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Secretary Wolfowitz Interview With NATO Journalists

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
September 24, 2002

Friday, Sept. 20, 2002

(Interview with NATO Journalists)

Wolfowitz: It's a pleasure to meet with this group. I'm glad you've taken the time to be our guests and I hope we're treating you properly. How long does this tour last?

Q: Nine days.

Q: Next Monday we will go to Pacific Command and we will end our tour there. We've been here all week.

Wolfowitz: In Washington?

Q: In Washington.

Wolfowitz: Let me maybe just say a few comments in the beginning and get to questions quickly.

But first of all the reason why I'm particularly delighted to meet with this group is I'm a great believer in NATO. So is Mr. Rumsfeld. It's an incredible organization. In many respects one could say its record in the Cold War was I think remarkable by any historical standard but what's equally remarkable is how important it's been since the Cold War.

I remember still quite vividly going to London in July of [1991], the first really post-Cold War NATO Summit and I remember Prime Minister Thatcher introducing the whole meeting by making some kind of ironic comments about the uncertainty of the future, and then a month later Iraq invaded Kuwait and this alliance that people thought was about to go on the ash heap of history along with the Soviet Union suddenly had an out-of-area -- not the alliance as such, obviously, but the members of the alliance worked together in ways that would not have been possible if it had not been for NATO.

Then we get into the period of enlargement. To summarize ten years of history in three sentences, a lot of people that say large [inaudible] sort of spell the end of good U.S. or West -- U.S.-European relations with Russia and instead it now seems to become the bridge to a new relationship with Russia. A bridge to a whole new set of members.

I met with the Rumanian Defense Minister just yesterday and it's obvious that the prospect of NATO enlargement is changing important things in that country and I think throughout Europe.

So it's adapted to incredible new circumstances and one of them came on September 11th and for the first time in NATO's history Article 5 was invoked and it was invoked in defense of the United States, which was the kind of -- I mean it was a terrible occasion, but there was a beautiful irony there. More than just symbolism. We got terrific help here in our homeland defense mission. The NATO AWACS has taken a big burden off one of our most stretched assets. We never expected to be deploying so many of our aircraft to maintain a combat air patrol over the United States but we have done that at the same time we've been fighting a substantial war halfway around the world. It would have been very hard to do without NATO support.

The help we've gotten from NATO allies in Afghanistan as allies, though not through the NATO framework, has been absolutely wonderful. We've had first the British and now the Turks take up the important challenge of leading the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, so I don't want to go on too long but to me it's very important that this Secretary of Defense, this President, this whole Administration really treasures this alliance. I know we have some troubles. I can't remember a time, though, in my career when there weren't trans-Atlantic tensions of one kind or another. But what is impressive is the endurance of the basic values, the basic interests, how they've worked together.

I guess one last -- I think that is obviously crucial in this war on terrorism. I don't want to spend this whole time talking about Iraq, but clearly Iraq is the issue of the hour. In our view, and I really believe it's undeniable, this is part of the war on terrorism. It's not a separate thing. The whole issue of terrorism has to be seen in a different light I think after September 11th. I know many of our European allies say finally you Americans know what it's like to be a target of terrorism; we've lived with it for decades.

That's precisely the problem. The whole world lived with it for decades. I think the lesson of September 11th is we can't live with it when the scale is 3,000 people killed in a single day, and a foreshadowing of 10,000 or 100,000 or even a million people killed in a mass attack. Therefore the things that we've lived with for the last 20 years have to be viewed in a different way. And while it's important to chase down and capture and kill the terrorists that we can find, and we've had incredible good cooperation among many countries including all our NATO allies in that respect, we're not going to win this war against terrorism simply by chasing down individual terrorists or by closing the door to particular plots. We're not going to win it on defense. We've got to make it clear that support for terrorism in an age of weapons of mass destruction is simply not something that any country can be in the business of and that's the heart of our issue with Iraq.

I think the President laid it out very clearly at the United Nations where he also laid out another dimension which is that even before September 11th Iraq was a country that was in massive, flagrant violation of I think it's some 16 UN Security Council Resolutions. There's a phrase which I think you folks will appreciate in the President's speech where, I paraphrase slightly, he said Iraq is unilaterally violating the strictures of the largest multilateral organization in the world. Obviously we feel a little bit unfairly accused of unilateralism.

I think clearly what is at stake here is the ability of the United Nations to enforce its will. Obviously we have not succeeded over the last 11 years but it is important that we succeed now.

I promised to be brief. That wasn't quite brief. But I'll go to questions.

Q: What does Saddam have to do to avoid a war, or the United States have to do as well?

Wolfowitz: The President really laid it out quite clearly in his General Assembly speech. If you want to say it's a lot, it is a lot. That's not our fault. It's because he has violated an extraordinary range of prohibitions. And clearly he has to do something more than just come forward and lie about his weapons of mass destruction program and that seems to be what his latest declarations amount to.

Go back to Resolution 687. The purpose of inspectors was to verify the truthfulness of Iraq's declarations about what it had in weapons of mass destruction. I think under 687 they were supposed to have made those declarations within 15 days of the Resolution which means they're about 11 years late. To say that they have none in the face of the intelligence we have is simply clearly not an answer.

I guess at a minimum they need to start telling the truth. That would be an important start.

Q: Is a democratic [inaudible], do you have [inaudible]?

Wolfowitz: I should turn around and ask you since Turkey's right next door.

I think, if I can step back from Iraq for just a minute and say that I very strongly disagree with this view that's summarized in the title of Samuel Huntington's book The Clash of Civilizations. Huntington is a wonderful, decent man but he's wrong on this point and unfortunately he is in agreement with al Qaeda and people who say that there's inevitable conflict.

I believe very deeply that the values that we treasure as NATO allies, and by the way, it can't be said often enough, I think one of the reasons this alliance has been so remarkable is because it is built on common values. Even when there have been occasional departures as there was after the colonel's coups, I think the alliance has helped to bring countries back to those democratic values.

I was in Malta with the first President Bush in his meeting with Gorbachev where Gorbachev said please stop talking about these as Western values, they're democratic values. He said a little disingenuously, they're our values also.

Well, by now they are beginning to be Russian values and they're certainly Japanese values and now they're Indonesian values, and they're very universal. I spent a lot of time as Ambassador to Indonesia for three years, I spent a lot of time in Turkey. Those are two countries with huge Muslim majorities that belies this idea that there's something antithetical between being a Muslim and being a democrat.

From that background it seems to me while we don't know what the future of Iraq will be, there's no reason to think that the Iraqi people who are among the most talented people in the Arab world are not capable of the same kinds of achievements that the Poles or the Hungarians or the Rumanians, in fact there are a lot of Iraqi jokes about similarities between Ceaucesceau and Saddam Hussein. I hope the similarities carry forward to what freed Iraqi people can achieve.

The last comment, that means that the leadership of the future of Iraq should be chosen by the Iraqi people not by our figuring out some particular individual who's going to run the country.

Q: There is a lot of discussion going on now in the United Nations about resolutions. Plans are being made for a new inspection regime. What I would like to know, it can take quite some time. Is there a deadline for a possible American military action?

Wolfowitz: I'm not aware of any. We are clearly trying to find a political solution. War is the last thing anyone wants to resort to. But at the same time the threats that we're dealing with are very serious. The defiance of the United Nations is extraordinary. And just to pick on one phrase you used, we need more than an inspections regime. We need a disarmament regime. We need full compliance with all of the resolutions that have been applied. If there are going to be deadlines set they're going to be set not by me. But I think we don't have forever in this process, but I can't give you a timetable.

Q: Mr. Secretary, how, much do you care about European skepticisms, concerns, concerning a war on Iraq?

Wolfowitz: I care a lot about everybody's views. I care about the views particularly of our own people. I care about the views of the whole world I'd say including with some respects particularly the Muslim world. I care very very much about the views of our European allies.

The President really started making our case only at the beginning of this month in a very organized way with his speech at the UN General Assembly and I think one is already beginning to see significant changes in people's understanding, and certainly here in the United States. You're better experts about Europe but it seems to me also in Europe. I think people are coming to understand that this is not just an issue between the United States and Iraq. It's really an issue between the United Nations and Iraq. The authority of the United Nations is at stake.

I hope also that as we discuss this more and more that people will come to understand what is a somewhat difficult point, but it is at the heart of the matter which is I guess best summarized with a rather vivid phrase Mr. Rumsfeld used the other day, is that we can't wait for a smoking gun. A gun smokes after it's been fired.

The dots are already out there to be connected and we don't want to look back at some horrible event and say why didn't we connect the dots? The problem is there, the threat is there. We prefer to see it solved peacefully but we can't continue living with it.

Q: Do the [inaudible] damage the relations with the U.S. government and with the USIA because of the strong anti-attitude of our Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder?

Wolfowitz: I'm not going to say a lot here. It would be undiplomatic and here in the Defense Department we're very diplomatic. But it seems to me if one looks at it not just in terms of U.S.-German relations but in terms of our ability to accomplish what I think everybody ought to agree we'd want to accomplish through the United Nations, that if UN diplomacy is to succeed, it seems to me it's very important that the Iraqi regime see itself confronted with a unified world. I guess I'll just leave it there.

I think the demonstrations of disunity are harmful to achieving the kind of political outcome that I believe everybody would like to achieve.

Q: To follow up, do you expect that in case he is reelected he will change his attitude after the election?

Wolfowitz: I would certainly hope so.

Q: To come back to the smoking gun. How do you make the world safer if you open the door to preemptive action and any state in the world can attack its neighbor if he is frightened by the neighbor, like India attacking Pakistan because it has good reason to feel threatened by Pakistan; Taiwan and China; so on.

Wolfowitz: There is a lot that is unique about the case of Iraq. In the first place there are 16 UN Security Council resolutions that distinguish it from every other possible case of this kind. But secondly what is at the heart of the matter here, and people it seems to me, -- this is a dot I don't understand why it isn't connected more often, let me put it that way -- that it is the combination of those lethal capabilities with active consorting with terrorists and a declared hostility, indeed open threats that makes it so dangerous.

When weapons of mass destruction can be delivered anonymously through terrorist networks, traditional notions of deterrence don't work. We're in a different world. That's the problem that we're dealing with is we're not talking about some general philosophy of any time you feel you have a problem you can preempt it militarily.

Q: So it's not a new twist, unique?

Wolfowitz: I think people make too much of new doctrine. There is a new doctrine. I said Iraq is unique in its defiance of the United Nations. It is not quite unique, unfortunately, in this combination of having weapons of mass destruction, declared hostility, and connection to terrorist networks. And that is a new problem. It's one that really didn't exist until possibly the end of the last century and we weren't really aware of until September 11th, but I think September 11th has confronted everybody.

This is not just an American problem. This is a worldwide problem. Unless we as a world say here and now that the world's most dangerous weapons can't be put in the hands of the world's most dangerous people, I think that's the phrase the President used some time ago, sooner or later one of us is going to get hit very very hard. It may not even be the United States.

Q: The government is preparing a resolution about this issue and will this resolution to the House, to the Congress be specific on Iraq? Or could it concern more countries of Iran or North Korea or Libya in the future?

Wolfowitz: I think they have proposed the resolution. You can check it factually. I think it's factually correct. We'll check for you. I believe that the resolution that we suggested to the Congress is, in its operative language at least, identical to the resolution that was passed by the Senate back in February of 1998, four years ago.

Q: [inaudible] out of hand in the Middle East and after you attack Iraq there will be an all-out war and will be more than one Arab nation [inaudible]?

Wolfowitz: I really don't want to start speculating about military contingencies when the President has made no decision about the use of military force.

Clearly in any serious thinking about this subject one has to think about a very wide range of possibilities and I can assure you that we don't think about any use of force lightly or ignoring ways in which things can go wrong.

I spent a significant part of my life in 1991 including traveling to Israel with Deputy Secretary Eagleburger, to pressure the Israelis to stay out of that war and I know just how close it was and how dangerous those kinds of things can be.

What has to be weighed in any decision about whether to take action or not to take action is not only what the cost of action will be, which can be considerable, but what the cost of inaction could be. What we are concerned about with inaction is to have a tragedy like September 11th repeated on a much much larger scale with weapons of mass destruction. So we're weighing very difficult things, but I would say this final point.

I think you're already beginning to see since the President's speech at the United Nations and as the focus of activity is turned toward the United Nations, that a number of Arab countries in the region have begun to shift their attitudes. Some cases quite clearly, in other cases gradually. Hopefully as we confront this problem more directly, and I'm hopeful we will have the kind of support we need, because frankly it's the best hope of achieving the kind of political outcome that would spare everybody those kinds of risks.

Q: In the strategy document it stated that deterrence no longer works against people like Saddam Hussein. My question is, deterrence worked for 50 years towards the Soviets and all kinds of let's say more or less evil regimes. Can you explain why do you think that deterrence will not work against Saddam Hussein?

Wolfowitz: Deterrence premises a number of things. It premises that the regime being deterred is rational by our lights. We've now learned that some highly educated people think it's rational to fly commercial airliners into the World Trade Center. The notion that rationality precludes suicide obviously doesn't apply to some large number of people who have declared their hostility to the United States.

Deterrence works when it works, when you can identify the source of the threat. Unfortunately these terrorist networks give countries and organizations the opportunity to execute threats anonymously and hide their hand.

Finally, I think even with the Soviet Union deterrence did not work particularly effectively against Soviet proxies. What we see with these terrorist networks is a potentially lethal kind of proxy that makes what the Soviet Union played around with mild by comparison.

Q: A question concerning terrorism, but a little on the side. I'm sure you're aware that a number of European citizens are being held, detained in Guantanamo Bay. Do you have any idea what will happen to these people? Will they be prosecuted at some point? Or will they be sent back to whatever country they [inaudible]? What do you perceive?

Wolfowitz: Let me emphasize at the outset, number one, they are being treated humanely. Number two, we've made sure that every country that has nationals there and wants to check on the status of their nationals has the ability to do so.

These people are being detained as enemy combatants and it needs to be understood in that context.

It's obviously a different kind of war and it may be harder to say when this particular war will be over. That's a thought that requires thinking through the whole notion of enemy combatants in a way that was different from earlier wars.

But we are frankly not eager to hold anyone any longer than we have to, and we are working through the kinds of policies that would allow us to make determinations about when people ought to be turned over to their own countries for some kind of treatment or detention or punishment or when, if appropriate, they should be put before some kind of judicial proceeding here.

But I think the point to fundamentally emphasize is that these are dangerous people. We're not holding, believe me, anyone that we don't have some reason to be very concerned about. And many of them have in their heads the knowledge that could help us to prevent future terrorist attacks.

So our primary concern I think is a concern that's shared in common with our allies is to make sure that while handling these people humanely and to the extent possible, releasing those that one can safely release, our principal focus has got to be on preventing future acts of terrorism.

Q: The United States, the Vietnam Syndrome is definitely over in the wake of 9/11 I've read that a lot of generals are reluctant in accepting a war against Iraq, and that the political officials, for instance here in the Pentagon, are pressing for war. Can you say if that is a definite turn in the attitude of the United States to get involved and to form conflicts and [inaudible]?

Wolfowitz: The basic premise is simply not true. Nobody in their right mind is going to be eager for war or casual about war. I guess 16, 18 months ago when I was first setting up my office I came across a painting of the battle of Antietam and I have it on my wall. It's a very stark reminder of what was actually the bloodiest in American history. It's a powerful painting because it's this beautiful, peaceful looking Maryland countryside, and then if you look closely in the front you see this ditch that was full of bodies. I don't remember the numbers, but I think roughly 5,000 people killed in a single day.

War is a terrible thing. I think everyone in our leadership, civilian and military, understands that. It is sometimes a necessary evil but it's not something that anyone would embrace.

At the same time this notion of the Vietnam Syndrome, that the United States lost its nerve or isn't capable of action I think is belied by 30 years of history since then.

This is a country that has been impressive, if I can boast a little, in honoring its commitments including through the most difficult period of the Cold War.

It's been impressive, and I guess I'd like to say this, in coming to the aid of people who were threatened by aggression or by war-induced famine in Somalia, in Kuwait, in Kosovo, in Bosnia, in Afghanistan. I think there's one other from my list. Every one of those populations was predominantly Muslim. It is -- Oh, yes. Northern Iraq. The notion that we're at war with the Muslim world is simply wrong. I believe the ideals that we're fighting for, the opportunity of people who live in peace and freedom, and for women to not be enslaved in archaic, quasi-medieval sort of system I think is something that puts us on the side of a great majority of the world's Muslims as well as I think all civilized people in the world.

So the stakes are huge. The risks are also not inconsiderable. But I think we had a demonstration on September 11th of what the risks are of doing nothing.

Thank you very much.

Q: Thank you.