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DoD News Briefing with Lt. Gen. Renuart at the Pentagon

Presenters: Director for Strategic Plans and Policy, Joint Staff J-5, Lt. Gen. Victor Renuart
April 27, 2006 2:35 PM EDT
DoD News Briefing with Lt. Gen. Renuart at the Pentagon

            MODERATOR:  Hi.  I just want to introduce who's going to be speaking with you today.  This is Lieutenant General Gene Renuart. He's our director of the Joint Staff for Strategic Plans and Policy, which is the J-5.  And he's going to talk to you today about the Multilateral Planners Conference that was just recently held here in D.C. and give you some of the information about what happened during the last couple of days. 


            GEN. RENUART:  Thank you. 


            MODERATOR:  Yes, sir. 


            GEN. RENUART:  Afternoon, everybody.  How are you doing?   


            Q:     (Off mike.) 


            GEN. RENUART:  It's a small group.  I thought I would have a big draw. 


            It's an opportunity for me, if I could, this afternoon to spend a few minutes talking about what has been a very productive last few days for the Joint Staff.  I've had the pleasure of hosting a Multilateral Planners Conference on behalf of the chairman.  We do this about every nine months.  This is our fourth in the series.  And it is designed to bring together planners, my equivalents, strategists, policy planners, from a number of nations around the world. 


            My host for this particular conference -- my co-host, I should say -- was from the Jordanian National Defense College, Major General Allaf.  And he has proven to be an outstanding partner in this event, in that it allowed us to balance points of view and have candid discussions and conversations with all of the nations that participated. 


            As you know, Jordan has been a great partner, continues to be a great partner with us in the region.  And so having him partner with me in this particular conference was really good. 


            The conference was a great success.  We had over 230 participants, 91 countries.  Twenty of those countries were first-time attendees.  So a real benefit to expand the breadth of the audience, but importantly, a commitment from nations to participate in a large forum, in frank discussions, to get at tough problems. 


            As I mentioned, this conference was focused on senior military planners, although we did have some civilian participation from the Department of Defense, from the Department of State.  Agencies like USAID had representatives, but also the United Nations and NATO were active participants, as were members of the Inter-American Defense Board.  So a pretty broad cross-section of views, and that really helped the discussion to be productive. 


            The conference itself was begun about four years ago, designed to air areas of concern among a variety of nations not bound by alliances or treaties or particular regions, but, rather, open up a forum globally and discuss tough issues.  


            This particular year our focus was on a variety of counterterrorism topics and beginning to look beyond the challenges of Iraq and Afghanistan and how do we address the challenges of terrorism more globally.  And as I said, it really was a great success.   


            I should say this was not a conference where the U.S. stood and lectured for two days.  In fact, we were very much the minority in the speakers.  We had participants bring briefings to describe their challenges, their lessons learned, their frustrations in combatting insurgencies, terrorist organizations; how they dealt with humanitarian assistance challenges, and the like.  And presentations from countries like Colombia, the United Kingdom, Malaysia, Egypt, Jordan, and others, were really, really worthwhile. 


            Importantly, we also did hear from Iraq and Afghanistan.  I was pleased; my counterpart, General Ali, came from Baghdad.  He is the director of plans and policy for the Iraqi joint staff, if you will, their M5, and gave us a great briefing from his perspective on where we're going and how we're doing in Iraq.  He was followed by, again, our counterpart in Afghanistan, and got a good update on how the Afghan National Army, Afghan security forces in general are progressing and moving forward.  So it was especially helpful to have really their personal view, as opposed to giving a briefing on what the U.S. progress has been in each of those countries. 


            We also talked about issues ranging from border security to intelligence-sharing, to creating a common definition and understanding of what terrorism is, what the current discussions on religion and ethnic centrism in the war on terror.   


            So it really was a very open and broad forum, held over at the National Defense University.  Gave us an opportunity to kind of get away from the Pentagon and get in an academic environment, to a degree, and one where we could have pretty good open and frank discussions.  And each of the participants was -- seemed captured by that environment, to the degree that they were obviously very frank and forthcoming with their thoughts. 


            What I'll do is stop there, and I've described enough about the conference, and maybe I'll turn and let you open up for questions, and maybe start right here.  Yes, ma'am? 


            Q:     You mention that you were looking at counterterrorism topics beyond just Iraq and Afghanistan.  What were a couple of the other countries that were the primary focus that people were -- other members were worried about? 


            GEN. RENUART:  Well, we spent a lot of time talking about a term that may have been mentioned by the secretary and chairman in the past, and that is, ungoverned spaces.  You can clearly look at a place like Somalia, where they are really struggling and there is not a clear government, and in that kind of environment it's easy for illicit trade -- smuggling, piracy, narcotics trafficking, as well as terrorists, all move through that kind of environment.  So how do you empower nations, surrounding nations, how do you create within them the capacity to put pressure on a country maybe like Somalia and allow them to help contain the potential growth of terrorism?   


            How do you address the issue of piracy in the Horn of Africa? We've seen a number of issues in the last few -- couple months where piracy has been in the news but importantly been a significant factor to commercial and tourist shipping in the area.  How do you build a coalition that can work that?   


            What are the legal implications of places where a pirate can use the territorial waters of another country as a bit of a sanctuary? And then what kind of international agreements must we undertake in order to allow for countries not only to protect their own territorial waters but also to allow third countries to act in assistance with some of these nations in need of assistance to help combat those.  So a couple of the areas. 


            We talked about the trans-Sahara region in Africa, where vast areas, difficult for some of the countries across that trans-Sahel region in Africa to maintain border control, to help to stop the flow of traffic of a variety of types -- guns, drugs, people, et cetera, and to create elements of capacity building for the home country, the host country in order to solve that problem themselves. 


            Q:     How about Iran specifically?  How much discussion was there on Iran? 


            GEN. RENUART:  In the context of concern over the current situation with the nuclear discussions that are ongoing in Iran -- that was a common concern among nations around the world, clearly.  We did not get too much into the specifics of terrorism with respect to Iran because I think most of the nations are dominated a bit with the discussion on the nuclear issue, and so that was primarily the focus, not so much terrorists. 


            Go back in the back. 


            Yes, ma'am? 


            Q:     Yes.  You said that you've reach a common definition for terrorism.  What is this definition you've reached?  And how can you differentiate between terrorism and resistance? 


            GEN. RENUART:  Let me be clear.  We attempted to reach a common definition of terrorism.  It is a very difficult problem just for the example that you mentioned.  In one country, organizations will use terrorist techniques even though they may be really insurgents struggling against the government, and you could use what we've seen, for example, in the past with the Maoist rebels in Nepal, as an example.  Are they terrorists or are they rebels; are they insurgents? And that clearly is a very difficult definition to come up with. 


            And so, actually, what we've asked countries to do is to go back and think through how they might best describe it, and we've picked a number of countries that have maybe differing problems in their -- either with their bordering nations or in themselves or as they view the world situation.  And we'll pool these together and see if we can come up with a way to describe that -- describe terrorism such that it is -- it gains more -- a broad acceptance.  And I must tell you, it's a very difficult challenge, and I think we just need to look at the countries around the world that experience these problems of both internal and external threats to know. 


            Yes, ma'am? 


            Q:     Yeah.  In the -- U.S. officials specifically talk about the long war, meaning the war on terrorism being a long war.  Is there a consensus within some of the other countries who participated that -- do they believe that it's a long war, or it's just -- it's a U.S. view and not necessarily embraced by other countries? 


            GEN. RENUART:  It was very interesting to me that in a couple of the cases where countries talked about their internal struggle with what began as separatists, may have evolved into more terrorist- affiliated activities, as they defined that struggle, it was defined in terms of 15 and 20 and 30 years.  Malaysia, as an example, had been involved in a struggle against a separatist group which turned to terrorist tactics and techniques, eventually aided by outside forces, and it was 41 years before that was complete. 


            So interestingly, it was -- it seemed to be a very comfortable concept that you will not fight a terrorist enemy, if you will, or you will not defeat a terrorist element in a short period of time.  


            You have to get at some of the root causes.  And we talked about things like education and economic development, participation with nations in a region to help border control, flow of refugees and the like, which can provide an avenue for terrorists to move.  So, I think universally there is an understanding that it is not a short-term challenge. 


            Now, everyone will have a definition of how you term that:  long war, long struggle.  And those were sort of the topics that we delved into. 


            Q:     For the ungoverned areas that you talked about, is there a sense that countries expect U.S. active participation in that, or maybe not so aggressive, or maybe -- you know, what degree of participation? 


            GEN. RENUART:  I think one of the -- one of the areas that was of great interest was how can the U.S. help nations in each of those regions create capacity within their own forces to deal with some of these challenges.  And from an investment view, if you will, it is much more economical to invest in capacity building of your -- with your partners and friends than it is to insert military.  And so, I think the overwhelming majority believe that they felt that the U.S. should have a leadership role, the U.S. could be extremely effective in capacity building to allow nations, then, to solve those problems internally themselves or in participation with their neighbors. 




            Q:     Did China participate, and did China see eye to eye with the United States, if it does -- 


            GEN. RENUART:  No, China did not participate in this conference. So I can't give you any more than that, then.  (Laughs.) 


            Q:     Why not?  They were invited, I take it? 


            GEN. RENUART:  In this particular seminar, I do not believe China was included.  But let me close back with you and have a specific answer.  I -- I will have to verify on the invitation.  But they chose -- they did not participate. 


            Q:     Were there ideas and concepts discussed that aren't currently being conducted, and are there plans to do those things?  Or is it just a total academic brainstorming session? 


            GEN. RENUART:  I think -- there were a number of ideas thrown out on the table for consideration, and the view that potentially you could roll those into strategy.  For example, one of the concerns was how we describe the antagonists in -- you know, in a conflict against terrorists. 


            Many of our Middle Eastern friends participating wanted us to know, wanted the non-Muslim nations to know that use of terror is not a tenet of Islam.  Islam has as its basic tenets compassion and understanding, and so that people who use terror in the name of Islam were actually not part of the religion.  And so they were concerned with how we describe these extremists, who have really subverted the elements of a great religion for their own particular needs. 


            And so the challenge is to try to find better ways to describe them as such that you don't alienate, if you will, the vast majority of very moderate Muslims who don't condone this kind of participation. 


            We talked about ways that we might cooperate more adequately in border areas, and that's a difficulty -- a difficult topic because clearly, nations value their sovereignty and they protect their borders; on the other hand, there was a recognition that you have to work with your neighbors in order to help stem the flow of illicit elements, whether it's people or trade goods or weapons or narcotics.   


            And so -- and I'll go back to the topic -- or to the reason for the conference.  It's to allow these ideas to be put on the table so that these particular strategic planners can go back to their countries and begin to help develop maybe a fresh look on a particular topic. 


            So it was not a product of the conference, if you will, to create a strategy, but rather the product is to create the ideas that then these senior leaders can take back to their countries. 


            Q     Can I follow up on -- 


            GEN. RENUART:  Let me go back over here, and then I'll come back to you in just a second. 


            Q     Yep.  Do you have -- what is the sense that you have?  Is there a particular point that you're coming back from this conference saying, you know, "We can improve in this particular area, or we could make changes here"? 


            GEN. RENUART:  Well, I think one of the takeaways for -- for the U.S. is the importance that nations placed on U.S. support in the capacity-building area.  They truly are interested in learning the lessons we have learned over the past few years and in incorporating those into the training of their own forces. 


            The issue of ungoverned spaces was an area that brought on a lot of discussion.   


            You know, if you think about this, cyberspace is an ungoverned space. We tend to protect the flow of information, the access to information, but there is not a set of structures that truly governs that.  And so how do you operate in that environment when terrorists use it freely and to their advantage?  That was a challenge that all the nations really struggled with to a degree. 


            I think the other element for us is the pleasant understanding that the nations of the world really are engaged in this -- in their concern over countering terrorist activities.  They truly understand in detail the transnational nature, and they understand that even though their particular country may struggle with, for example, maybe illicit trade, those same avenues can be used by a terrorist organization to move through a country to gain access to a third country.  And so it's important to begin to look at all elements of criminal illicit activity to ensure that you -- as you close those down, you will also close down the potential that terrorists can move through there. 


            Yes, ma'am?  I'll go back here and come back. 


            Q     Yes.  You talked about the alienation of -- you don't want to alienate the Arab street.  But a large part of the Arab and Muslim street feel that America is at war against all of them.  Did you discuss any strategy to change this point of view or make things go-- (off mike)? 


            GEN. RENUART:  Well, I think if you look at the statements of President Bush, Secretary Rumsfeld, General Pace in -- even in the last few weeks, they make it clear that that is not the case.   


            Q     Yeah, but --  


            GEN. RENUART:  And so we reiterated that as well.  


            The strategy is to continue to talk about that, truly, in open forums, so that you do make people understand that it is not a focus on a religion, but it's a focus on extremists who subvert the elements of really any religion or any racial group.  Those kinds of people are not representative of that particular country or religion or ethnic background. 


            And we just have to continue to keep making that point.  I think that's our best tool. 


            Yes, sir? 


            Q     General,  tell us about the growth of content of these discussions.  They've been going on for several years now.  I'm curious to whether the same people are returning so that there's a body of shared knowledge that you build on, or whether it's like freshman year at the academy all over again.  


            GEN. RENUART:  (Chuckles.) 


            Q     And as a second part of that, are there any things you can point to around the world specifically have resulted from the discussions at the conference? 


            GEN. RENUART:  Sure.  Thank you. 


            First of all, we had -- I think we had about 14 or 15 participants who are now in their fourth conference.  We clearly have had nations that have been at all four.  I think the fact that we've grown with 20 additional nations is an indicator that people feel this has been a good forum to address concerns and ideas. 


            Frankly, over time the conference has evolved.  It began as kind of a broad-issues forum, not really focused specifically on counterterrorism.  That's evolved really in the last two years. Increasingly what we've tried to hone in on is that terrorism is not a fight of the U.S. to lead, it is a fight that a broad coalition has to engage in in order to be successful.   


            And so our specific intent with this one was to begin to look at other ways that coalitions could form to help eliminate some of the problems that may be seeds for terrorism.  Our regional organizations -- should they be more engaged in helping with economic development and education programs?  Should NGOs be more actively involved?  And we had a good presentation from USAID on conflict avoidance.  And many of these topics are of great interest to many of the countries.  


            So -- and to get to the last part of your question -- Do we see some things that have occurred that are a result? -- I would tell you two significant events that I'm aware of that were made easier to respond to because of the people who have been involved in these conferences, and that's the tsunami relief in Indonesia and the earthquake relief in Pakistan.  People who were participating in our conferences over the last three or four years were the very same people who were talking to each other on the day those events occurred to help enable a rapid response.  You build a relationship that can endure over time, and when the need arises, you instantly have access and credibility with senior leaders of that country. 


            And so as a principal benefit of the conference, you've built relationships with people that should they be needed in an emergency, you can go directly and gain access and help. 


            Q:     Many of the countries you're talking about are countries that are ill-equipped, literally, to deal with their own problems, as you're well aware.  I'm wondering if at the conference you talked at all about the challenges facing the U.S., the coalition, whatever, in actually equipping some of those countries to do some of their own work?  In sub-Sahara Africa, for example, they barely have bullets to shoot.  Did you talk about that? 


            GEN. RENUART:  We did, and this is one of the areas where, certainly, many of these countries are interested in U.S. assistance. But we have a number of initiatives that are both in the current budget and in the proposals for future budgets that will help us; things like Foreign Military Financing, the International Military Education and Training Programs, train and equip dollars that we have used in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Commander's Emergency Response Program, are all tools that we have used in the past that can allow for the U.S. to assist a nation. 


            And the QDR, the Quadrennial Defense Review, has really changed the focus of the department on expanding our capabilities in the irregular warfare.  Now, that's a broad context for sure, but some of that is the training and equipping, the improvement of the capacity of our friends. 


            So I think the -- with the help of the QDR, with the help of Congress -- and they continue to help us in this regard -- we will be able to continue to add more and more capacity out in the field. Whether it's with General Jones' staff at EUCOM working in the trans- Sahara region in Africa or General Abizaid's staff at CENTCOM working in the Horn of Africa or Admiral Fallon's staff in the Pacific working in Pacific countries, that really is a principal focus of the future campaign, if you will, of the -- against the -- in -- against terrorism. 


            Q     Going back to the ungoverned -- oh, I'm sorry. 


            GEN. RENUART:  Yeah.  Let me go one here real quick, and then, I'll come back to you. 


            Thank you. 


            Q     I had a couple of questions.  One is just to follow up on the definition issue, and I'm wondering, when you talk about not alienating the vast majority of Muslims, are there terms currently used or suggested, should be changed, or discarded? 


            And you mentioned extremists in any religion.  Are you saying that the focus is on terrorism, meaning extremists using violence in any religion, or is it really just Islamic extremism? 


            GEN. RENUART:  Well, I think the -- many of the nations, the Islamic nations, the Muslim nations, are sensitive to equating Islamist -- or the Islamic faith and terrorism, and so they would make the point and did make the point that people who call themselves Muslims yet conduct operations that use these extremist techniques or terrorist acts are truly not faithful. 


            And so it is important to differentiate that we're really talking about anyone who uses these techniques, extremist techniques, in the name of a religion, and that really is the focal point of their concern. 


            I used religious extremists only to say that it really isn't any particular faith that could be a terrorist, and we should all be careful to not generalize on any particular religion as we talk about terrorists.  And so their suggestion, then, is that we continue to make the point clear that this is not, as we talked about a minute ago, a fight of the West against Islam, it's not a fight of one religion against another, it is truly a fight against those who take advantage of any religion and use extremist techniques to work -- prove their point. 


            Q     Okay.  And could you talk a little bit about what the main obstacles are in the areas of intelligence sharing? 


            GEN. RENUART:  Well, I think part of the obstacle -- one of the obstacles is just getting nations to have confidence in each other. And that was a good point of discussion among really all of the people in the room.  In some cases, these are relations that had not been traditional, if you will, and so there is a sense among the participants that we need to continue to build confidence between neighbors within regional areas so that there is a degree of comfort that as you share more and more intelligence, it allows the country to focus in on a particular terrorist group or what have you. 


            I'm sorry, back here in the front?  Did you have -- 


            Q     Yes, I have a couple.  You mentioned only two places that you referred to as ungoverned spaces, Somalia and the Sahel.  Are there any others that were discussed? 


            GEN. RENUART:  Well, actually, I mentioned the other one that may be the hardest one, the cyberspace.  It could be anywhere.  But I think there are places -- I mean, we see piracy, for example, in areas in South Asia on the sea trade routes.  And we've seen a great initiative on the part of Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and others to really put a focus on that space.  


            And that was a great point made by the Malaysian representative, is that the U.S. shouldn't feel that it has to go and be the principal enforcer, if you will, in these areas, but rather in this particular case, working with those countries, allow them to become more active in some of these spaces.  There are -- I think you could find other places in the world that might be similar examples, but I think that gives you a sense of the kinds of locations that are important for us to pay attention to. 


            Q     Thank you.  And can you describe some criticism, if any, of the United States and the way it's been managing the U.S.-declared global war on terror? 


            GEN. RENUART:  I'm not sure I'm qualified to describe the criticism --(laughs).  I mean, I didn't -- I didn't encounter any real criticism in the conference, and I think that's probably as good as I can give you.  Other -- 


            Q     Well, was there -- and is there any consensus that Iraq is the central front in the war on terror? 


            GEN. RENUART:  Well, it really wasn't the context of the conference at all.  I mean, clearly it is a central point with foreign fighters, insurgents, terrorist acts occurring, and that was recognized -- my counterpart from Iraq made a very strong point of that.  In terms of characterizing it as the central point, that really wasn't a point of our discussions in the conference at all. 


            Yes, sir. 


            Q     When you say that Muslim who conduct terrorist act are not faithful, what could you say about the Iranian government or the Palestinian government? 


            GEN. RENUART:  I'm sorry, I don't -- I'm not sure I understand your question. 


            Q     You said that Muslim who conduct terrorist movement, terrorist act are not faithful.  How could you describe, what you -- what could you say about the Iranian government and the Palestinian government? 


            GEN. RENUART:  First I -- it's important to note that I didn't say that, the Muslim representatives said that.  They -- they were very clear to depict that people who took advantage of the tenets of Islam were not true Muslims.  So that's their judgment, not my judgment.  And beyond that, I'm not going to draw a parallel to any other country at that point.   


            Yes, ma'am.   


            Q     Can you talk about some specific initiatives that look like they'll be launched coming out of this program? 


            GEN. RENUART:  I think it's probably premature to do that.  And the reason I say that is that we really truly were trying to create an open forum to put a lot of ideas on the table.  And I'm sure many of you have been involved in brainstorming sessions, and some of those ideas sound very good when you first look at them, but as you really try to put meat to them, you realize they may not be as easy as you think.  So it's probably premature to say this is what will occur. 


            And again, most importantly, the fact that the conference had such great participation and such open and enthusiastic discussion was good. 


            Yes, ma'am? 


            Q     When you talked about some of the participants going back to their countries and talking about the definition of terrorism, were you expecting them to come back and give some feedback as a follow-up to this conference, or will it be returned to at the next one? 


            GEN. RENUART:  Well, yes, I hope that we get some near-term feedback, more near-term feedback.  The issue is certainly an important one.  And we've encouraged all the participants not to wait till the next conference to come back with more discussions. 


            In many cases we see these nations on a bilateral or multilateral basis on a number of occasions.  Many participate in our regional centers, the Near East South Asia Center, for example; African Center for Strategic Studies, and the like.  And so there are a number of fora where they can begin to shape and mold some definitions and some thoughts that we'll try to take advantage of. 


            I think I have time for one more if -- or -- okay. 


            Q     The U.S. is carrying the war on terror.  So where do you draw -- not the other nations.  Where do you draw the line between resistance and terrorism? 


            GEN. RENUART:  If I were smart enough to be able to do that very well -- (chuckles).  I think from my perspective, my personal perspective, we need to focus on where we're involved right now, and that is continuing to work actively and aggressively to assist the Iraqi government to build, and in doing so, eliminate the terrorist activities, the insurgent activities that are there -- allow Iraq to stand on its feet.  Similarly in Afghanistan.  Similarly we have capacity-building operations in the Horn of Africa and other places. I think that's the real focus.   


            It would be, I think, inappropriate for me to try to define for you the difference between the two, and I think we'll stay focused on those particular topics. 


            Thank you, everybody.  Appreciate it.



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