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Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld Interview on PBS Newshour

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
February 14, 2001

(Interview by Jim Lehrer on PBS Newshour)

Lehrer: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, he has just begun his second tour in that position, having served earlier under President Ford. He is with us now for a Newsmaker interview. Mr. Secretary, welcome.

Rumsfeld: Thank you very much.

Lehrer: First on the submarine tragedy at Pearl Harbor: is it true that VIP civilians were actually at these control stations when is this happened?

Rumsfeld: It is correct that there were -- there was a group of civilians who were aboard which is a very normal thing for a situation like that. Whether, what they were doing during it is something that will be subject to the investigation, and that investigation is under with a --

Lehrer: There is no indication yet as to whether their being there had any effect that could have led to this tragedy?

Rumsfeld: None whatsoever. The investigation is in progress. And there is an admiral that is conducting it. In addition, there will be an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and when those individuals complete their work, we'll know precisely what took place.

Lehrer: When do you think it will be finished? When will we know, do you think?

Rumsfeld: I don't want to put a deadline date on it -- one of which is under the Department of Defense, but the other is not, and not --

Lehrer: That is the Transportation and Safety Board.

Rumsfeld: Exactly. But it is a tragic accident and I have spoken with the minister of defense of Japan and Secretary Powell has spoken with the foreign minister. And the president has spoken to the prime minister. Everything that can be -- humanly done -- is being done for the survivors and their families.

Lehrer: When you say it was normal to have 16 civilians on this submarine, what do you mean?

Rumsfeld: It's not unusual when a aircraft carrier, a submarine is steaming that they take distinguished visitors out who have been helpful to the Navy or helpful to one of the services. It's quite common.

Lehrer: It's public relations thing, is that it?

Rumsfeld: It is. It's a reward for work people have done to help the Navy or the Navy League -- things like that.

Lehrer: But you don't know enough now to suggest that maybe this policy may be under review?

Rumsfeld: No, not at all. I think that we just have to let the investigation run its course.

Lehrer: Now, the Japanese want their sunken ship brought afloat. They want the United States to do it. Are we going to?

Rumsfeld: We have taken a submersible called the Scorpio is en route or it has arrived actually now. And it will go down to the bottom of the sea where the ship is and survey the site. It will take video pictures, and it has some arms and it could do modest recovery. When it finishes that site survey, we'll know an awful lot more about what the situation is actually down there.

Lehrer: The key to it is that the survivors want to know what happened to those nine people who are missing, is that correct?

Rumsfeld: That is certainly their interest and it is something we'll know a lot more about when the Scorpio has finished its work.

Lehrer: Mr. Secretary, on more general terms, what is your reading? You been there, been secretary now, what three and a half weeks, something like that?

Rumsfeld: Barely. Barely.

Lehrer: What is your reading thus far of the state of the American military?

Rumsfeld: Well, there is no question it's the finest military on earth; that we know. It is also no question but that the world has changed dramatically since most of the capabilities of our current military were fashioned. Indeed, I find that most of the weapons systems were there when I was there. I approved the M-1 tank, and that is the main battle tank. I was at the roll out for the F-16 aircraft, and the F-15 was brand new, and I approved the B-1 bomber. That is all 25 years ago. These capabilities are what we have today in large measure. And they are good but they were designed for the Cold War. They were basically designed and fashioned and put forward because we had a major superpower on the face of the earth that was contesting the United States. The Soviet Union is gone today, and it is a very different world. Technologies have advanced tremendously. And it is time to -- and the president uses the word transformation and I think properly so. If you think back in the Eisenhower period in our adult life times the last transformation really took place after World War II. And it was to move us into the Cold War. And we went from artillery pieces to ballistic missiles. We went from diesel submarines to nuclear submarines -- from conventional aircraft carriers to nuclear aircraft carriers -- from propeller-driven aircraft to jet aircraft. It was a significant change to overhead satellites for intelligence in communications. That was really the last major transformation.

Lehrer: And is this review that you've now been asked to do by the president; is it literally -- do we really need big aircraft carriers anymore, do we really need these big tanks anymore?

Rumsfeld: Well, it is just starting. And we are clearly going to look at, across the board and say, take a fresh look at the kind of world we are living in. And we are going to look at the -- our circumstance in that world and then look at what are the kinds of threats, realistically the kinds of threats and problems and opportunities that exist given our country circumstance in the world. And they are very different from the Soviet Union period. They are quite different. We don't look to a massive tank attack across the North German plain today. We don't get up worrying about a strategic nuclear exchange, massive retaliation with the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union is gone. And the range of threats are quite different. So what we need to do is come to some conclusions about what that means for us. Now, the bulk of our force is going to be there for a long time because a ship lasts 20 years. You can only effect 1/30, let's say you could effect 1/30th of that each year. And the same thing with aircraft; they're there a long time. But you must begin to change and transform the new things that are taking place.

Lehrer: You really mean transform. You don't mean just fix it around the edges and make the ships a little faster or smaller? You mean a major change in the way we go about this?

Rumsfeld: Well, time will tell. But I think that realistically the world has changed significantly. Technologies are advancing so rapidly. The kinds of threats we face --

Lehrer: Give me an example of something that I could understand that there is a, say that there is an existing weapons system that was, that maybe come on when you were there before, and that there is just no use for it now. What could replace that in a way? I don't mean you don't have to be too specific.

Rumsfeld: I would rather use the examples I used.

Lehrer: Okay.

Rumsfeld: The Eisenhower transformation; we went from ground communications and ground gathering intelligence to overhead satellites. Now, those same kinds of changes can take place.

Lehrer: Where would you go from overhead satellites? Is there another place to go beyond that that is a new technology that could replace overhead satellites?

Rumsfeld: Well, there are always things that you can do differently. I mean just think of what has happened recently when people went to fiber optics. We've gone from analog to digital. Take -- give you an example that involved me. The M-1 tank came to me to make a decision. We always had diesel tanks and I made the decision to go to a turbine tank for the first time in the history of the world. Now, we also recently have taken that same main battle tank and gone from analog subsystems on that platform to digital subsystems. Instead of opening the top and looking out and seeing where you are going now you can receive things from satellites and targeting information and communications information. So that the same platform can leap forward in terms of utilizing advanced technologies.

Lehrer: Much has been made in the last, this week, the emphasis that the president has put on national security and defense. But much has been made over the fact that, "Wait a minute," he has said, "we are not going to spend any more money until Rumsfeld finishes this review" and Robert Kagan, a columnist for the Washington Post, and others have said that this really hurt Rumsfeld; he didn't know this was going to happen; he thought this was going to be more money.

Rumsfeld: Well, I don't feel hurt. The situation is first of all -- just to tweak what you said -- he did not say we are not going to spend any more money. He said we are not going to make big additions to the budget and I personally think that is a perfectly rational thing to do. It seems that it's not surprising that someone would want to engage their brain before they opened the taxpayers' wallets. And what we are going to do is take a look and have a review and make some judgments, and we've been in three weeks, so it's asking a lot to look at a massive department and situation like that, and a budget that is in the range of $300 billion, and then think you can quickly go before the Congress and be persuasive as to the kind of changes you want to make. So we do intend to do that review. We are going to do it fairly rapidly and I think we'll end up with some good thoughts. We'll also end up with additional reviews and work that has to be done later.

Lehrer: What do you say to those who say wait a minute, Mr. Secretary, Bush the candidate says the United States military wasn't ready -- there were a lot of readiness problems, it was in decline, it needed a lot of things, and now you all are saying no, no, nothing right now, we're going to review everything and it may be a while before we make changes?

Rumsfeld: Well, what you say is, look, the president is for a strong national defense. This week he is focused on quality of life and announced increases in pay and some housing improvements and some healthcare improvements for the men and women which are the heart of this whole system. People ask me what has changed in 25 years -- well, what hasn't changed are the terrific humans beings that are in the armed forces of the United States. We are so fortunate they are there. So we went down to Fort Stewart and focused on that. The answer to it is that we will take a period of time and go before the Congress and make the case; the way he characterized it was what he was doing thus far is a down payment. I think that is a fair characterization.

Lehrer: Is it conceivable that -- not probable but conceivable -- that once do you your review, that you come back and say, wait a minute, we can do this on $300 billion; we don't need to increase defense spending -- what we need to do is rearrange how we spend it -- cancel this program - stop doing that and put it in new technologies and new things?

Rumsfeld: Well, I haven't done the review. But we do know that the Congressional Budget Office as a nonpartisan group has indicated they felt a significant increase was necessary just to maintain current level of capability. Harold Brown and Jim Schlesinger, two former secretaries of defense of both parties, have indicated they feel it will take an increase. I have not had that look. I simply have not had the opportunity to do it. What I do know is that savings tend to come later, not earlier; that is, for example, when you have to do things to rearrange yourself so you can save some money, you tend not to get the benefit of that -- whether it's a company or a department of government -- you don't get the benefit of that the first year. It tends to come in the second or third or fourth year.

Lehrer: We had a couple of retired generals on here the other night, this week, talking about this very subject. And they both said that the real problem over there -- over there meaning the Pentagon, the thing you're in charge of -- is that there is too much tied up in logistics and not enough in combat readiness. Like it has gone from 40 percent to 70 percent of the expenditure -- does that sound right to you?

Rumsfeld: I can't validate the numbers.

Lehrer: Sure.

Rumsfeld: But there is no question that you have to constantly be looking at your teeth to tail ratio, as they say. How much bite is there out there for what the support behind it is? And there are many articles that have suggested that the ratio has deteriorated over the years.

Lehrer: You don't have any reasons to question that at this point?

Rumsfeld: I'm in the process of looking at that type of thing.

Lehrer: Also you are going to go ahead with the missile defense system, are you not?

Rumsfeld: The president has indicated that he intends to deploy a missile defense system. We are internally now reviewing various options. He concluded -- and I think fairly -- that vulnerability for the American people is not an appropriate strategy.

Lehrer: Do you think a system can be developed that can do this, the technology is there?

Rumsfeld: I think that there is no question in my mind but that we will be able to evolve a system that will be able to deal with ballistic missiles. We know that the proliferation of these technologies across the globe is pervasive. We know that the Gulf War persuaded people they ought not to contest western armies and navies and -- they are looking at weapons of mass destruction. Ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, terrorism and various and things where they can have an advantage, so-called asymmetrical advantage; and, therefore, it's appropriate that we develop the capability to deal with relatively small numbers of these things. We are not talking about a shield to deal with tens and hundreds of thousands of these things. And Russia's concern about it -- it seems is me -- is not really serious because they know for sure that they have thousand of these things and we are talking about dealing are hands full.

Lehrer: So why have they objected?

Rumsfeld: Oh, I don't know. I don't climb in people's mind. Obviously it's to their advantage to express concern about it. There is the ABM Treaty, which they would have to adjust. I think before it's over, they will accommodate themselves. Of course, let's be very honest about what Russia is doing. Russia is an active proliferator. They are part of the problem. They are selling and assisting countries like Iran and North Korea and India and other countries with these technologies which are threatening other people including the United States and Western Europe and countries in the Middle East. So why they would be actively proliferating and then complaining when the United States wants to defend itself against the, the fruit of those proliferation activities, it seems to me, is misplaced.

Lehrer: What about the objections from Western Europe, our allies?

Rumsfeld: Well, I think what you've heard from the United States in recent years was that it was a -- that the Russians didn't want to us do it. And that concerned Europe. I think Europe at this stage is going to accommodate and understand and feel the same kinds of threats that we do. I don't think that it's going to be a problem.

Lehrer: You've already been to Munich for your first meeting with your fellow defense ministers.

Rumsfeld: I have.

Lehrer: And what was your feel after the meeting? Can you win them over do you think?

Rumsfeld: Oh, I think so. I think they are realistic. These are our allies, these are people who are, you know, very rational people. They look at the nature of the threat. They look at the degree to which proliferation is occurring and the spread of these capabilities is occurring -- and I think that they will recognize, just as we do, that a position of vulnerability is not a proper policy. We were comfortable during the Cold War with mutual assured destruction, with the threat of massive retaliation.

Change is hard -- to go away and say, look, the Cold War is over -- it's hard for men who have spent their adult lives living with Cold War think in their mindset. And what we have to do is say, that chapter is there. We now live in a somewhat different world. There are evolving threats. Cyber warfare, information warfare, terrorism -- these are things that are happening today. And we have to be attentive to the new threats and we have to fashion deterrents that will, in fact, help it contribute to a more peaceful and a safer world.

Lehrer: Personal question finally. Did you come here the second time to do this job with a particular goal or mission? What drove you to do this?

Rumsfeld: Well, I wasn't driven to do it. In fact, it came as an enormous surprise. I had no intention of coming back into government at all. And I was helpful and I was happy to be helpful.

Lehrer: You mean during the campaign?

Rumsfeld: During the campaign and then during the transition, giving him my thoughts. At some point the president decided that that is what he wanted to do and it came as a big surprise.

Lehrer: But I mean you don't have a, you didn't come with your own agenda?

Rumsfeld: Well, you know, I've not been living in a cellophane package these last 25 years, I been involved in a lot of things relating to government in terms of the use of space and the ballistic missile threat and various other -- I was a Middle East envoy for President Reagan.

Lehrer: You were chair of the commission that looked at the missile threat.

Rumsfeld: I was, so I have a lot of interests and things that I think I think, but unless you get in there and have the responsibility for it, then you have to know that's what you think. And that is the process I'm engaged in.

Lehrer: All right. Mr. Secretary, thank you.

Rumsfeld: Thank you.