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CNN Interview with Secretary Rumsfeld

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
June 04, 2001

Friday, June 1, 2001

(At the CNN Annual World Report Conference in Washington, D.C.)

Rumsfeld: My friend, Tom, thank you very much for those generous words and for your invitation here.

This is an important gathering. I recognize that. You folks have created round-the-clock news from every corner of the Earth, and with it comes, of course, enormous influence in shaping the public understanding of world events and the perceptions of the United States of America.

As you know, with that influence comes an enormous responsibility to get it right, since the way you handle the news can affect the course of events. So I'm delighted to be here today to help you get it right.

(Laughter)

Before we go to questions, and I'll be very brief, permit me to offer a couple of thoughts about how hard it is to get it right when predicting what will happen, as opposed to reporting what has happened.

In his book, "World Crisis," a then-young Winston Churchill summed up the prevailing mood at the turn of the century. He wrote of that mood, he said, "War is foolish; too fantastic to be thought of in the 20th century. Civilization has climbed above and beyond such perils. The interdependence of nations in trade and traffic, the sense of law, the Hague Convention, liberal principles, common sense, have all rendered such nightmares impossible." And then, he mused, "But are you quite sure? It would be a pity to be wrong."

And, indeed, that prevailing mood was wrong.

As you've heard, at the Department of Defense we're in the process of reviewing threats and strategy and some policies, force sizing, organization, but it is not easy to see the future. And to have a sense of how one ought to do those things, you have to at least try to see something into the future.

I think back, just in my lifetime, which, like Tom's, is short, still. But I was born in 1932, and it was the depth of the Depression. The defense planning assumption that was current was that there would be no war for 10 years. And, of course, by 1939, World War II had begun.

By 1941, the fleet that was constructed to deter wars had, in fact, become the first target of naval war of aggression in the Pacific. In 1950, Britain was no longer the world's greatest power. The atomic age had dumbfounded the world with surprise. With little warning, the so-called police action was under way in Korea.

In the early 1960s, the political focus was on the so-called missile gap. Few had focused on Vietnam. In the mid-'70s, the unanticipated war in Vietnam had come and gone, d├ętente with the Soviets was beginning, and the shah of Iran was the regional power in the Gulf.

In 1980, to everyone's amazement, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan; Iran was suddenly in the throes of a anti-Western revolution, and the U.S. was the greatest creditor nation the world had seen.

In 1989, the Berlin Wall was still up, the Warsaw Pact still menaced Europe, the U.S. had been helping Iraq against Iran. In fact, I was there, meeting with Saddam Hussein, during the period when Iraq was in a conflict with Iran. And, believe this or not, at Dick Cheney's confirmation hearing in 1989, not one senator, not one person in the room uttered the word Iraq.

1990, the Berlin Wall was down, the Soviet Union was within a year of dissolution, American forces were in the desert facing an Iraqi army, the U.S. had become the greatest debtor nation the world has known, and few had heard of the Internet, except for some folks at the Pentagon and the scientific community.

Today, Warsaw is the capital of a NATO nation; the U.S. is projecting trillions of dollars of surpluses, suddenly; proliferation is pervasive; rogue states are acquiring ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction; asymmetrical threats transcend geography; and the parallel revolutions of miniaturization, information, biotechnology, robotics, nano-technology and high-density energy sources are putting unprecedented power in the hands of small countries and even terrorist groups and non-nation entities. And it foreshadows changes beyond any ability to forecast.

That history, just in my lifetime, certainly ought to cause one to be humble and acknowledge the reality that, as we try to look out to 2010 and 2015, about the only thing one can constantly forecast is that that world very likely will be considerably different than today. And I would submit probably also considerably different than most of us think it will be today.

That suggests to me that a strategy might best be capability-based, as opposed to threat-based.

And that is one of the things that we're considering in the department as to how we can best arrange ourselves for what seems certain, namely that we will be dealing with uncertainties.

With that, I'll stop and be happy to respond to questions.

Q: Mr. Secretary, certainly the world has changed dramatically in the last 10 years. No longer is there the Soviet Union as it existed. No longer is there the Cold War as it existed. And as you mentioned, the world going forward is full of great uncertainty. How do you plan to change this massive Department of Defense as you look into the next decade?

Rumsfeld: Well, the first thing we know is, changing a large institution is enormously difficult. And what one has to recognize is that there's no way to spin anything on a dime, even if one were brilliant enough to figure out how you might want to spin it on a dime. You need extensive consultation and discussion inside the department, with Congress, with our allies.

And the best you then can do is to reach out. If the capabilities we have -- a weapons system, a ship, a plane, a tank -- last 20, 30, some cases 40 years, the best you can do is to reach out ahead and change a very small portion of the force in transforming it. But that small portion can make an enormous difference.

I mean, if one thinks of the blitzkrieg, the force was changed only very modestly. And behind that powerful front spear-point came horses and carriages. It only took a 10 or 20 or 15 percent change to make a big difference. Aircraft carriers, the same thing, when one thinks of that change between the two World Wars. They did not become the dominant thing in our arsenal, but on the other hand, they played an enormous role in World War II.

So what we have to do is look out and attempt to see what are the kinds of capabilities that we very likely will need to deal with this world of rapid changes in technology, the proliferation of these technologies into the hands of almost any organization that wants them, and find ways to have those needs or those capabilities compete with the much more powerful forces to keep what you have and to continue what you're doing.

If you think about the big change, the transformation in the Eisenhower period was dramatic in the sense that it went from conventionally powered ships to nuclear-powered ships. It went from propeller-driven aircraft to jet aircraft. They put ballistic missiles in the ground, ballistic missiles in submarines, overhead satellites providing all kinds of information that had never been thought of. Conversely, the Reagan transformation was one of size -- more of a continuum of what was.

It seems to me that we are currently in a period that calls for a set of different approaches to deal with a set of challenges that we can begin to see out there, even as we have to admit we can't see exactly where they will come from or in what form they may be manifested.

I thought this was a tag-team wrestling match when they all jumped...

(Laughter)

Wanted to start to head for the exit door here.

Yes, sir?

Q: Did you take any arrangements to guarantee not using the American weapons against the unarmed Palestinians? I mean, the usage of F-16 and Apache helicopters, as what happened before.

Rumsfeld: The reality is that when a country has a close relationship with another country, as we do with many countries in the Middle East, including Israel, and, of course, Saudi Arabia and others -- Jordan -- and you end up having weapons that may be manufactured in the United States in the hands of those individuals, it is those individuals that make judgments with respect to their use.

And it is, needless to say, a part of the world that Secretary Powell and the president of the United States and all of us involved in the national security process have urged that the level of violence be reduced and that the parties once again begin discussions to see if there isn't an orderly, peaceful way to sort through some of those very difficult problems.

Q: In my country, there is a great popular support for NATO enlargement and for the admission of my country. It is about 85 percent of the population in favor of NATO membership. This poses, sort of, a moral problem in case Romania is turned down, as it happened in '97. To what extent this moral side of the enlargement is considered by those who take the decisions in this respect? Thank you very much.

Rumsfeld: Thank you.

I'm going to be heading over to Europe on Sunday for the first defense ministerial meetings of the Bush administration. Secretary Powell just returned. And, as I recall, the subject of NATO enlargement is one that is on the agenda for 2002. And what one hears is that many of the countries believe that it's desirable to have further NATO enlargement and there apparently are a series of standards or hurdles that the countries that are seeking membership in NATO need to address so that they will be able to compete effectively and be considered for membership. We have not gotten to the point of looking at individual countries with respect to enlargement, although I can say, as a personal matter, I personally favor enlargement of NATO from its present size.

Q: The European allies in NATO have given, sort of, a hesitant and perhaps lukewarm response to your plans for a missile shield. How do you assess the real danger of any rogue nation to attack the United States with a ballistic missile with a chemical, biological or nuclear head?

With all respect, Secretary Rumsfeld, if I want to pick a fight with Mike Tyson, I will never walk up to him and punch him in his face.

Rumsfeld: Well, let me say this about that.

(Laughter)

Let me give you a couple of examples that might cast some light on it. First of all, with terror weapons, ballistic missiles or threatening weapons of that type, chemical, biological, nuclear, they do not have to be used to be effective. The purpose of terrorism is to terrorize, and it alters behavior.

Put yourself back into the week before the Gulf War, a decade ago, and imagine that Saddam Hussein had launched a ballistic missile with a weapon of mass destruction as a demonstration for the world that he has these capabilities.

And then he invaded Kuwait and threatened Saudi Arabia's oil fields. At that point, imagine trying to get the approval of the Senate to repel Saddam Hussein. Imagine trying to put together that coalition if every country in western Europe, including yours, had certain knowledge that he had the ability to take out major capital cities in those. It would affect your behavior.

The idea that vulnerability is a policy and that a president should get up in the morning and say to himself, "All right. We know of certain knowledge that more and more countries are gaining ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction. And we're going to have a policy that we're going to perpetuate a state of near-perfect vulnerability, and try to believe that the way we will dissuade them from threatening their neighbors and putting our cities at risk is that they will assume we would be willing to incinerate them." Imagine that.

Think of the argument in the White House. Let's say that Saddam Hussein had done what I described, and he then invaded Kuwait. And someone would go to the president of some country with a nuclear capability and say, "Gee, Mr. President, you should use your nuclear weapons against Saddam Hussein."

What would you be doing, in effect? You'd be using a nuclear weapon against a country where the people are repressed, where the people are treated brutally, where the people are, in large measure, hostages to a powerful dictator that has been repressing them for decades. That is not a happy prospect.

A second thing that it forces you to do is, if you're not going to do that, then what do you do? You become isolationist. You have a choice. Your choice is you either acquiesce and pull back and not deal with the world because it's not a nice world and you don't want to have to face a nation with a ballistic missile since you can't defend against it. So you pull back. Well, that's not a happy prospect.

Think of the global economy and the prosperity that so many people are enjoying in this world and how it is underpinned by a reasonably stable and peaceful world. And that is underpinned by the Western alliance and the capabilities that exist. And suddenly, that is threatened and you can't do that.

The other thing it could force a president to do is to pre-empt. And if you want to sit there and think about it hard some day, that is not a very nice thing, to have to go to a president and say, "Look, this is a capability that's almost there, and they're very likely to use it on a neighbor. And therefore, Mr. President, you must go in and pre-empt," as the Israelis did, with respect to the nuclear capability of Iraq some years ago.

Now that's a long answer, and it's an important question. But I don't think it's simple; I think it's complicated.

And I don't think vulnerability is a policy. I think, to the extent these weapons are proliferating, that a president has a responsibility to address that and ask, how can we, in fact, continue to be able to contribute to peace and stability in the world? And the answer is you simply do need to be able to have some way to deal with the kinds of capabilities that are proliferating.

Q: Thank you.

Rumsfeld: Yes, sir. I'm going to give a short answer to this question.

Q: My question is regarding peace in South Asia. As you know, that in South Asian subcontinent, two countries -- namely, India and Pakistan -- are maintaining a balance of terror through nuclear capabilities.

How does the U.S. propose to replace the threat of nuclear capabilities with more a positive one?

Rumsfeld: Well, of course, you're right. We have a new event in recent years. Two neighboring countries that have a history of difficulties with each other now have weapons of mass destruction and the ability to deliver them on their neighbors.

Being a realist, I have to say you take the world like you find it. You may not like it, but there it is. And what I would suggest is that the United States and other countries that have learned to live with nuclear weapons and to manage them in a way that has done something truly breath-taking -- never in the history of the world, I would submit, has there been a major weapon that has come along and has not been fired in anger for more than half a century. That is a remarkable record for human beings who have been around these weapons.

Now, what does that mean? Well, it means to me that I think we and the old Soviet Union and the current Russia have learned to live with those weapons, and we've learned to find ways that you can have a relatively stable relationship.

And I think it would be useful for all of us who have that background to do what we can to be helpful to both India and Pakistan, to see that they develop the kinds of capabilities and management and controls and confidence-building measures and warning systems and understandings so that those weapons can exist and the likelihood of them being made use of is lowered to the point that it's near zero. Because goodness knows, we don't want those weapons used.

Q: If I may, Secretary, go back to the Middle East, there are many reports in the Middle East from some well-respected magazines and from newswires originating from Washington. They're saying that the Pentagon has canceled naval exercises with Israel that were planned for next July. Are the reports true? If so, why?

Rumsfeld: We have a long-standing policy of not announcing exercises with a number of countries. And if we don't announce the exercises, we don't announce the absence of an exercise either.

(Laughter)

Q: The question is about NATO compatibility. The new members -- Hungary, Czech Republic -- are still not NATO compatible. And the armies are heavily underfunded. By when, and how, do you think these armies can be brought up to NATO standards?

Rumsfeld: I've only been on the job a few months. I have not had an opportunity to attend the NATO meeting, and while I was ambassador to NATO, that was close to a third of a century ago. So to say I'm not current would be the massive understatement of the day.

I was working on interoperability and compatibility and standardization during those years, and I understand the problem and the importance of it.

The way you deal with the problem essentially is this: You continuously press to see that the compatibility and the standardization and the interoperability is improved and can set deadlines when those things will happen. Now, if you set too short a deadline, you're faced with a budget item that is so enormous that you can't deal with it.

In the intervening period, what you do is you specialize, if you will. You have elements that are not compatible, don't try to function together because it can cause a problem. And there are ways you can select activities that it is not totally unacceptable to have that lack of interoperability. It makes it more difficult, and it's vastly better to the extent that you are compatible, but you have to live with things as they are, I'm afraid.

Q: My question is about the ABM Treaty. A lot of the arguments around the missile defense plan converge on that treaty until a few days ago. NATO countries characterized it as the cornerstone of international stability, which, of course, is how Russia sees it.

So my question to you, sir, is, what exactly in the treaty would prevent you from fulfilling your current programs of research and development for the missile defense -- which is still in an early and unproven stage -- say, for the lifetime of this current administration, for the next four years? And do you plan to meet and discuss these issues with your Russian counterpart any time soon?

Rumsfeld: With respect to the latter, yes, I think I am scheduled to see the Russian minister of defense, Mr. Ivanov, in Brussels next week, some day, Wednesday, Thursday, something like that. And certainly we will be discussing that.

If one thinks about it, the ABM Treaty was a cornerstone of the relationship, not with China, not with Europe, but between the United States and the Soviet Union, the only two countries that participated in it. And it was a useful thing during that period.

I should ask you first, did you ask that same question of Condi Rice when she was here?

Q: I didn't get to ask any questions before.

Rumsfeld: Good, good. I don't want someone trying to calibrate a marginal difference between how she responds and how I respond.

(Laughter)

Whatever she said, I'm saying.

(Laughter)

The ABM Treaty was designed to have those two countries not have defenses against ballistic missiles. The president of the United States has decided we need defenses against ballistic missiles, not because of some change of mind, but because of the changes in the world.

Suddenly, there are countries that have those weapons and will have those weapons and are developing those weapons that are notably different from any other nuclear power in the preceding period since the advent of nuclear power.

Here you're talking about countries where an individual has a near-total dictatorship over that country. There are not buffers like a Politburo or a Congress or the free press or anything to inhibit a Saddam Hussein, for example, from using one of those weapons. That didn't exist when that treaty was developed.

Second, the technologies have advanced enormously. It's a totally different world.

And the short answer to your question is, you're right. We are in the process of looking at a series of things that were not looked at because they would have been outside of the permission of the treaty, which means anything that's mobile or anything that's in the air or on the sea and the like. And what we are doing is looking at those now.

Now, it is certain that at some point they will bump up against the very tight constraints of a treaty that was designed to not have ballistic missile defenses. If your purpose is to do R&D so that you can in fact have ballistic missile defenses -- and I would add one thought: I think you used the world "shield." It isn't a shield. These are very limited capabilities to deal with handfuls of things.

The idea that it would in any way change the dynamic between the United States and Russia is just utterly wrong. I mean, they have thousands of weapons, not handfuls of these things -- thousands. They know that. They know that.

Q: So do I understand you correctly that you do not preclude the treaty remaining and maybe being amended in some way?

Rumsfeld: There are any number of possibilities. You could make changes in it. You could set it aside and have some understandings that were different. You could have a different framework for discussion. We very likely, as the president said in his speech, would discuss with them as well our full intention to be reducing the number of thousands of weapons that the United States has down to a much lower number.

Q: Thank you, sir.

Rumsfeld: Yes, indeed.

Yes, sir?

Q: Next week, you will be in Kiev with an official visit, I know, and you will be the first from this U.S. administration to come to Ukraine and deal with, not only your Ukrainian counterpart, but the president and the prime minister.

Could you tell more about this particular -- will you discuss the future of so-called GUUAM, informal group -- Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Moldova -- which has some common defense initiatives. And last year U.S. Congress funded this group with about $40 million.

Rumsfeld: We will be discussing the full range of issues that we would be discussing when I meet with my counterpart from Russia, when we meet with our NATO allies in Brussels in a preliminary meeting from the southern group in Greece, which is going to take place before that; and in Finland, a group from the northern countries afterwards.

And it would be the full range of issues that we will be discussing in NATO.

Q: And about this group, GUUAM -- Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Moldova?

Rumsfeld: I'm only, in this visit, going to Ukraine.

Q: Mr. Secretary, following your review, how did the UN come out in your review? Will the U.S. continue to contribute troops to UN peacekeeping missions? Or will the U.S. be increasingly reluctant to get involved through the context of UN peacekeeping?

Rumsfeld: That's a subject that's bigger than the Department of Defense. It's a subject that the president of the United States and the secretary of state engage in.

The president, when he was campaigning for office and since he's been in office, has said to me that he is concerned about what they call optempo -- the pace of activity in the armed forces of the United States. We have people spread all across the globe at other's request, as you're suggesting with UN peacekeeping.

His concern is not that we are engaged in various types of peacekeeping. His concern is that the pace of activity is putting a stress on our forces, is putting a stress on the equipment that's involved. And it is difficult for the families that are involved, and the turbulence that it causes in their lives with respect to morale and other aspects of the quality of life.

So I have been asked by the president, and I am doing so -- we are looking at how we are engaged around the world. We do not intend to go isolationist or tuck in or not do things in the world. But the president has suggested that he would like to moderate that in some way so that it is compatible with the size of our force and the availability of the equipment.

Talk about getting it right. Recently, I had an interview and out of the interview, in the midst of my interview on Bosnia, I said the following things, and one piece of it was lifted out in isolation and put on the front page of a newspaper, which has required three or four days of digging out. I know none of you would ever do that.

(Laughter)

But just to clarify that and seize the moment, we've been in Bosnia for four or five years. We went in with our NATO friends and other countries and intend to stay in with them. And when the job is done, go out with them. The number of forces have been moderated from time to time with regular NATO six month reviews.

My point was that when they went in, it was suggested they would be there for a year. It turned out that that was wrong by a factor of five.

Now, why is that? Well, one of the reasons that they're still there is not that the military task has been that difficult to perform. Indeed, that has been performed very well. But the concept was that in lieu of the military, as the first year went along, there would be a good deal of effort to substitute for the military a civil capability -- a court system, a police force and the kinds of things that would be able, once it was stable, to move the military out and have a stable situation continue because the work had been done.

Now, one of the problems is that when you've got forces in there, they're essentially free. They don't take a lot of work from you -- that country. They don't take a lot of work on the part of others. They're getting paid by somebody else. And there's a strong tendency to have them stay there, not because they're needed for a military purpose, but because it's a lot cheaper and a lot easier and not as tough as trying to fill that vacuum that would exist by creating a strong civil sector that could take its place.

Now, I admit that's hard work. But the work has not been done. It needs to be done. And it does not mean that the United States is going to pull their forces out, because we're not. The president said that. Condi Rice has said it. Colin Powell said it. I've said it. And it was notably unhelpful for that person to pull out one phrase of that entire conversation I just had, and suggest that that meant that we were going to do something precipitous. We are not.

Q: During the Clinton administration, we were very much used to the great American involvement in the Balkans. I'm not sure if that was good or bad. But what do we expect from the Bush administration for the Balkans?

Rumsfeld: Well, I think we're seeing it. We're engaged in a number of the countries. We're engaged on a multilateral basis with a number of the countries, from NATO and from partnership countries, including Greece and others. And it is not an easy task.

Outsiders, if you will, coming in, can do certain things. They can't do everything. We can't go in and nation-build and create understanding and create an environment that is so hospitable that people who have been uncomfortable with each other for centuries or decades, at least, suddenly are more comfortable with each other.

What we can do is, with others, go in and try to create a more stable situation for a period, and then try to find ways to create a situation on the ground that is not intolerable for the people who live there. That is not easy to do if you don't live there. And in the last analysis, it's the people who live there who have to figure out the ways that they can live together.

And does that mean, because we're not brilliant at it, our country or any other country on the face of the Earth that I know of, does that mean we shouldn't try to be helpful? No, we should try to be helpful. But does it mean that we will necessarily be successful in each instance? No, it doesn't. There are going to be instances where we, despite best efforts, are not going to be successful.

Q: Mr. Secretary, the next delegate...

Rumsfeld: From Uganda. I was going to find you over there and give you the last question if you didn't get in the line.

Ask me an easy one, though.

(Laughter)

Q: It is apparent that the Great Lakes region continues to be an area of contention as far as the ownership of influence is concerned, of who should be in control there. The traditional colonial masters, the French and the British, as well as the newcomer, the United States of America. So what is your standing as far as solving the conflict in the Congo is concerned...

Rumsfeld: The conflict where?

Q: In Congo.

Rumsfeld: In the Congo.

Q: Considering that the continued lack of infrastructure development in the country remains a big stumbling block to the economic development and sustained political of the countries in the Great Lakes region.

Rumsfeld: Colin Powell has just been traveling throughout Africa. He is the secretary of state of the United States of America. He is knowledgeable.

I have had a very long conversation with him since he returned, but it was only with respect to the NATO piece of his trip. And therefore, I am not even going to attempt to respond to that question.

As a friend of Tom's used to say, Pierre Salinger, who was the press secretary for President Kennedy, he'd say, "I'm plucky, but I'm not stupid."

(Laughter)

Thank you.

(Transcript provided by CNN and posted with permission.)