UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


DoD News Briefing

Tuesday, June 16, 1998 - 1:36 p.m. (EDT)
Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD (PA)


Q: According to reports, there is a possibility the United States and China might discuss the retargeting of their nuclear missiles as a symbolic gesture. What is involved in the process of retargeting, and how easy is it to retarget the retarget?

A: Well, first, detargeting is something we have discussed with the Chinese before. It was brought up by Secretary Perry in December of 1996 when he visited Beijing. It's been brought up in other meetings with the Chinese.

As you know, we reached an agreement with the Russians several years ago not to target our missiles at each other, and we have not been targeting our missiles at each other for some time. This was an agreement reached between President Clinton and President Yeltsin.

We are hoping to achieve a similar agreement with the Chinese. I think that this is part of the discussions that are leading up to the summit. I don't have -- I can't give you a clear prediction of what's going to happen, but clearly it's something that we've been discussing with the Chinese, as part of the preparations.

It is -- this is an important confidence building measure, because what it means is, if there were to be an accidental launch of some sort, and we believe the chances of an accidental launch are extremely minute, but if there were to be an accidental launch, the missile would not be targeted at a specific place. It would go off into the ocean or something like that.

The process of retargeting is relatively simple and quick. But the issue here is to find ways to reduce the hair-trigger aspect of the strategic nuclear arsenals, and that is why we think the agreement we have with Russia is significant, and that is why we think that a similar agreement with China would help stabilize the nuclear balance.

Q: Have the Chinese been proven, as some reports allege, to be retargeting on U.S. mainland targets, on U.S. cities?

A: Well, I can't really get into that, but I think we have to be grown up about these issues. People have nuclear arsenals for reasons.

We have a much larger nuclear arsenal than the Chinese have, many times larger than theirs. And it is a very important part of our deterrent strategy, that is, to deter anybody from attacking us, because they would know that they would receive an overwhelming and devastating response.

That remains a key to our strategy. You can ask General Habiger about it when he comes later. But, without getting into specifics, what we are trying to do is to make sure that we don't get into a situation where a mistake could increase the possibility of a nuclear strike.

Q: Is any consideration being given to the Chinese position, the request that the United States agree with no first use of nuclear weapons?

A: I wouldn't anticipate that we would change that policy. I don't anticipate a change in that policy.

Q: I know you talked about it being a confidence building measure in terms of preventing an accidental disaster. But isn't this largely a symbolic gesture?

A: Well, I don't think that anything that reduces the chance of nuclear error is symbolic. I think it's a real, tangible, confidence building measure that does reduce risk.

As I said, we have a very strict set of procedures to prevent accidental launch. The Russians do, and General Habiger will talk about that. You could ask him about the Chinese system, as well.

But anything that reduces risk, even a little bit, I think is important, and that's why President Clinton and President Yeltsin thought it was important not to target missiles at each other, and that is why it would be important with the Chinese, as well.

Q: One question on China, and then a different subject. Do you have any reaction or confirmation of the reports that China is now assisting Iran and Libya on their missile programs?

A: Well, as you know, we don't comment on alleged intelligence reports. What I can tell you is that we have been working very hard with China, and I think with some degree of success over the last couple of years, to reduce China's activities as a proliferator.

China has joined the NPT. It has subscribed to the comprehensive test ban treaty. It has subscribed to the principles of the Missile Technology Control Regime. So I think that we have made some progress.

In other areas, when Secretary Cohen went to Beijing in January, the Chinese stated that they were going to stop selling certain anti-ship cruise missiles to Iran and we believe that they are subscribing to that pledge, they are honoring the pledge. So we are making progress.

It is important, I think, to stay engaged with China and to continue discussing these important issues with them. I think, if we can do that, we will make more progress.

Q: Can you identify any areas of progress that you think still remain to be -- that are still open?

A: Well, I think there are a number of areas that I don't want to get into but, clearly, until China stops all sorts of activity that could encourage missile proliferation, we need to keep talking, and we need to keep convincing them, as I think they may be seeing already, that their support of missile or nuclear programs in other countries can destabilize areas close to their border.

Q: Is there any area that there is no progress, that it's kind of like beating your head against a wall?

A: Well, I think we have made fairly significant progress with them across the board. There is still room for more progress, and that is one of the reasons that President Clinton is going to Beijing to continue these discussions.

Q: If the Chinese were to agree to detargeting nuclear missiles, would the President then be able to say, as he had in the past, perhaps more correctly, that no nuclear missiles are aimed at the United States?

A: I think that the vast majority of times the President has made that statement it's been very clearly tied to Russia. There may be one time when he didn't mention Russia in particular. But I know that since all of you in the press are very fair and pay a lot of attention to context, that you realize that if he forgot to mention Russia, it was a mistake.

Q: Is it?

A: Yes.

Press: Thank you.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list