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FYI Number 9: January 29, 2001

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on National Missile Defense Testing

The Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the nomination of Donald Rumsfeld to be Secretary of Defense touched on numerous subjects, including the proposed National Missile Defense (NMD) System. Among the many questions about this system were those posed by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) about the testing of the system before a deployment decision is made. The transcript of the exchange between Kennedy and Rumsfeld follows:

SEN. KENNEDY: As you know, the failure of the two most recent flight tests of the NMD has cast significant doubts on the viability of the current system. When the president-elect announced you as the nominee, he spoke of the need for the United States to develop a missile defense system that will work. And I'm interested in what your definition of a "system that will work."

You were talking about recently about characterizing success and involving the United States in these situations overseas. What is your -- when will we know that it will work? I mean, [what] would you establish as a baseline that it clearly has to pass a field test?

MR. RUMSFELD: Senator, I would really like to avoid setting up hurdles on this subject. I think back -- I was reading the book "Eye in the Sky," about the Corona program and the first overhead satellite, and recalling that it failed something like 11, 12, or 13 times during the Eisenhower administration and the Kennedy administration. And they stuck with it, and it worked, and it ended up saving billions of dollars in -- because of the better knowledge we achieved.

In this case, if I could just elaborate for a moment, the principle of deterrence, it seems to me, goes to what's in the minds of people who might do you harm and how can you affect their behavior.

The problem with ballistic missiles, with weapons of mass destruction, even though they may be a low probability, as the chart that Senator Levin, I believe, mentioned suggests, the reality is, they work without being fired. They alter behavior.

If you think back to the Gulf War, if Saddam Hussein, a week before he invaded Kuwait, had demonstrated that he had a ballistic missile and a nuclear weapon, the task of trying to put together that coalition would have been impossible. There's no way you could have persuaded the European countries that they should put themselves at risk to a nuclear weapon. People's behavior changes if they see those capabilities out there.

I think we need missile defense because I think it devalues people having that capability, and it enables us to do a much better job with respect to our allies.

Now, finally, I don't think many weapons systems arrive full-blown. Senator Levin or somebody mentioned "phased" and "layered." Those are phrases that I think people, not improperly, use to suggest that things don't start and then suddenly they're perfect. What they do is they -- you get them out there, and they evolve over time, and they improve.

And so success -- you know, this isn't the old "Star Wars" idea of a shield that'll keep everything off of everyone in the world. It is something that in the beginning stages is designed to deal with handfuls of these things and persuade people that they're not going to be able to blackmail and intimidate the United States and its friends and allies.

SEN. KENNEDY: Well, I think that you make good response to the question. I think we can give assurance, though, that there's going to be a very careful review and --

MR. RUMSFELD: Absolutely.

SEN. KENNEDY: -- in terms of the effectiveness, by you as it moves along, and that it's going to have to meet the criteria. And I'm prepared to establish that criteria, but it's going to be meaningful criteria, in terms of actually being able to function and be able to work --

MR. RUMSFELD: Yes, sir.

Richard M. Jones
Public Information Division
American Institute of Physics
fyi@aip.org
(301) 209-3094

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