Thursday, June 29, 2000 - 1:40 p.m.EDT
Bacon: First I'd like to welcome back Charles Aldinger, the man from Reuters. I won't ask you to stand up, Charlie -- (laughter) -- but we're glad to have you back in any capacity -- we won't say "reduced capacity," but any capacity.
Q: Thank you.
Bacon: Let me start with several announcements.
First, on July 4th, Secretary Cohen will participate with President Clinton in the 6th International Naval Review and Operation Sail activities in New York Harbor. Some people say this marks the first Independence Day of the new millennium. I'm old-fashioned and I think it's actually the last Independence Day of the current millennium. But that can be sorted out by other pedants on this.
Second, I'd like to announce that we're going to have a seminar, put on by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, beginning July 2nd and running through the 14th, in Gaborone, Botswana. And this is, I think, the second seminar that the ACSS has had to educate military and civilian leaders from governments in Africa. The first was held in Dakar, Senegal in November. Those of you who have traveled with the secretary in Africa know that this is an initiative that's similar to the study centers we've set up in other areas of the world -- the Marshall Center in Europe; there is a Center for Asia Pacific Studies in Honolulu; we have one for Latin America as well, and these are to help educate military officials around the world in civil military relations and other areas.
Finally, I'd like to welcome some international visitors, three spokespeople from Bosnia.
Where are you? Are you here? Yes, welcome.
They are here under the International Visitor's Program administered by the Department of State, and we're glad to have them here. It makes us think of our own Colonel Tom Begines who is in Sarajevo running the CPIC [combined press information center] there.
At any rate, now I'll take your questions.
Q: Ken, did the U.S.-Russia Consultative Talks in Moscow this week make any progress with the Russians on NMD, on their accepting the NMD plan? And what about the upcoming TMD exercise in Texas?
Bacon: Okay. The talks -- I should correct the record from last briefing. The talks actually took place on the 27th and the 28th. There were some preliminary talks on the 26th between Assistant Secretary Warner and Colonel General Yakovlev, who is the commander of the Russian Strategic Rocket Force.
The talks basically went extremely well -- the talks that took place on the 27th and the 28th. There were two areas discussed. The first was our general defense relationship, and the second was anything related to national missile defense and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
Let me start with the first area. This was the sixth defense consultative meeting that we've had with the Russians. And we agreed at this one to expand our contacts between U.S. and Russian military officials at two levels; one, the highest level, high-level visits; and I think more importantly, operational-level visits. This would be in the major to lieutenant colonel to colonel range, particularly in three areas -- chem-bio defenses, combatting terrorism, and passive defenses.
So this will be an opportunity for our officers to meet with their officers to study common concerns and look for common solutions. But it's also a way for us to get to know their people better and vice versa, and to build confidence through addressing common problems together.
In terms of the other area, national missile defense, and the ABM Treaty, Colonel General Yakovlev said that he would like to move forward on a joint threat assessment. And he and Dr. Warner discussed ways to do that. And there will be further meetings in the future to try to see where we agree and where we disagree on threats that are being posed by rogue nations or other nations of concern who are developing weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles to deliver them.
Second, we made a presentation to the Russians on boost-phase intercept. As you know, our system, the one we're developing, is a mid-course intercept system. The Russians have suggested that they are working on some new ideas for a boost phase intercept, which would intercept a missile in the first three minutes of -- five minutes of launch, I guess 300 seconds of launch, in the earliest stages of flight.
We are very interested in pursuing this idea with them, but they had no more specifics at this meeting than they had in Moscow when Secretary Cohen met with Marshal Sergeyev, the Russian defense minister, in early June. We expressed interest in learning more about their system and said we would very much like to sit down and discuss it further with them. But they did not make any promises to do that. And the ball is really in their court now in terms of proceeding with further discussions on boost phase intercept.
For our part, we talked about the challenges we think a boost-phase intercept system poses to us and explained why we chose the mid-course intercept option over the boost phase intercept option, similar to what Lieutenant General Kadish and Dr. Jack Gansler, Undersecretary Gansler explained to you last week in their briefing on national missile defense here. And they've been discussing the same thing on the Hill over the last two days before congressional committees.
So I think it's fair to say that we had a very good discussion, but we did not make firm progress in the area of national missile defense or the ABM Treaty. We've expressed a willingness to talk further. As I said during Secretary Cohen's meeting with President Putin, President Putin instructed teams, the Russian-U.S. teams to try to get together and, as he said, attempt to bridge the gap or begin to bridge the gap between the two sides. We think we had a good discussion, but we didn't get much back from the Russians, and we hope we will in the future.
Q: How about the exercise, the upcoming TMD joint exercise in Texas?
Bacon: That is actually separate from national missile defense. We have had for the last four years, I think -- four or five years -- discussions with the Russians on theater missile defense. We think we face a common threat: that is, evolving technologies from nations that could attack either Russia or the United States or our troops stationed around the world. And therefore we have begun a series of discussions with them. We've had two so-called tabletop or computer simulation exercises with the Russians on theater missile defense, one in Colorado Springs in 1996 and one in Moscow in 1998. This is the -- the upcoming TMD exercise would be more complex. It will be the third in that series. And it's tentatively planned for November or December at Fort Bliss, Texas. This would be actually a command post exercise where Russian and U.S. teams would meet in the field to go through a theater missile defense exercise.
This exercise will still need some more planning and shaping. So the Russians have agreed to send a team to Washington in July -- I think July 17th, they are supposed to arrive -- to discuss the arrangements and plans for this upcoming exercise.
Q: Let me ask you, Ken, if you could back up? You said that very little -- the Russians were not forthcoming in great detail. Were they forthcoming in any way that you can report? Did they have anything at all to add to the discussions?
Bacon: Well, it was a good discussion. They listened attentively. They asked some questions during the presentation that was made on boost-phase intercept.
But they didn't come forward with details on what we think they may be doing. Some articles that have been published in the Russian military press, or at least one article, combined with comments that Marshal Sergeyev made, when the secretary was in Moscow earlier this month, and some comments that were made by Deputy Defense Minister Mikhaelov to Congressman Curt Weldon, led us to believe that they are doing some work on a boost-phase intercept system. And we have asked them for details on that. And we have said we are willing to sit down and discuss this with them. But so far, they have not come forward with details.
Q: (Inaudible) -- not -- in other words, the details didn't happen?
Bacon: That is correct. I have said that several times, but it didn't come out --
Bacon: -- meaning we had a good discussion but it lacked details.
Q: All right. Is there anything else planned for a meeting on the national missile defense plane, on the number two issue?
Bacon: Well -- I mean, there are discussions going on all the time. There are discussions taking place in Geneva today, and I believe tomorrow, on arms control issues. And ABM certainly comes up in the course of those discussions. So I think last week or the week before last, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott was in Oslo, meeting with Russia's deputy foreign minister to discuss NMD and ABM. We have had very thorough continuing discussions with Russia on this issue.
We have made it clear in all these meetings, including the ones that Dr. Warner held outside of Moscow in the last couple of days, that we are proceeding on our schedule with our own system. We are willing to talk with them, we are willing to consider new ideas, but we see a threat that we think needs a quick response. And, therefore, we are remaining on schedule, and that is our current thinking.
Q: So Dr. Warner's group does not have an appointment yet scheduled with the group they met with this week, is that correct?
Bacon: Well, I can't answer that question specifically. I'm sure there's going to be another defense consultative group. I don't know when the meeting is set for, if they've set a specific date. As I said, this is the sixth meeting this group has held over the last several years, and I'm sure there will be a seventh and an eighth and a ninth and a 10th and on and on. But I'm not aware that the date has been set yet.
Q: You haven't said this flat out, but I assume what you're saying here, from what you've said about missile defense, is that the Russians did not indicate in this meeting in any way that it changed their strong opposition to the U.S. plans for a national missile defense.
Bacon: They have -- they have not changed their opposition, and we have not changed our determination to go forward. We have said that we are willing to sit down and talk about options with them. President Putin has said that he wants the two sides to try to bridge the gaps between us. We are attempting to do that. The Russians did listen attentively, but we did not hear back from them about ideas that they have indicated that they have, but have not yet fleshed out.
Q: Ken, I wanted to ask you about this -- the letter that's been sent to the president from the American experts on Chinese affairs urging that he not make a decision to go forward. One of the points they make is that this is going to -- it's a point you've heard before, but -- this point about this would cause the Chinese to accelerate modernization of their force. What's Secretary Cohen's view on how you approach that problem?
Bacon: Well, as you know, he's going to China next month, and he'll have a first-hand opportunity to discuss this with the Chinese officials, and I'm sure he will. This is not a system that we are building in response to what China is doing. This is a system we're building in response to much smaller, more limited threats we see emerging on the horizon. The Chinese have made it very clear that they are -- and there's much literature out of China to confirm this -- that they are modernizing their strategic force and expanding it, and we anticipate that they will do that whether or not we deploy a national missile defense system.
Clearly, we'd like to have a strategic dialogue with the Chinese. We don't anticipate that we'll agree on every single point brought up in this dialogue.
But Secretary Cohen certainly will hold such discussions when he's in Beijing and Shanghai, and Secretary Albright touched on some of these issues when she was there just recently.
Q: Will he have a chance to see President Jiang when he's there?
Bacon: I don't have the full itinerary, but I would anticipate -- he has in the past, and I would anticipate that he will. But I don't have the itinerary at this stage.
Q: Can you kind of understand the Chinese discomfort with this system? I mean, it's designed to shoot down tens or dozens of warheads; they have tens or dozens or warheads. I mean, it doesn't -- I mean, clearly they feel they have a legitimate concern here. What -- is there any new reassurance that you can give them that this is not -- it may or may not be intended to make their strategic deterrent irrelevant, but it does seem to have that effect.
Bacon: As I said, this system is designed for a -- our system is designed to combat a very limited attack. China is in the process and has been for some time in modernizing and expanding its strategic force. They were in the process of modernizing their strategic force long before the national missile defense became a hot political issue in the United States or a hot diplomatic issue on the world scene today. These are plans that weren't started last week or last month. They've been ongoing to some time. So I don't think that they are responding to particular concerns about the legitimate defensive plans we have underway to protect our nation from an attack against which we're currently unprotected.
This is a -- remember, this is a defensive system. It's not an offensive system in any way. We are building a very limited defensive system that would not be used against anybody who didn't threaten us.
Q: A related question--
Bacon: Who didn't attack us.
Q: A related question to Bob Burns. There seems to be a rising chorus, almost a consensus among Democrats, Republicans and a large number of former administration officials, former secretaries of Defense Harold Brown and William Perry, saying that the president should just not do anything, let his successor make this decision, that this not the time to go ahead with this particular system, a lot of people have problems with this particular system.
Why are you so dead set on cuing to this schedule when Senator Biden is talking about introducing legislation, you know, of his own party, saying let's just do nothing for the time being.
Bacon: Well first, many of these people in Congress who are asking the president to delay, also voted for legislation, which is now a law, that instructs the administration to deploy a national missile defense system as soon as technologically possible. And we are trying to comply with that law.
Second, the president said, yesterday at his press conference when asked about this, that he has not decided what he's going to do, that he'll make a decision at the appropriate time, he said in the next several weeks. So obviously, he'll wait for the results of the test that's coming up next week, or is scheduled for next week, and he'll await the Deployment Readiness Review that he'll receive from Secretary Cohen, and he'll sit down with his advisers and reach a decision at the appropriate time.
But I would remind everybody that Congress has passed a law that requires a rapid deployment of a national missile defense system, if the technology is there. Obviously, the point of our development program and our testing program is to determine if the technology is there.
Q: Ken, the system, as proposed, being in Alaska, protects -- is designed to protect the United States from nuclear blackmail, specifically from North Korea. Now, what else is planned in the way of a national missile system, say, to protect -- that would protect all the states from North Korea? What then is planned as possible protection of the Eastern states from launches against the United States from the Middle East, say? Is that coming?
Bacon: Well, we believe that the system we are designing now would protect us from launches in the Middle East as well as from Korea. You're not entirely correct in saying that this is designed specifically to protect the United States against an attack -- a limited attack from North Korea.
It's designed with a number of countries in mind, including some in the Middle East. So it's not a system that would work only against one country; it's designed to work against a number of countries in a number of different areas of the world.
Q: And indeed this system could be turned around and missiles -- interceptors could be launched over the U.S. to protect us from missiles coming from the east, over the Atlantic?
Bacon: Well, our hope is to -- first of all, if you look at the way missiles are likely to be launched, we think that most would be coming over the Pacific or over the polar caps. So we have looked very carefully at likely paths of attack and designed a system that we think will work against a range of potential adversaries.
We hope, of course, that this system never has to be used. We hope that it becomes part of our deterrence that has worked so well against attack. It'll be another type of deterrence. But that's why we're building the system, and I think we've been pretty clear in explaining that.
Q: Thank you.
Q: Whoa, whoa, one other question.
Q: Do you have any status update on the review of the Bronze Star criteria?
Bacon: The Bronze Star criteria? Yeah, I do. Under Secretary Rostker has sent letters to the secretary of the Air Force and the secretary of the Navy, saying that -- and you can get -- I have copies here; you can get copies from DDI -- saying that his staff has recently completed a review of the Bronze Star medals that were awarded during or after Operation Allied Force, and determined that they were awarded properly, that they met the standards required for Bronze Star medals, and that they were well within the boundaries of precedents that had been set in past conflicts, including Vietnam, for awarding Bronze Stars.
As you recall, one of the issues here was whether it was appropriate to issue Bronze Star medals to personnel who didn't actually enter the combat zone but may have been working as part of a combat team at some distance from the combat zone. And upon review, Mr. -- Under Secretary Rostker and his staff found that Bronze Star medals had been awarded to air teams stationed on Guam, for instance, during Vietnam, and that it was completely appropriate to award them to air crews who were not exactly in the theater during Operation Allied Force.
Q: Sorry. Just to follow up, was he considering whether that concept of awarding them to people who were not in the combat zone was a good idea or whether they simply followed historical precedent in this case?
Bacon: The issue had been raised in the press, as to whether this was appropriate. And so the first thing he looked at was the appropriateness of the awards and whether they met the regulations and followed historical precedent. And he found they met the regulations and they followed the historical precedent.
He found no reason to change the regulations. And obviously, he can't change historical precedent. But he found that the award of these Bronze Star medals to members of the Navy, Air Force and Marines, was completely appropriate. And he congratulated all the courageous recipients of these medals and others for their heroism and professionalism during Operation Allied Force.
Q: Thank you.
Bacon: You're welcome.
Q: Thank you.
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