01 September 2000
Transcript: Clinton Defers Missile Defense Decision to Next President
(President says NMD system not yet proven) (4000)
President Clinton announced September 1 his decision to leave to his
successor the critical decision on whether to deploy a National
Missile Defense (NMD) system to defend all 50 American states against
a limited ballistic missile attack.
In a speech at Georgetown University, his alma mater, Clinton told the
audience that the proposed NMD system "as a whole is not yet proven."
Several more flight tests are still needed to help decide "whether NMD
can work reliably under realistic conditions," the president said. "We
need more tests against more challenging targets, and more simulations
before we can responsibly commit our nation's resources to
deployment," he added.
In the meantime, Clinton has asked the Defense Department to continue
pursuing a robust research and development program, saying that the
extra time will allow additional technological progress as well as
more time to narrow differences about the program with the Russians.
In discussing NMD's impact on U.S.-Russian relations, Clinton
explained that pursuing a limited NMD would require the United States
to either amend or withdraw from the bilateral 1972 Anti-Ballistic
Missile (ABM) Treaty. While Russia has agreed that there is an
emerging missile threat that may require amending the ABM Treaty, the
president said there will now be more time to discuss how to pursue
effective defenses while still maintaining strategic stability with
In announcing his decision not to authorize NMD "at this time,"
Clinton also made reference to the views of NATO allies, who have all
"made clear that they hope the United States will pursue strategic
defense in a way that preserves the ABM Treaty." Allied support is
critical if the U.S. decides to proceed with NMD deployment, he said,
because "key components of NMD would be based on their territory." By
postponing the NMD decision to the next administration, he said, the
United States will have "time to answer allied questions and consult
further on the path ahead."
Besides allied input, Clinton also addressed NMD and the security
situation in Asia. "As the next President makes a deployment decision,
he will need to avoid stimulating an already dangerous regional
nuclear capability from China to South Asia," he said.
"No nation can have a veto over American security," Clinton stated. At
the same time, he also noted that reactions of others around the globe
do have a bearing on U.S. national security, and for that reason, he
said, "it would be far better to move forward (on the future NMD
program) in the context of the ABM Treaty and allied support."
The president announced his decision after determining that it would
not have "a significant impact on the date the overall system could be
deployed if the next administration decides to go forward." The NMD
system could still be ready for operation in the 2006 or 2007 time
frame, he said, if the next president decides to move ahead with the
system in 2001.
Additional information about the U.S. NMD program is available on the
Web at: http://www.usinfo.state.gov/topical/pol/arms
Following is the White House transcript of Clinton's remarks as
delivered (in the speech a billion refers to a thousand million):
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
September 1, 2000
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT ON NATIONAL MISSILE DEFENSE
Gaston Hall Georgetown University
11:23 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. When you gave us such a warm
welcome, and then you applauded some of Dean Gallucci's early lines, I
thought to myself, I'm glad he can get this sort of reception, because
I gave him a lot of thankless jobs to do in our administration where
no one ever applauded -- and he did them brilliantly. I'm delighted to
see him here succeeding so well as the Dean. And Provost Brown, thank
you for welcoming me here.
I told them when I came in I was sort of glad Father O'Donovan wasn't
here today, because I come so often -- I know that at some point if I
keep doing this he will tell me that he's going to send a bill to the
U.S. Treasury for the Georgetown endowment. I was thinking when we
came out here and Bob talked about the beginning of the school year
that it was 35 years ago when, as a sophomore, I was in charge of the
freshman orientation. So I thought I should come and help this year's
orientation of freshmen get off to a good start.
I also was thinking, I confess, after your rousing welcome, that if I
were still a candidate for public office I might get up and say hello
and sit down, and quit while I'm ahead.
I came today to talk about a subject that is not fraught with applause
lines, but one that is very, very important to your future: the
defense of our nation. At this moment of unprecedented peace and
prosperity, with no immediate threat to our security or our existence,
with our democratic values ascendant and our alliances strong, with
the great forces of our time, globalization and the revolution in
information technology so clearly beneficial to a society like ours,
with our diversity and our openness, and our entrepreneurial spirit.
At a time like this it is tempting, but wrong, to believe there are no
serious long-term challenges to our security. The rapid spread of
technology across increasingly porous borders, raises the specter that
more and more states, terrorists and criminal syndicates could gain
access to chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons, and to the
means of delivering them -- whether in small units deployed by
terrorists within our midst, or ballistic missiles capable of hurtling
those weapons halfway around the world.
Today I want to discuss these threats with you, because you will live
with them a lot longer than I will. Especially, I want to talk about
the ballistic missile threat. It is real and growing, and has given
new urgency to the debate about national missile defenses, known in
the popular jargon as NMD.
When I became President, I put our effort to stop the proliferation of
weapons of mass destruction at the very top of our national security
agenda. Since then, we have carried out a comprehensive strategy to
reduce and secure nuclear arsenals, to strengthen the international
regime against biological and chemical weapons and nuclear testing,
and to stop the flow of dangerous technology to nations that might
wish us harm.
At the same time, we have pursued new technologies that could
strengthen our defenses against a possible attack, including a
terrorist attack here at home.
None of these elements of our national security strategy can be
pursued in isolation. Each is important, and we have made progress in
each area. For example, Russia and the United States already have
destroyed about 25,000 nuclear weapons in the last decade. And we have
agreed that in a START III treaty, we will go 80 percent below the
level of a decade ago. In 1994, we persuaded Ukraine, Kazakhstan and
Belarus, three of the former Soviet Republics, to give up their
nuclear weapons entirely. We have worked with Russia and its neighbors
to dispose of hundreds of tons of dangerous nuclear materials, to
strengthen controls on a list of exports, and to keep weapon
scientists from selling their services to the highest bidder.
We extended the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty indefinitely. We were
the very first nation to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, an
idea first embraced by Presidents Kennedy and Eisenhower. Sixty
nations now have ratified the Test Ban Treaty. I believe the United
States Senate made a serious error in failing to ratify it last year,
and I hope it will do so next year.
We also negotiated and ratified the international convention to ban
chemical weapons, and strengthened the convention against biological
weapons. We've used our export controls to deny terrorists and
potential adversaries access to materials and equipment needed to
build these kinds of weapons.
We've imposed sanctions on those who contribute to foreign chemical
and biological weapons programs, we've invested in new equipment and
medical countermeasures to protect people from exposure. And we're
working with state and local medical units all over our country to
strengthen our preparedness in case of a chemical or biological
terrorist attack, which many people believe is the most likely new
security threat of the 21st century.
We have also acted to reduce the threat posed by states that have
sought weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles, while
pursuing activities that are clearly hostile to our long-term
interests. For almost a decade we have diverted about 90 percent of
Iraq's oil revenues from the production of weapons to the purchase of
food and medicine.
This is an important statistic for those who believe that our
sanctions are only a negative for the people, and particularly the
children, of Iraq. In 1989, Iraq earned $15 billion from oil exports,
and spent $13 billion of that money on its military. This year, Iraq
is projected to earn $19 billion from its legal oil-for-food exports
that can spend none of those revenues on the military.
We worked to counter Iran's efforts to develop nuclear weapons and
missile technology, convincing China to provide no new assistance to
Iran's nuclear program, and pressing Russia to strengthen its controls
on the export of sensitive technologies.
In 1994, six years after the United States first learned that North
Korea had a nuclear weapons program, we negotiated the agreement that
verifiably has frozen its production of plutonium for nuclear weapons.
Now, in the context of the United States negotiations with the North,
the diplomatic efforts by former Defense Secretary Bill Perry and,
most lately, the summit between the leaders of North and South Korea,
North Korea has refrained from flight testing a new missile that could
pose a threat to America.
We should be clear: North Korea's capability remains a serious issue
and its intentions remain unclear. But its missile testing moratorium
is a good development worth pursuing.
These diplomatic efforts to meet the threat of proliferation are
backed by the strong and global reach of our armed forces. Today, the
United States enjoys overwhelming military superiority over any
potential adversary. For example, in 1985, we spent about as much on
defense as Russia, China and North Korea combined. Today, we spend
nearly three times as much, nearly $300 billion a year. And our
military technology clearly is well ahead of the rest of the world.
The principle of deterrence served us very well in the Cold War, and
deterrence remains imperative. The threat of overwhelming retaliation
deterred Saddam Hussein from using weapons of mass destruction during
the Gulf War. Our forces in South Korea have deterred North Korea in
aggression for 47 years.
The question is, can deterrence protect us against all those who might
wish us harm in the future? Can we make America even more secure? The
effort to answer these questions is the impetus behind the search for
NMD. The issue is whether we can do more, not to meet today's threat,
but to meet tomorrow's threat to our security.
For example, there is the possibility that a hostile state with
nuclear weapons and long range missiles may simply disintegrate, with
command over missiles falling into unstable hands; or that in a moment
of desperation, such a country might miscalculate, believing it could
use nuclear weapons to intimidate us from defending our vital
interests, or from coming to the aid of our allies, or others who are
defenseless and clearly in need.
In the future, we cannot rule out that terrorist groups could gain the
capability to strike us with nuclear weapons if they seized even
temporary control of a state with an existing nuclear weapons
Now, no one suggests that NMD would ever substitute for diplomacy or
for deterrence. But such a system, if it worked properly, could give
us an extra dimension of insurance in a world where proliferation has
complicated the task of preserving the peace. Therefore, I believe we
have an obligation to determine the feasibility, the effectiveness,
and the impact of a national missile defense on the overall security
of the United States.
The system now under development is designed to work as follows. In
the event of an attack, American satellites would protect the launch
of missiles. Our radar would track the enemy warhead and highly
accurate, high-speed, ground-based interceptors would destroy them
before they could reach their target in the United States.
We have made substantial progress on a system that would be based in
Alaska and that, when operational, could protect all 50 states from
the near-term missile threats we face, those emanating from North
Korea and the Middle East. The system could be deployed sooner than
any of the proposed alternatives. Since last fall, we've been
conducting flight tests to see if this NMD system actually can
reliably intercept a ballistic missile. We've begun to show that the
different parts of this system can work together.
Our Defense Department has overcome daunting technical obstacles in a
remarkably short period of time, and I'm proud of the work that
Secretary (William) Cohen, General (Henry) Shelton and their teams
One test proved that it is, in fact, possible to hit a bullet with a
bullet. Still, though the technology for NMD is promising, the system
as a whole is not yet proven. After the initial test succeeded, our
two most recent tests failed, for different reasons, to achieve an
intercept. Several more tests are planned. They will tell us whether
NMD can work reliably under realistic conditions. Critical elements of
the program, such as the booster rocket for the missile interceptor,
have yet to be tested.
There are also questions to be resolved about the ability of the
system to deal with countermeasures. In other words, measures by those
firing the missiles to confuse the missile defense into thinking it is
hitting a target when it is not.
There is a reasonable chance that all these challenges can be met in
time. But I simply cannot conclude with the information I have today
that we have enough confidence in the technology, and the operational
effectiveness of the entire NMD system, to move forward to deployment.
Therefore, I have decided not to authorize deployment of a national
missile defense at this time. Instead, I have asked Secretary Cohen to
continue a robust program of development and testing. That effort
still is at an early stage. Only three of the 19 planned intercept
tests have been held so far. We need more tests against more
challenging targets, and more simulations before we can responsibly
commit our nation's resources to deployment.
We should use this time to ensure that NMD, if deployed, would
actually enhance our overall national security. And I want to talk
about that in a few moments.
I want you to know that I have reached this decision about not
deploying the NMD after careful deliberation. My decision will not
have a significant impact on the date the overall system could be
deployed in the next administration, if the next President decides to
The best judgment of the experts who have examined this question is
that if we were to commit today to construct the system, it most
likely would be operational about 2006 or 2007. If the next President
decides to move forward next year, the system still could be ready in
the same time frame.
In the meantime, we will continue to work with our allies and with
Russia to strengthen their understanding and support for our efforts
to meet the emerging ballistic missile threat, and to explore creative
ways that we can cooperate to enhance their security against this
threat, as well.
An effective NMD could play an important part of our national security
strategy, but it could not be the sum total of that strategy. It can
never be the sum total of that strategy for dealing with nuclear and
Moreover, ballistic missiles, armed with nuclear weapons, as I said
earlier, do not represent the sum total of the threats we face. Those
include chemical and biological weapons, and a range of deadly
technologies for deploying them. So it would be folly to base the
defense of our nation solely on a strategy of waiting until missiles
are in the air, and then trying to shoot them down.
We must work with our allies, and with Russia, to prevent potential
adversaries from ever threatening us with nuclear, chemical and
biological weapons of mass destruction in the first place, and to make
sure they know the devastating consequences of doing so.
The elements of our strategy cannot be allowed to undermine one
another. They must reinforce one another, and contribute to our
national defense in all its dimensions. That includes the profoundly
important dimension of arms control.
Over the past 30 years, Republican and Democratic presidents alike
have negotiated an array of arms control treaties with Russia. We and
our allies have relied on these treaties to ensure strategic stability
and predictability with Russia, to get on with the job of dismantling
the legacy of the Cold War, and to further the transition from
confrontation to cooperation with our former adversary in the most
important arena, nuclear weapons.
A key part of the international security structure we have built with
Russia and, therefore, a key part of our national security, is the
Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty signed by President Nixon in 1972. The
ABM Treaty limits anti-missile defenses according to a simple
principle: neither side should deploy defenses that would undermine
the other side's nuclear deterrent, and thus tempt the other side to
strike first in a crisis or to take countermeasures that would make
both our countries less secure.
Strategic stability, based on mutual deterrence, is still important,
despite the end of the Cold War. Why? Because the United States and
Russia still have nuclear arsenals that can devastate each other. And
this is still a period of transition in our relationship.
We have worked together in many ways. Signed an agreement of
cooperation between Russia and NATO. Served with Russian troops in
Bosnia and Kosovo. But while we are no longer adversaries, we are not
yet real allies. Therefore, for them as well as for us, maintaining
strategic stability increases trust and confidence on both sides. It
reduces the risk of confrontation. It makes it possible to build an
even better partnership and an even safer world.
Now, here's the issue: NMD, if deployed, would require us either to
adjust the treaty or to withdraw from it -- not because NMD poses a
challenge to the strategic stability I just discussed, but because by
its very words, ABM prohibits any national missile defense.
What we should want is to both explore the most effective defenses
possible, not only for ourselves, but for all other law-abiding
states, and to maintain our strategic stability with Russia. Thus far,
Russia has been reluctant to agree, fearing I think, frankly, that in
some sense, this system or some future incarnation of it could
threaten the reliability of its deterrence and, therefore, strategic
Nevertheless, at our summit in Moscow in June, President Putin and I
did agree that the world has changed since the ABM Treaty was signed
28 years ago, and that the proliferation of missile technology has
resulted in new threats that may require amending that treaty. And
again, I say, these threats are not threats to the United States
Russia agrees that there is an emerging missile threat. In fact, given
its place on the map, it is particularly vulnerable to this emerging
threat. In time, I hope the United States can narrow our differences
with Russia on this issue. The course I have chosen today gives the
United States more time to pursue that, and we will use it.
President Putin and I have agreed to intensify our work on strategic
defense, while pursuing, in parallel, deeper arms reductions in START
(Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) III. He and I have instructed our
experts to develop further cooperative initiatives in areas such as
theater missile defense, early warning and missile threat discussions
for our meeting just next week in New York.
Apart from the Russians, another critical diplomatic consideration in
the NMD decision is the view of our NATO allies. They have all made
clear that they hope the United States will pursue strategic defense
in a way that preserves, not abrogates, the ABM Treaty. If we decide
to proceed with NMD deployment we must have their support, because key
components of NMD would be based on their territories.
The decision I have made also gives the United States time to answer
our allies' questions and consult further on the path ahead.
Finally, we must consider the impact of a decision to deploy on
security in Asia. As the next President makes a deployment decision,
he will need to avoid stimulating an already dangerous regional
nuclear capability from China to South Asia. Now, let me be clear: no
nation can ever have a veto over American security, even if the United
States and Russia cannot reach agreement; even if we cannot secure the
support of our allies at first; even if we conclude that the Chinese
will respond to NMD by increasing their arsenal of nuclear weapons
substantially with a corollary, inevitable impact in India and then in
The next President may nevertheless decide that our interest in
security in 21st century dictates that we go forward with deployment
of NMD. But we can never afford to overlook the fact that the actions
and reactions of others in this increasingly interdependent world do
bear on our security. Clearly ,therefore, it would be far better to
move forward in the context of the ABM Treaty and allied support. Our
efforts to make that possible have not been completed. For me, the
bottom line on this decision is this: because the emerging missile
threat is real, we have an obligation to pursue a missile defense
system that could enhance our security.
We have made progress, but we should not move forward until we have
absolute confidence that the system will work, and until we have made
every reasonable diplomatic effort to minimize the cost of deployment,
and maximize the benefit, as I said, not only to America's security,
but to the security of law abiding nations everywhere subject to the
I am convinced that America and the world will be better off if we
explore the frontiers of strategic defenses, while continuing to
pursue arms control, to stand with our allies and to work with Russia
and others to stop the spread of deadly weapons.
I strongly believe this is the best course for the United States, and
therefore the decision I have reached today, is in the best security
interest of the United States. In short, we need to move forward with
realism, with steadiness, and with prudence, not dismissing the threat
we face, or assuming we can meet it, while ignoring our overall
strategic environment, including the interests and concerns of our
allies, friends and other nations. A National Missile Defense, if
deployed, should be part of a larger strategy to preserve and enhance
the peace, strength and security we now enjoy, and to build an even
I have tried to maximize the ability of the next President to pursue
that strategy. In so doing, I have tried to maximize the chance that
all you young students will live in a safer, more humane, more
positively interdependent world. I hope I have done so. I believe I
Thank you very much.