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
The American Institute of Physics
(301) 209-3095