Thursday, August 2, 2001
(Interview with Andrea Deralis, WGN Radio, Chicago)
Ms. Deralis: I'm Andrea Deralis, WGN Radio in Chicago.
Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz: Hi.
Ms. Deralis: I know this is basically just a courtesy for you to be calling us. There's nothing extremely new, but I do want to talk about some of the things that have been in the news over the past few days.
First of all, the successful interception test which happened a few weeks ago. Why don't we talk a little bit about that to start off with.
Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz: Well, it was extraordinary. I don't know if your listeners have seen any of the videos of that intercept, but we have essentially now for the second time successfully intercepted, as they say, a bullet with a bullet. These bullets are approaching one another at a speed on the order of I think it's 4.5 kilometers per second. I always forget, but I think that translates into something over 12,000 miles per hour.
Ms. Deralis: That's extraordinary, isn't it?
Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz: It's extraordinary, and it does demonstrate that all these years of investment in this kind of technology are beginning to have a real payoff.
Ms. Deralis: What's next, as far as that goes? Are there going to be other tests?
Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz: There will have to be other tests.
I think it's worth emphasizing that on the shorter-range systems we've done even more than just tests. We now, I think it's had success in something like 11 out of 12 tests of the Patriot-3 missile which is a missile that could provide defense against the kind of SCUD missiles that were attacking us and attacking Israel during the Gulf War. If we had had that system deployed at the time ten years ago we could have protected Israel much better and saved those 24 Americans who were killed in the SCUD attack.
What we want to do is be able to provide that same capability for the United States. I don't know you're... Judging from polls, most of your listeners are completely unaware that if an errant missile were to be aimed at Chicago today by accident or even a hostile one, we would have no capability whatsoever to shoot it down.
Ms. Deralis: Why is that? Just from a listener... And you probably are correct, that someone is going to hear this and be shocked. Why is that? Why aren't we prepared?
Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz: To be honest, it's partly because the technology is very difficult. But it's also because for the last 29 years we have been under a treaty that we signed with the Soviet Union in 1972 that prohibits us from doing that.
When people say to me why do you worry so much about ballistic missiles when somebody could deliver a truck bomb, my answer is I would never sign a treaty that would prohibit me from stopping truck bombs from coming across the border. Why should I have a treaty that prevents me from shooting down ballistic missiles coming through the sky?
Ms. Deralis: Good point.
Kind of to segue into that, the New York Times poll, I'm sure you've seen, 64 percent of Americans think that we can defend ourselves against ballistic missiles. True or false?
Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz: True that 64 percent think that way, but absolutely false that, we simply can't. I think the more people understand how vulnerable we are the more they will come to recognize that the investment the President has proposed in approving, in developing that capability, is more than warranted. It's a lot of money, but if we were to lose Chicago or any other major city or even minor city in the United States to a ballistic missile attack, we would certainly be very, very sorry that we hadn't invested in it.
Ms. Deralis: Let's talk about maybe the program a little bit and why it really is important that we need to get this off the ground. No pun intended. Truly.
Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz: Because... Really, two reasons. First of all there is always the possibility of an accident, no matter how careful the major nuclear powers are with their forces. We've had a couple of scary incidents. One where the Russians spotted a Norwegian weather rocket a few years ago and went into a high state of alert. I don't think they came even close to shooting off a missile, but it would be nice to have an insurance policy. We have none at the moment.
But more importantly, there are a whole range of countries that really are hostile to the United States who have made a decision to invest heavily in ballistic missile technology. North Korea is prominent among them, Iran is another country. Iraq is trying to do as much as they can, although we have some constraints on Iraq. Libya is out shopping for ballistic missile technology from North Korea and other places.
This dangerous technology is spreading to the exactly wrong countries, and what they want to do is, they figure if they can threaten us, then they will be able to keep us from coming to the defense of our friends and allies in crucial parts of the world, and that would create a very dangerous and destabilizing situation.
Ms. Deralis: What countries actually have systems like this in place? I know you mentioned North Korea. What about Pakistan?
Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz: I need to be clear, that at the moment we don't think, apart from the major powers, that is to say Russia, China, Britain and France, that any country has missiles with a range that can reach the United States. But the North Koreans are very close to being able to have that capability. The Pakistanis and Iranians have intermediate range missiles. For example, the Iranians can now hit Israeli cities with no trouble whatsoever. We don't think of Pakistan as hostile, but Pakistan is spreading technology to other countries.
But the rate at which these developments take place, the number of countries among that list -- Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria -- is going to grow over the next five or ten years and it's going to take us that long to develop a defense against it. So we have to plan against the future. We can't just base it on whether the threat is here today or not. The solution isn't here today yet either.
Ms. Deralis: Okay, so about five to ten years to fully develop a complete system.
Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz: At least.
Ms. Deralis: How about cost? I know it's expensive, but your PIO was telling me that $8 billion, that's just 2.5 percent of the total defense budget. So I guess if you break it down, yes, that's a lot of money, but for what we're investing in it's really not that much, is it?
Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz: It isn't. And as... I mean to take it as a proportion of the defense budget is a relevant measure because it's a crucial piece that makes the rest of what we invest in effective. It's not an accident these hostile countries have invested in ballistic missiles because they see that as our key vulnerability. It's the only Iraqi weapon system during the Gulf War that did any damage at all. It was the only Iraqi capability that we underestimated. Everything else turned out to be relatively easy to handle.
So when these countries see how to get at that impressive military capability that is in our Air Force and our Navy and our Marine Corps and our Army, they say let's get at them with ballistic missiles.
So to invest 2.5 percent of your budget to close that gap I don't think is excessive.
I'd say from a different perspective if you say what is it worth to prevent a calamity if a ballistic missile with a nuclear weapon or a biological weapon were aimed at Chicago, it's worth an enormous amount of money.
Ms. Deralis: In the fall Congress is going to be taking a look at the defense budget. If you can wave your magic wand, what would you really like to see them do?
Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz: Well, I'd like to see them approve our request, President Bush's request which is for $328.9 billion budget. It's a big number and it's a big increase. In fact it's the largest real increase -- that is after allowing for inflation -- in 15 years. But it's badly needed because for the last ten years we've really been living off the investment of the Cold War, and we have kind of coasted and I would say we coasted past the bottom of the hill, so to speak, and we should have put on the brakes awhile ago. We should have started investing and repairing what we had. So we have a lot of old systems that need repair. We have a lot of old barracks that need repair. There's a lot of catch-up work to do.
Ms. Deralis: Very good.
Is there anything else at this time that you want to say or a message that you want to get out there? Any final thoughts?
Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz: Well, I appreciate this chance to talk to your listeners and I think I'd just like to say this. When people look at these large sums that we spend on defense they say gee, that's a lot of money, and more than other countries spend in the world. But I would say in terms of what it does for us and even more importantly our children and grandchildren, it's been the foundation of one of the most peaceful eras in the last several centuries, at least among the major powers. And I think we have been able to create a structure that has protected the democracies of the world, allowed them to flourish, and I think can preserve that peace for the next generation. So it's an investment that's worth it.
Ms. Deralis: Very good, Doctor.
It's a pleasure talking to you.
Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz: Thank you. My pleasure.