John D. Holum, Under Secretary for
Arms Control and International Security
Interview With the Office of International Information Programs
U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC, 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 lead.
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 urgency.
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 positive outcome.
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 NMD system?
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 NMD program?
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 pursue missiles.
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 Libya?
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 it.
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 issues.
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 and elsewhere.
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 activities?
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 profitable venture.
QUESTION: What is your reaction to Russian press reports that attempted thefts of nuclear fissile material are down? Is any more anti-theft programming needed?
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 discussing today.
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 States.
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 pushing?
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 quickly.
QUESTION: What has been the official attitude of Russia toward U.S. efforts to ensure that Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine became and remain nuclear-free?
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 needed.
QUESTION: Where do you think the whole field of arm control is going in the future?
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 benefits.
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