DoD News Briefing Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld Thursday, August 16, 2001 - 6:00 p.m. EDT

(Interview with Ray Suarez, PBS Newshour.)

Suarez: Defense Secretary Rumsfeld recently returned from Moscow. He discussed with Russian leaders the Anti-Ballistic Missile, or ABM, Treaty, as well as cuts in strategic offensive nuclear weapons. The secretary is also in the midst of a major review to determine the future size and shape of the U.S. military.

Mr. Secretary, welcome.

Rumsfeld: Thank you very much.

Suarez: Well, define for us the tone of your meetings with the Russians in Moscow earlier this week. How did they go?

Rumsfeld: Well, they were good meetings. We covered an enormous range of subjects, political, economic as well as security issues because they're really all connected. The relationship been the United States and Russia is a multifaceted relationship and much bigger than simply the security issues. I met for some time with the President Putin, and I met a great deal with the Defense Minister, Mr. Ivanov.

Suarez: And differences remain between the U.S. and Russia over nuclear missile defense, for instance.

Rumsfeld: Among other things certainly. If you think about it, we've had 50 years of hostility between the United States and the old Soviet Union, and we've had ten years since the Russian Federation has existed. And we've seen an improvement in the relationship that's really dramatic. And on the security side we've seen enormous changes. If you think of Western Europe and the old Warsaw Pact and NATO, there's no reason we can't make the same kind of progress on the strategic nuclear side.

Suarez: What would you say are some of the real sticking points in the way they see the world and the way the administration sees it?

Rumsfeld: Well, it's hard for people who have spent all those decades in a hostile relationship and have a whole set of treaties and arrangements that are structured on hostility -- an acknowledged hostility between the two parties -- and suddenly to find themselves in a situation where they're not enemies. They have to live in this world together. They each still have a great many nuclear weapons. And what we need to do is to find different structures and agreements and understandings so that we can move forward in a less hostile and more rational relationship going forward. And that means politically, economically and militarily.

Suarez: Well, President Bush has called the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty a relic, a product of another time in the Russian-U.S. relation. But the Russian leaders for their part say, well, maybe so, but it provided stability -- stability, which it could still provide. What's the American answer to that?

Rumsfeld: Well, the answer is very simple: The treaty was crafted 30 years ago when the Soviet Union and the United States were basically "the" nations that were hostile with nuclear weapons. Today we have a situation where there are any number of countries that are developing weapons of mass destruction and the ability to deliver them and an Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty prevents you from having missile defense.

If your concern is that countries like Iraq or North Korea or Iran or other countries are developing those capabilities and you want to be able to defend against them, then a treaty that's 30 years old with a country that doesn't exist -- and the new country does not have a hostile relationship -- ought not to stand in the way of protecting the population centers of the United States and of our deployed forces and friends and allies around the world.

Most people think we already have missile defenses, but of course we don't. We don't have the ability to defend against incoming ballistic missiles with nuclear weapons. And a policy of vulnerability in the 21st century, when we know the extent of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is, I think, would be a terrible mistake. So President Bush's approach is very rational.

Suarez: Has there been any movement in these conversations? I know when the subject was first broached when the new administration came to Washington, there was a lot of digging in of heels in Moscow.

Rumsfeld: Well, I think there's been some movement. I wouldn't characterize it as a great distance. But we've established discussions that are going forward. The president has met with President Putin, President Bush has. Secretary Powell has met with his counterpart. I've been meeting with my counterpart. We have senior level expert groups that are taking place. One took place in Washington a couple of weeks ago. And another will take place in early September in Moscow. And I think that all of that helps.

What it does is it enables us to understand their perspective and what are the things that are really concerning them as opposed to just rhetoric and what are the things that concern us, and so that they can understand that as well. And I think it's all a useful part of a process. It is a process. It's not an event. It's not you sit down and agree. It's a matter of coming to some common understandings.

Suarez: Some of the public statements of Russian officials go to concern about the tone of the talks themselves. They're not clear on whether these are negotiations that help define how things are going to move forward or consultations where the United States simply tells Russia what it's got in mind.

Rumsfeld: Well, what President Bush has said and what I think makes sense is to try to establish a new relationship with them and a set of understandings that will enable us to move beyond the ABM Treaty. A number of people who use the phraseology you've just used characterizing the Russian position of wanting negotiations, obviously you negotiate with an enemy.

You negotiate a treaty to try to control hostility between two parties. So if you can still consider the United States and Russia to be enemies, then obviously it would be natural to go into negotiations and establish ways that you can prevent each other from hurting each other. If you don't consider each other enemies --

We don't have negotiations like that for treaties to not be hostile with Mexico or Canada or France or England or any number of countries in the world. Russia is still, I think, captured to a certain extent by the old Cold War mentality and fear and apprehension and concern about the West. And our country, of course, is a country that is open, it's transparent. We have free political systems, free press. We covet no other nation's land in the face of the Earth. And they know that.

Suarez: Well, earlier this week on the Newshour, Alexey Arbatov, a member of the Duma, someone who is an expert on these kinds of questions as his committee assignment reflects said that if the United States were to unilaterally back out of the ABM or broach it through testing, that his colleagues in the Duma have talked about MIRVing existing warheads, that is, adding multiple warheads to weapons controlled under earlier treaties with the United States because suddenly everything would seem negotiable. How do you respond to that?

Rumsfeld: Well, the ABM Treaty has a provision that allows either side to give six months' notice and withdraw from the treaty. The United States is certainly not going to breach the treaty and violate it in any way. If we are unable to establish a new relationship with Russia so that we can get the treaty behind us so that we can proceed and develop the kinds of missile defense capabilities that we're going to need to live in this new world we're in, with proliferation of these weapons, then obviously the United States would have to give notice.

With respect to "MIRVing," meaning to put multiple warheads on a single missile, both countries are drawing down their offensive nuclear weapons. We announced within the last several weeks that we were going to retire the so-called Peacekeeper missile, which is about 500 warheads, plus or minus, and to convert some nuclear submarines to cruise missile submarines with non-nuclear warheads. So we're going ahead in reducing ours. They intend to go ahead and reduce theirs.

Now, with respect to MIRVing, it sounds bad. Gee, what if the Russian MIRV? But if, for example, each side had 20 missiles and one side had one warhead on each missile, 20 missiles, one warhead, they have 20 warheads. And the other side had 20 warheads and one on each missile but they decided to MIRV and they kept the same number and they reduced down to five warheads per missile and four missiles, they'd still have 20 warheads and it would make no difference.

The idea when Mr. Arbatov talks about MIRVing, what he's really saying is that their force structure probably could be most cost effectively managed if they MIRVed and that they would like to do that because they want to reduce the total number of missiles to save themselves some money. But what really counts is not whether or not a country MIRVs, what really counts is the total number of weapons and is it going to be reduced? The answer is, of course, it is. President Bush has said he wants to have the lowest number of warheads -- intercontinental ballistic missile warheads -- that is appropriate for our national security circumstances.

Suarez: But apart from the numbers, might it also reflect a view in the Russian Duma that if the United States backs away from ABM, that suddenly other things -- like Start II -- become negotiable, become revisitable in a way that we hadn't thought they were before?

Rumsfeld: Well, any treaty that has a provision for withdrawal is revisitable. And that's all understood when you enter into it. The United States' position is that the treaty that is concerning us, which is 30 years old, is preventing us from defending the population centers here and our deployed forces and our friends and allies. And that is a real concern.

And the Russian position is that they want to be free to have us not develop a ballistic missile capability -- although they have a missile defense capability around Moscow with nuclear-tipped interceptors right now. They're about the only city in the world that has that kind of a ballistic missile defense at the present time. But that position that Mr. Arbatov articulates is basically, "Look, America, you establish a policy of remaining vulnerable to ballistic missiles while we are protected by a missile defense system in Moscow and while we continue to work with other countries like China and Iran and Iraq and various other countries with respect to proliferating some technologies that are not very helpful to the rest of the world."

Now that's an awkward position, it seems to me, for them to be in. I know they make an argument about whether or not it is proliferation of certain types of weapons, but there's no question they're working with Iran on their nuclear capability.

Suarez: Let's turn to the Quadrennial Defense Review, the review of all the United States forces, how they're deployed, what the country spends money. How is that going?

Rumsfeld: It's a fascinating process. The Congressman mandated this be done every four years. Unfortunately it happens early in a new administration. And, as you may recall, we had practically no new people brought into the administration until, oh, just a month, a month-and-a-half ago. So it was, it's been a very difficult thing to do although we're making good progress. The senior military and the senior civilian officials that are now on board have been meeting regularly. We're making progress to the point where I think we'll end up meeting the deadline in September for the quadrennial defense review. It is a process that forces people to think together about these important issues and they're terribly important. And they're particularly important in a time when the world is changed, and when we see technologies advancing, we see the end of the Cold War, and it is, so it's been a useful thing. I've found it to be very interesting.

Suarez: There have been a lot of published reports in the last four to six weeks about how far apart the civilian officials and the uniformed officials are at the Pentagon over how to spend money and what to spend it on.

Rumsfeld: Well, I think that's probably not the case really. I have found military people who didn't agree with military people, and I have found civilians who didn't agree with civilians. We're all in the same room. We're all there together. We've agreed unanimously on the terms of reference for this document, this process. So I feel quite good about it. I think that people have figured out that the process is as important as the product, that in fact by talking through all these things each participant -- the senior civilian and the senior military -- comes away with a very good understanding of what the other people think. That's a useful thing.

Suarez: So those reports, quoting unidentified sources and various unnamed officers, they're simply not true?

Rumsfeld: Well, sure. I mean, any time you want to change anything, it's hard for people. It creates uncertainties. When that happens, when people hear something being discussed that amounts to change, a different weapon system, a different force structure, a different way of approaching things, changes in the personnel systems, all of which are being discussed quite openly in this group, and then those individuals go down and talk to their staffs, why, the staffs listen and then they get nervous because they understand the way things are now, and the thought of change can make some people quite, quite nervous.

But it seems to me that it's been -- I was told the last time it was done in 1997 that it was done while the same administration stayed in with full complement of people on board and the difficulties they had among the various people, military and civilian, were really quite severe. So I feel like we're kind of making pretty good progress.

Suarez: The Bush administration has been talking about re-imagining the missions, the shape and size of the forces, really making big changes over the coming years. Is that going to be reflected? Is there time enough to sort of begin to put the shape on this by September, just a couple of weeks from now?

Rumsfeld: Well, of course, it happens sequentially. First of all, we're going to have our legacy forces, our existing forces for decades. These weapon systems last for 20, 30, 40 years. All you can change by way of transformation is really the leading edge. And so what we need to do is to go through the quadrennial defense review and the nuclear posture review and then we will be building the budget for the 2003 budget that the president will submit in January of next year, and all of those things will come together. There's no question there will be changes. There will be things that will be different.

We are very seriously considering a somewhat different strategy. We're very seriously considering a somewhat different force sizing mechanism, a construct, to decide how to size our forces -- the reason being is that we haven't had the force structure to fit our strategy for four or five years.

We've been pretending that we can do our strategy but the United States of America has not been able to and that we went blithely along. We need to fix that. There are other things we need to fix. And we need to manage the place better. It really does. We have to turn waste into weapons and war-fighting capability. There's no doubt in my mind but that we can save a good deal of money.

Suarez: Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, thanks for coming by.

Rumsfeld: Thank you.