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U.S.: Rumsfeld Calls For Revolutionary Changes In Military In 21st Century

  • Frank Csongos

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has delivered a major policy address on reforming the American military. Rumsfeld outlined several goals to meet the challenges of the 21st century, including anticipating threats to the United States, sustaining military strength overseas, denying sanctuary to terrorists around the globe, and protecting information networks from attacks. Rumsfeld said the threat of new terrorist attacks is real and that the U.S. must never allow itself and its allies to be open to nuclear blackmail.

Washington, 1 February 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The United States says it will embark on revolutionary changes in its military to prepare for terrorist attacks even deadlier than those of 11 September, as well as to meet challenges such as potential missile attacks by unfriendly nations.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in Washington yesterday that future wars will rely on all elements of national power -- not just the military. He said such conflicts will require that America's economic, diplomatic, financial, law-enforcement, and intelligence capabilities work in perfect harmony.

In a speech to military officers at the National Defense University in Washington, Rumsfeld said there is no doubt that in the years ahead the United States will be struck again by terrorist attacks. He said future assaults could be vastly more deadly than the ones suffered last year in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania that claimed an estimated 3,000 lives.

Rumsfeld delivered his remarks about the same time that Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller said he believes terrorists have infiltrated the United States and are waiting for opportunities to strike. Mueller said law-enforcement agents remain on high alert with the approach of the Super Bowl -- the American football championship game on 3 February in New Orleans -- and the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, which begin on 8 February.

In his remarks, billed by the Pentagon as a major speech aimed at outlining new policies, Rumsfeld said the ability of military forces to communicate and operate on the battlefield will be critical to victory. He noted the success of U.S. Special Forces on the ground in Afghanistan communicating target information to pilots of navy, air force, and marine corps strike aircraft.

The defense secretary said the United States is vulnerable to new forms of terrorism, ranging from so-called cyber-attacks on American military bases abroad to missile attacks on U.S. cities. Rumsfeld said the future will require forces that can adapt quickly to new challenges and unexpected circumstances. But he said mere reliance on technology is not enough.

"A revolution in military affairs is about more than building new high-tech weapons, though that is certainly part of it. It's also about new ways of thinking and new ways of fighting." Rumsfeld said the best approach to deal with terrorists is offense -- going after them to frustrate their efforts.

As for possible future terrorist attacks, Rumsfeld had this to say: "Who would have imagined only a few months ago that terrorists would take commercial airliners, turn them into missiles, and use them to strike the Pentagon and the World Trade Towers, killing thousands? But it happened. And let there be no doubt, in the years ahead, it is likely that we will be surprised again by new adversaries who may also strike in unexpected ways. And as they gain access to weapons of increasing power -- and let there be no doubt but that they are -- these attacks will grow vastly more deadly than those we suffered several months ago."

Rumsfeld recalled Nazi Germany's blitzkrieg (lightning war) during World War II, saying it was not just the new technologies and strategies the German military employed, but rather the way the Nazis mixed new and existing capabilities.

In a similar way, the secretary said, the war against Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces in Afghanistan was a "transformational battle." Rumsfeld said coalition forces employed military capabilities ranging from the most advanced laser-guided weapons to 40-year-old B-52 bombers updated with modern electronics to the most rudimentary, such as cavalry. And, he said, coalition forces used them together in unprecedented ways, with devastating effect on enemy positions and morale.

Rumsfeld said the challenges of the 21st century for the American military are complex. Perhaps the biggest challenge, he said, is not to wage wars -- but to prevent them.

"Our challenge in this new century is a difficult one. It's really to prepare to defend our nation against the unknown, the uncertain and what we have to understand will be the unexpected. That may seem on the face of it an impossible task, but it is not. But to accomplish it, we have to put aside the comfortable ways of thinking and planning, take risks and try new things so that we can prepare our forces to deter and defeat adversaries that have not yet emerged to challenge us."

Rumsfeld said in light of last year's terrorist attacks on America, the government's primary task is to protect the U.S. homeland and its overseas bases. The second most important objective, he said, is to project and sustain power in distant lands. The third, Rumsfeld said, is to deny America's enemies sanctuaries, making sure no corner of the world is remote enough for them to hide in.

The remaining objectives, he said, are to protect U.S. information networks from attack, to maintain unhindered access to space, and protect American space capabilities from enemy attack.

Rumsfeld said deployment of an effective missile defense system is necessary to dissuade other nations from developing ballistic missiles and, in effect, to avert nuclear blackmail of the U.S. and its allies.

Analyst Michael O'Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, an independent Washington policy center. O'Hanlon says the U.S. military has been using sophisticated weapons for years, but that Rumsfeld may be able to accelerate the process of incorporating the latest technologies into the military.

"I think Rumsfeld is probably doing the right thing, trying to nudge the process along even further. But the idea that he is somehow ushering in a radical new way of thinking, I think, is incorrect."

O'Hanlon agrees with Rumsfeld's statement that technology has its limitations. If an enemy does not use mobile telephones to communicate, he says, then American troops cannot eavesdrop on them, no matter how sophisticated their equipment.

"Technology may help you once you have an idea of where to look. It may help you sort of stare at a certain location with various kinds of sensors and look for movement or give yourself some tactical awareness of where something is happening or where it's being launched or hatched, but only if you have some sense of where to look already, and only if you can easily distinguish the terrorists or militants that you're trying to deal with from the civilian populations around them. And technology usually doesn't do very well with those first couple of tasks."

Other analysts say Rumsfeld's speech was also designed to justify the U.S. administration's plan to boost next year's defense budget by $48 billion -- the largest increase in 20 years.

(RFE/RL's Andrew F. Tully contributed to this report.)

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