Press Briefing by National Security Advisor Sandy Berger (9/1/00)
                              THE WHITE HOUSE

                       Office of the Press Secretary

Immediate Release                         September 1, 2000

                              PRESS BRIEFING

                     The James S. Brady Briefing Room

1:22 P.M. EDT

     MR. CROWLEY:  Good afternoon.  You've obviously heard from the
President and the decision that he's made regarding national missile
defense.  Here to provide you some of the perspective on the process, the
serious process that went into the President's decision we have the
National Security Advisor, Samuel R. Berger.

     MR. BERGER:  Thank you, PJ.  The President said last year that he
would make a decision this summer on whether to go forward with deployment
of a national missile defense system.  Today, he made that decision and
announced it.  As you heard, the President has decided that while our NMD
program is sufficiently promising and affordable to justify continued
development and testing, there is not sufficient information available to
us at this stage about the technical and operational effectiveness to move
ahead with deployment.

     The Pentagon will continue the development and testing of the system,
including flight tests, ground tests and simulations.  Now, in making this
decision, the President considered four criteria that you've heard often,
and that he's talked about often, as the framework with which he would
approach this issue:   the nature of the threat, the cost, the technical
feasibility of a system and the overall impact on national security.  And
let me just quickly go through those four criteria and how we see them.

     With respect to the threat, we believe there is an emerging threat
that countries such as North Korea, Iran, Iraq, could over the next decade
develop ballistic missiles that were capable of delivering weapons of mass
destruction to the United States.  Although, we believe that deterrence,
the knowledge that an attack on the United States would be met with a
devastating response, remains the cornerstone of our defense posture.

     There is also the possibility that in the future a hostile state with
nuclear weapons and long range missiles may simply disintegrate, with
command and control over such missiles falling into unstable hands.
There's a possibility that in a moment of desperation a hostile country
might miscalculate, believing it could use nuclear weapons to intimidate us
from defending our vital interest or from coming to the aid of an ally.

     And as the President said, we cannot rule out the possibility that a
terrorist group in the future could gain the capability to strike us with
such capabilities, particularly if they were to come into control of a
state with an existing nuclear weapons establishment.  So there is an
emerging threat.  We have to take it seriously.  We have taken it seriously
and we have to explore what the best response is.

     Now with respect to cost, we have spent approximately $5.7 billion so
far in developing this NMD system.  We've budgeted an additional $10.4
billion in fiscal 2001 through 2005, to support possible deployment of the
initial NMD architecture that presumably now will slide somewhat.

     DOD's current estimate for developing, procuring and deploying our
initial Phase I system -- that is, 100 interceptors in Alaska -- an ABM
radar upgrades to five early warning radars, is about $25 billion for
fiscal '01 to '09.  This is an ambitious program, and the cost cannot be
disregarded.  But to put it in perspective, it represents less than 1
percent of the defense budget over the coming six years.

     On technology, obviously a crucial point, we simply cannot conclude
with the information that is available to us today, that we have enough
confidence in the technology and operational effectiveness of the entire
system to move ahead with deployment.  Now, again, I would underscore, as
the President did, that our NMD program is making progress.  Last October,
in its first flight test, it demonstrated that it is possible to hit a
bullet with a bullet when our prototype interceptor and kill vehicle struck
a dummy warhead over the Pacific Ocean.

     We've also begun to show that the different parts of the system, the
space-based sensor, early warning radar, ABM radar, battle management
command and control, et cetera, can work together.

     And I would say that this system is the most affordable, most mature
technology that anybody has suggested with respect to national missile
defense.  However, as the President said, we have to be clear-eyed about
this.  The technology for NMD is promising, but unproven.  We simply have
not obtained the information that will allow us to conclude that the system
is technologically feasible, operationally effective and can work reliably
under realistic conditions.

     There are critical elements of the program that have yet to be tested,
like the intercept booster, and there are questions to be resolved about
the ability of the system to deal with countermeasures, decoys.

     Now, we believe that the problems encountered in the two most recent
tests, where we failed to achieve an intercept, presumably can be
corrected, but more time is needed and information is needed to confirm
that this is possible.

     The fourth criteria, national security considerations, including arms
control, in effect addresses the largest question -- whether NMD in the
context of the overall security environment will enhance our overall
security or diminish it.  Now, an effective NMD could play an important
part in an overall national security strategy, although an overall national
security strategy cannot rely or rest simply on NMD.  We must work with our
allies and others to prevent others from obtaining the technologies that
threaten us.  We must continue to work with the Russians to build down
nuclear dangers left over from the Cold War, and an important part of this
effort is the array of arms control agreements with Russia, including the
ABM treaty the President spoke about.

     The ABM treaty, which as you know, limits defenses so that neither
side can deploy a system that would undermine the other's nuclear
deterrent, and thus tempt the other to strike first, or take counter
measures that would, on balance, make us less secure, is still important to
us today.  It continues to be relevant today.

     It's the cornerstone of the overall -- it's a cornerstone of the
overall arms control regime, including START.  It continues to be important
to strategic stability, including trust and reducing the risk of
confrontation between the world's two largest nuclear powers, whose
relationship is still in transition.

     The President's decision today will provide the United States with
additional time to pursue the goal of adopting the ABM treaty, to provide
for limited missile defenses, that will not undercut strategic stability.
I do not believe that we have yet exhausted the possibilities for reaching
such an agreement.

     Now, as the President made clear, no one has a veto over America's
security decisions, and it may be the judgment of the next President that,
not withstanding an inability to secure a change in the ABM treaty, it
still remains important to go forward with an NMD system.  But I believe it
would be far preferable to move forward in the context of arms control and
not in the context of undercutting arms control.

     Finally, our decision today, the President's decision, gives us more
time to continue to consult with our allies, all of whom want us to pursue
NMD in a way that preserves the ABM treaty.  And as the President noted,
many of these allies are quite critical to the deployment of an NMD system,
since elements of the system itself need to be deployed on their soil.

     So let me just say, in conclusion, that those are the major factors
which went into the President's decision.  And let me just repeat what the
President described as his bottom line.  The emerging threat is real, we
have an obligation to pursue a missile defense system that could add to our
defense, we've made progress, but we should not move forward until we have
further confidence that the system will work and we have made every
reasonable diplomatic effort to minimize the costs.
     One final point I would like to make is the decision today taken by
the President should not have a significant impact on the date this NMD
system could be deployed if the next administration decides to go forward.
The best judgment of the experts who have examined this question --
including the independent review team led by former Air Force Chief of
Staff, Larry Welch, who has been a principal advisor to the Defense
Department on this -- is that if we were able to commit today to proceed
with our NMD, the system would most likely be operational around 2006 or
2007.  So even if the next President made the decision next year to go
forward with the first steps here, in terms of radar on Shemya Island, it
would still be within that window of 2006 or 2007.

     And with that, I will take your questions.

     Q    When did Secretary Cohen make his recommendations to the
President, and how?  And could you say, out of the four areas, which was
the most important, the technology or the analysis of the threat or --

     MR. BERGER:  Well, of course, Secretary Cohen has been an integral
part of this all along.  He met with the President most recently on Tuesday
night, when we returned from -- what continent were we on Tuesday?

     Q    Africa.

     Q    Cairo.

     MR. BERGER:  Cairo.  The President got here about 4:00 p.m. and
Secretary Cohen met with him at 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, but there had been
previous discussions with him and phone conversations.

     In terms of what factors most important to the President, I think
they're all important.  I think that, clearly, the technological questions
here at this stage are quite important.  It is very difficult to justify
moving forward with deployment, given the questions that are raised if
there is not confidence that the system really is ready to go forward.

     By virtue of this decision, the President enables, I think, the next
President not only to make the decision for himself, but also to engage
with allies and engage with Russians and others to see whether this can be
done in the way in which it would be most advantageous to our security.

     Q    Sandy, when will the United States be vulnerable?  When, in the
view of the advisors to the President?  Is there a risk that the U.S. could
be hit by an intercontinental missile from elsewhere?  Because he mentioned
a date, and I wondered -- and it was 2006 or 2007, I believe -- but the
Pentagon had, until recently, been talking about a threat that might begin
in 2005.

     MR. BERGER:  Let me make some distinctions which I think are quite
confusing.  Two thousand five, 2006, 2007 are all dates that pertain to
when this system could be finished if you started building it now.  They
are not threat-based dates.  So 18 months ago, the judgment of the Pentagon
was that if a decision was made this summer, you could be ready in 2005.
I'll come back to threat in a minute.

     I think in the last -- particularly since the failure of the last two
tests, I think most experts have concluded that there are a number of
problems, including the booster rocket here that needs further work and
that finishing this in 2005 is unlikely, and it is more likely that it
could be completed in 2006 or 2007.  Those dates pertain to how long it
would take to get the system up and ready.

     There's no other technology that will be ready earlier than anybody
has suggested.

     Now, the threat -- the intelligence community has looked at the
threat, as have others, and they have basically identified in the short
term, in the next decade, three locations or three potential sources --
North Korea, Iran and Iraq.  With respect to Iran and Iraq, they have
indicated -- and this is without regard to intention, with regard to
capability -- that by the end of the decade it is conceivable, possible,
that they will have a capacity to launch a intercontinental ballistic
missile at the United States.

     The earlier threat is the North Korean threat, and there's no one --
the intelligence community has never put a date on this, because it really
relates to their testing program.  Now, they have, as you know, undertaken
a moratorium on their testing, as a result of negotiations that we have had
with them; and as a result of their recent diplomatic flurry of activity,
have at least raised some questions about whether or not they might be
prepared to negotiate about their missile program.

     If on the one hand they were to turn -- go off in a different
direction, break the moratorium, proceed with their testing, that threat
could be mature much earlier, and there's never been a specific date, but
it could be earlier than sometime during the decade.

     Q    You don't care to name a date that you think --

     MR. BERGER:    I don't think that I've ever seen a date from the
intelligence community specifically.  I think they would tie it to a
resumption of testing, and once there was
a --

     Q    Sandy, wasn't there a blue ribbon panel, a bipartisan panel that
came up with the 2005 date?

     MR. BERGER:  The 2005 date, again, a 2005 date relates to -- relates
to when the Defense Department has believed, 18 months ago, believed that
they could

     Q    This was a threat-based --

     MR. BERGER:  Well, Steve, do you want to add anything to what I'm
saying?  I guess the Rumsfeld Commission is what you're referring to.  Did
they say something different?

     MR. ANDREASEN:  I think the Rumsfeld Commission, which issued its
report in the summer of 1998, in effect said that they were concerned that
countries could develop technologies over a period of approximately five
years to go from basically the technology to a deployed capability, and
that the United States intelligence community may not actually determine
that the activity is underway until well into that five year period.

     But I don't think the Rumsfeld Commission, itself, set a target date,
they just noted this set of factors.

     MR. BERGER:  I think the bottom line is that there could be a threat
really; the threat could mature earlier than the end of the decade,
particularly if the North Koreans were to change direction.

     Q    I think the question is that this gap, is it going to be the
security gap -- during the year 2005 as we're moving to 2006, '07, or is
that sort of silly to even contemplate?

     MR. BERGER:  There's no gap -- this system was begun several years ago
in development.  It was believed that it could be completed by 2005.  It
doesn't matter what -- even if the threat was yesterday, it could be
completed by 2005.

     Of late, the experts now believe they probably can't be completed
until 2006, 2007.  Is there a potential threat before then?  Yes.  Is NMD
our only defense against that?  No.  Deterrence has served us quite well
for quite some time.  And I think the President pointed out that most
countries -- any country would know that if it launched an attack on the
United States, it would be pulverized.

     Now, that doesn't vitiate the argument for looking at a system because
as you look down the line and you begin to look at scenarios in which, as
the President indicated, a state disintegrated or terrorist organizations
took over states where the kind of general rational calculation might be
diminished, there is that possibility that deterrence will not be
sufficient.  But I would -- we have lived quite well over the last 50 years
with Russia with a deterrent policy.

     I think what causes us to look at as a country national missile
defense is that as missile capability begins to spread horizontally and
into hands over time that are increasingly subnational or transnational and
irrational, do you want to have an extra capability.  And that's ultimately
the judgment that has to be made.  And that has to be compared with what
are the costs of building that system in terms of the arms control regime,
in terms of our relationship with our allies, in terms of the Chinese
reaction and what that will do in South Asia, et cetera.  This is a
balancing act that has to -- balancing decision that has to be taken.

     Q    Sandy, what about the timing of this decision today?  Does this
help you with your meeting with President Putin next week in New York, and
does it take ABM off the table for that meeting?

     MR. BERGER:  I don't think the timing is related to the meeting.  As
you all painfully know, we've been doing a lot of traveling in the last two
or three weeks.  We have the test, the Pentagon's period of evaluation of
that test.  The last couple of weeks we've been on the road quite a bit,
and I think we all thought, the President thought it was important, having
made the decision to get it out.

     In terms of the meeting with Putin, I would hope that we would
continue the conversation that we've had with President Putin, not only
about the ABM treaty, but also about the cooperative programs that we can
undertake, with respect to missile defense, technology sharing.  We've
already initiated a program to share early warning data with the Russians,
and the more we can engage the Russians in cooperative programs, the more
over time they may see this differently.

     As the President noted, if you look at the geography of Russia, and
the geography of where the threats may be emerging, they're not by any
means immune to this kind of a threat.

     Q    Sandy, the President talked about the extent to which NMD
deployment would spawn proliferation among existing nuclear states today.
And he seemed to suggest that that risk was greater than the risk of a
rogue state acquiring such technology.

     Is that a fair assessment, and can you talk a little bit about the --

     MR. BERGER:  No, I don't think that he said it was greater, I think he
said it was part of the equation.  I think that this gets to sort of our
criteria for.  The way I ask the question is, will we be more secure or
less secure?  Will the threats that we diminish be greater than the threats
that are increased?

     One of the concerns about an NMD system is the impact it will have,
particularly in Asia, where all of the Chinese already have plans to
increase their ICBM program.  It's not inconceivable that that system would
accelerate those plans, that could have an effect on India, that could have
an effect on Pakistan, Japan, et cetera.

     I think in the final analysis, when the technology is ready, if and
when the technology is ready, I think a President will need to decide
whether the enhanced security that we will have against the scenarios that
I've described -- the possibility of an ICBM being launched at the United
States by a failed state that has nuclear weapons is taken over by
terrorist, hostile characters -- whether that enhanced security to the
United States is of greater importance than whatever negative consequences
may come from the way in which countries adjust to our system.

     And I think one of the important values of the President's decision
today, that is to not go forward with deployment, is to give the next
President an opportunity to engage with the Russians, to engage with our
allies, to engage with the Chinese and others, and try, as we have begun to
do, to find ways in which this is not a zero sum proposition.

     Q    Governor Bush has issued a statement which says in part,
"President Clinton and Vice President Gore first denied the need for
missile defenses, then delayed.  Now they are leaving this important
unfinished business for the next President."  Comments?

     MR. BERGER:  Well, I haven't seen the statement and I don't want to
comment specifically in a campaign context.  I would say there has been no
delaying this.  We've been working on this program for years.  We've spent
$5 billion on this program.  It has moved, I think, quite vigorously.  Any
new program has a technological curve, as does this program.

     I think the President was very clear that we don't minimize, by any
means, the threat.  I think we've acted responsibly by developing a system,
an NMD system which will be ready to be deployed before any system that
anybody else has proposed.  But I don't think the President felt that it
was right to make a premature decision to deploy it.  I think he decided on
the merits that that is -- we're not ready to do that, and he's not going
to do it simply for political reasons.

     Q    You and the President repeatedly characterize this as a decision
whether or not to deploy the system.  Given that the actual decision before
the President was whether or not to start construction at Shemya Island, is
it fair, then, to assume that the administration's position is that that
construction would constitute deployment, a decision to deploy under the
terms of the ABM treaty?

     MR. BERGER:  No, but I don't think that we will go ahead with that
construction.  I think having decided that this is not a system -- the
system is not ready to be deployed, it doesn't make a lot of sense to
engage in, essentially, predeployment activity.  The discussion about when
is deployment deployment and when is breach breach, is kind of mooted by
this decision today, because the President is not going forward with

     But he will not also be going forward with activity that might be
called predeployment activity, because I think he believes we ought to wait
and make a coherent decision based on all of the criteria about whether
this is in our national interest; and if it is, we should go ahead with it,
and if it isn't, we should go ahead with it; and not moving forward with
construction on Shemya Island in the next year is not going to delay the
ultimate 2006-2007 date.

     Q    Mr. Berger, two questions.  One is, in the past, we've heard a
lot about the threat from rogue nations, but all of a sudden today it seems
that there is a new scenario being introduced, that of a disintegration of
a nation.  Is that a specific reference to either Russia or Pakistan?  And
my second question is can you comment on the reports that a PATRIOT battery
has been put on alert for Israel?

     MR. BERGER:  Well, first of all, I think what the President -- the
immediate threats we face are North Korea, Iraq and Iran.  Those are the
ones that are most mature, if I can use that somewhat anomalous word.  And
I don't think the President is saying that that's something we can dismiss.
But I think what he was suggesting is, it is easier to see deterrence
working, in the context of a North Korea, or even perhaps an Iraq.  But
that doesn't mean we can just put this problem under the rug.

     There are scenarios over the next -- not so long, next decade -- where
you could imagine rational behavior not -- you could imagine
intercontinental ballistic missiles with weapons of mass destruction in the
hands of those who would not act rationally.  And that's why we have spent
the last several years developing this program.

     So I don't think it's either/or, I think he was suggesting that even
if you believe that deterrence would work in a North Korea situation or an
Iran situation, that intellectually and strategically cannot enable you to
put this problem aside.

     Now, in terms of the PATRIOT issue, I know of no threat against Israel
from Iraq.  There have been over -- we are always vigilant about Saddam
Hussein, and always mindful of his propensities.  And over the past month
or so he's made some quite vituperative statements about Kuwait and about
Saudi Arabia.  We are in New York debating and discussing whether U.N.
inspectors should go back into Iraq, and so a decision was made that it
would be prudent to put these batteries on a shorter leash time than

     Q    Going back to the decision making, Mr. Cohen's visit here on
Tuesday -- was he called in by the President, requested to come in with his
best wisdom as of that date?  Or was this at the Pentagon's instigation his
decision that -- his recommendation was ready to deliver?

     MR. BERGER:  I think that's far more formal than the way things work.
Secretary Cohen was -- this was not the first time he talked to the
President, it was actually the second time he talked to the President in
the last two or three weeks, and he had undertaken his review and I think
it was mutual.  I think he wanted to talk to the President and the
President wanted to talk to him.

     The President, I would say, has also consulted with his other national
security advisors in the context of doing this as well.

     Q    Secretary Cohen issued a statement not three weeks ago saying
that he was obliged to delay his recommendation to the President by
sometime into September because of a number of issues, some of which remain
unresolved at the Pentagon -- the issues he specifically cited, such as --
so it seems the schedule has accelerated a little bit.

     MR. BERGER:  It was not accelerated.  I think he believed that it was
-- that he was ready to talk to the President.  I think that September --
as I understand it, that September comment in the briefing was a little bit
inadvertent, in terms of a level of precision that wasn't, perhaps,
intended.  He felt he was ready to talk to the President, the President
wanted to talk to him.

     Q    Mr. Berger, a quick question back on the PATRIOT issue.  What do
you mean by a shorter leash time for a possible deployment of the missile
batteries?  And is this a full battery that's going?

     MR. BERGER:  Well, I don't want to get into the specifics, but in any
situation you may have a week, from the time that -- a week lead time or
four days' lead time or three days' lead time or two days' lead time.  And
I think they've simply just cut down the lead time.

     Q    These rogue countries, wouldn't we just bomb them if they
developed a nuclear missile --

     MR. BERGER:  Excuse me?

     Q    These rogue nations, these psychotic nations you talk about --
Korea, Iraq, Iran -- if we knew they were developing a nuclear capability,
wouldn't be just bomb them?  Isn't that less expensive than a --

     MR. BERGER:  Well, it is certainly an option.  (Laughter.)  And
preemptive action is always something that any President has to consider.
But I think the mere development of a nuclear capability -- for example,
bombing North Korea probably would have some implications on South Korea,
since there are a million North Korean troops along the border and one
would have to assess that.

     I don't want to rule out any options -- (laughter) -- but I don't
think it's the first option.

     Q    Sandy, a cost question.  You mentioned that the Pentagon's latest
estimate for the C-1 capability was $25 billion.  Up until recently they've
been saying it's $20.2 billion.  Is it fair to say that you've been briefed
that the cost has gone up between $3 and $4 billion just in the last few
months on the basic C-1 system?

     MR. BERGER:  That's a very good question.  I'm going to ask Steve
Andreasen to answer it.

     MR. ANDREASEN:  There's a lot of cost estimates, of course.  The
figure that Sandy gave, which is approximately $25 billion, is really
looking back to '91, and looking ahead to '09.  It's basically the cost to
develop, procure and deploy the system.  I would add it's not the life
cycle cost of the system.

     I think you're right, that the earlier figures had been somewhat below
$25 billion.  We tried to give this figure not so much as a matter of
precision for budgeting terms, but to give a ballpark figure as to what we
were talking about, again in terms of development, procurement and

     So we will come up with a more exact -- exactly how does our next
budget projection compare to the previous one that we submitted  There may
be some adjustment.  There have been adjustments in the past two years,
where there's been some small incremental increase, in terms of our
estimates for the C-1 system.

     Q    So it's fair to say that the cost has gone up in the latest
estimate presented to you?

     MR. ANDREASEN:  Well, it's fair to say that costs have gone up over
the last couple of years, I would say incrementally, and I certainly
wouldn't rule that out, in terms of what our next budget projection will
look like, compared to this one.

     MR. BERGER:  I would just note that the President's Press Secretary,
Mr. Lockhart, has entered the room.  He's not been here for most of this
briefing, but I'm certainly flattered that he would come in for the end.

     MR. LOCKHART:  I just came down to find out what "vituperate" means.

     Q    Can I just ask --

     MR. LOCKHART:  Let me do one thing, which is, there are some people
who have to go catch the press plane -- so for the purposes of that I'm
going to through a few housekeeping things, any of you who have additional
questions, I will not be insulted if Steve, who will stay out here, stays
behind and answers some of those questions.

     Q    What was the Vice President's role in this decision, if any?

     MR. BERGER:  The Vice President consulted with -- the President
consulted with the Vice President on this, his views were communicated to
the President.  As always, I'm not going to characterize anybody's
particular views.  But he's issued a statement this afternoon, as I
understand it.

                           END                   2:10 P.M. EDT

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
Privacy Statement


Site Map

Graphic Version

T H E   W H I T E   H O U S E