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Secretary Rumsfeld Answers Questions at Frontiers of Freedom Conference

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
July 14, 2001

Thursday, July 12, 2001

(Question and answer session at the Frontiers of Freedom Institute conference in Washington, D.C. Audio feed begins in progress.)

Rumsfeld: (In progress) -- the Ballistic Missile Defense Office that they should engage in a robust testing, research and development and testing program. It's clear that at some point in the period ahead some of those things will work, some won't work. We'll stop the ones that won't work, we'll accelerate the ones that seem to work, and we are going to have to find a way to get beyond that treaty in the period immediately ahead.

Yes, sir.

Q: Seth Bayliss (sp) -- (inaudible). Quick question. What is the exact extent -- or, just relative extent -- of this system and how -- what is it --

Rumsfeld: We don't have a system. We don't have an architecture.

Q: Proposed system. Proposed --

Rumsfeld: We don't have a proposed architecture. All we have is a series of, a couple of handfuls of very interesting research and development and testing programs that we believe need to be tested; they need to be experimented with, used, evolved, and they involve the boost phase, the mid-course phase, the terminal phase. They involve a variety of platforms, from land to sea to the air, involving even some space sensors. And how fast these things will be able to be done is unclear, because the preliminary planning for them was not done, because many of them -- indeed, anything mobile -- would have in fact violated the treaty.


Q: I'm Anita Blair from the Independent Women's Forum and, like some others here, I was privileged to attend the briefing by General Kadish last night in which he gave us preview of the plan for missile defense. I was very struck today, in attending this conference, on the contrast between the what I would call low and slow and cautious approach outlined yesterday by General Kadish versus the absolutely hair-raising scenarios of critical risk that we've been hearing about today. And my question for you, Mr. Secretary, is to what degree has the Department of Defense and the administration considered the risks in developing the plan that we are hearing about today? Does it primarily represent a technological engineering judgment, or are we also moving towards answering the extremely serious risks?

Rumsfeld: There's no question but that the threats are real, and anyone who suggests they're not just doesn't get it.

The program that we have recommended to the Congress involves a substantial increase in ballistic missile defense funding. General Kadish is -- I don't know what adjectives he used, but his job isn't to use adjectives, it's to develop a research and development and testing program. I don't see how anyone could characterize it as anything other than robust, which it is. And we fully intend to move forward at a pace that we're able to achieve by succeeding as we engage in these tests.

There are an awful lot of pieces of these systems that have been tested, that are known, that work, and it isn't as though you're starting at square one. There's been an awful lot of terrific work done over the decades in these areas. It's a matter of doing the things that had not been looked at because they would have violated the treaty and they were prohibited by the prior administration that we're now engaged in.

So I don't know what -- I'm not much into adjectives myself, but I consider it a -- let me just talk a bit about the threat. With the end of the Gulf War, it became very clear to countries that competing with Western armies, navies and air forces is not a smart thing to do. The amount of investment you have to make and the numbers of things -- ships, guns, tanks and planes -- that you have to have is prohibitive. Therefore, it creates a disincentive to invest in those things on the parts of countries that wish to do their neighbors ill.

It does create an incentive for them to do things that are, so to speak, asymmetrical, that give them an advantage -- terrorism, cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, cyberattack, the kinds of things that do not require the kinds of investments that major navies, armies and air forces do. And for example, with the case of terrorism, a terrorist can attack at any time, at any place, using any technique, and it's not possible to defend at any time, in every place, against every technique; therefore, the advantage is to the aggressor.

And with the end of the Cold War and the relaxation of tension in the world, we've seen that proliferation of these technologies is pervasive. And that means that a trained ape can figure out that over the coming period, more people are going to have exceedingly powerful weapons, weapons more powerful than ever in the history of the world, biological weapons, nuclear weapons, chemical weapons. More people will have those more powerful weapons, and they will be finding ways to use them or threaten their use against people in their regions or out of their regions who take steps to stop them from doing that which they wish to do -- in the case of Saddam Hussein, to invade and occupy Kuwait first and undoubtedly northern Saudi Arabia thereafter.

Therefore, we simply must recognize that fact, that reality, that that's world we're living in. We can live in that world safely, but we cannot do it unless we get about the business of providing the kinds of capabilities to deal with those threats.


Q: Mr. Secretary, Tom Bowman with the Baltimore Sun. The NSC [National Security Council] put out a --

Rumsfeld: You mean this isn't off the record? (Laughter.) Strike when I said "trained ape." (Laughter.) An untrained ape should know that. (Laughter.)

Q: The NSC put out a document last night that said the Bush administration has informed its allies and Russia that you expect research and development in missile defense will, quote, "conflict with ABM Treaty limitations in a matter of months, not years." Could you expand on that a little bit? Exactly when do you think that that -- you'll bump up against the treaty or conflict with it?

Rumsfeld: There's no way to know. It depends -- that's why they call it "research and development." You're looking for things you don't know the answers to, and you don't know how fast they're going to go or how successful they're going to be. You can't know.

What we do know is that the treaty prohibits ballistic missile defense, and we do know what we're trying to do is research and development and testing -- not deployment yet, but testing -- to develop the capability to deploy ballistic missile defense.

Therefore, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that at some point in the future you're going to bump up against it. I am not one of those people who think that, oh, we can stretch the treaty, and we can pretend we're not really there, and we can characterize it 15 different ways, and we can always find three or four lawyers on our side to say, "Well, that's not a violation."

Well, that's not just not the way I do it. I'm more of a strict constructionist, and I think the United States of America ought not to be running around being seen as breaking treaties and violating treaty provisions and being legitimately or illegitimately accused of doing that. It's not what's good for our country, which is why the president has said, starting in his campaign and practically every month since, that we've got to move beyond the ABM Treaty. And what he's saying is that we -- that Russia exists, they have a lot of nuclear weapons; that we don't worry about a tank attack across the north German plain, we don't go to bed every night worrying that they're going to engage in a strategic nuclear exchange with the United States or Western Europe; and we need to get that Cold War thinking out of our heads and move towards a different relationship that is political and economic and security.

And it certainly is a thing that's possible to do, and that's the course we're embarked on. The president's met with President Putin. I've met with Ivanov, the defense minister. Secretary Powell has met with his counterpart. The president is going to meet again with President Putin in -- someplace, in six or seven days, I forget -- Genoa.

And then he's going to meet with him again in Shanghai, he's going to meet with him again in Crawford, Texas, at his ranch in November. In the meantime, Secretary Powell and I both will be having meetings, and we'll be worrying our way through this.

Q: Just one quick follow-up. It's clear from this document that you will conflict with the treaty in 2002?

Rumsfeld: No. If you're doing research and development, you do not know. You may end up stopping something. The problem that everyone gets hung up on is the Pentagon's got so many rules and requirements, what we have to do is we have to give 30 days notice to the Congress if we're thinking about letting a contract, and then if you let a contract for the -- that's what's in the paper this week, is that Kadish is thinking about letting a contract, so therefore he has to give 30 days' notice. Then if he does that, if he lets a contract to tear down some trees, burn trees in Alaska, to use the short window that exists every year up there where you can actually do that type of thing, tearing down trees -- no lawyer I know thinks that's a treaty violation.

What will happen as we go down the road depends on how successful various elements of the program may be, but clearly our hope is that they will be successful and that we'll be able to move forward. So that's why the president has been saying that it's important to get beyond this treaty.


Q: Yes, Wayne Davis with the -- (inaudible). Given that there could be also a conflict with the treaty within months and not years, and the fact that the United States does not want to be seen as violating the treaty, how does this administration prepare the specific proposals on how you would amend the treaty or how you would move beyond it, and when do you expect those discussions to begin with Russia?

Rumsfeld: Those are decisions for the president, and I think -- I'm not part of the National Security Council drafting of that words, whoever quoted it said "months" or something. You know, you can have lots of months -- 12 months, 18 months, 24 months, I don't know. (Laughter.) I don't know the document you're referring to, but I can tell you this. The United States is not going to violate the treaty. If we get to the point where we need to go beyond the treaty and we haven't been able to negotiate something, obviously there's a provision you can withdraw in six months, and that's what you'd have to do.

But, you know, the United States, everyone's hung up on tearing down some trees in Alaska as though we're going to violate the treaty.

We're not -- period, full stop.

Yes, ma'am.

Q: Lauren Christians (ph) from Americans for Tax Reform.

I was wondering if you could explain to me why the primary focus has been on land-based systems instead of the alternate systems like sea-based and space-based which have been said to be less expensive, more timely and more effective towards the immediate threat?

Rumsfeld: Well, I wasn't in Washington during the last eight years but my understanding is the reason that the focus was on a land-based system was because they were hoping that -- because any system that's not fixed, anything that's mobile or at sea or in the air is a violation of the treaty. Therefore they did not -- I shouldn't speak for them, but my understanding is that they had no interest in exploring things that would be a violation of the treaty by the reason of being mobile. Therefore we're doing that now.


Q: My name is Gilden Peree (ph) and I'm with Kissan (ph) Electronics Corporation.

Senator Hart, about six weeks ago in a committee, believed that they should create a new office with empowerment to be able to make instantaneous decisions at time of a very bad situation because our government fumbles the ball when it comes time to a real power situation happening. Do you think that we should create this new office with a new empowerment?

Rumsfeld: What do you mean by power -- electric power?

Q: No, no, they were talking about if there was a terrorist action happen or an atomic bomb --

Rumsfeld: Oh, yeah -- in the United States.

Q: In the United States.

Rumsfeld: There's no question but that homeland defense is an important issue. The president -- the prior administration addressed it, the president has addressed it. He's asked Vice President Cheney to become deeply involved in it. And they are, along with the director administrator of the Federal Emergency -- FEMA -- Emergency Management -- (audio break) -- are working with the dozens of federal, state and local agencies that need to be involved.

The problem is -- just to set it right up on the table -- is that when people think of an attack in the United States, for example, of a chemical or a biological or a nuclear event in the United States, they think of the Department of Defense as defending the American people against that type of thing.

And yet we have a law, the posse comitatus, that separates the Department of Defense in a major way from a significant first-responder role. Therefore, what you will undoubtedly find is an event in a city, and the mayor's in charge, and then it's the county that it's in charge, and then it's the state that's in charge, and then it's the FEMA that's in charge, and pretty soon, in about four seconds, they call the Department of Defense and say, "What can you do to help?" And of course the answer has to be we can do that which is permitted by the law. And we are in the process of sorting through all of that. And there is not a single office, although a coordinating office is being developed.


Q: Yes, Mr. Secretary. John Diamond with the Chicago Tribune. Your deputy today was speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee, and --

Rumsfeld: It was very good testimony he had.

Q: -- and in that testimony, he said that the notion of assured destruction is obsolete. That seemed to go beyond what the administration previously said. It seemed that the past statements had been that missile defense would be an additional layer on top of previously existing -- (inaudible word). Are you completely scrapping the idea that the United States would retaliate massively if there were some sort of, you know, a strike or a major attack on a U.S. city?

Rumsfeld: Well, I don't know what he may have said in response to a question, but the -- I think the important point to think about is that for a period of decades, that the United States and the Soviet Union each had thousands and thousands and thousands of nuclear weapons. And we were, properly, poised to use them in the event we had to in retaliation. And the effect of that conscious decision on our part -- and, I suspect, on their part -- was that they were deterred from contemplating using them, I believe.

We also know that that deterrent of massive retaliation, or MAD -- mutual assured destruction -- did not do anything to deter the Korean War or the Vietnam War or Desert Storm or dozens of other events. So we know that a deterrent that was useful to deter a massive nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union did not serve as a deterrent to every other kind of event that can occur in the world. I'm sure that's what Dr. Wolfowitz was referring to.

There is not today a nation on the face of the Earth other than Russia that has thousands and thousands of nuclear weapons, and they are not threatening us a strategic nuclear exchange. Therefore, I think his comment in response to a question, but that what we need today is to look at a series of deterrents that will dissuade people from behaving in ways that are harmful to their neighbors and to us. And it is not clear to me -- it's obvious that our overwhelming nuclear power did not dissuade Saddam Hussein from invading Kuwait.

I will add one other thing. If we had ballistic missile defenses and a neighbor or an ally or our deployed forces or the United States were threatened by a weapon of mass destruction on a ballistic missile, if we had ballistic missile defense, I suspect that we would behave quite differently than if we did not have that defense.

Second, I think that having that defense would help with respect to proliferation. To the extent it was clear that we had the ability to defend against ballistic missiles, it dissuades other countries from believing that it's in their interest to invest in those missiles. Now, admittedly, they may then go to cruise missiles, they may then go to terrorism. One solution doesn't solve every problem. But the fact is, I think, that a ballistic missile defense would be helpful with respect to proliferation.

Also, if you lack the ability to deal with a ballistic missile and an opponent has them and is not dissuaded, as Saddam Hussein was not dissuaded from going into Kuwait, you're faced with some difficult decisions as a president of the United States. One choice you have is to acquiesce. And if you know, for example, that Saddam Hussein had a nuclear weapon before he went into Kuwait and he went into Kuwait, you have a choice. You can acquiesce and let him do it because you don't want to put at risk whatever city he may have picked.

A second thing you can do is preempt. That is a very difficult decision for a president of the United States because you never know for sure if that capability would be used, and you're forced into a position where your advisers are suggesting that either you acquiesce or you preempt.

And that is not a happy prospect for a president, and he needs more options than that.

The -- it seems to me that the argument that we would create an instability by having ballistic missile defenses just falls of its own weight. They threaten no one. They bother no one, except a country that attempts -- that thinks they want have ballistic missiles to impose their will on their neighbors. They're not offensive, they are defensive. So it's difficult for me to follow the argument that they could cause an instability.

Moderator: Mr. Secretary, I'm told we have time for two more questions.

Rumsfeld: Good. You pick 'em. (Laughter.)

Moderator: The lady here and the gentleman over there.

Q: Mr. Secretary.

Rumsfeld: Yes.

Q: I'm Pam Hess with UPI. At the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, it seems that the main -- one of the main objections coming from the Democratic side is that you are asking them to fund the 2002 budget well before you've reached a determination whether or not the test program this year or in 2002 will violate the ABM Treaty. Many of them have objections to doing anything that would violate the ABM Treaty before the issue is worked out with Russia. So they think they're being put in sort of behind the eight ball, where they're being asked to approve a budget, but they don't know how it's going to be used. What is your response to them?

Rumsfeld: Yeah. We're not going to engage in a research, development or testing activity that would violate the treaty. If we get down the road -- and if you think about it, here's the dynamic. Let's just get it right up on the table. The dynamic is that we have a treaty with Russia that prohibits us from doing that which a great many people believe very sincerely is in our country's interest, that is to say, to have ballistic missile defense, and which the president of the United States has campaigned on and promised that he intends to do.

The treaty is an impediment. Therefore, the president has opened the discussion by saying we need to get beyond that treaty. He intends to set about that task, he's already set about that the task, he intends to pursue that test -- that task, and we have to go forward with our testing program. If we have not figured out a way to get beyond the treaty during the period immediately ahead when something evolves that we have to do, we will not break the treaty. And I guess my answer to a senator who would pose that question is that. What we would have to do is if we obviously found that there seemed to be no way to do -- achieve a mutual agreement, you would have to then say, "Well, we do need to have missile defense, and we do need to go forward. And therefore we need to give some -- the six-month notification."

Now, is that going to happen? No. I think we're going to find a way to have a mutual understanding. But I don't think that that ought to be considered an impediment to approving the 2002 budget -- well, let me put it this way: Let me think how I want to say this. I'm plucky, but I'm not stupid. (Laughter.) No one should want to behave in a way that would give Russia an incentive to not find a way to mutually move beyond the treaty. That sounds reasonable to me.

Thank you. (Applause.)


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