Background Briefing at NATO Headquarters
NEWS TRANSCRIPT from the United States Department of Defense
DoD News Briefing Senior Defense Official Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2001
(Background briefing at NATO Headquarters, Belgium)
Senior Defense Official: I'll make a few comments about this morning's activities and, I think, where the meetings are going. This is really the first meeting -- formal meeting -- of the North Atlantic Council defense ministers since September 11th. And it's the first time that Secretary Rumsfeld has been back to NATO since September 11th. I think the focus, not only for Secretary Rumsfeld but also clearly for all the ministers here, is the subject of terrorism and the campaign against terrorism.
A number of themes, I think, are emerging from the morning meeting. One is tremendous NATO support for the United States and for its approach to the war, particularly in Afghanistan. And I think ministers are beginning to look ahead, but there was consensus around the table that things are not finished in Afghanistan. There's a lot to do. In particular, the need to get al Qaeda, the al Qaeda leadership, was a main point that came out of the morning meetings.
In addition to looking ahead, sort of from the standpoint of the war, NATO is collectively beginning to look ahead at how does NATO fashion capabilities to deal with the terrorist threat in the future. NATO realizes that it has to adapt itself to deal with these new threats. And in addition, a more general point that NATO needs to invest more resources into defense, so that we're not caught, in effect, having to ramp up spending when a conflict like this unexpectedly occurs.
Finally, a final point would be simply, I think there was quite a bit of discussion about the idea of asymmetric threats. That while there still exist traditional military threats that NATO forces might have to deal with -- and indeed NATO needs to overcome shortcomings in certain things like mobility, for example -- dealing with asymmetric threats, cyberwarfare, obviously the terrorist threat, cruise missiles, weapons of mass destruction, those kinds of things -- ballistic missiles - are areas that NATO needs to put more emphasis on. So I think ministers had a really full discussion, a very energetic discussion, in several sessions, and I'm looking forward to the afternoon meetings.
Q: Was there any push, or discussion, or suggestion for developing coordinated cells within the alliance to, say, work together on cyberterrorism, work together on protecting -- instead of everyone shooting off in different directions? You know, with different kinds of technology? Is there going to be some concerted effort to do this? In these different areas?
Senior Defense Official: I see what you're saying, yeah. I mean, I think that what will come out of this meeting is that NATO authorities here will develop some plans and some taskings on just those problems, and that NATO will be looking at these, not only in the runup to the next meeting in June, but also in the runup to the Prague meeting in late fall. I think it's in November. Obviously, and I should say, clearly there was a lot of discussion and I expect there will be more discussion about enlargement this afternoon. So enlargement is still -- looms large on the minds of -- (chuckles)
Unknown voice: Boo.
Senior Defense Official: Sorry. Well, you know -- on the minds of ministers. But I think that, yeah, there will be some taskings and things that will come out of this session.
Q: If I could jump ahead to the afternoon session, because I don't think we're going to be seeing you between now and then -- a discussion, a debate, a proposal to reduce forces in Bosnia by 6,000. Is there really a sense that that is such a drain on the American military that it prevents us from thoroughly carrying out the war on terror?
Senior Defense Official: I don't think that we should look at it as a drain on the American military. By the way, the proposal is not to reduce American forces --
Unknown voice: (inaudible)
Senior Defense Official: Yeah, I just want to be clear for those who may not be as clear, the proposal, as the president said, "In together; out together." So our proposal is, in effect, to have a reduction in overall presence by 6,000. Keeping -- yeah, a proportional reduction.
And I think perhaps a better way to think about this is that if NATO is going to be able to respond to crises in the future, and if NATO publics are going to provide support to their governments to respond to crises in the future, we're going to have to demonstrate that we have a way of ending, in effect, our interventions. In ending, there has to be a way that -- otherwise publics will lose confidence if every time you get involved in something if you're stuck there for sort of an unlimited period of time. You'll end up with a situation where publics are not going to support the use of force.
So, in effect, this is not a, sort of, in opposition. We've done great work in Bosnia. I think our view is that SFOR is a resounding success. We're certainly not calling for a complete withdrawal of force from there, but we do believe missions need to be modified and, in some cases, scaled back. In some cases focused in other areas. For example, terrorism. There was discussion today of about dealing with potential terrorist activities in the Balkans. So I think the idea is not so much to focus on the number -- although we think about a 6,000 decrease is justified by, in effect the success, the improvements on the ground there.
I don't know if that puts it in context.
Q: A follow-up point. How does that 6,000 break down between U.S. forces and other countries?
Senior Defense Official: Oh boy. I think, I'm not exactly sure. I can get you that number. If you're looking for a number, I can get you a rough number. But again, I don't know that -- it would be a rough number because it wouldn't necessarily -- this is something we are proposing to the alliance. It's something that ministers will --
Q: Does this come at a time when you do the normal force reviews?
Senior Defense Official: Yeah we're going to this through the normal process. The aim is to sort of task the national military authorities to look at this as one of a number of options for restructuring our forces in the Balkans broadly and in Bosnia. So no, this is not being done outside the normal processes.
Q: Is the discussion of enlargement being driven in any way by the focus on terrorism and the need to shift long term planning to asymmetric threats and terrorism? Is there a linkage between the two?
Senior Defense Official: Yeah, I haven't really seen a nexus between the two. I think that other than perhaps in a sort of -- the broadest sense, which is that one of the important goals of enlargement -- is to bring these new democracies into a security system where they can flourish, where they can feel secure, and in that way, we are helping to develop societies that are less susceptible to terrorism. And maybe in that broadest sense. But I don't think the two issues are closely related.
Q: Are you going to change the DCI, the Defense Capabilities Initiative, in regards to asymmetric warfare? Is that going to be something formally presented?
Senior Defense Official: To my knowledge, it's not going to be formally presented in this session. I think that what will come out of our meetings will be some initiatives, perhaps not utilizing the DCI since that's more focused on other kinds of capabilities. But there will be some taskings on improving, for example, the alliance's ability to respond to chemical and biological warfare threats and, you know, consequence management. Those sorts of issues.
Q: That would be in addition to DCI? Or is this supplanting it?
Senior Defense Official: No. I don't think it's supplanting it. The DCI was, by the way, discussed in a morning session, and one of the things, I think is -- there is general, broad support for the DCI and, in particular, I think some members argued strongly for the need for -- I mean, the commitment to DCI is there. The commitment of resources is not always there. So there was a lot of talk about the need to go back and commit resources. And as you well know, the people sitting around this table are the defense ministers. And you don't find very many of them who are not interested in getting additional defense resources, right? But the problem is having to go back and work it in capitals. And so, and I know that this issue was also brought up at the foreign ministers' meeting because, interestingly, the foreign ministers often are the ones having to make decisions that commit defense resources. And they can be surprised when they find out there aren't the kinds of resources available to do the kinds of things that they think need to be done.
Q: Were there any feelings expressed -- oh, sorry.
Senior Defense Official: I don't know if there was anybody else down the table --
Q: I just wanted to clarify one thing on the Bosnian proposal, the Bosnian reduction proposal. Would that be to make those reductions by 2002 or to have a plan in place by 2002?
Senior Defense Official: The plan would be to task NATO military authorities in the beginning of the year to do the analysis over the spring, that could then be approved by ministers some time in probably the June time frame, with the idea that the force reductions would be taken in the next reduction cycle in the fall of 2002.
Q: By the end of the year?
Senior Defense Official: Yeah. Certainly by the end of the year. But again I want to be clear that NATO's going to be looking at a whole range of options that include not just force reductions, but restructuring how the forces are laid out in all three areas -- Macedonia, KFOR and SFOR.
Q: Is there going to be a force reduction in Kosovo as part of that overall restructuring?
Senior Defense Official: The particular American initiative that we're talking about here is not. No. I think that if you conceive of a sort of approach that might come out of this, that might be sort of a Balkans-wide restructuring, that may end up just through the process of rationalization, of bringing those forces down. So for example, if you could use force in one area to respond to problems in another, you may not have to keep forces in both areas.
Q: So you might do a rapid reaction force in Kosovo as a force that could be used as a rapid reaction force if there were a problem --
Senior Defense Official: I don't know if that's going to be a specific proposal but that's the idea, yes.
Q: Since 6,000 is one-third of what's in SFOR, of the total of 18,000, can we expect one-third of the U.S. 3,100 to be reduced? Are we talking approximately thousand?
Senior Defense Official: I think approximately 1,000. I did say I would get a more specific number and I'll be happy to do that.
Q: So when you said that the ministers this morning were looking forward this morning to the future, agreeing that it's not ending in Afghanistan and looking to the future, what was being talked about there? What were the issues that were coming out? The possible concerns?
Senior Defense Official: I think there is a general recognition that -- and some specific discussion about -- the fact that al Qaeda is not located just in Afghanistan. Number two, there was a concern expressed by a number of ministers that one of the outgrowths of the activity in Afghanistan is that al Qaeda may try to get out of the country and move into either neighboring countries or further afield. And then, obviously, one of the focuses had to be on trying to stop that. But also recognizing that it may well happen and that we'll have to deal with it.
Q: Just stipulating the areas that you'll have to deal with.
Senior Defense Official: Yeah, right. So that was really the main focus in terms of the conflict. And then the other aspect of it was the one I spoke of at length.
Q: What would happen if that happened? If they were able to disburse and destabilize other areas. Was there any consensus on that?
Senior Defense Official: I don't think there was. I think it was more a concern that was raised about the fact that we should not -- we should try to not let it happen, number one. And number two, I think there was a general view that al Qaeda, the al Qaeda networks, outside of Afghanistan need to be dealt with. But there were no specific action plans or anything like that discussed.
Q: But given the fact that going after terrorism may now involve going after Iraq, for example, which would be a much bigger military task than Afghanistan, was there any sentiment or vocal commitment, military commitment by these nations to the idea, "If you need a lot of our troops, you'll get them?" Do you see what I mean? As opposed to --
Senior Defense Official: I'm cautious of any sentence that includes the word Iraq. (laughter) So let's take the word out of that sentence.
Q: Suppose you had a much larger task toward some state that supports terrorism. Is there sentiment among these countries to provide the extra forces that would be needed?
Senior Defense Official: Well, it's really hard to talk about it and, I said I'm not going to talk about Iraq and I'm not going to talk about it in general terms. So how are you going to talk about it?
I think I saw very strong support in the room for what the United States is doing. One of the things that many ministers did was talk about the way that their countries were supporting the campaign and, in some cases, offering additional aid as needed. There was very much a sense that not -- as Secretary Rumsfeld has said before, this is going to be a -- there are going to be multiple coalitions here. And I think there was a sense in the room that people that-- there would be other places and other possible uses of either individual military force from NATO countries or NATO acting as NATO. But there wasn't a specific commitment one way or another. The ministers weren't really discussing that. Those kinds of things tend to be worked at a much lower level in the alliance.
Q: What you got, very forward leaning?
Senior Defense Official: Oh, absolutely. I'm hesitating because I don't want to put words in somebody's mouth but I really think the support was so great that if we needed additional capabilities, I'm sure there would be countries that would provide them.
Q: There was no sentiment in the sense that Afghanistan should be it? That we shouldn't go beyond Afghanistan?
Senior Defense Official: No.
Q: The secretary's morning statement to the Nuclear Planning Group talks about the need to adapt and transform America's strategic forces. What does that mean?
Senior Defense Official: I think it -- number one, as we bring down the force over the next decade, we are going to be reliant on a smaller number of weapons, a smaller number of types of weapons. And there's going to have to be some investment in our infrastructure to support that. That infrastructure investment is also important because it provides us with the ability to respond to unexpected threats - changes in the threat -- that we may not be able to foresee now. And it also acts I think as a dissuasive component. So one of the ways that we're thinking about this from a transformational standpoint is that the infrastructure is actually part of the dissuasive component of the force, whereas in the past you tended to think about, "Well, what forces do you bring to the table today right now."
Well, your forces that are immediately capable are important. But we're also thinking that our infrastructure maintaining that infrastructure is an important part of our dissuasive capabilities.
Q: This language means a new generation of warheads or what? I understand the words you're saying but I don't understand the implication.
Senior Defense Official: No, it doesn't necessarily mean a new generation of warheads. I think what it means is the ability to repair, respond, if the United States has to develop new kinds of capabilities, the infrastructure will be there to do it. The talent, the physical plant, those kinds of things.
I think that the top priority is the talent. One of the absolutely most difficult things to do when you are drawing down capabilities -- and this is true with conventional forces, not just true with nuclear forces -- is maintaining the resident expertise. These are highly complicated, niche technical areas and unless people are involved in interesting science, as they say, they tend to migrate into things where they can be better fulfilled, better paid, whatever.
But I also want to say that balancing that, is the need to recognize that in dealing with asymmetric threats and in dealing with what may be undeterrables, we have to have a broader panoply of capabilities. So in addition to our nuclear forces, we would put -- in terms of strategic capabilities -- we would include advanced conventional forces. So some investment in longer range strike capabilities of a conventional nature and missile defenses. Because we cannot expect, as we did during the cold war, that deterrence will be as reliable as we think it was. We weren't that sure it was reliable then, but we at least understood we had a single enemy, a single opponent. We spent a lot of energy understanding that opponent. That opponent is gone. We now have the potential for multiple different opponents, and ones that we don't expect.
September 11th really underscored this. Who would have thought we'd have been in Afghanistan fighting against the Taliban on September 10th?
Q: Did anyone voice concern, or opposition to the withdrawal from the ABM treaty?
Senior Defense Official: No. No.
Q: Is there anything else that the United States would like from the NATO alliance to assist it in its war on terrorism besides the things you mentioned, the force reduction and the general transformation? Is there anything else the U.S. is looking for or would this be really it?
Senior Defense Official: The U.S. works with individual NATO countries and makes requests all the time for force capabilities and other means of support. Principal among them is intelligence, things like that. And so, I think that's kind of an ongoing process, but it's not one that is really dealt with at the ministerial level. In effect, it's sort of a natural and automatic thing. If you've been down to CENTCOM, you know that most of the countries represented here have liaison officers down at CENTCOM. That's the kind of hand in glove sort of cooperation that we have with our --
Q: Is it more on an individual basis than rather with our NATO allies?
Senior Defense Official: With our NATO allies. That was the first point. The second point is I think that NATO -- there's nothing -- the ministers did not discuss specific things that we might ask of NATO. But I think that there is an ongoing effort to sort of look at additional ways in which NATO can provide NATO capabilities, whether they be naval or air defense type capabilities and that sort of thing. But there's nothing that came out of the meetings this morning.