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Secretary Rumsfeld Interview with Finnish Newspaper

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
June 11, 2001

Saturday, June 9, 2001

(Interview with Kari Huhta of the Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat in Turku, Finland)

Q: I had the opportunity to be in Washington for the past month, and I came back last week and a few weeks ago and I reported that President Bush at the Naval Academy was coming to speak where he was to describe some aspects of the defense review, which he then didn't and I want to know why?

Rumsfeld: Yeah, that was a rumor that was around. I don't know why.

Q: But the previous week you introduced -- you also spoke to several American media. There seemed to be some sort of a build up towards it.

Rumsfeld: It was in somebody's imagination.

Q: What happened?

Rumsfeld: Nothing happened. It was an erroneous, a typical erroneous report. There were rumors that were flying around Washington that it was going to happen. It had never been to my knowledge the intention -- of course, I'm not involved in the White House speech writing shop -- but to my knowledge it had never been the intention, because we're still in a very different stage.

Q: At that time, it was connected to Senator Jeffords move away from the Republicans and the changes in the Senate. At the same time there was an impression that the review undertaken by the various committees studying the Defense Department was proving more complicated than foreseen and that things were advancing at a slower pace than perhaps had been anticipated.

Rumsfeld: Well, of course, it depends on whose anticipation one is referring to. They are proceeding very much according to what my anticipation has been. Anyone who has been involved with this would know about it.

We have completed, I think, four or five of the various studies. One or two are still underway, and three or four have been deferred because of the fact that the Senate confirmations are so slow.

For example, with respect to [the study on] intelligence -- that hasn't even started yet. But we completed the ones on quality of life with [retired] Adm. [David] Jeremiah; we completed the one on space [ news release ], which had as its result the Space Commission report. We have completed the ones on transformation at one level, and we are in the process of working on the issue of spectrum within the building. I don't have my list in front of me.

The one that is very much underway that has taken me a lot of time and that's to get back up to speed with respect to our nuclear forces. It has involved probably six or seven two- or three-hour sessions, mostly on Saturday mornings as fate would have it, with the senior military involved on that subject and we're making good progress. There is no doubt in my mind but that we'll be able to fulfill President Bush's hope of reducing the numbers of nuclear forces.

I'm not inclined to do something until I have wrapped my head around it sufficiently that I have high confidence, and that I know that the recommendations I make are ones that I can have confidence in over a sustained period of time.

So when people ask me, when will -- our anticipation is that that will be done -- my anticipation is that it will be done when I'm done and when I feel a confidence level that satisfies me and that I'm satisfied will satisfy the president. One can't set deadlines on something like that. It's a complex set of issues. But I know that the president is determined to see that we reduce nuclear forces to a level, a lower level, that is appropriate for our national security needs today and in the future.

Q: I'll come back to that, I hope, if we have time.

Rumsfeld: Sure.

Q: As an example, you mentioned space. You spoke about this new command structure for space, a couple of weeks back.

Rumsfeld: Yes. Of course the day before the New York Times had a story talking about weapons in space which was just utterly wrong. There was nothing in the space report that related to it.

Q: Yes, I noticed that.

Rumsfeld: Why do people do that?

Q: That's what I wondered, having to correct my story the following day also that --

Rumsfeld: You didn't follow that one too?

Q: Well, not entirely. But I learned a lesson there, I guess.

Rumsfeld: Oh, my goodness.

Q: But one of things that struck in my mind there was that what you described in the speech was very much less than what were the findings of the committee you headed on space issues.

Rumsfeld: Oh, did you think so?

Q: Where, for example, issues like militarization of space were never even, was not included in --

Rumsfeld: Well, the commission did not address those issues.

Q: The possibility of having an option of having arms in space.

Rumsfeld: The commission didn't really get into that question at all. The commission was asked to look at how the United States of America is organized with respect to our involvement with space assets. And that is what we did and therefore our conclusions -- if you look at our charter, we fulfilled our charter exactly the way we were supposed to. Our report flowed from that and my press briefing at the Pentagon very precisely followed the report, although there were some recommendations we did not move forward on. But the recommendations we did move forward on where all things that the commission had recommended. And I thought it was a good report but I have to say that having been the chairman of the commission -- (laughter) it is an unusual thing to chair a commission and then complete a report and then send it to yourself to be reviewed since you just happened to be in a new position.

Q: With the information I thought that this could perhaps be an example of sort of a moderating process that one goes through in formulating changes in policy. Now in your experience with a number of working groups at the Pentagon -- where there is an anticipation of a very strong, shall we say, abrogation of the ABM treaty or a decision on arms in space -- and then what is announced is somewhat less than anticipated. Is this just a bunch of media hype or is there really a moderating procedure that influences the outcome?

Rumsfeld: No, no it is inaccurate reporting on the part of the people in the media who seem compelled to report something before it happens and they get it wrong. I just don't know why that compulsion is there. But it's unfortunate. It happened with respect to Bosnia, not too long ago, where I had an interview -- and if you like, we can give you the transcript. The transcript talked about the fact that we went in with our friends and allies and will come out with our friends and allies and we have no plans to do anything other than go through the normal six months of reviews. Then I added the same thing I added yesterday at NATO, that the purpose was not to put the troops in to remain in perpetuity, but to put them in to contribute to a stable situation and then have the civil side be developed in terms of police forces and a court system and a civil structure, so that when the troops depart at some point in the future -- not unilaterally, not today. And what you have to do these days when you talk to some many people in the press is to say what you're saying and then in addition, add all the things that that does not mean. But in any event then, the reporter apparently took out one sentence about that, about the troops, and wrote a story of it that is totally inaccurate.

Q: The impression that it gave was that you militarily saw the operation as unjustified, but that its continuation is politically...

Rumsfeld: Well, I think that the way I put it is this. If you talk to the military experts, they will tell you two things: the military job was done several years ago but that you can't take the forces out because the civil job has not been done and therefore if the forces came out in any manner that was precipitous, there is not a sufficiently developed civil side there to assure that the stability that has been achieved by the presence of the military would continue over a period of time. So you see I just erred again. I have not said now that it does NOT mean this, and it does NOT mean that. I mean it's an amazing process. I have been out of the business for too many years; I had forgotten how it works.

Q: Just briefly getting back to the nuclear work that you said you ought to do. What sort of levels do you foresee?

Rumsfeld: Well, I don't -- just like I don't foresee or anticipate deadlines. When one begins to study something carefully, what happens is that everyone who is comfortable with what is says: Oh my goodness, someone is looking at what is! That means it might change. That means it might change soon. That means it might be bad, or it might be different and of course that injects uncertainty into the whole equation, because everyone knows that what is, is. And that if you are reviewing it, it injects an uncertainty into everything.

My problem is that the president asked me to do it and I'm old fashioned. When someone runs for office and gets elected president and asks the secretary of defense to do something, I'm inclined to do it. And not withstanding the fact that it makes people nervous or it makes people wonder or it makes people feel something might change something - something might change, but if I knew what would change I would not even bother studying it. If I had a computer chip in my head then all I'd had to do is come in and be secretary of defense, know everything I would need to know after studying something -- I would have just announced it.

But I didn't and I don't have a computer chip in my head. I'm old fashioned. I have to sit down and talk to people who know about these things, study them, consult with a broad range of people, test different ideas and then propose them to the leadership in a way that either is or is not persuasive. And at that point one then thinks they know where they might want to go -- and if you're a partner in NATO, you will begin a process of consultation there. If it involves Russia, you begin a process of consultation there. If it involves the Congress, you begin a process of consultation there. But it is very difficult to consult until you have the beginnings of some ideas of where you think you might want to go directionally.

Q: Did you touch on these levels of strategic nuclear weapons when you talked to Secretary (Sergey) Ivanov yesterday when you met?

Rumsfeld: We did. I didn't discuss deadlines and I did not discuss numbers, but I told him that the United States of America -- the president and I, Secretary [of State Colin] Powell -- all believe that it's time to put the Cold War behind us. I know it's hard; it involved much of our lives for 50 years, but it's over and we need to get over it. We need to stop using the same rhetoric we need to stop using the same constructs. We need to approach the idea of a new framework for our relationships between NATO and Russia and other countries. And be perfectly willing to say that the...

I mean everyone focuses on missile defense. Missile defense is part of all of that but it is only a part. Force reductions are another part. Diplomacy is a part. Counter-proliferation is a part. There are any number of things that need to be done.

People have a tendency to take out one of them and examine it in isolation from the broader framework, the broader construct or the broader range of issues that put it in the proper perspective. I think it is important to keep forcing the thinking back up to look at directionally where we are going.

We do not consider Russia a threat to the United States of America. We do not plan to arrange our forces to prevent a tank attack across the North German Plain. We do not intend to get up in the morning and fret over the possibility of a strategic nuclear exchange. We are looking at a whole series of 21st Century events and opportunities as well as that.

Q: Again I'm in the mercy of my colleagues and their reporting and also that past days' briefings. I must say it gave me the impression that you left with the better understanding of Secretary Ivanov than with some NATO allies and European friends.

Rumsfeld: Well --

Q: Is there some level of understanding there that...

Rumsfeld: Oh sure there is.

Q: -- is different from what you are achieving with NATO?

Rumsfeld: Of course what's fun is after a meeting like that kind of see someone can find daylight between different people and if there were unanimity, it would be amazing.

First of all there, are 19 members of NATO now. I'm not going to get into a numbers game -- but if anyone had been a fly on the wall in those meetings they would have found very broad agreement on any broad number of issues that were discussed. Is it possible that some single ally comes out, or one or two come out, and make a statement that someone can find some, or calibrate some differences? Of course. Why else would you be talking? If everyone agreed you would not need to talk.

I mean that's what NATO is about. When NATO has a meeting with 19 countries, what you're seeing is 171 simultaneous bilateral meetings, all taking place in front of all of the other 17 members. If you think about that, that's amazing. The way NATO works is not that someone walks in and says here's what's going to happen. The way it works in a consultative groups such as that is by consensus. So you need to say: here's where we think we ought to go; let's talk about it. And you talk about it. And over time, if you are right and if the direction makes sense, it gets calibrated. But over time, good things happen. I mean it has been an amazingly successful institution.

Q: After the ministerial meeting in NATO, at a background press briefing, your representative said there had been a move from initial consultation to discussing how to start. What does that mean?

Rumsfeld: Well, I think what you are asking -- first of all, let's go back. I have not read the full text of what [French] President [Jacques] Chirac said but -- and I'm at mercy of the press and that is a very dangerous place to be -- I'm just being humorous with you. But I have not read it, but even the headlines suggested an openness to discussion. Is that a reasonably fair characterization of what you read from?

Q: I haven't read all the coverage, so I can't say.

Rumsfeld: I thought the minister of defense of France, when he had his press conference after me, properly indicated that he's in a listening mode and in a discussion mode. So I was very pleased.

Now a direct answer to your question. When a new administration comes in and you have people wondering what might happen, and then when a president particularly asks for some reviews of things, obviously they wonder even more what might happen. So we sent out a high level delegation after the president's speech at the National Defense University. They came back after extensive consultations around the world with NATO countries, non-NATO countries, and a number of groups. Secretary Powell was in ministerial meetings again in Budapest last week or a week before. I am here now; the president's going to be over here in a week. It's all part of the process.

What's taking place is, I think, is that we are moving into a new phase. I also think that what needs to be better understood is that the missile defense situation is one where we are engaged in a series of research and development and ultimately testing activities. Because a number of things that are constrained by the ABM treaty were not looked at from an R&D standpoint. So we are at that stage, as opposed to a deployment stage.

I also think that the thing that isn't well understood is the point I made earlier -- that missile defense is part of a much broader framework and for whatever reason, people tend to gravitate down to the pieces as opposed to the broader aspects.

Staff: Last question.

Q: Well, one on NATO but one still on missile defense. You talked about bumping into the ABM treaty, or at least that's the term I've heard used. When will you be bumping into the ABM treaty and will the time point be determined by the pace of research, by the status of development, or by the consultation?

Rumsfeld: The latter, by the pace of our R&D. You can't know when you are going to bump up against it, but if you begin with the principle that a treaty in 1970 was designed to prevent ballistic missile defense. And you now arrive in the year 2001 and you have a totally different situation. The Soviet Union's gone, any number of countries are developing ballistic missiles with weapons of mass destruction for warheads, and the need is to provide a defense against ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction. It is not surprising you are going to bump up against the constraints of a treaty that was designed to prevent that.

Q: But the point of time that would determine -- would it be determined by the pace of research and not by pace of consultation with your allies?

Rumsfeld: Well, undoubtedly both but I haven't drawn a distinction, I mean the reality is that the treaty has to be, we have to move beyond that treaty. The president has said that it has to be a new and different framework that recognizes the realities of the 21st Century, not the anachronisms of the 20th Century.

Q: I promise this will be the last one, and it's about NATO. I don't know if you have heard this yet, but the Finnish Arms Forces' new commander just said in his first interview that membership in NATO of the Baltic countries would enhance stability in the Baltic area because it would stop speculation about their status. How would you comment on that?

Rumsfeld: Well I haven't seen it in context and I'm disinclined to comment on isolated scraps of press reports.

Q: But will you --

Rumsfeld: I will discuss the subject. I think that NATO's policy is the U.S. policy and that is that there is an open door. NATO is an open organization and it looks at possible applicants based on their desire to join, based on their how well they are coming along in meeting the well-stated requirements for membership -- in terms of the nature of their government and the nature of their military, and their desire to be able to be arranged in a way that they can contribute to the security of the alliance. The rhythm that exists is, as I recall, there is a meeting starting soon -- they really haven't started yet on enlargement - and they proceed into the year 2002, and at some point ministers and capitals will make some judgments about those issues.

Q: You previously said that the U.S. hasn't started that review yet.

Rumsfeld: We haven't.

Q: When will you start that?

Rumsfeld: I don't know. In good time.

Q: I bet you are not going to say anything about what the Baltic countries' chances are.

Rumsfeld: Oh, I would not know because of course it is a NATO consensus that decides these things, and there is certainly isn't any way that I can predict that. I happen to personally favor bringing some additional countries in, but which ones, and what pace, and whether that will end up being the position of the United States government, that remains open. It's just my personal view on that, and that's a good thing. And I'm not talking about any one country.

Q: I noticed that the Canadians warned -- I don't remember who was the venue was -- but they warned against the hasty enlargement of the NATO in a wire story that was carried by Reuters today.

Rumsfeld: Well, anyone would be against something that was hasty. Hasty is kind of a code word for imprudent and rash and I don't, I mean don't quote me on this stuff, I am just saying the quote does not seem to me to be particularly or necessarily negative on enlargement. I don't know, I didn't read the whole thing. But if you ask somebody, I would think people would not only be against doing something too fast, but also too slow.

Q: Thank you.