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Rumsfeld: Increased Vigilance Needed to Stem Threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction - 2002-06-21

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says planned sharp reductions in long-range nuclear weapons by the United States and Russia are a positive move that reflects a significant improvement in relations from those of the Cold War era. But Mr. Rumsfeld is voicing deep concern over the worldwide proliferation of nuclear and other weapons technologies that still threaten mass casualties.

Mr. Rumsfeld said in the 70 years he has been alive, there have been many conflicts and he fears there will be additional conflicts in the years ahead. But speaking at the Foreign Press Center in Washington, Mr. Rumsfeld said the lethality of weapons has grown in magnitude in his lifetime. He added that means nations and leaders today have a much smaller margin for error than was the case in earlier wars.

"Because of that smaller margin for error, we have to be wiser, we have to have better foresight as to what might take place, we have to be willing to think with a sense of urgency that we did not have to have in an earlier period," he went on to say.

Mr. Rumsfeld stressed this means the work now under way to stem the spread of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction is, as he puts it, enormously important. He said any failure could lead to the loss of tens or even hundreds of thousands of lives.

During his remarks, Mr. Rumsfeld noted he has just returned from a lengthy trip that took him to India and Pakistan, two nuclear-armed nations that have been locked in a bitter territorial dispute that has raised fears of fighting.

The U.S. defense secretary says the military situation along their joint border has improved modestly with both countries making preliminary efforts to defuse tensions. He says Pakistan, for example, has significantly reduced the infiltration of militants into Indian territory in Kashmir.

On a related terrorism subject, Mr. Rumsfeld said again that Iran has permitted the transit of terrorists and their supporters out of Afghanistan.

He also says Iran is developing weapons of mass destruction and increasingly longer range missiles to deliver them.