September 11, 2001 : Attack on America
NATO North Atlantic Council (NAC-D) Statement as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld , Brussels, Belgium; December 18, 2001

NATO North Atlantic Council (NAC-D)
Statement as Delivered by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld , Brussels, Belgium, December 18, 2001 .


(Morning Session—10:15 AM)


Secretary General Robertson, ministers.

When we met here six months ago, I recounted a story about Vice President Cheney’s appearance before the U.S. Senate Committee in March, 1989 for his confirmation hearings as U.S. Secretary of Defense. During those hearings, a wide range of security issues were discussed—but not one person in the Senate hearing room uttered the word "Iraq."

Yet within a year, that word was in every headline and on everyone’s lips. Saddam Hussein had invaded and occupied Kuwait, and was threatening Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. and coalition forces were preparing for war in the Persian Gulf.

I cited that fact as a valuable lesson in the reality that we must prepare for surprise. I added that I often wondered what word might come to dominate my term in office that wasn’t mentioned during my confirmation hearings.

We now know.

At this table six months ago, I suspect not one of us imagined that, by the time we would next meet, the World Trade Towers would lie smoldering, the Pentagon would have come under attack, coalition forces would be at war in Afghanistan, for the first time in the history of this Alliance, Article V of the NATO Charter would have been invoked, and we would have, among other things, NATO AWACs flying over the United States, as the Secretary General mentioned.

Yet here we are. And in my confirmation hearing only eight months earlier, the word that was not mentioned once was, of course, "Afghanistan."

September 11th was yet another surprise. Three months later it is still difficult to fathom the enormity of what happened that day. Thousands of people—men, women and children—are dead. People from dozens of nations, and of every race, religion, and walk of life. Innocent bystanders, and daring rescue workers, who ran into the burning Towers hoping to save lives, but knowing they might never emerge.

Last week, in New York and Washington and many of your capitals, people paused to remember them and their sacrifice. We thank you for that. Three months after the attack—indeed, at this very moment—the fires at the World Trade Center are still burning, and bodies are still being pulled from the wreckage.

And at this very moment in Afghanistan, brave coalition soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines are risking their lives to stop the Taliban and the al-Qaeda terrorists who so brutally attacked us on September 11th. I met many of them when I visited Afghanistan this past weekend. They are fine, courageous young people.

The experiences of September 11th remind us that enemies of freedom seem always with us. And if we are to defend freedom, we must remain constantly on guard—ready for surprises—ready to fight today’s wars even as we prepare to defend our people and our way of life from new and different and unexpected threats.


Today, we are doing that in Afghanistan—together. It is worth noting that Article V—which was always perceived as a guarantee of American support should the European allies come under Soviet attack—was invoked for the first time as a commitment of European support after the United States came under attack.

The American people are grateful for the instantaneous, heartfelt and substantial support of our allies in the wake of September 11th.

They know, as you do, that this was not just an attack on America—it was an attack on the world. And together the world is responding—with our NATO allies leading the way.

The war on terrorism is unlike any that has been waged before. It is being fought on many fronts—military, economic, financial, diplomatic, intelligence, law enforcement. And countries around this table are making important contributions to its success in each of these areas. The American people are grateful for this assistance, and for the many other offers of support we have received from NATO allies, and others, which will be critical in the weeks and months ahead, as the war on terrorism enters its next phases.

In recent weeks, the Taliban have been driven from most of their strongholds—a lesson for other regimes that the consequences of aiding and abetting terrorists will be harsh.

But this war is far from over. Pockets of resistance still exist throughout the Afghanistan. In many regions exhibiting an outward appearance of calm, there is still much turmoil below the surface. Many Taliban fighters have surrendered. But many others have disappeared, with their weapons, among the local populations.

Still other hard-core fighters have retreated into the Afghan mountains. As the battle moves from cities to rooting out terrorist networks from the caves and shadows where they hide, we are entering a dangerous phase of this war. Hunting down the terrorists is difficult and hazardous work. It will not be completed overnight, and it will not end with the capture of one or two terrorist leaders. It will take time.

Moreover, Afghanistan is not the only country where terrorists operate—and al-Qaeda is not the only terrorist network that threatens us. Terrorist networks function in dozens of countries, often with the support of terrorist regimes. As President Bush said this month in his defense policy speech at the Citadel, "Every nation knows that we cannot accept—and will not accept—states that harbor, finance, train or equip the agents of terror. Those nations that violate this principle will be regarded as hostile regimes. They have been warned, they are being watched, and they will be held to account."

As the war on terrorism progresses, the coalitions that are fashioned to prosecute it will not be static—they will be flexible. Different countries will contribute in different ways. Some nations will be involved in some efforts, but not in others. Some countries will help openly, while others do so in secret. And that is understandable.

But let there be no doubt: In the wake of September 11th, we face two, equally important challenges: First, to prosecute the war on terrorism to its full and successful conclusion, pressing on until terrorists with global reach have been stopped. And second, to prepare now for next war—a war which could be very different from the war on terrorism we fight today.


It would be a grave mistake for us to conclude, in the wake of September 11th, that terrorism is the new threat to our democracies. Just as none of us expected terrorists to attack New York and Washington, other unexpected threats will surely emerge to surprise us in the years ahead.

We cannot know for certain who will threaten us, or where and when they may strike. But we can know our vulnerabilities. We need to prepare, as an Alliance, for the full range of asymmetric threats: new forms of terrorism, to be certain, but also cyber-attacks, attacks on space assets and information networks, advanced conventional weapons and "access denial" capabilities, cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, and nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction. All of these are emerging dangers. None can be ignored.

It should be of particular concern to all of us that the list of countries which today support global terrorism overlaps significantly with the list of countries that have weaponized chemical and biological agents, and which are seeking nuclear, chemical and biological weapons—and the means to deliver them.

Three months ago, terrorists hijacked civilian airliners, turned them into missiles, and used them to kill thousands of innocent people. Can any doubt for moment that if terrorists or the regimes that support them possessed real missiles, armed with weapons of mass destruction, they would hesitate to use them?

The terrorists and their state sponsors have demonstrated both their ingenuity, and their ruthless disregard for innocent human life. As we look at the devastation they unleashed in the U.S., contemplate the destruction they could wreak in New York, or London, or Paris or Berlin with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

We need to face the reality that the attacks of September 11th—horrific as they were—may in fact be a dim preview of what is to come if we do not prepare today to defend our people from adversaries with weapons of increasing power and range. President Bush is committed to addressing all asymmetric threats.


If we have learned anything from the September 11th attacks, it is that the world remains a dangerous place. And the Western democracies must be ready to defend themselves, and each other, if we are to secure our freedom in the tumultuous decades ahead.

NATO will be critical to that effort. Far from becoming obsolete in the post-Cold War world, recent events show NATO’s importance to our mutual security in the 21st Century. Through decades of cooperation—in planning, exercises and operations—we have laid the foundation on which we are working together to prosecute today’s war on terrorism, and preparing for tomorrow’s threats. Let there be no doubt: the United States remains committed to NATO and to Europe.

The threats to freedom did not disappear with the end of the Cold War—rather, they have merely taken new forms. And I suppose they will do so again the in the decades ahead.

An attack on one is an attack on all—that is the foundation on which NATO was built, the principle that has bound Europe and America for the last fifty years—and which will carry it into the new millennium. We are an alliance of democracies—and it is democracy that is under attack. The terrorists struck us because of what we represent—freedom, religious toleration, and justice.

They thought they could frighten and divide us. Instead, their attacks have strengthened and united us.

Thank you.

(Afternoon Session—2:15 PM)


If we are to meet the new challenges and take on the new missions we face, we must begin demonstrating to our people that their armed forces will not get trapped in indefinite deployments that go on long after the real military mission is, or should have been, complete.

One such mission is SFOR. SFOR has been a success. We can and should take pride in those accomplishments. And, as President Bush has said, NATO allies went in together and we will come out together.

But as the President has also said, we must work together to hasten the day when NATO forces no longer are needed in the Balkans.

As I stated here last June, under the right circumstances, the military mission in Bosnia could have ended by now—but because the civilian implementation effort has lagged behind, thousands of NATO troops have had to remain in place to do work that could well have been the responsibility of civilian capabilities.

Civil security, most of us can probably agree, is not the best use of NATO’s valuable military assets, putting an increasing strain on both our forces and our resources when they face growing demands from critical missions in the war on terrorism.

I believe that the time has come for us to work together to fashion a new, restructured and smaller force in Bosnia over the period ahead—and to see that stability is preserved by assuring that a replacement capability is ready to take its place. I suggest we commit to do so by no later than 2002.

I believe NATO military authorities should be tasked to develop options, so that Allies can take a decision at our next ministerial for a reduced and restructured force. I don’t know what the right number is, that will require study by the military authorities, but I would think that troop levels could and should be reduced by at least the arbitrary 1/3, from the current 18,000, as mentioned by Minister Hoon.


Another important way to strengthen NATO is through the infusion of new blood—by inviting new members, whose presence will refresh and revitalize our Alliance.

We can agree that the recent admission of Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic has strengthened NATO. These new members are valued allies. And their experiences—especially their recent struggles to regain their freedom and independence—add value to the discussion among the members of our alliance as we all confront new challenges to our liberty and way of life.

Our recent experience with enlargement shows that a growing NATO is a thriving NATO. It therefore makes sense to continue the process of enlargement. As President Bush said in Warsaw earlier this year, "All of Europe’s new democracies, from the Baltic to the Black Sea and all that lie between, should have the same chance for security and freedom…as Europe’s old democracies have. I believe in NATO membership for all of Europe’s democracies that seek it and are ready to share the responsibility that NATO brings."

In less than a year, NATO heads of state will meet in Prague, at which time we expect to issue invitations to new members. As we plan for the Prague summit, I hope we will heed President Bush’s call that we "not calculate how little we can get away with, but how much we can do to advance the cause of freedom."

We encourage all NATO aspirants to work seriously on defense reform, improving their military capabilities, and dedicating the resources necessary so they will be ready to become net contributors, as well as consumers, of security.


Last, a word on the Defense Capabilities Initiative.

In the United States, the post-Cold War draw down went too far–overshooting the mark by a good margin. For many years, we under-funded and overused our force—cutting resources while at the same time asking them to undertake many new missions. They saluted and did their best, but at the expense of critical investments in people, procurement, modernization and 21st Century transformation.

Thanks to investments made during the Cold War, our forces are still capable—and they are doing us proud in Afghanistan today. But if we are to maintain the necessary military force, it will require significant increases in defense spending—both to make up for current shortfalls, and also to acquire the revolutionary new capabilities we need to meet the threats of tomorrow.

Before September 11th, we faced the same problem all democracies face in peacetime—the challenge of explaining to our publics why we need to spend more on defense in a time of apparent peace and prosperity. It is a familiar problem to everyone at this table.

But today, people in all our countries should have learned a critical lesson—that our armed forces are the critical foundation of peace and prosperity; that the global economy is underpinned by the security and stability they provide; and that military spending is not a drain on our economies—it is the critical investment without which nothing else we do is possible.

While these lessons are still fresh in the minds of people everywhere—we must make critical investments in the future—and make a renewed commitment to invest what is necessary in the forces that underpin peace and prosperity for all our countries—and, indeed, for the world.

Specifically, it is clearly important that all allies take steps to improve our nuclear, chemical and biological defenses—both their protection and detection capabilities. Moreover, NATO allies must improve our military capabilities to fight terrorism. Investments are needed to improve interoperable communications, ground surveillance, precision guided munitions, air-to-air refueling, strategic airlift, surveillance and jamming, and other capabilities needed to address new threats.


As we approach the Prague summit, and forge ahead with a new relationship with Russia, and the next round of enlargement, we need to ensure that both of these important initiatives reinforce the Alliances ties with all of Europe’s democracies.

The solidarity of this alliance is its core and its strength—what it offers its peoples in a dangerous new century. We will face 21st Century threats together; so let us prepare to meet them together.

Again, the American people are grateful to their NATO allies. In our time of need, you have proven friends in deed. Let us strengthen our commitment to each other, and to this Alliance.

Let us do nothing to weaken it—and everything we can to strengthen and enhance it, so that our children, and our children’s children, can depend on it for their security in the perilous century ahead.

Thank you.

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September 11 Page

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