1997 Congressional Hearings
Special Weapons
Nuclear, Chemical, Biological and Missile


[excerpts] CONFIRMATION OF WILLIAM S. COHEN AS SECRETARY OF DEFENSE
JANUARY 22, 1997 - SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE

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LEVIN: During your opening remarks, you made reference to the agreement which we reached -- four of us -- on national missile defense, which was then subsequently adopted by the Congress and by the president. This is totally consistent with what is now called the President's Three-Plus-Three Plan of developing national missile defense technology for three years and then deciding whether to deploy a system as early as three years later, but not deciding now whether or not to deploy a national missile defense system -- waiting until the technology is developed in three years, and then assessing the threat at that time.

Is that your current position?

COHEN: It is, Senator Levin. I worked very long and hard with Senator Warner and Senator Nunn and yourself to come up with that particular compromise.

Let me say that the reason for it is as follows. I don't think it's a very good idea to try to mandate any deployment of technology. I think it became necessary in the view of many -- myself included at that time -- that there was not a serious commitment to a national missile defense system. And so we set a date of the year 2003 in which to deploy such a system.

That was done with the idea that we had to generate enough discussion, enough pressure to produce a response that we felt was real and legitimate and sincere.

I believe that objective has been achieved. Secretary Perry designated the national missile defense as a major defense acquisition this past year. All of the theater missile defense systems have now been designated as core systems. Additional money -- my understanding, I don't have the exact figures -- but additional money has now been put into the budget for fiscal '98 for the THADD system and for Navy Upper Tier.

Secretary Perry has indicated that we will, indeed, undertake a development of a national missile defense system, and we'll have it by the year 2000. At that time, we will make a determination, based upon the best intelligence that we have as to the nature of threat, and if the threat warrants it, that we will be in a position to deploy it and be in the force by the year 2003, the exact date that we were seeking to mandate a year or two ago.

So I believe that's the appropriate course of action. It's one that I support.

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KENNEDY: In the limited time that I have, I'd like to talk with you just about two major areas.

The first one that we had talked about previously was about the nuclear weapons and nuclear terrorism issues. One of the most serious challenges that we continue to face in defending our nation -- as a matter of fact, all nations and all people -- is against the threat of nuclear weapons, either by terrorists or by rogue governments that could acquire the nations.

And the Oklahoma city bombing, I think, still resonates among all of Americans. It was devastating, but it's unthinkable to imagine that if that bombing had been done by terrorists with any access to nuclear devices.

And we read with increasing concern about incidents in the nations of the Soviet Union involving with loose controls over nuclear materials.

Obviously, we need to continue the efforts to negotiate effective arms control agreements with nuclear powers to control the raw materials for the construction of the bomb-making, and increase control over nuclear arsenals and reduce their size.

And it's in this connection that in recent weeks some of the most respected generals have suggested the need for the nuclear powers to do more to reduce the state of alert of our nuclear forces in order to eliminate the possibility of nuclear action.

So the question -- and it's in two parts -- are you satisfied that we're doing all we can in both of these areas? -- one, in the preventing the accidental use of nuclear weapons, and second, preventing terrorists from acquiring the nuclear devices. And where do you put this issue in relationship to overall security matters?

COHEN: Senator Kennedy, I believe the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction present the greatest threat that the world has ever known. We're finding more and more countries who are acquiring technology, not only missile technology, but developing chemical weapon and biological weapons capabilities to be used in theater and also on a long-range basis.

So I think that's perhaps the greatest threat that any of us will face in the coming years. The threat of terrorism -- those rogue nations who are acquiring an ability to infiltrate our own country -- remains very high on the list of threats that we face.

With respect to how nations -- how well, we're doing -- I think one of the seminal contributions that the Nunn-Lugar legislation has made is to reduce the level of that threat. The Cooperative Threat Reduction Act, as such -- we have spent money to help the Russians take down their missiles.

We know that Ukraine and Belarus and Kazakhstan are now nuclear free. That has been a major contribution to the security of this country and indeed the world.

So we need to take greater efforts with more funds going for this type of cooperative threat reduction and also expand it as we have been expanding it in the domestic region. We face a threat of terrorism here.

Many of you may have seen the report that was done on CBS last evening in talking about the bomb that went off at the Trade Center. The bomb apparently, according to the sources at least, had a chemical weapons capability.

Had that chemical weapon exploded and disbursed, it could have caused enormous damage in that city. And so, we need to do more as far as putting money into training our local officials. Right now we have the Justice Department and FEMA, which are the two agencies charged with the dealing with local types of tragedies and catastrophes that would involve terrorism using chemicals and biologicals.

We need to do much more training. We've got the secretary of the army, who is now the executive agent as such, to help coordinate these capabilities of the military with our domestic agencies. We need a lot more that has to be done on the domestic level.

So the Nunn-Lugar approach has been very important, and we need to do more in that field.

KENNEDY: Well, you've obviously thought about it and obviously are concerned about it. And this is an encouraging response. I think from -- probably most Americans would ask, well, how -- how realistic is it that this kind of a possibility of someone being able to either come up to the Potomac in a boat or go outside of Tel Aviv in a ship or be able to develop these kinds of weapons of destruction. How do you characterize the nature of the threat itself?

COHEN: I think, unfortunately, it's becoming all too easy. Some of this is on the Internet, as to how to construct bombs. We know that nations, those particularly in the Middle East, have vast quantities of chemicals and biological weapons. We're uncertain exactly of the commitment of the former Soviet Union -- Russia -- in terms of its biological and chemical weapons capability, and commitment to reductions. And so I would say the threat is out there. It's real. It's something that we have to contend with in dealing not only with protective devices.

We need better intelligence. I mean, one of the things that we faced in the Persian Gulf War was the possibility that Saddam Hussein might take some of those Scud missiles and put a chemical weapons warhead on the Scuds and then devastate our troops.

A message had to be sent to him very clearly -- if you do that, you're inviting the kind of retaliation with which you would not want to see. So we had to send a very strong message to him and his forces never to employ those chemicals.

It becomes more difficult when you're dealing with terrorist operations. And therefore, you need greater intelligence: number one -- to detect who is doing what, and where they are in their development and where they are in trying to deploy them or introduce them into our own country or into some -- what they would call a soft target overseas -- attacking U.S. or allies forces or people. So we -- I think that it's the threat of the future. It's not only the future; it's the threat of today.

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INHOFE: One area that I would like to get into just basically is the area of the national missile defense, and a sophisticated theater missile defense. I know that you've made statements in the past where you and I have been in total agreement, and I applaud you for the compromise that you reached with Senator Levin and others just a year and a half ago. And I applaud you for that.

I can remember several times, I believe, if I interpreted you right, you supported amending the ABM Treaty to allow the United States to deploy -- I'm not sure you said a national ballistic missile defense system or not -- you can respond to that in just a minute.

But that's how I remembered it. Quite often there's a tendency to use the ABM as an excuse not to get into these areas that you and I both know are necessary to get into in order to defend America, and that is our missile defense system.

There are several of us who believe that it isn't really relevant today. I mean, I believe that, and I think even Dr. Henry Kissinger, who was the architect of that treaty back in 1972, believes that when he said, and I quote, he said, "It's nuts to make a virtue out of our vulnerability."

But getting back to -- I want to make one statement, because Senator Kennedy commented, as I -- and I have had debate on the floor and you have, too, of those who are not wanting to keep on target to build a sophisticated missile defense system.

They seem to try to say that, well, the real threat out there is terrorism. And that comes in over a train car or in a truck, as in the case of Oklahoma. And being from Oklahoma, I can assure you that I'm not -- I don't diminish that threat at all.

It's just that you don't say that we're going to do that in lieu of the other. And this is what I'm sure you agree with.

I was quite offended by the statement that the president made several times. And I'll read it to make sure I get it accurately here. ";And for the first time since the dawn of the nuclear age, there is not a single, solitary nuclear missile pointed at an American child tonight -- not one, not a single one."

He stated that over and over again. And yet I can recall on, I believe it was 60 Minutes, when Colonel General Igor Sergeyev made the statement that we can re-target in a matter of minutes. And I have the actual quotes here.

And I would, I guess, go on and make a comment and then ask a question -- something that I thought that Senator Smith was going to get into. And that is the comment that was made by a high-ranking Chinese official, when they were having their -- playing their games off the Taiwan Straits.

And saying that we're not concerned about America coming to their aid, because they're more concerned about defending Los Angeles than they are Taipei. And I've always felt that that was at least an indirect threat on the United States.

And lastly, we have heard testimony before the committee that you and I both served on, both the Intelligence Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee, on numerous occasions when former CIA James Woolsey made the comment that there are now between 20 and five -- I think he said 25 and 30 nations that either have or are in the final stages of developing weapons of mass destruction, either nuclear or chemical or biological and the means to deliver them.

So I see this as a -- and I was gratified to hear you say, quote, The greatest threat the world has ever known is -- I agree with you. I think we are living under very threatening times.

And with that, I would like just to ask you two questions. First of all, do you agree with the Russian authorities that -- and you've read the statements they've made -- as far as their ability to re- target?

And if the answer is yes -- and I know what the answer to the second question would be -- would you be totally honest with the American people in fully disclosing the threat, as it is out there, as you see it to the best of your ability?

COHEN: Well, first of all, I believe the president's statement was consistent with the fact that we've engaged in a symbolic exchange with the Russians that obviously, we can re-target our missiles toward Russia. They can re-target their missiles toward us in a matter of a few minutes, a short period of time.

So I think the arrangement that we have made with the Russians in terms of President Clinton's relationship with President Yeltsin was to say let's turn these away from each other. Let's see if we can't start a new relationship. Let's see if we can't really bring an end to the kind of Cold War tensions that existed for so long.

So I don't see anything inconsistent with what the president has said that at that moment, that Russian missiles were not targeted at American people because we all know they can be re-targeted in a very short period of time.

INHOFE: Yes. I think it's a little deceptive, though, because the clear implication most people watching TV would have been that the threat is not out there.

COHEN: We still -- there is still a threat. Obviously, you have a country that has anywhere from 20,000 to 30,000 nuclear weapons. And what we really want to do is to see if we can't get some real, serious, substantial reduction...

INHOFE: Let me, real quickly, get two other points in here, because I know we're adhering strictly to the time schedule. As you know, there was a lawsuit filed against the administration, against Secretary of Defense Perry concerning whether or not they were complying with the mandates that came from the Ballistic Missile Defense Act, which later on became a part of the 1996 Defense Authorization Act.

And I would -- I have got statements here that you've made in the past, way back with -- a joint statement with Senator Levin back in 1985 concerning your concern over the executive branch complying with the law. And I would only ask the question for just kind of a quick answer, would you, as secretary of defense, advise the president to follow the law by structuring the necessary programs to be in compliance with the Ballistic Missile Defense Act of 1995?

COHEN: Well, I believe, based upon the compromise that we achieved last -- this past session, that the administration is on the way to complying with what we're seeking to achieve. I know the lawsuit was dismissed with lack of prejudice, and it could be reinstituted.

I frankly don't think that is the best way to solve the differences between the executive and congressional branches. I believe, based upon what Secretary Perry has now committed to, that 3 plus 3 proposal that Senator Levin talked about, that puts us on the course to developing what we were pushing for as members of this committee.

Secretary Perry did designate the national missile defense system as a major defense acquisition. There is, I am told, substantial funds included in the FYDP for Navy upper tier and the THAAD programs. I believe we're coming very close to achieving what the committee wished to achieve last year in complying with those objectives.

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COHEN: Could I comment one other thing on -- on the -- on Taiwan. Whatever the -- the Chinese have said about this, I think we have to keep in mind that President Clinton did, in fact, send two aircraft carriers into the Taiwan Straights. That sent a very strong signal, I think not only to the Chinese but to all of our allies in that region that the United States was, in fact, living up to its commitments.

And so, I don't think that we should simply react to any statement that might come out of a government agency or an individual within a particular agency that somehow would detract upon America's commitment to its -- to its friends. We are committed to a one-China policy. We also believe that that reconciliation when it takes place must come about through peaceful means.

But there should be no doubt that the president did, in fact, act as he should have acted by sending a signal that we're going to keep our commitments.

BINGAMAN: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Let me join in congratulating you and congratulating the president for the good -- good judgment he's shown in -- in nominating you for this position. I'll go right to a couple of three questions that I have here.

Senator Inhofe raised the point -- and you confirmed it -- that we continue to keep our nuclear weapons on alert and the Russians do, as well, and that it would only take a few minutes to retarget those so that we were putting each other in jeopardy.

A few weeks ago, General Butler and various other generals -- many Russian generals as well as many former Russian generals, as well as retired former military in our own country and other countries -- issued a statement about their desire to see us move toward further reduction of nuclear weapons.

And part of that statement, which I thought was very interesting, was a suggestion that we begin to move toward taking those weapons off of alert status and moving them into some type of controlled storage so that -- and do this, of course, by agreement with the Russians and with other nuclear powers.

I wondered if you thought there was something in that suggestion that was worthy of further consideration and something we should be following up on in the coming months.

COHEN: I think we have too many nuclear weapons in our inventories, both in the United States and Russia, and other countries that are seeking to replicate what we achieved during the Cold War. I think there have to be significant reductions in the future.

I believe also that we have a process in place. We are on record as favoring START II. START II will come up for consideration by the Russian Duma. In all likelihood, it will not pass unless there is very aggressive participation by President Yeltsin and his subordinates.

It's going to be a very tough vote, but it's in Russia's interests to ratify START II. It's in our interests to have START II ratified, so we can move on to discussions about START III.

But I think we have a process in place, and I think if we can convey to the Russians and President Yeltsin in particular that this is in their overall best interests to start reducing the levels of nuclear weapons in their inventory, then we can move on to even greater reductions under START III.

BINGAMAN: Well, I guess, in my mind, I'm trying to separate the question of the number of nuclear weapons from the question of whether what we continue to have needs to be on alert status, and...

COHEN: As long as there is a reciprocal process underway, I don't think we have to make any grand gestures unilaterally. I think that what -- if we have a mutuality of interests here, and it can be achieved, then certainly it's worth pursuing. I think the commentary by Andy Goodpaster and others and Lee Butler are an important part of the dialogue.

BINGAMAN: Good. I do think, just for my own part, I do think that it would be very much in our interests as well as the Russian interest to try to move off of this alert status. And I hope we can pursue that as a separate track even while we're trying to persuade them to go ahead and ratify START II.

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THURMOND: Senator Cohen, in your answer to the committees advanced questions, you state that you accept the administration's assessment that the ABM Treaty multi-lateralization agreement does not require Senate advice and consent, since treaty succession is within the president's power. The administration assessment, however, assumes that this succession agreement does not entail substantive changes to the rights and obligations of the treaty parties.

THURMOND: Do you agree that if a succession agreement changes a treaty in a substantive way that such agreement must be submitted to the Senate for advice and consent?

COHEN: Yes.

THURMOND: Thank you for your short answer.

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WARNER: I'm going to have a follow-on question on this question that Senator Thurmond put in and specifically the ABM Treaty. As you well know -- and you and I worked on this together -- the demarcation agreement to apply limitations on the ABM Treaty to the shorter range systems.

Now, going back -- and again I have a corporate memory, because I was involved in '72, actually in Moscow with President Nixon at the time this was signed -- there was no discussion of the short-range systems. And I think the record shows that the administration has said that this demarcation agreement is a substantive change. And I was reassured by what you told the chairman.

Do you feel that that's something should be before -- before the Senate and its advise and consent rule? I do.

COHEN: Whenever there are substantive modifications of a treaty, I believe it must come before the Senate. There is some dispute or at least disagreement in terms of what form that must take, whether it's just simply a majority vote in both Houses or a two-thirds vote here in the Senate. I believe that it requires attention by the Senate.

WARNER: Well, I thank you, senator, for that reply. And I hope that we can work with the administration on that. It seems to me it's just -- it's all a part of the consultation between a president and a Congress in an area in which you've got a lot of expertise.

COHEN: Well, there are some...

WARNER: It's my fervent hope that you can improve that record, which I think the first Clinton administration was short on consultation. And I hope under your leadership and working relationship with the president you can make the second Clinton administration one which will have as a hallmark a closer consultation on issues such as this with the Congress.

You were about to...

COHEN: Obviously, I'll have to be guided by again the legal interpretation of what's required. But I believe whenever you have a substantive modification of an agreement that has had ratification by the Senate, then the obligation is to come back and get consent again.

And again there are lawyers who might disagree that there might be the original language on demarcation might be written in such a fashion that we already previously approved by the passage -- I won't get into the technicalities of whether or not it's -- what's speed of the interceptor must match that of the target.

But there is disagreement in terms of what form of consent and consultation has to take place, but I think when you're dealing with substantive modifications of pre-existing treaties it requires Senate consideration.

WARNER: Well, I think you had joined me in 1994 when I put in an amendment which said very clearly that any international agreement which substantively modifies ABM must be submitted to the Senate as a treaty. And I appreciate that.