John D. Holum, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security
Interview With the Office of International Information Programs, October 30, 2000
QUESTION: What can you share about the outcome of the discussions that
were held with North Korean envoy Cho Myong-nok and senior U.S.
officials on proliferation issues?
MR. HOLUM: I don't want to get into specifics at this point, although I
can say that it was a productive series of meetings. We'll have a better
sense of where things stand, now that the Secretary has concluded her
trip to North Korea. The Perry Review (conducted by former Defense
Secretary William Perry) has certainly helped foster this contact and
dialogue. We want to pursue that effort with every bit of seriousness.
Pyongyang well knows that it will have to address specific U.S.
concerns, particularly those related to missiles and nuclear activities,
for progress to continue.
As a general matter, it is important to have in mind the near- term
potential for a North Korean ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile)
capability, and that is a large part of the rationale for the National
Missile Defense architecture we're currently considering. The (U.S.)
National Intelligence Estimate changed dramatically as the result of two
events: The Rumsfeld Commission Report, and North Korea's test of the
Taepo Dong I missile. The North Koreans have declared a moratorium on
further missile developments while discussions continue, but the
moratorium is not a sufficient basis for us to slow down the National
Missile Defense (NMD) program. We are five or six years away, at best,
from having an operational National Missile Defense, and they are a
matter of months away from a long-range ICBM. We can't stop NMD testing
and development based on hopes.
That said, I think any administration - I can't speak for the next one
-- will use criteria similar to the ones President Clinton used in
evaluating National Missile Defense. The four criteria are technology,
cost, threat analysis, and the strategic environment, including arms
control and the views of our friends and allies. And if the threat were
to abate, this would have an effect on the scope and pace of our pursuit
of National Missile Defense. It is way too early to tell where this will
QUESTION: What are the positive and negative aspects of President
Clinton's decision to hold a decision to deploy a limited National
Missile Defense system for the next President?
MR. HOLUM: It's taken a lot of international pressure off. It's given us
more time to work diplomatically, not only with Russia but also with our
allies and others around the world.
We've been working on this since the summer of 1999. The decision to
have a notional NMD architecture to talk with the Russians about
commanded everybody's attention. Now there is no longer that immediate
I think over the last year we've made a lot of progress in explaining to
our allies and to others around the world why we are considering this
step and why it is consistent with the basic purposes of the ABM
(Anti-Ballistic Missile) Treaty and disarmament. There is still a lot of
uncertainty, and I think it is important to work with Russia and, of
course, it gives more time for the technology to be proven as well as to
explore possible alternative technologies. So overall it has been a
I also think there has been some downside in the sense that the Russians
are drawing from this the conclusion that if they keep up an intense
political effort against the program, they can negotiate further
reductions in START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) III without facing
up to the need to update the ABM Treaty to permit limited defenses.
QUESTION: To what degree do you think there is a general Russian
comprehension of U.S. efforts to get Moscow to agree to changes to the
1972 ABM Treaty that would allow the United States to pursue a limited
MR. HOLUM: I don't think this is generally understood because the entire
focus of the Russian posture has been that any change to the ABM Treaty
will destroy it. And that is manifestly not the case.
For example, we have already changed the Treaty to clarify the dividing
line between theater and strategic systems. And that strengthened the
Treaty because it made clear that, while preserving the Treaty, we could
address the evolution of the security environment.
The Treaty also already permits 100 interceptors. And the amendment to
the Treaty we are proposing would have a limit of 100 ground-based
interceptors, which means that the Treaty number wouldn't be any greater
than Russia already has, in its permitted deployments around Moscow.
It would help preserve the Treaty because, again, it would demonstrate
that it is allowing for reasonable responses to emerging new threats.
QUESTION: What do you think - now that time has passed - of Russian
President Putin's notion of U.S.-Russian joint cooperation on a limited
MR. HOLUM: I think there is something there to be explored. We are
interested in finding out more about what they have in mind. I think
they are still developing their thinking. As you know, at the Okinawa
Summit and the UN Millennium Summit, Presidents Clinton and Putin agreed
to a number of initiatives on strategic stability, including joint
efforts in the areas of early-warning, pre-launch notification, theater
missile defenses, joint threat assessment, and in trying to develop a
global missile non- proliferation regime - like a code of conduct --
complete with possible incentives to encourage other countries not to
When I went to Moscow in October I discussed all of those areas. We are
approaching this very much from an attitude of cooperation - not only
cooperation on amending the ABM Treaty, but cooperation on early-warning
and possible collaboration on elements of missile defense. I think to be
fair, we've probably put more specific ideas on the table on cooperation
than the Russians have, but they have demonstrated their interest.
QUESTION: What is your reaction to press reports that North Korea has
delivered its No Dong (surface-to-surface) missile and launchers to
MR. HOLUM: I generally don't comment on press reports, particularly
where matters of intelligence are concerned. I will say, however, that
transfers of No Dong capabilities elsewhere are, as a matter of
principle, a serious issue for us, and we will continue to raise it with
the North Koreans.
QUESTION: Do you expect any U.S. humanitarian demining aid will be
offered to the two Koreans for their project to remove mines along a
planned rail corridor?
MR. HOLUM: It is quite possible that they will ask us how to go about
QUESTION: What short-term non-proliferation measures does the U.S. want
India and Pakistan to adopt to bring more stability to South Asia? And
what are the prospects for achieving them?
MR. HOLUM: There are a few steps: CTBT (Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty)
signature and ratification, cessation of the production of fissile
materials and support for Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty negotiations
in the Conference on Disarmament, restraining nuclear and missile
developments, and adoption of strict export controls. We'd also like to
see India and Pakistan engage in bilateral discussions on security
We want to prevent the situation from getting any worse. Unfortunately,
we haven't made any great headway in any of those areas. Securing CTBT
signature should be the easiest because both countries have said they
wouldn't test. Indian Prime Minister Bihari Vajpayee said there would be
no nuclear tests before the CTBT enters in force, and Pakistan has taken
the same position. The most important area of concern is restraint in
the nuclear and missile areas. The draft Indian nuclear doctrine still
reflects a desire for a very robust nuclear and missile capability.
QUESTION: Is there any unclassified evidence that Iran's chemical
weapons program continues?
MR. HOLUM: Not unclassified. But Iranian chemical weapons production is
a concern. The full range of capabilities including biological weapons
and advanced missile delivery systems are a concern.
QUESTION: What proliferation issues should the Russians be concerned
about and watching?
MR. HOLUM: The problems that bear watching involve missile technology
transfers from Russia to Iran, which carry sanctions implications, as
well as certain dual-use technology transfers to countries such as Syria
and Libya and other countries of concern to us. Our principle concern,
in terms of Russia's immediate activity, is in the nuclear area.
Longer term, there are some issues we are working collaboratively: good
and promising programs to deal with the transfer of technological
know-how for weapons of mass destruction. But, there is a lot more to be
done. Our concern is that the deliberate transfer of relevant
technology, either as a matter or government policy or as a result of
enterprising individuals circumventing controls, could have a large and
negative impact on WMD (weapons of mass destruction) programs in Iran
There is a gap between the Russian government's policy pronouncements
and its actions. Why? Partly, it has to do with the end of the Soviet
state and the end of controls. Part of it is related to the interests of
specific entities and the need for resources. Part of it has to do with
the capability to control versus the willingness to control.
QUESTION: What can you say about U.S. efforts to persuade Russia not to
provide advanced conventional weapons to Iran?
MR. HOLUM: Russia agreed in 1995 not to make new contracts with Iran,
and to phase out such transfers by the end of last year. No judgment has
been made on how to address the fact that this phase-out has dragged on,
as distinct from the question of no new contracts. Time, arguably, is
not the key question. What is key is that Russia refrains from new
sales. It's something that we've been talking to them about over a long
period of time.
QUESTION: Do you want to say something about Iraq?
MR. HOLUM: The core issues with Iraq center around the UN resolutions.
We didn't say that Iraq must be sanctioned for a set period of time.
Now, the issue is how to convince Iraq to comply with the resolutions.
Saddam Hussein is still there and has said no to the entry of weapons
inspectors, and that is prolonging the sanctions.
QUESTION: Do you think the Russian people have a real sense of the
amount of foreign currency that has been spent in the past eight years
to reduce the Russian WMD proliferation threat? Would you please give
the issue some dimension?
MR. HOLUM: Since the end of the Cold War, the amount invested in these
programs has been rather dramatic. When you consider the International
Science and Technology program, the various programs in Cooperative
Threat Reduction (CTR), the Energy Department Labs - it comes to more
than $3 billion dollars from the U.S. alone.
Not all of the Cooperative Threat Reduction program funds are aimed at
curbing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Some of this
money is used for military dismantlement. As the Russians dismantle
their nuclear weapons, the resulting fissile material could be useful to
someone else. Therefore, a new program will purchase the blended down
product of 500 metric tons of highly enriched uranium (HEU) from their
weapons program. And over the life of the program, that will yield about
$12 billion dollars to the Russians. This is not government money; most
of it is private money. The Russians have twin incentives: one is
clearly financial and the other is their own interest in a world in
which proliferation is contained.
QUESTION: Does this apply to a broad spectrum of proliferation
MR. HOLUM: It applies across-the-board. Our aid appropriately links our
willingness to cooperate and permit commercial opportunities in the
space launch area with their behavior on non-proliferation. It doesn't
make any sense for the U.S. to be in commercial relationships with
Russian companies if Russian entities are at the same time dealing with
Iran. I think we are making some headway, but we're not satisfied yet. I
think the head of the Russian Space Agency, Mr. Yuriy Koptev, is taking
this issue seriously. He knows that the resources that can be made
available for the Space Agency through cooperation with the U.S.
aerospace industry are many times what can be gained from technology
transfers to Iran.
QUESTION: Why is the U.S. promoting the conversion of nuclear weapons
plants in Russia?
MR. HOLUM: This is really the only secure outcome to the dilemma
produced by the success of disarmament. We are more secure if they are
no longer producing weapons of mass destruction and, instead, are
occupied doing other things. Then the risk of proliferation is
diminished. So there is an immediate benefit.
It is not in our interest for the Russian economy to fail. There is
enormous expertise that is wrapped up in their missile programs, in
nuclear programs, and in chemical and biological weapons programs, that
can be applied to civilian profit-making enterprises. Some of the most
creative scientists are former weapons producers who could use their
talents for commercial development to help build the Russian economy
from the ground up. This is an important part of our purpose.
QUESTION: I have seen statistics that the United States has reportedly
helped fund the work of more than 20,000 former Soviet nuclear weapons
specialists as a disincentive for assisting rogue-like nations. How are
these specialists identified? What is the scope of the program and do
you expect it to continue?
MR. HOLUM: That 20,000 figure is accurate. Some of them are brought in
through the International Science and Technology Centers in Kiev and
Moscow and are selected, in part, by the Russians and, in part, through
our own knowledge because their work has become transparent.
In the near term, we are having a fair amount of success in terms of
preventing leakage. There were many reports in the early 1990s of
Russian proliferation marketing efforts - some of which were false and
some of which resulted from sting operations. Such reports have now
diminished significantly. Progress has been made through cooperation
with the Russians on better border controls and on export controls. A
lot of these efforts, particularly those involving human expertise, have
to become self-sustaining. Commercial spin-offs, through Department of
Energy efforts and private sector initiatives, are promising. We are on
the threshold of success in a number of these efforts, but we need to
make a difference over the long term. There are a lot of potential
opportunities. There is a lot yet to be done to end proliferation as a
QUESTION: What is your reaction to Russian press reports that attempted
thefts of nuclear fissile material are down? Is any more anti-theft
MR. HOLUM: I have no basis to dispute this. I think it really comes down
to what are the controls at the individual locations where materials are
kept. Reports are mixed. Two things are going on: nuclear materials are
being consolidated at new locations, and then, once this is
accomplished, there must be better security. The process is not finished
yet. Improvements have to be made. There has to be a set of priorities
for the areas with the most vulnerabilities.
QUESTION: How high a priority are U.S.-Russian efforts to prevent the
loss or theft of nuclear materials from Russian submarines? And what is
your assessment of that process?
MR. HOLUM: I think the problem with submarines is primarily one of
safety: with nuclear reactors on board submarines that are sitting at
the peer rotting. It is something that we and the Norwegians have worked
on very closely. The Norwegians have provided a leadership role.
QUESTION: What are some of the aspects of the Cooperative Threat
Reduction and follow-on programs and what are the prospects for future
funding in Congress?
MR. HOLUM: Cooperative Threat Reduction programs have been generally
well received by the Congress. The Cooperative Threat Reduction
Initiative sought to address the troubled Russian economy and to
generate economic activity in a useful way. Because they had fewer
resources of their own, the Russians were unable to spend more on such
efforts. The Expanded Threat Reduction Initiative was developed as a way
to be opportunistic and productive in all of the priority
non-proliferation and disarmament areas we've identified and are
For example, CTR funds are being used to help finance implementation of
the START I agreement in Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan through
dismantling missiles and launchers, and to help build a secure facility
for storing nuclear materials from dismantled warheads.
This is all very much in the interest of both Russia and the United
QUESTION: What positive steps has the Russian government taken to
control sensitive technology and equipment transfers? And what else
needs to be done?
MR. HOLUM: One of the most important things has been the adoption of
their new export control law that includes catch-all controls for
particularly sensitive technologies as well as controls on nearly
everything exported to an entity in a country that is actively engaged
in developing long-range missiles, nuclear weapons, or WMD programs.
Their law is quite strong. We have set up seven different U.S.- Russian
working groups in various areas of technology to collaborate in
implementing the law and strengthening controls in specific areas. They
are strengthening export control mechanisms at key companies that have
missile and space capabilities. They're doing this using experts from
those companies as well as from the Space Agency that have come to the
United States and gone to U.S. companies that are known for having
strong internal controls. On the plus side these working groups are
setting up a legal framework and accumulating expertise.
On the negative side, they are not all working at an equal pace. And we
have a number of areas where there has been an invasion of government
policy. For example, it has been alleged in press reports that laser
enrichment technology will be transferred to Iran. The Russian
government has suspended that while an assessment is under way, which is
an important step. The transfer to Iran of sensitive technology that can
provide weapons grade material is a very serious issue.
QUESTION: What exactly does the U.S. mean by repeated references to the
ABM Treaty as a cornerstone of strategic stability?
MR. HOLUM: The ABM Treaty underpins a stable strategic relationship
because it gives both the U.S. and Russia confidence that the other is
not pursuing large-scale strategic nuclear defenses. Competition can be
stimulated if one side or the other pursues, or even maintains,
large-scale offensive forces and comprehensive defenses. Without such
defenses - defenses much more comprehensive than the U.S. has proposed
-- neither we nor Russia have concerns that the other side would even
consider using strategic nuclear weapons - it would be suicidal. By
creating such assurances, the ABM Treaty has enhanced stability and
allowed deep reductions in strategic nuclear arsenals to take place.
QUESTION: What can you say about the ABM resolution the Russians are
MR. HOLUM: They are proposing an ABM resolution in the United Nations
that is the same as the one they proposed in 1999. In essence, it argues
that the Treaty should not be amended and that any national missile
defense should be ruled out. We think it is a mistake to bring this
issue to the UN General Assembly; the UN shouldn't be involved in what
is a bilateral issue. We think that the best way to preserve the Treaty
may be to amend it because it is a cornerstone of strategic stability.
QUESTION: What are future expectations for START III? And what has to
happen to bring about a third round of strategic cuts?
MR. HOLUM: Two things must happen: One is that we need to do as the
presidents said in the Cologne Joint Statement issued at the 1999 G-8
meeting, and that is to pursue START III and the ABM Treaty in parallel.
It makes sense to proceed with both at the same time and to build on the
1997 Helsinki framework. We have to take the first steps not only with
respect to reducing missiles and bombers, but the warheads themselves.
The Russian side has laid out their arguments. We have even gotten to
the point of exchanging treaty language. But we are not close together
on how a START III Treaty should take shape. For example, the Russians
are arguing that the number of warheads should be 1,500 rather than
2,000 to 2,500, as agreed by the two Presidents in Helsinki. I think the
2,000 to 2,500 number is the right place to start.
I would not expect there to be an agreement on START III during the
balance of President Clinton's term. I think we have accomplished in
both the ABM and the START III discussions some understanding in detail
about what the shape of an agreement might be, so if there is a
political decision to proceed to negotiations, that could happen fairly
QUESTION: What has been the official attitude of Russia toward U.S.
efforts to ensure that Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine became and remain
MR. HOLUM: They provided very strong support and were actively engaged
because a lot of this required bilateral agreements. All of the nuclear
weapons have gone back to Russia for dismantling and Belarus, Kazakhstan
and Ukraine are all now members of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
as non-nuclear weapon states. Russia and the countries involved all have
collaborated on that, I think, quite successfully.
QUESTION: How are efforts proceeding to bring complete transparency to
biological weapons efforts in the former Soviet Union?
MR. HOLUM: Not as well as we'd like. The bilateral effort hasn't worked.
The focus now seeks to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention
(BWC) through multilateral efforts.
In 1992 Russia admitted its biological weapons program had not been
terminated when it joined the BWC. One of the arguments for developing a
Protocol to strengthen compliance with the BWC derives from statements
made by then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin.
QUESTION: Do you give any credence to Western press reports that some
Russian Defense Ministry facilities are still closed to the outside
because there are ominous BW secrets concealed there?
MR. HOLUM: My conclusion, based on a variety of press reports, is that
the Russians have the capacity, and apparently the interest, to pursue
quickly biological weapons if they concluded that such weapons were
QUESTION: Where do you think the whole field of arm control is going in
MR. HOLUM: I have thought a lot about this subject. I think we need to
do a better job explaining the discipline. The CTBT vote in the Senate
last year shows that the bipartisan consensus that prevailed in arms
control has eroded. Because arms control officials spend so much of
their time negotiating agreements and treaties, there is less time to
explain how arms control fits into the national security rubric. Arms
control is vitally important because it limits threats and makes the job
of defense easier. Producing arms control agreements serves U.S.
security interests, but that point does not always come across.
The other issue is that as the field of arms control has grown, it has
also become more technical and complex with the end of the Cold War.
With that, many of the pre-existing restraints on technology transfers
are gone, but they need to be replaced. We also need to build
international constituencies to continue the work of non-proliferation
and arms control by doing a better job of explaining it and its
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