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Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld Interview on Fox News Sunday

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
February 12, 2001

Sunday, February 11, 2001

(Interview by Tony Snow on Fox News Sunday)

Snow: And now, we're happy to welcome Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Secretary Rumsfeld, welcome.

Rumsfeld: Thank you.

Snow: Yesterday, a submarine bursting through the Pacific Ocean -- a U.S. submarine -- splintering basically a Japanese ship. What happened?

Rumsfeld: Well, that's what the investigation will have to determine. It was a terrible tragedy, we know that. And there is still a search-and-rescue operation taking place to try to find the missing people.

The captain -- the skipper of the submarine -- has been relieved of duty, and the investigation's going forward. I've spoken to the minister of defense of Japan, Mr. Saito, and Secretary Powell has spoken to the foreign minister, and expressed the apologizes and regrets of the United States.

Snow: Wouldn't it be a better idea, at this point, maybe to think about doing some of that training a little further from shore? It was only 10 miles from the shore of Hawaii.

Rumsfeld: Certainly that issue and other issues will be examined very carefully.

Snow: All right. Coming up this week, the point of emphasis for the Bush administration is going to be national security and national defense. On the campaign trail, Vice President Dick Cheney said, help is on the way. But help doesn't mean more money, does it?

Rumsfeld: Well, it may indeed. Indeed, the president of the United States has indicated recently that he intends to have a one billion-plus pay increase for the men and women in the armed services.

What he has also said is that he would like me and the Department of Defense to undertake a defense strategy review, and a focus on quality of life issues for the men and women in the Armed Services. And we have put that in motion.

On Monday, the president will be at Fort Stewart in Georgia, and focusing on quality of life issues with the men and women.

Snow: Let's talk about some of these quality of life issues. One of them is simply the quality of the equipment. I gather the president was out at Fort McNair recently, meeting with members of the various service branches, and hearing tales. For instance, not enough spare parts for Air Force jets, not enough ammunition for Army training. There are routine equipment problems with the Navy.

Is the first point of business for this administration to make sure that we've got proper equipment for the people who are serving right now?

Rumsfeld: I think the focus has to be on quality of life for the people. The people are the heart of the Armed Services. Without the men and women that we're able to attract and retain to man the forces, then we really don't have a national defense. So, that has to be the first focus.

And readiness is a part of that, there is no question. If you're forced to cannibalize your equipment to keep some portion of it operational, that's not good for morale. That's harmful.

Snow: But you're keeping a relatively lean budget. Does it mean that right now, the business of keeping everybody fully equipped means also that you're going to have to put a halt to some weapons development that may be more costly?

Rumsfeld: Well, what it means is that the president decided to engage our brains, rather than open the taxpayers' wallets immediately. And what he wants to do is to conduct a quick, prompt review. It's not going to take years, and it's not going to take days. It will take some months. And then we will go back to the President with our recommendations as to what we believe are the priorities, and what needs to be done.

Snow: It's an old cliche in defense circles that every general is preparing to fight the last war. Are we unprepared for the challenges of the future?

Rumsfeld: Well, there's still a lot of rhetoric that sounds like the Cold War. We hear it from people across the country. They talk about the -- they talk in Cold War-think words. And "massive retaliation," and "strategic nuclear exchanges" and that type of thing.

The concern for the United States today is not a massive nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union is gone. It doesn't exist. Russia's there. And Russia's a very different thing than the Soviet Union. We don't expect a massive attack across the North German plain with tanks and artillery pieces, and that type of thing.

Snow: So the key question then is: tanks. The kind of tanks we have right now -- vestiges of the past?

Rumsfeld: Well, I'm not going to get into specific weapons systems, Tony, because that's the purpose of this defense review. We're looking at all of those questions.

Snow: But it gets to the question. You're seeming to imply that the kind of forces we have right now really are not well suited to what the president talked about on the campaign trail, which was fast, mobile outfits in each service branch that can react across the globe swiftly.

Rumsfeld: There's no question but that speed and agility and lethality are important.

Snow: And we don't have that the way we need it right now.

Rumsfeld: Well, the word "transformation" is one we hear a lot about. We hear it in the Pentagon, we hear it in the speeches of people in the Congress. And it is important. There's no question that the United States of America needs to get arranged, so that we can effectively deter and defend against threats that are new and emerging. And they're quite different than massive land wars, or massive air wars, or nuclear exchanges and that type of thing.

Snow: Well, if we don't have to worry about nuclear exchanges, why is missile defense important?

Rumsfeld: Well, I didn't say we don't have to worry about things. It isn't this or that. It's really a broader range of threats and concerns, and therefore a deterrence.

The goal isn't to win a war. The goal is to be so capable of winning a war that you don't have to fight it -- that you dissuade and deter people from engaging in mischief that they otherwise might do.

Missile defense, it seems to me, is very reasonable. And what we know is that with the end of the Cold War, proliferation has spread these technologies and weapons of mass destruction around the globe. Any president, looking at his responsibility as commander-in-chief, would have to say that a policy that is designed to keep the American people totally vulnerable does not make much sense.

Snow: So the question is, was the missile defense plan adopted by President Clinton such a defensive scheme -- one that keeps us vulnerable?

Rumsfeld: What I am going to be doing, and am doing, is to take a good hard look at all the different ways we can manage to deal with relatively small numbers of ballistic missiles, with weapons of mass destruction, regardless of where they come from, and regardless of whether it was accidental, or unintentional, or intentional. That's what this system is designed --

It threatens no one. And it should be of concern to no one, including the Russians or the Chinese, unless someone has an intention of doing damage to other people.

Snow: The president said during the campaign that he was going to offer amendments to the ABM Treaty, which as you pointed out, was signed with the Soviets in 1972.

Rumsfeld: Right.

Snow: It's been seen as the greatest bar to doing any large-scale or flexible missile defense. The president has said if the Russians would not accept the amendments, he would go ahead and serve notice that we're going to get out of the treaty and go ahead with missile defense. Is that still the administration position?

Rumsfeld: Well, the president's not changed his words or his mind. What we are going to do is reviewing the various ways that we can deal with this problem, making a recommendation to the president and his national security team.

And to the extent that it fits within, or doesn't fit within, the president and Secretary Powell then have to make judgments. And we'll have time to consult with our allies, and to consult with our friends around the world. And obviously, to engage in discussions with the Russians.

Snow: How soon should we begin deploying missile defense?

Rumsfeld: Well, it seems to missile defense ought to be deployed at that point where we have fashioned a program that makes the most sense for us and for our friends and allies. We're not in this alone. And second, that the technologies evolve in a way that we can be reasonably confident.

Now, the argument against every weapons system almost in history is -- the first argument is that it cost too much. And the next argument is that it won't work. And the next argument is that it will work so well, that it will be destabilizing.

Well, we're hearing all of that now. But that would have been true of anything.

Snow: What do you mean? It would have been true of anything that -- those arguments would have been --

Rumsfeld: -- Those arguments, they would have made the same arguments against every weapon system known to man. So I don't particularly find them very valid.

Snow: President Reagan promised to share Strategic Defense Initiative technology with all countries. Will we share that technology? Will we make that offer to share it with other nations?

Rumsfeld: We certainly do -- we already are working with several nations on the subject of missile defense. And obviously, you do not want major differences in the vulnerability of the United States and our allies in Western Europe, for example.

Snow: Now, one of the other threats emerging is so-called transnational terrorism, people like Osama bin Laden. How do we fight them?

Rumsfeld: Well, that's true. It is a very serious problem. And if one thinks of all of the so-called asymmetrical threats -- the kinds of things people would do, or threaten doing, rather than to try to contest Western armies, navies and air forces, which doesn't work, obviously. The Gulf War proved that.

Terrorism, cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, cyberwarfare, information warfare. These are all things that are cheaper than land wars, and where the technologies are currently available. And the United States has to recognize those emerging threats, and see that we're arranged so that we are not subject to nuclear or terrorist blackmail.

Snow: We have talked about -- and also, President Bush has talked about -- swift and decisive responses to those who harm Americans. Say Osama bin Laden or somebody like that orders a strike. Would it be appropriate for a president to revise policy and to go ahead and approve assassination attempts against such people?

Rumsfeld: That's not a subject that I -- that has been addressed with the new national security team that President Bush has assembled.

Snow: There's a member of Congress, Bob Barr of Georgia, who says he's going to introduce a bill that would lift the assassination ban. Would you support or oppose it?

Rumsfeld: It's not for me to support or oppose, Tony. It's for the president of the United States. Obviously, it would lead to -- were such a bill to pass the House and the Senate, and come down to the president for consideration, it would then be a subject of discussion by the president with his national security team, and I would participate fully in the discussion.

Snow: Is Iraq a nuclear threat?

Rumsfeld: Iraq is probably not a nuclear threat at the present time. There's no question but that its nuclear capabilities were well advanced, and much farther advanced than Western intelligence capabilities knew. And we were very fortunate that the Israelis went in some time before, and took out their nuclear capability.

Because in the Gulf War, information was developed to show that the Iraqis were quite close to having a nuclear capability, and there's no question but that he has that desire. He's got an enormous appetite for nuclear, and chemical and biological weapons. And he's spent a lot of money on it.

Snow: That being the case, we're going to spend $4 million trying to help internal opposition to Saddam Hussein. Are training troops?

Rumsfeld: The subject of Iraq is something that the national security -- the Bush National Security Council team has discussed. The president's interested in the subject, as to how Saddam Hussein can be deterred and dissuaded from continuing to develop weapons of mass destruction.

Secretary Powell is leaving very soon for the Middle East, and will be discussing the subject with our friends and allies in the region and with the coalition members. And the president's not made any new announcements on the subject.

Snow: Isn't it safe to say we want him out of power?

Rumsfeld: Well, I think the Congress has passed legislation that suggests that a regime change in Iraq would be desirable.

Snow: Final question. What do we know about the USS Cole? Are we close to getting the people responsible?

Rumsfeld: The investigation's going forward, and you never know how close you are till it's over. And the investigation's still underway.

Snow: So, stories out of Yemen right now may be a little overblown, saying that they're closing in on the guy?

Rumsfeld: You know, it's not over till it's over.

Snow: (Laughs.) All right. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, thanks so much. Artfully done.

(Laughter.)

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