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Background Briefing by Senior Defense Official in Brussels

Presenter: Senior U.S. Defense Official
September 27, 2001

Wednesday, September 26, 2001

(Background briefing by a senior Defense official in Brussels, Belgium.)

We had a very good session this morning. I'll give you an overview of what the presentation, U.S. presentation by Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz, focused on. And a general overview of my impressions on both reaction, as well as some thoughts on what came out of the first session this morning.

Generally, the session generated an enormous solidarity with the United States, an outpouring of feeling and some sense of emotion over the events of September 11th. In general, I think it was quite moving. Broad-based support for a campaign against international terrorism, and I think a very fruitful discussion on the modalities that countries might be able to bring to this problem.

The U.S. presentation focused mainly on our approach, that this is not going to be a Gulf War type situation. That the threat is broad based; it is global. And it is in many cases, subterranean. And it's going to take a broad based global approach to deal with it. In particular, it's not only going to focus on international terrorists and their networks but it will by necessity focus on states that harbor international terrorists.

Another major point that we were trying to make here today was that this would require a long-term commitment, this will be a sustained campaign. It is not a one-battle war. It will require patience. And it will require that in particular that we focus all the tools and strategy of national power and international power. While this was one of the focuses of discussion, given the fact that this was a room full of defense ministers, it was focussed on military issues. The very important point that came out of this was that many of the appropriate responses and techniques for dealing with the problem of international terrorism transcend military. There was quite a bit of discussion about interrupting financial networks, using economic tools and resources, applied in a variety of ways. Some humanitarian and other ways to deal with this problem including diplomatic efforts to isolate states that harbor international terrorists, as well as maintaining political will to do so.

Another important point in our approach was to focus on the problem of weapons of mass destruction. There is an alarming coincidence, and perhaps coincidence is the wrong word, between those states that harbor international terrorists and those states that have active and maturing weapons of mass destruction programs. This raises the specter of potential access to weapons of mass destruction by international terrorists. It also potentially creates a problem for dealing with those states that harbor international terrorists so this was a focus of our discussion.

I think the reaction to our presentation as well as the general outpouring of solidarity was very positive. In fact, I can say there was not a negative tone struck in the room the entire discussion time. I think NATO is firmly behind the United States; I think the countries individually are behind the United States. One of the things I think was emphasized, certainly by the U.S. but even echoed by others, was that this effort is going to require really a myriad of coalitions over a long period of time to deal with the problem and of transcending many different countries.

One of the things that was a focus of our thinking and it was echoed by many others was the idea that this is in no way a war against Islam or any other religion or ethnic group. It is a war against terrorists. It is a war against tyranny in its simplest form. And in fact we believe we have common cause with many of the people who are living in the areas as directly or more directly affected by international terrorists than the United States or many of the European countries around the table.

Another important point that was made by our side, and I think also echoed by other ministers, was that we must continue to focus as well on other important issues, including the Balkans, the situation in Macedonia. And most particularly, we must continue to devote attention to -- and the resources to -- transforming our militaries to deal with these kinds of asymmetric threats.

Indeed, one of the key points is that two weeks ago, we were trying to determine whether or not we could afford to spend five or ten billion dollars more on our defense budget. Within one day, we completely changed that viewpoint. I think there is a sense that more resources are going to have to go to transforming the military so that it can help us along with other diplomatic, political and financial means to deal with this kind of asymmetric threats.

With that I'll open the questions --

Q: Are you shifting away from looking at Osama bin Laden? I mean is he still viewed as the prime suspect, or is he sort of receding somewhat?

A: Well, you know the terminology of suspect makes it sound like a criminal investigation, and we don't really view our approach to it that way.

Q: The president has suggested that though --

A: I think that Bin Laden and his organization, the Al-Qaeda network, clearly remain a focus of our attention. But one of the features of international terrorism is that these networks overlap. They cooperate. They're transnational in character. They deal with many states. I think the president has made it clear that dealing with this problem in any sort of satisfactory way, comprehensive way, is going to require the United States and those allies, coalition partners, look beyond individuals and look beyond even individual networks.

Q: I'm getting the sense here that the United States at this meeting is more interested in looking at nonmilitary approaches that the NATO allies can intensify together in this fight. I heard a stress on intelligence sharing. I heard a stress on trying to unmask these people, go after their finances. Is that the case, and is it the case that the United States, in terms of a military response, is looking at a much more limited so-called coalition than NATO?

A: I wouldn't characterize the military and non-military things in an exclusive way. Intelligence can help you to prepare the battlefield. Likewise military action can help you to gather intelligence. And so these things cooperate, one with the other. I think we're looking at the broadest range of actions. I think what we are trying to highlight is -- perhaps unlike the Gulf War situation, which was in its essence more purely military -- is that dealing with this problem is going to require a broader set of tools. And one of the things that I would really focus on is the financial network, the ability to shut off sources of funding for these terrorist networks.

Q: I heard concerns that some allies may find it harder to that, find it harder to get at financial sources than others. Can you elaborate on that?

A: Well, I haven't seen any indications from discussions today that there's any reticence to that. I think, generally speaking, ministers recognize that this is a key tool and it's going to require that, in all of our governments, that different components, different aspects of the government cooperate with one another. This is not just a defense problem or Minister of Defense or a DoD problem. It's a problem that transcends that, and it's going to require coordination in our government among different governmental organizations. I think that there was a recognition by the ministers that it's also going to require similar coordination within their governments.

Q: Two questions of precisely what happened. First of all, did the deputy secretary deliver that confirmation that the attacks originated from abroad that are required for Article Five to be invoked and to kick Article Five into effect? Was that done?

A: The presentation that the deputy gave focused on the themes that I gave you, focused on our approach. It was not our intention to come here and deliver anything specific, or even provide specific information on where we thought the attacks came from. Our general view is that -- and I think the president has made clear -- that we believe that these attacks came from an international terrorist network. We're continuing to investigate the sources of that. But again, the broader point must be made that we see this as a problem that cannot be solved by looking at, or dealing with a single entity, a single individual. We feel that the events of that day speak for themselves.

Q: And secondly, did he make a list or any demand of kinds of things, precise things, that the United States is looking for as it moves the campaign forward? I mean, you've mentioned intelligence sharing, but there are other things. Is it, you know, will we need commandos or overflight rights?

A: There was a broad discussion. I would characterize it as a broad discussion of some of the things that the various countries could bring to bear, but the United States certainly made no demands of anybody. And our intervention highlighted some areas, intelligence sharing and the like, that we believe would be fruitful for cooperation in the early phases of this very long campaign. But no, we did not get into a discussion of sort of specific requests from specific countries.

Q: You mentioned there's no coincidence and then you said, "Actually I take that word back," but you mentioned reference of those states which harbor terrorists and those who were potential for WMD. Could you elaborate on that, and was Iraq brought up?

A: There was no specific discussion of countries. The concern about weapons of mass destruction -- I say this is really two-fold. On the one hand the United States, its allies and maybe in particular, our forces that would be deployed abroad in support of this operation may have to deal with weapons of mass destruction and weapons of mass destruction attacks.

Of course, the second issue has to do with whether or not some of these regimes are potentially unstable, and it may well be that weapons of mass destruction could fall into the hands of terrorist organizations and be used domestically. So we highlighted that as an area that we think is something that the alliance in general, but the United States in particular, is going to focus on over the next weeks and months in dealing with this terrorist threat.

Q: But you didn't talk about specific countries?

A: No.

Q: Did any of the Allies ask you specifically to lay out a date or a timeline for military action?

A: No. The discussion was much more generalized

Q: And the deputy secretary didn't do that?

A: No. And I wouldn't be able to comment on that anyway.

Q: I'm not asking you for the date. I'm just asking you if the discussion took place, and you say "No?"

A: No, it didn't take place.

Q: In the bilaterals, do you anticipate making specific requests of the five countries you'll be meeting with?

A: We have had good discussions in the bilaterals. Obviously, the nature of any request that we would make would be something that we would not talk about in public, since those requests might, in fact, deal directly with operational security, and issues of maintaining operational security. I would characterize our discussions as more of a general nature in this round of bilaterals.

Q: Is the fact that Pakistan has nuclear weapons of paramount concern since they are a potential partner in going after Afghanistan? But if it should work the other way and the present government should somehow fall, couldn't those nuclear weapons somehow fall into the hands of the Taliban? Is that something that you're particularly concerned about?

A: I think obviously the fact that, even before this attack, the fact that Pakistan had nuclear weapons was an issue of international interest. But I don't regard it as a concern that is absorbing the focus of our government. It certainly wasn't an issue that the Ministers decided to take up.

Q: Was there any suggestion, in the discussion on Balkans, that the United States might have to pull back at least some of its troops or assets in that region as part of this war on terrorism, this struggle against terrorism?

A: We have not really discussed the issue of the Balkans. It was not really discussed in the morning session. There may be some additional discussion of that. The United States' commitment -- it's force commitment to the Balkans -- remains solid. And at this point we do not foresee any need to have to do that. But I am -- I would suppose that one option is if particular assets, for example, what we call "low-density, high-demand assets" were required elsewhere, that might be an area where we would go to an ally and request that they provide kind of that capability.

Q: What are some of these -- I've heard that phrase a couple of times today and I'm not familiar that -- what are you talking about? Are these like the drone spy planes?

A: Search and rescue, things like that.

Q: It seems that a lot of the discussion by defense ministers has focused on non-defense issues. Is that, I mean intelligence sharing can be a defense issue, but interdicting finances and intelligence on identifying cells within various countries aren't traditionally the purview of militaries. So why this forum for those particular discussions?

A: I don't want to leave the impression that defense issues were left off the table. These are ministers of defense. They are focused very much on defense issues, allocations of defense assets and things like that. I think it was an important point to make though - any opportunity we can make the point that this will have to be a multifaceted campaign, that it cannot be viewed strictly as that there is a military-only solution. The problem is something multifaceted - and this is an opportunity to get ministers to have a discussion about this and to take this discussion back to their capitals so that they can inform their own governments.

Thank you very much.

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