(Q&A session following remarks at the IISS Asia Security Conference in Singapore. Also participating were Sen. Jack Reed and Sen. Charles Hagel.)
Q: I would just like to focus on North Korea. You rightfully said that North Korean has got to go through a fundamental change in the way in which it governs itself. Do you think North Korea is capable of making that change itself? I am very skeptical about that and think some strong external force might be necessary to achieve regime change and then let things settle down with a major role being played by the South Koreans.
Wolfowitz: I’m tempted to ask you exactly what you have in mind. (Laughter.) I think given all the factors involved, including not only the slightly different perspectives of all the major countries in the region that Senior Minster Lee spoke about last night, but also the enormous danger that any contemplation of military force is fraught within the peninsula. I think a slower and more patient approach than I am hearing you suggest may be what’s necessary.
I agree that challenge is enormous, and you ask are they capable of making that kind of change. I think the task is to persuade them, to persuade their leadership really, that the only way to avoid regime change brought about by internal collapse is to in fact have the kind of policy change -- fundamental policy change -- that Deng Xiao Ping led in China. It’s not a really mystery. It can be done. It has been done. It certainly requires a regime that is willing to make enormous departures from the past, to admit that the huge investment that’s made in military resources for example is unnecessary. But I think it is possible both to present this regime with the fact that it’s the only real alternative it has, and also I think working cooperatively to convince it that if it does take that path, it can do so with not only some safety but with some enormous help and benefit accruing.
Q: I would like Paul and Jack Reed also who dealt with North Korea issue in his comments to reconcile two times scale on the North Korean problem. We have been talking about the long-term project getting this rather odd place to reform and I think Paul Wolfowitz is just right on that score. However, the nuclear problem is unfolding on a much more rapid scale, and so we have a question what to do about an imminent threat to our security that is unfolding now, and a prospect of reform or even collapse that is not imminent but years in the future. And so I think all this discussion of what ultimately happens with North Korea still begs the question what do we do now about nuclear weapons in North Korea. I wonder if both of those gentlemen would address the near term problem rather than the long-term problem.
Wolfowitz: There clearly is the problem that you refer to. I think the fact is the further the North Koreans go down the road they’re marching, the further they’re going to have to march back eventually. That is a fact that they need to face, and I think it is a fact that we need to face that I referred to in my remarks that the greatest danger posed in that regard is the danger of export. Fortunately they have just lost one potential customer in Baghdad and I think there are things we can do to limit the market elsewhere, and not perfectly, but the more cooperation we have the more we can do that successfully. I think that’s important.
But recognizing the time scale problem you referred to, I am not really sure I see a solution. It’s not a case of “don’t just stand there, do something”. The question is what are you going to do. Military action isn’t going to solve that short-term problem and large-scale bribery I don’t think is going to solve that short-term problem. So I am open to ideas, but it seems to me that it is a case that requires a certain amount of long-term Asian patience. But I also believe that the more quickly we can really achieve that consensus among the major northeast Asian powers on what is the way out and the only way out for North Korea, the more quickly we may be able to get them to confront reality.
Reed: Well I think because time is of the essence for this particular problem and I agree with Paul that the real problem as I see it is the diversion of this fissile material to terrorists or other states, is that we do have to try to engage as quickly as possible with some type of negotiation. That first requires negotiating among the regional powers -- China, South Korea, Russia, Japan -- to come with a concerted effort to try to deal with the issue and again as I try to suggest in my remarks, that the essence of any negotiation is understanding you have to give to gain. That’s a threshold we have to cross first. If we’re unwilling to cross that then we’ll be paralyzed because we won’t do anything. And I would suggest that the prospects of the satisfactory resolution are difficult to calculate, but without this process I think we won’t have either the legitimacy or the confidence to go forward with perhaps more robust coercive measures which might, I regret to say, but might someday be necessary.
Q: There has been a lot of talk in the last few weeks of redeployment or force reductions of American forces both in East Asia and Europe. To what extent will those force levels or deployments be affected by the implications of the post-war U.S. force presence in Iraq? If you are going to keep let’s say 100,000 or 150,000 folks in Iraq and if you obviously you have to rotate people in and out. Out of a 1.4 million force structure, that is going to be a very heavy burden for the U.S. military. So the question really is to what extent will be the U.S. forces engagement in Iraq drive U.S. policy in East Asia and Europe in terms of force deployments there, and are you considering increasing the overall U.S. force structure in order to cope with the exigencies of keeping a fairly large military presence in Iraq?
Wolfowitz: I think it’s much too early to say what our longer term or even relatively short term military presence is going to have to be in Iraq let’s say a year from now which is no time at all in terms of the kind of military plans we undertake. As I mentioned that my comments, we are still fighting an enemy. And when that when is defeated -- and it will be defeated -- presumably the force requirements will change substantially. How substantially is hard to say. But until that task is accomplished we need a lot of capability there and you correctly point out it is a substantial requirement on our forces. But the re-look at our defense posture is something we had in mind before the war even began. It is not driven primarily by -- in fact, I would say it’s not really driven at all by considerations of what are our requirements will be in Iraq. At some point we’ll have to factor that in. But it is driven most of all by the sense that, as I said, first, the threat has changed. The need to respond on rapid basis in places that are quite unpredictable is dramatic.
If we had ever gone to the Congress in the summer of 2001 and said we needed a special appropriation to build an airbase in Karsi Kanabad (ph), we would have first all gotten out the maps to find out what country it was in, and then we’d have to explain what on earth we were doing planning to fight a war in Afghanistan. The nature at least of this global war on terrorism suggests a need to be able to deploy relatively small forces but extremely quickly in unpredictable parts of the world.
The second major change -- and it really is just enormous -- is our ability as demonstrated to mount an effective force from a considerable distance and with considerably less mass and assume from the past means that you can from a technical point of view have much greater effectiveness with a very different kind of force posture. It’s a little strange at times I think that we still sometimes measure our level of commitment and capability in terms of the number of human beings that are put to the task when in fact it is the output of those human beings which has been multiplied exponentially that really should be what we look at.
Q: There is always a tendency in conferences like this to deal on the immediate problems and to talk -- we’ve done that with North Korea and the Middle East. But I would like to give all three panelists an opportunity to comment on some of the underlying challenges and opportunities we face in the Asia-Pacific. And what I’m thinking of specifically are the two giants that have not been discussed much so far, China and India. So I’d be interested if Paul can give us the assessment of where does China fit into the U.S. strategy towards the Asia Pacific on the security side. And of course there has been a dramatic change for the better on your watch on the U.S. relationship with India, especially on the security side, so I think some comments there would be welcomed as well as what is the Congress sees on these two issues.
Wolfowitz: Well first of all you are absolutely right to point to the important of these two countries. I think the relationship between them, and between them and the rest of us, is going to perhaps be the single greatest factor shaping the future in this region. And in that regard I would say on the whole I remain relatively optimistic that China is going to continue with a focus on internal modernization. That process of modernization I think is going to increase the internal pressures in China to maintain a peaceful orientation toward the rest of the region. But I think it is important that we both engage China and at the same time make sure that China understands that the region as a whole is going to insist on peaceful behavior.
And I think that the importance of India is just enormous. I think in fact the improvements actually began to be fair in the last administration and they’ve been continued strongly in this one. I think that as much as one would like to not have this be true, it remains the fact that our relationship with India seems to constantly have the conflict with Pakistan keep emerging as major part of it. I’m happy to say in that regard I think progress has been made between those two countries in the last few months and clearly that will be a big contribution to the peace in the whole region if that can be advanced. In the meantime in any case our bilateral relationship with India in its own right is enormously important both in the defense relationship but also more broadly in the economic and technology relationship, and I think it is important to make sure that we approach India in a larger context and not have them feel that they’re simply an appendage of a disagreement with Pakistan.
Hagel: Stanley you know the region well and you know a great deal about both nations and their challenges. Building on what Secretary Wolfowitz said, I would suggest that the two most populous nations in the world are primarily focused, because they must be primarily focused, on a sense of stability and security in their nations and in their regions in order to continue to focus on improving the lives of the people. That’s economic development, that’s addressing poverty and (Inaudible.) and all these large challenges that these governments face. These immense populations -- obviously each of these two nations is somewhat captive to their own unique dynamics -- Paul referenced the India-Pakistan issue which we know is very much about Kashmir and until that issue is resolved then we are going to have conflict.
China has other issues. We still have the Taiwan issue, although I think we are making progress there. But overall even though those two great nations have their own unique individual challenges and dynamics, they are not unlike every nation on earth -- it is security, stability and improving the lives of their people. And for the future of United States’ relationships with those countries and for the regions of the world that are all affected, especially this region, by those relationships. It is critically important that we all have a relationship that in fact helps us make us partners with China and India as they develop their nations. So I believe this administration, previous administration’s, policies toward China and India have generally been the right policies, the right focus. I certainly cannot speak for my colleagues in the Congress. I have enough difficulty trying to articulate my own thoughts, when I have them. But the Congress it seems to me is generally aware of and calibrated onto the right frequencies here understanding completely that the United States’ interest in the world and our future interests in the world are very much connected to stability and security in the future in India and China.
As I look ahead on the long term with respect to China and India, two issues jump out. One is energy and the other demographics. We are encouraging both countries to emerge even more so as consumer economies with stronger middle classes. That would usually imply significant increases in energy consumption and I think we should at this point recognize that in the years ahead the contests for energy could be more defining than ideological contests that have taken place in the past. And it should prompt us to be more attentive to issues of conservation and alternative fuels and frankly I don’t think we are doing enough to in our Congressional activities to do that. And then as Chuck referred to the issue of demographics -- the huge increase in populations that could result in particular the case of China. My limited knowledge -- the creation of a cohort of very young men without a comparable number of young women from the 18 to 25, which could be a potential social difficulty there. So those are the big issues that I see.
Q: Sorry to come back to North Korea, but it seems that Russia, Japan, China, the U.S. and South Korea essentially agree on one thing only, and that is to prevent the invention of a repugnant and unpredictable regime which has outlawed weapons programs including chemical and biological as well as nuclear. Now maybe this is prudent, and maybe given the dangers that North Korea poses there’s no choice. But isn’t the message of this that essentially non-proliferation is a dead letter, but is the result of Iraq’s ability to defy the U.N. for twelve years. And isn’t that the last impression that the United States would wish to give to other countries such as for example Iran?
Wolfowitz: I am afraid that I don’t understand the premise of the question. It seems to be that non-proliferation is not a dead letter at all and in fact the implication of preventing the implosion of North Korea is that they are on a course that is going to lead to that implosion unless they change and that change requires both giving up their own nuclear program in the second instance, but in the first instance not exporting it. No, I think the North Korean nuclear problem is front and center on our agenda and if they want to save themselves from the dead end they are going down, I think they have to address our concerns. I think that’s fairly clear.
Q: What I meant is that essentially North Korea is being taken more seriously because it has become a nuclear power by its own admission, whether or not that’s true, and that the lesson that people will have is that in the case of Iraq it became imperative to confront Iraq militarily because it had banned weapons systems and posed a danger to the region. In the case of North Korea, which has nuclear weapons as well as other banned weapons of mass destruction, apparently it is imperative not to confront, to persuade and to essentially maintain a regime that is just as appalling as the Iraqi regime in place, for the sake of the stability of the region. To other countries of the world this is a very mixed message to be sending out.
Wolfowitz: The concern about implosion is not primarily at all a matter of the weapons that North Korea has, but a fear particularly by South Korea and also to some extent China of what the larger implications are for them of having 20 million people on their borders in a state of potential collapse and anarchy. It’s is also a question of whether, if one wants to persuade the regime to change, whether you have to find -- and I think you do -- some kind of outcome that is acceptable to them. But that outcome has to be acceptable to us, and it has to include meeting our non-proliferation goals.
Look, the primarily difference -- to put it a little too simply -- between North Korea and Iraq is that we had virtually no economic options with Iraq because the country floats on a sea of oil. In the case of North Korea, the country is teetering on the edge of economic collapse and that I believe is a major point of leverage whereas the military picture with North Korea is very different from that with Iraq. The problems in both cases have some similarities but the solutions have got to be tailored to the circumstances which are very different.
Q: Paul, let me just bring you back to an issue on cross-Strait issues. When you came to power there was a sense of very real concern about military dynamics across the Taiwan Straits. Now, there has not been as much said about this so it would be useful if you would just give us an update about how those military issues have developed over the last couple of years. And secondly, you give us a very I think impressive overview of our relationship with our allies in the region but you didn’t say very much about Thailand. So I would like to give you an opportunity to give us a sense about how that relationship has developed as well.
Wolfowitz: I didn’t get much chance to say anything about Russia either, so since you gave me an opening let me say I think if you are looking at security problems in the Asia Pacific region, that vacuum that’s potentially created by the weakness in the Russian Far East ought to be at the top of an the agenda of any conference like this one.
Our relationship with Thailand has been a very good one. They have been a good partner in the war on terrorism. They have, as you probably know a significant Muslim population in their south. We know that terrorists have used Thailand as a launching pad. I suppose -- thanks to letting me comment, because I don’t want our Thai friends to feel left out -- it’s one of those cases where things are going well and you don’t need to mention them.
I think on the whole that we remain concerned about the Chinese military build-up on their side of the Taiwan Strait. I still believe that the basic framework that has got to work there is the framework of a One China policy where neither side takes unilateral action to change the status. But the emphasis got to be on long term patience aiming ultimately at some peaceful resolution, but most important thing I think is to preserving peace, and I think that message has gotten through to the Chinese leadership maybe a little better than it had before. And clearly both China and Taiwan have enormous problems of their own to worry about without focusing too much on the differences between them.
Q: I would like to raise a question really about the imperatives for adapting the United States and allied military frameworks and positioning in this theater, and the possibility that we really may be facing a serious communication issue here, a communication issue with our domestic publics and in fact broader across the region. It seems to me that the logic of adapting U.S. and allied positioning and frameworks in this region is really quite compelling. We are talking about much more networked leader; we are talking much more long-range capabilities, much higher mobility. There are opportunities for doing things really rather differently to the way than we have been able to do them hitherto. But it seems to me that the logic of these opportunities -- the opportunities for reconfiguration -- raise some pretty serious questions that are in some areas of the region in particular somewhat sensitive politically. I wonder whether you think we are adequately preparing our publics for the possibility of some significant modifications in our approaches here. Are we doing enough in particular to explain the complexities of some of these changes, because the public generally I don’t think understand really what networking the theater and what these enhanced mobility options really provide, and the possibility that we might be facing a situation of encouraging perceptions in the region if we don’t do a very effective job in explaining the changes that may be in mind.
Wolfowitz: I think it is a fair point. It’s a reason why we are a long way from making decisions because part of the process of consultation is the process of helping to educate the publics both directly and indirectly by getting broader understanding with governments. I recall back in 1991 when we first contemplated withdrawing our tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea for a number of reasons including the fact that we wanted to open the way to that agreement that came next year on de-nuclearizing the peninsula and it was a pretty hard to have it and we were going to have our own nuclear weapons there. It was initially viewed with a certain amount of shock and horror by our South Korean allies. We went through months of very intensive consultations, talked about why we thought it would be a basically a stabilizing move. I can’t say that they were 100 percent persuaded, but they were close enough that went opportunity for major changes in our whole worldwide posture emerged in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was a logical thing to proceed with and we were prepared and ready to do it. But you have to prepare the ground.
I think a similar example was the earlier exercise conducted under the rubric of the Nunn-Warner legislation that required us to work jointly with the Japanese and the South Koreans to produce a long term projection for the U.S. posture in the region and that set up a framework in which people were able to think about changes in the U.S. posture as something other than the unilateral withdrawals of the late 1970s that had caused such shock effects in the region.
I think we need to go through a kind of similar process of both official and public discussion now, and the most important message to get across is that we can be much more effective with a very different kind of force posture. It’s not our commitments that change, but the way that we carry them out. I think we can get to that point but you don’t get there overnight.
I notice there has been a lot of press speculation about some of these possible changes, and while in a certain sense of the fundamental point is accurate or not very different from what I just said, quite a few of the specifics -- I mean, maybe somebody down at the eighth level in the bureaucracy has dreamed up the idea of moving all our forces from Okinawa to Australia, but I can assure you that’s not going to happen. Maybe some of these stories are good because it will turn out we are doing a lot less than people fear, but it takes time I think to calm things down and understand and get a sense of proportion here. But change is necessary. Change will help us in the long run to sustain the commitments that everyone I think wants us to be able to sustain.
Q: I would like to pose a question to you which gets back to the Korea issue and goes into a little bit more detail. I was interested, and I must say, rather heartened, by the positive tone of your comments about the possibility for a negotiated outcome there and I certainly agree with you how important that is that it be a multilateral process. It does seem to me though that it is still pretty tough and the heart of that task is going to be verification. The North Koreans have raised the bar pretty high but would count is adequate verification of de-nuclearization as part of such a deal, and I guess one thing that worries me about the prospects for a successful outcome is whether or not the U.S. or for that matter, the rest of us who have a key interest in the elimination of the nuclear threat on the Korean peninsular. Whether we could possibly reach a verification regime that would satisfy our concerns. It seems it would need to be qualitatively more intrusive than any verification regime that’s been reached before and although I’m sure you don’t want to start the negotiations with the North Koreans in the privacy of this room, I’d be very interested if you’d give us some hint as to what kind of solution to the verification problem do you think might be acceptable to the U.S.
Wolfowitz: I think for the reasons you alluded to plus the fact that I’m not here to start negotiations in any form, public or private, I don’t think that’s appropriate. But I think the basic point, I think in some ways we may be more successful ultimately if the bar is set high both in terms of what we expect of them and in terms of what we as a group are prepared to deliver. But it needs to be understood also, and this is I think why the multilateral approach is so essential that the countries of the region that are helping to keep North Korea afloat need to send a message to North Korea that they’re not going to continue doing that if North Korea continues down the road its on. Most of that help does not come from the U.S.; it comes from other countries and that’s why a multilateral approach I think is essential.
Q: I want to go back to the question of the U.S. force presence in the Asia Pacific region. In my eyes the U.S. force presence in the Asia Pacific region has at least three important policy values. Of course one is to demonstrate your commitment to the security of this region or the security of your allies most particularly. And the secondary, U.S. force presence is politically stabilizing for the Asia Pacific region which is very important for your own security. And third, I think it’s a good for America to familiarize themselves or American force people and other to familiarize themselves with the regional situations. I think too much dependence upon the mechanical mobility precision might undercut these policy values. I know that you are not talking about the possibility of total withdrawal but still these three points, policy values which I mentioned would be a very important for the U.S. and I hope that you take into account when you consider the future force posture. Thank you. I’m sorry; it’s my observation rather than a question.
Wolfowitz: It’s a valid observation. I take the point. But if you stop and think about it also there are certain things that we do for example, most of our troops in Korea go there on one-year unaccompanied tours. If you stop and think about it it’s an unbelievably onerous burden on the individuals and it ripples throughout the Army for years afterwards because it affects the ability to deploy those same individuals in other instances. We’ve been doing it for years. You have to ask the question, is there a better way to do that; is there a better way to achieve exactly the values that you’re talking about because it isn’t at clear to me to that we get a better understanding with our allies because of that. Particularly I would say somewhat an anachronistic way of doing force deployments.
Don’t infer from that we’re about to change it, but I think it is an example of where we need to look at things we’ve been doing, recognizing there are more values than just as you correctly say the mechanical ability to deliver forces in the region. The interactions are enormously important but I think if you think about one of the concepts which has been out there a great deal which is the idea of more flexible deployments instead of permanent bases, the idea in the case of Europe of being able to rotate troops around Europe, instead of, I think it was one general’s phrase, creating “little Americas” in Europe. We get much more effective interaction with our allies by rotational deployments than by building small American cities that are self-contained and isolated, so even from the point of view of that particular value change could be positive.
Q: I would like to join those thanking Paul Wolfowitz for his magisterial survey of the whole area. I’m thanking both Senators for their invaluable contributions. I would also like to thank Paul for his personal role in galvanizing the U.S. to deal with the particularly nasty regime in Iraq which we all for long recognized as a threat and for too long hesitated to deal with. Paul, when you get back to the Pentagon, you can add to the list of options for dealing with N. Korea on the basis of this morning’s discussing it to death, but I want to take you back to the Middle East because I think we all agree that that is the cockpit of many of the security issues which will also affect Asia, and I would like to take up two points from your presentation.
One is, one outcome we all hope for from the successful war against Iraq is that it sends a very powerful message to other regimes in the region about what is no longer permissible in terms of support for terrorism and for weapons of mass destruction. Do you sense that message is being sufficiently heard already, by Iran, by Syria, even by Libya? One could point perhaps to some positive developments in Syria are closing down offices of terrorist organizations. Do you think further a rhetorical assault on Iran and Syria is sufficient or do you sense that in due course more concrete action against them would be needed?
Secondly, and allied to that, it does seem to me that one great strength of the military action against Iraq was it was certain the context of a broader and rather noble strategy for changing the Middle East, but a strategy which also has dangers because change does involve destabilizing existing regimes. How do you think that strategy might play out over the next year or two or indeed possibly over the lifetime of a second Bush administration?
Wolfowitz: That’s a big question. Your question reminds me of the observation that the President made a giant roll of the dice as though this was a very risky alternative that he chose, and I admit freely there are large risks and there aren’t ended by the long risks that we’ve avoided so far that I read out. The risks are very large still, and I think when I say the stakes are large in Iraq, they’re large on the positive side and if we succeed I think they’re large on the negative side if we fail but the notion that it would not have been a large throw of the dice to go for another 12 years of this hideous containment policy in Iraq which if you stop and read bin Laden’s fatwah was one of the major sources of his rhetoric and his grievance against the West and a major burden for Saudi Arabia.
It’s not as though there was risk-free course of action here. I think that the countries you mentioned still have a lot of change they need to make and I think they’re more likely headed in that direction since the fall of the Saddam regime than they were before but there aren’t silver bullets here and problems don’t get solved automatically overnight. I do think that in the case of Iran one of the major impetuses for change, and there’s a lot of change we’d like to see, particularly in a nuclear program and in their support for terrorists including what we believe is their inadequate dealing with al Qaeda people in their territory, a major impetus for change is the pressure they feel from their own people and in that regard I think one of the most effective things we can do to increase that pressure is to be successful in Iraq. To have Iraq be a demonstration for the Iranian people then in fact it is possible to have a free country in which their honorable religion is also respected and indeed I think, I’m no expert on Shi’ite theology, I think there’s some reason to believe the Shi’ite schools in Iraq have a very different view of the relationship between religion and politics than the prevailing view in Tehran and certainly believe themselves to be the more authoritative version, so I think it’s not a bad idea at this stage for us to focus on trying to get Iraq right, recognizing that there’s some problems elsewhere.
I think what you also allude to is the question of how much change can our friends in the region endure without ending up in the kind of catastrophic change that they constantly terrify us with. I think too often -- I don’t underestimate the threat from Islamic extremism -- but I think too often some of our friends either use it as an excuse for everything they do, the jailing of (Inaudible.) who was one of the great liberals in Egypt certainly didn’t advance the course against the Islamic threat in Egypt. Happily he’s now been released and that’s a step forward.
I think our Saudi friends have made this mistake in the past. Sometimes if they can make extremism someone else’s problem, they can avoid it being their problem, and I think the wake up call that they got in Riyadh is that it’s their problem as well and hopefully they’re going to turn to dealing with it more effectively and I think Crown Prince Abdullah seems to have better credentials than some of his predecessors for facing that threat because I think his own reputation for integrity is pretty strong and I think it’s going to stand in a good stead. But change is risky. My own preference in spite of some reports to the contrary, is that evolutionary change is much better than revolutionary change.
If I take one of my favorite countries, Indonesia, there’s no question in my mind that if Suharto had gone down a different path in the late 80s and early 90s, and promoted reform instead of the opposite, that Indonesia might be in much better shape today than he left it. It’s a sad commentary that like some CEOs he just stayed a bit too long and kept his cronies too close to him instead of broadening his base and preparing his succession.