Triple Threat

Thursday, July 30, 1998

ROBINSON The Soviet Union waged the Cold War against us for almost five decades. Now that the Cold War is over, why should we care what happens to Russia? The mess the Russians are in is a mess of their own making, isn’t it?

PERRY Let me refer you to a historical parallel, Germany between the wars. The Stanford historian Gordon Craig wrote a seminal book on Weimar Germany. He pointed out that the United States, England, and France were unwilling to help Weimar Germany achieve a stable democracy, instead imposing massive reparation payments on Germany.
    What happened? Hitler came to power in 1933, and six years later the world itself was plunged into a war that cost the lives of more than 50 million people. We cannot rewrite history. But it is clear that if we could do it over again, we would do all we could to help Germany when it was struggling to establish a democracy.

SHULTZ In fact, after World War II, we did help Germany.

PERRY That’s right. But if the Weimar Republic had been sustained, we could have avoided World War II. That’s the analogy I would draw with present-day Russia.

ROBINSON So what we’re looking at right now is Weimar Russia?

PERRY What we’re looking at right now is Weimar Russia. Democracy is struggling to take hold. A market economy is struggling to take hold. Anything we can do that helps the Russians is also in the best interest of our own country and indeed of the whole world.


SHULTZ I agree with Bill’s overall concept, but I have a lot of reservations. We’ve coddled the Russians. We’ve been too ready to excuse the negative aspects of what is taking place over there. I think they would feel less patronized if we were more direct in stating our views—and that stating our views directly would probably help them more in the end.
    We don’t need to be antagonistic. But we need to let them know, for example, that if they wanted to undertake anything like another campaign into Chechnya we’d stop giving them aid.

PERRY I don’t want to take exception to George’s point, but I would say that the financial aid we’ve given the Russians has produced one tangible and important accomplishment. Just a few years ago Russia faced the specter of hyperinflation—and remember, hyperinflation was one of the principal causes of the downfall of Weimar Germany. Now the danger of hyperinflation in Russia has gone away. Many other problems still exist. But that one has gone away.

SHULTZ It has, but that’s because of decisions the Russian government has made, not because of some money that has gone in from the United States. Incidentally, I think we have a problem all over the world with these gigantic bailout funds. We’re teaching people the wrong lesson: If you make bad investments and your country goes south, the International Monetary Fund is going to bail you out. We’re creating a bailout mentality.


ROBINSON China today is a country with a population of more than one billion, rapid economic growth, and growing military might—and a communist regime. Does this picture make you nervous? Bill?

PERRY There are lots of reasons to be apprehensive about the future of China—there is even more uncertainty about what may develop there during the next ten to twenty years than there is about what may develop in Russia.
    But let me be clear that I do not see China as a military threat to the United States. Not today. And if we pursue reasonable policies, engaging China over the years and decades ahead, there is no reason for a military threat to develop. But it is vital that our policy toward China remain one of engaging the Chinese constructively.


SHULTZ I would say to China, “Put on the table for discussion anything you want. Anything. We’ll do the same. Then we’ll have candid, professional discussions about it all, including human rights.” That’s the way we ought to proceed. But we haven’t done it.

PERRY Yes, and meetings of the kind George envisions should be held regularly, not held out as rewards for good behavior. They should be held at all levels of government, from the highest down to the lowest. And they should include military-to-military relations. I don’t think that contradicts what George said.

SHULTZ No, I agree with you entirely. And let me say that when you were still secretary of defense you received the Chinese minister of defense.

PERRY I did, yes.

SHULTZ And you got a lot of criticism for that. But you didn’t get any from me.

PERRY No, I didn’t.

SHULTZ What you got from me was applause. I think we need to talk. And you can’t talk if you never sit down with anybody.

ROBINSON Let’s take a case study in Sino-American relations. During the 1996 runup to the presidential election in Taiwan, the mainland Chinese held military demonstrations across the Formosa Strait. Bill, you sent a couple of American carrier groups through the strait. Was that constructive diplomacy? Or brinksmanship?

PERRY Constructive engagement doesn’t preclude being very critical of the Chinese. It doesn’t preclude a show of military force whenever that seems to be appropriate.
    But the background to our military action was that our diplomacy at that time had failed to communicate to the Chinese just how seriously we took their actions regarding Taiwan. We have vital national security interests in the Pacific, and we have the military capability to protect them. Sending the carrier battle groups made it clear not only to the Chinese but to other governments in the region how seriously we took security concerns in the western Pacific.

SHULTZ But the Chinese were also sending a message, and I don’t think we got it.

ROBINSON And their message was?

SHULTZ Their message was that if Taiwan decides to try to be independent—with or without our encouragement, and we seem to give it a lot of encouragement—an independent Taiwan just isn’t going to happen. The Chinese wanted to show us that they don’t have to invade Taiwan to control the situation there. Since Taiwan imports lots of crucial goods, including food, all the Chinese have to do is lob missiles into their harbors and choke off the shipping traffic.
    I agree with Bill that our diplomacy failed to convey to the Chinese how seriously we took their threat to Taiwan. But I also think it failed to communicate to the people of Taiwan our position, which is that there is one China.

PERRY At the same time that we sent those carrier groups to the strait, we sent a messenger to the government of Taiwan to tell them just that. Our one-China policy has two components. The first is that we recognize that there is indeed just one China.
    But the second part is that the People’s Republic will not attempt to create that one China by military force or the threat of force. And it’s this second part of our policy that the Chinese violated when they went in with those missile firings.


ROBINSON Mrs. Thatcher said not long ago, and I quote, “With the collapse of the Soviet Union there was a dispersal of weapons of mass destruction. This now constitutes quite simply the most dangerous threat of our times.” How are we dealing with that threat?

PERRY We’re dealing with it very aggressively by way of a program the Defense Department calls the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. Over the past four years we’ve spent two billion dollars of defense funds toward two ends. The first is to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the former Soviet Union.
    The second is putting those weapons that still remain under better and safer control. We’ve had very good results. We’ve dismantled some four thousand nuclear weapons. Three nations that used to be nuclear states—Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Ukraine—no longer possess any nuclear weapons. I still worry about the problem. But we’re doing a lot to deal with it.

We have programs aimed at limiting the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. But all they can do is slow down the acquisition of this technology. There is no foolproof method.

ROBINSON One component of the problem is ballistic missiles. One outlaw, Saddam Hussein, used ballistic missiles—Scud missiles—against Israel. The Republicans in Congress want to push for rapid deployment of a ballistic missile defense. The Clinton administration wants to go slowly. Why wait? George, what’s your view?

SHULTZ My view is simple. We should learn how to defend ourselves against ballistic missiles. How fruitful is it to deploy what we already have? I’m not knowledgeable enough to say, but I do have the feeling that we’re not being aggressive enough.


PERRY To answer the question about a ballistic missile defense, I have to divide it into two parts.
    There is already a threat to American forces deployed overseas from ballistic missiles in the here and now. This threat comes from Scud and Scud-type missiles, up to and including certain missiles in North Korea. But we have a ballistic missile defense system designed to deal with that threat. It’s called the Patriot 3. It’s already deployed—every time we send forces to the Persian Gulf or any other region of the world where they’ll come under threat from these missiles, we deploy this system with them.
    A threat to the United States from ICBMs—intercontinental ballistic missiles—does not yet exist. But I agree with George. We need to develop a system to prepare for that threat when it does arise.

ROBINSON At least we can see Russia and China. How can we defend ourselves against unknown madmen and fanatics—especially when technological advances are making it possible for them to do more and more harm? Suppose, for example, that the terrorist attack on the World Trade Towers several years ago had involved not large, crude bombs but a small nuclear device? How do we deal with that nightmare?

PERRY First let me add to the nightmare. The threat of a terrorist with a nuclear device hidden in a suitcase is worrisome enough, but there are also biological and chemical weapons that can be carried in a suitcase. There is plenty of reason for worrying about those, too. In fact, in my judgment the danger from chemical and biological weapons is even worse than that from nuclear weapons.

SHULTZ Right, right. I agree with Bill on that. Both the biological and chemical weapons are easier for people to produce. They’re the so-called poor man’s bombs.

ROBINSON You’ve both just made the nightmare worse. Is there anything you can tell me to make it better?

PERRY We have many programs aimed at limiting the proliferation of those weapons into the hands of rogue nations and terrorists. I can’t tell you that these programs will provide us with guaranteed safety. All they can do is slow down the acquisition of technology. There is no foolproof method.

SHULTZ Defending against chemical and biological threats depends on intelligence, good intelligence. And it depends on your ability and willingness to take preemptive action if you see a threat that’s likely to come at you. It’s something we should be worrying about much more than we are.