July 23, 2001
Experts discuss the plans of Presidents Bush and Putin for future missile talks.
GWEN IFILL: So what exactly did the U.S. and Russia agree to in Italy this weekend? We get three views. Arizona Republican Senator Jon Kyl serves on the Intelligence Committee. Former Senator Sam Nunn, a Democrat, chaired the Armed Services Committee, and is now the cochairman of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a foundation dedicated to reducing the threat from weapons of mass destruction. And Dimitri Simes is the president of the Nixon Center, a think tank.
Senator Kyl, what was your read on this press conference, on this announcement yesterday? What was your take on that?
SEN. JON KYL: I think two things, Gwen. First of all, it shows that President Bush and President Putin have begun an extremely important dialogue, apparently serious, apparently both aimed toward a conclusion that the world will have to look a little different in this century than it did in the last century and they're both willing to make some decisions to make that happen.
And that leads to the second point. It appears that Putin is willing to agree with President Bush that the kind of arms control treaties that defined the relationship between two adversaries during the Cold War is no longer relevant to the conditions of the 21st century in which Russia and the United States are not enemies. Neither country has any intention of attacking the other. And, therefore, we can enter into different kinds of relationships, and as President Bush described it, a new framework to describe the relationship between Russia and the United States.
GWEN IFILL: Senator Nunn, that was an optimistic assessment. Based on what they actually said yesterday, that they're prepared to do, what's your take on that?
SAM NUNN: I agree with Senator Kyl that it's a very important first step. I think recognition by both leaders that defensive measures and offensive measures have to be discussed together because what one side does on defense affects what the other side may do on offense, and vice versa. I think that's very important.
I think that discussion hopefully will lead to a recognition, as President Bush has said a number of times, that we're in a new era and that we should have a new relationship. So I agree with that. I also think it's very important for President Bush and President Putin to talk about matters beyond offense and defense, and that is the whole regime of non-proliferation because the greatest threat to America may not be a missile from North Korea or Syria or any other country. It may be a terrorist attack with biological or chemical weapons, and a lot of that knowledge and those materials both nuclear, chemical and biological are in the former Soviet Union.
So we have a lot at stake in dealing with Russia beyond the offensive and defensive discussions. We have a lot going on there now in terms of trying to help them secure the material and the know-how and we have a lot at stake here in protecting our homeland from that kind of attack. And we have to have the cooperation of Russia. I would say offense and defense, that's very good and also we need to have a whole discussion or an array of discussions on non-proliferation.
GWEN IFILL: Dmitri Simes?
DIMITRI SIMES: I think that they're right. It's a first step. The devil is in the details. It will be difficult negotiations. All the two leaders have agreed upon is that they will start the dialogue and that they will discuss both offensive and defensive systems. Having said that, I think it's a real breakthrough because it demonstrates that you can renegotiate the ABM Treaty, that you can proceed with ballistic missile defenses without damaging your essential relationship with Russia and without sacrificing other priorities like nuclear non-proliferation -- Senator Nunn was talking about. It was a real breakthrough.
GWEN IFILL: Now, one more thing about this. Vladimir Putin has been going around pretty much being very negative about the idea if a national missile defense system, launched by the U.S., that would abrogate the ABM Treaty, the 1972 treaty. Do you think that changes today?
DIMITRI SIMES: The Bush administration, of course, was saying that they will deploy ballistic missile defenses regardless of what the Russians would say. The Russians were saying that if that is what the administration will do, they would find a proper response and it will be a tough response. That is called posturing and necessary posturing. But fortunately we are moving from posturing to serious negotiations, difficult negotiations but from my point of view there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
GWEN IFILL: Senator Kyl are we posturing at this point or moving beyond that, as Dmitri Simes said?
SEN. JON KYL: I think Dmitri is right. There is a certain amount of posturing at the beginning of any negotiation. But then you get down to business. It sounds to me like President Bush's natural personality, which is a very forthright kind of personality, has gotten through to President Putin. He's willing to talk business. He apparently is a very serious guy. I think therefore they're beyond the posturing generally. There's always a little bit of that.
But I think they're willing to do something very, very important here. I also agree with Sam Nunn. There's a whole variety of things here that they're going to be talking about. Proliferation is a big part of it, economic issues, the nuclear safety issues that Sam Nunn is so much involved in as well as the limited missile defense and offensive issues. But all of this is in the context of a new relationship defined in a different way, not by arms control treaties which had to be the definition between two bitter enemies during the Cold War, but that no longer pertains.
Therefore it is the beginning of a new kind of relationship defined in different ways -- probably not with a bunch of treaties. We don't have treaties, for example, with Great Britain very often. We trust Great Britain. Great Britain trusts us. So we work things out through frameworks, through dialogue and that kind of thing. I think that's where President Bush is trying to go with President Putin as well.
GWEN IFILL: Senator Nunn, the national security adviser, Condoleezza, Rice took pains to describe this as consultations, not negotiations. What's the difference? What does that mean?
SAM NUNN: This may be one of the first real discussions they have is whether it is a negotiation, which implies a treaty, or whether it's just a discussion and sort of an informational kind of dialogue. I think the Russians will want much more of a negotiation, will want much more of a discussion. But we'll have other parties in the world that are also following it very closely.
And if you do go beyond the ABM Treaty, which is clearly this administration's view, that we should and need to to have a limited missile defense system, then you have to have some understandings at least about what replaces that kind of regime.
GWEN IFILL: You talk about the other parties in the world who are following this not the least of which are our European allies who thought that any kind of abrogation of the ABM Treaty would really put us in a tough position if we angered Russia. Does this ease things a little bit?
SAM NUNN: It does. It helps. I think President Bush in the last six or eight weeks has realized that cooperation with Russia is absolutely essential in terms of the perception of our allies, and that we at least need to strive to get some agreement with the Russians. If we don't, of course, I'm sure this administration will not let them have a veto, but I do believe that they're going to strive for some kind of agreement. That's good.
But it's going to take more time than people may think. It's much more complicated thank simply reducing numbers. I think we should reduce numbers but when you reduce numbers two things happen: You have to have more survivability because you don't want a tempting target out there for someone to preempt. The second thing as you reduce numbers defenses become more important in terms of the other side perceiving that you might be tempted at some point in a crisis to launch an offensive attack with hard target kill weapons and then defend against the small force that may be left.
So these are complicated, complex issues. As we reduce our forces, we need to do a lot of talking about the kind of quick trigger posture we're in, the fact that neither leader has very much decision time. We're about where we were in the Cold War in terms of each leader having several minutes to decide whether in effect to blow up the world. I think we ought to have a lot of discussion about increasing the decision time on both sides so we move away from the hair trigger.
GWEN IFILL: Dmitri Simes, has Putin really had a change of heart about his feeling about missile defense enough to reach any middle ground on this?
DIMITRI SIMES: I was convinced with him from the beginning that the Russians were overstating their position to changes in the ballistic missile defense, changes in the ABM Treaty. You may remember several years ago they said absolutely no to NATO expansion. Then they have accepted it.
I think Mr. Putin is a pragmatic leader. He understands two things. First, he understands that sooner or later, and perhaps sooner rather than later, ballistic missile defenses will be deployed whether Moscow likes it or not. But he also understands something else and here he deserves credit. He understands that even if he were able to retard the development and deployment of ballistic missile defenses, the price would be enormous. It would become the focal point of the whole U.S.-Russia relationship.
Instead of talking about cooperation, instead of talking about non-proliferation, instead of talking about counter terrorism and most important instead of talking about bringing Russia into the world economy, we would be having this artificial conflict which Russia would lose. Putin understood that.
GWEN IFILL: Senator Kyl, as Senator Nunn just said, there is some question about how long this all will take assuming that real negotiations get underway. What is an acceptable middle ground in your opinion on exactly how many... how much nuclear strategic weapons should be reduced, or how much give should be given to the United States to launch a missile defense system?
SEN. JON KYL: Well, these will be complex discussions. There's no question about it. And I think that they'll be ongoing. In other words, there isn't a specific end to the discussions, I would hope. Among friends you keep talking about problems that you have. I think that there is a limitation with respect to the deployment of missile defense, however, and that is that we will be bumping up against the ABM Treaty in a matter of months, not a matter of years as Dr. Rice has said.
The net result there is that we do have to reach some kind of understanding with the Russians that we are going to be no longer bound by the terms or the constraints of the treaty, that we can't allow ourselves to be, as was pointed out. The Russians can't have a veto over United States national security. And so we have to have some understanding by the time that those tests do bump up against the treaty. And since that is a matter of months, at least that much has to be somewhat resolved by that time.
Now again, I think it's a matter of continuing dialogue, continuing new frameworks and arrangements and understandings. But at least we will have to get to that point when the United States begins testing in an ABM mode, at sea or in some other way that pretty clearly violates the ABM Treaty.
GWEN IFILL: Senator Nunn, this offense-defensive linkage which the two leaders agreed at least to explore this weekend, are we setting our priorities correctly?
SAM NUNN: I think the whole missile defense discussion has to be put in focus. If you listed the threats to the United States, missiles from a third world country beyond Russia, China is certainly one of those threats. We have to be willing to deal with that and particularly theater defense for our troops abroad. But there are a whole array of dangers that face the United States in this new era we're in.
I fear a biological attack in this country by a terrorist group with no return address more than I do a missile launched from North Korea. That doesn't mean that both threats aren't real but it means that we have to make sure we have enough resources to deal with a whole array of issues that face us in a balanced way. Our public health system, for instance, and we testified on this this afternoon before the House of Representatives -- our public health system needs a lot of boosting to be able to deal with any kind of biological attack. And as a matter of fact with infectious disease, which is spreading or the rate it's going up in this country.
We have a whole array of military challenges including readiness issues, including whether we have two war scenarios. All of those things are on the table. There's a limited amount of money available so we have to put missile defense in the monetary context even if the Russians agree. That doesn't mean we don't go forward. It means we balance it. We look at how much it's going to cost. We look at countermeasures and how much it will cost us to take care of those countermeasures, where we still have an effective defense. It has to be put in that much broader context as one threat but certainly not the only threat.
GWEN IFILL: We will leave that debate here for now. Thank you all, gentlemen, very much.