary. Was the initiative of President Yeltsin about the nuclear missiles proposed in Paris discussed today?

Secretary Slocombe: It was referred to briefly, and it is, as we understand it, it is a de-targeting decision, which is a welcome gesture on the part of the Russians. For quite a long time now, neither the Russian . . . United States missiles have not been targeted on Russia and Russian missiles haven't been targeted on the Untied States. And if this represent, as we understand it does, represents an extension of that principle to all NATO countries, it's a welcome development.

Q: Is it now the official position of the United States, that only three countries should be invited to join?

A: No, as the Secretary said last night the President has not yet made a decision. He did meet last night, the President did meet last night, with the Senate NATO observers group, and discuss this issue and I would expect a decision fairly shortly. But no decision has been made.

Q: On Bosnia. Is there a feeling that the mandate should be extended and that there would be a request for the U.N. to extend the mandate?

A: I expect the communique will say the exact opposite, that the end date will end in June of 1998, as has been scheduled from the beginning.

Q: Would the general feeling be that they should stay . . . [inaudible] . . . opposite in some countries that they should stay, the mandate should be extended?

A: I think there is a very broad consensus within the Alliance that rather than argue now about what should happen in June of 1998, it is important to operate within the framework of the decision which NATO made last year -- late last year -- which is that SFOR has an 18-month duration. That gives us time to do very important work to improve the stability in the country. The United States has made clear that it is our expectation, our view, that the mandate, the authority, the operation of SFOR will end as scheduled. And that we should operate within that context.

There is a very strong sentiment that we have 13 months to press the civilian side in the full range of activities that are required in order to help the peoples of Bosnia chart their own fu... [remainder of transcript lost]