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DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)
September 30, 1997 3:10 PM EDT

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon. I apologize for being late.

General Henry U. Shelton was sworn in this afternoon as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs in a small ceremony with his family. He wanted the focus of the day to be on General Shalikashvili's retirement ceremony, which maybe some of you saw, so he asked that the ceremony be kept private.

I'd like to just fill you in a little on what he'll be doing over the next couple of days and weeks.

First, he spent yesterday meeting with Secretary Cohen, with National Security Advisor Berger, with General Shalikashvili, General Ralston and others here. Today he met with the CINCs, or he is meeting with the CINCs and the Commanders in Chief of the Unified Commands and the Service Chiefs. This afternoon he'll leave for the Defense Ministerial meeting in Maastricht in the Netherlands. Secretary Cohen will also be there at that meeting. It's standard that both Defense Ministers and Chiefs of Defense go to these meetings from the 16 NATO countries.

Q: Are they going together?

A: They are going separately, because Secretary Cohen is going on to Bulgaria and then to Bosnia and ending up in France, where General Shelton will be coming back from.

On Wednesday, General Shelton will go back to Europe and he'll have meetings at EUCOM and he'll meet with the German Minister of Defense Volker Ruehe in Bonn, and other German defense officials. He'll meet with Chiefs of Defense from the United Kingdom, Germany, and France, and he'll also visit Bosnia.

October 16th he'll go down to the new SOUTHCOM Headquarters in Miami to participate in the dedication of the new building there and to commemorate the move of SOUTHCOM from Panama to Miami.

In November, he will go to Korea for the annual Security Consultative Commission meetings, and Secretary Cohen will also attend those meetings as part of his Asian trip in November.

With that, I'll take your questions.

Q: A point of clarification on something. You said Wednesday, next Wednesday he'll be going back to...

A: I'm sorry. He will... Yes. He comes back and then, as I understand it... He'll be in Europe tomorrow, which is Wednesday. He'll come back. The meeting ends on Thursday. Presumably he'll come back Thursday night, spend a couple of days here, and then go back to Europe a week from tomorrow.

Q: When does the Bosnia thing fit into that then?

A: On that trip to Europe, he will also go to Bosnia -- next week. Secretary Cohen's going to Bosnia this week. He'll be in Bosnia on Saturday, and General Shelton will be in Bosnia next week.

Q: Secretary Cohen's discussions in Europe, how will he pursue the question about possible presence of military forces in Bosnia beyond June?

A: He will state what Mr. Berger, the National Security Advisor, and Secretary Albright have already said, which is that the job right now is to concentrate on what to do today, tomorrow and the next day. We have nine months to prepare for June of '98 when the NATO SFOR mission ends. What we have to do is concentrate now on making that work. We will get, later, to the question of what happens in June of '98 or after June of '98.

Q: ...Berger's speech?

A: You can tell I read his speech. [Laughter]

Q: He won't be raising the subjects with his counterparts or others...

A: He will be stressing the need to continue on the path we're on now to do everything we can to build a stronger foundation for peace and to make it possible for the current SFOR mission to end in June of '98.

Q: There will be no discussion on the issue of extending beyond June of '98?

A: I can't predict what other people will bring up. I can tell you what Secretary Cohen plans to say to his colleagues in Maastricht.

Q: I understand that Secretary Cohen is any day now supposed to decide on whether or not the Army should test its laser, it's MIRACL laser. Has that happened yet? Or can you give us an idea as to when...

A: First, he's not made the decision; and two, as a result, nothing's happened. [Laughter]

Q: What's the window for the test having to occur?

A: It seems to change, but I think relatively soon. It would have to occur relatively soon. I think the Secretary will finish evaluating the material he's gotten from the staff and make the decision relatively soon. But it isn't made yet, and it probably won't be made today.

Q: Can you just run through the point of the test if it is approved?

A: The point of the test will be to test the vulnerability of our satellites. It's a test to gather information and gather data about the vulnerability of our satellites. So it would be a, if the test occurs, and as I say, no final decision has been made, it would be a relatively brief illumination of an existing satellite that's reaching the end of its life in order to give us data on the types of threats satellites could face, and to give us data on how satellites can respond to brief illuminations.

Q: Isn't it also just testing how the MIRACL's function, does it function properly, and so forth?

A: The primary purpose of the test is to collect data on the vulnerability of satellites. Obviously to test the vulnerability of satellites or to gather data you have to have data on propagation of lasers, on the conditions under which lasers work effectively and don't work effectively, so we'll be getting data on both ends of the test, obviously -- the laser and the satellite. But the main purpose of the test is to gather information about satellites.

Q: You said no final decision has been made. Is there a preliminary one?

A: No decision has been made.

Q: I have one more question on it. Two or three years ago the Hill removed the language that was an impediment to these types of tests. With that gone, I guess I just don't understand why it's taking so long. It has been awhile. The issue's been on the Secretary's desk. What's taking so long? What is he actually mulling here?

A: The Secretary's asked for a lot of information from his staff, from the Army, and he's evaluating that information. He just got the package, I think, what he hopes will be the final package yesterday or today, so it's not that he's been sitting around reading this thing for a long period of time. I believe he's just gotten it. So at the appropriate time -- he'll spend whatever time it takes to sort through this. He may talk to some people further about it and make up his mind.

Q: I guess what I'm getting at is what is there to look at? International treaty implications, or...

A: He's looking at what we're going to learn from the test. Clearly, this has been an issue of great interest on the Hill in the past. As you point out, there was legislative language proscribing these tests in the past, so he's been talking to some people on the Hill about it, he's been talking to other people in the government about it, and he's been talking to people in the building about it. He's now got a package that lays out what the test is designed to accomplish, what we hope to learn from the test, it evaluates what the probability is that we'll learn what we hope to learn from it, and he'll make up his mind.

Q: Has he or will he consult with the State Department on this?

A: Certainly his staff has consulted with the State Department, and we've consulted with people in the government on it.

Q: So a large part of the package also has to do with treaty implications?

A: We do not believe that this test violates any treaty. This is not a test against a missile. It is a test to gauge the vulnerability of one of our satellites.

Q: Why the Secretary's decision? Why not the Secretary of one of the services? Is it by statute that it has to be elevated so high?

A: It's not in a statute that it has to be elevated so high, but as I said, this has been an issue of great concern to Congress in the past, and to others, and the Secretary just wants to be sure that the decision is a solid one. He is the Secretary of Defense. It's his job to make important decisions. This is one that he's chosen to make.

Q: Critics say this would be basically breaching the gap... Would be the first conduct of a military offensive operation in space, and that's breaking down the threshold in Star Wars from that point on. This is not just collecting data on missile vulnerability. It becomes...

A: This has nothing to do with missiles. This has to do with satellites. I want to be very clear about this. It has nothing to do with missiles.

Q: I misspoke. But it is, in fact become, it's being seen as the first offensive military action in space.

A: I can't control how people see it. No decision has been made to do this test. If the test is done it will be performed to gather data on satellite vulnerability. There are lasers all over the world; many countries have lasers. It would be done as a prudent attempt to gather information about the vulnerability of our own satellites.

Q: There are a lot of critics who say this would spell the beginning of the militarization of space. Is that one of the reasons why the Secretary's taking so long or is mulling over this slowly? Are there countries or organizations coming to him saying don't do this? There's some sort of lobbying campaign going on to try to convince him not to?

A: The fact that Congress specifically barred the Secretary of Defense from carrying out the Mid Infrared Advanced Chemical Laser test, that's MIRACL, in 1985 suggests that this is an issue that deserves considerable scrutiny, and that's what he's giving it.

Q: Could simulations or some other way of... Is there some other way of collecting similar data without doing this test?

A: There may be, and that's one of the things the Secretary could look at in the course of making his decision. Alternatives... what we gain from doing the test and what we lose from not doing the test, and whether there are alternatives to doing this test.

Q: When was the congressional prohibition lifted?

A: I believe it expired... it was not included in language in FY96 or FY97. It was just included in language enacted in FY95. So, essentially, because the language didn't continue, it ended with FY95. And the language only dealt with FY95.

Any more questions on this?

Q: There was a report that the Defense Intelligence Agency, DIA, recently held a kind of seminar on the Greek/Turkish difference over the Aegean at Bolling Air Force Base. I would like to know the purpose of this meeting, the agenda, and the names of the participants including also those from the Greek and Turkish side.

A: Bolling Air Force Base? The DIA does hold conferences from time to time with academic experts on a variety of topics. This is done to stimulate thinking, to make sure that we're looking outside of narrow boxes, getting broad views of what's happening in the world, and to allow us to talk to people who challenge our own thinking. There was such a conference held in mid-July at Bolling Air Force Base, and they were mainly academic people from places like the University of Indiana and King College in Ontario. There were no official representatives from either Greece or Turkey at this conference. It was a one day discussion of this topic -- views on the possibility of reconciliation between Turkey and Greece.

Q: All the participants were Americans?

A: There was a Canadian there. I don't have a full list of the participants, but typically in a situation like this they invite prominent academics, people who have written articles for the International Institute of Strategic Studies or Foreign Affairs or Foreign Policy; maybe people from universities who are known for courses on the current situation in the Aegean or on Turkish or Greek history in modern times. They sit down with government officials and they talk. The sometimes present papers, and then other people will critique the papers, say this is brilliant or not brilliant, it's on course, off course. But the whole idea is to stimulate new thinking on important topics. Certainly the idea of reconciliation and peace in the Aegean is an important topic.

Q: As you might know, Mr. Bacon, the Turkish government instructed its military leadership for preventive strikes against the Republic of Cypress on the basis of the so-called [unintelligible] missiles. Do you have any knowledge at the Pentagon if any parts of the missiles have been arrived in Cypress, and what is the Pentagon position on this matter from the military point?

A: First of all, I think that you should appropriately ask the government Cypress whether the missiles have arrived. I have no information suggesting that the missiles have arrived.

We have said -- I have not said, but the State Department has said many times, and I agree with what the State Department said, that this is a bad idea to deploy these missiles, and it will create tension where we need peace. It will create friction and hostility where we need reconciliation. So our policy, the policy of the U.S. government on that is very clear.

Q: One more question on the Aegean. On September 24th Secretary of State Madeleine Albright via her spokesman stated that there are additional Greek/Turkish territorial disputes over the Aegean Sea beyond [unintelligible], that recognize for the first time Turkish claims against the territorial integrity of Greece, something that has been confirmed yesterday also by the White House. I wonder if you have been advised at the Department of Defense for the change of the U.S. policy via-a-vis to the Aegean Sea, and how from now on are you going to handle your immediate activity over the sea and air space of those disputed areas?

A: You're asking me about the island of Alimia? Did you ask me about that?

Q: I said the Secretary of State right now says that there are additional territorial disputes beyond Alimia.

A: Oh. Well, the last time I talked about territorial disputes I created a huge diplomatic disaster, so I've... [laughter] ...decided to leave that comment entirely to the State Department. They deal with territories and boundaries. They're the appropriate spokespeople on this, so I refer you to my friend and colleague Jamie Ruben.

Q: What is the reaction of the Defense Department, the view, to the article, Monday's article in the Post by Mr. Farrah about the Russian Mafia joining with the Latin drug cartels, I believe the Colombian drug cartel, the Cali Cartel, specifically with regard to recent undercover operations that detected attempts by the Russian groups to sell Colombia drug traffickers a submarine, helicopters, surface-to-air missiles, and according to Customs, two tactical nuclear weapons, at least, have been offered for sale. Is there alarm in the Defense Department at this union of the mafias?

A: Without getting into any details about the organization of international organized crime cartels -- if they are organized, and if they're working together -- we are certainly concerned about the impact of organized crime in Russia, and we're certainly concerned about the impact of the drug business in Mexico. We've made that clear in the past. It's been our policy, it remains our policy.

The FBI actually has an office in Moscow, I believe, to work with the Russians on crime issues, and you know that we work hand in glove with the Mexicans as closely as we can on stopping international narcotics trafficking.

I'm not qualified to get in, this is more of a Justice Department issue than it is a Defense Department issue on how crime elements in these two countries might be connected.

Q: ...for the purpose of sophisticated, former Soviet weaponry imported into the Western Hemisphere is not a concern of the DoD?

A: We're very concerned about proliferation. We have a very active policy to deal with proliferation. In Russia, it's the Nunn/Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction policy.

We're going to have a report to release, I believe, toward the end of October called the "Proliferation Threat and Response" which is the second iteration of a proliferation report we put out a couple of years ago, I think two years ago. A very complete rundown of what we see to be the proliferation problems that are being faced in the world today, how we're dealing with them as a military, and how we're dealing with them as a country.

I don't want to get into details now, but I think you'll find it very interesting, given your interest in this topic.

Q: Do you have a reaction to the CSIS report that Mr. Bill Webster was part of releasing yesterday where he said that safeguards of nuclear weapons and fissionable materials in Russia were deteriorating and that this could... Do you have a reaction to that?

A: Mr. Webster certainly is an expert on this field, having served as Director of both the FBI and the Central Intelligence Agency. I can't comment directly on his report except to say that we take proliferation very seriously, and we have been working very hard with the government of Russia to try to help it improve its controls over nuclear weapons. We've had some notable successes in this area with former Soviet states. One was Project Sapphire, bringing back nearly 600 kilograms of highly enriched uranium from Kazakhstan in 1994. We've continued to work on this, and will with the Russian government.

Q: Can you give us a readout on the agenda for the CINCs conference with General Shelton today? Is that two days? Are they talking about...

A: I'm afraid the Joint Staff will have to do that. I just haven't, I'm not up to date on that.

Q: The Iranians and the Iraqis had a little air-to-air engagement a few days ago. Did they at any time get close to the no-fly zone or were they in the no-fly zone?

A: Certainly the Iranians were in the no-fly zone since they flew over two targets on Iraq, so they did violate the no-fly zone. Since then, Iraq has sporadically violated the no-fly zone, that type of thing.

We have a long-standing policy which we have articulated in strong words and demonstrated with our Air Force, enforced with our Air Force and our Navy of enforcing the no-fly zone. Our policy to Iraq is very clear. We take enforcement of the no-fly zone seriously, and we will continue to enforce it.

Q: Were U.S. planes locked on on any of the other two parties? Either of the two parties?

A: First of all, the events took place largely at night time. Our patrols of the no-fly zone are generally during daylight hours. We're up there most daylight hours.

Remember what the purpose of the no-fly zone is. It's to prevent Iraq from being able to marshal an attack against its neighbors or against its own people. We will continue to enforce the no-fly zone just as we have in the past.

Q: Also against the Iranians?

A: The problem is that our pilots can't easily discriminate between planes. If they see a threatening plane, they have rules of engagement that allow them to deal with that plane. It may be difficult for them to make a distinction between an Irani and an Iraqi plane, particularly at long distance.

So we have made it clear to Iran that flights such as the one they made on September 28th complicate -- September 28th our time; I guess it was September 29th Iraqi time -- complicate the enforcement of the no-fly zone.

Q: Any response from Iran?

A: Not that I'm aware of. Except they haven't made any more flights.

Q: Does that also apply to Turkish strikes in Iran and Iraq?

A: The Turkish situation is slightly different, as you know, because Turkey is enforcing, is moving against rebel or hostile troops who are mobilizing in Iraq against Turkish interests, so there are Turkish flights that enforce their own defense in the northern no-fly zone.

Q: So you are saying that if Iranian aircraft flew into the American-declared no-fly zone that they are at risk of being shot down by American aircraft if they...

A: They could be at risk of...

Q: You've communicated that to the Iranians, that you'll pop them if they...

A: We have communicated to the Iranians that they could be at risk, yes -- that the no-fly zone is a no-fly zone. The southern no-fly zone is a no-fly zone. That means no flights from Iraqi or others.

Q: How have you communicated this to Iran?

A: We communicate with them through the Swiss [corrected to British].

Q: With the exception of (unintelligible) of course.

A: I'm talking about the southern no-fly zone.

Q: Excuse me?

A: I'm talking about the no-fly zone south of the... That's where the Iranian incursion was.

Q: (Unintelligible). It's in the same situation also. It's a no-fly zone, too.

A: It's a no-fly zone, and Turkey, we do not believe, undercuts our ability to enforce the no-fly zone because all their flights are coordinated with our flights.

Q: But the Iranians were striking targets inside Iraq that were forces marshaled against them too, weren't they?

A: The Iranian flights were not coordinated with our flights, and they were -- you'll have to ask the Iranians what they were doing.

Q: If they are coordinated with the United States, it's okay for them to bomb targets inside...

A: I didn't say that. What we've told the Iranians is that incursions into the no-fly zone complicate our enforcement of the no-fly zone and could put their planes at risk.

Q: You made the point that it was difficult to discriminate between Iraqi and Iranian planes. Isn't that a moot point if you're saying that the Iranians are not allowed to fly, either Iraqi or Iranian? Or does it matter? In distinguishing between the two.

A: It could matter to an Iranian pilot who was mistaken as an Iraqi pilot in the no-fly zone.

Q: You're saying it doesn't matter whether it's Iranian or Iraqi, aren't you?

A: I'm saying it complicates our enforcement and we might have a hard time discriminating between an Iraqi and an Iranian plane.

Q: Why would the discrimination be important if both are prohibited from flying in the...

A: The difficulty in discriminating is just another way of telling Iran that there are some dangers to violating the no-fly zone.

Q: Do you have any idea of the Iranian planes. Were they the F-14 (inaudible) or something else.

A: No, they were F-4s.

Q: At what level was the United States dealing with the Iranians through the Swiss in communicating this message? Was that the Pentagon, was that the State Department?

A: The Pentagon usually doesn't handle diplomatic communications, so it would have been handled by other parts of the government.

Q: Can you be any more specific?

A: No.

Q: What did the Iraqis send back against the Iranians? Do you have that, too?

A: Nothing directly in that, I mean nothing that went head to head with them because by the time they responded the Iranians were long gone, but they sent back MIGs.

Q: Do you have any idea what type?

A: [MIG] 21s and 23s. But there was not a chase. Several hours elapsed before there was any Iraqi air activity.

Q: How about ground radar? Did it light up in the no-fly zone on the Iraqi side? Are you aware of it at the activity level?

A: I think all I can say about that is that the Iranian planes got in and out.

Q: With nothing being fired.

A: With no trouble.

Q: Is the ground radar which has been problematic for the United States, is it more active these days since that incursion?

A: I don't believe it is generally more active since that incursion because we've made it very clear to the Iraqis in the past that if our planes are painted, they can respond.

Q: Are we providing any support through our coordination with the Turks for their strikes into northern Iraq?

A: Sorry?

Q: Is it tacit assistance that we're providing to Turkey when they strike targets in northern Iraq?

A: All I can tell you is that there is a degree of coordination which is designed to deconflict the U.S. and the Turkish missions.

Q: You make it sound as though they deconflict and it's all right for Turkey to strike targets in northern Iraq, but even if Iran deconflicted, it's not all right for them to strike targets in other parts of Iraq. Is that parallelism accurate?

A: First of all the Iranians didn't just strike targets in the no-fly zone, or attempt to strike targets just in the no-fly zone, but suffice it to say that we have told Iran that incursions into the no-fly zone complicate our enforcement of the no-fly zone and can present risk to their pilots.

Q: Yet there's more to it. It's tacitly all right for the United States if Turkey strikes targets in Iraqi territory; and it's tacitly not all right if Iran strikes targets in Iraqi territory. Is that not correct?

A: I think all I want to do is talk to you about what we've recently said to Iran after this event.

Q: Would you welcome it if the Iranians tried to coordinate their strikes with the U.S.?

A: We told you -- I don't know how many times I have to say this. We've made it very clear to Iran that their flights into the southern no-fly zone complicate our enforcement of the no-fly zone and we take enforcement of the no-fly zone seriously. If there are planes flying improperly within the no-fly zone, we can't guarantee their safety. We've made it very clear that we are enforcing the no-fly zone. We've demonstrated that with enforcement actions we've taken. I think the last time we had an air-to-air encounter was in 1993. But we've had other action in the no-fly zone over time, and we are prepared to continue enforcing the no-fly zone.

Press: Thank you.

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