February 3, 1999
The Marines involved in the Aviano cable car disaster go on trial tomorrow. A year ago, a Marine jet sliced through the cable, killing 20 people.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And we get four views now. Robert Bell is director of arms control and defense policy at the National Security Council. Donald Rumsfeld was secretary of defense under President Ford and was chairman of the commission that assessed the ballistic missile threat last year. Richard Garwin, a member of that commission, is chairman of an advisory committee to the director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. And John Rhinelander helped negotiate the 1972 A.B.M. Treaty. He is now vice chairman of the Arms Control Association. Bob Bell, flush out what we're talking about here. We'll get into the whys in a few minutes, but how many missiles, where would they be in this system that's proposed?
ROBERT BELL, Special Assistant to President Clinton: Elizabeth, those are the two key questions yet to be answered as Secretary Cohen made clear in his press conference. We're looking at a range of options here from one site that would include just about 20 missiles at the beginning of the deployment to a more robust deployment in the first stage that could perhaps move that site to a different location or mix the number of missiles, again, very limited in the first phase, between two sites.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And where would those two sites be, perhaps?
ROBERT BELL: We are conducting environmental site surveys at present. At the site that's already designated in the ABM Treaty in Grand Forks, North Dakota, and some locations in Alaska, which, of course, would be much more proximate to the North Korean launch sites if their missile threat continues to grow as it's evolving right now. And we've kept the Russians informed throughout of this environmental work at both locations.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. We'll get back to that, too. Mr. Bell, how would that work? We gave a cursory explanation. You explain how it would work.
|How will it work.|
ROBERT BELL: Well, we've had satellites in geosyncronous orbit twenty-three/twenty-four thousand miles above the earth for many, many years. In fact during the Desert Storm Gulf War, we used those satellites to let our forces in Kuwait know that there were Scud missiles coming towards them. So, those overhead satellites would give the first warning and then A.B.M. radars that would be part of these sites would pick up the incoming warhead, and there would be a ground-based interceptor, or actually under our plan several launched at each incoming warhead to assure an extremely high probability of intercept.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Donald Rumsfeld, based on what your commission found last year, do you think a national missile defense of this sort is necessary?
DONALD RUMSFELD, Commission to Assess Missile Threat: Well, I do. There is no question but that the threat is there. And I was very pleased to hear Secretary Cohen state that fact, that the threat is here and now. I think that the decision on the part of the administration to put some money behind that decision was also important, as well as the decision to recognize the fact that the A.B.M. Treaty is inhibiting development of and deployment of such a program and the decision to go forward and begin the discussions with Russia on that, although I sense there may be some difference between the Pentagon and the White House, at least in terms of the press reports on that issue. But I was pleased to see Mrs. Albright bring it up.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Mr. Rumsfeld, describe the threat that your commission identified.
DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, the threat is that we concluded -- we discussed the threat from Russia and the threat from the People's Republic of China and those capabilities which are reasonably well understood. What we focused on what was the evolving threat that is proceeding at a more rapid rate than had previously had been assessed by the U.S. intelligence community with respect to countries such as North Korea, Iran, Iraq, countries that have had shorter-range ballistic missiles but because of the availability of technology today and have been proceeding at a pace that suggests that they can have these weapons within a period of five years of a decision to do so, and that in fact the United States might not know of such decision, which means you are really in an environment of little or no warning. And certainly the North Korean launch of the Taep'o-dong three-stage missile is a perfect example of the problem.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Explain that missile those of us who are not experts in this. A three-stage missile, what could it hit?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, it depends of course on the success of the third stage, all stages. It depends on the weight of the payload. But the conclusion that has been made now by the Pentagon and by Mr. Walpole, who is the national intelligence officer on this subject, in an unclassified basis is that the Taep'o-dong launched by the North Koreans suggests they will be able to reach the United States in a reasonably short period of time.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But can't at the current moment, right?
DONALD RUMSFELD: No. It could reach portions of the United States, probably depending on the payload weight.
|Developing a missile defense system.|
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Richard Garwin, were you on the same commission. Do you think that the United States should move towards developing a national defense -- missile defense system?
RICHARD GARWIN, Commission to Assess Missile Threat: Well, I think we should develop a missile defense system that can handle the threat. And there are three problems with the current system. First, you have small payloads available to the North Koreans; they're the only one of the three threat countries we looked at -- North Korea, Iraq and Iran.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Small payloads?
RICHARD GARWIN: Small payloads, not thousand pound for early stage - early generation nuclear weapons but small payloads, some tens of pounds, hundreds of pounds, which might deliver biological weapons. And that's not good news. But the problem is that in delivering biological weapons, they are not going to come all in one clump in the middle of a city or on the outskirts. The weapons aren't very accurate -- but are easily divided into bomblets on the way up; these bomblets would have to be intercepted independently. This national missile defense is not the way to do it.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Mr. Garwin, let me interrupt you here. I'm going to come back to you in a minute on why you think this won't work. But did you identify the same threat as part of the commission as Mr. Rumsfeld just described?
RICHARD GARWIN: Yes. We were unanimous. We had an emerging I.C.B.M. threat as soon as the countries wanted to put the effort behind it and worked at it effectively. But we noticed that there are two other threats. One, I mentioned, the bomblets, and also some countermeasures that keep you from having a cooperative warhead in space to intercept. But furthermore, that if these countries really wanted to hurt us, then they would use shorter-range millions from ships, nuclear weapons blowing up in harbors, purchased cruise missiles if they like, small airplanes that could fly out of shipping containers on a ship. And that's a much easier job. That's not to say we shouldn't have a defense against those things we can defend against, but we shouldn't feel protected against malign intent from these countries.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And your commission looked at the threats but made no recommendation on what should be done against those threats, the Rumsfeld Commission?
RICHARD GARWIN: Exactly. We didn't discuss whether it was feasible or not.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Mr. Rhinelander, how do you see the threat from North Korea and elsewhere?
JOHN RHINELANDER, Former Arms Control Negotiator: Well, I don't think the threat from North Korea is as important by any means as the problem with the Russians and the Chinese. The Russians have thousands of weapons now which could destroy us. And China has maybe ten to twenty. And these are the ones which are in place right now. And we ought to be focusing on them. Whatever defense we are thinking of putting up would not handle the Russian threat. Everybody understands that. And what we are doing is counterproductive.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So, why don't you think the others are a threat, a current threat, the ones mentioned by Mr. Rumsfeld?
|A current threat?|
JOHN RHINELANDER: What the commission is saying that over the next five years, they may develop them. They are not saying they are there now. The immediate threat of around the world are shorter range systems, not the ones that can reach the U.S. The U.S. can be hit directly now only by a thousand or so, more than a thousand Russian missiles and a handful of Chinese missiles.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And you're not saying that a national missile defense should be developed to counter that. You're just saying it won't work for what it's aimed at now.
JOHN RHINELANDER: Well, one of the problems is it's never worked over the last 50 years. We've been trying to develop them since really after World War II. We have put maybe $100 billion into the effort and we still don't know how to do it.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. I'm going to come back to that in a second. Mr. Bell, respond to what you've heard so far. What were you thinking about in the administration when you decided to move forward on this?
ROBERT BELL: Well, we think it's very important to protect the option of deploying the system when it's ready to be deployed. That's a crucial distinction, Elizabeth. As you said in the front of this piece, Secretary Cohen made clear when he announced at the press conference last week our plans, that we've not made a deployment decision yet and do not intend to until June of 2000 at the soonest.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Explain that briefly and then go ahead. Money to build but not yet deploy?
ROBERT BELL: Well, the Pentagon, unlike most agencies of our government, has to have very strict budget plans that go out five or six years. And the budget that the president will submit on Monday for the Pentagon extends through the year 2005. And we had to ask ourselves if we're as serious about this program as we say we are, and we are, then was the money going to be in that long-range plan to protect the option of deploying it if we conclude in the summer of 2000, based on flight tests that we're going to have to conduct over the next 18 months, if we conclude then several things: First, that the flight tests show that the system is ready for deployment, that it can do the job and answer the sort of technical questions that John Rhinelander and Dick Garwin just raised. Second we're going to have to confirm that the threat that we are now projecting and expecting to arrive about in that time frame has, indeed, matured in that direction. We're also going to need to make sure the costs are under control. And, of course, by then we'll know a lot more about our discussions with the Russians on modifying the treaty, if that's required, and our ability to persuade them that that can be done while still preserving the benefits we hope to achieve from the strategic arms reductions treaties.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And the threats as they were described by Mr. Rumsfeld, those are the same ones you identified?
ROBERT BELL: I believe that's right. Both the Rumsfeld commission and now our intelligence community are on the same script. They are both projecting the likelihood that this threat from North Korea will mature in the time frame we are talking about here. That's our expectation. We'll need to confirm it. But we are now, in effect, hedging against that eventuality -- perhaps that high likelihood event -- by putting $7 billion into the defense budget.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Garwin, now, why don't you think it will work? You gave us an answer. Go ahead.
RICHARD GARWIN: I mentioned the bomblets and against the nuclear warheads arriving in space.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Explain the bomblets in a little more detail.
RICHARD GARWIN: The bomblets were biological weapons, anthrax, or whatever in little containers about that size weighing a few pounds, dozens or hundreds of them all flying over a region of tens of miles. You cannot collide with them the way these interceptors are supposed to collide with warheads to destroy them.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Because they're too small?
RICHARD GARWIN: They're too small and they're too many. As Bob Bell says, we're going to start with 20 interceptors and we're limited to 100. But we do not know how to collide with the bomblet and we certainly don't have that many interceptors. So, that's one surefire way of beating the system, with biological attack, which of course is illegal. But destroying the United States is illegal and undesirable, too. Incidentally these people cannot destroy the United States. They will have one, five missiles, something like that, some of which may work. It would be a terrible thing for them to launch. But even if they have a nuclear warhead and they are far from having a deployable nuclear warhead, it will not fly through space like a happy puppy running up to be petted. We are not going to intercept it with its own -- with its approval. And so it's really easy to put around one of these things a big aluminized plastic balloon. The United States deployed such things in space in 1958. And these can be as big as this whole studio. So, the interceptor will poke a hole in one part of it, and it will not touch the reentry vehicle which will then reenter as if it had not been affected at all and even several interceptors seeing the balloon can do that. So these countermeasures are put off until a later time by the ballistic missile defense organization and I think we should realize that they will be there from time zero.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay, Donald Rumsfeld, how do you respond to that argument, that it shouldn't be developed because it won't work?
DONALD RUMSFELD: Well, I think that with all respect to my friend, Richard Garwin, and his knowledge of this subject, which is extensive, it seems to me that the argument that we shouldn't do anything until we can do everything simply doesn't work. Throughout the whole history of mankind there have been advances in military technologies where there is an improved offense and then an improved defense and an improved offense. It's never be static; it will not be in this instance. Second, I guess I have a lot more confidence in the technical capabilities of the United States of America. There just isn't a doubt in my mind. If we relieve ourselves of the restrictions of that treaty so that we do not have to do contortions to do what is the quickest, cheapest, most effective way of doing this, and organize to do it in an effective way, that the United States will be able to do it -- will it be perfect? No. Will it be able to solve every problem, terrorist attacks and everything else? Of course not. But I certainly agree that it ought to be able to protect the 50 states and possessions. It ought to be able to deal with the shorter-range threats as well as the longer-range threats, that is to say a shorter-range ballistic missile from a ship. And we need to also recognize the importance of our friends and allies and forces overseas and staging areas, or else we're an uncertain ally. I'm very pleased to see us working with some of our allies in that area now.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Rhinelander, you were the legal advisor to the U.S. delegation that negotiated the A.B.M. Treaty. What will be the effect of that treaty if this is deployed?
|The A.B.M. Treaty|
JOHN RHINELANDER: Well, we don't know for sure because we don't know the specifics of what the U.S. is proposing. I understand it may, though, consist of two sites, one in North Dakota, as Bob Bell indicated, perhaps the second in Alaska. The treaty only allows one site, so that would be one amendment. It would probably have space-based components to it and the treaty now limits the deployed sensors to fixed land-based. It may have sea-based components to it. It would be a fundamentally different legal arrangement than what we agreed to in 1972. And I do not personally believe the Russians will accept it because they do not have the capability. They don't have the money to deploy anything like what we are thinking about.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So do you see this as fundamentally destabilizing to the U.S. effort to cut arms?
JOHN RHINELANDER: Yes.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you think of what has been going on with the Soviet Union?
JOHN RHINELANDER: I think you have to ask what is the likely Russian reaction going to be. It won't be to build a comparable one because they couldn't do it and they don't want to do it. I think more likely than not, they will decide they will not take down the multiwarhead offensive missiles which they had agreed to in one of the great feats of diplomacy during the Bush administration to eliminate all their land-based weapons, the ones that concerned us more than anything else.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: All right. I want to get to Mr. Bell for a response on this, and we don't have much time. Mr. Bell, what do you think about that?
ROBERT BELL: Well, Elizabeth, two things. First, the A.B.M. Treaty has been amended or changed before, including under this administration. We had a very successful -- it was not an easy negotiation but an ultimately successful negotiation with agreements signed in New York in September of 1997 that amended the treaty. And, second, it's clear that the Russians value defense. After all, they have an A.B.M. around their capital city of Moscow. They have spent billions of rubles to maintain it and improve it. It's now in his fourth generation. So, we must start from the fundamental common ground that there is value in having protection against neighbors or states that hold you in some hostility, not being able to strike with impunity against your homeland.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, thank you all very much for being with us.