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Wolfowitz Radio Interview with Luis Torres, KNX News Radio, Las Angeles

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
August 06, 2001

Thursday, August 2, 2001

Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz: Mr. Torres?

Mr. Torres: I am here. How do you do.

Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz: Fine, thank you.

Mr. Torres: There are about two or three issues we want to talk to you about; they all sort of dovetail, of course.

Let me begin by asking you about the comments by Congressman Gephardt. I gather you're aware of them. He accused the Bush Administration of having what he called a "go it alone" approach to world affairs, and that was not necessarily good for the country. You are familiar with those criticisms, I presume.

Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz: Well, you hear them from all quarters. It's a lot of nonsense.

Mr. Torres: Very good. Tell me your reaction to that, sir.

Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz: Well, I mean in the first place, I mean this President has made it clear in a whole variety of ways that we are continuing to carry out all of the fundamental commitments this country has made including our crucial commitments in Europe to our allies and our allies in Asia. And even where he's had some reservations about the way we got into some of these commitments in the Balkans he's made it very clear we went in as allies with our allies and we'll come out together with our allies.

I think there are two areas where there is the greatest level of misunderstanding. One is on this whole issue of missile defense where the President has made it clear that we need to move forward to do something to protect our nation and our armed forces abroad and our allies from missile attack. I would guess that most of your listeners, like most Americans, are completely unaware that if a single ballistic missile were launched at the United States tomorrow by accident or by design, we don't have the capability to shoot down even a single one.

That's because of a treaty, which goes back 29 years to the height of the Cold War. To say it's "go it alone", it's just simply wrong to say it's "go it alone", that we want to talk to the Russians and say let's put that treaty aside. That treaty is based on the idea that our relationship is based on a mutual balance of nuclear terror.

Neither we nor the Russians stay awake nights any longer worrying about a deliberate nuclear attack. We have a lot more in common now that we ought to be working on -- our common interests in Europe, our common interests in Asia. The President has already had two meetings with President Putin, he's got another two scheduled for the fall. He's sending Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld to Moscow this month to meet with his counterpart. Secretary Powell is meeting with his counterpart. It's anything but go it alone. In fact I have a Secretary of Defense who says when are they going to let me stay in Washington long enough to get my work done?


There are some pretty bad agreements that we went along with in the decade of the '90s where a whole lot of countries who don't have our kinds of responsibilities in the world were happy to sign treaties that gave up, for example, their rights to test nuclear weapons. Well they don't even have to worry about it. We have to worry about it because we have commitments to our own security the security of our allies to maintain a credible nuclear posture.

It's really a product of our commitments in the world that require us to look at these treaties with a much clearer eye than I think was done over the last ten years.

Mr. Torres: Let's look at one specific treaty, the 1972 ABM Treaty. What would be the way to deal with that? It's not a matter of the United States just saying they won't abide by it, I presume. What kinds of discussions are involved with Russia on that?

Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz: If I could preface it with an illustration that I think illustrates how different the world is today from the way it was 29 years ago when that treaty was signed.

I was asked during a hearing, wouldn't it make you uncomfortable if the Russians had a capability to shoot down one of our missiles? I said absolutely not. As a matter of fact, by the way, they do have some capability today because they exploited everything that was allowed under that treaty.

But frankly, just as I think it's good for us to be able to shoot down a Russian missile if it were launched by accident, it's also good for us if they can shoot down a missile of ours if it's launched by accident.

You would never have made that kind of statement in the Cold War, but in this era that's more nearly the truth. So in answer to your question of how do you proceed, I think you proceed by saying if it hadn't been for the Cold War we would never have gotten into this arrangement where we were trying to guarantee the vulnerability of each of us. Let's proceed from a different basis, the basis that says it would be better if neither of us were vulnerable to a limited missile attack, whether by accident or from some hostile third country, and let's see how we can cooperate to build up our defenses.

They're never going to be so strong that they threaten the idea of deterrence, but they could certainly give each of us a greatly reduced level of vulnerability.

Mr. Torres: But how practical, sir, is this proposed missile defense process?

Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz: It's a fair question. It's asked all the time. Some people say you're trying to shoot a bullet with a bullet and that's, they say, impossible. It's not impossible. In fact admittedly after some 20 years of intensive research and development and big investment, we are now finally able to deploy a system to shoot down short-range missiles, which are bullets. Those are bullets that travel about two kilometers per second, which translates I think into about, I don't have the numbers in my head, but I think it's about 8,000 miles per hour -- pretty fast.

What we're working on now is the intercontinental range missiles, which come in at about 7.5 kilometers per second. In other words, about four times as fast. But we in a couple of tests now have demonstrated that under very artificially arranged conditions we can nevertheless put a piece of metal right on top of that piece of metal that's coming in at 7.5 kilometers per hour. And as we work on it, I'm quite sure we'll be able to do it under increasingly less artificial conditions until we have a deployable system.

Mr. Torres: Is it worth the cost, the projected cost, sir?

Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz: I think it is. It's a cost inside... I hear numbers that have no relationship to what we're actually planning to spend.

What we're proposing is, in that program, is an increase in that program that's about one percent of our defense budget, and the total program at $8 billion is a lot of money, but it's comparable to other major investments we make in our nuclear deterrent, in our, just a portion of our naval forces or a portion of our other forces.

This is in many ways a crucial missing ingredient because without that capability, a lot of the rest of our forces aren't worth much. But you know, on the question of what it's worth, I'm reminded that some five years ago during a crisis over the Taiwan Strait a senior Chinese general asked an American defense official would we be willing to trade Taiwan for Los Angeles. For some reason, he picked your home city as the target.

I would ask you, what is it worth to be able to prevent a terrible accident or a terrible deliberate attack from happening in Los Angeles. I think it's worth an awful lot of money, and I would say the same about every other city in the United States as well. Even small towns.

Mr. Torres: It only being a relatively small percentage of the budget, but the defense budget might have Everett Dirksen, where a billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you're talking real money.

Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz: All I can say is a thousand people dead here and 10,000 dead there, and 100,000 dead somewhere else and pretty soon you're talking about a fantastic catastrophe.

It is not cheap, but the defense of our country isn't cheap, but it's proven to be a terrifically valuable investment.

We live in a world today that's more peaceful than in 100 years, and I would say a major reason for that is because American military strength, our defense capability, has helped to shore up the peaceful democracies of the world and helped to bring about an end to the Cold War, and that's a structure we want to preserve.

Mr. Torres: I appreciate that.

One more minute of your time, sir. I wanted to ask you about Vieques. How does the United States proceed on that, sir?

Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz: Well, the Secretary of the Navy made a decision, and I believe it's the right decision, that given the situation as it existed when we came, which is with a lot of, I have to say, unhappy history and some legislation that constrains what we can do, that the only really credible course ahead is to say we're going to get out of there, we'll get out of there in the two years that would be allowed us in any case, no matter how the referendum turns out, but we need that two years to transition to something else and we're looking very hard, working very hard to find out what the something else is.

I could wish that maybe 20 years ago we started down a better course and we would be warmly welcomed by the people of Vieques to stay there, but it's quite clear at this point that we're not, and moreover, we live under a law that requires that our presence there be submitted to a referendum in November, so I think it's a matter of let's face up to the reality, let's move on, but we need those two years to transition.

Mr. Torres: And simulations, computer simulations and the like are not the same thing as actual, genuine targets, I presume.

Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz: That's one of the reasons we need time to transition, because those sort of new ways of training are still in the development stage. And you're right, they're not the same thing. And any military person of any service will tell you at the end of the day there is no substitute for live fire training.

At the same time I think we as a Defense Department have to increasingly come to grips with the fact that you need a very different kind of setup to train the very long range strike capabilities that are going to increasingly be a part of our force, and it's impossible to use any limited area like Vieques to do that. So we're going to have to move to simulation, some kind of simulation and live fire ranges in limited areas.

Mr. Torres: One last thing and I'll let you go. Assuming live fire situations are still required, is there some potential other site that is suitable for that?

Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz: I think what we'll end up doing is a combination of things. In fact our carriers that deploy out of San Diego on the West Coast don't have any one place out there that is as good as Vieques but they manage to make use of training ranges in California and off the coast and in Nevada, and they put the various pieces together and it works out to be almost as good.

I think we'll have to do some of that on the East Coast, now more of that.

We're also looking at the possibility that maybe there is an island there somewhere in the Caribbean or the Atlantic that somebody would be willing to rent to us. I wouldn't rule out that possibility, but we can't count on it.

Again, it's the reason we need some time, because those sort of options don't come overnight. It will take a couple of years at least to develop them.

Mr. Torres: I would suspect that some people in Texas might consider an island called Manhattan appropriate for that.


Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz: I don't think I'm free to comment, but I'm pretty sure the New York State delegation wouldn't be any happier with that than the people in Vieques.

Last question I'm afraid.

Mr. Torres: Yes. You've been very gracious with your time and I want to thank you, sir.

Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz: Thank you, it was fun.

Mr. Torres: Good day.

Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz: Bye bye.

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