Rumsfeld’s New Order

March 1, 2001

Donald H. Rumsfeld, chosen by President George W. Bush to lead the Pentagon, was sworn in as the 21st Secretary of Defense on Jan. 20. He held the same post under President Ford in 1975–77. Rumsfeld served on active duty as a naval aviator. He also has chaired several high profile defense commissions in recent years. What follows are excerpts from his confirmation hearing on Jan. 11 before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Peace Through Strength

“If I know anything, I know that history shows that weakness is provocative. Weakness invites people into doing things they wouldn’t otherwise think of. And what we have to do is better understand what we’ll deter and what we’ll defend against this new range of threats.”

No Graduated Response

“I’m no fan of graduated response. If we’re going to do something, let’s do it.”

Defense Investment

“If you’re not investing for the future, you’re going to die. You simply run out of gas at a certain point. … The country, this committee, this department, simply must be willing to make those investments.”

Infusion of New Weapons

“The need to swiftly introduce new weapons systems is paramount. The transformation of US military power to take full advantage of commercially created information technology may require undertaking a near-term investment to acquire modern capabilities derived from US scientific and industrial pre-eminence, rather than simply upgrading existing systems.”

Go for Missile Defense

“There’s no question but that … we should deploy a missile defense system when it’s technologically possible and effective.”

Defense and Deterrence

“The ability to defend ourselves and our friends against attacks by missiles and other terror weapons can strengthen deterrence and provide an important complement to purely retaliatory capabilities. … Effective missile defense … must be achieved.”

Dangers of Defenselessness

“We talk frequently about the risks of deploying missile defense. … What are the risks of not deploying missile defense? I would mention several. … If some countries that have significant technological capabilities decide that they are vulnerable to ballistic missiles from their neighbors and that we lack the ability to assist them in defending against that capability, we may contribute to proliferation by encouraging them to go forward and develop their own nuclear weapons and their own ballistic missiles. … If we know of certain knowledge that another country has a nuclear warhead that can affect us, and we don’t feel we have a good grip on their motivations, their behavior patterns, what could dissuade them, and we know that they are capable of using it, we are forced into one of two courses of action. Either we acquiesce and change our behavior and change our interests and alter what we would otherwise have done, or we have to pre-empt.”

Russia and Missile Defense

“There’s no way I can prove what I’m going to say, but I have a feeling that, once the Russians understand that the United States is serious about this and intends to deploy [a system], they will … in fact, find a way in the … discussions that take place to accept that reality.”

Clinton’s NMD Plan

“The current system was designed to fit within the [ABM] treaty. … That treaty is ancient history. It dates even back farther than when I was last in the Pentagon. That’s a long time. Think what’s happened to technology in the intervening period. I mean, to try to fashion something that fits within the constraints of that [treaty] and expect that you’re going to get the most effective program, the earliest to deploy, and the most cost-effective, it boggles the mind.”

Nuclear Deterrence

“Credible deterrence no longer can be based solely on the prospect of punishment through massive retaliation. Instead, it must be based on a combination of offensive nuclear and non-nuclear defensive capabilities working together to deny potential adversaries the opportunity and benefits from the threat or use of weapons of mass destruction.”

Rogue State Deterrence

“The problem with ballistic missiles, with weapons of mass destruction, … is they work without being fired. They alter behavior. … 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 is no way you could have persuaded the European countries that they should put themselves at risk to a nuclear weapon.”

Prevention Is Paramount

“We don’t want to win wars. We want to prevent them. We want to be so powerful and so forward looking, that it is clear to others that they ought not to be damaging their neighbors when it affects our interest.”

Criteria for Use of Force

“Is what you think you want to do actually achievable? It may be meritorious, it may need to be done, but if you can’t really do it, oughtn’t you maybe not to try? … Do you have the resources? You might be able to do it, but if you’re spread all over the world and you simply don’t have the capabilities at that given moment, then you’ve got to face up to the truth … that you can’t do everything. … To what degree is this particular activity or recommendation truly a part of our national interest?”

Public Support

“You mention overwhelming public support as a criteria [for committing troops abroad]. I’m uncomfortable with that. I think that leaders have to lead and build support. And I look back at history, and I think there have been times when we have had to do things when the public was not there yet. … You can’t sustain anything without it, I quite agree. But I think that thinking that you’re going to have it at the outset is optimistic.”

Overwhelming Force

“It’s a proper thing to say we don’t want to do something unless we’re going to put the force into it we need, but the concept of overwhelming force in isolation, I would think needs to have another dimension, and it is this. In the pre-crisis period, in the early period, you can do things to alter people’s behavior that does not require 500,000 troops and six months to build up.”

New US Commitments

“Let’s try not to get into things we can’t get out of. Let’s try not to get into things we can’t finish well.”

Americans as Peacekeepers

“I don’t think that it’s necessarily true that the United States has to become a great peacekeeper, if you will. I think we need to have capabilities … that are distinct from warfighting capabilities, but I also think other countries can participate in these activities.”

Nation Building

“We’re not geniuses at nation-building. … People say, ‘[Look at] the Marshall Plan.’ Goodness gracious, those [Western European] countries were there, they were capable, they were confident. We gave them money. They did what they did. And the analogy of the Marshall Plan to some of the kinds of continents that we’ve been dealing with and the problems we’ve been dealing [with], I think is a mismatch.”

Command and Control, Space

“A modern command, control, communication, and intelligence infrastructure is the foundation upon which US military power is employed. The development and deployment of a truly modern and effective command, control, communication, and intelligence system is fundamental to the transformation of US military forces.”

Space Vulnerability

“We know that Russia or former Russian republics are selling … handheld jammers that can jam satellite signals. We know that there is an organization in England that makes and puts in space microsatellites that have a variety of capabilities for lots of countries. China has a relationship with them, and many other countries do as well. If you are as dependent as our country is on space, you are, by definition, vulnerable, more vulnerable than others.”

Militarization of Space

“We know what’s been done on land by way of military conflict, we know what’s been done on the sea, and we know what’s been done in the air. I think it would be a stretch to suggest that space will not, at some point in the future, find itself receiving similar attention.”

Deterrence in Space

“We have a lot of assets in space. … There’s no question in my mind but that it’s in our interest to create the kinds of deterrents and capabilities so that it’s not attractive to disable the United States [by taking advantage of] our enormous dependence on space assets.”

Efficacy of Drug War

“I’m one who believes that the [United States’] drug problem is probably overwhelmingly a demand problem. If the demand persists, it’s going to find ways to get what it wants, and if it isn’t from Colombia, it will be from somebody else.”

Biological Terror

“I would rank bioterrorism quite high in terms of threats. … It does not take a genius to create agents that are enormously powerful, and they can be done in mobile facilities, in small facilities. It is something that merits very serious attention.”

European Defense Force

“Let me just put it this way: I think anything that damages the NATO cohesion would be unwise for Europe, for the United States, and for our ability to contribute to peace and stability in that part of the world.”

US and China

“It is true, as the President­elect said, that we are competitors. … We see their defense budget increasing by double digits every year, and we see an awful lot of their military doctrine talking about leapfrogging generations of capabilities and moving towards asymmetrical threats to the United States-cyber-warfare and these types of things. … They are not strategic partners, in my view.”

International Criminal Court

“It pose[s] a risk to the men and women in the armed services, that they could be doing the bidding of the United States government … and be hauled before an international court for war crimes. It concerned me and it concerned a whole series of former Secretaries of State and Secretaries of Defense.”


“The problem of terrorism is an exceedingly serious one. It’s a problem for us in our homeland. It’s a problem for deployed forces. It’s a problem for our friends and allies. And I think it was Lenin who said that the purpose of terrorism is to terrorize, and that’s what it does. It changes people’s behavior.”


“It’s one thing to say, ‘Here are our readiness categories, and here are the levels of readiness that we need to meet.’ That’s well and good, but the first thing to do is to say, ‘Ready for what?’ And we need to make sure that … they aren’t simply categories that existed and fit the prior period but are not well-adapted to the future.”

North Korea

“It’s hard to believe that a country that can’t feed its own people, that has a dictatorship that is repressive and damaging to its country as anything on the face of the Earth, could be developing and marketing and benefitting financially from the proliferation of these [mass-destruction-weapon] technologies, but it’s a fact.”

Aircraft Carriers

“As an ex­Navy pilot, I’m not unaware of the value of aircraft carriers, but the last thing I’m going to do is start speculating about one weapon system. I’ve got an enormous task to gather some folks and look at the whole picture and see that they come into a coherent whole, and I’m reluctant to start piecing things up prematurely.”

Weapon Acquisition System

“The pace of [new weapon] development has become slower, while the pace of technological change has become far more rapid. These two opposite trends conspire to create a situation where it is difficult for the acquisition process to produce anything other than capabilities that are already a generation behind when deployed. This problem must be addressed. Simply tinkering with the present acquisition system will not provide the innovation and speed necessary to satisfy future military needs and take advantage of powerful new technologies.”

No Half Measures

“The task facing the Department of Defense is enormously complex. It is not a time to preside and tweak and calibrate what’s going on. It is a time to take what’s been done to start this [defense] transformation and see that it is continued.”

Shedding the Unuseful

“While much of the existing defense establishment can be adapted to 21st century needs, a good deal cannot. We must move forcefully to rationalize the costly burden of force structures and practices that do not contribute to current and future US security needs.”

Defense Industrial Base

“[The decline of] the defense industrial base … is a very serious problem. I mean, the return on investment in the defense industry today is not sufficient to attract investment. And the government doesn’t make things. We purchase things, we acquire things, and that industry has to be there. And to be there, it has be viable from an economic standpoint or people are not going to invest in it. It is a very serious problem.”