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Testing the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty

July 12, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: And Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz joins us now along with Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, who ran today’s hearing. Welcome, gentlemen.

Senator Levin, it didn’t sound as if you liked what you heard this morning. Why not?

SEN. CARL LEVIN: Well, we’ve heard three different things in the last three weeks. Two weeks or three weeks ago we heard from the head of the Ballistic Missile Defense Office that the activities that he was asking us to budget would not violate or being in conflict with the ABM Treaty. And just yesterday, we were told — in fact this document you were referred to said specifically that they expect that these activities would conflict with the ABM Treaty in a matter of months, not years.

But today, Undersecretary Wolfowitz pulled back a bit from that and said, well, we’re not using the word conflict today. That was yesterday. Today we are using the word bump up against. And we don’t know legally yet whether or not the activities that they’re asking Congress to budget this year will in fact conflict with the ABM Treaty. This is a very serious issue because if we pull out of that treaty, before we have a new structure in place, this world could be a more doing dangerous place but putting up this kind of a missile defense rather than a less dangerous place.

MARGARET WARNER: Secretary Wolfowitz, under the testing regime that you are envisioning, how soon would it require you to formally abrogate or get out of the ABM Treaty?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: Well, the reason the answers are unclear is among… two things. One any test program has great uncertainties in it, but also the complexities of what testing is and isn’t allowed under the ABM Treaty have been the subject of years of frequently inconclusive negotiations with the old Soviet Union. So, for example, the facility you described earlier in Alaska is being designed as a test facility.

But it would have some operational capability, and the lawyers will argue on both sides as to whether that does or doesn’t comply with the treaty. But what we have said clearly from the beginning, we’ve never made any secret of it, it is our intent to develop capabilities to defend the United States. At the moment, we have no capabilities to intercept even a single accidentally launched warhead or intentionally launched warhead aimed an American city, and the treaty prohibits us from doing that.

We have made it clear we intend to go beyond it but we want to do it in a way that brings in the Russians, that works cooperatively with the Russians, that builds on the fact that this is not the Soviet Union we’re dealing with. It’s a country that is not a potential adversary, a country that we hope, in fact, will become a potential partner and ally.

MARGARET WARNER: Are you saying you have some confidence that the Russians might agree to amending the treaty?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: I have some optimism that the Russians might agree. You know, the old ABM Treaty was built on the idea that stability rested on the ability of the Soviet Union and the United States to annihilate one another. I don’t think stability between Russia and the United States rests on our ability to annihilate one another. I think it rests on our common interest in stability in Europe, in stability in the Persian Gulf and stability in Northeast Asia. Those are the critical regions of the world certainly for Russia’s security but also for America’s security. We need to work together with Russia in our common security interests.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator Levin, what is your view of how the administration should approach this whole question of the ABM Treaty and its desire to move ahead with this rather multiphase testing regime? Are you saying, unless the Russians agree, they shouldn’t go forward?

SEN. CARL LEVIN: We’re not going to give anybody a veto but their reaction is surely important to us. And so far their reaction is very negative. As a matter of fact if this is done wrongly, if there is a unilateral pulling away from this treaty, if there is no new structure put in place before the old structure is destroyed, we could find ourselves in a more dangerous situation.

We could find that the Russians, for instance, will instead of destroying and dismantling nuclear weapons on their soil, will be building up as soon as they can afford to do so, will be putting multiple warheads on missiles called MIRVing missiles. And the world can become a much more dangerous place it if they feel threatened by our unilaterally pulling out of this treaty, and the same thing with the Chinese. So while we are doing testing which is consistent with the treaty, we ought to be negotiating with the Russians to see whether or not we can move mutually to a new structure.

But that is not what this administration is doing. What this administration is doing is saying, we decided to deploy. Now we’ll consult. That is not consultation. That is a unilateral decision. Our allies have urged us not to do this. They’ve urged us to go slow. And when I read today that we have notified our allies that it’s just a matter of months, not years, before the activities that the administration is requesting funds for will be in conflict with the ABM Treaty, I think our allies are going to be somewhat shocked to hear that now it’s a prediction that it’s a matter of months before these activities conflict with the ABM Treaty if in fact the Congress budgets it.

So, yeah, we want to make this world a more secure place and yes, we should negotiate with the Russians — if we cannot negotiate a modification in the treaty then at that time if we are able to design a system that works, then we can make a decision. Will we be more secure by pulling out of this treaty with all of the negative ramifications that that could precipitate in Russia and in China?

MARGARET WARNER: Secretary Wolfowitz, why, in the administration’s view, is it necessary to proceed on testing on all these fronts at once — sea, land and air, that is, to go beyond what the Clinton administration, the kind of testing regime they had to place?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: Basically, because we are dealing with very complex, difficult technology where frankly we have not been moving with the speed that the threat has been moving. Ten years ago during the Gulf War we took our worst casualties of the war when a single fairly primitive Scud missile hit a barracks in Dhahran. Saddam Hussein attacked Israel with Scud missiles and almost dragged Israel into that war.

And today — ten years later — against that shorter-range missile threat we are still yet not ready to deploy a defense. And at the same time we see countries building longer and longer range missiles, and more and more missiles. We’ve got to move, I believe, much more quickly — the way we used to move when we felt a sense of urgency in these things to explore what the real possibilities are and to be able to feel them. But in doing so we’re not trying to threaten Russia.

We’re not trying to deal with the hundreds of thousands of warheads that a country like Russia has; we’re trying to deal with limited missile attacks of the kind that an Iraq, Iran or North Korea can and very likely might mount against us or our friends or our deployed forces.

MARGARET WARNER: Senator, setting aside the ABM issue, do you quarrel with that — what is your view on the technology issue or on how the testing should proceed and whether the administration is going in the right direction?

SEN. CARL LEVIN: Well, the testing has always been supported by the Congress. Just about all of us have supported research and development, which is consistent with the ABM Treaty. We surely have supported the defenses against the short-range missiles which are consistent with the treaty including the Aero missile and the Pac missile, which we have deployed and fielded and improved.

What our concern here is… that if to meet what is clearly an effort on the part of North Korea to come up with a missile which is long range, we should not act in a way which endangers us and the rest of the world. That is what our concern is. If we respond the wrong way to the least likely way in which a weapon of mass destruction would be delivered. That is what our intelligence people tell us. That a ballistic missile is the least likely method that a weapons of mass destruction would reach us, that a truck, a ship, a suitcase is a much easier, cheaper, more accurate, stealthier delivery system.

So since North Korea could do that, for us to respond to their effort to come up with the least likely delivery system — the missile — in a way which causes Russia or China to keep nuclear material on their soil or increase it — therefore increasing the proliferation threat –would be self-defeating, we’d be less secure. We have a moral obligation to make yourselves more secure and not respond to one potential threat in a way which makes us less secure.

So we do favor the testing. We favor it being done in a sensible way consistent with other priorities — not necessarily moving three additional billions, over 50 percent increase in that budget while we are other needs both in the defense budget and domestically. That is where we have some real concerns and we’re saying to the administration you have got to lay out your program a lot better than you have so far.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, Senator. Let me ask you what you can actually do about this. First of all, under the Constitution the Senate must… ratify any treaty to implement it. Does the Senate have any ability to stand in the way of an administration if an administration wants to break out of a treaty?

SEN. CARL LEVIN: The administration can unilaterally pull out of treaty. They have that right to do. But what they can’t do is fund the activities which are in conflict with that treaty. That is up to the Congress, with the power of the purse to fund or not fund. That is where many of us want to be very, very careful that what we do contributes to American security and hopefully we can do that on a bipartisan way.

MARGARET WARNER: Secretary Wolfowitz how much of what you want to do could you do if you don’t get this 57 percent increase that you are asking for in the next fiscal year?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: A lot less is the answer. A significant part of that increase is in fact going to the shorter-range systems that I think we all agree on. But the fact is that the issues that might come up under the treaty in this coming year are all issues that relate to testing and to our ability to determine what is in fact feasible.

It’s very hard to know where to go under the treaty because the treaty prevents you from exactly the kind of testing you need to have knowledge, but let me also put this in a larger context. One of the reasons why I feel optimistic that the Russians when they understand exactly what we’re doing and we are spending a lot of time talking to them and explaining to them where we’re going will feel much more comfortable is because we are significantly bringing down our offensive nuclear forces.

In this budget alone the one that we’ve just submitted to the Congress, we are dismantling all of our MIRV peacekeeper missiles, 30 of our B-1 nuclear capable bombers, four of our nuclear capable Trident submarines. It’s more than a thousand warheads the way you count it under the START agreement. So I think Russians have no reason to build up their nuclear forces. We are reducing ours. I think they will reduce theirs.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Quickly, Secretary Wolfowitz, today you said that you wanted to start this construction in Alaska next April, the reports are though that you’ve been briefing reporters saying you start clearing this land as early as next month, is that correct?

PAUL WOLFOWITZ: My understanding is that clearing the land is not a — whatever the lawyers call it — constructive act under the treaty. Even the construction in Alaska, that is why I can’t give a clear answer — there are very difficult legal issues that revolve around questions of intent. We’ve never made a secret that our long-term intention is to defend the territory and people of the United States and the treaty prohibits us explicitly from defending the territory and the people of the United States.

So our long-term intent is clearly in conflict with the treaty. The issue of exactly when a consensus of lawyers will be that we either can’t do something that is important or have to withdraw from the treaty is uncertain. What is certain is that we want to move as quickly as possible to build an entirely different structure with Russian. Not one that is build on maintaining the mutual balance of terror, but one that is based on mutual security interests.

MARGARET WARNER: Thank you very much, both of you.