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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with Radio Correspondents

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
July 02, 2001

Friday, June 29, 2001

(Interview at the Pentagon with a small group of radio correspondents.)

Wolfowitz: As you probably all know, we're up there with a budget request which constitutes the largest real increase in defense expenditures since 1985. It's a big number, but this is a department with big problems.

We've been really coasting for the last ten years on the buildup of the 1980s. We've been drawing on that investment, and drawing on the peace dividend. It was appropriate to do so up to a point. We didn't need a Cold War force once the Cold War was over, but we really overdrew that account and kept going. And instead of using the force less, we ended up using it more. So the result is equipment is old, spare parts are hard to find, there are a lot of strains on the force today.

When the secretary got here he just discovered those problems were much bigger than he had anticipated coming in, so we're having to spend a lot just to start getting well. In some cases we get well, in other cases, we just arrest declines.

But in order to do this we have also got to be much more efficient in our use of resources. There are some measures in this budget that constitute moves in that direction.

For example, the Air Force is trading some force structure in the B-1 force in order to have a smaller but much more effective B-1 capability, so that we're able to get a big increase in the capability of the B-1 force without a single additional dollar from the taxpayers.

We're going to have to keep doing that I think across the defense program moving forward, and we're going to need a lot of help and flexibility from the Congress in order to make the most efficient use of resources.

Q: Can I ask you a procurement question?

Throughout the Cohen years we heard about the growth to a $60 plus billion procurement account. They hit it in '01. Your budget drops the procurement level from what they even anticipated they would have in '02 which was about $63 billion.

Why the drop in procurement? And what is the plan to ratchet procurement back up given all the problems you've just discussed?

Wolfowitz: It was a slight drop, but I think the heart of the matter is we are focused on getting some of the real property maintenance fixed. That's one of the big deficiencies that's been postponed for years. We were up to, what is it, I think 162 year replacement factor, and people living in just horrible conditions. Things that aren't repaired. You can do that for one year, you can do it for two years, you can do it for ten years, and it's a very long time digging out of the hole.

So I would say on balance we are emphasizing in this budget funding flying hours, funding training, getting some of those facilities back in shape.

The big decisions on procurement have to relate to the big decisions on force structure and those we expect will come out of the QDR [Quadrennial Defense Review], and once we have a clear idea of exactly where we need more force structure and where we may be able to cut force structure we can make much more intelligent decisions about exactly what to invest in.

Q: For the radio audience that will be listening, can you explain what the QDR is in layman's terms, and why that's significant to your listeners?

Wolfowitz: Absolutely. It's a Pentagon acronym for Quadrennial Defense Review. That doesn't help a whole lot.

What it is, though, it's every four years by direction of the Congress the Department of Defense has to undertake a long term look at our defense strategy, what we want our forces to achieve 10 and 15 years from now, and lay out a plan for that long term investment. Because changing a huge establishment like this one is not something you do on a dime. You've really got to have a sense of where you're going to be ten years out.

This is our long-term strategic look. I think that's what a business person would understand it as being.

Q: Mr. Secretary, you said the Air Force is giving up some force structure for the purposes of efficiency, and you see that that's going to have to happen across the defense program.

Are you already anticipating there are going to be some force structure cutbacks in order to make that switch?

Wolfowitz: No. I didn't mean it that specifically. But I mean in order to pay for the kinds of modernization and force improvements that we need we're going to have to find savings in things that we're doing that aren't as valuable and we're going to have to make those kinds of tradeoffs because we can't accomplish everything we have to accomplish simply by adding more money.

We're adding a lot more money and we still have shortages. So what I'm saying is we've got to find lower priority expenditures and apply them to higher priority expenditures. I don't make an assumption that that means force structure is lower priority and something else is higher. But this kind of tradeoff that the Air Force undertook with the B-1 program -- we took 90 bombers that are increasingly hard to maintain and by a lot of people's accounts are really increasingly obsolete. It was a bomber designed for the nuclear era. It is not yet really a fully capable conventional bomber but it will become one with this modernization.

Q: Sir, if I might change the subject. There really were two really important issues today; actually there's three.

One is in Brussels: NATO has given the go-ahead for the 3,000-strong troops to go to Macedonia, which of course would include U.S. troops, logistical. Earlier this week Bush said it would include U.S. troops. What are your thoughts about sending more U.S. troops to Macedonia?

Wolfowitz: Let me correct the question, because they haven't given a go-ahead to send troops to Macedonia. What they have given is an approval to a concept of operations under which NATO would assist in collecting the arms from the Macedonian rebels if and when, but only when, there is an agreement between the rebels and the government to make that possible as an agreed proposition in what the military call permissive circumstances. We are a very long way from any such agreement. It is meant to be an indication of NATO's support for implementing such an agreement if one takes place and to give the negotiators a bit more to work with in terms of offering assurances to the parties that an agreement would be lived up to.

Q: But U.S. troops will be taking part if and when that should ever happen.

Wolfowitz: If and when that happens, the U.S. will provide some support.

I think it's crucial to emphasize that the leading role, the three battalions that are going to do the main operational mission in this role come from our NATO allies with the British in the lead. We will be providing a relatively modest enabling element of logistics and some medical evacuation capabilities, some intelligence and other support.

Actually, a lot of it will come out of forces that we already have as part of the Kosovo force in Kosovo, and another some 500 Americans that are in Skopja in what's called the Rear Force for KFOR.

Q: But it definitely would be, if and when, it would be troops not just equipment though, correct?

Wolfowitz: Under that concept of operation if and when, but I emphasize if and when. The circumstances really would be of a kind that basically make this a largely logistical matter.

Q: And another question, Reuters is saying that the administration may be considering resuming underground nuclear testing. What are your thoughts about resuming underground nuclear testing?

Wolfowitz: I'm not aware of a need to resume testing at this time.

Q: At any foreseeable future?

Wolfowitz: It depends on how long you can foresee the future. There are no plans that I've been, that have been discussed with me or with Secretary Rumsfeld to do anything at this time.

Q: And what do you think about resuming them? You don't think it's a good idea to do it? What are your thoughts?

Wolfowitz: Well, there may be circumstances where particularly if we develop questions about the reliability or safety of our nuclear weapons where you would have to contemplate doing that. And bear in mind, like everything else, these are things that age with time, and more so because the elements of which they're composed are radioactive and are actively decomposing all the time. So you have to keep a very close eye on the condition of that force. But I'm not aware of any imminent need to contemplate testing.

Q: Mr. Wolfowitz, if I can take you back to yesterday's hearings that the secretary appeared at before the Senate and the House. A couple of comments I'd like to get your reaction to.

One is from Senator Lieberman who said effectively that he didn't think the defense budget you were putting forth was large enough.

The second one, the one that was raised by Chairman Levin, that he can't see how you're going to pay for that much money that's there without either going into the deficit or dipping into the trust fund.

How do you react to both those observations? One that it's not enough, and the other one that it's dangerously too much?

Wolfowitz: Maybe that's a sign that we got it just about right. But it is a very, very difficult problem because our needs are very large. There's no question about it. There's no question if, in an ideal world I would agree with Senator Lieberman. We'd like to find more money. On the other hand, I would also have to say immediately I'm pretty sure we can find more money if we're given the freedom to manage flexibly within the money that we've got.

Just five percent of our budget would be $15 billion. If we could be five percent more efficient that would make up for an awful lot of the deficiencies that we find.

So we feel that we need more money, but we also need to be more efficient, and that means we need more flexibility from the Congress to be more efficient. Some of our inefficiencies are self imposed, but some of them are imposed by the various kinds of restraints that are put on the department.

I think we've arrived at what is an awfully good number. It's a very big number. It's much bigger than the ones, by the way, that were suggested during the budget debate. And we've got to work with that and try and get as efficient as we can.

Q: And yet you're also coming under some criticism that while the administration had promised during the campaign to focus on transformation and the new generation of technology, this particular budget focuses on the basic existing infrastructure and operations. How do you address that criticism?

Wolfowitz: Well it focuses, but there is I believe $7 or $8 billion of increased expenditure on research and development. Most of that into transformational technologies of various kinds.

It is a fact, however, that we have found the problems that had accumulated over the last decade were much more serious than certainly I thought before I came in here. I think much larger than Secretary Rumsfeld thought before he came in here.

I think particularly because those problems relate very directly to the morale of our people and their sense that their implicit contract with the nation is being carried out, it's very important to make good on those things.

There is nothing more important for transformation than maintaining the highly skilled people who may be at mid points in their careers and wondering if the training facility they're working in is under such a state of poor repair, what does that tell them about the country's message about the armed forces?

So when we looked at that set of needs, you're right. We put a lot of emphasis on those things that are going to immediately address the needs our people feel day to day. But one of the reasons we're looking for more efficiency is so that we can begin that transformation more rapidly than this budget allows us to do.

Q: Mr. Rumsfeld yesterday laid out the sad history of past Pentagon attempts to gain efficiencies and funnel that money into costs and to modernization or personnel. You've followed the process very closely since Goldwater/Nichols, or the Packard Commission through the Defense Reform Initiative.

What makes you think over the next two or three years you'll be any more successful than these past efforts to gain efficiencies and transfer the money?

Wolfowitz: It's a fair question, and it's a huge challenge. We have, I think one of the major things we have going for us are three extraordinarily capable service secretaries who I think we've introduced to the American public who comes with extensive management experience in the private sector, who understand the problems of this department and what its management challenge are, and who are really committed to taking on these tasks and making the kinds of hard decisions. So it's a level of leadership and teamwork that I don't think -- no criticism of anyone who came before -- but I don't think we've ever had it at the top level of the services in the past.

The mere fact that by now after 10 or 20 years of accumulating these reports on needed reforms, people realize it's time to stop studying and start implementing. That should be a help.

And I think frankly the recognition that the needs are so big and that we're not going to satisfy them simply by budget increases. We're going to have to do it by efficiencies, is something that will motivate both the services and the Congress.

As long as people can hold out the notion that well, if somewhere out there there's a big enough defense spending increase to solve all our problems, there was less incentive either here or in the Congress to make those tough decisions. I think there's a recognition we've got to do it now.

Q: What about program cuts, though? I haven't heard that verb -- cutting airplanes, people, ships, tanks?

Wolfowitz: We just cut a third of the B-1 force in order to modernize the remainder.

Q: That's $165 million of savings. That seems fairly de minimis.

Wolfowitz: We're going to be looking at a lot of those kinds of tradeoffs. This process which I should specify, the Quadrennial Defense Review, our long-term strategic review, should give us much better insights as to where those tradeoffs come. It may be that there are some programs we just are unnecessary. There may be others where we decide that maybe the numbers could be smaller.

Q: Sir, if I could ask about Japan. As you know, President Bush is meeting with the Japanese prime minister tomorrow and as it happens, there are new reports that an Air Force enlisted man might be one of the suspects in another rape in Okinawa.

Do you have concerns about any rising anti-American sentiment in Japan and how that would affect the U.S. bases?

Wolfowitz: We certainly are concerned any time there's an incident like the one that's been reported.

My impression from the second reports is that the first reports may have been a little bit exaggerated, and at the very least a number of servicemen came to the rescue of the individual involved and may have helped to calm this incident down, which speaks well for those people.

I don't believe that one can characterize it as a rising anti-American sentiment, however. In fact I think a great many of the Japanese I speak to express the opposite concern, that they live in a part of the world where a lot is changing and some of it is dangerous and they hope you Americans aren't going to leave and abandon us.

I think it's always going to be a challenge in any locality where we have forces, whether it's in the United States or overseas, to maintain the kinds of good relationships with the people who share that space with us, to manage these kinds of problems when they arise.

But I know we work closely with the authorities in Japan to try to minimize the likelihood of these incidents and to manage their effects when they do happen.

Q: A different topic.

It was a week ago today that U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf were put under a major terrorist warning and force protection warning, and you moved a number of forces and increased the force protection level. Can you bring us up to date on that and tell us what your current level of concern is. And do you have any specific concerns that would come up towards July 4th? Is that a day that concerns you in that region with any specificity?

Q: Where are we on that now?

Wolfowitz: I think it's widely known there is a heightened level of concern at the moment. It hasn't gone away. But I would really emphasize it does not interfere in any way with our operational capability. Saddam Hussein and his ilk should not take any comfort from these threats. They haven't, even the reality of the damaged USS Cole didn't in any way cause us to pull back from what we're doing there.

We obviously will take operational precautions when we get warnings of the kind that we've gotten, but if these terrorists think they're driving the United States away, they should think again.

Q: Do you find July 4th a day of any particular concern?

Wolfowitz: It always produces large gatherings of Americans at embassies and other places, but I think it's a mistake to single out any single day as a day of particular concern because you lower your guard on the other days.

Q: Can I take you back to the Balkans?

Before you came into this Administration you for many years cared about this region a lot, you were very outspoken about it, you were involved in the Action Committee for Peace in the Balkans.

This administration has already made clear that it takes NATO expansion seriously.

What do you see as U.S. interests in Macedonia and in that region? What really should the U.S. position be with respect to the worsening situation in Macedonia? Is this a place where U.S. interests are sufficiently at stake that we need to be involved?

Wolfowitz: We definitely have an interest, and the interest is trying to see a peaceful settlement of this conflict dispute.

It's quite different in character from either the virtual genocide that took place in Kosovo or the ethnic cleansing and aggression that took place in Bosnia. Obviously any of these situations have a potential for getting worse, and this one has been getting worse.

But we're interested in supporting in every way we can the effort to achieve a negotiated peaceful settlement. The stakes, some of them are very obvious. This is in fact the reason why we have several hundred people in Macedonia today is because they are providing the logistics to support our forces in Kosovo.

But beyond that, there's always the potential in that part of the world when a conflict gets out of hand that the first place you get truly horrendous ethnic violence, and secondly you get pressures on other countries outside to take actions to try to protect their interests.

I think the mere fact that we are engaged as an alliance and in cooperation with a number of other countries including Russia who are not allies, has certainly minimized the danger of the kinds of things we saw early in the last century that led to competitive interventions by outside powers.

But it's very much in America's interest and NATO's interest to try to resolve the conflict in Macedonia peacefully.

Q: And is the lesson of the Bosnia and Croatia that progress only happens when the United States is involved on the ground?

Wolfowitz: I don't think so. My personal view is that if we had allowed the Bosnians the weapons to defend themselves much earlier in that conflict we wouldn't need Americans on the ground today.

So I think sometimes Americans on the ground are part of the solution, but it's much better to get diplomacy working early and effectively and resolve problems before they require any kind of outside force. And where outside forces are needed, I believe it's appropriate for allies to be in the need.

Q: Do you anticipate more SFOR missions possibly like there was the other day in Macedonia by U.S. troops?

Wolfowitz: It's hard to know what to anticipate. I think as we've indicated with our contribution to this planning in Brussels, where there's an appropriate role to play in facilitating an agreement and particularly where our allies are playing their proper share of the role, I would anticipate we might be involved.

Q: I just want to make sure I understand one thing you said. That the U.S. participation in Macedonia could come from some of the troops already there in Macedonia, and you said also from U.S. troops in KFOR in Kosovo.

Could you give an estimate of how many troops from KFOR you might shift into Macedonia? How many of the 500 to 700 you might put in this? And then do you have to backfill with new U.S. troops in KFOR if you're bringing people out and sending them...

Wolfowitz: No. At this point, it goes back to my when and if. This is still a hypothetical and I think until we're confronted with an agreement that produces a real requirement it's hard to say exact numbers.

But I think an important thing to emphasize: this is in its nature a temporary mission. I know we've had other temporary missions that turned out to last a long time. But in this case either the rebels give up their weapons and we remove the weapons or they don't and we don't and it's in its nature a time-limited mission.

So whatever numbers we would be talking about, it would be temporary.

Q: Can I ask you a quick missile defense question?

Wolfowitz: You can try.


Q: You were in Europe in May. Secretary Rumsfeld and President Bush have also gone to Europe to try to convince the allies of the U.S.' need for a missile defense program. What is the current state of play that concerns us after those three missions to Europe? Where does the European opinion stand from your standpoint? A lot of convincing left to do, or...

Wolfowitz: I think they're waiting for us and the Russians. So much depends on how the nature of our conversations evolve. And we're still thinking through the process of what is the best way ahead. Because the president's made it clear he's determined to move forward in missile defense, but he's also made it clear that he wants to do that if at all possible cooperatively with the Russians. That's what we've been using these various conversations and consultations to get a better feel for what might be a way to do that.

I think most of our allies, while they may have views of their own, it's, to me it's pretty striking that their biggest single concern, overwhelming all others, is how will the Russians react. So until we pursue those conversations with the Russians further and come to some sense of how the Russians will react, it's pretty hard to know what our allies will finally have to say.

Q: What's the time line on some kind of discussions with the Russians to come to a new framework agreement?

Wolfowitz: It's a mistake to predict time lines.

Thank you.

Press: Thanks.

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