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

Presenters: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
October 21, 1999 1:30 PM EDT

MR. BACON: First I'd like to welcome 16 military public affairs officers, I guess mainly captains and majors, who are here for the Joint Public Affairs course. It's a very important course that runs for two weeks every year. And I welcome you.

Second, later today we will issue a blue top on safety, on our safety statistics for 1999, the fiscal year that ended on September 30th. Let me give you a quick rundown. The aviation area, the Class A accident rate, that is an accident that destroys a plane or results in more than $1 million worth of damage, the Class A accident rate fell slightly to 1.58 per 100,000 flight hours in fiscal year 1999, from 1.64 the previous year, fiscal year 1998. As you know, this accident rate has been pretty much in the same range, around 1.5, for a number of years. We're working hard on getting it lower, but it varies a little, but it's down. What's remarkable about this is that this rate covers both Operation Allied Force and, of course, all the flying that's been going on in the Gulf in both Northern Watch and Operation Southern Watch. So both the numerator and the denominators include activity during the operation over Kosovo and Yugoslavia. And as you know, we did lose two planes, only two planes. Several other planes were hit, but made it back to their bases.

Also, more generally, the accidental military deaths, on duty and off duty, remained low -- 427, up just one from fiscal year 1999 when it was 426. But we'll have a release on this later that will give you more detailed statistics.

Another announcement. Operation Bright Star has started this week in Egypt. Secretary Cohen will be there tomorrow to review the operation. This is a major exercise involving 73,000 troops from the United States, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, the Netherlands, the UAE, the U.K. And the secretary will have a press conference there tomorrow in Egypt watching that exercise.

And finally, I'd like to bring you up to date on our operations in East Timor. When we last talked about East Timor we were in Darwin, Australia, and several of you were there. The secretary announced that we were deploying some heavy-lift helicopters on the USS BELLEAU WOOD. These helicopters, the four CH-53s, have flown so far 34 sorties and moved over 350 short tons of equipment and cargo. Their most recent mission transported 20 tons of rice from Dili, on the northern edge of East Timor, down to Suai, a country on the southern edge of East Timor. And they're also in the process of helping move some Thai equipment around and some other equipment for friendly countries involved in INTERFET, the International Force in East Timor.

The United States currently has 150 people in East Timor. More than half of them are communicators, that group from the 11th Signal Group at Fort Huachuca. And we have 385 people in Darwin. And afloat we have 1,836. Most of those, of course, are on the USS BELLEAU WOOD.

QHow many did you say in Darwin?

MR. BACON: In Darwin, 385 in Darwin.

Q (Off mike.)

MR. BACON: Afloat, 1,836. I think the important figure is the footprint in East Timor, which is about 150, and that number goes up and down. It hasn't gone much above 150, but sometimes it's down to 130. It just depends on who's moving in and out. They're providing primarily intelligence -- I mean, primarily communications, but some intelligence and logistics support in East Timor.

With that, I'll take your questions. Charlie.

QSpeaking of East Timor, now that Indonesia has a democratically elected president and the legislature has approved independence for East Timor, is the United States going to begin moving closer to resuming military-to-military ties?

MR. BACON: Well, it's clearly something we'll look at the appropriate time. These two events have taken place within the last 24 hours. I think we have to see how they unravel -- or how they -- not unravel -- (laughter) -- but how they ravel, how they ravel -- (laughter); how they unfold, I should say. How they unfold. What comes.

Q (Off mike.)

MR. BACON: Strike "unravel" and put "ravel" in. (Laughter.) If we have unravel, we must have ravel, right? (Laughter.)

So we have to see how these events unfold. But obviously it's our goal to improve relations with Indonesia across the spectrum -- military, economic, diplomatic, political.

Secretary Cohen made it very clear, when he was in Jakarta earlier this month or late last month, that a precondition for that was moving forward with democratic reform -- that appears to be happening -- was civilian control of the military, and was the cooperation of the Indonesian military, the so-called TNI, with peaceful resettlement of refugees in East Timor, and a general restoration of peace and stability in East Timor.

We are seeing some encouraging signs that the number of refugees to East Timor from West Timor is increasing. Yesterday, for instance, refugees were returning at the rate of about 250 an hour across the border. They were unmolested and therefore returning without any opposition. That's a good sign. There are even some signs that the TNI, the Indonesian military, has moved to prevent the militia from harassing or blocking the refugees from returning, so that's an encouraging sign as well.

I think we have to wait and see how conditions unfold. You know there is some violence in the streets in Indonesia. It's important, I think, that all Indonesian citizens work hard to make democratic transition a success. That's certainly happening in the People's Assembly, the MPR, and we hope it happens throughout the country as well. This is a wonderful opportunity for Indonesia. As the president said yesterday, they are making remarkable progress, and we hope that progress continues.

Yes?

QKosovo? Different subject?

MR. BACON: Sure.

QAt the Senate Armed Services Committee's hearing this morning the three top NATO U.S. generals/admirals testified about lessons learned from Kosovo. General Short was very blunt and very candid about the French, by name. He said that they played the red card a number of times and that they were quite obstreperous in vetoing several targets, especially in Montenegro and the Podgorica airfield.

Can you offer any clarity -- I mean, were the French THE most obstreperous? It seemed to be clear impression from the hearing that they stood in the way of some of the things that the coalition wanted to do, even with all the caveats and the limitations of coalition warfare.

MR. BACON: First of all, you probably watched more of the hearing than I have. And the hearing has been extraordinarily detailed, and the little bit I did see was very compelling testimony and, I thought, very educational testimony. I thought that what General Short said and what General Clark said was clear and powerful.

And what I took away from the small amount of testimony I've been able to watch is that the most important lessons are that we won, and we won in part because the alliance was unified. But there was a price for maintaining that unity. And I think that the -- that Secretary Cohen and General Shelton addressed this when they testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee last week, and clearly it's been addressed with great force and clarity today by Generals Clark and Short.

The red card is a right that countries have a right to, under the NATO rules, and France was very clear in some of its objections or reservations about NATO policy. But the fact is that these were resolved over time. And I think what's frequently lost in discussing Kosovo is that this was a real challenge for NATO, because it was the first time that the 19 nations had pulled together and had to execute a military operation of this sort.

As General Clark said, I thought very clearly, you had 19 countries with 19 different sets of political concerns that had to be weighed and balanced and managed throughout. We know that there was intense political opposition to this in Greece, and yet Greece remained a loyal ally throughout. We know that there was political opposition in Italy, which was a key front-line state. We could not have run this operation without access to Italian airports, particularly Aviano, but others as well. They incurred some considerable disruption to their commercial air traffic and some lost tourism revenues in Venice and other places because of this, and yet they remained very strong, supportive, loyal allies, looking at the greater alliance needs rather than their national concerns.

So France did raise, from time to time, objections, as other countries did, too, but these were sorted out in the alliance. Some objections were dealt with more quickly than others, but it's the right of countries to raise objections in an organization that operates by consensus. Ultimately, consensus was met and the air campaign was successful.

General Clark, I thought, was very clear in laying down what he called the standards or guidelines -- and here is General Clark's esteemed spokeswoman, just come in. Maybe she should come up and give this part of the briefing -- but I thought General Clark was very clear in pointing out that there we re basically four red lines that had to be met, and one involved holding fatalities, allied fatalities, to the lowest possible level. Clearly, we succeeded; there were no fatalities over the air space.

Two, wanted to hold collateral damage to a minimum. I think we did that. I think there was an extraordinarily low amount of collateral damage. General Clark and General Short both talked about that this morning.

Three, we wanted to inflict as much damage as possible on the selected target set, in order to bring this to the swiftest possible conclusion. I think that within the political parameters that were set by the alliance, we did that as well as possible.

But that's what the argument was about this morning. And General Short's comments echoed comments that he had made earlier to the New York Times and the Washington Post and other news organizations. I think his concerns about the air campaign were well known before this testimony. What was different was he said it on television; he said it extremely clearly.

And fourth, the fourth main restriction -- or standard that General Clark had to follow was to maintain alliance unity. And in the end, we knew that alliance unity was completely crucial to winning this campaign; that if the alliance shattered, we could not continue.

And Milosevic worked very hard to shatter that unity. At every turn, he tried to shatter the unity. And he was clearly convinced that if he continued to try this divide-and-conquer strategy, that the alliance couldn't hold together for a long period of time and would give up. That did not happen. And I think the best lesson from this is that NATO showed it can remain unified, despite the different political pulls that happen among the countries.

QBut, Ken, just to follow up on that --

QGiven -- (inaudible) -- Charlie?

QYes?

Q I just want to follow up.

Given all of that and what you said about alliance unity and several countries having objections, does the U.S. military or the Pentagon now think, looking back, that the red-card system works? Or do you think maybe some adjustment in the rules of the road needs to happen?

MR. BACON: I think there is not -- I think the red-card system protects every member of NATO.

I don't think the issue here specifically is whether the red-card system should be changed. I think the issue that all allies are looking at in their after-action reviews, and that certainly SHAPE and NATO have looked at and are looking at, is how can we operate better as an alliance if there's a next time? That's the question that everybody has to address, and I think we are addressing that; I think NATO's addressing it.

There are a number of sub-questions to that. The overall question is how can we operate better as an alliance? I mean, one of the sub-questions is what's going to happen with the Defense Capabilities Initiative? Clearly, our after-action review and the NATO after-action review showed that there is a great disparity between the quality of the U.S. forces and many of the other allied forces. So how do we shrink that? That's one question that has to be answered.

Obviously, there are other questions about how do we improve command and control? And that goes to this question, how do we improve command and control, but also, how do we improve the consensus building process; how do we make it faster and more streamlined? It did happen, it happened over time as the alliance got better at working together, as it began to understand what the stakes were and what was happening in the battlefield and the air war. I think what you saw at the NATO summit in April -- April 23rd or so -- in Washington was a drawing together and a decision to cut through some of this opposition and to operate in a more unified way. It took about a month to do that.

But it's not surprising that in the first time NATO is sort of out of the box as a combat team in a delicate and challenging engagement like this that there was some friction at the beginning. But I think we did a good job of resolving that friction over time.

QKen, kind of following up on the General's term "pounding sand"; you still haven't answered the question, number one, was there special frustration in this building at the special blocking by France of expanding the targets early on? And number two, how do you answer his rather strong allegation that the national leadership in the United States did not bring the special leverage that we had as the big dog in this fight?

MR. BACON: Well, first of all, I'm not going to add to General Short's comments about the day-to-day activities of the air war. He is much more intimately involved in it than I was. I talked about it every day with General Wald; he actually executed it. So you should just live with his comments on that. They're the --

QHow about the leverage --

MR. BACON: I think we exerted that leverage. And I think that's what happened at the NATO summit in April. I think that over time, this was something that improved, and it improved because of very top-level involvement, considerable involvement by President Clinton. Pat Sloyan has written about some of the conversations between President Clinton and President Chirac over the course of the air war. I think this happened.

Sometimes I think -- and I've said this before -- that the press is maybe the only institution of the world -- in the world that thinks every single policy is born to perfection the moment it begins. It frequently takes a period of adjustment to make things work. I think NATO did have to go through an adjustment period here, and I think it did. It think it succeeded and adjusted appropriately, and the results are in the fact that we won, as a unified alliance.

Bill?

QA question on Russia --

MR. BACON: Any more on this?

QWell, I guess I want to just come back to one point -- General -- in addition to that about leverage. General Short's comments this morning were sort of unusually candid for a general in front of television cameras, as you said. Is there any distress at how candid he was? Do you feel that he's still 100 percent loyal to U.S. policy?

MR. BACON: Barbara, that's a mischief-making question. General Short has been known for his candor throughout his career. He's exercising his duty to testify candidly to Congress. He spoke candidly to the press throughout this campaign. I think that there is no reason to object to what he said.

QNow to Russia?

MR. BACON: Yes.

QThe Russians are within -- or the Russian artillery is pounding the outskirts of Groznyy, within 10 miles of the center of the city. Mr. Maskhadov, the president of Chechnya, says that they are violating the peace agreement he signed with Mr. Yeltsin back in 1996, by taking over a portion of the country, segregating a portion or partitioning. What is the take of the United States military? What would the United States military like to see happen in Chechnya before more is turned to rubble?

MR. BACON: I'm not going to answer that question about the United States military. The United States military is run by civilian authority. The view of this government is that Russia is dealing with a legitimate challenge to its territorial integrity; it's dealing with a legitimate terrorist challenge.

We have urged both sides to try to deal with this in the least destructive way. We have urged both sides to try to seek a political rather than a military settlement, and we hope that's what will happen eventually. I'm sure that's what the Russians want, as well, is a successful political or diplomatic settlement to this; a political settlement within their own territory. This is a very difficult situation for Russia, and they have been enduring terrorism and other threats from this part of their territory for some time and they have made it clear that they're determined to stop that. We have urged all sides to rely on negotiations rather than fighting.

QCan I follow that with another issue -- the issue of terrorism affecting Russia and the United States, especially terrorist missiles, attacks. I take it Russia is just as vulnerable as the United States. Have we been getting any positive results from talking to the Russians about an anti-ballistic missile system for cheap shots? For one-shots -- you know, for terrorism-type of inspiration?

MR. BACON: These are long and complex negotiations. They've only started in the last month or so with Deputy Secretary of State Talbott's trip to Moscow, followed by Secretary Cohen's trip and his meetings with Marshal Sergeyev and other officials, including members of the Duma. We are in the process of laying out our case to Russia and trying to make it clear to them that we do believe we face a common threat, and that it's a threat to which they should respond by protecting themselves just as we're attempting to with the national missile defense system. So those conversations will continue.

QKen, along the same lines, China and Russia today submitted a resolution to the U.N. demanding that the United States adhere strictly to the ABM Treaty and not deploy any missile defenses. Do you have any response to that resolution?

MR. BACON: This is why we're talking to the Russians. We'll continue to talk to them. We've made it very clear that the treaty gives us the right to seek adjustments, to meet our national security requirements, and that's what we're attempting to do.

QHas there been any offer to the Russians? Is the U.S. offering Russia anything in exchange for allowing the U.S. to build this limited national missile defense?

MR. BACON: We've talked to them about a range of possible cooperative ventures that we think would do two things: one, would prove to them that our national missile defense system is not aimed at them, it's aimed at an entirely different, and much smaller, threat than the Russians would present if they were to threaten us; and two, we're trying to convince them that we can both benefit by cooperating in dealing with this threat because it's a threat against them as well as against us.

So we have made a number of possible suggestions of ways that we could cooperate. The one that's been discussed most publicly is the shared early warning center. In fact, President Clinton and President Yeltsin have agreed to set one up. It's supposed to be set up in Moscow. Assistant Secretary Warner has briefed you on that. He's been over there, discussed it with them. Discussions about that are continuing. We've also talked about sharing a satellite, the so-called RAMOS (sp) satellite, and sharing information from that satellite. We've talked about sharing other information that we gather with them, and we've talked to them -- we've made suggestions about possible cooperation in other ways, as well.

QHas there been any discussion of providing them with a missile defense system?

MR. BACON: The short answer is -- on that, I believe, is no at this stage.

QAnd are we asking for an amendment to the ABM, or just to be able to work this within the existing language of ABM?

MR. BACON: The treaty would have to be revised in certain ways; it would have to be amended. We have to remember that the treaty allowed countries to build sites to protect national capitals or to protect missile fields from a devastating first strike. We briefly deployed -- started to deploy an ABM system in North Dakota to protect a missile field, but we dismantled and we have not had any element of an ABM system for some time, several decades. The Russians do have an ABM system deployed to protect Moscow. We have no ABM system deployed.

So now we're proposing to build a national missile defense system, and we would -- we could build -- rebuild on the site in North Dakota where we'd built before. Instead, for a variety of reasons, mainly to achieve complete coverage of the United States, we've decided that we have to move that site to Alaska. And so the first thing we're proposing is to be able to move that site. Moving a site requires certainly an adjustment to the treaty, and I don't know whether "amendment" is the right term, but a revision. And so to start with, we have to negotiate with them over that. There are some other elements we have to negotiate as well.

I think that as -- you know, we've just begun these talks, and I think as the talks continue we should be able to present our case more clearly to the Russians than we have so far.

QKen, do you have an -- sorry.

MR. BACON: President Clinton, of course, has not made a decision yet to deploy a national missile defense system. He's expected to make a decision on whether to deploy or not to deploy next summer.

QDo you have an estimate from this building on what it would cost to complete the Russian radar, as we have suggested we might do, and whether it would come under Nunn-Lugar funds?

MR. BACON: I don't have those facts at my fingertips.

QWell, we have promised them that we would help them complete the radar

MR. BACON: But I don't think "promise" is the right word. We have discussed with them a number of ways that we might -- in which we might cooperate. And without getting into specifics, there are a number of actions we could take. They've made it very clear in the last couple of days that they haven't accepted any of these proposals. So the negotiations continue.

QKen, if I could come back to one of Chris' points, and one you've covered very well. But I just wondered if there's any possibility of there being overlaying areas of coverage where the United States could, in fact, help defend the -- Russia with a system that we might have in our territory.

MR. BACON: I'm not aware that there have been discussions along those lines. But what I've tried to make clear is that we are open for ways to cooperate with Russia. How extensive that cooperation would be remains to be seen. Right now Russia has made it clear that it's not interested in cooperation in this area beyond the shared early warning center which President Yeltsin and President Clinton have agreed to set up. So I think we have to -- this is a work in progress. We're in the early stages. And work is continuing to achieve what we think is a fair and nonthreatening revision to the treaty.

One of the points we're trying to make is that our national missile defense system is not a threat to Russia. It is designed to deal with a very limited strike from a rogue nation. And it would be quickly and totally overwhelmed by a strike of the type that a major nuclear power could -- and that's what Russia is -- could launch against the United States.

Let's face it. We have protected ourselves through deterrence for the last 40 or 50 years. We have built a very substantial nuclear force to deter the Russians from attacking us. The Russians have built an equally substantial nuclear force to deter us from attacking them. That's worked. And we assume that it will continue to work. What we are worried about are so-called rogue nations -- or terrorists that might not be subject to the same persuasive powers of deterrence that have worked with Russia and the United States for so long.

So that's what the national missile defense system is designed to combat.

Q Ken, the Chinese are also opposed to U.S. building a missile defense system. And although they are not party to the ABM Treaty, are you talking to them about trying to address their concerns?

MR. BACON: I don't know whether we have started talks with them. But we are willing to talk to anybody who is concerned about this.

Q (Inaudible.)

MR. BACON: Well, I just said I don't know whether we have begun conversations with them. I don't believe -- I can't tell you -- we don't have an ambassador over there right now. As you know, Admiral Prueher has been nominated to be ambassador to China. That probably limits our communications with them somewhat.

But they can't say that at no level has this been discussed. But if they have concerns, we'll try to address those concerns.

QThank you.

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