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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Luncheon Press Event in Singapore

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
May 31, 2002

(Luncheon press event in Singapore with Michael Richardson, International Herald Tribune; Alex Nichols, Financial Times; and Barry Wain, Asia Wall Street Journal.)

Wolfowitz: -- How would you like to proceed? Should I say a few things?

Q: Why don't you give us a sense of what you are going to be saying in your speech? What's on your mind?

Wolfowitz: I guess I like to start by making a big plug for this conference and for the IISS for having the imagination and energy to get it going. We think it could make a very important contribution to Asian security. We've seen what Wehrkunde has contributed over the years in Europe. And while we're well aware that there are big differences between Asia and Europe, I think, one of the things that apply very much in this part of the world is informal and flexible multilateral context and that's what this sort of dialogue can be. It's undoubtedly going to have different qualities.

One Asian friend of mine has attended Wehrkunde and the incredible, he didn't say appalling, but the incredible frankness of people in Europe, here would be considered rudeness. But you can get to the same end by indirect means as I learned especially in Indonesia. But I think it's very important. That's why months ago, Rumsfeld committed that either he would come or if he couldn't make it, which happily for me turned out to be the case, then he would send me. He doesn't usually make those kinds of long term commitment, but he realized that the importance of what John Chipman and company are trying to do.

I would say two main messages. I'm here to listen and I am also obviously here to represent the U.S. government, particularly our security side. And in that respect, two main messages: The first is on the importance of Asian security and the commitment of the United States to remain a major player in Asian security. In fact -- if you think back to where we were at the end of the Cold War, at least with people like me, we're afraid we were at the end of the Cold War -- that perhaps United States would sort of give it up and say "enough effort, we got our own problems." There was a lot of that sentiment. It is remarkable that today there is, I think, the strongest bipartisan consensus on our commitments in Asia any time in decades. And it is bipartisan and strong congressional delegation that's here is a bipartisan delegation. There is simply no argument any longer about how important our interests are or how important our presence and commitments are here in maintaining those interests. I would also say that I believe that consensus and that commitments are reinforced very much by a very positive attitude in this part of the world, both reflected in the dynamism of individual Asian countries, but also increasingly reflected in their tendency to cooperate with one another. To be people who solve problems rather than as in the case in some other parts of the world where people who create problems is one of the reasons I have enjoyed being engaged in Asian issues very much over the last 20 years. It's a much more - not that it's giddy optimism - people are very realistic in this part of the world, but I think they are basically forward looking.

The other main thing for me is to talk obviously about the war on terrorism, but to try to emphasize the point that this isn't just a war against the United States in which we are getting some great help from our Asia Pacific allies which we very much appreciate. But this is in fact a war against all of us and terrorism is no stranger to Asia. I was remembering just on the plane coming over here, that it was 15 years ago this month -- excuse me, 16 years ago this month, June of 1986 -- that we were sitting in my office in the embassy in Jakarta planning our July 4th celebration when there was a "tug" on the roof, and an improvised mortar bomb, full of nails landed on the courtyard of the embassy. There was a lot of ingenuity in launching it from a couple of 100 yards away. Fortunately not as much ingenuity in the fuze, it didn't go off. But that one terrorist, who simultaneously set the mortar bomb against us, a mortar bomb against the Japanese embassy, and a fire bomb in the British cultural center, and was on a plane out of Jakarta when all three of those devices went off. He was a Japanese Red Army terrorist who was finally caught 10 years later through cooperation between U.S. agencies and the Japanese police. And he's now sitting in an American jail where he belongs. But this is just a personal reminder, there are much more vivid ones -- the attack on the Tokyo subway is one of the worst acts of terrorism we had before September 11.

But more broadly, two things: number one, more broadly, this really isn't an attack on Western values or what we call Western values. They are really very much universal values: values of freedom and democracy and tolerance, and that's what these terrorists hate and that makes all people who care about those values potential targets.

But secondly, right up there, perhaps even their principal target, although the rhetoric is focused on the United States, in many ways, their principal targets are the Muslims of the world. And I believe, if they pursue these evil acts that they will somehow recruit their Muslim brothers to a cause that tries to condemn a billion Muslims to a basically evil view of the world. And I know from my experience in Indonesia that that's not a view that is shared by the large majority of the Indonesian Muslims. And, I believe it is not shared by the large majority of Muslims in the world. But Muslims are their target. And it is worth reflecting on the fact that over half a billion of the world's Muslims live in countries of the Pacific Basin -- Indonesia, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, India, even China has a population of some 50 million Muslims. Those people can be enormously valuable allies. I think of the Indonesians, for example, where I believe as I said the great strong tradition of Indonesian Islam is tolerant one and the best way to fight intolerant Muslims is with tolerant Muslims, not with Westerners preaching what Islam is really about.

But secondly, on the downside, there is the danger that if we don't take this more seriously -- what I am tempted to call this -- borrowing from Churchill -- is a gathering storm of evil of terrorism that is going to end up sweeping us all into something quite terrible. So, September 11 is a kind of a wake up call. I believe history will record that the terrorists act prematurely and got us moving against them in time, but we need to take advantage of the time that's given us and we have to be relentless and we need real help from our friends out here.

Q: Are you getting that help, I mean, in terms of quality, quantity that Washington feels is necessary to cope with?

Wolfowitz: I think we are. I mean, on the one hand, I want to alarm them in a way that this is their fight and not just our fight. I think we are getting everything we are asking for. I think even Indonesia, which has arguably been a little bit slow in facing up to its own problems, is increasingly recognizing that it is their problem. The arrest of the head of (inaudible) was a very significant step and they didn't do it for us or at our request. In fact some people would argue he's not an international terrorist, he is purely a domestic one. But he is terrorizing people nonetheless. And I do believe we gotten good cooperation. But at the same time, as I indicated I have a sense that they think this is our problem in which they are helping us. And I believe it is important for them to understand it's their problem and they are helping themselves because I think people are much more motivated. And this is not something that's going to be over quickly. I believe that is part of what we are concerned about. There is a sort of feeling: Afghanistan is all over, but the shouting is all about Afghanistan. Well, Afghanistan still has a long way to go and it is by no means just about Afghanistan. It is much bigger.

Q: How can this defense ministers' dialogue help? Would you like to see it take place on an annual basis at ministerial level? Should it have an important anti-terrorism component?

Wolfowitz: It is a little premature to say what it ought to do when we haven't even started the first meeting yet. But I believe if it can be successful along the lines of the European counterpart that the IISS I believe sort of has chosen as an inspiration, then it would be very good to have it be a kind of an annual event with defense ministers attending. I believe that is part of the ingredients of success. It is just not the defense ministers are there and what they contribute, but also that they being there draws a whole community of people concerned about security issues.

But I believe the agenda should be whatever the security agenda is and if, I would assume the war on terrorism is going to be with us for some years, so that certainly ought to be on the agenda. But the danger in the Subcontinent which are in some ways a reflection of that problem but also a reflection of much deeper and older things will be a subject. The big challenge of bringing China -- an increasingly powerful China into a peaceful relationship with the rest of the region, I think is very important. And I would hope in the future that a higher level of Chinese participation is possible.

Similarly with Russia, I was looking forward to having Minister Ivanov here and I guess he is going to be in Beijing. But I think he was planning to come, I think the plan is much more significant, but the fact is that he didn't make it. We are developing a new relationship with Russia. It is described in terms of Russia becoming more and more part of Europe. But in an interesting way, I believe it also makes Russia more responsible power in the Pacific. It is after all an important Pacific power as well. I think Russia (inaudible) is comfortable in a normal relationship with the Western democracies. That should be a Russia that is in a normal relationship with its neighbors in this part of the world. And that is not something that we had the benefit of in most of the 20th Century. It is a very positive thing.

Q: (inaudible) you talk about Muslim countries, how often? What sort of support they have given you? Do you believe that the leaders of Muslim communities and Muslim countries around the world have been vocal enough in distancing themselves from what has happened on September 11th?

Wolfowitz: I suppose I'd certainly like to see more of it, which is a way to saying not really enough. But it is not always easy and the penalties for opposing these terrorists can be particularly high if you live in a Muslim world and Muslim community. And they don't argue with their enemies, they kill their enemies. So, I think the pressures are real.

Different countries have been different. I mean, interestingly, President Musharraf has stepped up quite boldy, so has Prime Minister Mahathir. Some of the leaders in the Middle East could do more. We are pushing them to do more. It is also the case that a lot of countries are, particularly the ones with Muslim majority, are cooperating in quiet ways and that can be equally important. We are interested in real results and not merely rhetorical stances. But at some point, and for different people, it will come a different point, and I think as we make progress, we will create better conditions for people to step forward. This is ultimately -- it's true, I mean it's a war on evil people, but it is also ultimately a battle for ideals as it is a battle for mind and it is affected by what people are saying.

Q: I understand you mentioned Malaysia's Mahathir and you make comments about Muslim leaders. A lot of the human rights groups in this part of the world's civil liberties groups, that sort of things, are worried about the fact that some of those people that Malaysia has locked up under the Internal Security Act are really not terrorists at all. And there is no explanation by the Malaysian government who is locked up. And the U.S. is praising Mahathir and the government for doing that and the belief is that the US could be damaging the whole cause of human rights with its public praise of Mahathir over its war on terrorism. I mean, at what cost?

Wolfowitz: It is a legitimate concern and I think one really has to be careful and distinguish and not let governments who want to suppress their opponents for other reasons get away of doing it by calling them terrorists. At the same time, there are some very serious terrorist networks that have operated in this part of the world, in Singapore and Malaysia, in the Philippines and Indonesia. And it's important to deal with them. One very important reason to win this war on terrorism is so that we don't live in a police state; so that we don't provide excuses for that kind of action. And all I can say is I hope we will look carefully at the different cases and where there are abuses, we will raise them.

Q: North Korea is not participating in this meeting, but it is a member of the axis of the evil. Do you see North Korea as well advanced in -- as a threat, as a source of weapons of mass destruction and possible that dispersal of such weapons and technology that needed to do?

Wolfowitz: North Korea is certainly a serious problem in that respect. They have dangerous technology in almost every category you can imagine. They seem to show willingness to sell anything to anybody who will pay them enough. So, it is a source of great concern. We've also been repeating for some time that we are prepared to talk to them, any place without conditions. And we finally got something of a positive response, so we are thinking hard about the details of the next step. It's clearly a situation where the interests of South Korea and the interests of Japan weigh very heavily in anything that we do and as we move forward, it is very important that we do so in coordination with our two northeast Asian allies. But North Korea is a problem and we hope perhaps that North Korea's weakness can also really be an incentive for North Korea to change.

Q: That is something of a positive response, was that very recent?

Wolfowitz: Very recent, yeah.

Q: And do you expect it to be followed by talks between the United States and North Korea?

Wolfowitz: Probably, but I wouldn't want to name a date or precisely at what level.

Q: Talking about Pakistan. Is there a risk that what's going on between Pakistan and India could jeopardize your search for al-Qaeda? One of the things that's -- this is most said often in London -- is that the operation, that the US-British operation and other countries' operations there are denying territory to al Qaeda and therefore are not being successful. But that implies that al-Qaeda are somewhat and presumably -- and some of them are in Pakistan. So, I am curious as to what's being done to -- al Qaeda and is it going to be effective with what's happening now?

Wolfowitz: We've had some excellent cooperation from the Pakistanis, both the Pakistani military and Pakistani law enforcement in tracking down al-Qaeda people in Pakistan. And that's very important to us. But when it comes to it -- so, obviously there is a concern that cooperation could be jeopardized, especially if Pakistan becomes embroiled in a war with India. But I would say our concern in preventing that war go far beyond simply the effect it would have on our efforts against al Qaeda that the potential for miscalculation in a war between two countries with nuclear weapons is potentially truly catastrophic. And this administration is doing everything we can in engaging every country that we think can have some influence in preventing it, to try to head off that kind of catastrophe.

Q: Do you regard the visit here, a decision by the Indian defense minister who changes his mind to come as a sign that maybe some of the attention is diminishing in India and Pakistan?

Wolfowitz: No. I wish it were the case, but I don't. But I think it's a good sign that he's coming. I think it's a sign of India's larger interest in this region, and the fact that I believe India has the potential to be a major and positive force in East Asian security. But so far at least we haven't signs that this crisis is de-escalating. Most of the signs point in the other direction. That's why we're going to have a stepped up diplomatic effort in the coming weeks including Deputy Secretary Armitage visiting India and Pakistan. I believe it's June 6th and 7th and probably Secretary Rumsfeld following after him, a few days later.

Q: What is it that most worries you that simply should a conventional war starts, then it will be very difficult to stop it becoming a nuclear exchange; and then what are the major catastrophic consequences you fear?

Wolfowitz: I'd more say that it's unpredictable. But being unpredictable with things is dangerous as nuclear weapons, it's not something you want to contemplate and the consequences simply in human suffering are horrendous. Potentially millions of people being killed in each country, but also the setback it would represent to what ought to be very positive developments in both places.

Quite different positive developments in the case of India, it's really the emergence of India potentially as a leading player in the Pacific region even on the world scene and already a significant economic power, particularly in certain areas, like information technology. In the case of Pakistan, it's starting from a somewhat lower level, but it looks to be a major reversal of the slide that Pakistan has been in for the last number of years, and the potential to really deal with Islamic extremism in Pakistan. And there's no reason Pakistan shouldn't. They have the human talent, the human ability, to achieve the same kinds of things that India has achieved, but circumstances... They haven't managed it in the last decade. I think the steps that Musharraf was taking were beginning to create the conditions that could promise that. Both countries would set back horrendously by the kind of miscalculation that's possible in a war of that kind.

Q: I'd like to ask you a little bit about your old stomping ground, Indonesia.

Wolfowitz: Good, because I was about to bring it up, if somebody else didn't!

Q: The two aspects, of course, the military ties that we want to try to resume. The first thing, in this war on terrorism, are you happy that the head of the Laskar Jihad has been apprehended. He's been apprehended for a specific, charged for a specific crime. Would you like to see the Indonesian authorities doing more to curb militant Islam? Where does the line, how far does the line go, you know, when does an Islamic militant becomes a potential terrorist? Would you like to see a general tightening against militant Islam? Or do you feel the suspicion of the people who commit crimes and then they should be dealt with?

Wolfowitz: I think there are two separate problems, although they interact with one another. But the one that is sort of more obviously directly affects the US is the presence of some international terrorists including some who are definitely not of Indonesian origin who have found it convenient to hide or burrow away in Indonesia. In this respect, by the way, Indonesia is different from a whole lot of non-Muslim majority countries. They've burrowed away in the U.S. and Germany and in France, and some 60 countries, so the Indonesians get a little defensive when you bring up the problem as though we're accusing them of some kind of terrorist deviancy. It's not the case but these people happen to be everywhere.

Q: Are they still there?

Wolfowitz: I'm not sure. They've actually helped in the arrest of one Indonesian terrorist in the Philippines, and they have assisted in turning over a foreigner who was in Indonesia to his country of origin. What I believe is more serious, though it's more of an internal issue, is this other issue of -- I wouldn't call so much Islamic militancy. Peaceful militancy, I believe, is something democracies have to tolerate, but it's Islamic oriented violence against both non-Muslim minorities in Indonesia and also frankly against Muslim moderates. And that's what Laskar Jihad had represents -- it's criminal lawlessness, but criminal lawlessness of a kind that enormously exacerbates hostility among religious groups and has an indirect effect on international terrorism because it creates conditions where populations become radicalized and the process of becoming radicalized can become receptive to the most extreme kind of doctrines. That's why I believe it's very important for the stability of Indonesia and for the success of Indonesian democracy, but also for the purposes of denying terrorist sanctuary in Indonesia, to clamp down this communal violence that is plaguing Sulawesi and plaguing Maluku. And it's the reason why we are interested in looking at ways to cooperate with the Indonesian military and Indonesian police who seem to have brought in an element of stability at least in Sulawesi. I just read a recent report from our consulate in Surabaya who was up there, who said that there's been a significant return of internal refugees or internally displaced persons as they're called, in the thousands, but mainly in areas where the TNI has established some established some effective order. And a certain fear that Jakarta will remove those forces and it will go back to not very competent local authorities and the violence will erupt again. That's not good for human rights, it's not good for democracy in Indonesia, it's not good for denying Sulawesi as a training ground and a sanctuary for terrorists. So I believe very strongly in an agenda of military reform. But I also believe that democracy in Indonesia requires a competent military that can protect the rights of minorities and we've got to pursue both agendas. We can't get dogmatic about insistence on total reform in Indonesian military before we'll help them in any way at all.

Q: Would you be interested in sending American troops to -- ?

Wolfowitz: We're not even thinking about it. Can't imagine the Indonesians asking us to, I know too much about. I mean these are Indonesian problems. They're going to have to solve them themselves, but they could clearly use some assistance from us, and I believe beyond that also by the way, it would be valuable if we could re-establish a better line of contact with the Indonesian military. I think it's a moderating and humanizing, democratizing influence.

Moderator: Maybe, you can pause and turn the tables and hear from you all. Get a couple of bites --

Wolfowitz: Yeah, you guys know more about Asia than --

Moderator: I feel guilty eating all this while you talk.

Wolfowitz: This is a great group!

Q: May I just ask one more question about India and Pakistan. Do you think it is being unrealistic to expect General Musharraf of Pakistan to put a complete clamp on the infiltration of Islamic terrorists from Pakistan that are retreating from India. Given the and porous nature of the border and reported scale of the problem in the number of Jihadis operating in Pakistan?

Wolfowitz: I guess I'd be glad if we could get to the point where the problem was they were doing everything they could but it wasn't sufficient to stop it entirely. I'd first like to get to that point. Because I think that makes all the difference in the world if the Indians could be convinced that Musharraf is doing everything he can. The Pakistanis are doing everything they can. Then I think we'd be in the zone of looking at how maybe the two of them could cooperate to prevent the rest of what's going on. You know -- when two countries really want to stop this sort of thing and both sides of the border experience in a lot of places, I'm thinking of the Israeli-Jordanian war, for example, suggest that it can be done. Not perfectly, but reasonably well, we're not even close to that point right now.

Moderator: Here's a trick. Do you have a question for them? (Laughter)

Q: It does get tricky, doesn't it, because -- Laskar Jihad, I mean if you go to the ground, with help from sections of the military and in the fighting where they went to fight, we had some TNI on each side -- and then some police involved as well. So your task in helping try to carry out military reform does get very tricky, doesn't it? You have had that questions, you were aware of some of the criticisms in (national crisis group?) report criticized you. Some of your old friends.

Wolfowitz: I know, it's sort of interesting. I saw that report and the report acknowledged that the earlier report had said that there's a need for precisely this kind of a unit and then sort of went on about how our proposal was inadequate. Well our proposal has no specifics in it whatsoever. I mean, I'd be interested if they say it's necessary. I think it's necessary then let's hear how to get it done. It's not going to be done by just writing reports and I think frankly I -- and it came as a bit of a surprise to me, but this (honestly?) report from our consulate in Surabaya suggests that the Indonesians have actually done some good things up there, the Indonesian military has.

Suharto went a very long way toward corrupting the military so that it would be weak and couldn't oppose him. And in the process, he deliberately introduced religion and religious issues into the Indonesian military, which had been pretty unified before that, and I think that's why the reasons you have some of the phenomena you described. We're not going to influence things for the better by staying on the sidelines and not helping those leaders who want to do the right thing. And I believe there are many where we have a specific area that we have common interests and where they seem to be performing well, like Sulawesi, let's figure out a way to reinforce that and then build on that. I believe it'll be a lot easier to clean out the bad elements if there's some carrots for the good ones.

Q: What sort of relationship do you envision between the U.S. and Indonesian military. I mean, if it's developed, how would you like to see it developed? Or reaching it first and then developed?

Wolfowitz: I guess, two things I'd like to see some very focused cooperation in specific areas like dealing with communal violence and counter-terrorist activities. Although I'm sort of lumping police and military together, in one case it's probably going to be more military and in the other case more police, but security forces. But focused on specific areas working with units and individuals that have reasonably good records and rewarding good performance and good behavior. Then more broadly, I believe we'd like to see a restoration of military education and training and bring more Indonesian officers to the U.S., give them a chance to hear from our military and also from our civilians what the real role of a military is in a democracy. I mean it's kind of perverse that for years, we had these programs when Indonesia was a dictatorship and we actually managed to teach Indonesian military quite a bit about democracy -- who probably you guys have encountered who removed the controls on Indonesian press learned about free media in an elective course at Command and Staff College at Fort Leavenworth. Well we don't let them go to Fort Leavenworth any more. It's kind of perverse now that they have a democratic government, we don't bring their military to the U.S., where they can see officers engaging within a democratic government. So, I'd really like to see more of that. And one can design courses that emphasize the right messages and it's more I believe on the civil military side than it is on the pure military side, but isolating them is just a formula for pushing them closer to Laskar Jihad or some of them closer to Laskar Jihad --

Wolfowitz: Tell me any of you what's the feeling out here about this conference and how optimistic should one be that this could proceed, become an institution? (Laughter)

Q: I don't think there's been much of an opportunity to absorb or take in the factors taking place, and I think a lot will depend on actually what comes out and what happens in the next couple of days. And if the discussions and the formal discussions and the outside ones, the bilaterals, that are considered worthwhile. That will be the message that goes out, that people take home.

Q: I think also how China reacts to this conference. Whether or what kind of contribution they make and whether what's more important, whether they really want to see and follow through and become, say, an annual regular meeting. At least to me, with the US on board, I think a lot of countries in this region will want to see China coming on board.

Wolfowitz: I can see that too and it's too bad they have not really come on this one, but -- I'm told he's about a deputy assistant secretary level in our government which is not trivial, I mean in our defense department that's the level that deals with entire Pacific region, so in defense department terms it's almost equivalent to assistant secretary of state in terms of regional responsibility. But it's not senior enough to be comfortable having a minister level bilateral, for example.

Q: I guess you could build sufficient critical mass and have China come on board later.

Wolfowitz: Hopefully they will. I think one of the things that's very valuable about something like this is that you don't have to draw lines, and you don't have to come as a member of an alliance or a grouping or it's very unofficial. Therefore -- should be very comfortable to include the Chinese and if there is a single country that most important to include, it probably is China.

Q: Don't you think that they are basically on board and that -- people have told me that and I think they're been invited to Beijing to discuss this after this conference. I think -- (inaudible)

Wolfowitz: Well, he's the one who's been talking to them, so that he would know. I would not make too much of the level issue, and they will be presenting, it will be interesting to see how they'll handle that.

Q: One of the things -- that you'll get people talking not just ministers. You get senators from the US and lots of other people (inaudible) views as well and that could be very positive. You could have people coming from a country in Asia not necessarily reacting to the same view.

Wolfowitz: That'd be critical I believe and hard, and particularly hard, for the Chinese which is why -- I think it would be a mistake to set the goals too high, too early. It'll take a while before people get to that stage, but I think that is precisely the goal of it is, you are right, it is what makes the Wehrkunde really worthwhile. It's also the opportunity to talk around the edges of meetings, and the Wehrkunde is a sort of convention for European security experts. People look forward to going to see people they haven't met. They haven't seen for a year and a lot of catching up takes place and just building that community out here would be I think a significant positive step.

[Remainder deleted due to ground rule.]

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