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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with New York Times

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
January 07, 2002

(Interview with James Dao and Eric Schmitt, New York Times)

Q: We thought we would get you to talk initially about an issue that I've seen, that I've noticed in comments by you and the secretary over the weeks about regions that you consider ungovernable or ungoverned is the phrase the secretary uses. He's used that phrase in referring to the Philippines, to Somalia, ungoverned, sort of lawless regions where it's easy for terrorist cells and terrorist groups to breed, in effect.

I was wondering if I could get you to maybe start off by talking about what you all mean by that and what the significance of your policy is. What do we mean by ungoverned or ungovernable regions and where are they?

Wolfowitz: I think it may have had some other origins, but I know George Schultz was one of the first people actually to point out to us that this, at the same time that one has to worry about governments that actively support terrorism, what this whole crisis has revealed to us is that places with no government at all become very dangerous as havens for terrorists as well. And Afghanistan was a little bit of both in a way.

They were actively supported and protected by a government, but it was a government that protected them as much as anything by giving them free run of this very wild, unpoliced place. And I guess I want to stipulate very clearly, we're not talking about future operations. I don't want someone to leap from the idea that because a place fits this category therefore that's the next thing on our list for military action. But obviously Somalia comes up as a possible candidate for al Qaeda people to flee to precisely because the government is weak or non-existent.

There are very significant back regions of Yemen where, and it's the case of an ungovernable or ungoverned piece of a country. I don't, I haven't thought enough about what I'd want to mean by that term because I think what it really means is at some level it's governed by not what we can naturally think of as governments. I don't think we're talking about places that are -- it might be more benign if they were truly ungoverned, but they are in fact governed by tribal groups or anarchic groups or ethnic militias.

Let me use an example that I'm familiar with. It has nothing to do with the terrorist problem. At least global terrorism. But the refugee camps in West Timor, in Indonesia, were a sort of ungoverned area or governed by militias who controlled the refugees. I think that's a problem that's been gotten under some control.

But to take another example in Indonesia where there is some concern, where the Indonesian government is extremely weak in parts of parts of Sulawesi and the Malukus. In Sulawesi right now there is some significant communal fighting between local Christians and local Muslims and some outside Muslims, not outside Indonesia, but outside Sulawesi have come in and exacerbated that situation.

When you look at that, even though it isn't yet clearly anything that extends beyond Indonesia, you see the potential for Muslim extremists, Muslim terrorists to link up with those Muslim groups in Indonesia and find a little corner for themselves in a country that's otherwise actually quite unfriendly to terrorism. And to take that example, to me it's a sort of clear case of where one wishes that the Indonesian military were more effective and we have a problem dealing with Indonesia because their military has committed so many abuses in the past in places like Atjeh or East Timor that one's constant concern is how the military will go and abuse local populations. But in the case of Sulawesi the concern is, there isn't enough military there to protect the local population or to create the kinds of conditions that keep terrorists out.

I went through those many different examples to tell you it's not a single category. Somalia is maybe the closest to something you would really think of almost as an ungoverned country, but there are pockets in countries, a government that's too weak can be a problem.

Q: What is the proper role for the United States in a situation like Indonesia or elsewhere where you have effectively a friendly government, but a region of that nation is ungoverned and in a potentially harmful way to the United States. What is the proper role for the United States in that --

Wolfowitz: By the way, the Philippines has that problem on Basilan island where we are actively working with the Filipinos to help them govern their own territory better.

Q: We meaning the U.S. military or mil-to-mil, or is that more --

Wolfowitz: It's mil-to-mil. It's the U.S. government that's fully coordinating, the ambassador has the lead in effect, but the implementation is pretty much all military. It's training, it's --

Q: So it's civil affairs?

Wolfowitz: No, no. It's more than civil affairs. Training in counter-terrorist operations, special operations activities. Though it doesn't yet, it might include the direct support to Filipino military operations, conceivably. I mean there's no question that we believe that if they could clear the Abu Sayyaf Group out of Basilan Island that would be a small blow against an extended al Qaeda network.

Q: Have they asked for that kind of support?

Wolfowitz: They're very anxious to do it themselves. That's the sort of crucial standard for anything, if they would ask for anything we would do for them, but they are very willing to take help within the framework of helping them to help themselves and help us in the process.

Q: Is that a model for working with Indonesia, that same sort of --

Wolfowitz: I think it is the right model. I think we have some problems with Indonesia that we don't have with the Philippines. For one thing we have a whole bunch of legislative restrictions on what we're allowed to do which I think really need to be reviewed in the light of September 11th.

Q: Restricting mil-to-mil?

Wolfowitz: Yeah. But those restrictions are there because the Indonesian military has been guilty of abuses in the past that we want to be very careful not to be associated with so it's tricky. But I think when it comes to trying to prevent Christian/Muslim violence in Sulawesi we're talking about something where [an early] Indonesian military could be very positive. Positive in the counter-terrorism sense, positive in the human rights sense, and positive for the stability of --

Q: -- model in the broader sense of budding global terrorism, more al Qaeda or other terrorist networks elsewhere. Obviously there are going to be different ways of how you carry this out. We're already seeing that.

Wolfowitz: Yeah. I'm hesitant about saying model because every case is different, but yes. I think model in the sense that there are probably going to be many cases where the best thing we can do is to provide the training and equipment and possibly some of the backup support from us to permit countries that really want to deal with terrorists, have the will but lack the means, lack the ability, to take on the problem.

Q: Give them a chance to do it themselves but at a certain point going in, when they ask for the help we come in in a more direct action, something like that? Is that how it would work?

Wolfowitz: I'm not sure. It could work that way. One could imagine cases where -- One could say in an extreme case we gave the Taliban a chance to do the job themselves and they didn't do it. We went in and did it for them, if you like, and did it to them at the same time. But I'm not being entirely facetious.

There the problem was severe enough and therefore the resources we could commit to it were big enough to make that a very obvious option. If you take it the other extreme, I would want to think long and hard before I said to the Indonesians that if you can't do the job we'll do it for you because it's such a big and disparate place, and it's not -- if Indonesia became an al Qaeda base the way Afghanistan was, then we might have to think of it differently, but if it's a matter of going after small pockets of individuals, you've got to think about what our resources are to police a whole big country like that versus theirs. So clearly in that case the leverage really has to be placed on the side of helping them do the job, because we really can't --

I suppose to start with your phrase about ungovernable territory, if we had to treat the whole world as ungovernable we would literally be the world's policeman, and we're not going to be able to do that.

Q: Do you sense that there is a will within Indonesia?

Wolfowitz: There's a will. Restricted to some extent by their own fear of what some of these groups could do to them, a sort of fear of making themselves a target. Not in the sense of a fear of provoking a terrorist action, but fear of stirring up more dangerous militant Muslim/Islamic sentiment in the country. I think that is a problem, and I think to the extent they try to appease that sort of sentiment, my view is they're making a big mistake.

Q: Is that a problem in other countries? That syndrome of government wanting to do it but worried about a backlash --

Wolfowitz: Well, Musharraf clearly has to worry about it. And I would say he's shown an impressive level of fortitude in facing it down.

I think what we're seeing with respect to India is that where the issue is tied up with Kashmir which has a very, very broad constituency in Pakistan obviously, it's more a more difficult problem to face it down although he's doing so, and I would say he's doing an impressive job of it. But very definitely for him there are significant domestic dangers in confronting the extremists because they have a following, and that's, I wouldn't say that's true in every Muslim majority country, but it tends to happen.

Q: Where have you seen progress from the United States point of view in terms of coming out against terrorism? Among countries that were viewed before September 11th as being state sponsors or at least turning a blind eye to terrorist cells in their borders. Where have you seen progress?

Wolfowitz: I'm very hesitant to start issuing report cards. I would say almost everywhere there are, I hate to always keep the "almost" there, but almost everywhere one has seen progress. I think the question has to -- a lot of that progress is motivated by a sense of American seriousness and fear of getting on the wrong side of us, and to the extent that's motivation then obviously you don't want to say oh, well, you don't want to issue a good report card on those people and have them let up because they're not doing it out of the goodness of their hearts.

In the case of Indonesia, on the other hand, you have a government that clearly would like to do as much as it feels it can safely get away with. Get away with isn't quite the right word, but as much as it feels it can prudently do. And there it's much more a matter of trying to give them the resources and buck them up and also trying to get them to think, which I believe is correct, that their long term interests are not going to be served by showing weakness in the face of this kind of extremism.

Q: But short of giving a report card, how does Baghdad fit in that?

Wolfowitz: I haven't noticed any progress. (Laughter)

Q: Have you seen any changes at all in Saddam's disposition? Obviously we're watching closely what he says and what he does in his public utterances, what he's saying, what he's not saying perhaps. Any troops movements in the country that would suggest to you that he's getting the message that he's worried about where he can fit in in all of this?

Wolfowitz: I have honestly not frankly had the time to monitor it closely. I have a general impression that he is keeping his head down these days. If that's true, it wouldn't be hard to explain why.

That should not sort of leave the impression that he doesn't continue to do a whole bunch of things that concern us including, I believe, firing on Southern Watch and Northern Watch aircraft with some regularity.

Q: So that hasn't changed. That's --

Wolfowitz: What I can't tell you is whether those numbers are up or down. We frankly got habituated to such a constant level of that activity that it hardly gets reported.

Q: You sort of sketched out a little bit how the United States might deal with friendly countries that have non-governable regions. What about the last (inaudible) country, Somalia? Would that sort of naturally lead to a more military strategy in dealing with those type of countries?

Wolfowitz: I think all I'd want to say is that clearly your options are different and they're limited. By definition you don't have a government to work with. But --

Q: Do we have anybody to work with in Somalia? Any different warlords that claim to be trying to help us in one way or another including wanting to get all the details done? Is there anybody who's a big --

Wolfowitz: You're giving me something that's news to me. I don't question it.

Q: -- a Marine, right?

Wolfowitz: There's no such thing as an ex-Marine. He is a Marine, yeah.

Q: But is there anybody, the equivalent, even in the fledgling states of a Northern Alliance type, if the day ever came --

Wolfowitz: I'm sure, and I trust that our colleagues out at the CIA are looking for exactly those sorts of people.

Q: In Somalia.

Wolfowitz: Everywhere in the world, including in Somalia.

I think a principle that's been applied in Afghanistan, even though I hesitate at anything being universally valid, I think a universally valid principle is if we can get other people to do the job for us and to work with us that it's much, much better than having to do it ourselves. There are various ways of creating incentives for people. I think we should always think smart in that respect.

Q: If as you put it there has been some progress in most nations in terms of addressing terrorism, does that imply that there is perhaps a less need, a smaller need, a reduced need for military action in the near term in another country?

Wolfowitz: I'm really not going to start talking about what comes next or what we need to do. I think to the extent that the progress we've seen is essentially a result of American pressure, the answer is no. The worst thing you could do is have these countries think the pressure has gone away. What form that pressure needs to take is going to depend on how things evolve, and clearly decisions about the directives of the American military force are decisions the President's got to make.

We really do have, we as a Defense Department, we have to keep our eye on Afghanistan whatever else we do because there's clearly a lot more to be done there.

It's unfortunately not a surprise that the first American killed in combat was killed after one might have said we had scored some of our biggest victories. It's at least as tricky and at least as dangerous now as it was a month or two ago.

Q: Can you paint a picture for us of what Afghanistan looks like in terms of pockets of resistance that you've seen? Obviously the bombing of the area around Gardez and Khowst. There's still a lot of activity around Tora Bora too. I suspect there are probably other places around the country. Where do you all still have the most concern?

Wolfowitz: I'd say generally speaking the areas where the Taliban was strongest remain the areas where we have the most concerns. In the case of areas around Jalalabad and I guess eastern Afghanistan. It's partly because those are the areas where you had the strongest al Qaeda presence. But around Kandahar and also in the Jalalabad area you also have very strong continuing Taliban presence.

One of the great difficulties now is deciding who is ex-Taliban and who is still Taliban because a lot of people have made themselves ex very quickly, and sometimes not very reliably. I do think that one of the most difficult things in the next few months is going to be establishing which of our allies of convenience in the early stages of this war can become real allies over the longer term, and which ones are going to be major troublemakers and which ones are going to just shift sides depending on where the returns look to be better.

I must say that so far, and it's very, very early to judge, but it seems to me that Karzai is proving to be an impressive man. Whether he's up to the formidable job he has is a different question, but --

Q: But you're surprised how well he's done so far?

Wolfowitz: Yeah. I would say maybe surprised is a little too strong a word, but certainly -- We could have done a lot worse. The sense that our commanders are getting is that Shirzai down in the Kandahar region is proving to be more capable and determined than some folks thought early on.

Q: Again, there's this kind of long term concern, suspicions, how long will they stay, how long will the progress continue, how long --

Wolfowitz: Right. And I think --

Q: -- former Taliban, maybe switched sides, resurface. Wait for that opportunity that they have, whether it's a month or a year or two from now and cause trouble.

Wolfowitz: And I do think that a significant part of this rapidly ceases to be military. It gets into the area of where can you show a long term benefit to the leaders and to the people they lead for having worked with us, and that's where post-Taliban reconstruction becomes very important from a political and security point of view, not just from a humanitarian point of view.

Q: Is the U.S. military clearly going to play a role in that reconstruction?

Wolfowitz: I wouldn't -- it seems to me if the U.S. military has to play a very large role in it then it's a sign of failure, not success. I'm not saying one would want to rule it out categorically, but it's not the kind of -- there's no obvious reason why you should need the military to build schools and build roads and build hospitals. And if you end up with the military doing it because the civilian authorities can't or the international agencies can't, my first question would be why can't they, rather than throw the military in to do the job for them.

That is I think importantly what, I won't speak for the president, it's what at least I would mean by referring to nation building. If it came to some kind of open warfare of a kind that was destabilizing, clearly you can't expect the High Commissioner for Refugees to step in and solve it. But where they are fundamentally civilian civil functions, one ought to find a way to make civil institutions operate and most of all make the indigenous ones operate.

Q: Do you anticipate a long-term military presence in the region? Or increased military engagement in the region?

Wolfowitz: For sure.

Q: What form will that take?

Wolfowitz: I think we already view Uzbekistan and Pakistan differently than we did before. Not only short term but long term. One can't help but be struck by the number of people who say, who remember how, I think it's a slightly unfair view of history, but their version of history is you were involved in Afghanistan as long as the Soviets were there and as soon as they left you disappeared. Are you going to do that to us again this time? I think it's very important to correct that impression.

People do make their near-term calculations in large part based on where they think the situation is going to be five or ten years from now. The more we can convince people that things are heading in a positive direction and that five or ten years from now the game is going to be having a productive economy, even if it's just basic agriculture having good schools, having good roads. The more we get them to play on the right playing field the more they become convinced that no, it's going to be who has the better arms supplies. Then they start talking to the Iranians or the Russians or I don't know who, or international arms merchants. And calculating a whole different kind of scenarios.

So I think creating some momentum for reconstruction and peaceful activity is going to make a very big difference.

Q: But in terms of military presence, the presence of a base in Uzbekistan, or the base they're building up in Kyrgyzstan. Do you anticipate seeing U.S. forces there in a couple of years? Just as we see them now in the Gulf.

Wolfowitz: I think in some form. I think their function may be more political than actually military.

After the Gulf War we saw a continuing need for military forces to deter visible threats. It's not so clear to me that we're going to see a continuing need to deal with a military threat in Afghanistan. To the extent we do then obviously we want to keep a presence. But even beyond that I think in anticipation of if we ever saw things deteriorate again or to prevent them from deteriorating again, to send a message to everybody including importantly countries like Uzbekistan that we have a capacity to come back in and that we will come back in, and that most of all we remain interested. We're not going to just forget about them now that we've found them very useful. I think our reputation's going to be important (inaudible).

Q: Changing subjects a little bit. (inaudible) review, (inaudible). Can you talk at least generally about --

Wolfowitz: I think it's quite out.

Q: Kind of out. (Laughter) Can you talk at least broadly about --

Wolfowitz: -- a lot of time on it on the weekend, (inaudible). (Laughter)

Q: Talk about how it reflects transformational ideas in terms of whether it's precision-guided weapons or other things along those lines.

Wolfowitz: Let me make a general statement on transformation first, which is I do think that the experience in Afghanistan has really driven home the importance of a lot of what we were talking about over the summer about transformation. I think the benefits that come from these advanced capabilities and the ability to fuse them together in new ways I think has been very amply demonstrated in Afghanistan, and in some respects even Afghanistan is almost a model demonstration because it turned out, it's so far away and the resources that we wanted to apply directly because we didn't want to start creating an unnecessarily large American footprint in Afghanistan meant that this ability to apply a very small force on the ground and leverage it in a dramatic way not only through precision-guided munitions but through precision communications that would get those munitions accurately to the right target instead of accurately to the wrong target. Accuracy by itself doesn't do you any good if your target identification is wrong.

All of that put together I think gave a big impetus within the military and in the budget process for pushing a bunch of those capabilities and realizing what -- for example in the QDR in our six priority transformation goals one of the ones, it has a bunch of words around it, I think of it as the one that talks about long range precision strike. At some point during the course of the summer when I realized that to a lot of people that meant victory through air power I insisted that we make the point that long range precision strike can be ground or air or even more significantly the combination of the two. So to me it was particularly gratifying to find guys literally on horseback calling in airstrikes from Missouri. It was, the combination of those things, the precision was remarkable. It unfortunately also revealed the extent to which we really hadn't planned for the level of expenditure of precision-guided munitions that we have been using there.

So it's a big impetus to transformation. I haven't gotten to nuclear posture. Give me one more sentence, I'll come to that.

One thing that I now feel it's important to remind people of is that the next war is almost certainly, whatever it is, and hopefully it doesn't happen at all, but is probably going to be very, very different from the war on terrorism. Some of the capabilities we identified as transformational like space, which had not had a big stress in this conflict, could be the absolutely crucial capabilities ten years from now or 15 years from now. So it's important even as we're fighting this war to be thinking about what capabilities might be needed in the future.

I guess that does come to the nuclear posture review because what we're trying to do there is to change the whole way in which we look at deterrence in a way that recognizes that both the political environment and the technological environment make the role of nuclear weapons today, have reduced the role of nuclear weapons. I think the political point is fairly obvious. The technical point comes from the fact that from an offensive side you can think about conventional weapons where in the past, capabilities that could only have been provided by nuclear weapons in the past. And secondly, you now have the possibility of effective missile defense against limited missile attacks.

So what we're looking at is a transformation of our deterrent posture from an almost exclusive emphasis on in being offensive nuclear forces to a force that includes defensive as well as offensive, and includes conventional strike capability as well as nuclear strike capability, and includes a much reduced level of nuclear strike capability. But at the same time recognizing that the world can change in dangerous and unpredictable ways. We are putting more emphasis than we have at least in the last 10 or 15 years on that underlying infrastructure that allows you, including the nuclear area, to rebuild capabilities or build new ones if the world changes in a way that you need them.

Q: The issue about being able to rely more on conventional weapons, I assume it's probably been proven by Afghanistan to the degree that precision weapons have been so destructive and so effective. Is that fair to say?

Wolfowitz: Reinforced by Afghanistan. There was an actually quite excellent piece of work, at the risk of advertising my beloved late dissertation advisor Albert Wohlstetter did a piece here called "Discriminate Deterrence" under Fred Ikle's supervision in the mid 1980s, and actually, now that you've reminded me I'm going to fish it up and see --

At the time I remember the State Department in particular was terribly upset about this because the allies didn't like the idea of reduced emphasis on nuclear weapons back in the mid '80s, but I think it's prophetic.

We didn't need Afghanistan -- it's a development that we've seen coming, but it was first sort of made evident in the Gulf War, then we saw it reinforced in Kosovo. And I'd be guessing, but I think if you took numerical measures I think you'd probably find that it's an order of magnitude more use of precision-guided munitions in Kosovo than in Desert Storm, and another order of magnitude more in Afghanistan. There are different ways of measuring it.

What we're now seeing I think for the first time is what I referred to earlier as the integration of this long-range precision strike with ground-based or other kinds of, someone used the word exquisite. Somehow exquisite in this context doesn't seem right. But very, very precise location of targets. Whether it's Special Forces guys on the ground or Predators hovering overhead or satellite capabilities that are refined beyond what we had before.

So in a way I suppose what Afghanistan is is not only two orders of magnitude beyond Desert Storm in terms of the number of precision weapons, but a whole leap forward in terms of our ability to find targets. Having said that, we're still looking for a lot of needles in that huge haystack called Afghanistan.

Q: I would guess that some folks will argue on the defensive side of all of this that the Pentagon is still years, maybe more than a decade away from having an effective missile defense, and would it -- What is the concern, is there concern about cutting the nuclear arsenal in a deterrent effect if you don't have that assured missile defense in place yet. How do you justify that?

Wolfowitz: First of all we are years away from an effective defense against long range ballistic missiles but we're just on the verge of having one against short range, SCUD range, which we couldn't handle ten years ago. It's taken us a little more than ten years to field the PAC-3 which turns out to in fact be hit a bullet with a bullet. And on a slower-moving, shorter-range missile. I think we've shown the capability to get there with the intermediate and then eventually the longer range stuff. But I don't think anyone says we're ever going to be at a level where our primary reliance is on defense rather than deterrence. Defenses I think are always going to be more useful at the limited end of an attack, not intrinsically able to deal with very large-scale attacks.

I think our ability to bring down offensive forces has more to do with the change in the way of the U.S./Russian relationship than with the technological development of missile defenses. But I do think, maybe -- if I had to assign a percentage, it's just (inaudible).