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Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld Remarks at the NATO Defense Ministerial Press Conference

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
February 10, 2006 12:00 PM EDT

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld Remarks at the NATO Defense Ministerial Press Conference

              SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  -- this conference in this lovely setting in a most hospitable environment.


              We’ve had excellent discussions over the past couple of days on a range of issues important to NATO, NATO operations, and issues involving the further development of NATO’s capabilities.  We also had a good meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, and we just completed a meeting which I found very interesting which was really the first Mediterranean Dialogue nation meeting of Defense Ministers, at the Defense Minister level, where they had representatives from all seven of the Dialogue countries.


              While NATO remains the most successful military alliance, it is possible that history might even show that the alliance’s most important missions and it’s most significant contributions to peace and security may very well be in its future.


              Last week in Munich the NATO Secretary General spoke of our alliance’s unfinished transformation.  He spoke of changes, some that are currently underway, still others that are yet to begin, that will maintain NATO’s relevance and its credibility in a world where threats have a way of emerging in unpredictable places and in unpredictable ways.  A transformed NATO will be able to provide collective defense appropriate to this 21st Century, to deploy quickly, and be sustained to meet threats wherever required, strengthen the Euro-Atlantic security beyond NATO’s traditional borders, and help partner nations build up their capabilities to defeat terrorists within their borders. 


             Central to this transformation is the NATO Response Force which was designed to deploy highly trained units on short notice for a full range of missions.  It’s already proven effective, having promptly delivered relief to survivors of last year’s terrible earthquake in Pakistan.  I might note that Italy has been the second largest contributor to the NRF and this contribution is deeply appreciated.


             However, we’re at an important moment for the Response Force as it requires some additional contributions for it to become fully operational later this year.  We discussed the shortfalls that remain and we committed to fill them among the nations.  I know that effort will be made, and I expect it will be achieved.  A number of allies supported that, and as we do this we will find that this will be a subject of additional discussions as we go along.


             Additionally, I continue to urge the nations of NATO to look at the percentage of their gross domestic product that’s being invested in defense to assure that they and NATO have the levels of defense spending to ensure that we have the capabilities that will be needed in this new century.


            We’re all beneficiaries of this global system.  We have a stake in it.  We have a stake in its success.  We need to be willing to make the investments appropriate to assure its success.


            I should also mention a couple of the achievements of the alliance in just the past few years.  Contributing to the security and reconstruction of Afghanistan with today the alliance set to assume new roles and responsibilities in the very near future; training and educating the leadership for a new Iraqi Army; assisting the people of Kosovo to secure and govern their country; coming to the aid of those devastated by the earthquake in Pakistan; and training and supporting the African Union in its Darfur mission.


            In this struggle against violent extremists the need for the alliance is clear.  All NATO members are targets of intimidation and attack and all must work together in new and innovative ways, shifting from the Cold War defensive posture that existed in most of our nations to one that is more agile, certainly more expeditionary, and better able to respond to the diffuse global and terrorist networks seeking to destroy our free way of life.


            I think our meetings this week demonstrated our solidarity and resolve in Afghanistan, in standing up for our values and security.  I have been heartened by the tone and content of the meetings.


            As we think about the important role that NATO can play in the new century, it’s worth remembering the words spoken by a former NATO Commander in the early years of the Cold War.  The words of Dwight Eisenhower have, in my view, a great deal of resonance today.  He said, “We face a hostile ideology, global in scope, ruthless in purpose, and insidious in method.  To meet it successfully we must carry forward steadily, surely and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle with liberty as the stake.”


            Once again there’s every reason to believe that if we continue to work together and adjust to the new realities that we can successfully meet the great peril of our age.


             I’d be happy to respond to some questions.


             QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, thank you.  Amir Oren from the Israeli newspaper Hartiz.


             Your administration has been blaming Iran and Syria for helping the anti-coalition forces in Iraq.  Are you willing to let them get away with it?  And are you willing to help Israel if it is threatened by Iran?


             SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  The representatives of our administration have in fact been pointing out the activities of both Syria and Iran with respect to our efforts in Iraq and the sovereign government of Iraq’s efforts.  We’ve undertaken a series of initiatives to try to persuade them that their behavior is harmful to a new Iraqi government, and indeed, harmful to the region.  Thus far we’ve not been successful.


             I think they’re making a mistake, although I can certainly understand that from their standpoint having a free and sovereign and democratic Iraq on their borders probably is not terribly encouraging to their type of government.  So I can understand their resistance to that.  But we intend to be successful and I believe will be.


             With respect to the other question, you know the policy of the United States government and the President’s spoken, and I support the President.


             QUESTION:  [inaudible] with German Public Radio.


             Mr. Secretary, having in mind the critics of Senators McCain, Lieberman in Munich towards Russia, how was the atmosphere in the NATO-Russian Council today with [inaudible] in Munich?


             And the second question, how come there is no mentioning of the UN any more regarding tasks taken by NATO?  In former years one could hear kind of a bunch of remarks about the UN as one of the only institutions giving orders to NATO, doing requests.  No one mentions it any more.


            SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  I’ll take the last question first.  I suppose because it’s taken for granted.  In each case, Afghanistan and Iraq, the United Nations has resolutions, the United States has been involved in assisting with the elections, and it’s not a mystery.  It’s an open secret that the United Nations has been helpful both in Afghanistan and Iraq and we all understand that.  As a matter of fact, I could be wrong, but my recollection is, this is not in my lane, but my recollection is they are now thinking about another UN Resolution of some sort for Iraq, and I think they’re probably waiting for the new government to be installed.


            With respect to the – I was not there in Munich for the speeches by some of the people that spoke after I did because I had to get back to Washington so that I could then hurry back to Europe.  [Laughter].  I feel a little like a yo-yo, I just go back and forth across the ocean.  So therefore I can’t answer the question the way you cast it.


             I can say that the NATO-Russia Council meeting was candid, it was constructive, it was informative, and the mood was a good one.  I had a separate meeting with Minister Ivanov which was useful on a lot of bilateral issues that we discussed from time to time.


             QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, in your meeting with Minister Ivanov did the subject of Iran’s nuclear program come up?  And can you say whether you’re satisfied with Russia’s cooperation with the US and European governments on that issue?


             SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  The subject did come up and I’m not going to get into the substance of my conversation.  It was a private meeting.  I know that the US Department of State, the President, have been working with the European countries with respect to Iran and they’ve been working with other nations including Russia as they work to fashion an approach that they hope will be successful.


             QUESTION:   -- I ask my question in English.  How do you see the future of the Middle East after the becoming of Hamas in power?  Especially that you have always encouraging our people to make option of democracy.  And what is your position about the future of the region?  And what is the contribution of the states?  Thank you.


             SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Thank you.


             There was an election and Hamas won.  I suspect it was a bit of a surprise for them.  My impression is that they have not yet made announcements, definitive announcements, as to how they plan to govern.  I guess running for election is one thing and governing is quite another.  I am inclined to simply wait and see what they decide to do by way of governing.  I  think it will be interesting.


                I know that the Secretary of State and the President have both commented on this and I don’t know that there’s anything else I could add.


                With respect to democracy, the President of the United States believes that the natural state of humankind is to prefer to be free and to have a voice in guiding and directing the course of public affairs where they live.  He also observes correctly that the democracies of the world tend not to go to war with each other.  He also observes correctly that those nations with free political systems and free economic systems tend to be the countries where the people have the greatest opportunity, the greatest prosperity, and it’s not an accident.


                The classic example is to look at the Korean Peninsula.  From a satellite at night and the demilitarized zone in the middle, the same people in the north as the south, the same resources in the north and the south, and yet in the south there’s energy and vitality because they have a free economic system and a free political system.  They’re the 12th largest economy on the face of the earth, and in the north the people are starving.  They’re letting people in their military that are 4’10” tall because of the malnutrition for so many years of their lives.  People that weigh less than 100 pounds.  And it’s a tragedy to see the circumstances of the people of North Korea.


                It’s the starkest example of what free systems can do for people and what opportunities it can provide for them.  So you say what will it mean for the Middle East.  I guess time will tell.  But I think having an Afghanistan that is on a path with the first popularly elected President in 5,000 years, and an elected parliament, it’s a country that’s had a lot of difficulties, but they’re on a path, a peaceful path.  They’re a moderate Muslim nation that’s against terrorism.  It’s a good thing that 26, 27 million people in that country are free to choose and make choices for themselves.


                Iraq is now, the terrorists tried to stop them from having an election in January and they failed.  They tried to stop them from drafting a constitution and they failed.  They tried to stop them from having a referendum on the constitution and they failed.  They tried to stop them from having an election in December and they failed.  Look at that from the perspective of the terrorists.  That doesn’t say they can’t go out and kill people.  They can.  It doesn’t take a genius to strap on a suicide vest and blow up a building.  But Iraq is on a path to being a country that’s respectful of all the people in that country, that would be at peace with its neighbors and have those amazing resources they have – water and oil and intelligent people, energetic people.  They have an opportunity to change the circumstance in that part of the world.  It would be an opportunity for a great many people, not just in Iraq, but neighboring countries, to have a much better life and that would be a good thing.


                QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, Demetrius Savastopulo, Financial Times.


                 In your recent Quadrennial Defense Review the Pentagon --


                 SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  How do you pronounce that again?


                 QUESTION:  How do you pronounce it or how do I pronounce it?  [Laughter]. 


                  SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  How do you pronounce it?


                  QUESTION:  Quadrennial Defense Review.  [Laughter]. 


                  SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  No --


                  QUESTION:  Demetrius Savastopulo.


                  SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  There you go.


                  QUESTION:  Chicago accents I don’t know.  [Laughter]. 


                   In your recent QDR, the Pentagon raised increasing concerns about Russian arms sales to foreign countries.  Can you elaborate a little bit more on what your concerns are?  And is the Russian-US defense relationship on a deteriorating path?


                   SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  I would certainly not say that Russia and the US defense relationship is on a deteriorating path at all.  In fact we’re going to have what I believe will be the first meeting of a bilateral defense consultative mechanism – is that right, Peter?




                   SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Next month.  Sergei Ivanov and I discussed some of the things that would be discussed, and I think that the relationship over the past five years has continued to be on an upward track and is a healthy one.  I’ve probably met with Sergei 15 or 20 times and each time we talk about things that are going well, and we talk about some things that we have that we’re somewhat concerned about, and then we proceed and continue to have a healthy relationship.


                   QUESTION:  The arms sales?


                   SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  The arms sales specifically, needless to say the United States prefers that countries not sell weapons to countries that are on the terrorist list.  We prefer that sales not be made to countries that are being notably unhelpful in Iraq where we have troops on the ground and NATO has a train and equip activity.  So that seems to me to be a reasonable position.


                   QUESTION:  Jamie McIntyre with CNN.


                   How big a threat do you believe the al-Qaida prisoners who escaped from Yemen pose?  Do you have any confidence that they may be recaptured?  And what does it say about the US policy of transferring prisoners back to their host countries when possible?


                   SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  I can’t speak for whatever the number was, 17 or 23, but certainly some of them were among the masterminds of the attack on the USS Cole that killed American sailors.  They are dangerous individuals.  It is a shame that they’ve escaped.  I’m hopeful that they’ll be recaptured.


                   On the general question on our policy, I think our policy is the correct one.  Does that mean that in every instance when we release somebody believing that they should be released that they’re going to turn into Boy Scouts?  No.  It doesn’t.  Does it mean that from time to time mistakes are made?  Yes.  I’ve forgotten the number, but of the people we’ve released we’ve already recaptured or killed something like 10 or 11 who went right back to the battlefield and started attacking the United States.  So I’m sure we’ve erred on both sides from time to time.  We do our best.  The policy’s the correct policy.


                    To the extent you have detained a person and you’ve done the kind of examination that you’re capable of doing and you come to a conclusion that you don’t have a reason to detain them and you either transfer them out on their own recognizance or you transfer them to another country with an understanding that the other country will manage them under their laws, if they end up back out doing damage to free people, it’s a shame.  But the policy’s correct.  I’m sure in its execution it’s imperfect.


                    We’ll take one last question.


                     QUESTION:  Mr. Secretary, Will Dunham with Reuters.


                      Just a follow-up on Russia.  What message did you deliver to your Russian counterpart about Central Asia?  And do you think that Russian influence in that part of the world has been helpful regarding US operations in relationship to Afghanistan?  Thank you.


                      SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  Well, I’m not sure I would care to discuss what I talk about privately.  It seems to me that that’s a reasonable thing in a relationship between countries, that you have public meetings and you have public discussion and you have private meetings and you have private discussions.


                      Obviously the cooperation we’ve had from the countries in Central Asia have been enormously important in our ability to liberate the Afghan people, to assist the NATO effort in Afghanistan, to assist in humanitarian relief activities that have taken place n that country, and we’ve been very grateful to the Central Asian countries that have stepped forward and been cooperative with us.


                      QUESTION:  One more?


                      SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  That was the last question.  But they kind of dominated it, didn’t they, that little crowd right down there?  So we’ll make this the last question.  Make it a good one, will you?  [Laughter]. 


                       QUESTION:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  It will be about a public issue.


                       As you may know, as you know of course, there are fine tuning discussions about ISAF and the United States in Afghanistan, and in [inaudible] debate one of the latest ideas put forward has been this one about having multinational headquarters.  Do you think this is first of all useful and has any chance of going forward?  Thank you.


                        SECRETARY RUMSFELD:  I do think it’s useful to discuss it.  Whether or not it goes forward or not, I just don’t know what will happen.  It depends, obviously NATO’s a consensus organization and it’s a brand new thought for NATO.


                        In the United States we have found that there’s been a pattern of taking existing headquarters or non-existing headquarters, setting up a headquarters for a certain function, sending it in, and then changing it out with another headquarters.  The memory’s gone when it’s done that way.


                        So what we’ve thought is that we ought to at least in NATO think about this possibility.  Instead of having a country, or in some cases two countries be in charge of ISAF and the NATO activity in the country, why not consider the possibility of developing a composite headquarters with a number of countries participating where they do not all rotate out at the same time and have the memory depart on the next airplane, and where the time span of the headquarters is not six months, but at least a year so that you get the kind of continuity and situational awareness that very likely would be helpful.


                        So that’s a thought that has been introduced into the NATO discussion.  I’m sure the military committee will be thinking about it and the permanent representatives will be and we’ll see what happens.  It’s an idea.  It’s worth considering.  And it has some advantages.


                        In the Kosovo air war in the United States command center, the war was going to start.  They started setting up the headquarters.  The war was over in something like 70-odd days as I recall, and the headquarters was still only 74 percent staffed up. 


                        So what’s needed, it seems to me, in the world we live in is not to be able to take six or  eight months and get yourself organized, and then to go do something, but to have a standing capability that is going to be able to be at it long enough that it can do the job in a thoughtful way with full situational awareness, and so that’s the kind of a discussion that will be taking place.


                        Thank you very much, folks.


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