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Jewish World Review March 12, 2002 / 28 Adar, 5762

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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10 minutes with Ken Adelman | When it comes to the big geopolitical issues like strategic nuclear arms control and anti-ballistic missile systems, Ken Adelman is the go-to guy. Now a member of the Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's Defense Policy Board, Adelman was director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency from 1983 to 1987 and worked for the Defense Department during the Carter administration.

Adelman is co-host of He has published five books, writes articles for top newspapers and policy journals and is national editor of Washingtonian magazine. He also teaches Shakespeare at George Washington University and has developed a management guide for businesses based on lessons learned from the Bard's works. I talked to him Thursday by phone from his office in Washington.

Q: What do you make of the reports in Time magazine this week that last fall the terrorists were thought to have gotten their hands on a 10-kiloton nuclear weapon from the ex-Soviet Union and were going to explode it in New York City?

A: I'm doubtful of that. I think that the ex-Soviet Union - Russia, Ukraine, Belarus in particular - have been far more diligent in controlling nuclear weapons and nuclear material than I ever suspected a dozen years ago.

Q: Do you think it's a credible worry down the road?

A: It is a very credible worry down the road, which is why we need two things: We need to take the war against terrorism to Iraq and any other place that has the capabilities of making nuclear weapons. And secondly, we need a ballistic missile defense to protect the country against an incoming ballistic missile that has a nuclear weapon or biological or chemical weapon aboard it.

Q: I presume you do believe that these kinds of attacks can be prevented by anti-missile defense systems?

A: There's no question that a ballistic missile defense system would work over time, especially if there were just one or two or three incoming ballistic missiles.

What I want to do is to make sure that there is no capability of the most dastardly people in the world getting a hold of the most modern weaponry. That's why the war on terrorism really has got to be more than homeland security and has got to take the battle into Iraq and other places that have the capability of making weapons of mass destruction.

Q: Is the U.S. really any better prepared to prevent such attacks today than it was pre-9/11?

A: Yes.

Q: Just because we've mobilized and concentrated on it?

A: We've done an enormous number of changes that have been very significant. The whole Justice Department has been turned around from an agency that foremost prosecutes to one that foremost prevents. That's a very big change.

The whole sharing of information and intelligence between government agencies is one that has been fundamentally changed. The whole defense posture to protect the homeland is one that has been fundamentally changed. The world is a very different place since Sept. 11.

Q: Has the U.S. adapted its defense policies to the post-Soviet world or are we still prepared to fight the last war - the Cold War?

A: I think we are transforming. I've worked for Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld three times in my life. I consider him a very warm and wonderful friend and have enormous confidence in him.

I know he took this job at the age of 68 because he really wanted to transform the military establishment into the most modern and adept capable instrument of foreign policy and he's in the process of doing that successfully.

Q: What should America's defense system look like today and in the future?

A: It should be prepared for attacks against us and our allies that come from weak countries - countries that are not prone to deterrence as we knew it before. They can attack us even though they may not even be countries with weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear and chemical weapons.

Q: What are the chances that the defense establishment will be smaller and less expensive in the future?

A: None.

Q: So we're still going to have 12 aircraft carriers and the whole panoply of military stuff?

A: The mix may change, but the overall military will be gigantic. The overall power of the military of the United States is mighty and will continue to be mighty - and should and must continue to be mighty. We are now fighting for our lives and the life of civilization.

Q: Will our defense policy be more defensive-minded and less offensive-minded?

A: No. It can't be, because the best defense is a vigorous offense. We need to take the war to the terrorists. So we have to, yes, protect the homeland. But we have to eliminate Saddam Hussein and other countries in the Axis of Evil and elsewhere who can really threaten us and threaten civilization.

Q: Are you pleased with the way the Bush administration is fighting world terrorism?

A: Yes. They're doing a super job.

Q: Is there anything they should be concentrating on that they are not, or is there something they are not doing enough of? Do you have critiques?

A: Yes, and that is go in and change the regime in Iraq. Eliminate Saddam Hussein from power.

Q: Would you do that internally, externally - both?

A: Both. You can not do it by relying on a coup d'etat. You must do it using U.S. military power.

Q: And that means coalitions, lining up allies?

A: Not necessarily. We'll certainly get the support of Turkey and Kuwait, Israel, and we'll have off-shore power as well. I think we could get the support of Saudi Arabia, or non-opposition from Saudi Arabia. But whatever it takes, we need to eliminate Saddam Hussein.

Q: Suddenly the terrorists have literally made defense a top priority of America. We were asleep or lulled into a false sense of complacency in the '90s after the Soviet Union fell. Is it possible to defend a porous, open society at home without ruining our freedoms?

A: Sure. In fact, I think the freedom to go about our lives with a pretty comfortable degree of security is a basic freedom. I think security and freedom go together. If you are not secure, you certainly are not free. Fear takes over your life.

Q: Lastly, are you optimistic or pessimistic that the great Military Industrial Complex will do the things it needs to do to protect America?

A: I think the United States comes to decisions too slowly. They get into wars too late. They generally take a lackadaisical view before challenged, but once challenged there's nobody better.

I think the American people and government have been acting remarkably well, if not brilliantly, since Sept. 11 and I expect that to continue.

JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.

03/08/02: TIME asks the nation a scary question
03/05/02: 10 minutes with ... Rich Lowry
02/26/02: 10 minutes with ... Tony Snow
02/12/02: Has Soldier of Fortune gone soft?

© 2002, Bill Steigerwald