By Robert Bell
On February 18, Robert Bell, special assistant to the president for national security and counselor to the assistant to the president for national security affairs, delivered the luncheon address to the Arms Control Association's annual membership meeting. In his dual-hat role, Bell advises the president and the president's national security advisor on a broad range of defense and arms control issues, including national security strategy, strategic nuclear and conventional arms control and weapons acquisition. Since joining the National Security Council in 1993 as senior director for defense policy and arms control, Bell has become a leading voice in U.S. policy debates on these issues.
Before joining the administration, Bell served as the principal arms control advisor to two of the Senate's most influential members during the 1980s and early 1990s: Charles Percy (R-IL), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, and then Sam Nunn (D-GA), chairman of the Armed Services Committee. A graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy (1969) and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University (1970), Bell also served as an Air Force officer and worked as a defense analyst at the Congressional Research Service. The following is an edited version of Bell's remarks and his responses to questions.
It is a special pleasure for me to be invited to address your annual membership luncheon, because the Arms Control Association and its leadership, especially your very able executive director and deputy director, Spurgeon Keeny and Jack Mendelsohn, and all of your members—and forgive me for not recognizing many of the "giants" in this room who have built the platform of defense security and arms control on which this administration stands today—have truly been stalwart champions for arms control and non-proliferation throughout my entire professional career.
It's a true pleasure to salute the association, Spurgeon, for everything you do—for your intense involvement in winning the ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention [CWC] last year; before that, winning the ratification of START I and START II, and those were not givens; and winning the unanimous support of the Senate, including a "yes" vote from Senator [Jesse] Helms, for the CFE flank accord last summer; for your close monitoring, involvement and support for the indefinite and unconditional extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT] in 1995 and the successful conclusion of the Comprehensive Test Ban [CTB] Treaty, which the president has called the hardest-fought, longest-sought prize in the history of arms control; for your efforts to sustain and extend the Nunn-Lugar program and other efforts to address the security, control and safe disposition of the residue of the Soviet Union's nuclear menace; and last, but certainly not least, for your organization's unwavering defense of the fundamental integrity of the ABM Treaty and its continuing vital role as a cornerstone of strategic stability.
When I think about the Arms Control Association and the ABM Treaty, I can't help but be reminded that the last time I attended a full-membership event of this organization was in 1988. I was in the company of Senator Sam Nunn, who this organization was honoring that night for his phenomenal defense of the ABM Treaty and his rebuttal—indeed, the demolishing—of the reinterpretation that Judge Sofaer had put together. Senator Nunn had drawn hugely on contributions from John Rhinelander and Ray Garthoff and so many other people in this room, but you were here to honor Senator Nunn that night. As I well recall, Senator Nunn decided, being a plain-speaking man, that that would be a good occasion and this would be a good forum to unveil his proposal for deploying by 1996 a treaty-compliant national missil defense [NMD] that he, at my urging, had called "ALPS," for Accidental Launch Protection System—a term that he hated, by the way. And as I recall quite clearly, when the senator finished his remarks, the silence was deafening. That was quite a night. He was your "man of the year," but what a moment.
So, before anyone worries, let me be very quick to say that I've not come back seven years later to announce that the administration has decided to deploy a national missile defense. But I would like to talk about national missile defense and the ABM Treaty, and especially their interrelationship. I also want to update you and the association on where we're going with START II ratification, START III, CTB ratification, de-alerting, and our policies on strategic nuclear deterrence, no first use and negative security assurances. In doing this I want to repeatedly come back to the theme of balance. Indeed, I've titled my remarks, if you will, "Strategic Agreements and the CTB Treaty: Striking the Right Balance."
Now, for those of you that know me well or have worked with me over the last two decades, it may not surprise you that I've put so much emphasis on the need for balance in our strategic approach. I mean, just consider the following tidbits from my bio, some of which Stan Resor ticked off. My mother was a very wealthy Yankee from Massachusetts, but my father was a working-class Southerner from Alabama. My military service was in the Air Force, but in the Senate I worked for a Navy man and a former Coast Guardsman. In the Senate I worked on a Republican staff and then went to work on a Democratic staff. Then I worked in the legislative branch for 18 years, but followed that with five years in the executive branch. And for the last five years, prior to this recent decision, I've worn two hats—senior director for defense and senior director for arms control—which basically meant that I would spend my mornings building up our armaments and spend the afternoons building them back down.
The burden of my remarks today is to persuade you and the association that what we've achieved during these five years of Bill Clinton's presidency is a national security posture whose defense and arms control components reflect a prudent and rational degree of equilibrium.
You have to start, really, by asking what are the objectives? What is the objective of our national security strategy? First and foremost, it goes without saying, because it's in the Constitution, we have a responsibility to have a strategy that "provides for the common defense, promotes the general welfare and secures the blessings of liberty." And clearly, the greatest danger that we as a nation face to our "life, liberty and pursuit of happiness" is weapons of mass destruction [WMD] and their prospective use or proliferation.
Living With WMD
To address this threat, this paramount defining threat of this era, of WMD, we have put together a three-part strategy. Part one is preventing, or at least constraining, the spread of these terrible weapons and reducing or eliminating them outright. And here, of course, the main burden is carried by arms control treaties and multilateral non-proliferation regimes such as the NPT or the Australia Group. And it certainly includes the CTB Treaty, which has now been endorsed by four former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the three directors of our national nuclear laboratories and which the president has asked the Senate to give its advice and consent to this year. And finally, it includes rograms designed specifically to eliminate WMD, particularly the Nunn-Lugar program—the legacy achievement of my former boss, Senator Nunn, and his visionary Republican colleague, Senator Richard Lugar.
Part two of our strategy is deterrence—deterrence of efforts or temptations by adversaries or prospective enemies to use weapons of mass destruction to attack or coerce the United States or its allies. And should parts one and two prove inadequate, part three of the strategy involves active means of defeating WMD, including missile defenses and counter-proliferation attack capabilities.
Now, in my two decades of involvement here in Washington in debates in the policy arena over defense and arms control issues, I think I've come to realize more than anything that the fault lines that we see in these debates can be attributed to the relative weight or priority that some, in the context of this debate, are placing on different parts of this three-part package. Some place far greater, if not exclusive, reliance on one of the elements; others discount or even dismiss altogether the value of others.
For example, let's start with the arms control treaties and the multilateral regimes. Some—and here I'm thinking mainly of the far right, if you will—think that arms control is a "sham," that it's at best ineffective or even works as a counter-productive bromide that lulls us into a false sense of security. Some would even terminate the Nunn-Lugar program. With regard to the second element, deterrence, we have sort of an unusual situation now where deterrence as a concept and as a building block of national security is under attack from the right and the left. There's the view that deterrence as a concept or as a pillar of national security is itself immoral, if not unviable. The prospect or the threat of massive retaliation as a building block for national security, in some quarters, is simply not accepted.
And now, with the growing discussion in the public arena over de-alerting options, I think we're seeing increasingly a line of argument that's coming from another side of this debate that says that deterrence is part of the problem; because by clinging to the continued importance of this we are putting barriers in the way of what should be a more straightline and rapid movement to step back completely—a zero-alert posture, if you will—from the precipice of the Cold War and take all the systems down, even at the expense of the traditional calculations that have underpinned our confidence that our deterrence posture was credible.
And then last, of course, missile defense, an issue that's in swing from the right and the left as well. For some, missile defense is the complete answer; a complete solution to our national security requirement, even if it's at the expense of the loss of the other two elements. Even if it means the destruction of the NPT, the CTB, the START agreements, and indeed, strategic stability as a measure of deterrent posture. For others, it's missile defense, not arms control, that's the "sham." Missile defense is a contrivance in the eyes of some: not proven, not likely to work, costing billions, getting in the way of what could be a more robust policy with respect to arms control.
But we in the Clinton administration—and I hope this doesn't surprise you—believe that each of these elements has merit, that each has a significant contribution to make to our national security, and that each can only be pursued if we acknowledge their interrelationship. And yes, to be sure, that means, necessarily, recognizing that there are trade-offs involved across those three baskets. Let me illustrate this point by discussing in a little more detail each element of this strategy triad, starting with the arms control regimes and the multilateral non-proliferation regimes.
The Non-Proliferation Strategy
Of course, if you look at the NPT and the CTB, which ar two of our principal tools for preventing, or at least constraining, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, you have to begin by recognizing that neither offers a foolproof guarantee. The critics have a talking point, to be sure, in pointing out that NPT can't stop nuclear proliferation, the CTB can't stop a country that's determined to acquire a nuclear capability. But they can constrain them. And together they're effective. One without the other isn't going to be viable.
If the Senate should reject or refuse to act on the CTB, I believe we put at risk the NPT. Certainly, I feel very strongly that had it not been for our willingness to negotiate the CTB in the first term of the Clinton administration, we would have never achieved the indefinite and unconditional extension of the NPT.
Now, with respect to going directly at the problem and reducing or eliminating weapons of mass destruction, I think it's important to note standing here today, in February of 1998, nine months after what was a very earnest Senate debate on the Chemical Weapons Convention, that the arguments that the administration made at the time about the paramount importance of the United States leading in this field have been validated. That came to a vote in the Senate. The Senate exercised its correct judgment, in my view. And because we ratified, things that the critics said would not happen have, in fact, happened. Russia ratified and deposited its instrument. China deposited its instrument of ratification, as did Iran and Pakistan. We have seen real vindication here for the argument of the importance of American leadership.
With respect to the START treaties, we have the opportunity for a truly breath-taking achievement in human experience. In START I, we are now two years ahead of schedule. The first reduction milestone was this past December. Both we and Russia are at the point of reductions now that we did not have to get to until 1999. We are both two years ahead of schedule in building down real nuclear dangers. START II, still pending in the Duma, offers the next step down, but more importantly opens the door to START III. And with START III, as per the Helsinki agreement, we have the commitment to reduce to the level of 2,000-2,500 strategic nuclear warheads by the year 2007, in tandem with a separate but related negotiation on tactical nuclear weapons and on the disposition of warheads and fissile material itself. So we have the opportunity available; indeed, we have a commitment in principle from the presidents of these two nuclear powers to achieve within the next nine years an 80 percent reduction in the strategic nuclear danger that existed at the end of the Cold War in 1991.
The Future of the ABM Treaty
Now, what does all of that mean for the ABM Treaty? Here, too, it's a question of balance, because I do not believe that we can achieve the promise of START II and START III unless we maintain our commitment to the ABM Treaty. Now, that's not just my view. This is the fundamental position of the Russian Ministry of Defense [MOD]. In their presentations to the Duma for ratification of START II—and they are making some very powerful arguments to the Duma—they have stressed two things about the ABM Treaty. One is that U.S. adherence, scrupulous adherence, to the ABM Treaty is a fundamental condition for MOD supporting ratification of START II. It's part of their, if you will, "safeguards package;" it's a condition of their support. Second, the MOD has argued to the Duma that there are many things in START II that they think are advntageous to Russia, and right at the top of that list is the fact that in the treaty itself you have a cross-reference to the ABM Treaty that reaffirms our U.S. fundamental commitment to that treaty.
So, what does that mean then in terms of this interrelationship between defense and offense, between the ABM Treaty and the reality of where we are with the START process? First, and I think obviously, it means that had this administration not—beginning in 1993 when we went to Geneva at the five-year review of the ABM Treaty and reaffirmed our commitment to it—made clear our fundamental commitment to the integrity of the ABM Treaty, we would not be where we are today with the prospect of START II ratification.
Second, I would say that absent our success last year in terms of the agreements on higher- and lower-velocity theater missile defense [TMD] demarcation and the succession understandings for the ABM Treaty—the Duma would not act on START II. I think it's that simple; the linkage in their mind is that clear.
Third, I believe that absent Senate approval of these three ABM agreements, there's a real question of whether the government of Russia will allow START II to enter into force, or will continue, for that matter, the START III negotiations that we're pledged to begin immediately upon Duma ratification of START II. I'm not predicting that, and in the end I don't know for sure what their reaction would be. But many, many things that they have said lead me to that view. In fact, some quarters in Moscow—Chairman Lukin of the Foreign Affairs Committee, for example—have argued that the Duma shouldn't even take up START II until the Senate has given its advice and consent to these three ABM agreements, a sequencing that we do not accept in the administration and that we have tried to warn the Russians off of as fatal to the future of both sets of agreements.
So in sum, we believe that once the Duma has approved START II—as extended by this five-year measure that Secretary Albright and Foreign Minister Primakov signed in September—the Senate, hopefully this year, will have an opportunity for a historic debate on strategic offense and strategic defense issues and their interrelationship. Indeed, this will be a great debate in the history of arms control—one in which we hope the Arms Control Association is a major player—that will determine, in my view, the future not only of the ABM Treaty—and certainly, Chairman Helms has made clear in his recent letter that he sees the debate on these three agreements as the vehicle for a larger debate on the treaty itself—but also will determine the future of START. And in our judgment, Senate defeat of these three ABM accords would carry with it the genuine risk of derailing the START process altogether and forfeiting the opportunity for reducing by 80 percent the strategic nuclear danger that we saw just seven years ago.
The New PDD
Now, with respect to deterrence as the second element of our strategy, you are all familiar, of course, from the extensive press coverage of the presidential decision directive [PDD] that the president signed in November. I want to talk very briefly about two aspects of it: first, in terms of strategic nuclear deterrence, and second, its implications for regional conflicts, particularly those where chemical or biological weapons could be in play.
With respect to strategic nuclear deterrence, the PDD reaffirms our fundamental commitment to maintain a strategic nuclear posture across a triad of strategic forces, robust posture that is not dependent on a launch-on-warning planning assumption, and that includes secure reserve forces and survivability sufficient to allow you to confirm that a nuclear weapon has actually detonated on American soil before you would have to face the retaliatory decision.
Now, the good news in this PDD is that it confirms the position of the president, with the full support of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the commander in chief of our strategic command, that we can maintain that kind of deterrent posture as a hedge against an uncertain future, not a deterrent posture that we think is required today or tomorrow or next week or next month given the course that Russia's on today. But because that course is not certain we are maintaining that strategic posture as a hedge. The good news is that we believe, and now have confirmed with this PDD, that we can do that at significantly lower levels than have ever been entertained before, indeed, down to the levels of the Helsinki agreement for START III.
The PDD also reaffirmed—and I was very glad to see that Spurgeon's editorial in the most recent issue of Arms Control Today took note of this (See ACT, November/December 1997)—our negative security assurance policy; that is, it is the policy of the United States, as restated in this PDD, not to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict unless the state attacking us or our allies or our military forces is nuclear-capable or not in good standing under the NPT or an equivalent regime, or third, is attacking us in alliance with a nuclear capability.
So what that means, then, in terms of our no-first-use or negative security assurance policy is that we are continuing to stand up for the assurances we've given the world that have been so instrumental in achieving our non-proliferation goals and underpinning our non-proliferation agenda, including the extension of the NPT and the attainment of the CTB. Now, there is an element of balance here. This is not a categorical no-first-use posture. For the states that are identified in those three exceptions, we do not forswear any options. And there's an element of deterrence there.
Here, too, we are trying to recognize that our interests are best served by balance and equilibrium. To be sure, if you wanted to put the most weight, the greatest priority, on the deterrence element of your strategy, you would make a very clear nuclear threat. You would say if you attack us in any fashion—conventional, chemical, biological—we will use nuclear weapons. That would be a categorical threat that would maximize your deterrence. Unfortunately, it would derail your non-proliferation policy and your non-proliferation agenda. So we have tried to strike the balance by maintaining long-standing U.S. policy in this area, actually dating back to Secretary of State Vance in 1978.
Now last, with respect to the defense or active means for destroying weapons of mass destruction, we've continued on course with our national missile defense developmental program that we still refer to as "three-plus -three," and the president's NMD budget request for 1999, which is almost a billion dollars, still presents the option of a deployment decision in the year 2000 that could be realized by the year 2003. That said, it's important to note the caveats: the testimony has been very clear that this accelerated course entails very high technical risk and very high degrees of concurrence between the test program and the production program. The GAO recently did a study that underscored that.
In my own experience, I remember back to the debate we had with Senator Nunn's ALPS proposal, where this issue of what is the appropriate level of technical risk that one should sign on to was very much at the heart of the debate between Senator Nunn and then-Senator [Al] Gore. In the end, the position the Congress adopted was that a national missile defense deployment objective should be low-to-moderate technical risk, at best.
And we have to remember some of our experience with weapons systems to know the dangers that are inherent if you push thetechnical risk too far. But you'll do what you have to do if the threat requires it. There have been crash programs before in our nation's history—Polaris was certainly one. If the threat requires the compression of the program, you will do what you have to do. But if the ballistic missile threat does not require a deployment decision in the year 2000, this administration will not make a deployment decision.
With respect to TMD we're committed to the full panoply of programs that we're pursuing, all of which, at least with regard to the programs that are mature enough to reach that stage, have been certified to the Congress as compliant with the ABM Treaty.
Beyond START II
Now, if this balanced three-part national security strategy is going to be effective, it can't just be on autopilot. Things have to happen, things have to fall into place. I think there are five principal challenges that we face, not just the White House or the administration, but we collectively as people that believe both in arms control and national security.
The first is the Duma has got to ratify START II. It's been a long wait. We've worked very hard the last year and a half to bring it just to the point of final action. We've been assured by the Russian government that they have everything they need to get the job done. There is now this issue of Iraq, which is overshadowing everything in terms of calculations of the ratification prospects. But leaving that aside its seems to me we're in a position to get this done. And it's very important as that debate is going on that we not have a divisive debate within the United States Senate over the ABM agreements. That is one reason we feel so fundamentally that we're not going to submit the ABM package to the Senate until the Duma has ratified START II.
The second challenge is to get the debate that we're having on de-alerting right. And by "right" I mean the right balance. It's not black or white; there are arguments on both sides. We need to strike the right equilibrium. On the one hand, we need to be open to every opportunity that presents itself to improve crisis stability, to step back from the precipice of the Cold War, to stand down the nuclear dangers of an era that's now receding. But at the same time, we also have to be sensitive to the requirements of deterrence in terms of how you calculate stability; and second, we need to be sensitive to the implications of our actions with respect to timing.
The strongest argument that's being made in the Duma right now for ratification of START II is the argument of their Defense Ministry that if the Duma ratifies START II, the parity ratio of strategic nuclear forces between Russia and the United States will be 1:1, and if they fail to ratify START II, Russia will be in a position of nuclear inferiority at the strategic level by a ratio of 1:3. They have reduced the argument to that simple an argument: What would you rather have, parity at 1:1, or inferiority at 1:3?
I think we need to be very careful that, while START II hangs in the balance in terms of ratification in the Duma, setting aside the Iraq issue, we not, in effect, suggest that that argument doesn't carry weight anymore because we're going to end-run START II with an alternate approach through e-alerting. So it's a question of timing. I also think we need to appreciate that we are on the hook from the Helsinki agreement, just as soon as START II is ratified, to immediately enter into a negotiation with the Russians to agree on how to deactivate half of our remaining strategic forces—the drop from the START I level to the START II level—five years before those systems have to be destroyed under the old arms control treaty rules.
In that early deactivation negotiation, we've been put on notice by the Russians that they're going to come to the table with ideas different than simply taking warheads off of delivery systems. So, we need to be careful, first, to take into account the START II implication, and second, to think ahead to a negotiation that we're going to have on deactivation or de-alerting, because in that sense I think the words are interchangeable.
Now, the administration is very hard at work on this. We've had a very earnest review both within the Strategic Command, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretary of defense's office, and the interagency that's moving along very nicely. We have not reached any final conclusions. But I want to assure you that we are looking at each of these ideas to ask ourselves which ones would have merit.
The third challenge—and this is much more parochial and domestic—is to win the argument with Congress over base closings. Now, that may surprise you in this arms control audience. But the Quadrennial Defense Review [QDR] is a balanced package with strategic nuclear elements, conventional elements, readiness elements and training elements. And the whole package depends on generating the savings we need to do everything: to maintain the readiness, the training, the quality of life enhancements for our troops, the conventional modernization, and yes, the strategic nuclear forces that underpin our deterrent posture. If we fail to win the argument with Congress over infrastructure reductions, particularly base closings, and don't generate the billions we need to make the QDR whole in terms of its fiscal assumptions, the first pressure point is going to come, I believe, in the services on the nuclear accounts, because the further you move away from the Cold War the harder it is to maintain support across the river for the nuclear accounts.
Fourth, I think we've got to be very clear-headed in this debate over TMD and NMD about the importance of considerations of technical risk. We need to make sure that the money is being spent wisely on defenses that will, in fact, work.
And last, we've got to ratify the CTB. I've not saved that until last because it's the lowest on my list; it's the one issue I'm spending most of my time on each day at the NSC right now. I've saved it until last because I just want to end on that note and leave it very much on your mind. The president believes fundamentally that the CTB is in the best interests of the United States. We believe that its provisions will significantly further our nuclear non-proliferation and arms control objectives and strengthen international security. And we believe that this is the session of Congress that the Senate should act.
There's been a lot of debate about entry into force and the future of this treaty, and everyone in this room is familiar with the very daunting challenge we face with regard to India, Pakistan, North Korea and perhaps others to bring the treaty into force. But when the president goes to the subcontinent this fall, we believe it is extremely important that he go from a position of strength, having secured Senate advice and consent to this treaty so we can approach other governments with the best position and the best leverage.
It's a huge job of changing Indian perceptions on this treaty. And should, God forbid, we fail to change their perspective on this treaty, it's important to realize that the fall-back position for the CTB, in terms of getting it into force, is an extraordinary conference that would be called in September of 1999—which, after all, is only 18 months from now—at which the world figuresout how to get the treaty into force anyway. And the catch is you cannot vote to call that conference, you cannot vote to convene the conference, indeed, you cannot participate in the conference unless your country has ratified the treaty.
So, going back to where I began, the importance of American leadership. If we are to lead the world, as we did in the negotiations, in securing the entry into force of the CTB, we believe it is fundamentally important that the Senate act on this treaty this year.
Questions & Answers
Q: How confident are you that the Duma will act favorably on the various elements of the START II-ABM package?
Bell: Well, in the last several months I've gone from skeptic to cautious optimist, setting aside the issue of Iraq. There's no question, based on what [Foreign Minister Yevgeniy] Primakov and [Defense Minister Igor] Sergeyev have said, the Russian government, almost with one voice, is saying very clearly that hostilities with Iraq fundamentally change the equation with respect to START II, certainly in the near term. And the Duma adopted a resolution to that effect. But I had gotten myself to the point of cautious optimism earlier this year based on three things.
First was everything we did and succeeded in doing, going back to Secretary Perry's visit to the Duma a year and a half ago, where he had a very rude reception, to deal with the issue of NATO enlargement. We did that through the NATO-Russia Founding Act, by concluding the [CFE Treaty] flank agreement and by concluding an MOU on the basic elements of an adapted CFE Treaty, all of which were designed to address this concern. Second was the five-year extension of the [START II] destruction requirements to address their economic concern about the cost of arms control. Third was Stan Riveles's hard work to get the ABM agreements done, which was clearly a precondition for START II ratification.
With that set of agreements it seemed to me that, with the overlay of the Helsinki accord and the certitude for the Duma that START II was not the end of the road but there was another meaningful step to follow, we had put down the four building blocks for ratification. Beyond that, you had the coincidence of the Primakov-Sergeyev team coming together, which, by anyone's calculation, is the strongest lobbying duo we could hope for in face-to-face daily contact with the Duma. It takes Yeltsin too, but Primakov and Sergeyev do carry weight in the Duma, and they've been on point and effective in their presentations. The MOD's arguments, I think, have been quite brilliant in terms of framing the issue for the Duma.
And last but not least, you had reports of this fairly remarkable deal between the Communist faction in the Duma and the Kremlin over the Russian flag and its relationship to START II. There are reports that in exchange for Yeltsin agreeing not to press the Duma now to approve legislation recognizing Russia's new flag (which the Communist party faction does not like), Speaker Gennadi Seleznev has agreed to schedule the START II debate for this spring. Now this may sound preposterous on first hearing, but we shouldn't find it preposterous because that's the only way we got START II through the Senate. We tend to forget about these linkages, but there was a time when we were not making any headway in terms of getting START II on the Senate schedule. This is the same treaty that the Communists think is demonstrably one-sided to Russia's disadvantage. It took us until January of 1996 to secure Senate ratification of START II, and the reason it finally got put on the Senate schedule was that Democrats had organized a filibuster against an amendment to prohibit flag burning, and it was only the decision to stop that filibuster and schedule a vote on the flag-burning amendment that got START II to the Senate floor.
Well, we're very good teachers. That's where we were on the eve of the Iraqi crisis. If we can get the treaty to the Duma floor, I am persuaded we'll win the vote.
Q: What are the administration's plans for dealing with the reserve warheads under the START III arrangements?
Bell: I think there are two elements that will come into play, neither of which has been decided yet, but both are very interesting and fundamental questions. The first one is: How successful will we be in the course of the START III negotiations themselves in making real headway in a side agreement to eliminate warheads? At Helsinki we agreed in principle that, for the first time, the START III treaty will feature a negotiation on the disposition of the warheads and fissile material. We've been very hard at work—Rose Gottemoeller and Lucas Fischer have co-chaired an interagency working group on the options that are available in terms of an opening U.S. position on that very subject, and there's a full range of options. I can't breach the confidentiality of that options review right now because we've not taken it yet to a point of decision.
Perhaps even more important, Russian receptivity to push the envelope with respect to actually dealing with reserve warheads is going to fundamentally affect your overall nuclear holdings, setting aside what the accountable deployed levels are. The accountable deployed levels will, by the year 2007, be down to 2,000-2,500. So the question is what's in your reserve, or inactive storage? That's going to be a function, first, of the result of the negotiations in START III. But second, it's going to be a function of sort of national policies with respect to the weight you attach 10 years from now—in the year 2007—to hedge strategies.
In other words, we basically maintain a START I force now. We've kept at START I levels to keep weight on the Duma to do the right thing with respect to START II. Once you get an agreement to come down to that next level, you have to make decisions as a matter of national policy about what reconstitution capability you want to preserve should the agreement fall apart or should you discover that the other side is fudamentally violating the treaty. So, in the context of START III levels, a big-ticket question will be: What is your tasking to the Department of Energy in terms of a reconstitution level? That's a decision that has not been made and will only be made once we get further into START III negotiations. I can't confirm or deny that 10,000 is the total number of warheads the U.S. will have under START III because there is no number yet that is associated with a successful START III negotiation. We just have not made those decisions.
Q: Will tactical warheads be addressed in START III as well?
Bell: We agreed at Helsinki that there will be a separate but related negotiation on non-strategic nuclear forces. One of the big questions, in terms of the actual content of START III negotiations, is what position the Russian government will bring to the table when it's time to start turning cards over and show what they're prepared to propose.
Certainly, we expect scrupulous Russian reaffirmation and adherence to the unilateral tactical nuclear reduction commitments that were made in 1990 and 1991 by Gorbachev and Yeltsin, which, in the aggregate, could produce about a two-thirds drawdown. That would, in comparison with the levels that President Bush announced, leave a Russian advantage, but it's markedly reduced from the advantage they have in non-strategic nuclear forces right now.
With regard to both warhead disposition and tactical weapons, in the run-up to Helsinki we were able to reach agreement on a set of words that both sides would sign up to. But there are a lot of second- and third-order specifics beyond that baseline in terms of what the Russian government really proposes to do when we get to the negotiation.
Q: Could you elaborate on the interrelationship that you're describing between the CTB Treaty and the NPT, particularly the possible effect of Senate inaction on the CTB as we approach the NPT review conference in 2000?
Bell: I think there's a very direct interrelationship in the eyes of a large part of the world between the position that the declared nuclear-weapon states take with respect to arms reductions and nuclear testing on the one hand, and the viability of our non-proliferation agenda on the other hand. The first and most obvious manifestation of that, I think, is the NPT.
In January of 1995, we made some very hard decisions within the Clinton administration with respect to the content of our CTB negoiating position, specifically dropping what had been our opening position to negotiate a CTB that was 10 years in duration and would have to be affirmatively renewed. In early 1995, Tony Lake gave a speech at the Carnegie Endowment dropping that and agreeing to pursue an indefinite CTB, because we had come to the conclusion that without that change we would not have prevailed in winning the indefinite and unconditional extension of the NPT. There were a lot of news stories being written through 1995 that said, in effect, we were losing this battle and that the NPT was going to go down. There's no question in my mind that if we had sustained the policy of the two previous administrations and refused to negotiate a CTB in any forum, the Conference on Disarmament or otherwise, we would not have gotten the NPT extended.
Now, the NPT is facing a review conference in the year 2000, with preparatory conferences in 1998 and 1999, and I think that Senate rejection of CTB could create a dynamic that would put the NPT at risk. But it's not just the NPT that's at risk. It's the credibility of U.S. leadership across the board on non-proliferation as we make demands on countries—whether it's Russia, China, Pakistan, India or anyone else—if we're not prepared to walk the walk and talk the talk ourselves when it comes to fundamental treaty obligations with respect to a cessation in nuclear testing.
Q: At Helsinki we agreed to a ceiling of 2,000 to 2,500 strategic warheads. Yet, Yeltsin has been reported as saying that the Russians could achieve their objectives with a level as low as 1,000 weapons, and there have been other proposals to reduce the levels to 1,000 or 1,500 weapons. Has the Clinton administration talked about the question of how low the United States can go and still maintain its objective of deterrence?
Bell: There are lots of people who have opinions and views about what the outer edge of the envelope is with respect to the strategic deterrence paradigm that we're in now and that we codified with the presidential decision directive in November. But if you're asking have we worked the hard bureaucratic, interagency task of driving through to a decision for numbers below the Helsinki numbers—either divided recommendations to the president or a consensus position that the national security team brings to the president for affirmation—the answer is no.
The Helsinki numbers were affirmed through just such a process. Before the president reached a decision, he was assured by [Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff] General Shalikashvili that the Joint Chiefs and the commander in chief of U.S. Strategic Command were confident that we could maintain a robust strategic nuclear deterrent, but not some protracted nuclear warfighting capability, with the numbers that were in play for Helsinki.
There have been suggestions of lower numbers from different places within the Moscow establishment. But first you've got to get START II ratified, because we've been very clear that we are not going to commence formal negotiations on START III until that happens. When we get to the START III table, based on this melange of different numbers that have been thrown around post-Helsinki, we'll see what the Russian government's number is. And if it's different than Helsinki, we will work a process, as we did before Helsinki, to see where we are on that.
Q: What is the administration's policy on the use of nuclear weapons in Iraq, particularly in response to Iraqi use of weapons of mass destruction? How does this fit in with the recent Presidential Decision Directive [PDD]?
Bell: There has been comment on this dating back about 10 days, to a piece that ran in Newsday on February 9 that had a number of errors in it, both about our policy and the PDD. Let me be clear. The PDD reaffirmed the U.S. negative security assurance that we have held to in this administration and that we codified in a UN Security Council resolution. Indeed, this policy dates back to Secretary of State Vance in 1978, and it has been a fundamental position of Republican and Democratic administrations ever since.
We have no plans, no planning, no intention, no policy of using nuclear weapons preemptively to go after, take out, whatever you want to call it, WMD storage or production facilities. There was a flap over this two years ago with respect to Tarhunah in Libya, and Secretary of Defense Perry went down to Maxwell Air Force Base and made very clear what our policy is, and we stand by that policy.
We have every conventional option we need to deal with our ability to target facilities that store or produce weapons of mass destruction. And that is distinct, then, from the use of such weapons by an adversary in a conflict where our negative security assurance policy stands.
Q: How far could the administration go in pursuing non-treaty agreements with Russia in the event the START process bogs down?
Bell: The short answer is I don't know, because it's an untested proposition. I think we have a pretty clear sense that the Russians, not just by our estimates but by their own statements, think that due to their economic difficulties they are on a glide path to a START II level, or a lower force level, one way or the other. In fact, that's one of the principal arguments that the Russian MOD makes for ratification—they're going down and they might as well get us to join them.
Now, on our side, we have a very different situation. Right now, we have not only a presidentially directed policy that says until and unless the Duma ratifies START II, we're going to maintain START I levels, but we have a law that says that. The National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 1998, which was signed in November by the president, includes a provision, Section 1302, that says thou shall—that's a mandatory verb—maintain 18 Trident boats, 71 B-52s, 500 Minutemen and 50 MXs. That's the law. That is the will of the Congress in a binding provision.
That provision goes on to say that once START II is ratified, no money can be spent on any agreement or understandingbetween the United States and Russia, not just negotiated agreements but perhaps tacit reciprocal measures—I think lawyers would have to come to a judgment on this point—that requires deactivation of systems before they have to be destroyed under arms control requirements, until the president submits a report to Congress. The report must inform Congress whether the de-alerting or deactivation measure—for example, taking warheads off, turning off power generators, removing launch keys, putting large tractors on top of silo lids—is, first, verifiable (and most of this doesn't come up to the traditional standards of verification); second, reciprocal, that is, whether one side is getting a better deal; and third, whether one side or the other has an undue breakout asymmetry advantage.
If the president cannot inform the Congress that any de-alerting or deactivation agreement or understanding is verifiable, reciprocal and not asymmetrical, money can only be spent to go forward with that deal if the president waives the requirement on national security grounds. In other words, if we give them the rope to hang ourselves with by saying, "We've just signed up to something that's not verifiable and not reciprocal, and presents an undue breakout advantage to Russia, but is still in the U.S. national security interests," only on those conditions could we spend the money.
So, there is a major question there, at least in my mind, about how open the running field is even for the de-alerting debate given the congressional legislation, setting aside the question that we've not come to internal conclusions within the administration yet on how we would handle the deactivation negotiation that we're required to have pursuant to Helsinki once START II is ratified.
Q: If the de-alerting or deactivation steps were unilateral, would they be covered by this law?
Bell: I don't know. The first half of Section 1302, which requires the United States to maintain specified strategic nuclear delivery systems at certain START I levels absent START II ratification, prohibits any action to retire or prepare to retire any of those systems.
Again, I'd have to get lawyers to work on this, but if it ever came to it, you would have to decide whether a particular measure, if it were decided to pursue it unilaterally, and I don't think that's a given necessarily, would be construed for purposes of the law as being a step preparatory to retirement or as just a step that is a change in the alert posture, which, because it is reversible, could be construed as not being preparatory to retirement of the system.
Q: Given the focus on biological weapons that has arisen during this latest crisis with Iraq, will the administration give more high-level attention to the verification protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention [BWC] now under negotiation in Geneva?
Bell: The short answer is yes, for a variety of rasons. One has to do with timing and considerations that were pertinent during the debate on the Chemical Weapons Convention [CWC]. As Lori [Esposito Murray] well knows, as the president's representative for ratification of that treaty last year and someone who spent countless scores of hours on the Hill talking to staff, there was an interrelationship established during the CWC ratification debate between our position on the BWC verification issue and continued support from the pharmaceutical industries for CWC. There were, I thought, obvious suggestions that had we put together an initiative that involved something that the industries would have construed to have been unacceptably intrusive inspections for BWC, that they would have turned against the CWC. We wanted to secure the CWC and that was, as you all know, a close vote as it was.
From my conversations with the president on this subject—and I need to be very clear to say that I am not working that issue—he believes that because of this crisis with Iraq, the world now is much more sensitive to the dangers that are represented by the BW threat and that the dynamic may have changed in terms of what the traffic will bear on an inspection regime, which isn't to say, "Anything goes." We have a very modest set of steps, but it's one that we think that will improve the situation and can sustain the support of the pharmaceutical industries. That proposition is going to be tested. It's being tested right now in consultations with allies.
Q: Given the fact that most U.S. allies have signed the Ottawa landmine treaty, what effect will that have on the ability of the United States to conduct coalition operations using landmines?
Bell: That's an issue that we're spending a lot of time on. What we're discovering is that our allies, particularly in NATO but also in Asia, in most cases had simply not thought this through. You had a case where the negotiating position was being driven principally out of foreign affairs ministries, and the defense ministries had not cranked in analytically and in terms of their own view on this. So, we're in a situation now where these countries have signed the treaty and are clearly going to ratify, at least eventually, and their own defense ministries are saying, "What does this mean for coalition operations?"
What we're hearing is a wide range of answers. It's not just a function of the legal views of what Ottawa requires and different countries' own interpretations of Ottawa, but it's also largely a function of the domestic legislation that was moving through a lot of these countries' parliaments while Ottawa was under way. In some cases, there are domestic laws that are more restrictive than Ottawa. In other cases, there are domestic laws that may provide more flexibility, even assuming ratification and entry into force of Ottawa.
The second point is that there is one set of issues that has to do with the so-called pure anti-personnel landmines [APLs], and another that is unique to the "mixed munitions," such as anti-tank mines that incorporate anti-personnel, or anti-handling, devices to keep infantry from deactivating the anti-tank mine. During the final negoiations in Oslo, the United States sought unsuccessfully to exclude certain mixed munitions in which the anti-handling device is not integral to the anti-tank mine.
The president has directed, of course, independent of Ottawa, that we will replace all of our systems everywhere except in Korea by the year 2003—and in Korea by 2006. If you take the Ottawa treaty, figure out how much time you need to get the requisite ratifications and then add six months for entry into force, then the timeline provided in that treaty to get rid of pure APLs is not that far away any more from U.S. target date of 2003. But that's a lesser-order issue.
The larger issue is that while we are looking for possible alternatives to existing U.S. mixed-munitions, it's not clear whether there is a viable alternative. It's in the area of mixed munitions, particularly if you imagine a war with Iraq where there's armored-maneuver warfare going on and you're trying to lay down anti-tank fields to protect maneuvering armored forces, that the impact is the greatest. That's the area where we're getting, I think, the widest range of answers back from allies.
We've had one round of consultations. We're going to have another round this spring. NATO's looking into this institutionally within the Military Committee. It was discussed at defense ministerial levels by Secretary Cohen late last year. But I think it's going to be another couple of months before we're able to take the full measure of the implications of the Ottawa treaty for that issue.
Now, all of that said, we are not, I repeat, we are not trying to talk people out of going forward with Ottawa. The president's been very clear. It's each country's decision to make, and if they choose to sign the treaty, that's their prerogative, and we recognize that.