DoD News Briefing: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ATSD PA
Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon.
I have one very brief announcement.
Tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. we'll have a background briefing here on the visit to the U.S. of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. That will be a backgrounder by a Senior Defense Official. It's being done just to fill you in on some of the issues that will be discussed. That visit's next week, as you know.
I'm prepared to take your questions.
Q: Can you tell us what's going on around [Bihac] and whether the United States is planning to have a new exclusion zone or a tighter exclusion zone or a enforce the current exclusion zone. What? There are reports that the United States [has been] pressing to do something about that.
A: There have been discussions with the North Atlantic Council on the possibility of an exclusion zone around [Bihac]. No decision has been made. These consultations and discussions are continuing.
Q: What part does the United States play in that? By discussions of the North Atlantic Council, is the United States pushing for this?
A: We're in the North Atlantic Council, as you know.
Q: Is the United States pushing for this exclusion zone?
A: It's one of a number of suggestions that's come up for how to deal with the situation there. I'd rather not be more specific about it now. There's a whole series of options you can think of. The exclusion zone is one.
Q: How quickly would this come about, given the fact that fighting is going on?
A: I think I'd rather not give you any expectations about timing at this stage.
Q: What is your assessment of the trends in Bosnia and the direction that conflict is going?
A: I think this is a crucial time right now. We are working very hard in pursuit of what our goals have been from the beginning, to win acceptance of the contact group peace plan. We regret that the fighting seems to have intensified. We wish that the Bosnian-Serbs would accept the contact group peace plan. We think it's the way to go. So far they have not accepted it. We hope that they will.
The fighting over the last couple of days goes back and forth. We think that everybody ought to see the best way to end the fighting is clear, and that's to accept the peace plan.
Q: Has there been any practical impact of the United States decision to stop taking part in the enforcement of the arms embargo?
A: The short answer to that question is no. I'd like to read something that is quoted in a recent report out of the NATO Ambassador's meeting in Brussels which said that, the NATO statement said that this, "was unlikely to degrade the overall military effectiveness of the operation". As you know from the discussion we had here over the weekend, there are a number of ships involved in policing Sharp Guard, the embargo. The U.S. participation in terms of ships is small, and they can cover the areas the European ships can cover.
Q: Have our ships shifted from their former positions?
A: I don't know the answer to that. I will check on that.
Q: How about the loss of intelligence?
A: I just go back to this statement again from NATO. So far they don't expect that there will be a large military impact because of it. The NATO spokesman after the meeting said NATO together with the Western European Union would continue to conduct Operation Sharp Guard, with the objective of fully enforcing the UN embargoes in the Adriatic. As you know, that embargo is not being lifted. The embargo remains in effect. What has changed is our participation in policing that embargo.
Q: What has it done for NATO unity? Getting a lot of real positive remarks from the NATO partners?
A: Maybe you'd like to give me the answer to the question.
This is a difficult issue for NATO. We don't back away from that. It's a difficult issue for NATO. It's one of the reasons NATO's been having constant meetings on this. The Alliance has lasted a long time. It's a strong, vibrant, and resilient alliance. I'm sure this is something that will be dealt with and is being dealt with now, but I don't think there's any secret to the fact that some members of NATO are upset by this, and it raises challenges. We are working now to deal with those challenges.
Q: You said there were a whole series of options other than declaring a safe zone around Bihac. What are the other options you can think of?
A: I don't want to get involved in discussing these options now, but I'd just like to leave it.
Q: I'm not asking you to characterize them, merly to outline what they might be.
A: I just said I'm not going to get involved in discussing it. That involves outlining it. Because I know what the next question will be. (Laughter)
Q: One journalist wrote that "This is the most divisive situation that we have been involved in regarding NATO, this Sharp Guard withdrawal or stopping the embargo on Bosnia". Is that a correct characterization? One of the most divisive or the most divisive event in NATO history?
A: I don't think it's useful for me to characterize characterizations of policies or events by other journalists.
Q: My second question goes back to the matter of a contact group. Has there been any progress or any more contacts made or any more discussions that give any hope that the Bosnian-Serbs are coming around?
A: There is not enough encouraging movement at this stage.
Q: When the Secretary General of NATO comes to the United States will he be meeting with any Defense Department officials?
A: Yes, for sure. If you ask me who, I don't know at this stage. Secretary Perry will be out of town until early next Tuesday. I don't know how long the Secretary General plans to stay. But he will meet with officials here, and I assume in the State Department and the NSC as well.
Q: Is the Administration considering a new industrial policy or a new policy regarding the sale of weapons...
Q: One more question on this. This fighting around Bihac was precipitated, was brought on by Muslim attacks on Serbs in northern Bosnia. The United States didn't push for any action then against the Muslims. Why are they pushing now for action against the Serbs for attacks in the Bihac region?
A: When you say the United States didn't push, you understand how these decisions are made. There is the two key concept, which means that... I assume you're referring to air strikes.
A: UNPROFOR has to request air strikes and NATO has to agree to them. UNPROFOR has not requested air strikes.
Q: There's a British report that the U.S. is providing intelligence to the Bosnian government, and that a senior U.S. military official recently visited and had a meeting with a number of Bosnian government officials. What's your response to that?
A: I'm not going to respond to the report about sharing intelligence. I can tell you that Dr. Kruzel was in Zagreb twice over the last two weeks. First he went there for a meeting of the contact group, and this was basically a briefing from UNPROFOR to the contact group members on what was happening in Bosnia. Secondly, he went there late last week for a meeting with Croatian government officials on the Partnership for Peace, and how the progress is going in setting up structure for considering expansion of NATO.
Q: Can you give me the Defense Department's position on whether or not the U.S. military or U.S. government is in any way supporting the Bosnian government, and is for or against the Bosnian Serbs?
A: We are not supporting the Bosnian government in this war against the Serbs with materials, with training, because the arms embargo remains in effect.
Q: Other than material support, is there political support?
A: You know what our policy is. You know what we did last weekend. I don't know how you interpret that. We were responding to a congressional mandate and we continue to honor the law.
Q: Other than this material and training, is the U.S. Government providing any help to the Bosnian Muslims?
A: I've already addressed another part of that, what I think you're trying to get at, and I'm not going to address it again. I didn't address it the first time and I'm not going to address it the second time. If you ask for the third time, I'll figure out a third way not to address it.
Q: A high ranking American Catholic church official at a meeting in Washington yesterday was asked about the Bosnian conflict, and this man was very knowledgeable about the Bosnian conflict, said that there was no military or political United Nations type of solution for this conflict. That the conflict was many generations old and there had to be some basic healing between the ethnic groups, etc., that could be brought on by spiritual means. How would you comment or reply to that man's statement?
A: I didn't comment earlier on the press statement about the NATO situation, and I don't think I should comment on the Catholic cleric's statement, either. But I would like to say one thing.
The UN has made a substantial investment in trying to improve conditions in the former Yugoslavia, particularly in Bosnia. I think the UN has made progress. It has not succeeded in curing the situation. But fewer people are dying from shelling, fewer people are dying from starvation. There is a peacekeeping force on the ground. It's facing difficulties, but it basically has brought a much improved situation today compared to several years ago. I think progress has been made. There's room for more progress. That's what we're working for. That's what the UN is working for. That's what NATO is working for. It's a complex issue. There are not simple solutions to it, but we're pressing ahead.
Q: Would the United States Government welcome spiritual support for peace in this particular area, especially prayer support?
A: The United States Government welcomes support of all kinds for peace.
Q: Is the Administration considering a new industrial policy for overseas sales of weapons or is there under consideration a new export policy for the sale of military equipment overseas?
A: The basic reason for selling weapons overseas, the basic reason has been to advance our foreign policy goals. It will remain to advance our foreign policy goals. That's why we sell weapons overseas. It is not to create jobs in the United States. The primary reason is to advance foreign policy goals.
I think you know the background of this. The President asked for a review of our weapon sales policy, and that review was coordinated by the NSC. It's been going on for some time. There are some recommendations over at the White House. I don't know how long they've been there, but they did not arrive yesterday. They've been there for some time, and they're under consideration. One part of those recommendations is that we pay explicit attention to industrial base issues.
The arms sales program has always paid some implicit attention to industrial base issues, but not explicit attention as is being proposed this time around. There's no decision yet.
Q: By saying that you would give explicit attention to the industrial base issue, it raises the question about to what extent the financial health of U.S. companies or the domestic economy might figure into decisions on whether arms could be sold. Why should it...either it's in the U.S. interest or the advancement of U.S. foreign policy to sell the arms or it doesn't? Why shouldn't domestic economic industrial base issues figure in that at all?
A: Most decisions are made on more than one factor. The overwhelming factor has always been foreign policy, and that remains the case.
The decision hasn't been made whether to make industrial base an explicit consideration, but it is one consideration that has always been there. The question is how it will be treated in the future, and that decision hasn't been made.
Q: Can you explain more about what you mean by explicit attention? Is it just simply given more weight...
A: There are a number of criteria considered, but the overwhelming criteria is foreign policy. That will remain the overwhelming criteria. I understand the appeal of this and I understand why people are focusing on it now, because it's a period of downsizing in the defense industry. It's also a period when there's been a very sharp decline in our military sales. In fiscal 1993, our military sales totaled $33.2 billion. They declined to $12.9 billion in fiscal 1994, and we anticipate that over the next three years or so they'll range from $9 to $10.5 billion. So I don't think it's unreasonable to think that one of the considerations in sales would be the impact it would have on domestic manufacturers. It always has been.
If you look at how these decisions are made, frequently there are choices. Choices between companies. You can have a decision to sell a certain type of weapon, and then still face a number of decisions on deciding exactly which weapon is sold. Obviously, you've made the basic foreign policy decision to sell the weapons. Then you have to decide what to sell or how much to sell. Those can be decided on a range of other issues that are below the central foreign policy considerations.
Q: I guess the basic question is whether or not this quote "explicit attention" is going to result in the possible sale of arms to countries which have been previously prohibited from receiving arms? Might not that be a result in some cases?
A: I question whether you listened to what I just said. I just said the central issue will remain foreign policy. Whether it advances our national security. The issue you just raised is clearly one that, to whom we sell weapons is clearly a foreign policy/national security issue. That's exactly the type of question that will reign supreme in making weapon sales choices.
Q: The decline in U.S. sales, is that due in part or in whole to arms coming on the market from various countries of the former Soviet Union and from China and other who would compete with U.S. arms?
A: It reflects almost exclusively the fact that there was a large surge in sales after Desert Storm, a surge in sales to allies in the Middle East. They have had a chance to replenish their weaponry, and now their demands are somewhat sated and we're selling less.
Q: Haiti. Can you tell us, did the tropical storm Gordon have any impact on the U.S. forces in Haiti, or for that matter, the U.S. base at Guantanamo?
A: Yes, it had some impact. Did it have a devastating impact? No. There were no U.S. casualties or fatalities as a result of the storm. There were some Haitian fatalities, unfortunately. It has had an impact, but it's not going to deflect us from what we're doing or slow us significantly.
Q: Was there significant damage or injury to refugees at Guantanamo?
A: There were no deaths, and there were no serious injuries or significant damage reported. Tents fell down. Two U.S. personnel received minor injuries. About a thousand Cubans and Haitians were moved to hard shelters as a result of the storm.
Q: What's the impact alluded to? You said Gordon had some impact.
A: I'm trying to minimize the impact. I think Gordon was a tropical storm in an area used to tropical storms. It may have slowed minor deployments of materiel or people, but it has not had any significant impact.
Q: What progress is being made toward the eventual transfer of operations to a United Nations operation? Any significant events on that road taking place? For instance, the appointment of a UN commander, anything like that?
A: Boutros Boutros-Ghali is in Haiti today. It's anticipated that he will announce when he leaves a decision to appoint General Schroeder as the Commander of the United Nations mission in Haiti.
Q: Incoming House Armed Services Committee Chairman Spence wrote a letter to Secretary Deutch yesterday saying that he thinks the readiness of the American forces has deteriorated significantly, and beyond what the Pentagon has acknowledged. Can you give a Pentagon response to that letter? Tell us what your state of readiness is.
A: I've read the letter. Congressman Spence focused on a number of very specific details. When you look at the broad readiness picture, as has been illustrated in both Haiti and the Gulf, our forces are ready. They're able to move out quickly, and they have done that.
We've made no secret of the fact over the last couple of months that readiness is something we have to address all the time. We've also made no secret of the fact that funding is important to readiness, and supplemental funds, in particular, are important to maintaining readiness.
The Haiti operation came at the end of the fiscal year. It has created some strains. The services have had to work hard to overcome those strains.
Secretary Perry was here on Thursday and he announced a package of initiatives dealing with quality of life. Quality of life is one of the building blocks of morale and readiness. We're paying attention to this now, and we'll continue to pay attention to it.
Q: Specific to the examples he cited, involved our contingency and forward deployed forces. The ones who are supposed to be most ready. Two of the divisions in the Army contingency corps, including the 82nd Airborne, which was due to go into Iraq, into Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, has readiness problems. He cites problems of the Air Force units in Europe which are pressed to the max, and to the point that 100 percent of the fighter squadrons are below training standards. Is that a concern? That kind of erodes the general readiness statement.
A: Readiness is a constant concern.
Q: Do you quarrel with any of the specifics...
A: I cannot go point by point through the letter. I haven't done it. I haven't had the time to do it. We are in the process of looking at readiness right now, and we will report our findings to Congress first, and you'll learn about them, I'm sure, shortly thereafter. But readiness is a continuing issue. Some of the facts that Congressman Spence mentioned in his letter have been mentioned before. Particularly the operations tempo of some of the Air Force people in Europe.
As I said, I have not gone through on a point by point basis. But the Secretary and Secretary Deutch -- and this is why the letter was written in the first place, because of some comments that Secretary Deutch had made about readiness. The Secretary and Deputy Secretary Deutch have said on many occasions that readiness is a very important issue, and it's one on which we're spending a lot of time. They have testified on the Hill many times about the need for supplemental funds. Congress has given us supplemental funds. Sometimes there's a delay of several months between the time we request the money and the time we actually get the money. During that time, the money has to be spent but it has to come from some place else. That does create problems that forces commanders to make decisions and to do some juggling.
Q: Since the election last week, Republicans have repeated in many different ways the fact that they would like to provide the Defense Department with more money for various things. The Defense Department as yet has been mute in saying whether or not that's a welcome trend as far as you're concerned. What is the position of the building on a windfall of money coming your way from a Congress with a slightly different bent?
A: I think we have to wait and see what does in fact come our way. It's very easy to make statements about showering buildings with money. It's sometimes harder to deliver the money. We have a budget plan. We plan to stick with our budget plan. We think the budget plan is a good plan. If we end up fortunately getting more money, we will find very good ways to spend that money. Right now we're gearing toward our current plan.
Q: Has there been any slippage in the time table for announcing which weapon systems will be canceled or delayed in order to fund the readiness programs?
A: Can you ask me that question again?
Q: Has there been any slippage in the time table for announcing that decision? We were led to believe, and some of the senior military leaders in the building, were under the impression that those announcements would be made this week. Has there been any change in the time table, and is it related at all to the change in Congress?
A: They will not be made this week. They may not be made this month. They are part of the continuing budgetary deliberations.
Q: The change of Congress, that decision is now currently being put off a little bit. Are you aware that Congress...
A: I think it has to do mainly with reevaluating the budget policy across the Administration in light of changed political realities, not specifically our hopes or expectations that will be treated significantly differently than we thought we were going to be before.
Q: Are there consultations going on with new potential chairmen on some of the specific cuts which have been proposed in the Deutch memo? Has that process been going on?
A: I'm quite sure, but not 100 percent positive, that the answer to that question is no.
Q: Back to the issue of the defense letter. You're essentially standing by, then, the Deutch characterization that the readiness is at a superior level to what it was in 1990?
A: I think our forces are very ready today, particularly the forces that will deploy first. I want to be clear on this. Readiness is like weight control. It's a battle that has to be fought constantly. It's never over. We have never declared ourselves the most physically ready force in the world, one that couldn't improve. There is always room for improvement. There is also room for slippage, and it's important to work hard to prevent that from taking place.
Q: You said you're in the process of looking at readiness right now, and said we'll report our progress from it. Is that Shy Meyer's task force or some other group?
A: No, as I say, we're always looking at our readiness situation. We monitor our readiness constantly. If we find reasons to talk with Congress about it, we will. We monitor it in part, and one of the reasons we do this is that we're very anxious to make sure that we have the money we need to keep our troops as ready as they have to be. We've had many times conversations with Congress over the month on this, and we'll continue to have them in the future.
Q: On the money issue again, will the administration seek a supplemental in this new Congress, this new congressional regime? It was said some weeks ago that there was a doubt as to the necessity for a supplemental. Is it needed?
A: Yes. Supplementals are needed, and we will seek them from the new Congress.
Q: In order to reduce the number of refugees at Guantanamo Bay, would the Pentagon support the change in immigration policy that would bring in unaccompanied children, and their family members into the U.S.?
A: I don't know the answer to that question.
I want to point out one thing, though, which is that decision has not been made yet. It's something that's under consideration.
The Pentagon obviously has a huge stake in keeping conditions at Guantanamo Bay as good as possible. We've worked hard on that. We're always considering improvements that we can make on them.
Q: Back to the question of meetings with the incoming Republicans. The Secretary when he was here last week pointed out that he's always tried to include minorities, in his meetings on the Hill, and he thought that felt that he would probably continue negotiations or discussions. Are there any plans for the Secretary to meet with either of them? You say nothing has happened yet. Are there any plans for him to meet with the incoming Republican leadership prior to the submission of your budget?
A: Are there any plans? Can I give you a schedule? No. Will he meet with them? I'm positive he will.
There's a group called the Big Eight, which is the chairman and the ranking minority members of the four committees with which he deals most often in the House and the Senate -- the Armed Services Committee and the Appropriations Committee in each body. He meets regularly with them. What he said is exactly right. He has been meeting about as often with Republicans as with Democrats. That will continue. When the control of Congress switches, the minority party will be included in those meetings.
Q: Has there been any progress in determining the cause of the crash of the F-14 piloted by Kara Hultgreen?
A: Not that I'm aware of, but you should take that question to the Navy.
Q: There was a report today in a newspaper published in London that the Iranians deployed four silkworm batteries on Abu Musa Island. Can you confirm that? And what's the status of the military presence of the Iranians on the island?
A: I think maybe you should ask that of the DDI people. I'm not going to comment on that now. I just don't have the answer to it.
Press: Thank you.