INTERVIEWER: Great, shall we have a break?
INTERVIEWER: Okay when you became Secretary of Defense in 1981 how urgent did you see the need for a restoration of US military strength what did you believe were the goals of the Kremlin at that time.
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Well we first learned of the actual facts shortly after the election of the president in November 1980. We then started getting the classified briefings, the technical data, the numbers of Soviet planes, artillery pieces, tanks mobile guns everything and it was pretty horrifying. The gap between us was very large, we had come from a ten-year period. A decade of neglect as we called it during the campaign, but we had no idea that the gap was as wide as it was and we knew how long it would take to catch up and we also knew how difficult it was to sustain a period of increased military spending in a democracy that the United States whole history was. I don't think we ever had a, in the peace time more than a year or maybe 15 months of increased military spending and we knew that it would take 3 or 4 years at least of very sharply increased spending to get us to the point where we would be able to do a deterred attack. We also knew we would be subjected to a lot of complaints that we were trying to get superiority whereas we didn't want one more tank than the Russians had, or anything of the kind. We wanted enough to convince them that they couldn't win a war. And a large part of this was strengthening our relationships with NATO with our Far Eastern and mid-eastern allies and friends because we knew we couldn't do it alone and it was very undesirable to do it alone. And that was a very difficult task, because the previous four years had convinced many of those countries that the United States was not a very reliable ally, would not support them, would not regain its military strength so we had to move on several different fronts at once and I had no doubt at any time during this period that the Soviet goal was world domination. And I think they only gave that up comparatively recently, but their military posture, their actions, their foreign policy actions, their aggressive behavior all of this contributed to that single conclusion. They had far more military than they needed to defend the Soviet Union.
INTERVIEWER: Now what were your views concerning the utility of close Anglo-American ties during the years ...
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Well I've always been a strong believer in what used to be called maybe still is, the special relationship, the idea that we did have to stay together that we should stay together. In my view that was essentially expressed my Mr. Churchill far better than I could as to the importance of this alliance and relationship. And I felt that very strongly, and I it worked very well because in all our NATO meetings and bilateral meetings with the British defense people with their foreign office people, generally worked very well. I've been over to England two or three times right after Mr. Reagan was elected, I went in connection with the private business activities I had at that time and took the occasion to talk to various people and frankly there were many people in the London government that were horrified that Mr. Reagan was going to be president. And I told them that in a very short time they wouldn't feel that way any longer and I had the great satisfaction of seeing that occur. I thought the relationship between the two countries was extremely important, I think so today. And I think that we need to realize that and recognize that in all of our dealings with each other. There are always going to be differences of view and some abrasions and all but basically the pool of keeping in a cfirm alliance, permanent understood and relied on by both sides I think was vital. I think it is now.
INTERVIEWER: What about the relationship with Margaret Thatcher and the Falklands war?
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Well Mrs. Thatcher was an enormous help to I think England witthe slightest question, certainly to the alliance and to the western world. She was a very strong clear voice, as with President Reagan who knew what she wanted to achieve and knew how to go about achieving it and saw the need for strengthening the west , saw the dangers of not strengthening the west, saw the dangers of an appeasement policy or of an indifferent policy, or of an isolationist policy, and President Reagan and Mrs. Thatcher saw eye to eye on most of these great issues. And in the Falklands war to me it was absolutely clear, here we had not only a native ally, and we were pledged to support even though the invasion came from an unlikely quarter several hundred miles away. But the other thing is that we had, and I kept reiterating in all of our internal meetings, we had not the slightest interest in supporting a corrupt military dictatorship against our oldest and closest and best friend. And this view finally prevailed. But we had a lot of people who were worried about losing South America and taking the position that we couldn't really oppose a South American neighbor etc., etc., and this was a very special kind of South American neighbor at that time and we needed to be opposed.
INTERVIEWER: In 1983 Britain and Reagan announced the SDI, did you share his vision of a comprehensive anti-missile system in space? Did you believe that it could ever be made to work?
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Yes I did and I do to this day. We had made very substantial progress between 1983 and 1993 when President Clinton in effect cut out the whole program. No I think it can be done, I think it should be done. I share with the president the view that the idea of relying completely on the mutual assured destruction was a strategic mistake of major proportions. Basically that says that you are only completely safe when you are totally vulnerable. Neither President Reagan nor I believed that and President Reagan always felt that it was possible and everybody previously had denied that it was possible. It was possible to develop a defense against these missiles and it is. We did make very great progress towards that, and if we would restart, while we would be far more delayed that we would have if we hadn't stopped in 1993, we could do it again. And not at the hideous costs that all these opponents always use as a principle argument against it. It was always a source of disappointment and surprise and puzzlement to the president to doubt the viciousness with which a defensive program was received. He was quite sure that a program that was designed to destroy weapons and not people and was designed to protect people rather than simply have a policy of avenging them after they were attacked, was a policy that was not only correct but would attract substantial support. But from academia, from so-called defense experts from all over strategists they fought this furiously and he finally concluded that it was very much the same that whenever you violated conventional wisdom he said in effect what you are doing with this program is repealing the education of all of these people who for generations have believed that you can't have a defense. And that was embodied in the ABM Treaty which he and I certainly believe was a major mistake.
INTERVIEWER: But how do you react to the near agreement at Reykjavik in October 86 between president Reagan and general Secretary Gorbachev and the question of deep cuts in nuclear questions. Do you regard SDI as non-negotiable or would you have been inclined to use it as a bargaining chip in arms negotiations.
CASPAR WEINBERGER: No, no I regard it as totally non-negotiable and I was very proud of the President that he had turned down these various blandishments for deep cuts which nobody was going to verify, or probably weren't going to happen at all, and give up SDI. That was the, the Soviet Union had two or three major goals they wanted to get us out of NATO and de-couple us from Europe. They wanted us to stop working on Stealth and they wanted us to stop working on strategic defense and to a rather alarming extent they have almost succeeded in all three of those goals now, but they were never allowed to succeed in them during the Reagan years.
INTERVIEWER: There is some suggestion that President Reagan came quite close to using it as a bargaining chip at Reykjavik ....
CASPAR WEINBERGER: There were people at Reykjavik in the American delegation who were very unhappy that the president refused to give up strategic defense. They saw this glittering prospect of these very deep cuts in the, they kept getting deeper every day every hour of the meeting because Mr. Gorbachev was throwing in more and more of these promises, because they would go almost .... to give it up and the president never wavered and never did give it up. But there were people who were very unhappy about it and they were people who kept issuing not so much statements as hints and leaks that we were about to have this enormous breakthrough and when President Reagan at the end absolutely refused to give up strategic defense, why a lot of people took the position well he was very close, he almost did, but he didn't. He never almost did at all. A lot of the advisors wanted him to.
INTERVIEWER: I just wondered what were your views on Ronald Reagan the man and his two terms as president?
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Well I think he is one of our best presidents really. He was a man who went in a lot of people could say unprepared, they said that when he became governor of California but he was a man who had an agenda, a personal agenda. He had certain ideas and goals that he wanted to achieve. He achieved them to a very remarkable extent, they did fly against conventional wisdom and that accounts I think for the fury of his many of his opponents. None of the things he did was supposed to work. It was the conventional wisdom that they couldn't possibly work, and yet they did. We had a period of economic recovery that started in his first year, with the tax cuts which produced more revenue, but a greater expansion of the economy than anything we'd had. We cut inflation, we cut unemployment and we regained defenses and we did all of those things that he wanted to do, and they had the results that he wanted. We won the cold war, or it ended, however you wanna phrase it, and the American economy recovery. And it was altogether a set of really astonishing achievements in an 8-year period, and I give him great credit. He was also a thoroughly delightful man to work with and very winning personality and really precisely what the American people needed at that time. We needed a strong heroic type of figure and we needed to be told that we weren't as bad as we had been told by everybody else and we needed to get away from the whole Vietnam syndrome and we needed to get our hostages back from Tehran and all of these things happened. It is hard to remember now, but the things that he talked about and the things the he demonstrated his leadership in were things that now are taken for granted. Now we have balanced budgets and we have more tax cuts being talked about and we aren't doing what we should do in defense in my opinion, but we have a lot of rhetoric to the effect that we are and after a very shaky start Mr. Clinton is talking about expanding NATO, although 3 years ago he was all against it, but in any event the agenda hasn't changed. Just as Mrs. Thatcher changed the agenda in the United Kingdom and Europe, so President Reagan changed the agenda here, and the things that were never even debated or discussed before because they were a total violation of the conventional wisdom now are almost becoming the conventional wisdom, and that is an example of major leadership I think.
INTERVIEWER: Was cold war necessary?
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Well the cold war was not athat we wanted. The Cold War was forced on us I think without any question by the enormous expansionist policy of the Soviet Union right after the end of World War 2. All agent states of Central Europe fell, the iron curtain speech correctly described what was happening and within two or three years at the end of the world war and the enormous military build up went on. We had a period of so-called détente in which we talked about reductions and that was described well as the Soviets talked about reduction but they kept on building and we didn't, we stopped, we fell way behind militarily and we saw the effect of our inability to achieve diplomatically the things that were necessary to stop this rather relentless bloodless if you like advance of the Soviet Union. And it was in the Pacific, it was in the in Europe and it was stated many times by them as their goal, and so I think the cold war was necessary to stop that. And we would not have had anything except a desire for a continued warm relationship that we had with the Soviet Union during World War 2. That's what we would have liked but they made that impossible and the question was, was it going to be resisted or not? And there was for a long time a policy of containment which meant that in effect that you, you pulled back and yielded, but you kept saying no further, no further, no further. But they kept pushing out, Afghanistan was just one of the examples of how they pushed out again, even though they were supposed to be contained within their border. And President Reagan I think had the vision to see that the only way you were going to stop this was to be strong enough to convince them, they couldn't win. Not that we wanted to win, not that we wanted to fight, not that we wanted one more tank, or one more plane than they had. What we wanted was enough to demonstrate to them clearly they couldn't win and that was a major change of policy and it worked.
INTERVIEWER: What was the worse moment in the Cold War for you personally?
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Well there were a lot of individual ones, when you have your forces committed small actions like Granada, punishing Libya, things of that kind. You are going to have the possibility of losing troops. I think probably the worst moment was the bombing of the barracks in Lebanon, I had pleaded with the president, with everybody in the administration to pull our troops out long before because we were not allowed to do anything. All we could do was to sit on the airport and not have a mission, not protect our flags from the high ground in front of us and it didn't take any particular prescience or prophetic ability to realize that there was going to be a major disaster. And when that happened I blamed myself for not being more persuasive and that was a terrible time. But it was also the day before the attack on Grenada and that didn't leave you too much time for thinking about this one thing. You had to think about 12 or 15 things at a time in that job.
INTERVIEWER: Are you still saying that the recent publicity in the ... book called "Hostile Waters" which talks about the collision between the Sovietand yourself carrying submarine US navy hunt killer submarine in October 96. I just wondered if you would like to comment. Sorry in October
INTERVIEWER: I mean why is it that American policy towards central America suddenly changed when President Reagan took over from President Carter.
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Well again you had worries about the possibilities of Soviet bases being used. We were all familiar with Cuba and the fact that while they pulled the missiles out they had a heavy influence in the Cuban policy and government and Cuba was very close to home. 70 miles or so. You had the same thing happening in Nicaragua. You had what we hoped was a democratic regime that had overthrown a rather brutal dictator, it was going to be a democratic regime. We found it turning into a Soviet dominated area very quickly. We had the attempt being made in El Salvador to have the Soviet backed guerrillas overthrow the elected government. And all of these were events that seemed to President Reagan and to people in the administration that we needed to be very concerned about. We needed to worry about not having them succeed. Because as one after another of these further demonstrations of Soviets attempts to get bases and influences, areas of influence and support around the world, in naval stations and all the rest of it. They were getting very close to the American continent and so that we felt that we should take steps to discourage this kind of thing in the continent and to make it clear to the Soviets that they would not be allowed to establish this as a major zone of influence. And that was the reason for Grenada and again it succeeded.
INTERVIEWER: What was your evidence of Soviet and Cuban military presence in Nicaragua and El Salvador?
CASPAR WEINBERGER : What was the....? Well the evidence was quite clear I think we, we saw the supplies coming in and we knew that there was an active and increasing trade in military supplies between the Soviet Union and the forces in Nicaragua and their attempts to supply and assist the communist backed guerrillas in Salvador. And we had the, all the evidence that was really needed including weapons, groups when we went in Grenada, we found very large stores of Soviet weapons that had come in through Cuba, some of it had come in directly. Far more than was needed for any kind of defense of a small island of that sort.
INTERVIEWER: I mean what gives the United States and America the right to prepare and equip a rebel army to overthrow the legal government of Nicaragua or any other country in Latin America?
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Well we didn't do that by equipping an army. What we did was to try to keep alive a movement that was resisting an attempt by a previously chosen government that had overthrown a dictator Mr. Moses and when they turned into a communist dependant block we felt that protecting our own interests in the continent, our carrying out of the Monroe Doctrine and all the rest that were required that we help those who were resisting this attempt to establish what was beginning to look like another Russian colony, a Russian base, as they had ... in Cuba.
INTERVIEWER: In the case in El Salvador, can you explain the billions of dollars given to the Salvadoran government which by all accounts was a brutal regime and hardly likely to deliver the democracy that President Reagan championed.
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Well again you have the question of what do you, what is the alternative, the Salvadoran government was not brutal in the most pejorative sense of that term. It was a government that did some things we didn't approve of and there were some individuals in that government just as we have individuals in the American government who were not wholesome elements in any sense. But the basic policies, the overall goal here was to make sure that you had a government that was basically friendly, was, had the possibility of being reformed and changed by our own intervention and our own influence which would have been non-existent if we had allowed a communist supportive group of guerrillas to overtake it. Again you had to make a choice, the choice is not always easy but when the overall nature of that choice is whether or not you have a communist dominated guerrilla movement that was certainly capable of infinite cruelty or whether you have an elected government, and in El Salvador the government was elected that wanted to defeat the guerrillas in Nicaragua, you had the opposition collect much to the astonishment of everybody and the former government had been so subject to communist influences was ousted at the poll. So it was not a matter of our equipping a military to overthrow the government they did that themselves. We did help keep the movement alive and we did help the people who wanted democracy and we were convinced that what was going on in Nicaragua was not the actions of a democratic government.
CASPAR WEINBE: I mean what was the reason for the US invasion of Grenada in 1953. Well the same we had clear evidence, borne out by the captured weapons later on, that the Soviets were through Cuba, making every effort to establish a base, building runways and air facilities far beyond anything needed to attract tourists. We had a further major interest in the sense that there were close to 1,000 American students at a medical school dthere, who were in very substantial peril. Their Dean who was safe in Brooklyn kept saying there was no dangers, but the students didn't feel that way and we didn't want another Iran, we didn't want hundreds of Americans taken prisoners by what amounted to a totally anarchistic group. The group in Grenada and declared a moratorium or a, whatever they call it, anybody seen on the streets after 9 o'clock would be shot. Not arrested but would be shot. And they had total anarchy prevailing and they had a number of incidents that happen when you have no kind of government no kind of rule of law or anything of the sort. The governor general, the British governor was in jail, had been put in jail and we had the students under a real danger, risk of being used as a hostage group. And it was interesting to me and gratifying that after the whole incident was over and there was a government established in Grenada that would be, we stayed there about a less than a month after we finished the military action just time enough to establish a government that would have democratic procedures and give people the option of choosing what kind of government they wanted. But right after that, or just before it actually the students got together and financed a trip to Washington to tell the president how grateful they were and what danger they were in. And that was a very dramatic and satisfying time because it confirmed the belief we had that they were in real danger and they knew it.
INTERVIEWER: And did you ever try to exert pressure on the Soviets to control the Cubans in Latin America? How did they react? Could you give us concrete examples?
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Well most of the Cuban-Soviet problems took place before I was in office. Most of them took place during a lot of the Kennedy years and all the rest. We saw continued evidence of Cuban subservience and domination of the Soviets. There whole, they kept their economy going because the Soviets were willing to pay a totally inflated price for sugar, which was actually used for military capabilities in return for Cuban promises to give them access to military and naval bases and all the rest. So we, we obviously tried to persuade the Cuban government that this was not wise, but you could not deal with the government headed by Mr. Castro then anymore than you can now.
INTERVIEWER: Now the Sandinistan government, or the FMLN guerrilla movement in El Salvador were in fact communist, in Nicaragua there was still free enterprise and ongoing catholic church and an opposition press. So what was the problem?
CASPAR WEINBERGER: Well the problem in Nicaragua was that they were if not communists in name, certainly communist in approach and in their backing. They got most of their military backing in direct shipments from the Soviets which we saw and then knew about and their whole approach, their whole policies indicated quite clearly to us that they were not only willing to be supplied militarily by the Soviets becoming very dependant on them but that they were being guided in their policies by the Soviet Union. And again we had the example of Cuba being used as a Soviet base during the Kennedy years and we didn't want another base. We didn't want another Soviet base established within a few miles of the United States.
INTERVIEWER: Right, now there is one you have written in hand here: were the Cubans trying to is that prevent a revolution in Latin America or is that, or was that something you....