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Cohen On National Missile Defence System

Transcript: Cohen July 10 Press Conference En Route to Beijing (Missile recommendation on hold during China defense talks)

U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen told reporters during a July 10 press conference en route to Beijing that he will not decide on what recommendation to give to the president on a national missile defense (NMD) system until he has reviewed the full report from the July 8 test.

Cohen said he plans to tell Chinese leaders during his visit "that there continues to be a proliferation of missile technology which will pose a threat to the security of the United States and that we will continue our programs of researching and developing a theater missile defense system and a national defense system."

Although deterrence will always be the first line of defense for the United States, NMD will help assure that the United States cannot be pressured or intimidated into acting against its own security interests, Cohen emphasized.

Based upon North Korea's previous missile tests and the judgments of the Rumsfeld Commission, North Korea could have long range missile capabilities by 2005, Cohen told reporters.

"We cannot adjust or calibrate whether or not we are going to go forward with an NMD program based upon what the North Koreans might say from time to time," Cohen said.

The Secretary said he plans to follow the recent efforts of the State Department to seek the continued cooperation of the Chinese on non-proliferation issues. The United States is most concerned about technology transfer to Middle East countries, particularly Iran, but also wants to limit arms sales to Pakistan and other countries.

Following is a transcript of the briefing:

(begin transcript)

Department of Defense News Briefing

Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen

July 10, 2000

(En Route to Beijing, China)

Q: The obvious topic we wanted to start out with was missile defense, where we stand, where you stand now in your process in deciding whether you recommend to proceed with the project.

Cohen: Well, as I said before the test, the test itself would not be dispositive. If it were successful it wouldn't mean that we would necessarily go forward with the recommendation to deploy, and if it failed, it wouldn't mean that we would not recommend it. What I have to do is to await the full report, all of the analysis and then review that and make a recommendation to the President. At this point, I'm just going to withhold any judgment until such time as I have all of the facts in front of me. The test itself was a disappointment, that it is one of those failures that was least expected. It was something that was routine, and General Kadish said that it was not even on his list of things to be concerned about. That happens from time to time that you have a failure of something that is fairly routine. All of the other elements -- most of the other elements I should say -- appeared to be working quite well, with the exception of the failure of the decoy to inflate and the separation of the kill vehicle from the second stage. [There were only] those two failures, but every other element in the test itself appeared to be working quite well. So, I will look at all of that and then go back to review the criteria and make a recommendation to the President, probably in the next several weeks, probably the next three to four weeks.

Q: Is there anything about it that makes you less likely than you would previous to the test to recommend moving ahead?

Cohen: It obviously focuses the issue on the technology, but again, the failure here is not the failure of the most sophisticated elements of it. So, it's a question of a failure to separate from one stage to another, but that's something that is not fatal to the program. And so I would reserve a judgment until I get all the way through the analysis.

Q: Will you have enough data on the intercept part of the kill vehicle part of that performance in order to make a judgment...

Cohen: We need some other 12 to 15 more tests before there is actually a system that would be deployed. I would have to listen to the recommendation coming from the experts in the field and what they conclude as being feasible based on the tests to date.

Q: (Inaudible)

Cohen: It would have been desirable to have two successful intercepts, but it doesn't mean that the technology is not there yet. I still could make a recommendation. I just have to wait and sit down and review all of the information.

Q: Has there been any update on cause of the failure to separate or...

Cohen: No.

Q: The Chinese have been extremely unhappy about, not only national missile defense but also U.S. plans for theater missile defenses in Asia. In light of this test, does that take some of the steam out of that issue? Will you be telling the Chinese that this is something that, whether it's this year or next year, is definitely coming out?

Cohen: What I will say is that there continues to be a proliferation of missile technology which will pose a threat to the security of the United States and that we will continue our programs of researching and developing a theater missile defense system and a national defense system. If we want to do it within the context, if the Administration wants to do it within the context of the ABM Treaty to the extent that we can modify it to accommodate it, but as long as the threats continue to exist, then we're going to have to have defenses against it.

Q: Are you going to talk to China about U.S. concerns that they're proliferating missile technology, especially to Pakistan and, I believe, Libya?

Cohen: We will raise the issue of proliferation with the Chinese, as the State Department did prior to my meetings. Yes.

Q: I mean what are you going to add to what the State Department just did?

Cohen: I would follow on what the State Department has already indicated that we need to curb the proliferation of missile technology. China has agreed to the principles. They haven't signed the Missile Technology Control Regime, but they have agreed to abide by it as such. And we will continue to insist that that occur.

Q: Which countries are you most worried about their proliferation of missile technology going to/from China?

Cohen: Generally speaking, we are concerned about the transfer of technology to Middle East countries and to Iran specifically, but to the extent that Pakistan continues to acquire technology, it could contribute to increasing tensions. Basically, what we're trying to do is restrict the dissemination of this kind of technology to many other countries.

Q: So, are you saying that China is proliferating to Iran as well?

Cohen: No, I'm not saying that. I'm saying that that's an area of concern to us, and that's an issue I've raised in the past. I was concerned about the transfer of anti-ship cruise missile technology to the Chinese, which I've raised with them in the past. They have abided by that agreement that they made the last time I was there as far as the shipment of cruise missiles to the Iranians. They also agreed to suspend the transfer of nuclear technology to Iranians. So, I will continue to raise those issues and see if we can continue cooperation.

Q: Have they lived up to those commitments that they made the last time you were here? I believe it was cruise missiles and nuclear technology.

Cohen: To the best of my information, yes.

Q: I get the feeling that in your mind it's not so much whether a decision on national missile defense is made this year or not, that this is a decision, this is something, that will be done by the United States whether it's this year or not.

Cohen: I can't speak for the President of the United States. What I'm saying is that there continues to be an evolving threat. Whether it comes in 2005 or sooner or later, the spread of this technology will pose a risk to the United States. We will always depend upon deterrence and that will be our very first line of defense. Yes, we will send a signal to every country that should they ever launch a missile towards the United States they would pay very serious consequences and experience those consequences in result of it. What I'm trying to point out is that we never want to have the United States put in a position of being blackmailed against or prevented from carrying out our security interests in a conventional way. I point back to Saddam Hussein trying once again to either invade Kuwait or possibly Saudi Arabia and then posing a threat, and he might even use conceivably chemical weapons in the process, saying don't think of responding in any overwhelming way because I pose a risk to a number of your cities. That's not to suggest that we would be dissuaded from taking action to protect our vital national security interest, but it may certainly cause a different calculation on the part of some of our allies. And I don't want to see the United States or our allies put in that position. So, it will be up to this President or succeeding presidents how the program is going to be structured and to make that determination. I believe that any president ought to assure the American people that we would not be prevented or intimidated in carrying out our national security interests.

Q: Do you believe that North Korea is going to have intercontinental ballistic missiles by 2005 or has any information come up that would make you question that time-frame?

Cohen: Well, they've indicated that they are not going to resume, for the time being at least, the testing of the longer range missiles. That could be either suspended or they could go forward, whatever they choose to do. (Inaudible) progress they make with South Korea. We cannot adjust or calibrate whether or not we are going to go forward with an NMD program based upon what the North Koreans might say from time to time. We have to assess what the capability is and then make our own determination. I think that it's clear that, based on what they have done in the past, they could achieve a long-range capability by 2005. That's a judgment that the Rumsfeld Commission certainly came to and I just think that we cannot afford to have the United States in a position of putting a program on or off depending upon what one country says from time to time.

Q: Can I ask you about your decision to form a readiness review with your recommendation to the President? Is the essence of your recommendation to the President whether to stay on track to have it ready by 2005, or is it more broad as to whether this approach to missile defense is the correct one?

Cohen: I think you'll have to stay tuned. Sometime in August, I'll give you a response.

Q: Can I ask you about the issue of the Xinhua Building near the Pentagon? Ken [Bacon] said there was a security review under way and that the Chinese backed out from buying it. Were you prepared to make a recommendation that they not purchase that building?

Cohen: Well, my preference was that they not purchase that building. If there were no impediment to them in doing so from a legal point of view or for lack of any objection, we certainly have a number of counter measures that we have taken that would preclude them from gathering information, but my preference was that they not have [a building] in that close proximity to the Pentagon.

Q: And the reason was because of the possibility of intelligence gathering?

Cohen: I assume that they were there to acquire whatever information they can.

Q: Mr. Secretary, there has been a lot of anti-Chinese rhetoric on Capitol Hill and the Cox Commission Report. A lot of things have come out to really strain relations between the U.S. and China. Is your role here a conciliatory one or are you coming in sort of on the tougher side?

Cohen: I will be the same as I've been for the last eight trips.

Q: But this one's different because this is the first one since the bombing.

Cohen: This is not different. I've had meetings in my office with their Chinese representatives since the bombing, and there's a clear intent on their part and on our part to resume military to military relations.

Q: So, you don't feel like there's any mending of fences that has to be done right now?

Cohen: I think that fact that they invited me is a sufficient indication that they would like to get over this and back on track, and I think it's important that we do so. I'm looking forward to a very good set of meetings. I think the atmosphere will be quite productive and positive.

Q: On a different subject, this morning you were supposedly given some details on options on what to do about the Anthrax Program. What were the options and have you selected one?

Cohen: My recommendation is going to be that we reduce the program, continue the program but to target it more specifically to those who are deployed to southwest Asia and South Korea and to reduce it in a way that preserves the program itself until such time as we can get certification of additional supplies.

Q: How many doses does that save you a month?

Cohen: I think we have on hand roughly 100,000 doses and so we will try to restrict it and target it to those who would be deployed to the region for more than just a short duration but for any longer range deployment in the region they would be vaccinated.

Q: How long will those 100,000 doses last?

Cohen: They should carry us through the end of the year hopefully.

Q: Fiscal year or calendar year?

Cohen: Calendar year.

Q: Will this be (inaudible) already are in the series of shots (inaudible)?

Cohen: We'll try to continue those who are in the series and those who are about to be deployed.

Q: May I ask you a question whether the Phalcon sale to China will be something that you will discuss with the Chinese this (inaudible)?

Cohen: If the Chinese raise it, certainly I can discuss it. As you know, our position is that we are opposed to the sale.

Q: Has there been any progress on the part of the Israelis backing off?

Cohen: I'm not aware of any progress at this point in the discussions, but I think our positions are that they would like to go forward and we think it's inappropriate and the wrong thing to do.

Q: Can I ask you one more time on missile defense? (laughter) Your comments sound to me like you don't see this as a setback. The people are saying that you just don't have enough information to make a recommendation to proceed, but it sounds to me like you're saying, "Well, I'll have enough."

Cohen: I'm saying that I'll evaluate all of the information before I make a recommendation. It's a very important recommendation. I want to make sure that I have as much information as I can before submitting to the President a recommendation which would be very important to him and to the country.

Q: What's different is that there was no attempt even at the missile intercept? I mean, it didn't happen.

Cohen: It didn't happen because of a failure to something that is quite routine, not because of the science involved as far as the intercept was concerned. I mean, it didn't happen.

Q: What about maybe you'd want to have the next test happen before you made a decision?

Cohen: It would have been helpful to have this test succeed.

Q: What is the "more information?" I mean, there is no more information. Isn't that the whole problem?

Cohen: What I need to do is sit down with all of the experts and get their best judgment in terms of the feasibility of this system.

Q: When did you get word of the failure?

Cohen: I watched it.

Q: Were you there?

Cohen: No, I was at home watching it.

Q: Were you watching it on CNN?

Cohen: Yes. (laughter)

Q: You took the easy way. (laughter)

Cohen: Well, I could've been there, but then you all would've swarmed all over me, right? (laughter)

Q: What was your reaction when you heard the news?

Cohen: Well, I didn't know the reason for the failure immediately. Then, I saw the discussion following it, and it became clear why it failed. Then again, as General Kadish said, this is something that was not anticipated. If you had to think of all the things that could go wrong, this is not one of those of very high concern.

Q: Have you talked to the President?

Cohen: No, I have not talked to the President about it.

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:


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