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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with ABC Nightline

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
July 26, 2001

Tuesday, July 24, 2001

(Interview with Ted Koppel of Nightline ABC)

Koppel: And joining me now from the Pentagon, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.

Mr. Secretary, on the threat spectrum to U.S. national interests, where does the notion of a rogue attack, or a nuclear attack from a rogue nation, where does that lie on the list?

Wolfowitz: I think it's pretty high on the list, and it helps to understand there's a range of threats. Ten years ago, the worst casualties we suffered in the Persian Gulf War in a single engagement was from a missile from a hostile country -- I think that's more relevant than whether they are rogue or not -- a hostile country that killed 24 Americans in a single attack in Dhahran. Saddam Hussein also used ballistic missiles then to try and drag Israel into the war, and I was there at President Bush's direction trying to persuade the Israelis to stay out. I've seen what even short-range missiles can do. That short-range threat is ten years old.

Koppel: In point of fact, though, isn't it also fair to also underscore that the attack on the Marine barracks in Lebanon killed vastly more people than that short range missile did, and it did it with a guy who drove a truck loaded with ammunition in?

Wolfowitz: Absolutely, but should we not worry about trucks because we're vulnerable to ballistic missiles? We should worry about both.

Koppel: No, but when I asked you about that list, and where it stood on the list, you said it ranks pretty high.

Wolfowitz: I think it is the one Iraqi weapon we underestimated during the Gulf War, it is the one Iraqi weapon we are still, just only now, ten years later, on the verge of having a defense against it. That threat is growing. There's a reason why these hostile countries are investing in ballistic missiles: it's because it's one of the few places they can challenge us. And maybe you think a truck is great. If they thought trucks were so great, they wouldn't be putting billions of their very scarce dollars into this ballistic missile build-up.

Koppel: Your own Pentagon experts have put out a list of the perceived threats. On a list of 10 perceived threats, they rank this one ninth. The only one that they rank lower in terms of probability is an all-out attack by Russia by China.

Wolfowitz: Ted, we're gazing into a very fuzzy crystal ball when you make those predictions. Any estimate of a war in Korea shows that the North Korean ballistic missile threat would take tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands of casualties just in the peninsula alone, and the North Koreans are working on longer and longer-range ballistic missiles. We need to work against both those threats. The point is we have some ability today to stop trucks coming across our borders, in fact, we stopped quite a few during the millennium event. We have zero capability to defend against ballistic missiles.

Koppel: You told Congress a few days ago that you though that this testing and the schedule of testing would eventually bump-up against -- I think is the way you put it -- against the ABM Treaty. You didn't have a precise notion of when that bumping would occur. Do you have a more clear notion now?

Wolfowitz: Only what I said which is we have, in particular, identified three events that will probably take place in our program in the fiscal year '02 which starts next October, which, at the very least, raise very serious legal interpretive questions under the ABM Treaty. The basic point is the ABM Treaty explicitly prohibits us from defending our territory. It explicitly prohibits us from a variety of missile defense capabilities that in fact get the missile in boost phase before all those balloons, if they have them, or multiple warheads, if they have them, have dispersed. The ABM Treaty prevents us from developing the kinds of missile defenses that we need for our territory, for our allies, for our deployed forces overseas.

Koppel: You were saying a moment ago, Mr. Secretary, that we have not had a defense, and in point of fact you are correct: there is no real material weapon system that defends us against incoming ballistic missiles, but we've always had the notion of deterrence before. It's been an effective defense; it was even effective against Saddam Hussein in the very war in the Persian Gulf that you were talking about. He was warned by then President Bush what the consequences would be to him and to his nation if in fact he used poison gas or chemical weapons against U.S. troops, and he didn't do it. What makes you think that deterrence, which has worked so well, has suddenly become ineffective in the case of a nation like Iraq or North Korea?

Wolfowitz: Ted, no one is arguing to give up deterrence; deterrence is something we need to have. But you need more than deterrence if it's available. I mean, just imagine how that Gulf War crisis would have proceeded if Saddam Hussein had long-range missiles capable of targeting the capitals of our allies in Europe or in Asia, or suppose he'd had long-range missiles capable of targeting the United States. And deterrents didn't get him to stop using his ballistic missiles; it may be the reason why he didn't put chemical warheads on the end of them.

Koppel: We are, in the final analysis, going to have to make decisions based upon the available resources and what you folks over at the Pentagon perceive to be the greatest threats. Again, I draw your attention to your own Pentagon's assessment of the rogue nation nuclear threat as being ninth on a list of 10 in terms of probability, and yet you are asking Congress, in effect, to put up a huge chunk of the money that is going to be available for the defense budget in general, for a program that may, in the final analysis, work or not work.

Wolfowitz: Ted, if we deploy it, it's going to be something that works. The PAC 3 we are convinced now is something that works, the Navy Theater Wide system is something that works. There's over a billion dollars in this budget to do it, and it is part of what makes our overall defense posture effective. And the reason we invest as much as we do in defense is because it makes a safer world, not just for ourselves, but for our children and grandchildren. It costs a lot of money, it is worth a lot of money, but we are, in fact, working on systems that will protect us and protect the American people.

Koppel: Secretary Wolfowitz, we're out of time. It's very good of you to join us. Thanks very much.

Wolfowitz: Thank you.

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