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U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
News Transcript

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Director of the Missile Defense Agency Lt. Gen. Henry "Trey" Obering III August 27, 2006

Media Availability with Secretary Rumsfeld and Lt. Gen. Obering on Missile Defense

Ft. Greely, Alaska

SEC. RUMSFELD: I -- As I think most of you know we just got a chance to – visit the terrific Alaska National Guard folks who are developing and manning and operating the missile defense capability here at Ft. Greely. This is an activity that has been evolving over time and is important for the protection of the American people. It is an activity that has with each passing moment become more capable. It still is and I think what should be characterized is having a limited missile defense capability, not directed at any major country at all, but that provides defense against the possibility of ballistic missile attacks from a rogue country.

We've seen very recently in the press a good deal of activity in North Korea with respect to ballistic missiles, and their announcement that they have nuclear weapons; and in Iran, with their public desire to have a nuclear program and their reasonably advanced missile capabilities. We've also seen, I'm told, something in the neighborhood of 4,000 missiles launched by Hezbollah into northern Israel against the civilian population in Israel in the last period of weeks.

So it's clear that the problem of the proliferation of ballistic missile technologies and weapons of mass destruction technologies is a real one, and the decision that President Bush made – I should go back farther. I was in the White House when President Reagan announced the Strategic Defense Initiative. I've forgotten what year it was, but it was some time, I think in --

STAFF: 1983.

SEC. RUMSFELD: In `83? And he gathered a group of folks together and made the announcement that he believed that it was important for our country to invest in these technologies. When President Bush came in, he made a decision to set aside the ballistic missile treaty with, originally with the Soviet Union, and the Russian government set it aside and enabled us, freed us up to begin the kinds of research and development that would enable us to arrive where we are -- have come today. As additional sensors and additional interceptors are put in, this system will evolve with greater capability in terms of the numbers of missiles we can handle as well as the directions of missiles. We’re working with our allies around the world in both Asia and Europe to those kinds of additional capabilities.

The people here are very carefully selected. They are dedicated, and they're doing a terrific job and we appreciate it. And I wanted to come up first-hand and tell them that.

I might just add that yesterday I had a chance to visit with -- I don't know – 7 or – 6 or 7 or 8 hundred of the families of the 172nd Stryker Brigade gathered in Fairbanks. Driving in, we saw the "Welcome home" sign, which as -- because of their -- the extension of their tour, had not yet been seen by the troops.

Before I went in, I also had a chance to visit the ice rink. Where there had to have been hundreds of young kids with day care assistance, and it was really an impressive sight.

It reminds you that when you have these wonderful people who have joined the military as volunteers, we don't just recruit and retain soldiers; we recruit and retain families. And it was moving.

The folks there were given a chance -- I would add I suppose it's kind of an unusual chance -- to ask questions for a good long period and -- of the secretary of defense. And I was delighted to be able to stand there and answer them, and stayed afterwards for about another 45 minutes and visited with them, answering their questions and thanking them for the sacrifice they make.

I'd be happy to respond to a few questions.

Q On a different topic, perspective from a local standpoint -- I'm with the local paper here -- privatization has changed a lot with the military, particularly here, where almost – the majority of the employees on base who are privatized, we recently had a layoff back in May of approximately 140 employees. And what is DOD doing to assure the local communities that such economic devastation won't happen in the future?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I guess I would say two things: well, first, that the world is dynamic, not static, and that things change. And they inevitably are going to change. They do that in the private sector as well as the public sector. And as events evolve on the ground and in the world, the institutions, governments, private sector, public sector all have to adjust and adapt to those things.

Second, private corporations -- I know when I was in private business I always made a point of working with the employees who were affected by any adjustments that are required, in a way so that they had outplacement service and assistance in transitioning from what they were doing to what they may very well do next.

And I know that government has that same concern and sensitivity and works with people to try to do that.

And that is the only way anyone can answer the question, unless you want to have one of the people who are here respond to it. And I'll let them do that. I don't know who would be the person to do it.

Q General -- (off mike).

LT GEN OBERING: (Off mike.)

SEC. RUMSFELD: Please. Sure. Sure.

LT GEN OBERING: That was a temporary thing -- (off mike). And most of those services have been restored --


LT GEN OBERING: -- and are in the process of being restored. So it was a temporary thing in the United States Army, probably could have been handled better, Mr. Secretary. But I think we're in the business of getting it back. And we're also -- we had to right-size the Air Force here.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Sure. And that’s happening worldwide --

LT GEN OBERING: (Inaudible) -- in line with what you had said, and that's all going. So we'll be at the right permanent levels for Fort Greely.

SEC. RUMSFELD: I would add that worldwide we are engaged in one of the most significant adjustments in how the Department of Defense -- active duty, Guard, Reserve, contractors and dependents -- are arranged around the world since the end of World War II. We are moving forces from Europe to various other locations in the United States. We're moving forces around within Japan and Korea and Guam and the United States. We are transforming the Department of Defense from a department that was focused essentially on big armies, big navies and big air forces to one that can manage and deal with asymmetric and irregular threats, as they face challenges in the years ahead. It's something we need to do for the safety of the American people.

Q Mr. Secretary, as a result of the briefing you were given today and the tour of this place, are you convinced that this system today is ready to -- (off mike)?

SEC. RUMSFELD: General Obering is in charge of the missile defense program, and he was quoted in The Wall Street Journal yesterday or the day before suggesting that that was the case.

Q And what’s your view?

SEC. RUMSFELD: And I am not from Missouri, but I'm from Illinois, quite close to Missouri, and I want to see it happen. And I have a lot of confidence in these folks, and have a lot of confidence in the work that's been done, and I particularly have great deal of confidence in Trey Obering. But --

Q What do you mean you want to see it happen? You want to see --

SEC. RUMSFELD: A full end-to-end process at some point, where we actually put all the pieces together that have not -- that just hasn't happened. We still have some more sensors that they're putting in place; one in Japan this next week, I think -- (inaudible). And there will be other pieces that will come along, and I don't -- as you -- Bob know well, I don't fashion that I'm the best person in the world to be making predictions that I don't have to make, because you folks just wrap them around my neck -- (laughter).

Q Could I follow up on -- just -- (laughter)?

SEC. RUMSFELD: You're the perfect person!

Q Not to wrap it around your neck. (Laughter.) We have, as you mentioned, General Obering has said that he's confident -- I believe I'm quoting him correctly -- that if there had been a North Korean launch, the system could have handled it. But we're also -- there's also a test that's coming up this week we're told, where the objective of the test is not even to hit the target; it's rather to test, you know, whether it -- I don't know the technical term for it -- but whether it sees the target, whether it -- I guess the question from the laymen's standpoint is: Why not test the whole thing flat-out right now? If you're confident it could have worked operationally, why not do a full-blown --

SEC. RUMSFELD: Why test them at all if you're confident?

Q Well, I mean, it has to be tested, but my question is, why not --

SEC. RUMSFELD: No. But why not proceed in an orderly way with the kind of tests that the expert people who will look at -- (inaudible). They don't have to do it just to demonstrate to you that it works.

Q Well, but I would think -- I mean, I would think you'd want to demonstrate it if you're --

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, it will be ultimately.

Q Okay.

SEC. RUMSFELD: I'm a patient man.

Q When?


Q Next year?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, I don't make predictions, Bob. You know that!

Q (Inaudible) the test configuration will be complete?

SEC. RUMSFELD: It'll be when the General decides.

Q You've been one of the leading advocates for missile defense in America, and are you frustrated that, this many years into your second time as defense secretary, there has not yet been a test where the interceptor was launched and the kill vehicle struck down a test target?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, there have been interceptors launched that have struck down --

LT GEN OBERING: A kill vehicle that --

SEC. RUMSFELD: But not this particular system from end to end.

Q Right. But --

SEC. RUMSFELD: But there have been a number of hit-to-kill --


SEC. RUMSFELD: How many?

LT GEN OBERING: We've had -- of the long-range system, we have had four or five successful interceptions between 2001 and 2002, which -- that's what allowed us to go into the operations configuration update that we have today.

SEC. RUMSFELD: And the answer's no. The word "frustrated" is not one that is appropriate for my personal approach to things. I don't get frustrated. I've lived through this entire process. I was there that night when President Reagan announced his vision, and I've been involved in it in one way or another over a good many years. I lived through the period where the arguments and hostilities and debates were hostile and heated and indeed theological at various points, and I've seen the thing calm down to the point where it's now national policy in law, that the United States develops a capability to defend itself against limited types of threats.

So we've seen the debate as to whether it should be space-based or sea-based or land-based. We've heard the arguments that nothing should be deployed until it's perfect and tested and end-to-end perfect, and I think that's just not a valid argument. I have always believed that the way you get from where you are to where you want to be is you start. And you put something in the ground and you work with it and evolve it and change it and fix it and improve it and let all the people and critics who stand around and say, "Oh, you missed," or "You didn't get it," or "You missed a deadline," or whatever they want to do -- and you just keep your head down and you get the job done and you arrive in the year 2006. And we've got a leader of this program who says we now have a capability -- a limited capability to do just that. Not bad.

Q What is your latest information about the threat from North Korea, especially in the capability to hit Hawaii, Alaska or California and --

SEC. RUMSFELD: Or the United States?

Q Or -- yes, also.

SEC. RUMSFELD: Yeah. Well, we know they tried to launch a Taepodong II some time back -- I've forgotten what year it was -- and --


SEC. RUMSFELD: -- '98 -- and we -- they -- we think at that time, as I recall, they tried to put a kick motor on the top stage to put something into space, possibly a satellite, they claimed that. But I don't know if we validated it --

LT GEN OBERING: (off mike).

SEC. RUMSFELD: But they have been among the leading ballistic missile developers in the world, they're the leading ballistic missile proliferators in the world, working with Iran and with various other countries around the world, mostly terrorist countries.

They have announced they have a nuclear program. And this most recent period, where they launched, I guess, eight or 10 or more shorter-range missiles, and attempted to have a successful flight of a Taepodong II and failed after some period of seconds obviously represents a clear determination on their part to continue to improve their capability and to threaten and attempt to blackmail other people.

Also, I think it's important, probably, from their standpoint, to test these things, so that they can sell them. And -- (chuckles) -- they're, I think, a lot better off selling something if it's been successfully tested than if it hasn't.

They also, of course, utter provocative things from time to time. But I think the real threat that North Korea poses in the immediate future is more one of proliferation than danger to South Korea.

Q Do you have any information that they have connection with -- Iran to sell them these kinds of capabilities?

SEC. RUMSFELD: I don't have anything current, except we do know they've had a long-standing relationship with Iran with the -- with ballistic missiles. Iran is also had a pattern of wanting to -- which is a very sensible pattern -- of wanting to acquire from others any advanced technologies that they can have, but simultaneously develop their own national institutional capability to produce those same technologies themselves, so that they're not depending on another country's technology. So they are constantly out in the marketplace, including with North Korea, acquiring things. But they also are then investing in their own capabilities, so that they can replicate them.

STAFF: Okay. We have time for maybe one or two more questions.

Q Sir, there has been some controversy with some of our allies about the idea of a space test bed. Why do you need a test bed? And what can you do to address their concerns?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Well, I'll -- I guess partly if you think there are always going to be concerns, someone's always -- if you do something, somebody's not going to like it in life. And what it takes generally is some time. It takes some thinking it through. And it changes over time. If you think about it, the attitude on missile defense in Western Europe today is much more positive than it was 10 years ago. The attitude in the United States is much more positive than it was 10 years ago.

And I think that the reason for looking and doing research and development and experimentation in a host a different areas is because you're going to find that you're going to learn more, you're going to develop redundancies that will enable you to deal with the evolutionary changes in potential threats. And obviously, for -- throughout the history of mankind, for every threat -- for every offense, there's been a defense, and for every defense, there's been an offense.

So it's not going to be static. Obviously, the target is to develop a defensive capability against a specific thing because the specific thing will change and evolve and there will be different ways they can do things. And so we need to look at land, sea, air and space, at various ways that things might be done so that we can adapt and adjust these defensive capabilities to deal with things that might be coming around the corner in the future.

Q: (Inaudible) You commented a minute ago, you said that you see North Korea as more of a proliferation threat than a threat to South Korea.

SEC. RUMSFELD: In the immediate period ahead.

Q With regard to their offensive missile capability, is that more of a threat to the security of the United States than a threat to South Korea?

SEC. RUMSFELD: I don't know. We do not have -- I mean, as a practical matter, our intelligence as to the thinking -- when you have a dictatorship in a closed country with a dictator that asserts a large fraction of all decision-making power, having a good grip on how that thinking machine works and how it might work prospectively is hard, and we do not have excellent intelligence. I just think it's realistic that if you have a country that has demonstrated an ability to develop ballistic missiles, claims they have nuclear weapons -- I believe they still make submarines. I mean, it's not as though they haven't focused on the military capabilities.

And they sell anything anywhere. They're selling our currency that they counterfeit. They're selling illegal drugs. They're selling ballistic missile technologies. There's not much they have that they wouldn't sell, either to another country or possibly to a terrorist network. And so we have to just be aware of that and conduct ourselves in a way that reflects that reality.

But I personally, if you look at the two countries, South Korea and North Korea, South Korea and North Korea have roughly the same population, roughly the same natural resources. South Korea now is, I guess, the 10th or 12th most powerful economy on the face of the Earth. It's got a free-market system, a free political system, it's got a financial capability that is many multiples of the North today. And the North is putting people in their military who are 4 feet, 10 inches tall because of starvation and lack of nutrition, people who weigh less than 100 pounds.

I don't know how many hours their pilots are flying, but I'm going to guess their pilots are probably flying their tenth or -- (inaudible).

STAFF: Yes, sir.

SEC. RUMSFELD: How many are our pilots flying? Do you know?

LT GEN OBERING: Sir, we fly roughly about 200 to 250 hours in a year.

SEC. RUMSFELD: A year. Yeah, I'll bet you they're flying less than 50, their pilots, just as an example. I mean, that makes a difference -- (laughs) -- if you're flying less than 50 compared to a couple of hundred or 300. So -- and that's undoubtedly true of other aspects of their military.

So I don't see them, frankly, as an immediate military threat to South Korea. I think that South Korea's got an awful lot of capability. It's increasing.

And the North also doesn't have a major power sponsor the way it did during the Korean War today. And if you look at China and Russia, both of them are a little standoffish with North Korea, and that changes the equation from that standpoint.

Thanks, folks.

Q Thank you.


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