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Back to Disarmament Documentation, June 2002

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld Press Conference, June 6

'Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Press Conference at NATO Headquarters, Brussels, Belgium, June 6, 2002', US Department of Defense transcript.

Secretary Rumsfeld: Today we discussed the way ahead in the war on terrorism and how the alliance must further transform to meet the threat facing all of our countries in the 21st century - the spread of weapons of mass destruction into the hands terrorist states. This threat is not theoretical; it is real. It is dangerous. If we do not prepare promptly to counter it, we could well experience attacks in our countries that could make the events of September 11 seem modest by comparison. President Bush recently said in Berlin that "those who despise human freedom will attack it on every continent. Those who seek missiles and terrible weapons are also familiar with the map of Europe." That is why dealing with these threats in the 21st century must be central to the NATO alliance, just as dealing with the Soviet threat was central in the 20th century. ...

Question: Regarding terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, you said something to the effect that the real situation is worse than the facts show. I wonder if you could tell us what is worse than is generally understood.

Rumsfeld: Sure. All of us in this business read intelligence information. And we read it daily and we think about it and it becomes, in our minds, essentially what exists. And that's wrong. It is not what exists. I say that because I have had experiences where I have gone back and done a great deal of work and analysis on intelligence information and looked at important countries, target countries, looked at important subject matters with respect to those target countries and asked, probed deeper and deeper and kept probing until I found out what it is we knew, and when we learned it, and when it actually had existed. And I found that, not to my surprise, but I think anytime you look at it that way what you find is that there are very important pieces of intelligence information that countries, that spend a lot of money, and a lot of time with a lot of wonderful people trying to learn more about what's going in the world, did not know some significant event for two years after it happened, for four years after it happened, for six years after it happened, in some cases 11 and 12 and 13 years after it happened. Now what is the message there? The message is that there are no "knowns." There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know. So when we do the best we can and we pull all this information together, and we then say well that's basically what we see as the situation, that is really only the known knowns and the known unknowns. And each year, we discover a few more of those unknown unknowns. It sounds like a riddle. It isn't a riddle. It is a very serious, important matter. There's another way to phrase that and that is that the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. It is basically saying the same thing in a different way. Simply because you do not have evidence that something exists does not mean that you have evidence that it doesn't exist. And yet almost always, when we make our threat assessments, when we look at the world, we end up basing it on the first two pieces of that puzzle, rather than all three.

Question: Secretary Rumsfeld, how confident are you that your European partners will deliver on the capabilities front in Prague? And what is the consequence for NATO as an alliance if they don't deliver?

Rumsfeld: I must say I have confidence that reasonable people find their way to reasonably right decisions. ... [If] publics look at the world and look at the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, which is pervasive - people who want those weapons can get them. The terrorist states have them - one or more of the various types of weapons of mass destruction. The terrorist states have intimate relationships with terrorist networks - global networks. We all know that. They're all public. You know this. It does not take a genius to figure out that global terrorist networks are going to have their hands on weapons of mass destruction in the period ahead. No one can say if it's a week, or a month, or a year, or two years. All we do know of certain knowledge is that they are aggressively trying to get them. ... There isn't a doubt in my mind but that the publics of the NATO nations, when confronted with the possibility of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of the kinds of people who flew those airplanes, passenger airplanes, into the World Trade Center and into the Pentagon, who obviously would be perfectly willing to use weapons of mass destruction, let there be no doubt, that the publics of the NATO countries would willingly provide a relatively modest fraction of our gross domestic products to provide the kinds of investments that will enable the NATO countries, individually and collectively, to contribute to peace and stability in the world, and to provide a degree of safety for their people which they clearly will need. We are in a new security environment as a people. And I have every confidence that political leadership can persuade people of that fact. ...

Question: In light of the short warning time that you have with weapons of mass destruction, should NATO be prepared to take preemptive military action against terrorist states that have weapons of mass destruction and that have indicated that they're ready to use them?

Rumsfeld: That's a good question. Let me answer it slightly off to the side. What NATO ought to have is really up to all the NATO countries and not this one individual. I will say this - I think that every country that is living in this period, this new security environment, has to recognize that historically we have organized and trained and equipped ourselves to contest aggressive, hostile armies, navies and air forces. The situation today is that opponents of free people - terrorists who go around killing innocent men, women and children regardless of race or religion or nationality - are not competing against our armies, navies and air forces. They are using so-called asymmetrical techniques: terrorist attacks, weapons of mass destruction potentially, cyber-attacks potentially, cruise missiles to be sure, ballistic missiles to be sure. And it is our task to see that we acknowledge that change that has taken place and transform not just the United States military, as we're trying to do, but the NATO institution and the NATO militaries, as well. Because if we're not able to use, for example, precision-guided munitions, and are stuck with dumb bombs - dumb bombs are fine when you're dealing with armies, navies and air forces. They're not fine when you've got the much more difficult task of trying to track down and deal with terrorist networks and nations that harbor terrorists, as one example of the difference. Second, as you pointed out we do have to be a much more readily deployable - our capabilities do. Ours do and other NATO nations do. So there are things we've got to do to get ourselves rearranged. And we're hard at it.

Question: Sir, if I could just follow up on that previous question: In his last statement, Lord Robertson said that in its nature, NATO remains a defensive alliance and that we're not going out looking for problems to solve. But on that point, how can these new threats be addressed if you don't necessarily take either preemptive or offensive action, in order to deal with weapons of mass destruction and not just be reacting to things after they happen?

Rumsfeld: ... If a terrorist can attack at any time, in any place, and using any technique, and it's physically impossible to defend in every place, at every time against every technique, then one needs to calibrate the definition of "defensive." Because literally, the only way to defend against individuals or groups or organizations or countries that have weapons of mass destruction and are bent on using them against you, for example - and you know you can't defend at every place at every time against every technique - then the only defense is to take the effort to find those global networks and to deal with them as the United States did in Afghanistan. Now is that defensive or is it offensive? I personally think of it as defensive. We had no interest in doing anything in Afghanistan. It was not on the radarscope. And the terrorists that had been trained there in that global network attacked the United States. All one has to do is read the intelligence information to know that there are a good number of people who have been well trained. They are well financed. They are located in 40 or 50 countries. And they are determined to attack the values and the interests and the peace and the way of life of the people that are represented in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization nations. I don't find this task notably different. It's different in the sense that we're not dealing armies, navies and air forces. But, clearly, every nation has the right of self-defense and this is the only, only conceivable way for us to defend ourselves against those kinds of threats. ...

Question: I am just wondering if you [had] the opportunity today to talk with NATO defense ministers about Iraq, specifically about Iraq?

Rumsfeld: The subject of Iraq came up. It came up in the context that I brought it up here - as one of those states that's a terrorist state - it's on the terrorist list, everyone knows that, it's all public. It's one of those states that has had relationships with terrorist networks, and it is a state that has had an enormous aggressive appetite for weapons of mass destruction. In fact, it has liked that subject so much that it actually used chemical weapons on their own people. They have had a very serious nuclear weapons effort underway, goodness, going back what, of certain knowledge a decade-and-a-half or two decades. They have without question a biological weapon program. But so did several other terrorist states come up and it tended to be in that context. ...

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