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Why is the ABM Treaty Inadequate?

Why is the ABM Treaty Inadequate?

DoD News Briefing: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Friday, October 26, 2001. Interview with Michael Vatikiotis and Murray Hiebert, Far Eastern Economic Review. Source: News Transcript from the United States Department of Defense.

Q: Is there a message for China in the discussions about changing the ABM treaty?

Wolfowitz: There isn't particularly a China element to it. Clearly what we are trying to get into is a situation where we are not vulnerable to the threat or use of limited ballistic missile attacks as an instrument of coercion, or war. That's in the interest of everybody in Asia frankly, including the Chinese. There's a lot of interest in Japan and South Korea for example.

This doesn't threaten China. The idea that we would start a war with China because we have the ability to provide defense of our population -- if that's the theory -- is just nonsense. I think what September 11th demonstrates is there are nasty people out there who are determined to do us harm and a lot of them have invested very heavily in ballistic missile capabilities --

Q: Including North Korea?

Wolfowitz: Including North Korea. They've been relatively quiet for some time, but for a country which has no money, they sure spend a lot of it on ballistic missiles.

Q: Why is the ABM treaty inadequate?

Wolfowitz: To understand the problem of the treaty you just have to go back and think about when it was formulated. It was a time when you had the prospect of 120 Soviet divisions invading Western Europe and a Western defense that depended heavily on the threat of the first use of nuclear weapons and a Soviet posture that depended heavily on preempting our first use of nuclear weapons. It was a truly precarious balance of nuclear terror.

That world is ancient history. We're not worried about a Russian invasion of Europe and I don't think we're worried to the same level of paranoia about the nuclear balance. And yet we have a treaty that is now almost 30 years old that says that, in order to preserve that balance of terror between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, we have to leave ourselves defenseless even to the third and fourth rate powers that are trying to threaten us.

One of the biggest concerns used to be that somehow abandoning the treaty would lead to an uncontrolled arms race between the US and Soviet Union. Again there is no prospect of that kind of uncontrolled arms race between the US and Russia. To the contrary we are arguing about how low can you go.

And then finally the ABM treaty was a product of a world in which in every sense the two countries that mattered were the U.S. and the Soviet Union and everyone else was secondary. It was the enmity between those two countries that mattered.

Now we have a world in which the U.S. and Russia are much more to be thought of as potential allies than as potential enemies. And there are a larger number of countries that matter, not because they have the stature of the Soviet Union, but because they have the capacity, as we saw, in different ways, to allow terrorists to get established.

Q: But is the current U.S.-Russian relationship going to convince China to limit ballistic missiles?

Wolfowitz: I don't think it forces anything on China. I do think it's in China's interest to be a member of the club, so to speak. I don't mean the nuclear club, but the club of responsible powerful countries in the world. China is becoming a powerful country, hopefully it's becoming a powerful and responsible country.

This is one of the things that people need to get over. It's the sort of Cold War mentality in which we focus on enmities. I think we're talking more about relationships among countries where the common interests really do dominate the competitive ones. I really don't doubt we can reach a balance in which China feels secure and China doesn't threaten other people.

And that's really what we're working on in the relationship between the US and Russia. It will be a failure if we to back to a world where the threat of nuclear war is so imminent that we have to make these very precise calculations of nuclear advantage or disadvantage.

Q: What are the implications for the Asian region of the Pentagon's quadrennial review, looking over the horizon?

Wolfowitz: First of all let me say what it's not. It wasn't a conclusion that Asia is more important to the United States now than Europe. It seems to me that all along, going back at least over the twenty years that I've been engaged in Asian affairs, the U.S. has had such a big stake in both Europe and Asia that it's foolish to start saying that one is more important than the other. They are just both absolutely vital regions for us, and I think for one another.

The idea that Europe can insulate itself from the instability in Asia is an illusion, which I do think some Europeans still suffer from. I don't think Asians think they can insulate themselves from serious problems in Europe.

But what we have is a military posture that was largely developed for dealing with security problems in Europe. And it is now over-designed because those problems have significantly diminished in scale. It is somewhat under-designed for the challenges we face in Asia where distances are longer and access to bases may be more problematic, where you are more focused on maritime operations rather than continental operations.

So when we think about the kinds of new capabilities needed by U.S. forces, something that is important is the shift from the old way of a threat-based strategy to a capabilities-based strategy. Threat-based strategy may have been well-designed for the Cold War. When we always thought we knew who we were going to fight, designing your forces against a very visible and very threatening Soviet Union was not a bad way to plan.

We don't know who the threat may be ten years from now. But we do have a reasonable idea of what kinds of capabilities might threaten us. In fact, even before September 11th we identified terrorist attacks on the U.S. homeland as one of the things this department should get serious about. We should have gotten more serious five or ten years ago. That was an obvious weakness.

Our dependence on advanced information systems is both an enormous strength, which we want to exploit more, but it also creates a potential weakness if we're not careful. Some people say we need better intelligence so we're not surprised.

I say the lesson is we need to not depend so entirely on a particular prediction of the future so we can't handle surprise when it comes, because it's going to come. You want to improve your intelligence as much as possible but surprise is the nature of the business.

If you had said two months ago that we would need to send forces to fight in central Asia, we would have said that is several bridges too far, that we don't do that kind of work, which reinforces the message about being prepared for the unexpected.

And at the same time you can't plan for everything and you are not capable of doing everything. There is a long and powerful tradition of not getting involved in land wars in Asia.

But there is something that is important that we already identified as important before September 11th. The projection of long range air power is much more effective when it is combined with ground forces. They don't necessarily have to be our ground forces. They may be other people's forces.

But the idea that you just fix some targets from space and take them out with bombers, and that constitutes power -- it really doesn't. It's the combination of people on the ground with that kind of air power and targeting capability that we saw foreshadowed during the Gulf War.

Q: On China, the linkage between economic growth and security expansion. Is that really a concern?

Wolfowitz: There's a leap of logic there. The faster China grows, the more powerful its going to be militarily, that I think is almost a fact of life. But more powerful militarily does not have to mean military expansion, and should not mean military expansion.

It would be a terrible mistake if China ends up going down that road. The historical pessimists say that's exactly what Germany and Japan did when they became major powers a hundred years ago. I don't think history has to repeat itself. Japan isn't repeating its history. China's economic growth gives it enormous military potential, but its economic growth also gives it a huge stake in peace.

Q: Has the current campaign in Afghanistan brought China and the U.S. closer together?

Wolfowitz: I think it's helped. It certainly isn't like the old Soviet era. Then we really had a common enemy. The Chinese have been helpful, but I think except for their Uighur problem, I'm not sure they see nearly as direct a threat as the Russians do. But on the other hand, I do think it has helped build a certain solidarity among all the countries that find this kind of behavior threatening, and the Chinese are on our side which is a very good thing.

Q: Has the new government in Indonesia satisfied you that military cooperation can be reinstated?

Wolfowitz: There is clearly the need for -- I believe there was before -- being able to cooperate and deal with a significant al Qaeda presence in Indonesia. A bit elusive, but we're pretty sure it's there. We're just a lot less clear about who it is or where it is. Obviously some of the reasons we pulled back from military to military cooperation remain issues, and they are issues for the Indonesians as well as for us, that is to say the need for genuine military reform. But I think that process of reform will be assisted by closer cooperation with the U.S. The future of Indonesia's democracy depends on a military that is both effective and successfully reforming.

Q: Will Southeast Asia become a focus of the campaign against terrorists?

Wolfowitz: Going after al Qaeda in Indonesia is not something that should wait until after al Qaeda has been uprooted from Afghanistan. I do think that getting them in Afghanistan will make it much harder for them to operate elsewhere and easier to pursue elsewhere. It's difficult, because these guys have figured out that Southeast Asia, even before democracy took hold, was an easier place to operate for them than the pretty repressive regimes in the Middle East. And a democratic Indonesia is just wide open. So Indonesia faces some of the very same challenges we face, which is how you preserve a fairly open democratic society and at the same time weed out terrorists.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).