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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Interview with the New York Times

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
August 01, 2001

Saturday, July 28, 2001

(Interview with Tom Shanker, New York Times)

Shanker: I wanted to start with the QDR, if I could. There's been a lot of tension in the process. I was told that you and the vice chairman are for now partnering up to try to work some of the force questions. Can you bring me up to date on where you are?

Wolfowitz: It's hard to do on a day-by-day basis. I guess I would say I have a feeling we're making a lot of progress. We're trying to do it on an absolutely crazy schedule, so you never feel very comfortable.

But I feel like some extraordinarily difficult issues are being pushed up to the surface and debated in an honest and direct way. And the analysis is being structured in a way that is useful I think. We had a little bit of a false start a couple of weeks ago, and I think it really was because the guidance that we gave to the group, which was unanimously agreed on, turned out to have a pretty wide range of ambiguity in it, and therefore, it led to some results that I think the senior group unanimously agreed were much wider a range than what they intended.

A lot of it has to do with this question of what is a defeat of the enemy, and what's something short of what would be called a decisive win. It's still a work in progress. We're still thinking through what it means strategically as well as what it means in terms of force structure, and there's a tendency sometimes for people to immediately leap on the words because it's going to give us one-third more units of X or one-third less units of X, and at the same time the words themselves in the sense that their defining strategies to (inaudible).

I would say that what we're striving to get at, and this is just me speaking now, I think we have a consensus but I'm describing my personal view of the consensus. That we're striving to get at a realistic description of what a president would need in a major world crisis against the realistic threats that we face today. Which means both trying to assess realistically what the Iraqis and North Koreans in particular are capable of. There are others, but those are the ones that tend to be the driving threats. And to think of it in terms of realistic objectives which includes the idea that you do not want in opposing one aggression to leave yourself naked to another one.

Some people sort of treat that issue as the absurd coincidence of two unlikely events, and therefore you don't have to worry about it. But they're not two unrelated events. The precise point is that when you're engaged in one place it's the opportunity for someone with hostile designs to say this is my moment to strike. So you need to cover yourself elsewhere.

Shanker: If memory serves, during the Gulf War wasn't there some concern about a threat from North Korea?

Wolfowitz: I don't remember that at all. It's an interesting question. I think we felt pretty comfortable in South Korea. I mean I was pretty well involved in that so I think I would remember if there were anything that rose above a very momentary concern, I'm sure the commanders included. (inaudible) -- but I think actually that's a counter case, in a sense. And I do think deterrence is very strong in Korea, but we don't want a deterrence that's based on a (inaudible) American troops. You don't want a tripwire defense. You want a deterrence that convinces an aggressor that if they try something aggressive they will pay a price. But there is this difference between a defeat and a win decisively on our part that sort of translates into a counter-offensive capability where we go beyond just the defeating.

Shanker: Like regime change?

Wolfowitz: Yeah. It gives you a higher level of options.

Shanker: What you're looking at now is something short of regime change.

Wolfowitz: In the secondary theater, yeah.

Shanker: There's sort of a cliché or Beltway narrative that I'd like to get away from, and that narrative is the military services, the uniforms are only out to protect weapons and people, and that the new political leadership that comes into the Department of Defense only cares about the future. They have great ideas, but can't operationalize it. I think it has been described someplace as a very fundamental and very important discussion about risk and (inaudible).

How, when you walk into the room and see these people and these interests, what are the metrics involved? How do you measure risk? How do you say no, the risk ten years from now is what we want to spend the money on; 15 years from now. And we think that the risk today is less.

Wolfowitz: And by the way, I don't see it as a simple civilian/military divide. There's obviously a tendency for a theater CinC whose job is to worry about planning a war in the next two years. Obviously his focus is on those requirements and as the secretary likes to say in those situations you want to be able to (inaudible).

But they are an input. They're not the only people that drive this.

I think everyone in this process is worrying about the future, and I don't think the civilians have some monopoly in worrying about future. And I don't think the military has a monopoly in worrying about the morale of the current force and the care and feeding of the troops.

I think one of the great advances, at least in the terms of reference, and it's easier to put in a terms of reference than carry it through to the end I guess is the question, but it's the first time I know of that we've explicitly identified three different kinds of military risk that represent this. A former colleague described them as today, tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. That's Eliot Cohen, to give attribution where it's due.

I mean today is all those things that we have taken on around the world, many of which were supposed to be temporary. And in an odd way Haiti, which was I think was a fairly wasteful venture in the sense that I don't think we accomplished very much, at least it was time limited so it has not placed a permanent burden on our force structure. Whereas the deployments in the Balkans which might have been avoidable with a different policy, but in my view at the point we made them were necessary, and the point we're at now can only be reduced but not eliminated. Those now, because they're permanent, drive their way into the rotation base. I think it's something that's not well appreciated.

In fact, frankly, the services themselves don't fully understand what the requirements are to maintain units overseas in difficult circumstances, i.e. unaccompanied, no family, difficult tour.

Shanker: PERSTEMPO's a problem.

Wolfowitz: Yeah, but what the rotation base -- the Navy has a long-established pattern of deployments that they know roughly how much you can push people and still keep them in the Navy. So they know what the rotation base requirements are. And they tend to be in the range of three or four to one. And it's three units of, four units of force structure to every one you have overseas.

I think the Army knew pretty well what it needed in Europe, where people go with their families. It's still a strain. It requires a rotation base.

But these deployments like the Balkans where they're unaccompanied, where you're calling up National Guard and Reserve units and taking them away from their jobs for a six month period, where some of the units are specialized and therefore... It's something that I think civilians do not appreciate the difficulty in running a huge, complex organization with many moving parts and doing it in a way that doesn't make people's lives impossible.

The Army is thinking at this point that they're more at a four or five to one rotation base ratio. But that's today. I mean, in other words, we've got commitments in Europe, we've got commitments in Korea, we have commitments in Southeast Europe which are brand new, we have commitments in the Persian Gulf which may be reduced or go away as we get rid of Saddam Hussein at some point, but as long as he's there, it drives a lot. And all of those day-to-day commitments we call force management risk, and that's the risk that drive your OPTEMPO and PERSTEMPO up to the point that you lose the people that you need to keep. I think that's probably the simplest way of explaining it.

So that is one dimension.

Then we said operational risk, which is usually the only thing that I think people look at, and that is what's the risk that we won't be able to carry out the war plan.

Then, what did we call the future -- we had a term for the future dimension of risk. Future capabilities risk, I think. I have the concept absolutely clear in my mind, so I don't care about the term.

Shanker: Right.

Wolfowitz: And that is you could say the operational risk 10 or 15 years from now. But you can't measure operational risk 10 or 15 years from now because you don't have, you can't define the threat freely and you don't have a war plan against an undefined threat. So it's not a lay-down of a war plan against the threat.

In fact the major contribution I would say of Andy Marshall's strategy review was to say as you look to the future, instead of saying who is going to threaten us, it's better to focus on what is going to threaten them. There you actually can have a reasonably good idea of both where the weaknesses, our Achilles heel - pun intended. (Laughter) Where our vulnerabilities may be but also where we may have opportunities to exploit our advantages. And think of it more in terms of in a sense the way we've often thought of naval power, and I think appropriately, as not just directed against a threat, but maintaining naval superiority and maintaining secure sea lines of communication.

In a way I think one might say that part of the opportunity the U.S. has in this part of the century is to think about -- we have unusual opportunities to foreclose whole areas of military competition to hostile countries.

Shanker: Such as?

Well what the Navy does for pirates is a historical example of that. There are very few countries in the world who would even think about challenging us in air-to-air combat. They go to missiles which cause troubles. And they go to ballistic missiles, by the way. That's an area where you can see a capabilities weakness on our part of that we need to close.

I think people are very discouraged from challenging us in some (inaudible) affair. It doesn't mean they won't try, but they realize they have a very high hill to climb and -- I'm not trying to make a pitch here for missile defense, but when confronted with the usual truck bomb argument on the Hill, and I believe in worrying about truck bombs, I'm told by some estimate we spend $11 billion on various counter-terrorist measures. We have defenses against truck bombs. Pardon?

Shanker: Having been born and raised in Oklahoma City, I have a certain sensitivity to truck bombs.

Wolfowitz: We've been hit in Saudi Arabia by both truck bombs and ballistic missiles. The thing is, we have some defenses against truck bombs, and we don't have a treaty that prohibits us from defending against truck bombs. But when you look at what the bad guys are doing, they're pouring enormous amounts of money into ballistic missiles. If truck bombs are such a marvelous alternative you wouldn't see that kind of investment, and I really think, to me, these are surmises, but I think you see that investment because it's one of the few areas of warfare where they have some ability to compete with us. It's only partly because we don't have the defenses. But certainly having no defense is a major contribution.

Shanker: If I can ask you about the three areas of which you just described.

The PERSTEMPO problems. If you want to solve that, that leads to reducing certain commitments.

Wolfowitz: Or enlarging your force structure, yes.

Shanker: Which of those two options is under consideration?

Wolfowitz: A bit of both. I mean, in fact to go back to your original question, the ultimate answer to these things judgmental, how much risk are you going to take in one area in order to lower your risk in another area? All of that is affected overall by other priorities, how much you can afford to spend.

What Rumsfeld is trying to do at this stage, and I'm sure he will have his own judgment, but at this stage it's to try to ensure that we have a process that surfaces those tradeoffs in a more conscious way and in particular pushes them up to the President, the person who ultimately has to decide and formulates them in a way that they can then be presented and debated in the Congress, in the public who in a sense ultimately do decide.

Shanker: But there is a sense from both civilians and the military, that the goal is to reduce force structure. Personnel.

Wolfowitz: Well, that's not my goal.

I would like to make sure that the future gets accounted for, and I feel that the way the system's been structured for the last ten years, the combination of the analytical framework and the shrinking resources have tended to put too much strain on the OPTEMPO/PERSTEMPO and too much planning focus, relative planning focus on the near term threat, and it's not that people here don't think about the future, it's a question of how much resources and how much thought they can dedicate to. If you're trying to do too much of those other things with too little, I think the way -- my own personal feeling is that it's those future things that have tended to get crowded out of the --

Shanker: Right, but how do you find the money for future things with the tax cut and who knows what the surplus is going to do to the economy? Unless you begin cutting people, weapons now (inaudible).

Wolfowitz: Well, I'd look at both directions. First of all on the money side, I think somehow, and I'm not an expert on the whole budget process, none of us really are here, although here all of the major players are objects of the budget process. What we're talking about here, and I would argue perhaps more than any other part of the federal budget, although I'll grant you that thing like education investments in the future also contribute, but we really are investing in the future of peace and security of the United States. And in fact one of the problems in making a case for our defense programs is the present looks so secure. We have a huge force and we're overwhelmingly dominant, and there's a tendency for a lot of people to say, "Why worry?" Because I think they don't appreciate how long it takes to bring about change in the military establishment -- both on the people side and on the equipment side, and for that matter maybe even slowest of all, the development of operational doctrine. You don't turn this ship around in a couple of years unless it's a World War II kind of emergency. Even then, an awful lot of what we used in World War II was actually developed before World War II.

Shanker: Right.

Wolfowitz: So we're really talking about a long term investment, and somehow we found devices to try to ensure the long term health of social security and the long term health of the economy. I think we ought to also be able to make long term decisions about defense spending and not have our investment for the next decade determined by economic forecasts for the next quarter.

I can state the problem. I don't know the solution, but I think we are in danger of suggesting that defense strategy and resources should go up and down with each new economic projection. There must be a better way to do it.

I do think we need significantly more resources, but I also think that we need to look within and clearly identify savings. Everybody agrees that there are ways that we can convert waste into warfighting capability. Some of it is, and they're very painful, various base closures. There are other things that just seem like, I can't claim to be a great industrial manager, but we have three service secretaries who have very significant, different experiences, all of whom say that there are a lot of opportunities to convert fat into muscle or waste into warfighting --

But then the other thing is when you come down to it you also have to decide, OK, how much of an insurance policy do I want against, sort of the Iraq/North Korea combination versus how much do I want to have 15 years from now against two very different looking opponents one of whom may be threatening our Navy in dangerous ways and another of whom may be posing a serious theater nuclear threat along with whatever else they're doing? Those are the kinds of future capabilities that we need to worry about.

Shanker: How do you do that process? Is there a changing assumption about the North Korean threat? Secretary Powell today said North Korea and South Korea, we should talk to them. Is there a sense that Iraq is less dangerous or that we should be shifting resources from those two to pay for the future risk?

Wolfowitz: I don't think I would want to push too far into that one. Maybe I'm going to start sounding like a CinC now, but I think where there is some room for the tradeoffs between tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, to use that terminology, is that when the construct is entirely focused on these theater war plans, there is a tendency to look to your insurance for the future to the kind of force structure that would make me comfortable by somewhat over-insuring against Iraqs and North Koreas; Iraq and North Korea, I'm not sure there are too many others today. And I'm hopeful at the end of this process we will put more insurance into things that are explicitly aimed at the future rather than extricated capability against Iraq and --

Shanker: What is extricated capability? I'm not sure exactly what you mean by that.

Wolfowitz: Well, it's a for instance. It would be, if you have a situation where you unfortunately get yourself in a war in Korea and a war in the Persian Gulf, it would certainly be nice to have the capability to decisively defeat Iraq. I guess it's a euphemism for --

Shanker: Pushing change.

Wolfowitz: Yeah, occupation, but to do whatever you might want to do in Iraq. Certainly it's better to have that capability than not to have it, but the effects of significant investment of resources beyond what it takes to stop Iraq from invading its neighbors, then you can take some of that investment and translate it into dealing with weapons of mass destruction or Navy capabilities ten years from now.

I personally wouldn't want to make that tradeoff. It's much easier to sit here and theorize about the notional tradeoff. It gets a lot harder when you dig into actual resource allocations and try to show how it would work. And particularly, by the way, because you don't -- these things don't move around like pieces of paper analyses. That's what I meant before about the problems I would say especially for the Army because the Army has so many different parts. All of these are huge organizations. All of these parts so we can write down a national theory, what you'd like the Army to look like, and it turns out that a realistic personnel plan would take six years to institute that change. So where you might say well, I'm going to dip down for five years and then I'll build back up for ten years. That's probably way too complicated.

Because they're a big organization, there has to be a certain simplicity. But at any rate, that's the kind of tradeoff we'd like to be able to look at. And then the President has to say well, how much of a risk am I running? Because what I just described to you is a decisive victory capability. It's also an insurance policy if your more limited capability fails.

I would say we're still a little distance away from being able to say confidently that we can push those issues up to the surface. That's really what we're trying to do.

By the way, I know people have been working very long hours and there's a lot at stake, and they probably feel there is even more at stake than is actually at stake. But I know that tempers have gotten a little bit short, but I honestly believe that there is a degree of common sense of purpose combined with a common anxiety that at the end of the day the Congress, or the process doesn't give us the resources we need, that some of these tradeoffs are absolutely terrible.

Staff: We've got about five more minutes.

Shanker: Okay.

Quickly on Iraq. You hosted four members of the Iraqi National Congress here some months ago. I spoke with them afterwards. They described receiving assurances that the no-fly zones would be maintained. I did my homework with my system later, and I think what they were told was the commitment would be maintained but how that will happen is still up in the air.

Where are you with the review of the no-fly zone policy?

Wolfowitz: By the way, this is a quibble, but let me just put this one off the record.

Shanker: Sure.

Wolfowitz: I wasn't --

[Tape off]

Wolfowitz: Yeah. I mean for me it was an informational meeting to understand their thinking better and to convey my thinking. I think there's no question in my mind that number one, the southern no-fly zone is essential to enforcement of the UN Security Council Resolution 687 which is the cease fire resolution that ended the Gulf War. And as you may or may not know the history of it, it was actually originally instituted before the enforcement of 688 which was the resolution that called on him to stop repressing his populations. 687 is actually a good deal stronger. In terms of the various levels of UN Security Council language, that's about as serious a resolution as you can find. It's the resolution that ended the war. But what we discovered in 1994 when he moved his tanks up to the Kuwaiti border a second time was that we need that no-fly zone in order to provide more warning of attack on Kuwait.

So the things that he's doing in that area are extremely serious. It's a presidential level decision as to how we respond to it and how we deal with it so the comment further --

Shanker: Is the Department of Defense recommending making the level of sorties in Northern and Southern Watch at the same? There's been some talk you could reduce OPTEMPO of the sorties but haven't declared a policy of more forceful retaliation for violation.

Wolfowitz: I really can't discuss that in any detail. We're studying the issue very carefully. We haven't made any recommendations to the President.

Shanker: Is there a reason why that one hasn't come forward? There's obviously been some kind of agreement on sanctions policy (inaudible). There seems to be little agreement on (inaudible) opposition (inaudible). Why is the recognition of (inaudible)?

Wolfowitz: They're difficult issues. What affects the northern no-fly zone, we have commitments which still stand that go back to the last administration. I would expect any action Saddam might take against the populations in this area. Population (inaudible). And there is more direct (inaudible). But --

Shanker: But is there some talk of differentiating the policy between north and south? From a strategic standpoint, yes, protecting the minorities is of great humanitarian value, but it's not like we are protecting allies. Northern Watch and Southern Watch is, as you said, different approaches to (inaudible).

Wolfowitz: There are differences in strategic objectives, but on the other hand you're dealing with the same tyrant in both places. At the heart of it Saddam Hussein is the source of the threat. Some people have said don't over personalize this. The alternative is blame it on the Iraqi people, and I am willing to include a few of his henchmen in the blame. But this is one of those problems in the world that have changed dramatically. If you could go the way of (inaudible) I don't thing there is any doubt about it. You need to think of it in an overall context. Obviously what we, our position in the north is crucially dependent on Turkish views and Turkish policy, and I would say that has more to do with any differentiation than the fact that (inaudible).

In my view the strategic importance of both is really high. You get down to the question of operationally what can we do in both places or in each place.

Shanker: The secretary is going to visit Moscow in a couple of weeks. I'd like to get your view on the new architecture -- such a wonderful phrase, but I don't know what it means.

Wolfowitz: Framework.

Shanker: Framework. OK.

Wolfowitz: I don't think we said architecture.

Shanker: Some people describe it as a non-treaty based architecture. What is the deputy secretary of Defense, from this chair, this table, what is this new framework?

Wolfowitz: I think the most fundamental thing it is, instead of treating Russia as a potential adversary, replacing objective agreements to limit the dangers of our enmity, and the rather antiquated notion of the ABM Treaty, ensure that each of us has five decimal place confidence, the 99 percent level that we can annihilate one another in 30 minutes. That's sort of what the ABM Treaty is about, to replace that framework of dealing with each other as potential adversaries, to a framework of dealing with one another as potential allies. If that's too strong of a word, and perhaps it is, at least countries with major security interests in common.

I've gotten so tired of hearing the phrase that the ABM Treaty is the cornerstone of strategic stability. I've given some thought to what is the cornerstone of strategic stability. It seems to me the cornerstone of strategic stability for both Russia and the United States is a stable Europe and a stable East Asia.

One of the things that we definitely have in common is that we are the only two countries in the world that are both Atlantic and Pacific powers. And with the changes that have taken place in Russia over the last ten years, they've gone from being a major source of trouble to being a country that basically shares our interests in stability. That's a pretty fundamental basis for a relationship, radically different from making sure that we can annihilate one another.

I don't mean to dismiss all the Cold War residues that are still around and the need to get past that. And a lot of Cold War thinking. To me it was kind of fun in one of our ballistic missile hearings when Senator Reed asked General Kadish about the small amount of money we have in space-based interceptors and asked Kadish how he would feel if the Russians had space-based interceptors. And Kadish sort of was visibly uncomfortable. I think he even said, that sort of thing makes me uncomfortable, Senator, but maybe the Deputy should answer this question. And I said well, with all due respect for you and General Kadish, and he's an extremely smart, enlightened general, I think his answer shows that even a smart, enlightened general has residues of the Cold War in his brain because frankly, Senator, I would be much happier if the Russians could intercept a handful of American missiles that were launched by mistake, and within limits of sharing technological secrets, we'd be delighted to help give them that capability.

I think that illustrates the difference between this era and the old era. And it also illustrates how many elements of our thinking have changed to get here.

But I find it very heartening that Putin suggestion, that joint statement that seems to recognize that part of the way to get to that new framework is, as the president has already indicated, to push down offensive capabilities. It's pretty hard to argue for a limited missile defense if you're going to push the Russians into a big arms race at the same time that we're cutting B-1s and cutting Tridents and cutting Peacekeepers and looking at reductions beyond those things.

So it's sort of odd when you kind of -- it defies the classic stereotype of (inaudible), and our critics and the people who love the ABM Treaty probably have trouble accepting the idea that that is a framework of mutual enmity, but that's what it reflects.

Shanker: Thanks for your time.

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