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Cohen Stresses Need for National Missile Defense in Context of Arms Control

By Susan Ellis Washington File Staff Writer Defense Secretary William Cohen stressed his continuing support for a National Missile Defense system "in the context of arms control" to a business group in Chicago September 26. Without taking arms control into account "from a military point of view, it's much easier to overwhelm a defensive system just by proliferating the numbers of missiles. So what you really want to do is to construct a missile defense program in the context of having arms control so that you'll have a reduction in the numbers of missiles rather than a proliferation of them," he said. "That's precisely what this administration has tried to do. To say that we need a limited national missile defense against a limited type of an attack," Cohen added. No nation should have a veto over the security interests of the United States, Cohen said, "not Russia, not China, not even our European friends. But in terms of having a national missile defense system, we also have to take into account the concerns of our allies. We cannot have a National Missile Defense system unless we have forward-deployed X-band radars. You can have all the interceptor missiles in the world... but if you don't have forward-deployed radars, you can't see them coming. " The support of U.S. allies is essential to achieving this, he said, and "That is why we have tried to work with our allies and to work with the Russians as well." Cohen said the dilemma facing this country is that "the Russians have said to date, no NMD because it requires an amendment to the ABM (anti-ballistic missile) Treaty." To those in his own Republican party who say the ABM treaty is no longer relevant and is not needed, Cohen said "Well, our European friends think it's relevant. And they see this as a great stabilizing force in our relationship." Therefore, the United States must talk to the Russians and try to negotiate with them "and be reasonable and responsible," he said, adding that "ultimately, if they say 'no,' we still have the obligation to protect the American people against this type of threat." With respect to those who say "we must have the most robust" system, sea or space-based, he continued, "I take the position that you really can't have an effective NMD system unless it's within the context of an arms control regime, otherwise you can overwhelm it very easily with offensive systems." His concern, Cohen said, is that while there has been broad, bipartisan support for a national missile defense system, he has detected in the past six months "members on the Democratic side moving away from the system, saying 'Perhaps we should rely on arms control alone.' I found Republicans... saying 'The system is too limited. We need something more robust.' And so what you have is a lack of a solid, cohesive central support for a system." Once one starts a program of this size, Cohen said, "You need to have a solid, bipartisan support for its continuation. Otherwise...it starts to fragment and fracture and you end up, after spending a lot of the taxpayers' money and you get nothing." Cohen said he hopes the NMD issue will be debated during the current election campaign "because I believe the threat is not going to go away. It will continue to intensify, and that we need to continue our research and development." There are 16 more tests to be conducted, he said, and a "solid consensus" is needed to support NMD. Responding to a question about the need for the United States' European allies to develop better military capabilities after the experience of the Kosovo conflict, Cohen said that Kosovo "exposed all the weaknesses and deficiencies we'd been talking about...."One of the problems we have politically is that the United States is going to have to spend more on defense spending," while the Europeans are spending less, he said. Cohen said the United States supports the ESDI -- the European Security and Defense Identity -- "provided the Europeans wrap up their spending increases and requests in the garb of a European defense identity. If they have to use the rhetoric to get support from their constituents for greater defense spending, we support that; provided that our European allies build capability and not bureaucracies." "We need more air power, precision-guided munitions, more airlift, we need greater command and control communications. If they put their resources, however they reform their militaries, into building capability and they call it ESDI so they can have a separate, independent capability to deal with a Kosovo-type situation -- we support that. But don't try and drive a wedge between NATO and Europe. Don't use the EU's (European Union's) ESDI as something that is a dividing mechanism. It should be something that is complementary to NATO itself." (The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)