THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS
ON EARLY WARNING SYSTEM AGREEMENT
4:03 P.M. (L)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Later this afternoon, President Clinton and President Putin will sign a memorandum of agreement, whose formal title is on the Establishment of the Joint Center for the Exchange of Data from Early Warning Systems and Notification of Missile Launches. Informally, this whole endeavor over the last couple of years has been known as the Shared Early Warning Initiative.
It builds on a joint statement that was agreed, as was noted earlier, between President Yeltsin and President Clinton here in Moscow in early September of 1998, when they had a joint statement on the exchange of early warning type of data, and the potential establishment of a multilateral notification system for the launch of ballistic missiles.
This culminates a set of negotiations that have been ongoing off and on, given the nature of our relationships here between the two countries, but were intensified this spring and brought to conclusion just within the last week or so, and were really finally brought to conclusion by this impending summit and concluded as we have gone into the negotiations today.
The purpose of this whole effort is to provide a near real-time exchange of the detected information about the launch of ballistic missiles and space-launch vehicles that are detected by the warning systems of the two sides. The warning systems in this case are the space-based satellites, infrared systems, and the early warning radars each possesses.
The reason we do this is we seek to strengthen strategic stability between the sides, mutual deterrents, by further reducing the danger that ballistic missiles might be launched on the basis of false warning of attack. There has been concern about this possibility off and on for many, many years. The concerns were raised again in the mid-1990s on this, and this led to the initiative to begin work in this area, which is now concluding with the agreement to move forward to create a joint warning center.
The joint warning center in question will be located here in Moscow. That location had been agreed last in September, but now we've gone into much more detail, and that center will be established over the next year or so. And then there will be a period of operational testing for about three months, and then the center will be fully operational.
Now, there are other purposes that are also served by the creation of this center. One of those purposes is to increase the mutual confidence between the sides about the effectiveness of their early warning systems. And it also is a way to focus attention on the continuing worldwide proliferation of ballistic missiles.
As far as the operation of the center is concerned, it will be the first time that American and Russian military personnel will be permanently involved in a joint military operation over an extended period. Once established, the current agreement provides for 10 years of operation of this joint warning center, and with the option to successively, by mutual agreement, extend the existence of the center for subsequent five-year periods.
The type of information that is provided is the type of information that these launched section sensors typically produce -- the geographic area from which a launch has occurred, the time at which a launch has occurred, the generic type of missile as best they can detect that is involved here, the azmuth of the launch, the projected area of impact of a ballistic missile, and the projected time at which that missile would impact.
For space launches, of course, instead you get the front end. You get the information about the time of launch, the area of the launch, the generic nature of the missile in question, and the general azmuth in which it is proceeding.
This whole center, of course, as you may well remember, builds upon recent successful experience between the two sides. At the time of the rollover into the year 2000, there was a temporary center of very similar character that was established in the last days of 1999 at Colorado Springs, Colorado. It was jointly manned by Russian and American military experts from the last days of '99 in through the first couple of weeks of the year 2000. That experience was very valuable for us in getting a way to work out what amount to the procedures, the modes of presentation of the data.
What will happen will be that the personnel of the two countries, once the joint center is established, will sit side by side and see desktop computer projections, geographic map-oriented projections, of the relevant information once detections are made. This information will also be provided in alpha numeric form about longitude and latitude and so forth, but easily the most visible and accessible information is that that will be available in these projections.
Let me close at this time and be open to your questions.
Q Would this system give Russians full access to any information the United States had about a ballistic missile launch anywhere in the world?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The system is to be set up in phases, and by the end of the third phase, it will include information on ballistic missile and space launches of third parties. It will only do so when there is some indication, because of the azimuth of the projected missile or space launch, that it might come over the territory of one of the two parties that are signatories to this agreement.
There is also a provision, if either side believes that there is some ambiguity, and there might be danger of false interpretation with serious consequences, they have the option of providing that information to the other side.
Q -- it would be completed by when?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The phases, they will begin the whole process, if we are able to keep the schedule we've projected, in the fall of 2001. And we seek to move through the phases kind of as rapidly as possible. We don't -- we look to them to be in the matter of a few months.
Q I'm sorry, this will be blind to any launches that would not be headed for either the United States or Russia? Are you going to filter that out? Or why would you not want to know any launch?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It would be -- the data provided between the two parties will include all of their ballistic missiles. As far as the third parties are concerned, it is limited in the manner in which I just described.
Q But how is it limited? I mean, is it limited technically, or just because you're filtering it out?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's limited by the filtering that will be done by both sides, because this was the agreement on what they agreed to display.
Q But won't you lose a lot of valuable potential information by doing that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We don't think so, not for the purposes it was set up. The purposes it was set up is to avoid the possibility of false warning of attack.
Q But if the President wants to share information with the allies to provide for a missile defense system that everyone could use, why would you not want to also look at this information? If someone launches a missile towards England or something, it wouldn't know that, it wouldn't tell you?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is about a shared early-warning system between the United States and Russia. These are the parameters under which that sharing will occur.
Q On that same subject, though, there was a famous incident several years ago in which a Norwegian research missile launched, and the Russians apparently misinterpreted that as something else. As I understand it, under the system you set up that missile launch, were it to be repeated, would not be part of that system?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, that's not really the case, because it does provide that information on detected launches which could create an ambiguous or dangerous situation will be provided by each side.
Q Who makes that decision?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- we would consider that -- well, it will have to be made on a case-by-case basis as a case emerges. So it's within the warning system networks of the two sides.
Q When you say it would automatically, given the very narrow time constraints that you're operating under here --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is the manner in which it was agreed and arranged.
Q Will Russia and the United States have equal access to all the data that is picked up by this system? Even if --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes. The system displays in the joint warning center, side by side, the data of the two sides according to these parameters. Each side provides it, makes it available for real-time consultation between the specialist officers who are there. Those officers in turn will be in reliable direct communication to the appropriate command posts, command centers that concern themselves with these matters on both sides.
Q Is the information provided instantly? And how does this compare with any similar system of sharing information the U.S. might have with Britain or any friendly, civilized countries? (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The information is processed information, but it is provided within a time which is measured in a minute or less. So it is virtually real-time information, because that's what's important in this case. And it is similar in fidelity to that provided to others.
Q Could you mention some of the others?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'd rather not.
Q You mean it's a security matter whether we share information with Britain?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not sure I have an accurate --
Q But it isn't a security matter whether we share information with Russia?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: In all truth, I'm not up to date on all the ones there are --
Q I see. Okay.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- and I'd rather not begin those and leave someone out, and something of the sort.
Q Can you tell us, does this include only detections and not planned launches? And what's the volume of data, based on past experience, that you expect to exchange through this?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know the volume of data. I could try to look into that.
We hope to complement this with a pre-launch notification system of a multi-national character, which was proposed back in 1998. And we have been negotiating with the Russians, and continue to negotiate with them, on that matter. And we believe that the best combination will be when you have a pre-launch notification database, which in turn can be consulted as one in fact encounters the detection of real launches. It remains to be seen when we complete that second part of this overall initiative.
Q So just to follow up, if we launch some kind of missile in a test, we don't tell them about it until it actually fires?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have some other obligations that others might be able to tell, that are connected to our previous strategic arms control agreements in this manner. I can check on the specifics, but in those type of things, we already tend to exchange information under earlier agreements.
Q Was the motivation for this agreement the Norwegian incident, where Russia went on alert over that research --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It is certainly one of the most publicly known incidents that did spark broader interest in this potential problem of launching on the basis of false warning that one was under attack. I wouldn't say it was the only source; for instance, this type of idea was being discussed between the two sides as early as the early 1990s, and that preceded the Norwegian incident.
Q To follow up on that, have there been a number of incidents where the Russians have gone on alert that we know about that haven't been publicized?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not to my knowledge.
Q Who actually makes the display? Will there be a Russian display which then they can relay information to the United States side, and will there be a U.S. display which there would then be -- which the U.S. would relay information to Russia about? It would not be the same display?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They are not a single integrated display, they are side-by-side displays of the kind you described.
Q If we happened to see, say, an Israeli launch or something like that, and it wasn't headed to Russia, we are under no obligation to say a word about it; is that correct?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's correct.
Q Thank you.
Q Who actually makes the decision about whether a third country launch is sufficiently ambiguous to warrant --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Clearly, those parameters will be established by the particular operational entities that monitor the launch process all the time. And they will have very clear guidelines about the provision of most things, and they will have to have some guidelines on this question of potentially threatening.
Q Going back to the case of the Norwegian incident where one side -- the West -- thought it was completely unambiguous and unthreatening, and the other side saw it as potentially quite ominous -- I mean, isn't there a potential disconnect here?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think not. We specifically tried to capture that kind of an incident, and we would believe that rocket launches close to the periphery of Russia would generally merit such attention. On the numbers question, there will be 16 Americans associated -- I mean, the individual, the military personnel that worked on this process. There will be a counterpart number of 17 Russians that are directly in the crews that rotate and provide the round-the-clock coverage. Once this is done, it is round-the-clock, 24 and seven, through the 10 years.
There are another 60 or so personnel that will be associated with the security and upkeep of the installation itself here in Moscow.
Q Will the Colorado facility be shut down or is that defunct now, or is that --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's already been shut down. It was, in fact, before the rollover, but it proved to be a very useful test bed on both hardware and procedures.
Q What information will this provide to American security analysts and is this available already through the assets the United States currently has?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The purpose here is to provide near real-time launch detection data which tends to have for a ballistic missile, I mean, tends to have a half-life in importance only for a few tens of minutes. That data doesn't tend to be made available to American security analysts that I'm aware of on any regular basis. That's really the purpose of this, is to use this what's called tactical warning data and make it mutually available.
Q Let me go back to the disposal of plutonium --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You've got the wrong person --
Q I guess I'm not clear why exactly you need a joint center. I mean, why can't the two countries sort of provide the information to each other? Is there a symbolic element to this?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, it's much more than symbolic. There certainly is a symbolic element, but it's much beyond that. It provides a direct, face-to-face ability to do consultations. If there is some issue of ambiguity, it allows one of the two sides that has some uncertainties to immediately deal with people they know on a day to day basis and relay their uncertainties and those individuals in turn are in direct, permanent, secure communications back to their higher headquarters, if you will, and they are able, therefore, to relay that same concern to the senior leadership on the other side and seek to resolve any ambiguities within minutes.
Q So given that, how high a level are the officials going to be that are going to be looking at this?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The officials here tend to be, I guess, up through probably about company-grade officers, up through lieutenants and captains, that will be the professionals manning this. The heads of the teams are likely to be somewhat more senior than that. But they will have access to watch officers on both sides who are colonels and generals.
Q And will there be any new national technical means developed for this, or will it use only existing?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It is to use the existing means. As those means evolve over time, they will be coupled into the system.
Q Not specifically for this?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not specifically for this. This is to take advantage of the existing and the evolving warning systems of the two sides.
MR. HAMMER: Thank you very much. Just an announcement in terms of further briefings today. You may have heard that after the President's press conference, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott will come for an on-the-record, on-camera briefing, and then after that, Gene Sperling will brief on the economic summit. Thank you.
Q When will that be?
MR. HAMMER: It's all depending on when the press conference ends. Yes, immediately after the press conference.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 4:20 P.M. (L)
President and First Lady | Vice President and Mrs. Gore
Record of Progress | The Briefing Room
Gateway to Government | Contacting the White House | White House for Kids
White House History | White House Tours | Help
T H E W H I T E H O U S E