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Defense Secretary Rumsfeld on War on Terrorism

(This column by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld first appeared in the Washington Post November 1st and is in the public domain. No republication restrictions.)


On Sept. 11 the United States came under vicious attack, not by traditional armies waging traditional military campaigns but by hidden enemies, willing -- and able -- to strike our people where they live and work.

These attacks were more than the first salvos of a new kind of war. They were a wake-up call, a warning that we are entering a dangerous new period in American history, one in which the United States' historical invulnerability has been replaced by a new era of vulnerability; one in which new enemies strike our cities and our people in novel and surprising ways; one in which more and more adversaries possess weapons of increasing range and power -- weapons that will allow them to bring war to the American homeland.

In the wake of these attacks, we face two important challenges: First, to win the war that is upon us by liquidating the terrorist networks so they can no longer threaten our people. Second, to prepare now for the next war -- a war that may be vastly different not only from those of the past century but also from the new war on terrorism that we are fighting today.

The methods of the Sept. 11 strikes came as a surprise. In the decades ahead, we will almost certainly be surprised again. Too much of our planning in recent years has been gripped by what one scholar of Pearl Harbor called "a poverty of expectations -- a routine obsession with a few dangers that may be familiar rather than likely."

But as we have painfully learned in recent weeks, the likely dangers of this new century will be quite different from those of of the past one. Until seven weeks ago, an attack like the one we suffered on Sept. 11 seemed unimaginable to most Americans. In the decades ahead, we will face other threats that seem just as unimaginable to us today.

For this reason, adapting to surprise -- adapting quickly and decisively -- must be a condition of 21st century military planning. To deal with surprise, we must shift our defense planning from the "threat-based" model that has dominated thinking in the past to a "capabilities-based" model for the future. Instead of focusing on who our next adversary might be or where a war might occur, we must focus on how an adversary might fight -- and develop new capabilities to deter and defeat that adversary. Rather than planning primarily for large conventional wars in precisely defined theaters, we must plan for a world of new and different adversaries who will rely on surprise, deception and asymmetric weapons (such as civilian airliners turned into missiles) to achieve their objectives.

Preparing for this world was the objective of the Quadrennial Defense Review, which was submitted to Congress Sept. 30. The review outlines a new defense strategy for the 21st century centered around four key goals: assuring U.S. friends and allies of America's steadiness of purpose and capability to fulfill its security commitments; dissuading potential adversaries from undertaking programs or operations that could threaten U.S. interests or those of our allies and friends; deterring aggression and coercion by deploying forward the capacity to swiftly defeat attacks and impose severe penalties for aggression; and decisively defeating any adversary if dissuasion and deterrence fail.

To meet these goals, we must maintain America's existing military advantages in key areas and develop new ways to deny our enemies the advantages they seek through asymmetric capabilities.

This requires the transformation of our armed forces -- a transformation that will enable us to protect the U.S. homeland while projecting U.S. forces in distant corners of the world, often in hostile environments where our adversaries have deployed new weapons designed to enable them to do what they wish against their neighbors.

The surprises we will encounter a decade from now will very likely be different from the one that struck us on Sept. 11. To deal with those future surprises, we must move rapidly now to improve our ability to protect U.S. information systems and ensure persistent surveillance, tracking and rapid engagement of an adversary's forces and capabilities. We must enhance the capability and survivability of U.S. space systems, develop new ways to harness information technology and find new ways to provide for more effective joint operations. And, over time, we will divest ourselves of legacy forces -- and invest those resources in new concepts of war-fighting, new capabilities and new ways of organizing our forces that maximize our effectiveness and the combat potential of America's men and women in uniform.

The defense review was largely completed before the Sept. 11 attacks. But in important ways, these attacks confirm the strategic direction and planning principles that resulted from this review -- particularly its emphasis on homeland defense, on preparing for surprise and asymmetric threats, on the need to develop new concepts of deterrence, on the need for a capabilities-based strategy and on the need to balance the different dimensions of risk to include the risks to people, modernization and transformation along with war-fighting risks.

But the Sept. 11 attacks did change one thing: the sense of urgency. Transformation cannot wait. New threats have arrived, quite literally, at our doorstep -- and other, more dangerous, threats are rapidly emerging. We must act now to prepare for the next war, even as we wage the current war against terrorism.

The unspeakable loss of life, and damage to our economy, from the attacks of Sept. 11 should give us a new perspective on what we can afford for the forces that underpin our freedom and our prosperity for the decades ahead -- costs that do not begin to compare with the cost in human lives and resources if we fail to prepare well for the future.

Yes, we must win the war on terrorism. But as we do so, we must also prepare for the next war. We owe it to our children and grandchildren.