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DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD PA

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD PA
May 10, 1995 1:30 PM EDT

Tuesday, May 9, 1995 - 1:30 p.m.

Mr. Bacon: Thank you for coming to the briefing.

I'd like to start with an announcement about Dr. Deutch. Secretary Perry and General Shalikashvili will host a full honors departure ceremony for him tomorrow at 1:30 at the River Entrance parade field. If there's bad weather, it will be in the Pentagon auditorium at the same time.

Q: Any remarks?

A: I don't think it will be a roast, but I'm sure there will be some remarks. I'm here for your questions.

Q: Can you give us an idea of how the Pentagon views the latest developments in Bosnia, and whether or not there's some frustration on the part of the U.S. about the lack of airstrikes despite the requests from the UN troops on the ground?

A: I think Ambassador Albright made clear the government's frustration about that yesterday when she said she failed to see the logic of the UN in turning -- the political leadership of the UN in turning -- down General Rupert Smith's request for airstrikes yesterday. It's a frustrating situation.

NATO is prepared to act. We have the dual-key approach. We are honoring the dual-key approach. Yesterday seemed to be a time when the UNPROFOR military commander in Bosnia wanted airstrikes to suppress attacks against civilians and the political side of the UN did not agree to call in the airstrikes, so nothing was done.

Our policy remains the same. We think the best option is peace. The Contact Group is meeting again on Friday. We're still pressing for that. We think UNPROFOR should stay in the former Yugoslavia in order to contain the fighting and continue the flow of humanitarian aid for as long as possible. We think it's performed a valuable role. It has not, however, succeeded in containing -- in restraining -- the fighting among the warring sides as much as we would like.

Q: What is the message that this decision by the UN political leadership says to the combatants on the ground? Basically the UN political leadership says forget it, no airstrikes, period?

A: I'm not able to see the world through the eyes of Serbs, and I really can't answer that question. But NATO stands ready to do what it can when requested to suppress attacks against civilians.

Q: The last time that Sarajevo was under serious siege back in February of last year, Secretary Perry traveled to Europe, [and] was successful in galvanizing the allies into a forceful ultimatum which many say successfully lifted the siege. Why aren't we seeing any such actions this time -- what was referred to at the time as the "Sarajevo model."

A: First of all, many things have happened. We have in place now a much better framework -- a much better policy -- for addressing these problems than we did a year or 18 months ago. Part of that is the two-key approach that emerged from the NATO ministerial meeting in Seville last fall. The problem is, it does take both keys to be turned in order to make it work.

I think what's happening here in Bosnia now is clearly... There have been sporadic signs that the fighting is intensifying, and UNPROFOR, the UN and the members of UNPROFOR are searching for ways to deal with that. I wouldn't necessarily dismiss this as the last word on airstrikes. There may have been reasons of which we're not aware for Mr. Akashi's decision yesterday. But I'm not sure that, just because airstrikes weren't called in yesterday means, that they won't be called in in the future.

Q: There's a wire today from Sarajevo that mentions, I think the obvious, the fear of hostage-taking on the part of the Serbs if there are airstrikes. Can you tell us at present, especially around Sarajevo but also in the rest of Bosnia, how many UN troops may be either held hostage at the moment or may be susceptible to some kind of being surrounded and held at bay?

A: I'm afraid I can't answer that question. Maybe you should direct it to the UN. I'm just not... I don't have those facts. I think the second part of the question about the number of troops vulnerable to being held hostage is a very judgmental issue.

Q: Does this increase in fighting increase the prospects of withdrawal?

A: The short answer is, right now I think, "No." We have seen... The fighting is like a fever chart -- it goes up and down. We believe UNPROFOR is filling a very valuable function there. We hope it can continue to do that. I would be kidding you if I said that obviously it's an option, but it's not an option that anybody seems willing to take right now under the current circumstances.

Q: Any plans for a U.S. military intervention to protect the UN Forces?

A: The short answer to that is no. But I want to be clear that President Clinton has said that we would assist in a NATO withdrawal of UNPROFOR from Bosnia. That is a different issue than U.S. intervention to assist the UN Forces. We do not contemplate sending troops into Bosnia to be part of UNPROFOR right now. We do not contemplate doing it under any circumstances. The only issue the President has addressed and made a commitment on is to use U.S. Forces as part of a NATO operation to withdraw UNPROFOR if the UN decides to withdraw its forces.

Q: (Inaudible)

A: Yes, not unilaterally.

Q: Notwithstanding Madeline Albright's comments, aren't there some people military people -- in this building, who believe, as the UN special representative apparently does, that airstrikes might be counterproductive at this time. That it's not a clearcut case of whether you should have airstrikes because the UN troops on the ground...

A: Are there some people in this building who believe this? Jamie, come on.

Q: Is it an over-simplification to say that the United States favors these airstrikes? Isn't it true that if there were airstrikes...

A: I don't believe I said that the United States favors airstrikes. What I said was that we are part of NATO and we have said that we were willing to participate in NATO operations to suppress what we consider to be needless hostilities or attacks against civilians if we're called upon to do so by both NATO commanders and by UNPROFOR. Yesterday was a case where we were asked by the UN military authority in Bosnia -- General Rupert Smith... NATO was asked to do that, but it was not finally cleared by Mr. Akashi.

Q: Are airstrikes effective?

A: Airstrikes have been effective in the past in some circumstances, yes.

Q: So therefore, future airstrikes would be effective?

A: You're trying to get me to make a blanket statement here. We are willing to participate in a number of -- and have made clear our willingness to participate in a number of -- steps to make UNPROFOR more effective. We think that under certain circumstances, airstrikes could help strengthen the hand of UNPROFOR in Bosnia.

We have also, as you know, late last year and early this year, participated in discussions about other ways to make UNPROFOR more effective. Those discussions haven't led anywhere yet.

Q: In the past, Secretary Perry in similar situations has called for more robust enforcement of the safe areas and the agreements for the protection of people. Is the United States calling for more robust enforcement?

A: A mechanism has been set up to deal with attacks against civilian populations. That mechanism is that if the UN calls for airstrikes and NATO agrees with the airstrikes, that the airstrikes will occur. That mechanism exists. It didn't work yesterday.

Q: Should France, who has spoken about this for several weeks, decide unilaterally to withdraw its forces from UNPROFOR, would NATO then have a plan to help France to get out just by themselves? The second part of the election is, the election results with the election of Chirac. How does the U.S. government view that having an effect on France's decision as to whether they'll stay or go at this time?

A: I think it's too early to speculate about what impact the French election results will have on the French decision to stay in UNPROFOR. France is, I believe the largest participant in UNPROFOR now. I don't think it's productive to look at how we would react -- To how NATO would react -- to any one country's pullout of UNPROFOR because that decision by a single country would trigger a UN evaluation of whether UNPROFOR can remain effective. NATO would respond to a decision by the UN to extract troops from Bosnia. And yes, there is a plan in development. It's in a continual state of refinement -- like most plans, most military plans -- to pull out the UNPROFOR forces if that's necessary. But again, we hope it won't be necessary.

Q: Is there a contingency for pulling out a portion of UNPROFOR or one of the countries?

A: I tried to answer that question earlier. I'm not going to go beyond that answer.

Q: Any plan to reinforce the force on the ground on the part of the U.S.?

A: You asked me that question earlier, and I said no then, and I say no now.

Q: I'm not saying intervention. I'm saying to reinforce them with (inaudible).

A: Not now, no.

Q: Can you update us on the U.S. potential involvement in a withdrawal?

A: Actually that hasn't changed dramatically from the plans you all wrote about at the end of last year. We would provide close to 25,000... There are a number of plans, but under the most dramatic, robust plan we would provide somewhat less, slightly less than 25,000 troops. Several Bradley battalions, for instance, and engineering battalions would be involved in the withdrawal. Those numbers are pretty much the same as they were.

Q: ...how long the U.S. troops might be on the ground there?

A: I think it's very difficult to predict that right now without knowing more about the actual situation on the ground in Bosnia.

Q: Is the military fully prepared to implement that plan as of today? Are they capable of doing that?

A: Yes, the military is capable of doing it. It would take some time to position the troops. The plan would...

If we use the high end plan which would involve about 60,000 NATO troops... Troops from NATO countries to assist in the withdrawal --that is newly committed troops to this area -- would require some staging time to get them gathered in Italy and other places and then to move in.

Q: What do you anticipate that staging time to be?

A: I think it depends a lot on the warning and others. I can't go into details right now. This plan has not been briefed on the Hill. It has not been finally signed off on by NATO itself. And it has not been reviewed by President Clinton. So there's a lot of both international and domestic political consideration and clearance that has to take place before the plan can be put into place.

Q: When you describe this as a high end plan, 60,000 NATO; 25,000 U.S., is that high end plan a NATO plan or a U.S. plan?

A: It's all a NATO plan. We are operating in a NATO structure. It's part of NATO. The President's decision was to participate in the NATO plan. We are not talking about a unilateral U.S. plan. That should be very clear.

Q: When you said it wasn't yet approved by...

A: Our participation has to be discussed with Congress and cleared by the President. It could be a substantial commitment of troops. I just don't want you to rush ahead on this. There's still quite a lot of discussion about the plan that would have to take place.

Q: Including naval and air forces?

A: Pardon?

Q: Would the 25,000 ground troops, include also naval and U.S. Air Force?

A: We already have fairly substantial air presence in the area, and we have some ships participating in SHARP GUARD. There are other ships in and out of the Adriatic Marine amphibious ready groups go in and out of the Adriatic from time to time, and carriers, too.

Q: There's a hearing on this tomorrow. Can you update us on the current thinking of the issue of U.S. troops to fight domestic terrorism?

A: That's included in the President's anti-terrorism proposal. As I understand it, the primary role that U.S. troops would play under the proposal is to deal with weapons of mass destruction. Those would be chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. We already have pretty explicit authority to deal with policing of nuclear weapons domestically, and this would also give us authority under a number of legal steps. A number of legal steps are involved in this to participate in the policing of chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction as well.

Q: You are helping out other law enforcement...

A: We would be basically providing technical equipment and expertise in certain emergency situations that would be supervised by the Justice Department. In order for us to participate, both the Secretary of Defense and the Attorney General would have to determine that an emergency exists requiring the use of military expertise, technical assistance, and highly trained personnel to deal with that emergency.

Q: Don't you do that now? Is this some sort of informal... Don't you help out now when you can?

A: We do help out. We participate in domestic law enforcement task forces Yes, we do.

Q: Have there been any recent, in the last couple of months, any incidents where the military has assisted in any kind of threats involving either chemical or biological weapons?

A: The bill refers specifically to weapons of mass destruction. There were reports, which I can confirm, that some time ago, around Easter. There was a report of a possible use of gas at an amusement facility in California, and a law enforcement team went out there. The report was unfounded and nothing happened. But that law enforcement team did include some military chemical disposal experts. So yes, in situations like that we do participate, but the point is, they are very specific and limited operations. We are operating under the authority of domestic law enforcement agencies, and we will continue to do that.

Even the ability to participate in efforts to locate or deal with weapons of mass destruction, that authority is granted under very narrow and limited exceptions to the existing laws.

Q: To clarify, will there be any new structure here, a bureau or office or something created under this scenario?

A: I can't answer that question. The legislation was just introduced recently and will go through hearings. I just don't know the answer.

Q: Do you know of any steps that have been taken to fill Mr. Deutch's position? Has there been any formal process begun of nominations that you can talk about?

A: I would expect the nomination to be announced very soon, possibly within 24 hours.

Q: Is it clear at this point to you, or to anyone here, how broad or narrow this legislation would be involving the military in law enforcement involving weapons of mass destruction?

A: Very narrow.

Q: For example, if a group is suspected of dealing with chemical weapons, at what point would the military become involved? During the investigation?

A: As I said, there has to be a determination that an emergency exists, and it has to be made by both the Secretary of Defense and the Attorney General. You should not interpret this as a significant potential move by the military into domestic law enforcement. It is decidedly not that. This is extremely limited authority and it's done under very tight supervision in several departments. That's the goal of the legislation.

Q: What's the Defense Department take on that?

A: We support the legislation. One of our primary goals in the world is to limit the spread of weapons of mass destruction. We've had the Nunn/Lugar program which is operating with great success in the former Soviet Union. It's helped Kazakhstan remove its last nuclear warhead. It had almost 3,000 nuclear warheads -- more than powers like China, for instance. Those have all been shipped out under Nunn/Lugar and they'll be dismantled. Next year Ukraine and Belarus will no longer have any nuclear warheads because of our assistance in helping them denuclearize under the Nunn/Lugar program. We are working in Russia to destroy 40,000 metric tons of chemical agents. We're destroying chemical agents ourselves. We've devoted a lot of time and a lot of effort in trying to prevent smuggling of fissile materials all over the world. Obviously, a prime goal of this is to prevent such weapons of mass destruction from becoming threats to the United States within our borders.

Q: You say you support it. Who supports it? General Shali, Admiral Owens, and all the Chiefs now support this legislation?

A: The Department of Defense worked very closely with the White House in drafting this legislation, and the Department of Defense supports the legislation.

Q: Specifically, do the Chiefs support it?

A: I have not talked to the Chiefs specifically about this. But the Department of Defense supports the legislation.

Q: So the civilian side.

A: The Department of Defense... The military is run by civilians. The civilians who run the military support the legislation. I don't know what General Shalikashvili's view is on this legislation. But the Department of Defense, which is in charge of military policy in the United States, supports the legislation.

Q: Do you have an update on what's happening in GTMO? Numbers of people. Have there been any Cuban refugees brought out recently?

A: First of all, I want to report that the 13 Cubans who were picked up by the cruise ship and then turned over to a Coast Guard cutter were supposed to have been returned at noon today to Cuba to the Bahia de Cabanas, which is about 30 miles from Havana.

Q: You were going to continue and tell us about GTMO.

A: I do not believe there have been any people who have left GTMO by land at this stage. We're continuing to take out at the rate of about 500 a week, the 6,000-odd people leaving -- the 5,000 to 6,000 people leaving for medical and other reasons. These are the people who were already coming out under the previous policy. We have not yet, I believe, started to move out other people coming either to the U.S. or leaving Guantanamo Bay to Cuba. We're trying to negotiate -- actually, I think General Sheehan addressed this when he was here last week. We're trying to negotiate ways for people who are going back to Cuba from Guantanamo Bay to leave through the northeast gate and make it easy. We used to fly them out back to Havana. We'd like to arrange some sort of land route which would make it easier for everybody.

Q: On Korea. There's a wire out of South Korea this morning. The President, Kim Yong Sam said on Tuesday his country and the U.S. ally "should be fully prepared for a crisis on the Korean Peninsula because of apparent instability in the communist North." Instability with regard to government, and I think also food shortages were mentioned. How are we reacting to this what looks like a serious warning? And are we going to continue with our exercises this week? Military exercise.

A: The restaging exercise is scheduled to go on and we'll continue with that. I don't see any connection between possible food shortages in the North and our exercise, to tell you the truth. The important thing to keep an eye on in Korea today is the North Koreans have agreed to resume talks on the framework agreement with us, and we're trying to work out a location and a time to do that.

Q: Are there any steps being taken by the North Koreans that give the appearance that they're attempting to refuel and restart either one of the reactors?

A: They have spoken about it, they have maintenance workers there. They're under close supervision, or I should say monitoring, by the inspectors from the IAEA who visit the plant regularly. They seem to be doing basically maintenance and cleanup and have not taken any aggressive steps -- any clear steps -- at this stage to refuel the reactor.

Q: On this School of the Amercias. [inaudible] Contracted a private firm to take a look at -- conservative -- [inaudible] -- from this point on the curriculum at the School of the Americas. Do you know exactly what that study is designed to discover or look into? Why the Army has contracted with this company to look at the school?

A: This is, as I understand it, a study to recommend whether the school's statement of purpose or vision statement should be changed. This school was founded in 1946 when the political and military situation in Latin America was considerably different from what it is today. It went through the '50s and the '60s where we worried about communism, we worried about military rule and dictatorships in Latin America. This school always had as part of its purpose to train civilian and military leaders. Has played some role in, I believe, the democratic transformation of Latin America. The question is, we're now in a new era in Latin America, and should the school adjust what it does more aggressively or more systematically to face that new era.

I'll give you one example of what they're doing. Next year the school will start teaching a course in peacekeeping, which it hasn't done in the past. Should it change its curriculum more dramatically? Should it reach out in different ways than it has been? These are among the questions that that study will be looking at.

Q: Are any of these potential changes in curriculum aimed at blunting the criticism of some that the School of Americas has become a school for dictators?

A: We don't see it as a school for dictators. We see it as a school that has graduated 59,000 people, including many heads of state, who have played a very important role in the democratic transformation of Latin America.

The study will look at a broad range of things. I can tell you specifically some of the things they're supposed to be looking at. It's supposed to recommend -- investigate, analyze, report and provide -- recommendations concerning the purpose that the School of the Americas should serve in the post-Cold War environment of the Western Hemisphere. It's supposed to make recommendations on who should be trained or taught and why. It will make recommendations on how the school should be constituted. Should it be run by the Army only as it is now at Fort Benning, Georgia? Or should it be a joint operation? It's to make recommendations on how the school fits in with the modern day SOUTHCOM theater strategy, and SOUTHCOM's current and future role in supporting the national military strategy. This is the strategy that you were briefed on a couple of months ago: the strategy of engagement and enlargement. Our argument is that this school has played a crucial part in advancing that strategy of engagement and enlargement for some time.

It should also look at what sort of resources should be made available to the school. Its command and control operations, etc. There are a number of issues to look at. It's comparing the school with the Marshal Center in Garmisch, for instance, which has now become an educational mecca for military officers and civilian officials from former Warsaw Pact countries. So these are among the issues that this study -- which is only a $23,000 study -- will look at.

Q: So it's at least a bottom-up review?

A: Yes, I think that's a very good way to describe it.

Q: There is no consideration of doing away with the school altogether at this point?

A: Not that I'm aware of, no. I think people feel the school is doing a good job.

Press: Thank you.

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