Leave peacekeeping to others, Rumsfeld says at Senate hearing

Few tough questions at confirmation session for defense secretary job

January 12, 2001|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The United States must build a national missile defense system, but should generally leave peacekeeping duties to other countries, Defense Secretary-designate Donald H. Rumsfeld told a Senate panel yesterday.

During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Rumsfeld, who served an earlier stint as defense secretary under President Gerald Ford, declined to say how ambitious a missile shield he envisioned.

Nor would he say how much the current $290 billion annual defense budget should increase.

He also sidestepped the question of whether the United States was right to take part in NATO's 78-day bombing campaign in Kosovo in 1999.

The 68-year-old's appearance resembled a seminar on defense issues as he received few hard questions and generally laudatory reviews from the panel, which seems certain to confirm him.

The senators praised Rumsfeld's record of public service, which includes four terms in Congress and chairmanships of two recent commissions.

One, reporting in 1998, helped establish the rationale for the missile shield now under consideration by asserting that North Korea and other unpredictable regimes would soon be able to reach American soil with a ballistic missile.

The second commission, which released its findings yesterday, said U.S. satellites are vulnerable to attack and provisions must be made to safeguard them.

"The old deterrence of the Cold War era is imperfect for dissuading the threats of the 21st century," he said.

Rumsfeld said the incoming Bush administration plans a "top-to-bottom" review of Pentagon spending, strategy and weapons systems.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff have told Congress they need at least $50 billion in additional spending each year for the foreseeable future to rebuild the military, while many outside defense analysts say even more is needed.

Rumsfeld generally reiterated other themes that President-elect George W. Bush sounded during the campaign: supporting men and women in uniform with better pay and housing; combating terrorism and harnessing technology to create a faster, more lethal and quickly deployable military for the 21st century.

Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan and other Democrats on the panel unsuccessfully tried to pin down Rumsfeld on whether any decision had been made on the specific type of missile defense system the incoming administration favors.

President Clinton deferred a decision last fall on whether to build a proposed 100-interceptor, land-based missile system in Alaska.

Bush advocates a more expansive system that might include land, sea and space-based elements.

Democrats also expressed concern yesterday about how missile defense would affect the 1972 U.S.-Soviet Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which bars national defensive systems.

"There's no question but I think that we should deploy a missile system when it's technologically possible and effective, and I think you obviously want to be in discussions with Russia about the sizes and shapes of their capabilities and ours," Rumsfeld said.

While Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts pointed out that two of the three tests of the proposed Alaskan system failed, Rumsfeld countered that a satellite program during the Eisenhower administration failed more than a dozen times.

"They stuck with it and it worked," Rumsfeld said. He was talking about the Corona system, a spy satellite that photographed the Soviet Union, China and the Middle East in the 1960s and 1970s.

Although some Republican lawmakers are pressing Bush to begin the Alaska system this year, Rumsfeld declined to discuss timing. The scope of the anti-missile system, he said, would be determined after review by the new administration.

Other Pentagon priorities, he said, include beefing up intelligence collection and finding ways to defend U.S. satellites used by the Pentagon and U.S. communications companies from attack.

Yesterday, a commission chaired by Rumsfeld released a report warning of a "space Pearl Harbor" and saying that the United States should spend more money on satellite defense and consider deploying lasers and other weapons into space.

Rumsfeld also told the senators that his priorities include devising methods to counter such threats as cyberwarfare and bioterrorism and protecting U.S. territory from terrorists.

The Bush campaign and Republican lawmakers have criticized the Clinton administration for using U.S. troops too often for peacekeeping and humanitarian missions, such as in the Balkans and Haiti, saying it dulls America's fighting edge.

"I don't think it's necessarily true that the United States has to become a great peacekeeper," said Rumsfeld, who maintained that allies and other interested countries should carry the peacekeeping load.

Asked by Sen. John W. Warner, a Virginia Republican, under what circumstances he would use U.S. troops abroad, Rumsfeld said there is no "cookie-cutter" model.

The issue is a "sensitive" one that can be determined only by a president in consultation with his top national security aides, he said.

But, he added, the elements of that decision should include U.S. national interests and what the military action is likely to achieve.

Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who fought Bush for the Republican nomination, asked Rumsfeld whether he would have approved sending the U.S. military into Kosovo two years ago.

Rumsfeld said he didn't have an answer.

He said he preferred a swift and decisive military response, rather than the gradual response of the NATO allies-a criticism he made publicly at the time.

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