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News Briefings

DoD News Briefing


May 1, 2000
Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Rudy de Leon

(Media availability with Pentagon correspondents from broadcast media, TV, and radio)

Deputy Secretary de Leon: Welcome. This is the third in a series of just sort of coffees with members of the media. From some irony, I find that I know almost everyone here at the table. I can't figure out why.

Q: Is it an irony or is it a major disappointment? (Laughter)

Deputy Secretary de Leon: What I've done in the other sessions is just sort of sketched out what I see as the major issues that are on the agenda right now. So I thought I'd go through that and then just go back and forth with whatever questions you might have. Largely to say in addition that to the best of my ability I will be available to you as issues come up. I don't think availability has been in the past -- of the members of the press corps, this is a particularly capable press corps that seemed to know precisely when I'm going to hit the Coke machine on the third floor.

But from the perspective of the remainder of this year, May will be a very busy time because the supplemental bill, which looks like it will be attached to the Military Construction Appropriations Bill in the Senate, the supplemental dollars for Kosovo. That markup should be starting very soon, perhaps this week.

Additionally, both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees start their markups on their fiscal '01 authorization bills this week and next.

There is a presidential summit on arms control issues that will occur in June, of which national missile defense will be a critical issue. On the missile defense there are really three tracks that are in progress right now. There is the diplomatic track of which the Russian foreign minister coming into the tank last Thursday was one piece. There is obviously the test piece. The next test of the interceptor, and then additionally there is the site preparation for the interior of Alaska and then Shemya Island at the end of the Aleutians in terms of the locations where the radar and the missile field are tentatively scheduled for.

Joint strike fighter, that program, decisions will be made in terms of how to structure the acquisition for what is potentially the largest aircraft procurement in the history of the department. There is preliminary work ongoing, but options will be coming to the secretary in the next month in terms of just how to maintain competition in a program that large.

We're continuing to work our relationship with the Europeans on export controls in terms of how we stay engaged with the Europeans on interoperability, and at the same time protect critical technology from falling into the hands of those that do not wish our country and our interests around the world any good will.

So I think those are the key issues -- the markups of the bills, national missile defense, joint strike fighter, and then all of the other day in, day out issues that seem to come up in the building.

With that, I'm happy to open it up to any questions that you might have.

Q: Is it possible to give the Russians any assurances as to how large the national missile defense system will ultimately be, how many interceptors there are, how capable it is?

Deputy Secretary de Leon: This is a system that is designed really to deal with the rogue threat. In the discussions, and it's very clear in some of the briefings, this is not a system that is designed to deal with the Russian strategic deterrence. This is a limited application. A hundred interceptors in the West and then a follow-on deployment for sort of the East Coast of the United States later. But it is designed to be a limited defense, largely against the potential proliferation of missile technologies in the next decade and beyond, and it is not designed to negate the Russian strategic deterrence. If that were your focus, you would design a different system.

Q: I guess what I want to know is are you able to promise them that it won't be 1,000 interceptors ten years from now? Or is there some reason that you can't make such a promise?

Deputy Secretary de Leon: I think we've presented the capabilities of the program to the Russians. I think they're starting to understand the configuration and how it works. But I think that will be a point that will be elaborated as Deputy Secretary Talbott goes to Moscow; as the president does; as Secretary Cohen does.

Q: I just want to make sure that I understand what you're saying when you talk about elaborating. I guess what I want to know is if somebody raised with you the issue of putting in a tree this will only grow so large, could you do that from a national defense perspective, or are there reasons that you couldn't do that? Or am I just asking totally the wrong question?

Deputy Secretary de Leon: It's a good question because it's a question that's come up in discussions. I think if you were trying to develop a more robust system you might look at a different architecture, like space-based architecture rather than the limited number of missiles that are envisioned.

Q: So you're saying that if you wanted to grow the system you would do...

Deputy Secretary de Leon: If you wanted a system that was really focused on checking the Russian strategic deterrent, you would use different architectures.

Q: Let me ask the same question in sort of a different way.

What do you say to critics who say that this limited missile defense system is too limited, and that it would be easily defeated, and that in the interest of getting an agreement with the Russians, that you're too willing to lock into something that is too limited, cutting out for instance maybe a slightly bigger land-based system or even a sea-based system, and that you're trading that off, and down the road it may turn out that you need a more robust capability.

Deputy Secretary de Leon: I guess if you look at the threat that comes from the proliferation of missile technology and specifically the North Korean threat today, that's really the capability that you're trying to design the system to deal with. That is a rogue threat.

This is not a system designed to check the Russian strategic arsenal.

Q: But would this preclude, for instance, developing as ship-based missile defense that would be against the same sort of a threat?

Deputy Secretary de Leon: It depends on what the diplomats conclude in the negotiations. Even if you were going to add a sea component to it, the Aegis has been discussed, that would come later on, and that technology is not here today. You would also have to deploy the Aegis close to where you thought the threat was.

Again, this limited defense system is set up really to protect our 50 states from the proliferation of missile technology and the fact that an adversary might fire a missile or a series of missiles at the U.S., but not really to check strategic deterrence.

Q: What do you tell the Russians about whether or not the treaty they believe is binding on the U.S. is a legal document or not? Referring to Jesse Helms' maneuver.

Deputy Secretary de Leon: There are a host of arguments along those lines. The treaty was with the Soviet Union, the treaty had a certain shelf life, etc. I think we're operating from the perspective that the U.S. relationship with the Russians is still, from a military point of view, one of the most critical relationships we have in the world. And to create an environment consistent with the other arms control agreements, to create an environment that allows the United States to deploy a limited missile defense and at the same time maintains the appropriate relationship with the Russians I think is very important. So I think that's why the diplomatic track as well as the technological track.

Q: It doesn't answer the question. When they say what about the Jesse Helms business that negates everything, what do you say? You say well, we still want to talk to you but really in legal terms this treaty is not binding on us? Or do you just skirt it and pretend that you want to have a good faith relationship with them, and let's just not talk about that legal schmegal stuff?

Deputy Secretary de Leon: We could fill a Pentagon-sized building full of lawyers and they would disagree over all of the elements of the 1972 treaty and the Vladivostok...

Q: Haven't we done that?

Q: ...with 50 Senators...

Q: How do you negotiate a treaty with the Russians when you've got Jesse Helms back here saying over my dead body?

Deputy Secretary de Leon: You have to look at the, present whatever agreement there is to the full United States Senate, present it on its merits, and then there will be a very significant debate that will extend into the next administration. I think there are some that want a different configuration, but there are many others that understand what this system was designed to do and support it in the Senate. There are critics on the left and the right. So I think you work the details, you work, the substance, and then you present it to the Congress.

Q: Is the ABM Treaty a binding treaty on the United States today?

Deputy Secretary de Leon: I'd have to get a roomful of lawyers...

Q: So you can't say yes or no.

Deputy Secretary de Leon: I think we're proceeding that it is. That it's been a significant agreement.

You can go as recently as last year's congressional language that says we need to deploy a missile defense at the earliest opportunity, and then the amendment that was offered said consistent with all the arms control agreements.

So there is a policy ambiguity even in the most recent congressional language on this. So that ambiguity exists in diplomacy as well as international law.

Q: The point is this administration for matters of policy is treating the ABM Treaty as an important structuring element to the future, whereas a future possible Republican Administration is very prepared to say bye, bye ABM Treaty, you're no longer relevant. There's a very big difference.

Deputy Secretary de Leon: I think that brings us back to the engagement with the Russians and the diplomatic track and the fact that May and June are going to be very interesting and busy months.

Q: ...binding, but all things are negotiable.

Deputy Secretary de Leon: We're considering it to be the current policy.

Q: It just occurs to me that anyone suggesting that the Russians had better make a deal now because the next administration is going to tell them they have no basis for a deal and no leverage whatsoever.

Q: I think they figured that out.

Deputy Secretary de Leon: In the discussions with the Russian delegation they have really focused on a description of what the system is and how it works, and then the fact that the system is really not designed to check the Russian strategic arsenal.

Q: I want to make sure that I follow up correctly from our discussion before. Has the administration talked about the possibility of putting certain architectures off limits? Basically saying this architecture is not designed to counter you. We'll stick with this. We won't go with a space-based system. We won't go with a sea-based system. We'll do what we're doing now and promise in writing to do nothing more.

Deputy Secretary de Leon: If you listen to the answer I just gave, that's essentially what we've done. One, this is a briefing of what the system involves. X-Band radars, a battle management center, early acquisition radars, a missile field.

Q: Are you offering to put that in writing as part of this treaty?

Deputy Secretary de Leon: It certainly exists in the written form of all of the relevant briefing and budgetary charts. Again, we'll let Deputy Secretary Talbott and the President convey these and determine what the language would be in the agreement, but I think we've worked hard so that the Russian representatives understand what the system is designed to do and what it is not designed to do.

Q: Let me ask one more on the missile defense. How close is the Pentagon coming to the recommendation to the president? And also, how involved has Gore been in terms of are you keeping Gore up to date so that he would also share the same views as Clinton? How close are you on a recommendation?

Deputy Secretary de Leon: I think the next test is scheduled for late June, early July. So that next test would occur, then there will be an analytical period, analyzing the test results. Then there is a deployment review that would occur probably in late July. Then a recommendation would go forward to the president.

Q: I'm still not familiar with the schedule of how that would work, but assuming that the tests are all right, are you proceeding on the basis that you're going to recommend that this should go forward?

Deputy Secretary de Leon: I think there are five criteria. We're working against all five. We'd want to have a successful test, but we're doing this because we think there's a criticality of deploying this missile defense system in terms of the threat that we're looking at for the next, that starts to open during the next decade.

Q: You talked in the beginning about 100 interceptors in Alaska, a limited defense. Then if I understood you correctly, are you then saying the plan already, or the thinking already calls for an additional 100 interceptors on the East Coast to protect the Eastern United States? You made a...

Deputy Secretary de Leon: Correct. That gets into the CBO numbers. What is the time period you assume...

Q: But when you talk to the Russians these days, when you sort of brief the formal program, it's actually 200 interceptors?

Deputy Secretary de Leon: Right now what is on the table is the deployment to Alaska. With an indication that there would be a follow-on at some later point.

Q: But you have...

Deputy Secretary de Leon: ...with the Alaskan site, you get coverage for all 50 states.

Q: You do get coverage. So what does the East Coast site give you with the additional 100 interceptors?

Deputy Secretary de Leon: It would give you more coverage and more time to react. If a missile came from the MidEast you would have to react sooner from an Alaskan site than you would from an East Coast...

Q: Does East Coast coverage give Europe any protection? Can we offer the Europeans anything? Or is this strictly CONUS really?

Deputy Secretary de Leon: It really focuses on the 50 states.

Q: When you talk then about both of these two elements of 100 interceptors each, none of this so far, you haven't included in your cost estimates satellites for queuing or tracking, have you? At least that's the answer we got last week.

Deputy Secretary de Leon: That's part of the difference with the CBF and the CBO numbers and what phase does SBIRS Low come in.

Q: Here's what I don't get. It's $30 billion for 100 in Alaska. Maybe another $30 billion for 100...

Deputy Secretary de Leon: I think if you really want to get into the numbers I'd be happy to get folks and go through all the program elements. Because with the CBO numbers they have assumed 2-1/2 decades, acquisition costs as well as operational costs for 2-1/2 decades, 25 years, plus the second site, plus the SBIRS Low. So they have made certain assumptions far beyond the original program on the table.

Q: Here's what I'm not understanding. It seems like we're already beyond that original program. You are saying real coverage would down the road require an additional 100 interceptors. You've sort of made that reference here.

I guess what I'm not understanding is in all honesty, how in the world would you ever pay for any of this at this point? It's just an enormous price tag. Where is the money...

Deputy Secretary de Leon: Those costs are looking at a program over the next 25 years, so you're not paying those in one installment.

Q: It's well understood, but you're already having challenges in paying for the future program that you have on the books now. So are we looking no matter what at a huge top line increase over the next X number of years? How do you pay for this?

Deputy Secretary de Leon: This is funded in our FYDP and you just keep working against, every year you update your FYDP so this is just a piece that is included in the FYDP.

Q: But it's a huge... What am I not understanding? Isn't it really a huge leap forward in funding? Isn't it still the case you don't start programs unless you can demonstrate how they're going to be funded over the years and that there is a funding line for them? Otherwise you don't have the new start.

Deputy Secretary de Leon: I think we're talking past each other. We have incorporated and funded this in our FYDP and that's the document that we put on the table.

Q: Forgive me if I missed this, but there have been conflicting statements about whether this next test is a make or break test. It's been said I think by Bacon that we need another success. We have to do two out of three. Then I think the last time we had a briefing it wasn't that we had to have a success to get a recommendation to go forward.

You've just called it critical. What does critical mean? Does it have to succeed to support a recommendation to the President to go forward? Or does it not have to succeed?

Deputy Secretary de Leon: I think it's very important for the test to succeed, to learn, so I'll just leave it at that. I think it's an important test. We said two out of three, or one for one. On the other hand there is lots of additional time built into the schedule for both developmental testing and operational testing. But this is a very important test, no doubt about that.

Q: Is the second test considered a success or a failure in the greater scheme? It didn't intercept, but... (Laughter)

Deputy Secretary de Leon: You got it.

Q: It failed to achieve intercept, but people have sort of gone to great lengths to say it worked.

Deputy Secretary de Leon: The physics of a bullet hitting a bullet worked. There was a malfunction in the final tracking phase because sensors overheated. So no surprise, spending a lot of time working those sensors and making sure that the cooling apparatus works.

At the same time, back to David's point. It's going to be critical that there be successful test information in it. So I think it's an easier case to argue if the test is successful.

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Q: Back to missile defense for a second. I've been reading this symposium from the Arms Control Association, who is obviously into a fan of missile defense, but they make a point in there that the last NIE significantly lowered the bar in what it takes to become a threat these days by saying North Korea could deploy within five, ten years. And that could has never been a standard which has shown up in NIEs before. They go on to suggest that (inaudible) and all that.

Do you have a sense that the bar, after the Rumsfeld report, sort of said we might not know it when it happens, when they make a decision to deploy, and then the NIE comes along and says could be. Did the bar get lowered there on what it takes to become a threat?

Deputy Secretary de Leon: There are lots of briefings and lots of discussions. I think if you look at the trend generally, things that the U.S. and the Soviet Union had a monopoly on during the Cold War are technologies that are likely to be available in one form or another in future decades. It is most seriously manifested by the North Koreans today, but the capability for that kind of delivery system to be obtained by other countries, Iran, Iraq or someone else, is serious and shouldn't be underestimated.

So the arms control community in some respects, I think if you look at things in terms of the classic model of the U.S. and the Soviet Union over the last 50 years, you look at it one way. If you look at the proliferation of technologies in the future you look at it a different way.

We can't uninvent nuclear weapons, and for better or worse, the U.S. and then Soviet relationship gave the world a fair amount of strategic stability. I think the U.S. and Russian relationship is very important, but the proliferation of missile technologies is something that is real and it is growing. It's seriously manifested with the North Koreans, but there are plenty of other folks that are either trying to develop this or to obtain it.

So I think it's the NIE plus other information that is out there, but I think looking at it from the secretary's perspective and the department's, this is a reasonable program, consistent with the five criteria to really look at for the future.

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Thanks very much.