[EXCERPTS] Visit Of Russian Defense Minister Rodionov Background Briefing
May 12, 1997 - 10:30 a.m.
[Also participating in this briefing is Kenneth Bacon, ASD(PA).]
Mr. Bacon: Good morning. This, as you know, is a
background briefing attributable to a senior Defense
Department official. Who is, just so you know, he looks
senior although he looks very young. He'll make a brief
opening statement and then take your questions.
Senior Defense Official: Thanks, Ken.
Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov will arrive this
afternoon for a three-day visit to the United States. This is
Rodionov's third visit to the United States, but only his first
as defense minister.
As far as this visit is concerned, we expect discussions to
fall into two broad categories -- bilateral military relations
and regional security issues, with more stress on the
bilateral military relations side. The DoD has an active, very
active military-to-military cooperation program and
relationship with Russia, with about 100 discrete events
being conducted this year, many under the terms of the
Nunn-Lugar program. And these events range from
combined exercises to seminars and conferences and
include exchanges of visits by operational units.
Q: You mentioned Russia's declining military. Can you
provide any context for us at all on this CIA report that was
published in today's Washington Times, which cites a
deteriorating command-and- control system of Russian
nuclear weapons, and whether or not it presents any danger
or concern of any sort of unauthorized strike?
A: The first thing I'm going to say is that I will not comment
on any intelligence reports, whether they are within the
executive branch or reportedly in the press.
Moving to the general subject, I think the first thing that I
would say is that even the Washington Times report says
that it quotes a former Russian officer in the Strategic
Rocket Forces. That is, at best, hearsay.
Those of you who know me know that I spent a large part
of my misbegotten youth in the nuclear business, and I
continue to spend a great deal of my time looking at nuclear
affairs, both ours and the Russians', among others. I can tell
you that I have never seen any report -- any credible report
-- let me put it that way -- from our intelligence services
across the board -- our intelligence services -- that would
indicate that the risk of unauthorized or accidental launch
has been raised.
Now I think this question came up last December, as we
did a backgrounder for the NATO ministerial. And I will
say to you now what I said then, again; that doesn't mean
that there's not some grain of truth in this somewhere. It
means that I haven't seen it, and there is nothing that we are
picking up that allows us to say that this is something that
has become more and more credible.
Q: What does switching to combat mode tell you about the
hair trigger of -- let's say, hypothetically, that some of their
missiles might switch to whatever combat mode is.
A: As I understand this, that means that the missiles are in a
mode where they are ready to receive commands. I mean, I
presume that to mean that it's something like a situation
where the missiles are standing normal day-to-day alert
before they were detargeted. But as with the Russian
missiles -- the Russian missiles as with our own -- all need
the introduction of an unlocking code to be launched. And
those unlocking codes are, to the best of our understanding,
generally held at higher headquarters, as is the case in the
United States. So you can't just simply launch a missile,
even if you could -- if the people in a launch control facility
can talk to it. And people in launch control facilities all the
time talk to missiles to make sure that the electronics
systems are up and that the system is performing normally.
But again, without commenting on the report in the
newspaper today, I have seen nothing which suggests that
any sort of untoward activity has ever occurred in the
Russian rocket forces.
Q: But hasn't Mr. Rodionov himself in public statements
indicated some concern about a deterioration in the control
of the nuclear arsenal because of lack of funding? And are
those just political statements that have to do with internal
budget debates, or is there real concern about breakdown
A: If you look at what Rodionov said, I think what he said
was that he had major concerns about the viability of the
system in the future because of the failure to purchase
sufficient spare parts and modernized equipment for the
future. I don't think that the words he used reflected a
concern about the day- to-day operations.
The second point I think I'd make, is that in the broad
context, he was clearly making his remarks to attract
attention to the budgetary woes of the MoD. In this
particular case, he certainly got Yeltsin's attention because,
as you'll recall, Yeltsin ordered Chernomyrdin to a conduct
a full investigation, which he did with Rodionov at his side,
and later Rodionov pronounced that the command and
control systems were perfectly viable and there were no
causes for concern.
Put in context, obviously the entire Russian military is
suffering from a lack of funding that's affecting it across the
board. It's affecting it in the first instance because the troops
aren't getting paid for several months, and that causes
problems. It certainly causes problems because of the lack
of modernization and investment. If you ask me
hypothetically will any of these systems at some point
break, the answer is certainly, but since we don't know
what they're really getting in terms of spare parts and how
large their stocks are and how much they're ordering, I
can't tell you when such an event would occur. I can tell
you that I've seen nothing now that indicates a real level of
concern in the Russian military, and I can tell you that I've
seen nothing that indicates that any sort of an incident
Q: So you don't sit in your Pentagon office worrying about
an unauthorized launch of Russian nuclear missiles?
A: No. I mean, I worry about it. I worry about it as I worry
about many things. But again, there is nothing now that has
me spending more time or that makes me think that this --
that the risk of this has become heightened or increased in
Q: The unauthorized -- you've seen nothing to indicate that
some kind of incident has occurred. Would the
unauthorized movement of some rockets into the command
mode be considered one of those incidents?
A: I'll just stay with my prior statement. I've seen nothing
which would indicate to me any cause for concern.
Q: Well, you don't have the ability, do you, to know when
they go into this mode? I mean, it's based on what this
former officer said.
A: Again, you're not going to want me to comment -- or
you want me to comment. I won't comment on our
intelligence capabilities. I have seen nothing that suggests to
me that there's any reason to believe there is a heightened
risk of unauthorized or accidental launch.
Q: What about more generally -- don't ever pay the troops,
and so on, is that something that's being seen in the strategic
market forces as well?
A: Yes, it is, although the evidence we have, which is both
hearsay -- largely hearsay and largely apocryphal, suggests
that the strategic rocket forces are faring somewhat better
than the ordinary Russian soldier. I mean, that's fine on a
relative scale. On an absolute scale, that's not particularly
Through the Nunn-Lugar program we are helping to
increase the site security at Russian nuclear storage sites.
So if one is concerned, and there is legitimate reason to be
concerned, about officers who are trying or troops who are
trying to increase their income by stealing components or
even thinking about stealing nuclear weapons, this is
something that we are working with the Russians to try to
stop by using the Nunn-Lugar funds to help strengthen the
security of the storage sites.
In a broader sense, one always worries about breakdown
of morale and discipline in a system which fails to pay its
troops. The Russians have pledged to try to eliminate the
wage arrears by July of this year, which is likely not to
happen. But this is part of their internal battle. Rodionov is
claiming he's got only a small percentage of the funds that
he says he needs to keep his ministry afloat. And as I
understand it, there's a big meeting next week that Yeltsin
will attend where this issue will be joined.
Q: More broadly, what about a new Russian nuclear
doctrine discussing first use; can you talk about that at all?
A: Let me start by saying that the old Russian doctrine,
which as I recall was pronounced by Brezhnev at a place
called Tula in 1977 about no first-use of nuclear weapons,
was nothing that we took particularly seriously. We always
believed that Russian doctrine allowed for the early first-use
of nuclear weapons. And as I recall, some of the
documents that were found by the Germans after the
Russian forces departed East Germany seemed to indicate
quite strongly that the war plans called for early nuclear
strikes. So I never really believed the "no first use" doctrine
as it was -- as it was promulgated.
The current doctrine, as I understand it -- and I haven't
seen a full translation of the statement -- says that Russia
would -- Russia reserves the right to use nuclear weapons
first in extremis. That is, if Russia were attacked and its
conventional defenses failed to hold, Russia reserved the
right to use nuclear weapons to defend itself. That has a
certain similarity to something called "flexible response,"
which has been American policy since 1962 and NATO
policy since 1967.
In the sense that a general declaratory policy like that would
add to deterrence and would make the Russian leadership
less concerned that Russia would be attacked, it could have
a positive value. I'm not -- again, I'm not... This particular
Russian doctrine does not particularly concern me, in the
sense that the Russian forces are now quite clearly in a
defensive orientation. In the old days, when we had to
worry about offensive armored formations in Eastern
Europe that were pointing at NATO, which would be
accompanied in their attacks by early nuclear offensive use,
that was something to worry about. In our current situation,
where Russia is in a defensive posture, knowing that the
alliance will never attack Russia, this is not something that
particularly worries me. Actually, it looks like a bit of a
sunshine law, in effect, as to what Russian doctrine might
And again, I mean, those of you who know me know that
I'm not particularly sanguine or Pollyannish about these
things, so - - this particular statement does not concern me.
And again, the other thing that you have to do is you have
to view it in the context of the decline of Russian
conventional force capabilities. Given their current situation,
they can do two things. They can spend a lot of money to
build their conventional forces up, but they don't have a lot
of money, so what they are doing is saying, "We will not be
attacked, but if we're attacked and our conventional forces
fail, we also have these other things." So it is
understandable in the context. It was not a general early
threat of offensive use, at least not as I understand it.
Q: Do you have any figures on where the Nunn-Lugar
funds stand, or if there will be any increase in them?
A: I don't have the figures with me. We can certainly get
those for you.
Ken -- we'll get those to Ken. We have a request that's on
the Hill now for this fiscal year's Nunn-Lugar Program.
You may be aware that there is an amendment on the Hill
which, like a similar amendment last year, would try to kill
the Nunn-Lugar Program. I think that would be an
enormously shortsighted thing to do. This problem is paying
tremendous dividends every day because what it's doing is
eliminating systems that could be used to threaten the
United States. It's directly responsible for the
denuclearization of Belarus, Ukraine and Kazakhstan. We
have some ongoing activities in those countries.
And those of you who were with us in October, I think,
saw the funds being put to good use, helping to cut up
Yankee-class SSBNs. On prior trips, those of you who
accompanied Dr. Perry saw them being used to cut up
bombers and to blow up missile silos. So the funds are
destroying things which otherwise -- both could be pointed
at the United States, or it could pose the threat of
Q: Pardon me -- are you aware of any other declared
nuclear powers having their weapons accidentally slide into
a higher state of readiness, besides the Russians? Has that
happened with anyone else?
A: I am not aware of anything with regard to the Russians
that suggests that there is any concern for an unauthorized
or accidental launch.
Q: But I meant the other -- the other nuclear --
A: Well, I haven't read the Washington Times reporting
about any of those, either. But, you know, again, this is not
something that's keeping me up at night.
Q: Can you comment generally on this idea about the de-
targeting nuclear missiles? Some say it's merely a symbolic
gesture, or some say even an empty gesture because they
can be retargeted very quickly.
A: I don't think it's an empty gesture. I think it's a gesture
which had significant political importance. Is it reversible?
Of course it's reversible. You wouldn't, and we wouldn't
have it any other way. It is certainly something that is
non-verifiable, and it is something that we could reverse as
easily as the Russians could reverse it.
There is an added benefit; that we believe that if a missile
were to be launched accidentally -- and I cannot come up
with any circumstances which would credibly allow a
missile to be launched accidentally -- it would not fly to a
target but, rather, would head off in a safe direction. That
was certainly true for U.S. missiles.
I cannot confirm to you that that would happen with
Russian missiles, but I have reason to believe that that is
what would happen. But I don't think it's an empty gesture.
I mean, again, had we done this in the '80s, people would
have been absolutely astounded.
Q: With the defense-to-defense cooperation, could that
include cooperation on command and control of Russian
A: I suppose in theory it could involve just about anything.
In practice, I don't... Let me give you an off- the- record
comment. If I were the Russians, I don't think I would be
allowing the Americans to cooperate with me in upgrading
my nuclear command and control system just because of
the fact that one reason they have those systems, at the end
of the day, is the view of some that we continue to pose a
threat to them. So there will always be a concern that we
would introduce some sort of a virus or some sort of a bug.
So I, personally, would not see that as a very active area of
cooperation. But I suppose it's theoretically possibly.
Q: But isn't part of the problem that they're having there that
their industries are not able to produce, you know, the
electronic elements and so on?
A: I've never heard that the industries are unable to produce
that. I think the ministry has no money to buy spare parts.
That's the official story. That's what Rodionov was saying
-- what was it this -- early February or March, that they
didn't have the funds to purchase follow-on systems. The
other thing he said at the time was that a number of their
warning systems had been reduced and fallen away, and so
that they didn't have adequate warning compared to what
the Soviet Union used to have. But again, I don't see us
building any new large radars in Russia, either.
Q: You mentioned talking to the Russians about the
cooperation regarding chem-bio and ballistic missiles in
situations where there might be joint peacekeeping. What
exactly are we talking about here? Joint programs?
Interoperability? Where is this headed?
A: Interoperability. Interoperability. What happens if
Russian forces and American forces are doing a
peacekeeping operation in an area where there is such a
threat? How would we respond to it? I mean, obviously,
with NATO forces there's no problem because we have
NATO doctrine. We know what to do. We've operated
together. Integrating Russian forces into peacekeeping
operations is something new. It's been an experiment. There
has been no missile threat in Bosnia, thank goodness, and
the chem-bio threat in Bosnia has been relatively low. We
might not be so lucky in a future peacekeeping situation.
And that's not the sort of thing you make up on the ground.
Q: So this is a doctrinal or a procedural issue rather than an
A: It would certainly be procedural. It would certainly be
doctrinal. There may be some need to work on equipment
interfaces. This is why we want to talk to them about it.
Q: While you were not being kept awake at night because
of the deteriorating ability of Russia to guard its nuclear
arsenal, how would you view their security procedures
around chem-bio capabilities and whether or not that is a
more vulnerable source of difficulty?
A: The chemical area is, I think, an area for extreme
watchfulness and vigilance, and it's an area that I, frankly,
worry a bit more about than I worry about the nuclear
storage sites because of all the work that Nunn-Lugar has
gone into in terms of enhancing the security of nuclear
storage sites and enhancing their ability to move nuclear
As you know, one of the Nunn-Lugar activities is the
proposal to build a pilot CW destruction plant in Russia.
The Russians have an enormous amount of CW to destroy;
I think it's 40,000 metric tons of all variety of agent that's
been inherited from the USSR.
Q: It's still dispersed?
A: It's still dispersed. It is still dispersed. I cannot -- I don't
know how good the security is at those sites. I know that
we have the Duma, which continues not to agree to ratify
the CWC, but to put it off. They're -- a lot of the containers
for a lot of the old munitions are likely leaky, so they pose
an environmental hazard. They could pose probably a
worse threat to somebody trying to steal them than they
pose to anybody else.
But this is a clearly an area, Jack, of some concern.
Q: Do you feel that you know where the stockpiles are?
Has their reporting to you on this issue been fairly
A: I think we know where the bulk of the agent is stored.
Now I don't know whether that means that -- I don't know
if there are small stocks that are here or there. There are
reports that come in from time to time that there are CW
agent stocks that people find in other republics, now new
So it's not clear. I think we know where the bulk of it is.
Whether there's a small amount of CW in someplace or
another that we don't know about, the odds are probably
Q: To turn to nuclear, this is a far better bet for a "loose
nukes" scenario, a loose chem, a loose CW scenario -- for
sale, movement, sabotage, et cetera?
A: It could be, but then you get to the difficulties of what
would you do with it. CW is largely --
Q: You could cross the border and sell it for a lot of money
A: Sure, but then if you were planning to use the stuff, what
would you do with it? First of all, as the Aum Shinri Kyo
event showed, you can manufacture the stuff; you don't
have to buy it. I mean, there are ways of manufacturing it.
Second, these are largely tactical battlefield weapons and
would be delivered by tube artillery, or by ballistic missiles.
Terrorists are unlikely to have access to either.
Could you take some of the chemical and, if you were very
careful, find ways of doing what Aum Shinri Kyo did? Sure
you could. I mean, that is always a threat. But as I say,
Aum Shinri Kyo did it all by itself.
So it's something to worry about. I cannot give you a
credible threat right now, but it is something we worry
We would like to see them move on the CWC. We'd like
to see them move on starting to destroy chemical weapons.
We'd like to see increased vigilance devoted to the
guarding of these things. And in a broader sense,
Nunn-Lugar is trying to help work on increasing border
control in and around the former Soviet states to prevent
the leakage of these kinds of capabilities.
Q: Are there any incidents comparable to the stuff we've
read about, the off-the-wall stuff about intact nuclear
warheads being stolen from, you know, name your
republic, and taken to Iran, down to the stuff that really is
confirmed and the low- level radioactive material that is
smuggled out; is there a counterpart in chemical weapons?
A: I've not seen any. I've never seen one. It doesn't mean --
it doesn't mean it can't happen. It doesn't mean that it's not
a threat that one potentially has to deal with. And that's why
these enhanced border controls, particularly to prevent the
smuggling of weapons of mass destruction, are important.
But I've not seen any reports. The only thing I've seen are
the ones that you've seen, the red mercury and the low-
level radioactive material that's been smuggled.