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Missile Defense Needed to Thwart Extremists, Rumsfeld Says

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

HUNTSVILLE, Ala., Aug. 18, 2004 – With extremists constantly looking for weaknesses to exploit and the means to exploit them, missile defense capabilities are a must, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said here today.

Rumsfeld spoke at the 7th annual Space and Missile Defense Conference before an audience of military and corporate leaders.

"Extremists go to school on us; they watch our behavior, they watch what we do," the secretary said. He recalled how terrorists adjusted to defenses put in place after a truck-borne bomb leveled a barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, killing 241 U.S. Marines in October 1983. Barricades were erected, he said, only to have the terrorists start firing rocket-propelled grenades over the barricades. When wire mesh was used on buildings so the RPG rounds would bounce off, the terrorists started attacking softer targets, such as people going to and from work.

"History has taught us that weakness is provocative," Rumsfeld said. "To the extent that 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."

The United States has a weakness with respect to ballistic missiles, he added. "The longer the delay in deploying even a limited defense against these kinds of attacks, the greater the likelihood of an attempted strike," he said. "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."

About two dozen countries have ballistic missiles, Rumsfeld said, among them some of the world's most dangerous regimes. Intelligence indicates, he added, that some of those regimes have programs for nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs.

"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," he said. "The same can be said of Iran." Iran conducted tests last week, he noted, and more countries are developing and sharing information.

The head of Pakistan's nuclear program not acting under his country's auspices -- was running a business of sorts, trading in nuclear technologies with a "nontrivial number of nations," Rumsfeld said.

When the network was shut down through intelligence efforts and cooperation among several nations, the secretary noted, Libya announced it would discontinue its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and turn over its related materials.

"I suppose that one of the greatest threats facing civilized societies in this new era," Rumsfeld said, "is the potential that these weapons will find their way into the hands of terrorists extremists, 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 have seen."

In the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, extremists killed 3,000 people from many countries, the secretary noted. "Were they to acquire more lethal weapons, the weapons they seek, clearly the toll in the future could be many times greater."

Rumsfeld said critics of developing a missile defense program say it can't work, that it's not a priority even if it did work, and that it's potentially destabilizing. Testing has shown missile defense can work, he said, and rather than being destabilizing, it continues to be a common goal that serves to build closer relationships with longtime allies and other nations.

"As enemies continue to adapt and evolve, so must our capabilities," Rumsfeld said. "That is why President Bush directed the Department of Defense to pursue an evolutionary approach to the development and deployment of missile defenses."

Instead of waiting until such a system is perfected, the secretary said, the United States is deploying an initial set of missile defense capabilities. "They will evolve over time as technology advances," he said, "and as we are able to make these limited defenses somewhat more robust."

Testing and development, he added, will continue to improve the initially deployed hardware and software, and the United States will continue to take advantage of the most promising technologies as they become available.

"Over the past three years, our folks have conducted dozens of tests," Rumsfeld said. "More are scheduled later this fall." Some tests have been successful, he said, and others have not. "From time to time, when one is not successful, it's characterized as a failure," he noted. "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 failure."

The initial missile defense capabilities are far from perfect, Rumsfeld acknowledged, but he said that's all right with him.

"All cutting-edge endeavors involve trial and error," he said. The secretary used his experience in the pharmaceutical industry to make his point. Research and development in new drugs involves failure after failure, he said, until ultimately the lessons learned from those failures lead to products that help people.

"The way ahead (in missile defense) will have its share of stumbles, let there be no doubt," Rumsfeld said. "But we will not fail if we continue to benefit from leadership that combines vision and resolve."

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Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld

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