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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview at End of Europe Trip

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
June 11, 2001

Saturday, June 9, 2001

(Interview with traveling press at the Marina Palace Hotel, Turku, Finland, at the end of the secretary's trip to Europe. Also participating: Lisa Bronson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for NATO and European policy, and Steve Cambone, special assistant to the secretary of defense.)

Rumsfeld: I made a couple of notes, and I don't know what I've told any of you and what I haven't told you. So if I've told you something stop me.

When I got to Brussels, I went to this nursing home to see [former Belgian Ambassador to NATO] Andre de Staerke. We got talking about these multiple bilaterals that take place. With 19 countries that is 171, with 47 that is 1,009 bilaterals taking place simultaneously in front of everybody else, which I think is just a fascinating thing. But it is important to have that in mind when you think about NATO.

I also had dinner that night with Etienne Davignon, who is the former director general of the Belgium foreign service, and was an EU commissioner and is a very thoughtful fellow. He kind of got me oriented to Europe.

The thing to remember about how NATO works is these individuals who are participating in these meetings at the foreign minister level and the defense minister level are not -- none of us are -- prime ministers or presidents. None of us are heads of government. Most, except for the United States, almost all of them are members of parliament and factors in their parties, except for the U.S. For example, the Finish minister of defense here is the head of his party. In most of the countries, that's the case, so we're very different from each other in the sense that they are political leaders, legislators, as well as running ministers.

Most of the countries, as ours, are fairly close in political margins. So they have the parliaments in one party, as in ours, with the House on one side, the Senate in the other. You all know about this, but I think it's by way of thinking through what happens.

What happens with NATO is a subject is raised, it is discussed, and it cannot be decided -- almost by definition. It has to go back to capitals. It has to go back to a complex set of relationships that are between executive and legislative, and in many cases, coalition governments with small margins.

That means when something is put forward, some people look at that process, and they say, "Oh my goodness, it doesn't seem to happen there. It's slow, it panders, I don't see anything going on."

What is happening is important. What happens is that multiple cables go back, discussions take place when they are back in the cabinet. For example, when [former Secretary of Defense William] Cohen came back [from the previous NATO defense ministerial in December 2000], we got on the phone and we talked and looked at all the things he had found as he was on his trip, and it affected where I felt we were. When I go back that will happen, it will all be a beginning of a process for the president.

The strength of a large organization like that is, it is a large organization. When it arrives at something, it has the understanding the knowledge and strength that comes from having thought something through carefully, having discussed it in capitols, having discussed it in parliaments -- having contributed and added to that product, whatever it is, their perspectives and their ideas.

So that is what NATO is and that is how it works. I can say this from my own knowledge, that when any country goes to NATO and has an idea, and it turns out to be a good idea -- if they worry it through and take time for people to sort through their own domestic situation, politically, and if they allow time for discussion, consideration and calibration of that idea -- and if it is thought that it's a good idea, then it happens. It happens not fast, but over time. That is a not a bad thing, it's a good thing.

The biggest change that I saw was the number of countries involved. It's just amazing. We used to have a Nuclear Planning Group and a Defense Planning Group in the North Atlantic Council. Now you have in addition to that, the meeting with Ukraine, and the separate meetings with the Russians; then you have the PFP -- the Partnership for Peace group -- and the South East group and the Nordic-Baltic group.

Those are all new events in the last quarter of a century and it is really a delight to see it because you can see the relationship. Lisa [Bronson] mentioned at the meeting we were just in, there were no translators. Twenty-five years ago can you imagine having a meeting like that with the Lithuanians, the Estonians, and Latvians? All the people in that room and there wasn't anyone who couldn't speak English. I don't mean that English is necessary good bad or indifferent in terms of our meeting, but it shows the degree of interaction and cooperation that is possible.

The other thing is the big changes. Globalization is visible at every turn. You cannot get into any subject where people are not connected to each other in multiple ways -- not just NATO, not just PFP, not just the EU or the UN, but their smaller groups that are working together -- like the Polish-Ukraine battalion in the Balkans. There are literally dozens of those examples that really -- I suppose someone who has been reporting on this and watching all this knows that. But for someone who comes in with kind of a time warp and looks at it finds it noticeable, it is just a big, big difference.

It was fun to be back in Brussels where our family and I used to live. But our purpose was to try to emphasize that our commitment to the alliance, and to the various groups that were participating, to underscore the fact that we recognize almost all of those countries are going through defense reviews and defense changes.

I don't know if you heard that but every single meeting was a reflection of the reality that we are in a new period. The fact is they are all doing what we are doing, and they are all having similar results. That is to say, they are trying to get people to think fresh about things, they are recognizing that change is difficult, and they are making tough decisions and it is impressive they are doing it.

The other purpose for coming was to reinforce that thought that was in the president's remarks and that I've made repeatedly here -- that it is a new period and we do need to move to the next phase. And to get them thinking about, not just any one piece of it in isolation, but all of those pieces together, because that is the context.

I would add that the value of these meetings is also the fact that, on the one hand, you're talking in front of each other and on the other hand, off to the side you can have a whole series of bilaterals. I found the bilateral meetings I had were very valuable -- the ones with Turkey, Ukraine, Greece, and various countries and discussions here, as well as the ones with NATO, Hungry, Poland, the Czech Republic, Georgia and Russia -- at the margins of those meetings are big help.

It's a long statement, but it's kind of a summary of what I came away with.

Q: Could you give is a better idea, perhaps with some concrete examples, of what this architecture might include beyond missile defense and nuclear cuts? You've mentioned those often. Perhaps a couple of things that it might include --

Rumsfeld: It's a work in process, in our thinking and in others. It will include things that other countries feel are important and where some sort of consensus evolves. For myself, and I can't speak for the president, and it's obviously going to involve in a large measure of the Department of State, as well as [the Department of] Defense, and the National Security Council.

The problem of proliferation is a serious one; it's also complex. It has many dimensions. Governments have an enormous difficulty being sufficiently nuanced to deal with it. The reason I say that is, is when you think of it with Moore's Law shoving, and the revolution in miniaturization, it's shoving things forward at a rapid clip. Technology is advancing, not in decades, but in 18 or 24 months.

The idea that governments can be sufficiently sophisticated and nuanced to even individually deal with that in a rational way is beyond, it's just not going to happen. There aren't enough people in governments who've ever been involved in those technologies to know what is happening to them so rapidly. Let alone for a country, even if they were sophisticated enough to do that -- or deal with multiple countries, because sanctions make no sense at all unless they are cooperative among the many countries. So it's a very difficult problem.

I mean, I was involved with General Instrument when they developed the first all-digital, high definition television. The FCC [Federal Communications Commission] stepped in, grabbed a hold of them, and stopped it. They said, "We're going to be helpful. We're from the government. We're just here to help you."

And what did they do? Well, we've lost our lead. Everyone else was analog, Europe was analog, Japan was analog, governments had thrown in billions of dollars, and they said you couldn't do an all-digital high definition television. And we had a young Korean American working for General Instrument and, by golly, he did it. There it was and that was back in 1990. It's now 2001. The FCC still reaches in, grabs the gears, stops the whole thing, and said, "Gee, we're going to have to look at this."

Now if we do that in technology matters, and they don't stop because it's not in government, there is a lot that government doesn't control. It just goes on and if you try to stop it in a way that is irrational -- that is to say, in a way that denies ultimately a return for that investment, what happens is that you don't stop it at all. You just force the people who do those things off shore.

They go somewhere else and do it because it's going to get done. So what we've got to do is triage. We have to say what is the most important. That is to say, what are the worst things that can get loose and get in the hands of the wrong people and [how do we] stop them for a period, a good period?

Then another group in the center would stay this stuff is going to get out, what we better do is delay it. Let' s get a group together and try to delay it. And the third group would say you can't stop it, so let's just track it. Let's see if we know where that stuff is going. But I get carried away; I apologize.

Proliferation is a very serious problem. The genie is out of the bottle in terms of some very bad stuff - both chemical and biological, particularly biological, but also nuclear. People are going to have very powerful weapons. People say to me, "Oh my goodness they are not supposed to get them -- they don't think about safety, they don't care about accuracy, they don't care about reliability, they don't care about making big volumes of these things."

If they get them they have power and they can alter behavior. Anyone who pretends that's not the case doesn't get it, because it's a fact.

The world isn't static; it's always going to go on. So that's one thing: proliferation.

Others include missile defense, to be sure, and numbers of nuclear weapons. I would also throw in verification and monitoring.

There is no question, if one looks at things and says what can be helpful? I think transparency is helpful. We're so transparent that people say, "Well, it doesn't affect you. Anything we're doing is reported."

Congress is involved, and you know, we got budgets and there are few things that are truly black these days.

But other countries are not as transparent. China is not transparent. There's an awful lot we don't know what's going on. There are a lot of things going on in Russia that are quite advanced that we don't know.

So I think you can make a case for transparency, monitoring and verification; they would be good things. I think certainly that interaction is a highly desirable thing. We have such a wonderful system, that the more others interact with us, I think the world benefits. Not because we are perfect and have a monopoly, but because we are free and making them see a different way of doing things.

Now what will the framework end up looking like? I don't have any idea.

Will it probably include those things? Probably.

Will there be other things I haven't thought about? Sure.

Where will the ideas come from? No one has a monopoly on creativity or innovation. Good ideas come from everywhere and I don't know where --

Q: Do you envision this concept or framework as being built through treaties or are we talking about something much less formal than that?

Rumsfeld: I don't know. These are decisions that the presidents are going to make. This is above my level.

I watched that process in the preceding decades turn into periods of hostility. There are certain things that make a lot of sense when you don't like somebody, you think they are your enemy and you don't trust them. You need a quite structured arrangement so that you can keep your eye on them, and you need things in writing, and you need ways to check on all of that. You need long periods of time, and armies of arms control people to discuss these things. And in the last analysis, when you look at what they did, the process was probably as important as the product.

It's like a budget, when you think of a budget in the United States. What a budget is, is a vehicle for discussion. It forces the government department, or any business or anything else -- it never happens, it never comes out like the budget -- but it forces a process of disciplined thinking about something.

When you don't feel you don't have enemies to the same degree, or you don't feel that they're hostile to the same degree, but you are still trying to find your way to a relationship, it seems to me that it would unduly lengthen things. Let me use the word, could. If you try to do everything in writing, it could unduly delay things.

The second thing it could do, it could force you into a position that you are behaving without thinking about it. You're behaving like your enemies again, and you're using the same people who did that, the same vocabulary when you did that in the preceding decades. And clearly, might it make sense to try and not use exactly the same people and not use exactly the same vocabulary? And not use the same construct? To see if that opening might give you a fresher perspective of where you are coming?

Q: Just as Americans like to have things on paper, such as contracts even when they're not dealing with enemies, just to give stability and certainty to a relationship, I get the impression that this is how the Europeans feel about this.

Rumsfeld: You might end up signing something that isn't a treaty, but it is an agreement and or it's an understanding. We did something like that here [when we signed] a record of discussion or something like that.

I mean I don't know what it will be; it could be anything and I'm open on the question, myself, open to the question. I just think it would be a mistake to think that it necessarily is preordained that the best thing in our interest, and the best thing in Russia's interest, and the best thing in our allies and friends' interest -- would be to do it the way we've done it during a period when our relationships were totally different. It is just hard to believe, but it could be.

Q: Sir, are you proposing or thinking of streamlining the process, since we could discuss things perhaps less as enemies and more as equals? Is that what you're saying? That perhaps we've come to that point?

Rumsfeld: Well, yes. I'll give you just one isolated example. Let's say I finally get my head wrapped our nuclear posture. We have our discussions with the president, and with the National Security Council. And we discuss things with the Congress, and we get the legislation changed to the extent there may some limitations on it. I think it has some limitations on our reducing things at the present time.

And what if we end up deciding that okay, it would be in our interest to have fewer offensive nuclear weapons and it would cost us less? And it would be less of a problem, and it would be probably constructive in terms of international relations? That we could provide for our national security today, and for the foreseeable future, and we are fully satisfied that it would not in any way undermine the deterrence that our friends and allies who benefit from and rely on? And to some extent at least, this reduces proliferation, to the extent countries feel comfortable that we have those capabilities, then countries perfectly capable of developing those weapons have refrained from developing those weapons, and that has been a good thing.

Let's say we hadn't figured out the rest of the pieces in the framework, or how we go ahead. Does it make sense for us to sit there for a year or two while there are negotiations in Vienna or Geneva? It's not clear to me it does. So I don't know.

The idea that you can't do anything unless you can do everything never has appealed to me. It seems to me that the way that life is, it's probably a good idea to try and do some things. I suspect we'd go ahead. I don't know that. If it cost money, I would probably have a very good opinion.

Q: Just to clarify, are you saying that the current arms control regime doesn't allow us to reduce our nuclear arsenal below a certain point?

Rumsfeld: No, and I'm not a lawyer, but I've been told by geniuses like [Dr. Steve] Cambone here that there is a piece of legislation that requires some kind of notification before -- it was put on by Congress to restrict the Clinton administration, or a prior administration, from reducing -- in a manner that Congress might feel is too far. So they required some sort of report or something. Is that close enough?

Cambone: Yes, sir.

Q: So it's not as easy as just do it.

Rumsfeld: Probably not. First, I'd have to figure out what I think and then I'd have to persuade people in the building. Then I'd have to persuade the National Security Council, the president and the vice president, and others that all of the effects of making a decision like that were acceptable, and net positive positive. Then we'd have to talk to Congress obviously about it and get whatever needed to be done, done, in a proper way, and then you'd obviously want to talk with your allies on it. You wouldn't want to do something that was precipitous or anything else.

So that's an example of how just one of the several pieces that would be a part of this, would have to be worried through. These things are not things that somebody just says, "Well, those are good ideas, let's go on and do them." We're too connected. We're connected Defense with State and the Congress, connected in the NATO alliance; we're connected with other participants who also have an interest in -- because we have a roll in the world that is somewhat distinctive. So all of that stuff takes time, and it takes discussion.

Q: Did you ever talk about this with Ivanov?

Rumsfeld: I did.

Q: What was his reaction? Did he...

Rumsfeld: You know if I could tell you what it was, but I'm trying to think if it's useful. I'm really am.

Q: I would certainly think that it would useful. (Laughter)

Rumsfeld: My goal is getting from where we are to where we think we ought to be. The question is how do you do that? Well, [former President] Woodrow Wilson thought open covenants openly arrived at was a good idea and look where that ended up.

I'm kind of more of the school that I think there is nothing wrong with countries having discussions -- open discussions that are direct, and feeling free to say what you're thinking -- even though it has not been checked in capitols, and dotted the I's, and crossed the T's. Getting it up on the table and saying, here is what we are thinking about, and asking what are you thinking about, let's talk about this. I think that's useful.

But if you start then immediately, heaving that out into to the press and the public, and other countries who look at it, and say. "Oh my god, they didn't mention that to me. They should have mentioned that to me first."

That kind of thing, because it's not at any stage where everyone needs to know anything, other than people are discussing things. If you're discussing things, it means you have to be willing to discuss things you have not decided on. If you talk about things you haven't decided on, it leaves the impression you have, and that's unhelpful.

Q: Would it be helpful to characterize your optimism about future discussions -- not details, but about what you guys talked about?

Rumsfeld: Well, I did at the press conference. I mean, I really thought it was a really good meeting. I felt that way, I think he felt that way, and we both intend to keep talking.

Q: I guess one of the things that strikes me is that in his press conference, after the meeting with the NATO ministers, one of the points that he made --

Rumsfeld: Before our press conference?

Q: Yes. One of the points he made is that the ABM treaty underpins 32 other treaties and that constitutes the international race regime as we know it. But what you seem to be talking about is something that goes beyond that -- something that is potentially a lot less formal, a lot more flexible, and deals with things that are arising. What I'm trying to get a sense of is whether they are making that leap with you. And maybe I'm mischaracterizing your priorities, but --

Rumsfeld: I think you've listened well. As I said, I'm not going to say what anyone else is thinking or doing. I am not an expert. I mean, it's almost embarrassing at my age to keep saying I don't know things, but I don't know that whole fabric of treaties that have evolved through the decades and how they legally interconnect. I don't even know precisely which countries are involved with which of the various treaties. You would need a road map that would look like a plate full of spaghetti to understand it. And I would venture to say that even Lisa [Bronson] doesn't know all of this. It is a hair knot.

Now, is it possible that there is something in some treaty that has a relevant 21st Century value, that is connected to some other treaty? The answer is, undoubtedly.

Am I saying that therefore, it ought to be left aside? No, I'm saying I don't know how that connects.

Certainly, some of those treaties involve things I've mentioned, such as verification and monitoring. I don't know which ones, and I don't know which ones are still relevant.

Oh my goodness gracious, what you can buy off the Internet in terms of overhead photography. A trained ape can know an awful lot of what is going on in this world, just by punching on his mouse, for a relatively modest cost. As a matter of fact, I'm trying to get a picture of my ranch and seeing what it looks like from 200 miles up. (Laughter)