INTERVIEW WITH CASPAR WEINBERGER - AUGUST 1997
INTERVIEWER: From a sort of global regional sense I mean why was Afghanistan important to US interests during the 80s and late 70s?
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Well I think that first of all we didn't want another country anywhere to fall under communist domination we also thought Afghanistan was an extremely strategic position our historic route to the oil fields lay down that way and to the Gulf and we were anxious that it retains its independence and not be dominated and generally we have an interest in trying to support people who were fighting for their own freedom so that for all of these reasons it was important for us not to let it fall under Soviet domination.
INTERVIEWER: With regard to the military imbalance how did the two superpowers square up at the beginning of the 80s.
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Well at the beginning of the 80s the Soviets had a very major advantage in almost every category of military weaponry, in planes, artillery pieces, tanks, aircraft and we were close in submarines, but basically they had military superiority in all these different categories and they were increasing it. Whereas we had through the through 1979 and 1980 we were either static or falling further behind and we viewed that with very considerable worry. President Reagan during his campaign in 1980 had made a considerable point of the fact that our defenses needed strengthening and pointed to a number of failures and a number of situations in which things that we didn't want to happen were happening because we were no longer perceived as a strong or reliable ally in countries that we would need, as allies were not joining us, and in every way the situation was it called for major changes but after we got in office we were horrified to discover at the classified briefings that we then received how big this gap was and the fact that it was widening and all of these things led to the determination by the president to carry out the major campaign policy that he had emphasized during the election that we needed to strengthen our defenses and quickly.
INTERVIEWER: What were your own views about the Soviet Union's global ambitions?
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Well I had very little doubt about it was quite clear to me from their speeches from the doctrine from the things that I had studied about them that they had world domination as a global goal and they were quite frank about it. Later on they dissembled quite a bit and denied that they had ever said it but the quotations were all over the history books and also their very aggressive policy with respect to moving into countries and areas that were beyond any security needs of their own, and this enormous military capability that they were developing and already had, all led me to conclude that they did indeed have in mind an idea of global domination and tried to dominate the world and obviously they would prefer to do it without fighting and they had made some considerable success that way by intimidation and threat and repeated blackmail and all the rest.
INTERVIEWER: Could you sort of describe the factors which led to Reagan's victory and the downfall of Carter in '81. Well I think the public which really is much concerned about the strength of the military and democracy is people, people don't like that, spend money on the military I guess I'm a leading authority on how much they dislike spending money on military and the security, but I think they had become aware through President Reagan's campaign speeches and through the things that were happening all over, we were very unhappy when Russia went to move into Afghanistan or when they went to take steps at that time and when they went into Afghanistan the only weapon we really had was to tell them we weren't going to play in their Olympic games and this didn't deter them very much and I think the public certainly under President Reagan's leadership, and his campaign efforts were becoming more and more aware of this and military leaders were saying that we had a hollow force that we had an air force that wouldn't fly and a navy ships that wouldn't sail we didn't have the money to train the people. All of these things were being hammered home by the president and his campaign, by people who campaigned with him, and by some independent groups and so I think that it was evident when the president came in that he was going to seek increases and the big question was how much of an increase would he ask and the Carter budget which had been submitted just before Carter had left office.
INTERVIEWER: I mean in your opinion, what, I mean do you think that events in Iran with the fall of the Shah really altered the strategic importance of Afghanistan.
CASPAR WEINBERGER : Well I think so I think the fact was that the Shah was very friendly with us. The shah had supported our policies at some cost to himself. He had been much more helpful than almost any other nation in the region and in working with Americans, allowing Americans to have a visible presence there. And when he fell and a large, largely as a result of the fact that first of all he was not only very ill, but he also didn't have any support. There were a great many Americans who were of very liberal persuasion who said that this is a very repressive government, it is wrong for us to support it. He is, his human rights record is not good and so forth and so on. What they over looked of course was the alternative. And the alternative is the most repressive government since the Middle Ages, when the Ayatollahs and the Mullahs came in. What they also overlooked was the efforts that the shah had been making to improve things. Status of women, education, health in his country all of these things he was addressing and we were trying to help. But when he fell and when he was allowed to fall I think it sent quite a strong signal around that the United States was not going to be all that reliable or an ally or anybody on whom people could trust or would join and that it was better for them either to be neutral or to decide that the Soviets were going to be the ones who won in the future and that they had better at least not offend them. So that I think the fall of the Shah and our allowing that would send quite an unfortunate signal around the world and particularly in the mid-East.
INTERVIEWER: How do you think the loss of intelligence listening bases in Iran affected the US?
CASPAR WEINBERGER : Well we had those and they certainly contributed to an additional weakening of our capabilities. Intelligence is a vital part of any kind of ability to defend yourself or to deter attack and they were very important and there weren't many substitutes readily available.
INTERVIEWER: I think you've talked about this a bit, but I'll ask it again if you don't mind. I mean in your opinion what were the real motives behind the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan?
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Well I think that they were first of all, were still in pursuit of traditional warm water ports down in the Gulf that's been their goal for hundreds of years. I think that they also were very anxious to make sure that a very highly developed set of oil fields was available to them and I think they also wanted to remove what they always perceived as some possible problems on their border. The Afghans were considered basically an unpredictable people, they were not dominated by the Soviets they were not reliable from Moscow's point of view, and I think they wanted to leave all of that. I think that they did not have very good understanding of what kind of people the Afghans were. Afghans fight very well. The Afghans like to fight. And they were doing extremely well and they had made things very much more difficult for the Soviets, than the Soviets believed they would have. It is not at all unlike the problems that the current Russian government ran into in Czekia.
INTERVIEWER: What sort of different views were there in the Reagan administration about US policy in Afghanistan and the possible drawbacks about backing fundamentalist groups like the Mujaheddin?
CASPAR WEINBERGER: there wasn't as much worry about backing fundamentaligroups perhaps as there should have been. But these people it was very much the old adage that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. And these people were obviously enemies of the Soviets didn't want to be invaded, didn't wanna be dominated, didn't wanna have their sovereignty taken away from them, and they were fighting. And that basically our feeling, President Reagan's feeling, I believe was that they should be, these people who were fighting for their own freedom and sovereignty should be supported. We certainly couldn't guarantee that they were all going to be nice people or that they would do everything we wanted them to or anything of the kind, but I think the, I think there wasn't perhaps a nearly as much consideration given to supporting a group that included some Moslem fundamentalists as perhaps there might have been. But on the other hand, even if there had been I don't think it would have overridden the desire to make sure that the Soviets were not allowed to dominate or succeed in Afghanistan and so we would fight with the groups that were available. We would help them as much as we could. But I think that there was much more of a consideration of the alternatives now by us because that was one of our basic policies that the Carter and other administrations in the pursuit of human rights and trying to find only people that we could agree with to help had overlooked the alternatives. And as I said the alternative in Iran was the most repressive government since the middle ages and we thought the alternative in Afghanistan was another Soviet colony.
INTERVIEWER: I mean how important was Pakistan during the 80s to US interests in the region?
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Well Pakistan again was a country that we knew had some problems internally and elsewhere but Pakistan on the other hand was a bulwark against the Indian and Soviet linkage and Indian government was not, not particularly friendly to us, much more friendly to the Soviets, made a great show of being neutral but basically was much more aligned with the Soviets and as a result the Paks were people who were basically in the same position as the Afghans. They were people who we felt needed support, we also were particularly concerned with the enormous number of refugees who poured into Pakistan from Afghanistan and the Pak government had a great difficulty as any government would in trying to sort and deal with a million, million and a half people coming in very unexpectedly across their borders.
INTERVIEWER: What sort of talks did you have with Pakistan over the distribution of military aid.
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Well we talked with them frequently about it and we supported giving them military aid. We supported giving them the capability of defending themselves. We supported them in their desire to have an ability to protect their own borders and to not allow incursions into them. To give them a lot of aid to help them deal with refugees, who needed everything. I went out two or three times and talked to refugees in these tent cities and it was very moving dramatic thing, but there were millions of people who had simply poured into a country that was not expecting them, or really ready to receive them. And they needed a lot of help with that, we did foods and medicines and clothing and medical assistance all kinds of things of that sort. We tried to help them with.
INTERVIEWER: Did you feel that US military aid was distributed fairly by Pakistan. I mean didn't Pakistan's wider goals lead them to favor more fundamentalist groups.
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Well I, we I don't think we felt that they were under President Zia, no, we felt that they didn't favor fundamentalist groups. We knew they had internal problems, but we wanted basically to keep their foreign policy friendly to us and not ready to yield or to be overrun by Soviets pouring in through Afghanistan and not being willing to join any pact or group against the West, they were friends with the West and we wanted to help them. And I don't think that we felt that they were aligned in any permanent way with any kind of fundamentalist groups. There were certainly many of those in Afghanistan but I think in Pakistan under President Zia they were there was not that risk.
INTERVIEWER: I mean do you know how much military aid destined for the Mujaheddin, how much do you think was creamed off by Pakistan, because I know the CIA were worried that some of ...
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Well Pakistan got military aid they didn't really have to as you said "Cream it off", they we were giving it to them directly. The aid that we gave to Afghanistan was mostly on behalf of the freedom fighters and consisted of anti-air, anti-helicopter things that were effective in trying to stop from that kind. I'm not aware that the Pakistanis diverted a great deal that was going to Afghanistan I think that a principle aid to Pakistan was to help them to help the refugees. And we did have a military assistance program which was constantly under attack because we were not supposed to give military assistance to countries that were developing nuclear capabilities, and there were always rumors that Pakistan was doing that.
INTERVIEWER: I mean before the invasion of Afghanistan the US had consistently criticized Pakistan over its development of nuclear deterrent, yet it was willing to give them an almost an easy ride when it came as a ...
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Well you have to distinguish between some voices of the United States and other voices in the United States. Carter and people I think did, were not really friends with the Pakistanis and did worry a great deal about their having nuclear capability and again were not considering the alternatives. Again were not considering what an overrun Pakistan or a Pakistan that was denied all military or other assistance might turn into. And we were trying to cultivate them. Trying to encourage them and be influential in encouraging them not to develop nuclear capabilities and at the same time recognizing they did need military assistance in a rather precarious position geographically, strategically that they found themselves in.
INTERVIEWER: Do you not think that the US stance ultimately helped Pakistan achieve their goal of getting a deterrent?
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Oh I think so, yes. No I think we helped a great deal and I think basically we established and kept a basically close working relationship with them and they did not move over to the other side, they were not overrun, they were not, they maintained their own independence and I don't think they took any actions that overtly helped the Moslem fundamentalists or any of those groups at the time we were in office.
INTERVIEWER: I mean some people have described the relationship as almost a roller coaster ride over the nuclear deterrent.
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Well again, I think you have to ask who the people were who felt as we, we tried our best to deter them from going ahead with the nuclear program. We didn't think the best way to do that was to hold a press conference to denounce them, and we didn't think that the best way to do that was deny them all military or humanitarian assistance. I don't know to this day what sort of a nuclear program they have. But I do know that they were in a strategically important position. It was very necessary and very vital to keep them friendly and supportive of the things we were trying to do, which was to prevent Soviet ambitions from being realized and to prevent Soviets from prevailing in Afghanistan. And their mere reception of the refugees totally aside from any military action was enormously helpful to the morale in Afghanistan of the people who were fighting for their freedom.
INTERVIEWER: So given a priority it was aid to the Mujaheddin rather than questions about nuclear deterrent.
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Yes, if there were considered a priority the first priority was to help survive and certainly in order to do that from every point of view it was very desirable that they not be expanding or developing a nuclear program. But we did not want to turn our back on them because we felt they were basically morally inferior or somethiof that kind which had been what I felt was the rather hallmark of the Carter administration.
INTERVIEWER:: I mean who was behind the decision to supply Stingers to the Mujaheddin I mean how effective were they?
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Well there was a dispute about that and the Mujaheddin needed to deter Soviet helicopters. Low-flying Soviet helicopters were doing a tremendous amount of damage. They didn't have any basic air force of the Mujaheddin stopping them. They'd shoot at them with rifles and pistols, and this was not very effective and they needed some way to drive them up or drive them off and the stinger was exactly the weapon that would do that. There was always the risk that they would fall into Soviet hands we didn't know to what extent the Soviets already knew about their capabilities, but then the Soviets soon found out what their capabilities were because they were a very major factor in keeping the Soviet helicopters so high they couldn't be effective. And the Soviet helicopter pilots we found out later were extremely worried about and basically didn't like the Stinger under them, under their helicopters. And I can understand why, it was a very accurate weapon and at fairly high ranges and Soviet helicopters that got within range of it were destroyed in great numbers and this was an enormous help to the Mujaheddin.
INTERVIEWER: I mean in the end how important a role do you think the Stinger played in the Soviet withdrawal?
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Well I think it was one of the major factors. It took away from the Soviets one of their principle abilities which had been not only to harass but to destroy Mujaheddin encampments, fixed positions that they couldn't reach otherwise. That their own ground troops couldn't reach, it enabled the Mujaheddin to keep some supply routes open and I think it was a major factor, I think I would say that the real factor was this enormous fighting spirit of the Mujaheddin, they were people who definitely wanted to keep their own freedom and they fought furiously and with a certain amount of enjoyment and they were good at it, very good at it.
INTERVIEWER: I mean how difficult was it to get back the Stingers, how successful...
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Well we did lose some of the Stinger technology and some of those ... I don't know if it was lost in the sense that it gave the Soviets something they hadn't had before. But I, I think probably a fairly close run decision as to whether we should do it or not, but there seemed to be no other way of enabling the Mujaheddin to keep going. Unless they could get rid of this threat from the sky, which they couldn't do. A low flying helicopter can do an enormous amount of damage, a heavily armed helicopters the Soviets had those, they were doing damage, they were breaking up supply routes they were forcing the Mujaheddin into basically very untenable positions. They were able to flush them out of any kind of strong points and when you don't have any defense against that it's discouraging to morale but it also means that you are going to be very difficult for you to fight the kinds of guerrilla war that they did fight. The Soviets couldn't beat them on the ground, but they could do so much damage from these low flying attack helicopters that they could achieve their objectives.