21 January 1999
(But deployment is not planned before the year 2005) (960) By Wendy S. Ross USIA White House Correspondent Washington -- A member of the National Security Council staff has confirmed that the United States is developing a limited national missile defense system to counter possible threats from rogue states. Robert Bell told a January 21 White House briefing that the United States is concerned "with the recent accelerated trends in the threat" relating to long-range missile capability in the programs of rogue states, particularly North Korea and Iran -- "missiles that have the potential to reach our homeland if launched." North Korea, in its three-stage missile test last year, he said, "tried but failed to put a satellite in orbit." But, Bell noted, that test demonstrated a rudimentary technical capability to move a missile to ranges that could threaten Hawaii. In addition, North Korea is exporting its missile capability. "We cannot assume that if North Korea perfects a three-stage ICBM capable of striking the American homeland with a meaningful military warhead ... that North Korea will not seek to sell that capability to other states," he said. Bell made clear that the missile defense program the United States is now developing is different from the so-called "Star Wars" system President Ronald Reagan proposed in 1983. Reagan was talking about "an extremely capable and robust space-based total shield defense.... He was projecting the vision of a defense that could stop tens of thousands of incoming warheads from a determined adversary like the Soviet Union." According to Bell, the current effort is to develop "an extremely limited" land-based defense that designed primarily to provide defense from a rogue state "that gets a handful of missiles that it tries to blackmail us with or use against us in a crisis." He said that "for the last three years the United States has been committed to the development by the year 2000 of a limited national missile defense system." Bell noted that Defense Secretary Cohen has announced "a restructuring of this program that would orient the developmental efforts towards fielding the system in the year 2005, instead of 2003 as previously envisioned, assuming a go-ahead deployment decision were to be made in the summer of the year 2000." But he said that "no decision has been taken on whether to proceed with deployment." This decision, he said, will not be made until the year 2000 or later, "at which we will again assess our evaluation of the threat, review the program, in terms of its technology, its maturity, and program risk as of that date." Bell said that when the President's next six-year budget for the Pentagon is presented to Congress in a few weeks, it will include nearly $7 billion "to cover the contingency that we decide on deployment." Adding this money "does not represent a change in policy," he said. "We are adding this money to protect the deployment option in the event a decision is made in the year 2000 or later to field this system," Bell said. "I want to emphasize this point," he said. "No decision has been taken on whether to proceed with deployment. A decision on whether to deploy a limited national missile defense will not be made, as I said, until the year 2000 or later," when, Bell said, "we will again assess our evaluation of the threat, review the program in terms of its technology and its maturity and program risk as of that date, assessing flight tests that we hope to have conducted by that date, and further refine our cost estimate." He also pointed out that all issues involving a national defense missile program must be addressed within the context of the ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) Treaty. "The ABM Treaty remains in the view of this administration a cornerstone of strategic stability and the United States is committed to continued efforts to strengthen the treaty and enhance its viability and effectiveness," he said. Bell said the development of this limited national missile defense system is in full compliance with the ABM Treaty, but deployment "may, or may not," require modifications to the Treaty. "We have not made a proposal to negotiate ABM amendments, as some have reported, because as Secretary Cohen reported yesterday, we have not yet made determinations as to what specific amendments might be required to accommodate the various options that are being considered in the Pentagon with respect to the final architecture of this defensive system," Bell said. "The Secretary did not threaten to withdraw from the Treaty, as has been reported. The Secretary merely noted that the ABM Treaty as in the case with every arms control treaty retains a clause that gives that option," Bell said. The United States has been in touch with the Russian government at every level throughout the development of this limited missile defense option, Bell emphasized, and he said Secretary of State Albright will discuss the proposal with Russian officials on her upcoming trip to Russia. Earlier in the day, White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart told reporters that the United States continues "to work in good faith to amend the ABM Treaty to provide any necessary modifications in the current restrictions. The development of the deployment will be continued to be carried out in strict compliance with the Treaty." He said President Clinton has sent a letter to Russian President Boris Yeltsin "just to fill him in on the budget announcements we have been making over the last few weeks," and to reassure Yeltsin that the United States remains committed to the ABM Treaty, and remains committed "to staying engaged on any modifications that may need to be made."