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Background Briefing


Tuesday, October 27, 1998 - 4 p.m.
Presenter: Secretary Cohen's Trip to the Far East

Senior Defense Official: To finish up the day we have a briefing by yet another Senior Defense Official on Secretary Cohen's upcoming trip to the Far East. I think most of you are acquainted with our briefer, but for the purposes of your reporting if you would refer to him as just a Senior Defense Official. With that, I will turn it over to our esteemed Senior Defense Official who will provide a rundown on his upcoming trip.

Senior Defense Official: I'll try not to make this too long. I'll give you just a general background on the trip and be happy to take any questions.

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From South Korea we will proceed to Japan where Secretary Cohen will hold intensive deliberations with the Japanese government about the status of our various security common issues concerning defense guidelines, progress on theater missile defense, and shared perceptions of regional developments.

While in Japan, in addition to meeting senior officials of the Japanese government, including Prime Minister Obuchi, Secretary Cohen will also meet with key diet members, both of the LDP, the ruling party, and also other parties in Japan to try to make the case to them how important defense guidelines is for the security of our common partnership.

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Q: Can you elaborate any more on the theater missile defense talks? Will anything be signed regarding cooperation or further cooperation?

A: Between the United States and Japan?

Q: Yes.

A: Nothing will be signed. Obviously we will be continuing our close discussions on theater missile defense. I think Secretary Cohen will be stating publicly that it is our hope that the United States and Japan will be able to move ahead smartly in the not too distant future on a plan to work together on TMD.

Q: You've made that statement in Japan.

A: We've made it many times, but he will reaffirm it when he is in Japan. Yes.

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Q: What details can you give us, if any, with regard to what Japan now is seeking in the way of missile defense, specifically anything about hardware, how much they might want to spend. Just where are they? Are they really motivated by the North Korean missiles?

A: Another good question. I believe that the North Korean satellite -- the aborted satellite launch or the missile test did have a galvanizing effect on Japanese public opinion and even elite opinion in Japan. As you know, we have been involved for several years in an intensive study with Japan about all aspects of TMD research, both the technical aspects of it, the strategic rationale behind it, the potential regional security implications of it. Those deliberations have picked up substantially and I think there is a broad consensus between the United States and Japan that some form of cooperation is in the interest of both the United States and Japan. We are now in the midst of defining what the nature of that possible cooperation might be.

Ultimately, I think as I have indicated at our last session, there are a number of areas that Japan has very real capabilities, both in sensor technology and of writing software applications. As we look at research and as we look at beginning an intensive period of study for how to build such a system, we think Japan might have very real capabilities to bring to the table. But ultimately, that is a Japanese decision, the level and nature of their involvement.

Q: But they definitely want to buy American, join with Americans?

A: I didn't quite say that. I mean, what we are talking about here is collaborative research and development. Remember, when you talk about buying American, we don't have a system yet, right? We are still in the process of developing and thinking about such a system, and I think that is the kind of interaction that we are having with the Japanese. Are there ways that we can begin a process of collaboration in the development and the research stages?

Q: I wonder, will that kind of application of collaboration or cooperation with the United States will the Secretary talk about the importance of providing a financial commitment to cooperation? I think they have already chipped in a little bit but it's in the millions rather than the billions of the U.S. --

A: Let me just say that any -- fundamentally and ultimately, any TMD program will be expensive. It already has been expensive for the United States. These are cutting edge technologies. They are many technologies that are in their infancies, and so I think everyone who is involved in ballistic missile defense and theater missile defense research or budgeteering understands that this is not something that can be done with leftover scraps of budget authority. This is something that takes a national commitment to achieve success.

Q: On the political aspect of the TMD, the U.S. has emphasized the defensive nature of this system but the Chinese, the PRC, has, you know, over and over again voiced their concerns, the latest instance of which being a few hours ago comments from the PRC ambassador to Japan. How do you see the differences can be solved, or are you going to just go ahead with the study and eventually, if possible, deployment?

A: Well, first, we are going to go ahead and we have tried to make very clear that this is -- that we see TMD as a profoundly defensive system, that in a country like Japan that has no nuclear deterrent and has a peace constitution, that this is designed not in any way against China but against very real near-term threats. And the most blatant example of that, of course, is the recent satellite launch over Japanese territory. I think we have tried to explain to our Chinese interlocutors how important it is that TMD research and development can commence both between the United States and Japan and that this is a profoundly defensive endeavor.

I think much more dialogue will still be necessary between the United States and China. Our Undersecretary, Mr. Slocombe, was in the PRC last week. I was with him and TMD came up extensively. The one good thing I will tell you is that I do think the level of discussion about this is becoming more sophisticated. I think there is a greater sense that these are defensive capabilities and technologies. They are also expensive. They are not a magic bullet. They don't provide astrodome kind of assurances or guarantees, but they are relevant. They are an appropriate defensive response to a dangerous world in which we live. And one of the things that we'll want to have further discussions with China is to try to underscore the importance of this. Many countries in the world are involved in certain forms of TMD research, not least of which China has a TMD research program, and so we think this is a prudent step on the part of the United States. We believe it's critical for our national security strategy and we think it's also important for Japan as well. But ultimately, as I have said, that is a decision for Japan to make.

Q: In your discussion how much -- I mean, before the deployment of the TMD program, how much money do you think Japan is likely to spend and how far is it? I mean, how much time is Japan going use. And, also, is any other country like Taiwan or South Korea going to join the theater missile defense coordination?

A: First of all, it is almost impossible to tell how expensive ultimately these kinds of systems are. I think many of you who follow domestic procurement understand that several of the programs that are underway are under some significant strain in review because of performance criteria issues. So I can't make that kind of prediction.

I will say that we have studied this intensively with Japan for coming up on now almost five years, four and a half years, and I think that dialogue has been very productive. We believe that there will be a number of countries that have also looked at TMD research and TMD cooperation with the United States. Most of those countries are in Europe, and we have had some discussions with South Korea. As you know, South Korea at this time doesn't have the financial wherewithal to make this kind of commitment and I think primarily has been satisfied with the Patriot systems that have been deployed to South Korea for some years now.

We are in the midst now of a study that will be Congressionally mandated to look at TMD and its potential strategic significance in the Taiwan context. And as you know, the United States stands by its commitment to provide defensive equipment and providing a security assessment of the situation across the Taiwan Straits, and we stand by that commitment.

We have had a discussion for several years now with Taiwan on TMD issues and I think it is extremely important as we discuss this kind of system, there tends to be a sense to look at it in one of two ways: either TMD is some kind of magic bullet that provides ultimate security or it is a sort of terrible, nefarious kind of potential with deeply destabilizing consequences. If you look at those, they tend to be different sides of the same coin. In fact, this is just another technology that is still in its infancy that we believe can enhance peace and stability.

Press: Thank you.

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