Rumsfeld Makes Case for National Missile Defense
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 5, 2001 Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said the United States would consult with its allies and friends as it makes decisions about National Missile Defense.
But, Rumsfeld said Feb. 2, President Bush has the constitutional responsibility to defend the United States, and he has promised to build and deploy a national missile defense system.
Rumsfeld spoke in general terms about the program on his way to the Munich (Germany) Conference on Security Policy. The secretary used the setting in Germany to meet with many defense ministers of allied nations.
He said he was not going to make any pronouncements on national missile defense. Rumsfeld said he has just started meetings on the subject and he could not talk specifics. He did talk about the need for missile defense and the relevance of the 1972 ABM Treaty to the debate.
Leaders of some European nations maintain that a U.S. missile defense program would spur a new arms race. They contend such a system is destabilizing and unneeded.
Russian leaders said they believe an NMD system is aimed against their country. Russian President Vladimir Putin has called on the United States to abandon the idea. He also has refused to amend the ABM Treaty to allow the United States to field an NMD system. Putin calls the ABM Treaty a cornerstone of U.S.-Russian relations.
Rumsfeld said the threats posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction require such a system even if many call such a system risky.
"It kind of amazes me ... that the issue of missile defense is an issue of a country -- or countries -- that feels vulnerable and being able to reduce that vulnerability," he said. "That doesn't threaten anybody. It just doesn't."
The secretary said the Russians know that the U.S. system under discussion is no threat to the nuclear balance between Russia and the United States. The U.S. system might stop "a handful" of missiles and is "not in any way relevant" to the Russians with their thousands of warheads, Rumsfeld said.
Rumsfeld said President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell agree the United States needs continued discussions with the Russians over the ABM Treaty. "We would need to talk with them whether there was a treaty or not," he said.
Rumsfeld sees the treaty as outdated and a stumbling block for building an effective missile defense system. "There's little doubt in my mind that if you were seeking a system that was the easiest to deploy, the most cost-effective and technically the best, you would very likely come up with something other than if you sat down and tried to design a system that would fit within a treaty written 25 years ago," he said.
When the ABM Treaty was signed, technology was different and the superpower confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union dominated world politics. The Russian emphasis "is really, in my view, Cold War thinking to elevate that treaty to something that is central to the relationship today."
Rumsfeld, who first served as defense secretary in the mid-1970s, said that both sides were properly concerned to cement in place the strategy that came to be called "mutually assured destruction" -- having a lot of weapons, and both sides knowing that any attack would be met by massive retaliation.
He said the Russians "can't be concerned about us and we aren't concerned that Russia is poised to use those weapons against the United States. The Soviet Union is gone. Russia is a different country. That period is over in our lives. Why don't we just get over it?"