Full transcript of the September 22, 2009 conference call featuring The Honorable Alexander Vershbow, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, and Lieutenant General Patrick O’Reilly, Director of the Missile Defense Agency.

OPERATOR:  This is a recording of the Jeff Lightfoot conference with the Atlantic Council of the U.S. on September 22, 2009 at 11:15 a.m. Central Time.  We now have assistant secretary of defense for International Security Affairs, Ambassador Alexander Vershbow and Atlantic Council president and CEO Fred Kempe in conference.  Please be aware that each of your lines is in a listen-only mode.

At the conclusion of Fred Kempe’s introduction and Ambassador Vershbow’s opening presentation, we will open the floor for questions.  At that time, instructions will be given as to the procedure to follow if you would like to ask a question.  I would now like to turn the conference over to Fred Kempe to introduce Ambassador Vershbow and begin the call.  Fred, you may begin.

FREDERICK KEMPE:  Thank you very much.  And I’m not only going to introduce Ambassador Vershbow; we also have another special guest with Ambassador Vershbow.  Gen. David O’Reilly, head of the Missile Defense Agency, is going to –


MR. KEMPE:  Oh, why did they give me that?  Sorry about that.  Gen. Pat O’Reilly – with “O’Reilly” I should have known it was Pat – head of the Missile Defense Agency, has joined us on the call and he’ll be able to speak to technical issues or questions that might come up.  So good morning, and welcome to this afternoon’s Atlantic Council conference call debrief on missile defense.  And Ambassador Alexander “Sandy” Vershbow and Gen. Pat O’Reilly, thank you for joining us today.

As you all know – and we’ve got a great group of people and experts on the call – Ambassador Vershbow is assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, and a wealth of diplomatic experience to his name.  I’ve known Sandy for some time – ambassador to NATO, Russian Federation, South Korea.  Gen. O’Reilly has served as the head of MDA since November of 2008 and has served in command and staff officer positions in his career in the U.S. Army.

We’re delighted to have Ambassador Vershbow on the line to discuss his recent trip with Undersecretary Tauscher and Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall of the NSC, where they were in Europe consulting with allies over the administration’s decision to pursue alternative technologies and architectures for missile defense in Europe.

The Atlantic Council is deeply interested in this issue – has followed it for some time.  Gen. O’Reilly was with us with then-Congresswoman Tauscher a couple of years ago when we first dug into this in some depth.  We’re going to have another all-day conference on missile defense in Europe on October the 7th that will feature Undersecretary Tauscher – now-Undersecretary Tauscher, Rep. Michael Turner, and I’m delighted also, Gen O’Reilly will join that.

We have a strong group of senior experts and professionals on the line, as I said.  This call will be on the record.  I’m now going to turn it over to Sandy to make an opening statement and then I don’t know whether Gen. O’Reilly will follow that.  The operator will step in to instruct questioners after that and then I’ll moderate the discussion, which will conclude – we can go as long as 1:15 p.m.  So, Ambassador Vershbow, over to you.

AMB. ALEXANDER VERSHBOW:  Thank you very much, Fred, and thanks to everybody on the line for joining us today.  As you might imagine, we’ve been watching the coverage of the president’s recent decision on ballistic missile defense with some interest, and despite some of the headlines, we think the results of the review represent a true good-news story.

Rather than scrapping missile defense plans in Europe, as many had believed would be the case, we have come up with a new approach that we’re convinced is more effective, more flexible, capable of defending all of NATO, and available years sooner than the previous plan.  As folks know, the program we’re shifting away from was still only a concept.  It wasn’t providing any protection to Europe and would not have been operational until, probably, 2018.

The updated plan, we feel, is better suited to the threat.  It’s based on intelligence that shows that the threat from Iran’s short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, such as the Shahab-3, is developing more rapidly than previously projected, whereas the ICBM threat, while it may be coming, is not as imminent as projected.

And Gen. Cartwright made a very piquant observation the other day that one of the realities of life is that the enemy gets a vote, so you have to be able to adapt as the threat changes.  The new architecture offers a more significant and a more robust capability to meet today’s threat and to adapt to longer-range ballistic missile threats as they emerge.

The new approach also uses more effective technology, which Gen. O’Reilly can elaborate on later – first of all, significant advances in missile defense capabilities and technologies over the past 2 or 3 years, such as the Aegis Weapon System, the Standard Missile-3, the TPY-2 forward-based radar.  All of these can be deployed early to address the current short and medium-range ballistic missile threats from Iran.

There are also advances in sensor capabilities, which give us a wider variety of options to detect and track enemy missiles and to guide interceptors in flight to enable an engagement.  And we can deploy a distributed sensor network now rather than relying on a single fixed site, which gives us greater survivability and adaptability.  These technologies are proven ones.  The SM-3 has already been proven effective on our Aegis ships and has been tested on land.

Politically, the new approach provides protection of all European allies.  In the early phases, it will defend U.S. forces, civilian personnel, families and U.S. allies in Southeastern Europe, which the previous system didn’t do.  And in later phases, the system is designed to protect all of NATO Europe, to include land-based SM-3 sites in Southern and Central Europe, and it will incorporate capabilities to defend against longer-range missile threats as they emerge.  And Sec. Gates said we can now field initial elements of the system to protect forces and allies in Europe roughly 6 to 7 years earlier than under the previous plan.

So we’re looking forward to working with our allies to provide the most effective architecture possible.  We’ve started the consultation process, beginning with the Poles and the Czechs.  Poland could possibly be the host of a land-based version of the SM-3 at one of the two land-based sites that are envisaged after 2015.

This could be roughly the same timeframe, or maybe even sooner, than was likely with the GBIs.  While the large EMR radar is no longer needed in the Czech Republic, we’ll be discussing other ways that the Czechs could participate, perhaps to include hosting some command-and-control elements.  And of course, we’re continuing to cooperate closely with both of these countries through the rotation of a Patriot battery in Poland, which will begin after the necessary agreements are reached, and through ongoing missile defense R&D between Czech and American companies.

Finally, I would just stress that the new approach is better-geared for promoting NATO interoperability.  It’s designed to work in concert with allied efforts to provide NATO-wide protection against missile attacks, building on the summit decisions in Bucharest and Strasbourg.  And in fact, we see greater opportunities for our allies and partners to participate.  Sensors and interceptors from both allies and partners could be interoperable under the new approach.

So I think some of the initial responses revealed some early misinterpretations of the plan; some of the early press reports suggested we were abandoning missile defense, full stop.  But I think since the initial excitement, there has been a better understanding of the facts, and I think it has helped leaderships in Warsaw and Prague to appreciate the logic of the updated plan.

In our briefing to NATO allies in Brussels, we were very well-received.  A lot of praise for the fact that the new system will protect all of NATO, consistent with the principle of indivisibility of security, and that it is consistent with earlier summit declarations. We will be encouraging allies to consider how our programs and allied programs could be linked together, perhaps though a common command and control system that NATO has already been discussing.

So I’ve gone on too long.  Let me stop there and open up the floor for questions.  And, as I said, Gen. O’Reilly is here to add some technical detail.  General, do you want to say a few words right now?

LT. GEN. O’REILLY:  If I could, sir.

AMB.  VERSHBOW:  Okay, go ahead.

LT. GEN. O’REILLY:  First of all, the previous program had three aspects to it:  10 GBIs in Poland, European Midcourse Radar in the Czech Republic, and a forward-based sensor.  What has been lost in a lot of the discussion is we are substituting two aspects of that three-part plan.  The forward-based sensor we are retaining in this architecture because it had the greatest contribution to the protection of the homeland, and what it did – of the United States.  It provides an early precise track to assist the GBIs at Fort Greely, Alaska and at Vandenberg, and we are retaining that aspect of it.

From a GBI point of view, in the previous plan, GBI was used as an intermediate-range ballistic missile interceptor role and also an intercontinental ballistic interceptor role.  And primarily it would be an IRBM interceptor role in Europe.  What we are doing is, we have found other substitutes and tested and convinced ourselves that the SM-3 does have an IRBM capability and our initial testing of not only the one that’s there today, the SM-3 1A, but the SM3 1B will begin flight testing next year.  It has already demonstrated capability on the ground that characterizes the risk as being low to complete that development, and that is near-term.

However, we had three principles that we were following.  Number one is we would prove the capability before we deploy.  So the timelines that Ambassador Vershbow laid out are all based on the fact that there would be a completion of a ground and flight-test program before deployments would be made so that we don’t deploy a capability that hasn’t been fully characterized against the threat in which it’s been designed.

Its cost effectiveness – the cost of an SM-3 1B is about 10 million (dollars) versus a GBI, which is 70 million today – and against the more advanced SM-3s, the cost estimate is 15 million per copy, so significantly less.  And finally, we are retaining in this capability – because of the uncertainties that Ambassador Vershbow identified in the threat, we are still continuing the testing and developing of a two-state GBI and the capability for that GMD capability and advancement, if in fact the development of the SM-3s do not come to fruition.  We believe we have significant testing to prove that this is very feasible.

And, finally, the sensor net – we’ve had significant testing in the last couple years to validate that we can, in fact, take multiple sensors, combine them into one track and launch missiles off them rather than relying on single, large radars.  We in fact did that on the last GMD test and used the combination of five different sensors in order to create one very accurate track.

And that’s the technology on that front.  And we have also observed and validated the sensitivity and accuracy of UAVs that have demonstrated this year that they can be many hundreds of kilometers away from a ballistic missile launch and provide accurate track.  So when we combined the flexibility of these new technologies and the networking versus the previous architecture, and the time to deploy land-based SM-3s versus the 5 years to construct a missile field, it gave us indications that this is a much more flexible and adaptable approach.  Thank you.

MR. KEMPE:  Gen. O’Reilly, thank you very much, and Ambassador Vershbow.  This is Fred Kempe.  I’m just going to ask the first question and then I’m going to go straight to – and the operator will go straight to people queuing up.  And I wonder if the operator wants to give instructions before I ask my question so we can get some people in the queue.

OPERATOR:  Okay, yes, I can do that.  At this time, we will open the phone for questions.  If you would like to ask a question, please press the * key followed by the 1 key on your touchtone phone now.  Questions will be taken in the order in which they are received.  If at any time you would like to remove yourself from the questioning queue, press *2.

MR. KEMPE:  Great.  Here is my question – and this talk of land-based SM-3s potentially in Poland is quite interesting – Ambassador Vershbow, did you bring this up with the people you saw in Warsaw?  What was their response to that?  What level of concern did you hear from your counterparts in Poland?

And then the second thing is, you didn’t mention whether – what possibilities for cooperation there might be with Russia in this new architecture, and what you see as being possible with the Russians.

AMB. VERSHBOW:  Okay, on the first question, yes indeed we did, in presenting the overall concept, indicate to the Poles that they were a potential candidate for hosting one of the land-based SM-3 sites that are envisaged under this plan, and that it would not in fact require much change to the Ballistic Missile Defense Agreement that we have already negotiated but has not been ratified yet.  And they’ve expressed interest and they’re now waiting, I think, for a more detailed presentation of what exactly this would entail.

But as Gen. O’Reilly explained, this technology could be coming around the middle of the next decade and would be part of the plan to provide Europe-wide defense capability.  And then as future variants of the SM-3 are introduced a little later in the next decade, we would add the capability to deal with the longer-range missiles that are not coming as fast, but as I said earlier, are coming at some point in the future.

On the second question, we are certainly interested in seeing whether the Russians are willing to engage in cooperation on missile defense.  Sec. Gates has mentioned the potential contribution that Russian radars at Qabala and Armavir could make, and of course, there may be other dimensions to the program that could be a basis for cooperation with Russia if they’re interested.

This has been a long-standing subject bilaterally and in the NATO-Russia dialogue and there have been some activities between NATO and Russia in the missile defense sphere. But I think there’s a lot of potential for cooperation that has not been achieved.  And of course, at the end of the day we all face similar threats from the proliferation of ballistic missiles.  So we’re hoping this can be transformed from a contentious issue with Russia to a cooperative one, even though our decision was based strictly on the intelligence and on the changing technology.

MR. KEMPE:  Very quickly, wouldn’t the Russians have the same problem with SM-3s in Poland as they had with the previous plan?

AMB.  VERSHBOW:  Well, I think that depends on how they chose to proceed.  Some Russians have said to us that their concerns about the GBIs and the radar in the Czech Republic were strictly based on physics, not on politics.  These are different capabilities which may, as the president said, as a kind of bonus, be seen as less threatening from the Russian point of view.

But if this is about politics, then we may still have continued differences.  So we’re hoping the Russians are true to the words of those particular spokesmen who said it’s about the physics, and that they will see that there are now opportunities to work together.

MR. KEMPE:  Thank you, Ambassador.  Let me turn to the operator.

OPERATOR:  Okay, our next question comes from Eric Edelman with Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

Q:  Thanks, Sandy and Pat, for the briefing.  It’s very helpful.  I will say, though, it raises a lot of questions in my mind.  Let me just say first I find it very positive that the decision has been made that there is a missile threat to Europe from Iran and that missile defense has got to be part of the response to it.

And I also applaud, in principle, the commitment to deploying SM-3 in a ground-based configuration because, although we used it for testing that way, I think having it available as a tool later on in the Persian Gulf and northeast Asia be very helpful.  That being said, I’ve got a whole bunch of questions.  I’ll limit myself at this point to just one, and maybe if there’s a second round of questions, Fred, I can come back and ask three or four or five or six more.

The question I have is, Pat, you said that, as Sec. Gates indicated – and Gen. Cartwright in their briefing last Thursday – that development of the two-state GBI will continue.  And my question is, if a decision is made to go back to GBI at some point in the future to deal with the long-range Iranian threat, does it not require a mid-course radar to discriminate?

And Sandy, do you have any reason to believe, based on your consultations with the Poles and Czechs, that having pulled the rug out from under them once on the GBI, that they would be willing to take it again later?

LT. GEN. O’REILLY:  Well, sir, the answer to the first question is we have – at the level of classification I can talk here – we do have a capability that we have demonstrated now – alternative capability to perform advanced discrimination.  And it is part of networking and it’s with different types of sensors, but that is the most direct thing I can say at this time.

Q:  But Pat, not to interrupt, but those sensors would have to be deployed somewhere also, right?  They’ve had to be hosted by somebody.

LT. GEN. O’REILLY:  Well, not necessarily.  We were literally dumbfounded, sir, with the capability after we demonstrated what the UAVs can do and – in stereoscopic.  And the work that’s left to be done – there is work – and that is to fuse the data together, although we’ve done that with similar types of sensors.

And so they can be launched out of their bases that are currently in Europe, U.S. air bases, and they have extensive loiter time.  What’s interesting is they exist today and we’ve already tested them.  So this is the capability we have in hand.  And I have had independent reviews done by Johns Hopkins, MIT and others that have validated the accuracy and the sensitivity of these.

And literally our first testing of it – this has happened very rapidly – was in a test out in California, a missile intercept in the spring.  And that has really caught us off guard as far as we were not – we had looked at this back in 2006 but we didn’t think the capability would be achieved that we have found.

Also, within about 20 hours, here we are at the Cape Kennedy; we’re about to launch the two space tracking satellites that can track from-space objects throughout their entire flight.  They’re launching tomorrow morning at 8:00 a.m. from the Kennedy Space Center.  And that is showing significant promise.

So, again, the idea, sir, is to have fusing together and tremendous, more accurate tracking from fusing together that we’ve already demonstrated in Colorado Springs.  And as I said, we’ve used it in several intercept tests this year now – has indicated to us that there are viable alternatives to the radar in the Czech Republic.  Plus this is much more survivable as far as not depending just on one node.

Q:  Including for defense of CONUS.

LT. GEN. O’REILLY:  Yes.  Now, again, sir, the real key was that European radar required – to defend CONUS, required an intercept within the range of that radar to be effective.  Outside of that, that forward-based radar is the one that gives the greatest contribution to the defense of CONUS from Fort Greely or Vandenberg.

AMB.  VERSHBOW:  And on the second question, first of all, Eric, the premise of your question, that we pulled rugs out, is one that I wouldn’t agree with, so I think it’s kind of a hypothetical situation.  You know, we were encouraged that once the new approach had been fully laid out and understood, that both Poland and the Czech Republic see opportunities for continued participation.

In the case of Poland it could be in the continued role as a basing country for an interceptor system.  In the case of the Czech Republic there may be different options available, whether to host elements of the command and control architecture or other forms of engagement, bilaterally or within the NATO context.

LT. GEN. O’REILLY:  And, sir, if I could, as you know, I was part of the team previously working those proposals, and I am working today with the same counterparts as recently as the last 24 hours from both countries to continue on with deployment of facilities in their countries.

Q:  Yeah, and I welcome that.  I’m just skeptical that the GBIs will ever be accepted by Poland again, now having been told that we are not going to deploy them now.

AMB.  VERSHBOW:  Well, again, it’s a hypothetical, so we’re focusing our energies now on the SM-3, which, as we’ve mentioned, can have, in future variants, the potential of intercepting IRBMs and even, in the later phases, to have a capacity against ICBMs in the ascent phase.  So there’s many other potential hedges beyond GBIs, but we’re confident that the approach that we’ve laid out is going to work.

MR. KEMPE:  Thank you.  Operator?

OPERATOR:  Yes, our next question comes from Walter Slocombe, the director of the council.

Q:  Can you hear me?

MR. KEMPE:  Yes.  Hi, Walt.

Q:  Hi.  You’ve got another one of Eric’s predecessors.  I defended the previous option on the technical grounds, on the grounds that I trust the integrity of the people who make the technical assessments.  One – as you all know, one of the major criticisms of the prior system, leaving aside the political criticisms, was about physics.

And there were people who are, you know, not fools and not without technical expertise who argued that the prior system was inadequate because it couldn’t discriminate against countermeasures and couldn’t react fast enough, and made a variety of other technical objections.

Have you heard anything from the Ted Postols of the world?  For all I know, Ted is on the call.  Have you heard anything from the Ted Postols and Richard Garwins of the world on whether they support this technically?  I know that Sec. Perry always argued that something like this was a better option just on technical grounds.  I have other questions –

LT. GEN. O’REILLY:  Sir, I have –

Q:  I’ve got one very specific additional question.  Do the cost estimates allow for the cost of the ships on which the missiles – the interceptors will be based?  Thank you.

LT. GEN. O’REILLY:  Sir, directly on the costs, no, they’re not.  The ships are already covered in the Navy’s deployments for ballistic missile defense versions of the Aegis destroyers and cruisers.  And so no, that wasn’t it, but it is an identified part of their operating mode, and that is why we are motivated to deploy the capability we’ve been developing with the Japanese since 2006 for a longer-ranged SM-3 so that it can be land-based and would not – we can have surge capability from additional ships brought in but the primary defense would be from the land as in the previous capability.

Also, I have briefed some of the gentlemen – I don’t want to speak for them, but we have been briefing individuals, including some of them that you’ve just mentioned, and their focus on the countermeasures.  Our approach to that is, as we deploy these early sensors so that can see missiles launched earlier, the timeline between a missile launch and its intercept we can greatly reduce because typically, we launch a missile today, track it a little while, and then for a long period of time we’re not tracking it.  Then we have to reacquire.

With the use of these forward-based sensors and from different air and ground and space, we can then have a fire solution and launch very early, causing us to have intercepts very soon after burnout.  If countermeasures are deployed, they’re deployed in a way that stresses the offensive system in order to deploy them in a realistic fashion that over their entire trajectory they can maintain the scene that they’re trying to use to spoof the system.

So our response to countermeasures, number one, our sensor net does provide some great detail on the scenes, but number two is to, more straightforward, intercept early so that any maneuvering, anything done with countermeasures, it’s at a disadvantage for the offense to deploy them that soon after a burnout.

Q:  Thank you.  Just for the record, I think on technical grounds and on political grounds this is a good idea.  As is always the case, retrospectively there may have been things that could have been said about how it was presented that would have not led to so many headlines about things being scrapped.  But I think the basic decision is a wise one.

MR. KEMPE:  Thanks, Walt.  Next question?

OPERATOR:  Yes, our next question comes from David Kramer with German Marshall Fund.

Q:  Yes, thanks very much for doing the briefing.  The question I had is a short one.  In briefings to the Russians, have we told them that Poland could be the site for the SM-3 Block IIs, and what has been the reaction on the Russian side to the prospect of significantly more missiles throughout the European continent?

LT. GEN. O’REILLY:  Could I just clarify one point?  The GBI, just for a relative understanding of – I don’t know how the Russians are going to react, but from a technical point of view, a GBI is a 25-ton missile; the SM-3 IA is a 1-ton missile a 25th its size, and the SM II series is a 2-ton missile.

So its kinematic range – its ability to reach, literally its fly-out before it crashes back into the ground – is many, many, many thousands of kilometers shorter range.  So this is an effective regional system to intercept even ICBMs, hopefully even launched in a region, but they have – it has physical limits to its trans-regional capability.  So that is a point that we have not been secretive of.  It is a 25th the size of – or one-twelfth the size if you go with the SM-3 II.  But I just wanted to make that point clear.  And, sir?

AMB.  VERSHBOW:  Yeah.  I haven’t participated in any of the briefings for the Russians thus far so I can’t give a full characterization of the reaction.  But they are certainly aware, because Sec. Gates has mentioned it several times publicly, that Poland is one of the potential sites for the SM-3.  And I think they certainly understand that the potential numbers of interceptors that could be deployed, you know, when you combine the sea and the land-based sites, could be significantly greater than the 10 GBIs.  I think Sec. Gates has spoken of scores of missiles.

But we are hoping that they will take a comprehensive look at the overall characteristics of the program and recognize as we have been saying all along, even about the old system, is that we are focused on the threat from Iran and not the threat from Russia.  You know, this is, I think, optimized to deal with the near-term threats much sooner than previously.  And it evolves to deal with potential threats that could face us 10 years down the road.  And we hope the Russians see that there is a common interest in working with us rather than against us.

MR. KEMPE:  Thanks.  Next question, please.

OPERATOR:  Our next question comes from Tomas Valasek with Centre for European Reform.

Q:  Hi, can you hear me?

MR. KEMPE:  Yes.

Q:  Great.  Sandy, General and Atlantic Council, thanks for setting this up.  Quick question on the impact on the decision on Central Europe:  I agree strongly with what Sandy said earlier that the new architecture and the changes are far more evolutionary than what a lot of the Central European leaders feared and that why the reaction to the decision has been, at the official level, far more muted than I think would have been the case.  The media level – that is a different story.  But I think it has been a lot better received than could have been the case.

Having said that, some real concerns remain.  The decision to change the architecture makes a lot of practical sense, but it will have one concrete impact on the power relationship in Central Europe.  For better or for worse, the U.S. commitment to the previous architecture became sort of a litmus test by which Russia and the Central Europeans measured U.S. commitment to Poland and the Czech Republic.

While the decision to change the architecture makes practical sense, it is difficult to remove the original blueprint without the risk of sending a wrong signal to Russia that, indeed, the U.S. commitment to the defense of the region has lessened.  I know that is not the message that the current government is trying to send.

My question is to Sandy.  Have you thought through other ways of, again, hedging against the possibility of Russia misreading the signal by, perhaps, again, communicating very clearly that the new bases could be in Czech Republic and Poland?  And have you had conversations with the Poles and the Czechs on other forms of reassurance they could be offered through possible changes in a NATO-based planning architecture, through possible changes on the defense planning branch within NATO?  Are there any discussions of this sort going on?

AMB.  VERSHBOW:  Short answer, yes on the last question.  Yeah, I think we certainly do recognize that in the political debate, this whole issue did become transformed into a kind of litmus test, you know, above and beyond the issues involved in missile defense, per se.  And so change immediately created anxieties until – and I think some of those will persist until there is a better understanding of the overall concept.

But as we have been stressing, when you look at the facts and how the system is designed and how it will evolve, there certainly is going to be no diminution of the U.S. commitment to Central Europe and to Europe as a whole.  In fact, we think this system is much better-geared to becoming a joint project with NATO that would promote allied solidarity and provide defense for 100 percent of NATO allies’ territory.

At the same time, as we said, there will be opportunities for the hosting of an SM-3, then other components of the architecture, on the territory not just of Poland, but potentially other countries in the region.  One of the SM-3 sites is likely to be somewhere in Southeastern Europe, where there are a lot of different NATO members.  I won’t name names, but you can look at the map.  So there may, in the end, be greater potential for avoiding any kind of divide between the old members and the new members or any sense that the security of the new members is somehow on a different tier than that of the rest of the alliance.

Moreover, we are going to be talking in the coming weeks with both Poland and the Czech Republic and, indeed, with several other Central European countries about our longer-term defense cooperation.  We have high-level defense groups with Poland and the Czech Republic, which are going to meet this fall to look at other ways to strengthen our mutual security.

And, of course, in NATO itself, the review of the strategic concept is getting underway.  For  the United States, we want to get the balance right between reaffirming and upholding, you know, Article V and the principle of “an attack on one is an attack on all” against the wide range of new missions that NATO needs to undertake in the 21st century.

So you know, we understand why some countries may feel anxious going back to last year’s events in Georgia and other developments.  But, we think we have a strategy that is going to address these concerns.

Q:  Thank you, Sandy.

MR. KEMPE:  Next question, please.

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question comes from Hans Binnendijk with National Defense University.

Q:  Hello.  The question that I wanted to ask is sort of covered by Will’s comment and Gen. O’Reilly’s response.  I really think that the ascent-phase capabilities of this new system, especially when you get into the SM-3 Block II technology, is really very important and it has been underplayed.  It does address the, sort of, Ted Postol critique of missile defense.  And to the extent that we can get that right – and Gen. O’Reilly’s response was very positive on this – that creates all sorts of potential for better defense not just of Europe, but of the United States.  So I think that is worth highlighting.

With regard to Eric’s question, which was, Poland and the Czech Republic – will they accept GBI later – it seems to me the reason they were not enthusiastic about those deployments now was they just didn’t see the threat to themselves coming from Iran.  They were doing it as a favor, essentially, for the United States and to try to get U.S. boots on the ground.  So if the threat changes, if it becomes more real as time wears on, I think a subsequent deployment decision on the part of those two governments would be easier.

My question really has to do with the capabilities that these deployments might inherently provide beyond Europe to our allies and friends in the greater Middle East.  It seems to me that the very same protection as you move these systems in closer offers additional protection to Arab friends and to Israel.  And I am wondering, Sandy, how you are thinking about.

AMB.  VERSHBOW:  Well, you are absolutely right and I appreciate your earlier observations that we do see the same technologies and the same strategic concept being applied in Europe as being very applicable to other parts of the world, including Northeast Asia, where as Gen. O’Reilly mentioned, we are already working with the Japanese who are investing in one of the variants of the SM-3, recognizing the considerable ballistic missile threat already presented by North Korea.

And in the case of the Persian Gulf and the defense of Israel, we are already working with our partners there to deploy U.S. Patriots to provide deterrence against potential Iranian attacks on them.  And I think these technologies, both on ships and conceivably on land, could over time provide an additional capability in that part of the world as well.

Israel, of course, has its own robust missile defense programs,  and we cooperate on some of those.  I think one can envisage knitting these different systems together in a cooperative way over time as the Iranian threat continues to loom.  So yes, indeed, this is not just about Europe, even though we have rolled out the European part of our missile defense review ahead of the broader conclusions, which will come in a few months.

MR. KEMPE:  Thank you, Ambassador.  Next question, please.

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question comes from Mike Durkee with the Atlantic Council.

Q:  Hi.  Hans already anticipated my interest in the applicability of this approach to areas outside Europe.  And I guess I would only reinforce Sandy’s already-positive attitude towards it.  It seems to me that, drawing on the work that we did with Gen. Jones last year, looking at regional security structures for the Middle East has a lot of potential benefit.

Unfortunately, as Sandy also knows and others who are listening in, creating structures for regional cooperation in the Middle East has a long and unhappy history.  But I hope that we will look at creative ways of encouraging people to participate.  And in that regard, it seems to me the distributed sensor network is a terrific kind of Christmas tree on which you could hang a lot of things.

And so I am hoping that Gen. O’Reilly and his staff are looking at ways to take advantage of what already is available in terms of the – or is being developed on the Israeli side and looking at how some of those things could contribute to the security of the broader region and not simply the territory of Israel and/or the West Bank, depending on how that works out.

LT. GEN. O’REILLY:  Yes, sir.  And our most effective tool with that is we have internationally exportable simulations that when you apply, in no matter what theater of the world, we give this to our allies and friends and it becomes readily apparent to them in the simulations that they can run themselves that they have much greater enhanced protection of their own countries when they integrate their capabilities with their neighbors and with us.  But yes, we have ongoing efforts in multiple theaters as we speak.

AMB.  VERSHBOW:  And politically, it is, indeed, as you said, Mike, easier to cooperate with some of our partners in the Gulf on a bilateral basis rather than on a multilateral basis, but we are continuing to encourage them to think regionally.  And as individual countries in the GCC acquire their own air and missile defense systems, you know, I think we will be trying to point them to the opportunities to develop a regional architecture given that they are all facing a common threat from Iran.

MR. KEMPE:  Next question.

OPERATOR:  Our next question comes from Robert Bell with SAIC.

Q:  Hello, Sandy.  Just a question here from Brussels today.  You said that the proposal was consistent with the past two NATO summits and that you were encouraging allies to consider how to link their systems with this new proposed approach, which I think is all for the good.

My question would be that since, of course, the last summit included a tasking to NATO to begin studying the possibility of taking its current ALTBMD program and expanding it from integration and interoperability of all these – (inaudible, technical difficulty) – forces to the same degree of effectiveness for territorial defense, will you now be recommending that NATO, at the next summit as was previewed at Strasbourg, take that decision and expand ALTBMD to be the instrument for integrating and getting the interoperability of the allied systems with the new SM-3-based approach the U.S. is providing?

AMB.  VERSHBOW:  Yes, we will.  We were promoting that idea even at the NATO summit in Strasbourg before we had reached these conclusions.  But we now feel that the system that we have come up with is ideally suited for that kind of cooperative approach, using ALTBMD as the command-and-control backbone for tying together U.S. and other allied systems.  And we hope that with the capabilities now available, allies will agree to extend the mission beyond point defense to territorial defense.

MR. KEMPE:  Thank you.  Next question.

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question comes from Robert Nurick, an independent consultant.

Q:  Hi, Sandy.  Thanks to you both for doing this.  I have two questions.  The first is really a point of information.  Could you say something about the nature of the consultations that you held with the Poles and the Czechs before the decision was announced?  When did they begin roughly?  Who did you meet with?  How did the schedule correspond to your own internal decision schedule, that sort of thing?

The second question is on the Russia dimension to this:  You know, as you know, most of what I would consider serious Russian defense analysts acknowledge at least privately that even the last system wasn’t a serious – a real threat to their deterrent.  Their more arguably serious concern had to do with their uncertainty about the ultimate shape of the overall architecture.  This is really concern about the global system, not so much about the third site.

In thinking about engaging with Russia after this decision, has there any thought been given to addressing that question?  That is, not just cooperation in what we are planning in the region or elsewhere, but coming to some understandings or predictability about – or discussions about what the overall global architecture might look like, what it might depend on, how transparent that will be and so on.

AMB.  VERSHBOW:  Well, on the first question, we have been consulting, you know, with allies across the board going back to early May when we started kind of giving them periodic briefings on the approach we were taking in the ballistic missile defense review.  We have had multiple senior-level discussions both at NATO and with individual countries including the Czechs and the Poles over the last few months.  And we certainly took into account allied views as we approached the decision point in our own review.

The actual rollout of the decision was thus somewhat compressed in time, in part because things, sadly, were leaking out in a distorted way and we felt we had to kind of move more quickly than anticipated.  So we didn’t perhaps have as many days of confidential discussions until they heard our thinking before the public rollout as we might have wished.  That may have contributed to a little bit of this going forward, particularly in light of the Poles’ and Czechs’ interest in learning how they can participate in the new architecture.

But also at NATO, I think, there is going to be active consultations in the coming weeks to look at how the U.S. decision impacts upon NATO’s ongoing work, so that the defense ministers, who will be having an informal meeting in Bratislava on October 23rd , will be able to have a good discussion of this subject.  So the consultation process is an iterative one and it will continue.

On your second question, I will ask Gen. O’Reilly to comment.  At this time, we are not, you know, proposing any negotiations on missile defense.  But certainly, we intend to be totally transparent and lay out what the architecture is going to look like and how there are opportunities for Russian participation or cooperation.  And hopefully, transparency will provide the kind of predictability that you mentioned.

LT. GEN. O’REILLY:  My one comment is that as we are uncovering and developing and demonstrating the integration of capabilities so that you can have effective defenses, the skill is on a much smaller scale today that we see than we did just a few years ago, where we had large, as I was describing before, missile fields, very large interceptors and so forth.

You can have quite an effective regional defense with much more affordable, much more survivable, mobile systems, or make a – the point we emphasize – is a significant contribution to regional defense by just hosting part of an architecture, because the more geographically dispersed the assets are, you actually get – you achieve greater tracking capability and you can launch missiles from many different directions across an area like the Gulf states that you can select the best aspect ratio.  And there are many technical reasons, frankly, why, in fact, a more modular, dispersed missile defense system is a better system.

My point is, this capability, we are uncovering it now.  We are developing it now.  It is just a matter of time before others do, too.  And we watch with great interest, for example, what India is developing.  So when you look at these trends that we are going with that are the same technological trends that have been occurring for decades, have miniaturization and achieving high speeds not by making big interceptors, but by making lighter payloads on the front end and a smaller interceptor can now achieve what you used to have for large ones.

All of this is showing that it is a technological trend that missile defenses will be much more available.  And that, hopefully, will be countering the current trend, or the offensive trend, of the proliferation of the ballistic missiles.

MR. KEMPE:  Thank you, General.  Next question, please.

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question comes from Robert Hunter with the RAND Corporation.

Q:  Yeah, let me follow up on Bob Nurick’s question.  I salute you for this decision.  I think this is very wise in every dimension.  I was wondering how this fits in with some broader anxieties we have been seeing growing, particularly in Central Europe.  You had that rather egregious open letter that was written to the president.

You have some concerns about how Ukraine and Georgia – how it is going to be underscored that this did have to be a one-off by the Russians.  And you have in general, now, a lot of anxiety growing at NATO about the debate going on here about Afghanistan with a lot of Europeans wondering where they are going to be left on this.

I was wondering, first, whether there had been any consideration given to actually working out this decision process at NATO so that there could be a full involvement in it.  And I wondered if you could also say a bit more about the plans for the future of reassuring allies that they will be full partners in critical decisions that affect their future as much as ours.

AMB. VERSHBOW:  Well, thanks, Robert.  I touched on some of this a little bit earlier.  I think that we, you know, have a number of things ongoing that we hope address some of the concerns that you have outlined.  In the work under the umbrella of the strategic concept review, we will have to address,  the meaning of Article V, questions of contingency planning for the defense of allies as part of the redefinition of NATO’s overall mission, and on getting that balance right between traditional missions and new missions.

Our hope is that, now that we have laid out the president’s decision on what is the best available approach for defending U.S. forces, U.S. personnel and allies, that we can put this into the NATO process and see this evolve into a NATO program that, as was discussed earlier, linked together the contributions of different allies through some kind of common command and control system and have a common political strategy to underpin that.

So this is a U.S. decision, but one we think is especially congenial from a NATO point of view in terms of building an approach that reflects the indivisibility of security, broad participation and burden sharing, and providing 100 percent protection for all allies without any differentiation.

MR. KEMPE:  Thank you.  Next question, please.

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question comes from Stephen Flanagan with CSIS.

Q:  Thank you.  My question has been touched on a little bit already.  But Sandy, I wanted to ask you if you could give us a sense of the reaction of other allies in Brussels and in basing countries and others that you hoped that would embrace this as part of – in a way to mesh with the NATO moves on further development of the ALTBMD and other missile defense capabilities, whether you think that there is an openness to having this U.S. bilateral initiative be morphed into and giving energy to a broader NATO initiative on missile defense.  I realize it is early in the process, but –

AMB. VERSHBOW:  Well, we certainly were quite heartened by the reaction of the NATO council when we presented the briefing to them last Thursday.  Only a handful of allies actually spoke.  But all the comments were very favorable about how this is something more attractive in that it offers protection for all of NATO and not just countries that, you know, are closest to the planned interceptor site.

Several noted that it is very consistent with the Strasbourg Summit Declaration that talked about missile threats being addressed in a prioritized way that considers the level of imminence of the threat.  This had been a criticism, that we were responding to the longer-term threats before we were responding to the shorter-term threats.  And I think we have gotten that right under this new approach.

The cables are still coming in from capitals.  But all the ones that I have had time to read have been very favorable and there seems to be a sense that this is an opportunity now for NATO to join in a cooperative program.  As always, there will be questions about the resource implications and about exactly how different countries will figure into the architecture.  But we are encouraged and glad that several allies suggested that this be taken up on a fast-track basis, so that the defense ministers can have an early discussion in October.

MR. KEMPE:  And I think one of the things you said that was quite important in this call is that we are really in a position where more allies rather than fewer allies are going to be involved.  We are running out of time.  I think I will turn to the operator to take two last questions very quickly and then we will wrap up.  And we will take them one after another.

OPERATOR:  Okay.  Our next question comes from James Greene who is a friend of the council.

Q:  Hello.  I was very interested to hear discussion about the deployment and potentially its use in engaging with other actors, be that Russia or the Gulf countries.  And having just come back from five-and-a-half years heading NATO’s mission in Ukraine, I remember very well how the lack of effective engagement for the previous model of missile defense with Ukraine didn’t help with that country’s sense of strategic vulnerability, particularly very few bilateral consultations and none in the NATO framework.

And I am wondering if there has been any thought of the nature of consultations that could we had with Ukraine, the nature of possible engagement with them bilaterally in the council, how that might be balanced with, of course, the issue of the possible irritant to Russia, and then finally, public information because the basic feeling your average Ukrainian had about the previous model for deployment was that Ukraine wouldn’t be – the protection, what would be the location where the missiles would fall.

MR. KEMPE:  Thanks, James.  So good question on how Ukraine would be brought in or not, and then final question from James Joyner, please.

OPERATOR:  The next question comes from James Joyner with the Atlantic Council.

Q:  Yes, you answered, I think, the questions that I had on the rollout, that basically you were a little rushed because of press leaks.  The other issue is that it seems to me that especially early on, most of the justifications for this against the criticism were that, well, the military was advising this and what interests me is given how quickly the policy changes, the military advice – has it changed?  Was it ignored in the Bush administration?  Or has the technology just changed that rapidly that the advice was changed?

AMB. VERSHBOW:  Okay, let me tackle the first one, maybe defer to Gen. O’Reilly on the second one.  I was abroad during the years when these things were debated in Washington.  On the first question, I think it is a very interesting point that is raised about how the previous system, you know, may have been misread or improperly read in Ukraine and that it may be an opportunity now to engage with them.

It hasn’t been a focus of our consideration thus far.  We have been focusing mainly on NATO and how we can provide better defense of our allies.  But Ukraine is a key partner.  It is a candidate for membership in NATO.  And I think we certainly will want to give them a full briefing on the system and see whether they are interested in any kind of engagement on the subject.  Fortuitously, I am traveling to Kyiv on the weekend for bilateral defense consultations,  and we will certainly give them a presentation on this subject.

LT. GEN. O’REILLY:  If I could just add, as others on this phone line, I know, were part of the decision process in briefings previous – the previous program – which I also played a small part.  But the same decision-makers, at least from a DOD perspective, Sec. Gates, I have now been involved in two different presentations, one for the previous program and then this round of analysis.  So there are some of us decision-makers that are participants who were part of the other process and making this decision.

It really is – back then, there was a lot of hypotheticals on the capability and the threat.  The threat is still uncertain.  But we do have demonstrated capabilities that we didn’t have before and options that we didn’t have before.  And we have had many flight tests – well over 40 intercepts now in the last 6 years or so – and learned a lot from them, learned an awful lot from them and probably more from our failures.

And applying what we have learned, it presents different alternatives.  So there were many alternatives reviewed – not one, but many.  And a large part – the most senior decision-maker, from a DOD point of view, was the same.  And so I think that was some insight to the fact that the circumstances and the alternatives available to us are different now and so we are responding to that.

MR. KEMPE:  Thank you, General.  Let me close just very briefly by thanking Ambassador Vershbow and Gen. O’Reilly.  And what you have really delivered us is what we want from this sort of a call, which is a level of sophistication, a level of detail, both diplomatic and also technological, technical.  As you know, the people on this call are pretty expert in this field as well, and that is what we got.

We do this very often off the record.  This one we did on the record partly because I think there is a desire to get the facts out there to a broader audience as well.  And we will put a transcript from this conversation up on our Web site as soon as we can get it together to acus.org.  But on behalf of everybody on the line, I really want to thank the two of you, Ambassador Vershbow and Gen. O’Reilly.  This was a terrific conversation.

LT. GEN. O’REILLY:  Our pleasure, thanks for organizing it.

MR. VERSHBOW:  Thank you.

Transcript by Federal News Service, Washington, D.C.

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