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The ABM Treaty Made Sense When it Was Signed in 1972

The ABM Treaty Made Sense When it Was Signed in 1972

Source: News Transcript from the United States Department of Defense: DoD News Briefing: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, Tuesday, August 14, 2001. Interview with Mr. Conan Nolan, KNBC-TV Los Angeles.

Nolan: -- this morning to talk about these and other issues is the Honorable Donald Rumsfeld, United States Secretary of Defense. Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us this morning.

Rumsfeld: Thank you. I'm delighted to be with you.

Nolan: The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972 has arguably kept the peace for almost 30 years. It was signed back when we had a Soviet Union. We no longer have a USSR, but the Russians say they're committed to it despite the fact that the White House and you would like to back away from it. If the whole idea here is to keep the peace, why mess with this treaty?

Rumsfeld: Well, you know the ABM Treaty made sense when it was signed in 1972. That was during the Cold War. We had the NATO and Warsaw Pact forces facing each other and threatening nuclear exchanges. There were very few other countries that had ballistic missiles and the ability to deliver then. Unfortunately this is 19 -- How many years have gone by? Forty, fifty years. And we're now in the year 2001, and because of proliferation a number of countries have those weapons and we have no ability to defend against them. So it makes a lot of sense to test that treaty aside and develop the capability of being able to defend against ballistic missiles from rogue states.

Nolan: The Russians apparently disagree. They believe, it appears, that this would open up a Pandora's box for the militarization of space. Respond to that.

Rumsfeld: Well, it has nothing to do with the militarization of space, and it's not clear to me that the Russians will eventually oppose it. In fact I would bet dollars to a dime if we look back in five or ten years you'll find the Russians will be active proponents of missile defense because they live in a neighborhood where any number of countries are developing those capabilities, and they will have the ability to threaten Russia. Russia, as you may not know, is the only country in the world that has a ballistic missile defense system. They have nuclear-tipped interceptors around Moscow defending their population from ballistic missiles. The United States does not.

Nolan: Let me ask you. With regard to the Space Commission that you headed up, in that report does it not say that the U.S. should control and dominate space and deny other countries access to space? Is that part of their problem?

Rumsfeld: No, I don't think so.

The report that is the foundation for the ballistic missile defense issue is the Ballistic Missile Threat Commission, and it pointed out that a number of countries will be getting weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles to deliver them within the coming period of years. The Space Commission report that I chaired had nothing to do with anything other than how the United States government and the Pentagon are organized to deal with space issues. It did not change U.S. space policy at all. Indeed, the space policy today is identical to what it was during the prior administration.

Nolan: A missile defense system, Mr. Secretary, we know would benefit aerospace companies in Southern California. That said, there is some suggestion that the testing that's been conducted up at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County is more public relations than it is science. Let me quote you from an article from Salon Magazine where Joe Connison said, "The rocket fired from Vandenberg," the one that was recently fired in that successful test, "carried a global positioning satellite beacon that guided the kill vehicle toward it," and they quote a Pentagon official as saying that "Yes, real warheads in a real attack would not carry such helpful beacons." Talk with me about these tests. Are they valid?

Rumsfeld: Sure. Let me say two things.

First, we have no way of knowing what kind of ballistic missile defense we will deploy and who might be participating in the development of that system because we're simply in a research and development and testing mode, so I think the premise of your first comment really is premature. Second, with respect to the recent test, it should be said that unless you have all elements of a test for a real world test, you have to find a way to arrange yourself so that you can conduct the tests with one or two elements missing and not present. Because of the ABM Treaty, we are restricted from doing certain things. Therefore, you're quite right, in the most recent test they used a beacon as a way of pre-positioning for the initial portion of the flight. But in fact, the very successful test occurred not because of that beacon. That beacon was simply to enable us to get to the certain point where you could have a kill vehicle actually strike the incoming missile. That is what happened. Let's take the worst case. Let's say that test had failed, which it did not fail. It was a very successful test. But let's say it had failed. Indeed, that would not have said anything at all about ballistic missile defense. The Corona program had 11 straight failures before it succeeded. The Wright brothers tried to fly many, many times. I think there are floating around the country some people who are theologically opposed to missile defense and are determined to try to drag up any argument they can make to criticize the program. That test, believe me, was very successful.

Nolan: Let me get back to the Russians for a moment. If their concern is the militarization of space, would the Pentagon, would the United States government be willing to share this technology or even funding to help build that same kind of missile defense system for the Russians?

Rumsfeld: First of all, their concern with respect to ballistic missile defense is not the militarization of space. As I said, they already have a missile defense system with nuclear tipped interceptors. Our system is quite different and does not involve nuclear tipped interceptors. Their concern with ballistic missile defense, I think, and I've spent some time visiting with them, is that they are concerned that the program could be so successful that it could in effect neutralize their offensive nuclear capability because they see their numbers of offensive nuclear weapons coming down, and they're concerned that if the ballistic missile defense were ever deployed, and if it ever actually became very robust, and if their numbers of missiles continued to come down that at some point, there could be a cross-over point and they would no longer feel that we would feel vulnerable to their offensive weapons. That is the essence of their argument. It is not something they need worry about. They have thousands of ballistic missiles with nuclear weapons on them. And we're talking about a program that would be able to deal with handfuls of ballistic missiles -- not hundreds, not t! housands. So they really don't have any fear at all of the system, or shouldn't.

Nolan: But Mr. Secretary, what's the risk in going it alone? Abandoning the ABM Treaty of '72? And even without acceptance from the Russians or even most of our European allies, proceeding with the system.

Rumsfeld: First, I think it's probably technically not correct to say that most of our European allies are opposed. There are a few that are opposed, and there are a number that favor the system, and there are a number that are undecided. Second, there isn't any particular rush, except that we're engaged in a testing system and the ABM Treaty prohibits testing in certain types of modes, and therefore we would not be able to experiment and do the research and development necessary to try to develop the ability to do that.

Nolan: Besides getting everybody on board overseas, you also have Congress to deal with, an $8.3 billion budget allocation from the White House. Tell me, are you and the White House going to be engaged in a full court press to get the American public behind this so that you can get the votes on the Hill in order to pass this budget?

Rumsfeld: Congress in recent years has passed legislation favoring ballistic missile defense. Most people in the United States believe that we already have the ability to defend against ballistic missiles, and of course we don't. We have no ability at all. If a country decided to launch a ballistic missile at the United States with a nuclear weapon, we have no ability to shoot down that missile today. I think that people opposing ballistic missile defense have to be very careful because if you think about it, it would be a terrible tragedy if the United States suffered a ballistic missile with a nuclear weapon on it and destroyed one of our cities and millions of our people. We already lost 28 American in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War, and some 99 Americans wounded, seriously wounded, because of a ballistic missile that we were unable to defend against. I think that the Congress will be quite cooperative with respect to it. You mentioned the number $8 billion. A portion of that is for national missile defense, as you point out. A portion of it also is for theater ballistic missile defense. And if you think about it, the portion that we're talking about is about 1.5 percent of the Defense Department's budget. That is not a lot of money to devote to being able to defend against a nuclear weapon hitting the United States.

Nolan: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Thank you very much for joining us, Mr. Secretary.

Rumsfeld: Thank you. I enjoyed it.



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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).