United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

News Transcript

Press Operations Bookmark and Share


Secretary Rumsfeld Press Conference after NATO Meeting

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
June 08, 2001

Thursday, June 7, 2001

(Press conference following the NATO Defense Ministerials, Brussels, Belgium.)

Rumsfeld: I will start by saying I'm Don Rumsfeld, dutifully saying I am Don Rumsfeld. My affiliation is the United States of America, ex of Chicago.

I believe you at least had an opportunity to have a statement, an unclassified version of a statement, that I delivered a portion of today. So you at least have most of the topics that were touched on. By way of opening this up, I will simply say we had very good discussions and there is no question but that the heart of it was for the United States and the Bush administration to reemphasize the importance we attach to NATO. That it is the anchor of our relationship here in Europe and will continue to be so. That we have no plans for any substantial adjustments with respect to troops, although some arrangements might change as a result of the defense review. I have no plans for even those, but I would not want to rule it out.

Second, I would say that we are engaged with our NATO allies in the Balkans. We have gone in with them, and as I have said publicly on a number of occasions, we will stay with them and when things are appropriate and stable, we would, in cooperation and in consultation with our allies, adjust our forces with them at the appropriate time. We do feel, and they feel, and the meeting had an extensive discussion on it -- the importance of seeing that the work takes place on the civil side. That the kinds of structures and police forces and court systems, and elements that contribute to a more stable environment there, need to be accelerated and pushed forward by the responsible officials, including the UN, the EU, and others who have indicated willingness to be helpful there. The importance of that is that you certainly would not want to adjust troop levels downward at any point in a way that left an unstable situation. The reason for going in was to create a stable situation. But certainly not to leave troops there in perpetuity, which is why the other piece of it was that there would be diligent work on the civil side in the Balkans. I mention that because I think it was an important part of the discussion, and an important part of the communiqué. [ In addition to the communiqué, NATO issued a separate statement on the situation in the Balkans. ]

I'll just make one other comment. There was extensive discussion about the problems of proliferation and the extensive spread of weapons of mass destruction and the means of delivery and ballistic missiles. We discussed missile defense at some length. We are certainly committed to full consultations with our allies, as well as with Russia, and other countries that have an interest. I feel that we were able in the briefings to raise the discussion to a new level of detail and certainly I suspect that as a result of the meetings here, there is a better understanding of the approach that the United States is in the process of engaging in with Russia and with our allies. With that I will stop and respond to questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I might ask you a quick double-barreled question. I'll keep it simple. Are you afraid that the U.S. and NATO troops are going to be sucked into Macedonia, and number two, do you think you changed any skeptical minds today on missile defense?

Rumsfeld: I don't know that I know enough about where people were previously on missile defense, but I must say that I was pleased with the generally very favorable comments that we received both in the meetings and in bilaterals. It is clearly a subject that is in motion. If you think about NATO, it is a collection of a large number of countries, and what it takes in consultations is -- leadership here is not by command. It's by consent, it's by persuasion, it's by discussion and consultation and consensus, and it is a process that takes place. I've been involved in it, off and on, for a good number of years.

I was telling the ministers today that I went to visit a friend of mine who used to be the dean of the [North Atlantic] council, the Belgian ambassador to NATO named Andre de Staerke. He's in a nursing home here in town, and we visited yesterday afternoon after I landed. We were talking about the fact that NATO is a series of multiple bilaterals, taking place in front of everybody else. If you do it statistically, someone told me, mathematically, that what went on in that room today was 171 simultaneous bilaterals, but all of them were taking place in front of each other which is a very different process. It is that process that we're in the middle of, and moving along with.

The question with respect to Macedonia, I would certainly not use that phraseology. The subject was discussed at considerable length. As you know I was there this week, and met with the minister of defense there, and then again in Greece at the Southeastern [Europe Defense] Ministerial meeting. It is a subject that is being discussed in capitals, it is a subject that will be discussed in NATO, and it is a serious situation. Certainly, as you know, the United States is involved on the diplomatic side. We have a defense liaison unit in the capital and have been providing various types of assistance to the government over a period of time. Secretary Powell's been there, I've been there, and we're all attentive and hopeful that the all-party government will maintain its cohesion, and that the violence can be avoided and that they will find their way to a more stable position.

Q. Mr. Secretary, in your statement that you released, you make reference to the United States wanting to deploy test assets to provide rudimentary defenses to deal with emerging threats. Does that imply, or does that mean, the United States intends on saying it has a deployed system before it has actually chosen the final architecture for a system? If so, does that mean we're likely to be bumping up against the ABM Treaty perhaps sooner than people had expected?

Rumsfeld: The short answer, as to whether or not we might be bumping up against the limits of the treaty and when, is that it's not possible to know when you're engaged in a series of research and development programs that have to get to a certain point prior to the time they become test programs. Depending on which lawyer you talk to, you might arrive at a point where you're bumping up against the treaty with the test, but not with the R&D. It might be one test but not another test. It's complicated, so we're not in a position really to know. Therefore, that's why we're currently in discussions with the Russians about the treaty, and about looking for something to move beyond the treaty -- a framework to move beyond the treaty, that is broader than simply missile defense, which is why the president, in his remarks, talked about substantial reductions in nuclear offensive forces among other things. I guess that answers your question.

Q: The first part was the idea of deploying test assets.

Rumsfeld: Oh well, yes that's a possibility. It's not a certainty, but it's a possibility. If, for example, you were testing something and, well let me put it this way. There has been any number of capabilities, over the last thirty or forty years, that were in the test state and ultimately used operationally prior to ever being deployed operationally, as such. For example, Kosovo. Some capabilities were used in that manner. It is not unusual. In the event it appeared that there was a ballistic missile, an immediate ballistic missile problem -- threat, a weapon of mass destruction threat, that was current, and you were in the process of testing something, logic would tell you that you might very well deploy it for test purposes in a serious immediate, real time, situation. Just as was done in Kosovo. I'm not predicting that, it was just mentioned as a possibility.

Q: Secretary Rumsfeld, first of all I want a clarification on the Reuters' gentleman's question. You said something about the subject to be discussed. Now does that mean?

Rumsfeld: You're talking about Macedonia?

Q: Yes, of course -- troops being sucked into it, or in general?

Rumsfeld: No, I rejected his characterization at the outset, in good fun.

Q: Well, my question is, if some arrangements could change on the force structure? Could you explain that?

Rumsfeld: No, I couldn't.

Q: Second question is --

Rumsfeld: Well wait, let me answer them one at a time. It's late in the day, and I'm tired. I'm an old timer.

The statement I made was that we had no plans to change size or force structures in Europe. We are in a defense review. One of the things we're talking about is how our forces are organized. It is conceivable, and I did not therefore want to rule out the possibility, that one might reorganize some aspect of how they are arranged, which is a different issue from numbers. You say, well in what way? The answer is we don't know, we're not at that stage. We're looking at those things right now, which is why I didn't want to rule it out. I hope that is a full, complete, clarification. We do not want to inject tremors into the subject matter here and get people nervous about things. I simply didn't want to rule something out.

Q: Pushing the civil side in Bosnia, I mean what can be done now when the OSCE and the UN are -- there are rumors going around that they're going to drastically cut their people in a couple of years. What can be done to push the civil side to get what you need to get done?

Rumsfeld: Well, there are plenty of intelligent, caring, interested people on the globe, who would want to help other people. What is needed there are police forces and court systems and the kinds of assistance that enable a more stable environment to exist. Now one way that can be done is with force. But the goal isn't to put forces in and leave them there in perpetuity. The goal is to put forces in, stabilize the situation, and then find natural, preferably homegrown, structures that can assume the responsibilities to perpetuate that stability.

Q: If I may go back to Macedonia. My colleague just in front asked you about the possibility of the Europeans and the Americans troops getting inside the country. You avoided the question. If the alliance is not trying to send troops in between the leading gunmen of Macedonian forces, what kind of concrete help is your new administration ready to give to the Macedonia crisis, and if I may follow up --

Rumsfeld: The things that have been requested have, for the most part been responded to. There was a request by the Macedonian government for the UN forces, NATO forces I should say, in Kosovo to reinforce the area along the border, and to try to reduce the flow of people across the Kosovo-Macedonia border. There was a request for various types of equipment. Many countries have responded to those requests. There was a request for a liaison team on the ground, and that has been responded to and there is a U.S. military liaison team. There is a representative of the Department of State currently in Macedonia with Mr. Solana, as I recall, today. So there have been four, five, six, eight, things that have happened, and have been requested, which have been responded to positively.

Q. Secretary Rumsfeld, currently the United States does not have a missile defense technology. I understand that you showed some of the ministers some of the successful missile tests, but didn't show them any of the failures. Were you able to present any evidence to suggest that the U.S. will eventually be able to field a missile defense system that works?

Rumsfeld: This is an interesting question in the sense of, what do you mean when you say "that works." Does your car work? If it doesn't work 100 percent of the time, do you want to get rid of it and walk? Not really. Is there a single weapons system in any country on the face of the earth that works 100 percent of the time? Answer, not to my knowledge.

Now I've heard the criticism of missile defense technology, that there have been some failures. I don't know a single advanced research and development project in the history of mankind that didn't suffer a series of failures. I mean if the Wright Brothers had stopped after the first thirty or forty attempts at getting an airplane in the air, we wouldn't have airplanes. There is no question that in any R&D activity, you end up learning something by trying it.

Now there have been some successes. There have also been a number of failures. I've used the example before, but President Eisenhower developed and urged the creation of the Corona program for an overhead satellite so we could know more about what was going on in the world by way of ballistic missile developments in the old Soviet Union. I think there were 11 straight failures. He could have stopped after any one of them. But he didn't. He went ahead and got one that worked. It ended up saving our country billions and billions of dollars because of the knowledge that came from that overhead satellite capability.

Now, did we show them any failures? They've been well splashed all over the newspapers for most of my adult lifetime. I can't imagine what we could have shown them that they didn't know. I don't think, Steve, you did, did you? Why not?

Steve Cambone, special assistant to Rumsfeld: We did talk about them, right. It was oral.

Q: There isn't really any reason to believe you're going to succeed.

Rumsfeld: We showed them some instances where hit-to-kill has worked. That is to say, visual examples of instances where the ability to fire something at a missile and hit it actually happened. Now, you can characterize that as evidence or not. I think the best evidence of it is the fact that we are proceeding with a variety of technologies, or research and development activities, that have not previously been explored to any length, because had they been successful, they would have bounced against the treaty. The prior administration had concluded that they did not want to bounce against the treaty.

This administration has drawn the conclusion that the nature of the threat is sufficient, and the difficulties of staying within the treaty are sufficiently difficult, that in fact the only way to proceed rationally -- if you want to be able to defend yourself against ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction -- is to announce the truth. A treaty that opposes the development of ballistic missiles is not hospitable to the development of ballistic missiles. That's why we're embarked on that activity.

Q: I would like to ask you about Turkey. You have recently been to Turkey, and I would like to know where do we actually now stand with regard to ESDP and NATO, and actually reaching agreement on this long-standing problem.

Rumsfeld: I am relatively new to this discussion, but my understanding is that they were some distance apart several months ago, and that recently there have been rather intensive discussions that have brought the EU negotiators much closer to the position that the government of Turkey has taken, and that they have not achieved closure. But it is much closer than it had been previously.

Q: Sir, on the issue of the missile threat, what is your assessment of the level of effort in Libya to develop a long-range ballistic missile, and do you put Libya in the category of an emerging threat?

Rumsfeld: Libya is actively pursuing ballistic missile technology. Like most countries they are proceeding from shorter range to somewhat longer range, and they are in that path at the present time.

Q: Long range?

Rumsfeld: The problem with long, short, longer -- it tends to be a process that is evolutionary. It is of course possible to change the ranges of these weapons by changing some of the weight and using different materials. It is possible to change the ranges of these weapons by adding stages. It is possible to change the ranges by clustering first stages of similar rockets. The reality is that today the genie is out of the bottle.

These countries that are doing what they are doing today are often poor -- in the case of North Korea, starving -- and they are determined. They are taking their funds from all the creature comforts for their people, denying them, and investing them in ballistic missile technology and weapons of mass destruction technology. They are doing it for a purpose. They are doing it because they have decided that that is something that is very much in their interest and alters their circumstance in the world. They tend to be countries that are not democratic systems. They tend not to be even like the old Soviet Union with a general secretary of the Communist Party, and a Politburo and a general staff of the military, with a certain number of buffers. What we are talking about here are individuals that pretty much make up their own minds. Saddam Hussein does not do a heck of lot of consulting. He does not have a NATO council to talk to, I don't think, or a parliament or a cabinet with influence. He does what he will. It is a quite different situation.

Q: I would like to get back to the issue with Turkey and would like to know from you whether you see any hope of settling this issue before or at President Bush's visit here next week.

Rumsfeld: I am not in a position to opine on that. We are not a party, as such. It is the EU and Turkey that are working that out. When they will come to closure, I do not know. I suspect they will come to closure at some point. Far be it for me to think I could predict when. It has been going on some time.

Q: On missile defense, until now the American consultations have shown that the European allies do not see a common threat like the United States. How, and by when, are you going to overcome this problem?

Rumsfeld: First of all, it is not clear to me that you are correct in your question. When you say they do not --

Q: They don't see the threat like the United States sees it.

Rumsfeld: There are certainly members of NATO that don't. Well, certainly, everyone is important in NATO. But there are any number that do see the common threat.

The important thing about the threat is that it is not debatable. It exists. The number of countries that are working on weapons of mass destruction programs has been going up like this. The number of countries that have ballistic missiles, or are in the process of seeking them, is going up. The number of ballistic missiles on the face to the earth in the last four or five years has gone up something in excess of a thousand of these things. We know, of certain knowledge, that any number of nations are engaged in developing chemical and biological warfare. And that is very bad stuff. The threat is there. It exists and it is growing.

And it seems to me it is perfectly fine for people to have different views, different policies, and different opinions on things. But not on facts. The distinction is, I don't think people, debate what I have just said to you. I think where the difference comes is, some people say, "Well, okay, that's true; there's evidence of that, but we don't know about intent." You have capabilities but then the question is, are people really intending to use those things.

We know that the United States and France and the U.K. have nuclear power, but we also know that it has not been used in fifty years in anger, and it is not likely that one democracy is going to use those kinds of capabilities against another democracy. We also know that Saddam Hussein has used gas on his own people. It is not likely it would offend his sensibilities. We also know his nuclear program was well advanced, was considerably in advance of where Western intelligence had estimated, and the Israelis of course preempted and went in and took it out many years ago. And thank goodness they did. Because when the Gulf War ended, and we found out where they were, they would have been considerably in advance.

The last thing I'll say about it is, my point is this: Nothing wrong with differing on opinions, but when you are talking about facts, facts are facts. And the facts are not unclear as to what countries are doing what with respect to various types of weapons of mass destruction. What we must not do, it seems to me, is to politicize facts because they are uncomfortable or unpleasant or do not fit our policy view. There is nothing wrong as people do in the United States Senate, who say, "Fair enough, that's the fact, but I am against this program for this reason."

For example, some in the world would say, "Goodness gracious, the greater threat is a satchel bomb, a terrorist attack with a biological weapon." There is no question but that once the Gulf War was over and it was clear that it was not wise or prudent to compete against Western armies, navies or air forces, the asymmetrical threats became a logical direction for someone who wanted to alter behavior to go. That means they would look logically across that spectrum.

They would look at terrorism, they would look at cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, and so it is perfectly rationale for someone to say I look at that spectrum and I say, "Gee, the problem is greater here than it is there. You can't debate that, because none of us knows where it is greater." Some will say, "Well, why would you want to have defense against missiles if in fact, they could do it other ways, with a cruise missile, or with a terrorist attack?" The answer is: do you do nothing, simply because you can't do everything?

The purpose of a terror weapon is to terrorize. And the important thing to remember about it is: it need not be used to be effective. It can alter behavior simply by existing and having its use threatened. Imagine trying to fashion the coalition in the Gulf War if Saddam Hussein, the week before he invaded Kuwait, had launched a ballistic missile with a weapon of mass destruction that clearly could have reached Europe or the United States. And then you try to go out to talk everyone into, let's get Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait this week. And everyone knows that they have got population centers, vulnerable to a weapon that he has and has demonstrated a willingness to use. It changes behavior.

People talk about what are the effects of deploying ballistic missiles. I would say we also want to think about what are the effects of not deploying ballistic missiles. I mean ballistic missile defense, excuse me. If we do not develop a ballistic missile defense, and the progression we are on at the present time continues and more countries get more weapons of greater power, and we arrive at a point where something needs to be done and you know you are facing a country with a ballistic missile and a nuclear weapon or a biological weapon, you are vulnerable. You don't have a defense. What are your choices? Your choices are to acquiesce. Let them invade Kuwait. You can't do anything about it without putting your population centers at risk. That means you are going to end up with an isolationist world. You are going to end up with countries tucking back and it will have an enormous effect on the prosperity and the economic opportunities across this globe.

You have another choice assuming, again, you are totally vulnerable. Your policy has been, as a leader of a major nation: let's remain vulnerable. That's our strategy for the future. Let's not have any defense against those weapons. How would you like to announce that to your people?

But your second choice is to preempt, as the Israelis did, with respect to the nuclear capability in Baghdad. That's not a happy prospect for a president either. Imagine you are an advisor to the president. You walk into the prime minister or the president's office and you say here is the situation. We have a policy of vulnerability. We are not going to deploy any missile defense capabilities and we don't want to acquiesce and let Saddam Hussein go into Kuwait. Therefore -- he hasn't done anything yet, but we think he might some day go into Kuwait -- therefore you should preempt and go in and take out his nuclear capability or go in and -- Saddam Hussein hasn't done anything at this point, mind you, which was the case when the Israelis went in. Now that's not a happy thing to have to go in and ask a prime minister to do, is it?

It isn't a matter of is this a perfect choice. It is a matter of, is it a better choice than the alternatives, and the alternatives, I don't think, are particularly good ones either. The idea of preemption is a difficult one; the idea of acquiescing and pulling back and saying a lot of bad things are going to happen in the world, but I'm sorry but those weapons are too powerful, therefore I don't want to put my population centers at risk. It's just a thought.

Thank you.

Additional Links

Stay Connected