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DoD News Briefing: Defense Ministerial Overview at NATO Headquarters

Presenter: Defense Ministerial Overview at NATO Headquarters
June 13, 1997 12:10 PM EDT

Walter Slocombe, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy

[Joining Secretary Slocombe in this briefing is Ambassador Robert Hunter]

Mr. Bacon: Good afternoon, this first of all is on the record, secondly it's Walter Slocombe, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, and Robert Hunter, the United States Ambassador to NATO. Walt will start off with some opening remarks, and then we'll take your questions.

Secretary Slocombe: What I'd like to do briefly is to review the events of this morning and then to outline some of the issues which we expect will come up in the rest of the meeting. This is the last NATO ministerial-level meeting before the Summit in Madrid. So of course, the focus is on issues which will come up there. But it also is addressing NATO's core military business, the annual force planning guidance, the nuclear planning group, and also will discuss issues related to Bosnia. In the nuclear planning group this morning, Secretary Cohen reviewed the United States' continuing commitment to nuclear disarmament, and the status of arms control -- particularly, our desire to complete the ratification of the START II agreements, and move on immediately to further substantial reductions under START III. There was also a briefing on Russian strategic command and control which laid out for the allies, our understanding of the system and the basis for our conclusion that despite real concerns for the future, and various press reports, the United States believes that Russian command and control of strategic nuclear forces is now adequate. But it does bear watching as the Secretary has said in May when he addressed this subject when then Defense Minister Rodionov was in Washington. The DPC, the Defense Planning Committee, is the NATO body which deals with the force planning process. In the course of that meeting this morning, the Secretary briefed on the quadrennial defense review in general, and particularly its implications for the Alliance. He pointed out that it represents a commitment to an active U.S. role in international affairs, and to the military forces necessary to sustain it, and in particular, the U.S. decision to retain a force level of about 100,000 here in Europe. It was in that connection that he made the point that it continues to be essential for the Allies to meet the goals which have been set at previous Defense planning exercises to improve the flexibility and mobility of NATO . . . the NATO European military forces. A NATO enlargement will make this decision, which is already important, all the more important.

In the course of the rest of the meeting, we expect that there will be discussion of enlargement issues, of Bosnia -- in particular the importance of emphasizing the civil implementation during the remaining 12 months of SFOR's presence in Bosnia. My understanding is that there will be a discussion among the Ministers at lunch . . . the implications of the NATO Russia agreement which was just reached. And we will also be talking about the ways to improve and deepen the activities of the Partnership for Peace in the context of allowing that to be a structure for countries both who are aspirants to become NATO members, and for those who choose to cooperate with NATO but remain outside the structure of the Alliance. With that background Ambassador Hunter and I will be pleased to try to address your questions.

Q: You say the issue of NATO enlargement has not yet been discussed . . .

A: The agenda for the meeting is such that it comes up in discussions this afternoon. The Secretary will be meeting with the press this afternoon, and I assume will address that issue.

Q: The Secretary indicated to us on the aircraft that he felt personally that while they emphasized that no decision, or formal decision, he felt personally that he hopes more in terms of what . . . {inaudible].

A: I would be surprised if the Secretary said anything different to the Ministers than what he said to the press last night on the plane.

Ambassador Hunter: Let me add one word, that clearly we will also be emphasizing whatever numbers are arrived at. That the door to other countries remains open. Just as part of a package is not a once for all deal. This is the first time since we took in Spain that NATO will be taking in new members but there are going to be other enlargements and there will be a vigorous program, statements and actions, to make that clear to countries that are not invited.

Q: Mr. Secretary. Was the initiative of President Yeltsin about the nuclear missiles proposed in Paris discussed today?

Secretary Slocombe: It was referred to briefly, and it is, as we understand it, it is a de-targeting decision, which is a welcome gesture on the part of the Russians. For quite a long time now, neither the Russian . . . United States missiles have not been targeted on Russia and Russian missiles haven't been targeted on the Untied States. And if this represent, as we understand it does, represents an extension of that principle to all NATO countries, it's a welcome development.

Q: Is it now the official position of the United States, that only three countries should be invited to join?

A: No, as the Secretary said last night the President has not yet made a decision. He did meet last night, the President did meet last night, with the Senate NATO observers group, and discuss this issue and I would expect a decision fairly shortly. But no decision has been made.

Q: On Bosnia. Is there a feeling that the mandate should be extended and that there would be a request for the U.N. to extend the mandate?

A: I expect the communique will say the exact opposite, that the end date will end in June of 1998, as has been scheduled from the beginning.

Q: Would the general feeling be that they should stay . . . [inaudible] . . . opposite in some countries that they should stay, the mandate should be extended?

A: I think there is a very broad consensus within the Alliance that rather than argue now about what should happen in June of 1998, it is important to operate within the framework of the decision which NATO made last year -- late last year -- which is that SFOR has an 18-month duration. That gives us time to do very important work to improve the stability in the country. The United States has made clear that it is our expectation, our view, that the mandate, the authority, the operation of SFOR will end as scheduled. And that we should operate within that context.

There is a very strong sentiment that we have 13 months to press the civilian side in the full range of activities that are required in order to help the peoples of Bosnia chart their own future. And this is the focus for this meeting, and for NATO's efforts. Where SFOR has a clear mandate, not disputed, it comes to an end in June of 1998.

Q: [Inaudible]

A: If I could, that mis-characterizes what Secretary Cohen has said. What Secretary Cohen has said is that the obligation to deal with war criminals rests in the first instance on the parties. We are through a variety of means trying to secure their cooperation in turning over indicted war criminals.

There is a clear understanding in the Alliance that dealing with war criminals is an important part of the full implementation of the Dayton Peace Process. I should also say that we're doing a variety of things that help the war crimes tribunal do its job of investigating and pursuing the issues within Bosnia and in the region itself.

Q: Ambassador Hunter, a question on Bosnia and also one on the NATO expansion. On Bosnia, is there any divergence of view between the U.S. Defense Department, and the State Department on the question of whether or not a mandate might have to be extended for Bosnia. It's been portrayed that way in the press. On the question of NATO expansion, there is feeling among some of the countries that despite the statements that there will be other rounds of expansion, that if you don't get in this first round, that the other ones may not take place. Would you provide some more assurance on that?

Ambassador Hunter: On the first question, I detect no difference among anyone in the American Administration in regard to Bosnia -- which is fully consistent with Allied policy as well. With regard to expansion, the North Atlantic Treaty provides for admission of countries in Europe. The commitment of the Alliance is to that, the Communique at Sintra of Foreign Ministers makes it very clear that there will be language spelling out in greater detail at Madrid on this point. The Communique which will be adopted this afternoon by this meeting already contains that language, and it's declared commitment of the entire Alliance that there will be progressive admissions of countries. The U.S. position is very clear, that we believe that any country in Europe should be able to join NATO if, and when, it is prepared and willing to meet the responsibilities of NATO membership. So yes, more countries will indeed come in.

Q: Yeah. I'd like to ask a question about the treatment of applicant . . . I'd like to ask a question about the treatment of applicant countries before the negotiations are actually completed. There has been some concern in Poland, for example, that with the NATO Russian council, that Russia is going to have more of a say in NATO affairs than the applicant, applicants, for membership are going to have. Is EAPC going to be beefed up relative to NAC C in order to accomplish this? How soon are you going to take force planning quick actions from Poland or other applicants before they actually become members? Anything, any comments in that direction?

Secretary Slocombe: First you are right, the EAPC will be a vehicle both for the invited countries pending their formal accession, and for other countries, to participate in the discussion of security issues. And we expect that the EAPC will be an extremely important instrument for European security in the coming years. With respect to the force planning, already there is, through the Partnership for Peace, a sort of quasi-NATO oriented force planning effort. And I expect that that will be beefed up for the invitee countries. Because one of the issues . . . the invitation is an invitation to begin accession negotiations. It's not, it's not an act of accession itself. And part of the accession negotiation will be working out what it is which the invited countries will do to ensure that they are, as Ambassador Hunter says, able to make a full contribution proportionate to their size and resources and situation to the common purposes of the Alliance.

Ambassador Hunter: Recognize that we have at least two concerns. One is during the period between invitation, during the accession talks until ratification of membership. We want to get countries ready to be NATO Allies, to become throughly educated in what it means to be NATO Allies. At the same time, we have to be careful not to presume on the act of ratification. Countries that have not yet become Allies cannot become fully engaged if that would take away from the 16 parliaments the right to pass judgment on the application for membership.

Q: Do you see any chance that the question of AFSOUTH could be solved perhaps today?

Secretary Slocombe: Sir, I'm sorry the question of?

Q: AFSOUTH

A: No, not today.

Q: I think the question remains open. But even before even after Madrid what . . . [inaudible].

A: I think those are questions which basically have to be addressed to the French. The United States is prepared to continue discussing this issue. We have a strong view that it would be useful both for France, for the Alliance, and for the United States, for France to carry through on its interest in reintegrating into the military side of the Alliance. But that obviously is a decision for the French, and presumably the new government will wish to take its time reaching a decision on this. I do not see Madrid as in any way a deadline for resolution of this problem.

Ambassador Hunter: It's important to underscore, I think, that the internal adaptation is about 95% done. In terms of the agreements about the command structures, and in particular agreements in regard to NATO's relationship to Western European Union, and the so-called European security and defense identity. There remain, of course, the question of the southern regional command, there is the question about where the Canary Island will fit. There is some question about subregional commands. But at Madrid, the message will be that the substantial overwhelming bulk of the modernization of the NATO command structures is completed. And that also, incidentally includes the trial period of the beginning of the Combined Joint Task Forces, which will be the most innovative of departure in the NATO command scheme for many, many years.

Q: While the United States has obviously taken no formal decision . . . [inaudible] Do you expect a formal notification, decision, announcement...

Secretary Slocombe: Definitely.

Q: Within days?

A: I certainly expect it before Madrid.

Ambassador Hunter: Let me review the NATO process. The Secretary General is in charge of trying to build a consensus. He is in the process now of consulting with each of the 16 countries. When he believes a consensus has been arrived at, he will then make that know to all the Allies together. The hope and plan is that NATO itself will come to a conclusion a bit in front of Madrid, so that everyone will know what to expect at the Summit. We're not looking to an Oscar Night. Everyone takes this very seriously, and wants to make sure the countries who are invited this time will know it. But also the countries who will be invited on another occasion will also know it.

Secretary Slocombe: To answer your question more directly, I expect a decision very shortly.

Q: Public announcement?

A: Yes.

Q: On this question of the international police force for war criminals. That was something that has been discussed before. Has that been abandoned?

A: I think we addressed the issue of war criminals already.

Q: Was there any . . . [inaudible]

A: During the NPG, there was a discussion of the continuing concern about the size of the Russian tactical nuclear force -- which unlike the strategic force is not, with minor exceptions, is not subject to any formal arms control arrangements. There are informal understandings about reducing that and it has been substantially taken off deployment. The level of deployment has been substantially reduced. But there is a concern about the state of Russian tactical nuclear forces both in terms of the level, and I think everybody acknowledges that the some of the control arrangements for those forces are not at solid as for the strategic forces. I believe Rodionov has said that.

Q: If I can just come back for a second to the command structure question, do you have to approve this as a package, or can you partially approve this thing. In other words..can you put this [AFSOUTH] aside and approve the rest of it?

A: There will be --in fact, I think it's included in the communique for this afternoon -- a lot of things having to do with internal adaptation broadly defined, indeed already going on, some more will be approved. It is a process that is, as Ambassador Hunter said -- whether 95% is the right percentage -- it is very largely complete. And a lot can be announced before all, and implement, implemented yet under way. The CJTF worked . . . the closer work with the Western European Union. That kind of thing will all be done in advance of final decisions on the details of the command arrangements. And as Ambassador Hunter says, there are issues about the command arrangement other than just the southern regional command. So the short answer is yes. There will be partial announcements.

Q: The Russian nuclear weapons. I remember last December you emphasized your concern on the same subject. I wonder if you found any progress on the Russian side on this issue?

A: I think the situation is essentially the same now as it was then.

Q: Thank you very much.

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