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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with the American Forces Information Service

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
June 01, 2001

Tuesday, May 29, 2001

(Interview with Jim Garamone, American Forces Information Service)

Q: Mr. Secretary, I'm a former Early Bird editor and still a very avid reader of it. I get the impression that most commentators and pundits seem to be really surprised that you're taking the strategic review so seriously. Are you surprised by their comments?

Rumsfeld: I think if you put yourself in the shoes of the men and women in the defense establishment and the men and women in the Congress and think of the rhythm they were in, they always have had a budget before them they could deal with and hold hearings on and talk about and so forth. For the last eight years they've had the same administration in. Then suddenly there's an election, there's a new president. He's an unknown actor. There's a new secretary of defense. And there's no budget to discuss and debate and chew on.

Then you compound the problem by having a president who says he wants the secretary of defense to undertake a review of a number of things that concerned him. And then you further compound the problem by having the new secretary come in and do exactly what the president who was just elected asked. Imagine doing what the president asked.

Q: And promised in his campaign.

Rumsfeld: Then you further compound it by the fact that there are practically no presidential appointees in the department for months, literally months. I was here alone for several, and then the deputy came in, and within the last week we've added three, four, five, six, something like that, who have been in their offices for one, two, three, four, five days.

So there's this impatience and this eagerness. When that happens, idle hands make mischief. You end up with stories in the newspaper that are trying to anticipate what's going to happen. That's a difficult thing to do and if one tries to do it they're wrong probably nine times out of ten. And that has been what the case has been.

When that's the case and people read those, they don't know if they're right or wrong. They read a column one, page one story on a major newspaper in America that says there's going to be weaponization of space. And the next day we were scheduled to make our announcement, and did, about our response to the Space Commission's recommendation on the organization of the Air Force and the department, which we did. It had nothing to do with the article.

Now, then you spend three or four days chasing after that and trying to untangle it, and --

Q: Then you spend almost all of the press conference saying no, we're not going to weaponize space.

Rumsfeld: Yeah. Trying to explain what we were doing rather than the other.

Now all of that is difficult, but that's life. I mean change is hard for people. The only thing harder than change is the apprehension about the changes that may come. Because then it's uncertain, when you don't know what the change might be. It's uncertain whether there will be any or if so what it might be.

If there's change, at least there's certainty. You know what it is and you get about it and people get through it.

In our case, we've gone through a period where people are anticipating change and there's a great deal of speculation about what it might be. But unfortunately, during this period we've had practically no administration nominees confirmed, and it is a set of issues that are very complicated and very important and not the kinds of things that one changes lightly. You simply need to look at them very, very carefully and coordinate and consult with people to make sure that the change, when it occurs, if there is to be one, will in fact improve things rather than add complexities.

Q: Mr. Secretary in my travels around the Department of Defense -- I've been out to like Fort Irwin, Fort Stewart, a couple of other places. The question I get asked most of the time is they said the drawdown was over in 1997, '98. But with these changes that you're contemplating is the drawdown really over?

Rumsfeld: We've not addressed the force size, if that's what you mean by drawdown. We've been trying to address what are the problems that the United States is going to be facing in the world over the coming 10, 15 years, and what kinds of capabilities do we need to have so that we as a country can deal effectively with those threats, those issues, those problems that undoubtedly are going to be coming at us.

The problem is, you get comfortable with what you have. And if you spend every nickel you have for what you have to maintain it, and then you look at the real situation is that we've not, we've been spending every nickel we had as a country on defense and not maintaining what we have. We've allowed the infrastructure to deteriorate. We've allowed compensation to become uncompetitive with the private sector. We've allowed our fleet of aircraft to age. We've allowed our ships to age. We've allowed our shipbuilding program to be insufficient to maintain our Navy at the current level. We're on a trajectory for the Navy to go down, not to stay level. We end up finding things that don't exist in the budget. Health care programs passed by the Congress and no money for it, no appropriations for health care program.

Now that's a pretty sorry circumstance. It's an unfortunate circumstance.

So not only do we have to fix the present situation and get well as they say in the trade, which we do. We've simply got to. Whatever force we have, we ought to treat it right. And we ought to see that it's properly housed and that it's properly dealt with in terms of its facilities and infrastructure, and it's properly compensated.

But in addition, we've got to look at the issue of transforming our force so that we're capable of dealing with the problems that result from proliferation. More and more countries are going to have nuclear weapons. More and more countries are developing and weaponizing chemical and biological weapons. There's increasing threats to our homeland from terrorism, to say nothing of ballistic missiles.

Anyone who walks around the defense establishment or any corporation knows that there are hackers. And we're facing very serious problems as a country given the lack of hardness, if you will, the fragility of a country that's dependent on space capabilities and electronics and high technology. We're facing very serious threats to cyber war and information warfare.

So the first task is to get well. The second task is to begin a process of transformation. And both of those involve change.

What we simply have to do is take a hitch in our belt and get at it.

Q: Mr. Secretary, the last time the national security strategy for the United States was changed was I think 1995. I guess there were a couple of presidential program directives that came out afterwards about cyber warfare and protecting the infrastructure.

At the end of the strategic review, at the end of the quadrennial defense review, is there going to be a new national security strategy and a new national military strategy? Is that what we're aiming towards farther out?

Rumsfeld: Well you know, if you know precisely what ought to be done, like a Mozart or an Einstein, then you just go off and divine it and announce it. There it is. That is not the case with these kinds of issues.

When the president said he wanted a review, he didn't say he wanted a new strategy. He said he wanted a review. That's what's happening. We have been engaged with the military and with the civilian side in reviewing our circumstance in the world. The nature of the world, our circumstance in that world, and the kinds of capabilities that we believe we're going to need going forward. Whether it will result in a new strategy or not depends on what comes out of that process, and it will not be something that someone will just announce some day. Because any change of that magnitude clearly has an effect on enormous numbers of people, and on requirements and on force structure and organization and how we're organized to do our business.

So I think that it is not determined that there will necessarily be changes. It is simply determined that it is a moment in history when it would be inappropriate not to review and not to ask those questions.

Actually the big change in force sizing came about a decade ago when they announced the two major regional, nearly simultaneous two major regional conflicts. An awful lot has changed in the intervening period.

Will we change that, for example? I don't know yet.

Q: And the whole emphasis on asymmetric warfare. It's not just the nukes and the chemical weapons and -- there's a whole range of things that the United States can do to be asymmetrical back, I guess.

Rumsfeld: That's right. So we're looking at those kinds of things now. But a change like that is a significant thing. It isn't the kind of thing that is just going to be unveiled. It's going to be something that has to be thought through very carefully, and would become part of a quadrennial defense review, it would be through extensive interaction with the Congress.

Q: The president asked Director Tenet to do a strategic review of the intelligence assets. I take it you're involved with that, too.

Rumsfeld: I am.

Q: Is that being run concurrently with your office?

Rumsfeld: Yes.

Q: Mr. Secretary, yesterday at Arlington I heard your speech. You said, you contrasted the world at the turn of the 20th century to today with the idea that the people of that era thought they were beyond war, and Churchill was asked what if you're wrong?

Are you in Churchill's role now, asking America what if you're wrong? If you don't think there's a war, but what if you're wrong?

Rumsfeld: Well you know, if you think about it, those who were complacent at the turn of the 20th century in 1900, were wrong. And they weren't wrong a little. They were wrong a lot. And millions of people died.

When you get up in the morning in a country that's at peace and you're able to walk out the door and not have to look to the left and look to the right to see if someone's going to machine gun you or throw a grenade, you get used to that. And you begin to feel that, well that's the nature of things. That's the way it's going to be. We can relax, and we can enjoy ourselves and not be concerned about threats to our freedom or threats to our lives.

The problem with that is that the whole sweep of history is to the contrary. But there is a difference today. The difference is that the weapons are vastly more powerful, more deadly, more lethal. The reach of those weapons is vastly greater. In the last century people had to worry about their neighbors, for the most part. Today national bomb rates are really not terribly wrong because of the reach of these weapons.

Therefore the penalty, if you will, for being wrong, is enormous. What we need to do as a country is to recognize that, and to recognize the difficulty of seeing the future.

I'm struck by the fact that at Dick Cheney's confirmation hearings in 1989 not a single senator asked him about Iraq. The word never came up. And a year later we're at war with Iraq in the Persian Gulf. It made me wonder what word, what name of a country or what word for a military capability wasn't mentioned in my confirmation hearing four months ago that within a year could come up and dominate our lives.

That isn't the kind of thing that happens occasionally. That's the kind of thing that happens every five or ten years, period, in my entire lifetime.

The shah of Iran was the regional power that we were helping and supporting and working closely with. A year later the ayatollah was there and it was the center of anti-Western, anti-American hostility in the world.

The violent swings that can take place are breathtaking. And if you think about it, the United States of America for a very modest amount of money, that is to say something like three or three and a half percent of our gross national product, can have an insurance policy that will enable our country to live essentially in a peaceful and stable world where people can go about their business. And if we fail to provide that margin of safety, if we say well, goodness, we don't want to spend 3.5 percent or 3.2 percent, we want to spend 2.5 percent of our gross national product, and we're wrong, the penalty for it is just enormous. The cost in billions and billions and hundreds of billions of dollars to be wrong. The cost in human life to be wrong. That's not a mistake we want to make.

Q: Mr. Secretary, at Fort Irwin -- I went out to watch the 4th Infantry Division do their exercises with their new equipment, and I was really struck by the morale of the troops out there. They were just enjoying themselves. They were having fun. They were doing their job. One kid said, that's because when we come out to a place like this we're at the top of the food chain for supplies, for spare parts, for personnel. When we go back to garrison it's going to flow up and we're going to find ourselves back at the bottom of the food chain again, and that's when the morale suffers.

I guess this is a long way of saying the quality of life sort of things are more than just pay and housing.

Rumsfeld: They are.

Q: It's --

Rumsfeld: You bet. The kinds of exercises and the training that you get. If you're in aviation, the number of hours you can fly, the difference between being okay and being truly proficient is a big difference. And this is what we've found. This is what we've been left in the year 2001. This is what exists, and it's not a pretty picture, and it needs to be fixed.

Q: So I guess we're going to hear something probably in the September/October timeframe for the strategic review and the quadrennial defense review?

Rumsfeld: I'm not one to put deadlines on myself.

Q: Okay.