United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

News Transcript

Press Operations Bookmark and Share


Remarks by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at the Seventh Annual Space and Missile Defense Conference

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
August 18, 2004

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Remarks by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at the Seventh Annual Space and Missile Defense Conference

            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Thank you very much.  (Applause continues.)  Thank you, folks.  Thank you very much.  I appreciate that a great deal.


            Conference Chairman Schreppel, Dr. Robertson, General Dodgen, ladies and gentlemen, this is an impressive gathering.


            Senator Jeff Sessions, I thank you so much for that very generous introduction.  It is a pleasure for me to be here for the seventh annual Space and Missile Defense Conference.  I also want to thank you for your very able service on the Senate Armed Services Committee.  You do a superb job, and -- as well as for your strong and effective support for the men and women in uniform all across the globe.


            Mayor Spencer, Mayor Wells, we thank you for joining us.


            It's hard for me to believe, but I think it's true that my first visit here was a very long time ago, in the early 1960s, when I was a congressman and serving on the House Committee on Science and Astronautics, and came here with Wernher von Braun.  I can't be that old.  (Laughter.)


            Are there any folks here who were here 40 years ago, when I -- (laughter).  Let's see a hand.  Where is it, now?  Oh, you were in grammar school.  Come on!  (Laughter.)  Don't kid me.


            But that was a long time ago.  And I was impressed then, and it's a privilege to be back here.  Think of how far we've come since those early days.  I'm sure that there are some who wondered if we'd ever see this day of deployment and beyond, but here we are.


            In addition to Senator Jeff Sessions, this program has received terrific support from Congressman Robert Aderholt.  We appreciate it.  We know your support and the energy you bring to the things that are important to this state and to these programs.  I'm sorry that Senator Shelby couldn't be here.  He's on travel, as I understand it. And I guess you are going to -- I guess Bud Cramer's not here also.  But you're going to be hearing from Congressman Curt Weldon later in the day.


            I also would say a word of gratitude to General Ron Kadish.  He has really provided some extraordinary leadership in moving this program so far and so fast in recent years.  He's also continued, importantly, the very robust research and development and testing program.  We owe him a debt of thanks for his very able leadership and his truly distinguished career for our country.


            Jeff mentioned the Ballistic Missile Threat Commission.  I had been away from Washington for some -- in and out, really, for a period of years after I served as secretary of Defense the first time, and I'd come back as President Reagan's Middle East envoy, and then I'd leave, and then I'd come back for a commission or something.  But when I came back in 1998 and was involved in that commission, I was stunned by how theological the missile defense debate had become.  It was really a hair knot.  Everyone felt something very, very strongly about it.  Even the proponents disagreed very strongly.  And the opponents disagreed very strongly.  And things were pretty much on dead center as a result of it.  It was a shame.


            I think back.  I happened also to have been in the White House at the invitation of President Reagan the night that he -- and Edward Teller was there and I recall he announced the SDI, the Strategic Defense Initiative, and was there to see that and hear President Reagan's vision for a missile defense system.


            Well, it's been two years since President Bush announced the decision to deploy an initial missile defense capability, and in the past few weeks, the first interceptor has been put in place in Fort Greely, Alaska.  By the end of this year we expect to have a limited operational capability against incoming ballistic missiles.


            These achievements, I think, represent the triumph of hope and vision over pessimism and skepticism.  And I know that all of you, or at least most of you, have played a part in this important progress.  I appreciate your hard work, your dedication and vision, and I must say, given the length of this program, your stick-to-itiveness.  So I thank you all for your service to our country, in government and out of government, in uniform and out of uniform.  Your work is really an inspiration for those proponents who never doubted it would succeed, and I suspect it's somewhat of a disappointment for those who were convinced it would fail.    


            The world has changed a great deal since President Reagan made his historic address to the nation on this subject.  The Cold War, of course, is now over. There are no longer huge armies, navies, and air forces that are immediately threatening us.  But as we've seen, that doesn't mean that the dangers have disappeared or even diminished.


            I remember back when the ballistic mission commission was doing its work; there was practically not a week or a month that went by that there wasn't some significant event in the world.  There was India and Pakistan missile launches and nuclear weapon explosions.  There were various other things that happened in North Korea.  And it seemed to punctuate the nature of the new world, the reality that we were facing.


            In some respects, the threats are even more grave today.  Roughly two dozen countries, including some of the world's most dangerous regimes, possess ballistic missiles and are attempting to acquire missiles of increasing range and destructive capability.  A number of these states are estimated by the intelligence community to have programs relating to nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.  North Korea, as we know, is working to develop and deploy missiles capable of reaching not just their neighbors but our country and other countries as well.  The same can be said of Iran.  In fact, Iran had a test just this week -- last week, I guess.


            More countries are developing and sharing information, when one thinks about it, as Libya's recent, amazing admission dramatically demonstrated.  If you think about it, this A.Q. Khan network that had been functioning in the world -- not under the auspices of the Pakistan government -- but the head of the Pakistan's nuclear program on the side was conducting a business, in effect, and it was a business of dealing with a non-trivial number of nations with respect to important nuclear technologies.


            And thanks to the good work of the United States intelligence community and others, cooperation from friendly foreign countries, that network was rolled up and Libya made what had to be considered an amazing announcement:  that they were going to discontinue those programs and turn over those materiel to the United States.


            I suppose one of the gravest threats facing civilized society in this new era is the potential that such weapons will find their way into the hands of terrorists, extremists, people accountable to no nation, who abide by no international laws or standards of conduct, and who have absolutely no regard for human life, as we've seen.  On September 11th, the extremists killed some 3,000 people from many countries, men, women and children of every faith known.  Were they to acquire more lethal weapons, the weapons they seek, clearly the toll in the future could be many times greater.


            We call it a war on terror.  In a real sense, it's really a struggle by civilized nations against extremists, and the weapon of choice for them is the use of terror.  The purpose of terror, of course, is to terrorize.  It's to alter behavior.  It's to get people to stop doing something and start doing something else.  And we simply, as free people, have to recognize that that strikes at the heart of what we are.  You cannot be terrorized and continue to be a free person.  We must not allow ourselves to be terrorized, and we must not let the extremists force us to stop being free people.


            The extremists go to school on us.  They watch our behavior.  They watch what we do.  I remember when I was Middle East envoy and a truck went into the Marines' barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, killing some 241 Marines.  And I was asked by President Reagan and Secretary Schultz to assist, and obviously the first thing everyone did would be to put up barricades around the buildings so they wouldn't be blown up.  The terrorists saw that and they started firing rocket-propelled grenades over the barricades into the buildings.  So the next thing you go down to the Corniche, Beirut, Lebanon, and you see buildings draped with wire mesh to bounce off the rocket-propelled grenades.  So the terrorists see that and they start going after soft targets, people going to and from work.  So the point being that you cannot defend against terrorists at every time of the day or night, against every conceivable technique, in every conceivable location.  So we have to be willing to go where they are and find them.  And that's what this global war on terror is really about.


            History has taught us that weakness is provocative.   To the extent people see an area of weakness, they will take advantage of it.  And we're seeing that in Iraq, we're seeing that in Afghanistan and we're seeing it around the world with the attacks that have taken place.  We have a weakness, and it is a weakness with respect to ballistic missiles.  And the longer the delay in deploying even a limited defense against these kinds of attacks, the greater the likelihood of an attempted strike. Additionally, without any defense against missiles, terrorists and rogue regimes could use the threat of an attack to try to intimidate the United States or our allies and friends from acting against them.


            Recently we've seen that intimidation works.  We've seen the actions in Iraq against the Philippines and Spain and the fact that they altered their behavior.  And it was an unfortunate thing when one thinks about it.  We all know that if you want more of something, you reward it, and if you want less of something, you penalize it.  And the action, the effect of altering behavior in the face of a terrorist attack and a demand by a terrorist was to reward them, which suggests that we'll get more of that rather than less.  And that's not a good thing for the civilized countries.


            Some folks still argue that missile defense can't work, or even that if it did work, it's not a priority, or that missile defense is potentially destabilizing.  You have, in this room, helped to prove those critics wrong.  Testing continues to show that these systems can work.  And quite apart from being destabilizing, missile defense continues to be a means, interestingly, of building closer relations with nations like Japan and Italy and Israel and others.


            As enemies continue to adapt and evolve, so must our capabilities.  And that's why President Bush directed the Department of Defense to pursue an evolutionary approach to the development and deployment of missile defenses.  Rather than waiting for a fixed and final architecture, we are deploying an initial set of capabilities.  They will evolve over time as technology advances and as we're able to make these limited defenses somewhat more robust.  Testing and development will continue to improve the hardware and the software initially deployed in the field, and we'll continue to take advantage of the most promising technologies as they come available.


            Fielding modest capabilities in the near term will allow us to gain operational input from combatant commanders.  Over the past three years our folks have conducted dozens of tests.  More are scheduled later this fall.  We've learned that there have been some that have been successful and some that have not been successful, and from time to time when one is not successful it's characterized as a failure.  The difficulty with that characterization, it seems to me, is that we learn from both the successes and the failures, and I can't quite imagine why one would characterize learning as a failure.


            I was in the pharmaceutical business, and we would send our research and developers out to try to develop therapies that could help people live longer and live better.  And they would proceed to experiment and try this and try that and fail and fail and, quote, unquote, "fail and fail," and in the end of that process learn from each of those activities what works and what doesn't work.  And that is why you end up with products that can help people live longer, because of that series of things that get characterized in your business, in the newspaper, as a failure, as something that's bad and wrong or unfortunate or suggesting there's no way to get there from here.  And I think people who've been involved in cutting-edge endeavors understand trial and error, and they understand the learning process.


            The way ahead will have its share of stumbles, let there be no doubt, but we will not fail if we continue to benefit from leadership that combines vision with resolve.  President Reagan in 1983 had the vision to recognize that the United States and the Soviet Union need not be perpetually poised with fingers on nuclear triggers, and he had the resolve to lead our country in pursuit of that vision -- even in the face of withering criticism from the so-called experts at home and abroad.  A generation later, President Bush provided leadership and vision when he resolved that the -- it would not be in the U.S. interest to continue to be constrained by the 1972 ABM Treaty.


            It -- he felt it prevented us from undertaking the necessary research and development, and he was right.  We were constrained from trying to do things that would help us find the most cost-effective and the most technologically effective way of achieving these kinds of capabilities.  He said, quote, "No treaty that prevents us from addressing today's threats, that prohibits us from pursuing promising technology to defend ourselves, our friends and our allies is in our interest or in the interest of world peace."  He was right.


            He made the decision to field missile defenses, to work closely with our friends and allies, as we've been doing, and to establish a new strategic relationship with Russia.


            I just left St. Petersburg day before yesterday and was meeting with the Russian minister of defense, Sergey Ivanov.  We had talks about missile defense.  And if one thinks about the tone and the cordial discussions, and discussing the possibilities of our cooperating; if one thinks of the discussion I had two days ago, three days ago, relative to what people said would be the case if we tried to pull out of the ABM Treaty -- that it would destabilize the world -- it is an amazing contrast.  The sky-is-falling group was wrong.  The sky did not fall.  It's still up there.


            The -- missile defense, we believe, is a necessary component of our new strategic approach, but it's not the only one.  With a growing number of allies the president has also pushed forward with the Proliferation Security Initiative, forming a new international coalition to combat the spread of weapons of mass destruction and related materials.  These efforts are the linchpin of a comprehensive strategy to keep the world's most dangerous weapons away from rogue states and terrorist networks.


            I'm optimistic about the future of this program, because I guess I've been alive long enough to see firsthand how far we've come.  Twenty years ago the idea that nations could defend themselves against ballistic missiles, launched by accident or design, was a dream.  Today that dream is coming true.  Success here demonstrates that we can and will be prepared to confront new threats to our security.


            So for all that you have done to make that possible, I offer my full appreciation.


            I'm told that I am supposed to answer some questions.  And I see some microphones there.  And I would be happy to do that, but I'd like to do it within reason.  (Laughter.)  Now in the last five days, I've been in Oman, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Russia, Washington, D.C., the Senate committee yesterday for five hours -- they go in and out all the time; I just sit there.  (Laughter, applause.)


            So I'll answer the easy questions, and I see General Holly (sp) down here.  I'll drag him up here to answer the tough ones.  (Laughter, applause.)


            All right.  I always worry about the first question.  Anyone who's that eager -- (laughter) -- has something on their mind, and it's worrisome.


            Yes, sir?


            Q     Mr. Secretary, with regard to your comment about rewarding terrorists, one would think it makes only common sense.  Could you share with us your assessment of the dialogue with countries like Spain or perhaps the countries that are trying to proliferate ballistic missiles, in terms of trying to convince them of the common sense of that approach?


            SEC. RUMSFELD:  It is a -- first of all, on proliferation, it is one of those things no one country can deal with or cope with.  By it's very nature, it requires the cooperation of lots of nations.  And regrettably, the United Nations has anti-proliferation activities, but they're not effective -- sufficiently effective.  Most NATO countries are attentive to the problems of proliferation.  But the reality is, countries trade off their comparative advantage.  They may know more about missile technology than another country, but another country may know more about nuclear technology or biological technology, and they trade off.  A third country may know more about how to deny and deceive modern countries from knowing what's taking place in their countries, and they'll trade off that comparative advantage.


            So here we are in an era where the weapons are increasingly more powerful and lethal, the dangers from them to large numbers of innocent human beings are increasingly greater.  The ease of spreading these technologies is much easier, and that means we've got to do a much better job of working with other countries.


            Dealing with a single country is very hard.  All these countries have relationships that go back many, many years.  They are different.  We have our unique relationships with some countries.  If you think about it, Israel -- correction, Italy has been doing business with Libya for, what, 2,000 years?  And still other countries.  Russia has a relationship with Iran that's different than ours.  So there always are reasons for a country to want to continue to deal with some country that the broader community would prefer not in terms of these technologies.


            When you have meetings with people on the subject you raised, the biggest single problem is that we're working off a different sheet of music, and the reason we are is there's a different threat assessment.  You folks in the military know if people have taken the time to think through what the threat is, what the circumstances are, what their circumstances are as a country, a sovereign nation, and you -- you work, each share intelligence and generally agree, you then generally behave roughly the same way.  To the extent you have a different threat assessment and or your population has a different threat assessment and you're a politician and you feel compelled to be with your population, and it takes a long, hard task to teach people, to lead people, to educate people when they're going this way and you're their political leader.  To turn them around is doable, but it takes time, it takes energy, and you can only do it on so many issues at once.  And that is the problem.


            We need as a country, with our close friends and allies around the world, to do a better job of getting a more common threat assessment.  I mean, facts are facts.  This isn't something complicated.


            And now there are always going to be people who decide that they can make a separate peace.  We know that.  There are always going to be someone who thinks that they can accommodate and get by and let the other people worry about it.  I mean, there have been appeasers throughout history, and so we can't be surprised when that happens from time to time.  But they tend not to be the big countries.  They tend not to be the countries who have the capability to really do something about proliferation.


            So we have a big task ahead of us, and the president's Proliferation Security Initiative I think is a good start.


            Question?  Yes, sir.


            Q     (Off mike) -- Secretary, thank you for being here, sir.


            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Thank you.


            Q     We're honored to have you.


            As both a citizen and someone who's been involved in ballistic missile defense for a long while, something that I personally worry about is what's called the rusty-freighter threat scenario, where terrorists get a hold of a Scud-like missile, maybe even shorter range than that, crudely launch it from near our shores; and even with a conventional warhead, if that landed in a mall parking lot or in a cornfield, it would still be a big political success for them.


            Can you discuss with us how the United States is addressing that threat?  I don't think General Holly's ground-based mid-course defense, as fine as it is, really handles that short-range, relatively low-altitude, short-response-time threat.


            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Thank you.  I agree.  When we were doing the Ballistic Missile Threat Commission, we observed that one of the nations in the Middle East had launched a ballistic missile from a cargo vessel.  They had taken a short-range, probably Scud missile, put it on a transporter-erector launcher, lowered it in, taken the vessel out into the water, peeled back the top, erected it, fired it, lowered it, covered it up.  And the ship that they used was using a radar and electronic equipment that was no different than 50, 60, 100 other ships operating in the immediate area.  And it is true that the big distinction we make between intercontinental, medium-range and shorter-range ballistic missiles doesn't make a lot of sense if you're going to move the missile closer to the target.  So you can accomplish a lot with it.


            There are -- the one thing I think, in answer to your question, to keep in mind is our world is not static, it is dynamic.  And there are always gong to be threats.  There are always going to be increasing threats of increasing lethality, and they're always going to be sliding off of what you're focusing on toward something else.  And that does not mean you shouldn't do anything about those threats because they may not be there tomorrow.  If you do nothing about them, you encourage them.  You make it cheaper and more advantageous for the other side.


            What we need to do, it seems to me, is to -- we weren't asked to talk about cruise missiles but we did talk about cruise missiles in the ballistic missile threat report because cruise missiles are readily available, their ranges can be expanded with some sections added, their accuracies are impressive.  And they're not a perfect weapon, but there are an awful lot of them around and they're relatively cheap, and they're on the market.  And they're totally versatile.  They can be launched from the sea or the air or the land.  They can have any kind of warhead you might want, relatively easily.


            So there are the whole series of these things that we need to keep -- keep in our head and keep addressing as we go along, and then try to match them with the threat areas that exist.


            And it is a challenge.  And the problem we face is not that that's complicated but that everything is accelerating in time.  It's the speed of what's happening.


            At the end of the Cold War, people kind of went -- (sighs and shudders) -- "Well, that takes care of that."  The end of history, and everything's going to be all right, and people started cutting the intelligence budgets and cutting the Defense budget and thinking that it was going to be fine.  And the problem is, you look back now, and those were the good old days.  You had, for the most part, a single target that you could get -- you could learn, know a lot about, keep a good eye on.


            Now we've got multiple countries.  We've got -- they're perfectly capable of buying off-the-shelf technologies that they never could have invented or developed, and use these 21st century technologies against the countries -- the civilized countries, the open countries, the free countries that did in fact develop them.


            So the problem's vastly different, and it doesn't lend itself -- the problem's multiple problems.  The challenges are vastly different, and they do not lend themselves to proceeding at a pace or a speed or with as relaxed a manner and demeanor as we adopted after the end of the Cold War.


            (Off mike) -- our friends -- England, Denmark, Greenland, Japan, different countries -- about our system, because our systems are evolving.  And it -- they will evolve and become more robust, I would submit, as we add interceptors and as we add radar capabilities and, in a sense, layer the system somewhat.


            I -- the reason for my being a little reluctant to answer is that I have always preferred that other countries announce what they want to do, rather than me announcing for them what they want to do.  It just makes them happier -- (laughter) -- and whatever makes them happy makes me happy.  (Laughter.)


            But in -- just in the last six months, we've made good progress.  I think one of the things we did that I think made a lot of sense is, we stopped called this national missile defense.  The impression around was that it was some sort of a bubble over our country, that therefore we could be safe and everyone else would be at risk:  our forces overseas, our friends and allies.  And that is -- since -- given the interconnections in this world of ours, that's not a good feeling for people to have.


            We need to be connected with the rest of the world.  From a political standpoint, from an economic standpoint and from a security standpoint, it's terribly important.  And so we've stopped calling it national missile defense, and recognize that other countries, many other countries, have exactly the same interest we do.  And they also have some advantages that are -- were they to be connected to us in ways that relate to missile defense, each of our countries, all of our countries, benefit from that interconnection.  And I'll leave it at that.




            I'm getting the hook.  (Laughter.)


            MR.      :  Sir, we thank you for your presentation, and we know you've had a history with this city.  We want to present you "50 Years of Rockets and Spacecraft," signed by the author.


            SEC. RUMSFELD:  Thank you very much.  How nice.  (Applause.)


            Thank you very much.  It's good to be with you.



Additional Links

Stay Connected