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Background Briefing En Route to Brussels

Presenter: Senior Defense Official
September 26, 2001

Wednesday, September 26, 2001

(Background briefing en route to Brussels.)

Senior Defense Official: Let me just say a little bit for starters and then take some questions. I guess one way to describe what we are about here is there are two main --

First of all ground rules. We are going to do this on background.

I guess what you can say is that you can attribute this to a defense official. This was originally scheduled to be a two-day meeting in Naples with (Secretary of Defense Donald H.) Rumsfeld. The crisis of course has caused us to change the venue and to cut the time in half and refocus the agenda. So we have two main topics: one is terrorism and the other is the Balkans. I also want to remind our NATO colleagues that there is an awful lot of business that was on the agenda before that is not less important now. If anything, it is more important.

Particularly when it comes to the whole range of investments in capabilities that we loosely lump under the heading of transformation -- building the capabilities for the next decade -- it will be a huge mistake if we let one of the casualties of this war be the failure to plan for the future. And, that we all had a kind of wake-up call on September 11 and it puts the whole discussion of how much can we afford for security in a very different light.

I'm not saying that security is only defense budgets or that any amount of defense spending would have prevented that tragedy. But, the kinds of things we try to prevent by having the most capable defense forces in the world -- by having forces that are not vulnerable to surprise or to what we call asymmetric threats -- or tragedies on that same scale. We argue about whether we can afford 10 or 20 billion dollars in our defense budget and in 24 hours we've wiped out a trillion dollars worth of market capitalization. We've struck a huge blow to the American economy, not to mention the human tragedy involved, which is incalculable. So, we're not only thinking very energetically about what do we do in this war on terrorism, but also about what are the things we need to keep doing that we had in mind before. And I think that message is even stronger for our Allies who have -- I mean we all overdrew the peace dividend, but I think they overdrew it more than we did. So, without a specific message, I want to give them a reminder that there is more than this crisis to deal with.

With respect to the subject of terrorism, I guess I'd say for starters that we are getting terrific support from our Allies both collectively and individually. I think every Allied government has expressed strong support for us. A number have commented to me personally on the irony that for almost half a century we anticipated that if Article 5 was ever invoked it would be because of an attack on one of our European Allies. No one expected that the first time it would be invoked would be because of an attack on the United States.

We have the Chancellor of Germany saying "nous ein Americaner" -- picking up on John Kennedy's phrase that I am a Berliner -- "we are Americans." It is a feeling that I think cuts across Europe. The solidarity is fantastic.

What we're hoping to use this meeting for is to begin efforts -- we've already begun in a way -- but sort of at this level of defense ministers, the process of consulting about what are appropriate actions to take in response to the attack. And, I think that there are a couple of things that we want to emphasize. First of all, that this is a war unlike any other war in many respects. And in one particularly important respect: we know there is an enemy there, but we are very far from clear about -- and we know who some of the people are, we know some of the networks that support them -- but there is a lot that we don't know. And one of the main weapons that this enemy uses is hiding. When we were attacked following Pearl Harbor there was no question of who we had to go after. Here, one of the most important courses of action is to uncover information about these people. To track down their identities, to track down their financial networks. Once we know about them, in most cases, going after them is relatively the easiest piece of it.

And, secondly, and I think very importantly, maybe particularly for a group of defense ministers, the kinds of support we are looking for from our Allies, reflects the kinds of effort that we ourselves are undertaking. Which is to say, it isn't exclusively military. It isn't even primarily military. It includes a very wide range of instruments that need to be exercised both on their own and particularly working together. The diplomatic instrument with the intelligence instrument with the military instrument, for example, working together are much more effective than any one of them individually. The kind of political support that we've gotten from our Allies is already hugely important, both with friends and with enemies, frankly. There is going to be a whole range of actions that we are going to be interested in in the intelligence world that are already - where we are already consulting with them intensely.

Working on running down financial networks is incredibly important and it's going to be much more difficult for some of our Allies than any number of military requests that we might make of them, but no less important for that.

Bringing serious diplomatic leverage to bear on countries that support terrorism to get them to change their ways is a place where several European Allies could be particularly effective because some of them have much more extensive relations with some of those countries than we do. Providing economic and other kinds of assistance to the countries that are already being hurt by this and others who may be hurt later. I mean, the people of Afghanistan are already beginning to suffer the humanitarian consequences from this -- just in the anticipation of events. Pakistan is probably -- we are sure is going to need help of various kinds. Those are the two most obvious ones, but the list is almost certain to grow. That is an area where we will look for help.

Obviously, there are going to be military requests of various kinds, probably requests for direct support, but also requests for overflight, requests for logistics support, understanding if we have to use U.S. troops in Europe or somewhere outside of Europe. But the military piece of it is, as I said earlier, it is not the primary piece.

And a point that I would like to make to you folks and encourage our NATO colleagues to make is that one of the most important things that we can do as an Alliance is to send a message that this is not a war of NATO against terrorism. It is a war of, I would say, everyone in the world who cares about freedom against terrorism. And very importantly it includes the hundreds of millions of Muslims who want to be part of the Free World. And that political point is one of the most important points to be gained in this battle against the terrorists.

Clearly what their goal is is to tell a billion Muslims that the rest of the world is your enemy, and particularly those advanced European countries and the United States is your enemy. And, we have a very, very strong message to send. It is ironic that in the last ten years the United States has gone into military action five times with our NATO Allies. Twice as an Alliance. Every one of those times -- Kosovo, Bosnia, Kuwait, Somalia, Northern Iraq -- every one of those times we were coming to the aid of Muslim victims of aggression, or Muslim victims of war and famine. I think that's a very telling, powerful point, which we should tell the whole world about. It really has been. And, if we don't say it ourselves we can't expect other people to notice.

Finally, on the Balkans: we remain committed to working with our Allies in the Balkans. As the President and everyone on down from the President has said, we went in together and we will come out together. We've been saying for a long time and we continue to believe that we need to look at ways to restructure ourselves, to gradually shift responsibilities -- civil administrative kinds of responsibilities -- from the military to more appropriate civilian institutions. That may not be the highest priority right now, but we need to keep our eye on it, particularly because every single element of our Armed Forces is likely to be under pressure in the coming months and years, particularly those things which we in the Pentagon call low density, high demand assets -- reconnaissance, specialized units, things that we could comfortably -- not so comfortably -- I mean things that we could uncomfortably manage in the previous situation become unmanageable with the demand increase.

In fact, one of the major conclusions of the Quadrennial Defense Review that we are completing this week is the conclusion which is that we've got to much more explicitly take account of the demands that our various worldwide deployments place on these low density assets and how they've just upped the demands enormously. I mean we've lost three unmanned aerial vehicles in just the last month and those are going to -- we are going to have to procure more of them, but we are also going to be moving things from elsewhere.

So, I guess the most important issue with respect to the Balkans is Macedonia. We agree strongly with our Allies that this is a crisis to be prevented. That if we can prevent it, we will save ourselves enormous trouble. If we don't prevent it we are going to have difficulties elsewhere in the Balkans. Macedonia looks, in important ways, more manageable than either Bosnia or Kosovo. We're not dealing with such intentionally evil elements, but we are dealing with some very difficult ethnic tensions. I think we've worked well as an Alliance, but -- it is no secret that we applaud the willingness of our European members of NATO to take the lead in Macedonia. We've been in the supporting role. And, again, I think that one implication of the war on terrorism is that situation is going to have to remain, with the European Allies taking the lead in Macedonia and with us doing what we can to support them.

I don't think there are controversial issues among us. We've just, in the last few days, worked out the arrangements for a possible follow-on force to Task Force Harvest. I think Lord Robertson is in the process right now of consulting with the Macedonians about whether to deploy such a force. But, even in the middle of this incredible crisis over terrorism, a fair amount of senior level time has been devoted to working with our allies in Macedonia and will continue to be.

Q: What do you intend to tell the allies about our -- the U.S. position on Iraq? What is your intention on Iraq?

A: It's not particularly an issue, except that clearly Iraq is one of those regimes that the President referred to that support terrorism. But the -- I'll come back to the point -- I mean everyone wants to leap to issues about the use of military force. We're trying to say the job begins with getting good intelligence on these people and where they are and going after them and getting them running. Getting them to change their ways of operating so that they create vulnerabilities. Getting governments who've been harboring them to stop harboring them. Getting governments who've been less than cooperative to begin to be more cooperative.

As the President said it's across a broad front with a wide range of instruments of policy -- I think even Afghanistan shouldn't become the exclusive focus of our concerns although obviously, as the President said, Al Qaeda is clearly sheltered in Afghanistan, harbored by the Taliban. We have demanded cooperation from them and we're obviously not getting it.

Q: Do you feel it makes it harder to rally support first since your comments about ending states that sponsor terrorism? Are you going to -- that brings to some people's minds going after Iraq or Iran, as sponsors of terrorism. Do you think that going after all terrorism makes it harder to rally the Europeans?

A: First of all, you don't end states. What I meant to say was ending state sponsorship and that's what we're interested in. The president has made it clear that's part of our objective. I think the answer to your question is really the following: this is very different from the Gulf War where we had a very specific cause and very specific enemy, a very specific objective, and a very wide coalition that was pretty much all agreed on the objective. Although even there there were some that were much more willing to do something about it than others.

Now we have an ill-defined enemy that is global, that burrows in in different places and we're going to have different coalitions for different purposes. Some people will help us in one part of the world and maybe not in another. Some governments will be willing to help us in secret but not openly. Some may be willing to give us warm public support but get a little goosey when it gets tougher.

I think the horror of what the whole world witnessed on television, September 11th and it really was unbelievable that and another thing that is I don't know if there's an historical precedent for the beginning phase of a war to be televised in such a stark, dramatic way. The horror of what the what the whole world witnessed and the will and determination of the United States as expressed in the President's speech Thursday night and in the overwhelming bipartisan support for the President in the forty billion dollars that the Congress has put down as just a first payment of support. I think we're going to get the support we need when and where we need it.

Q: You referred to the possibility of sponsors or supporters of terrorism perhaps changing their behavior. Do you still hold out hope that Iraq and Saddam Hussein's regime could change their behavior or is it more likely that continued military or economic pressure there is necessary?

A: We're getting into very important operational, tactical issues and I don't -- I think each one of these networks is different; each one of these regimes is different. I think the broad principle is very clear, which is if you've been in this business before you'd better give it pretty serious thought about changing your ways. I don't think we want to write timetables or blueprints so that people can decide 'well, gee, I have until next year to clean up my act.' I think the more we can communicate the general sense of urgency to everybody that's been in this business they're out of chances.

Q: Sir, the Russians have obviously been going through an internal debate over the extent to which they're going to cooperate and it seems with President Putin's speech yesterday, that debate is over. Do you believe it is and are you satisfied with what you know you're going to be getting or what he talked about? And secondly, what kind of concessions do you think the Russians -- what do you know of any kind of concessions the Russians are now going to look for in terms of U.S. policy particularly where it comes to issues like ABM and missile defense and even Chechnya?

A: Look, I think looking for concessions, looking at this as an Oriental bazaar is the wrong way to look at it. Even before September 11th we were saying that establishing this new framework with Russia rests on the idea that we have big, common security interests. Instability in Europe -- instability in Asia -- in limiting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. I think what Tuesday's events demonstrated I suppose the Russians would say 'Finally you Americans understand we have a common interest in fighting terrorism."

I don't buy that formulation but I think they view it as they already knew they had a problem. Frankly, we already knew we had a problem. I think we're going to cooperate on the basis of that common interest and not make concessions to them. And I think the Russians are very serious about it.

Q: And yet, wouldn't that mean in some ways the United States would have to view its criticism of the Russian conduct in Chechnya? And couldn't that expose the Bush administration to charges that it is being co-opted into going along with some very serious abuses by the Russian military in Chechnya?

A: Look I think it's in the Russians' interests, I think it's in the interests of the Chechen people and now I would add it's in the interest in the war on terrorism that they find some peaceful solution to the war in Chechnya. Just as in a different area we believe that a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict or the Palestinian problem will contribute to a climate in which these terrorists can be isolated.

At the same time, we know that Al Qaeda have exploited the war in Chechnya, may even have helped to provoke it. It's no service to the Chechen people when people with that kind of agenda move in to deliberately provoke a problem with the Russians. So, obviously that is a piece of the picture both with respect to terrorism and with respect to this attempt by the terrorist to divide the Muslim world from the rest of us. It has to be defeated in both ways.

Staff: Last question, please.

Q: What would you say or to service members or their families who are entering this first 21st century conflict? What you could offer them insofar as words of encouragement where a lot of people simply don't understand or don't know exactly what we're getting into? As you're saying it is complex. A lot of uncertainty.

A: I guess first of all I'd say God bless you all. I mean it is one of the great strengths of this country that we have such fine men and women serving in the uniform. And the outpouring of support for them has been magnificent and the quality of the people we have - I've met so many of them now who are either on duty or volunteering out at the bombsite at the Pentagon. The people in the Pentagon have come back to work immediately. It's just a fantastic spirit. So keep it up. Prepare, as the President said, for something that'll be long -- something that will be uncertain -- something that's going to have some setbacks. But we will win. I think that's the most important thing.

Q: Thank you.

A: Thanks to them.

Q: Just one point of clarification, did you say Al Qaeda has provoked conflict in Chechnya?

A: I think they've been involved in the conflict.

Q: Could you say to what extent?

A: I'm not sure what I can say, so I won't say anything.

Q: Could you give us a briefing on the white paper today?

A: One of the things I'm going to discuss with them is some of the information that we have. But it's a mistake to think that there is one body of information that's here and now and comprehensive. In the first place, it's difficult in my view to overestimate to exaggerate how much we don't know. There's a lot that we do know, but there's obviously an enormous amount that we don't know. And the job as much as anything is to uncover the unknown as to make case that we made in the Cuban missile crisis. A lot of the historical past analogies just don't apply here. People -- Rumsfeld, I think and many others, have said we even have to rethink our vocabulary. Is it a campaign? Is it a war? It's something, unfortunately very different.

Q: Is it possible that you might have to act before you've collected all the information?

A: Oh, it's certain we'll be acting before we've collected all the information. Part of the purpose of acting -- oh, we're acting already, by the way, I mean the implication of the question --

Q: I mean military.

A: Well, you make the same mistake everyone else does. Sorry, I don't mean to correct the questioner. It is very important to understand that action isn't even primarily military. And that if we take military action one of the major objectives of that action with be to get more information. We may or may not be able -- there is nothing more important in this war than information by whatever means we can collect it.