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Joint Press Conference with Secretary Carter, German Defense Minister Von Der Leyen, Norwegian Defense Minister Soreide, the Netherlands Defense Minister Hennis-Plasschaert in Munster, Germany

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Ash Carter; Ursula von der Leyen, defense minister of Germany; Ine Marie Eriksen Soreide, defense minister of Norway; Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, defense minister of the Netherlands
June 22, 2015

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER: Well, Minister Von Der Leyen, my colleague, thank you. Thank you for your warm hospitality this morning in Berlin and here once again today.

Good afternoon to all of you.

After a productive morning in Berlin, it's a privilege to be here with Defense Minister Hennis-Plasschaert, Defense Minister Soreide and, of course, the German defense minister and my good friend, Ursula Von Der Leyen.

I want to thank each of you, every one of you for being here. I hope we have more meetings like this. I appreciate you introducing us. I look forward to seeing you Wednesday in Brussels, all of you.

If a country can be judged by the friends it has and a secretary of defense by the company he keeps, I think the United States and I are very fortunate, indeed. Thank you.

(inaudible) -- as well, thanks to the contributions made by each of the countries represented here to the development of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF).

The first German-Netherlands corps, which we visited today, serves as the land component of the VJTF for 2015. I appreciate it stepping forward to assume this task.

We can talk specifics in a moment, but I want to remind everyone that at the Wales summit just this last September, the VJTF was just an idea, and thanks to Germany, the Netherlands and Norway and the leadership of Lieutenant General Halbauer -- where is General Halbauer? I don't think he's here...

... and others in this room and at this location, that idea has become a reality, and the VJTF can now deploy in a crisis, as it has practiced this past week in Exercise Noble Jump.

We also appreciate that France, Italy, Poland, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom have all committed to leading the VJTF in future years. And the United States is going to do our part.

I am pleased to announce that the United States will provide many enabling capabilities to the VGATF. Our support will include ISR, strategic and inter-theater lift, command and control, special-operations capabilities, logistical expertise and assets, and precision joint fire capabilities among others.

We're doing so following the discussion NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg had with President Obama in the Oval Office a few weeks ago, and I look forward to discussing the specifics with my colleagues further. We've discussed it earlier today among the three of us -- four of us, but I look forward to discussing it in detail at the defense ministerial in Brussels later this week.

We're making this commitment to the VJTF because the United States is deeply committed to the collective defense of Europe, as we've been for decades and always will be. And we welcome the contributions of NATO allies are making also.

At a time when some seek to divide us and take us backward, we're only becoming more united in moving forward with new capabilities, like the VJTF, and a new playbook to confront challenges in the south, from the east and around the world.

The men and women in uniform you saw today are an essential part of that effort, and the four of us standing here demonstrate our commitment to further adapt NATO so it can continue to provide security in the years to come.

Thank you, and I now hand things over to Defense Minister Hennis-Plasschaert.

MIN. HENNIS-PLASSCHAERT: Well, thank you so much. Am I allowed to? Yeah?

First of all, I would like to thank you, Ursula, and -- for this unique opportunity to meet at this military headquarters in (inaudible). It's a very special year, because on August 27th, the First -- (inaudible) -- Headquarters will celebrate its 20th anniversary. So I think it's a very special day for us to get together here.

Now, the First -- (inaudible) -- headquarters is obviously an excellent example of European military preparation within NATO and having the littoral and the spearhead force, as you just said, of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force at this very moment.

Now, the Readiness Action Plan and the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force in particular show, in my view, that we -- Europe -- also the European nations, the European allies, are very serious about our willingness to strengthen NATO's but also Europe's ability to act.

Effectively, Europe is surrounded on the south and on the on the eastern flank by a ring of instability, and Europe in particular has to get its act together, act swiftly, as our security cannot defend on the efforts of just a few.

So we have to carry our -- (inaudible) -- including the risks, as the U.S. has been our indispensable partner in European security over -- already for over 65 years, and I think that Europe -- it's a bit of payback time, maybe.

We have to join forces on this seriously. And first efforts means in our defense -- I said it before, but I would like to repeat it here that our security comes at a price and our need for security justifies paying the price.

So I -- I am happy to announce that the Dutch government decided last Friday to increase its budget, step by step in a multi-annual framework, but I'm a very happy minister as we speak. And our first priority is to invest in our operational readiness.

Now, this afternoon, we discussed other issues in preparation of the NATO ministerial later this week, and we also discussed briefly the current military operations, but I forgot to inform you, so I will do it right now, that we also -- the Dutch government also decided last Friday to extend our contributions to the counter-ISIL campaign by a year.

So we continue to train the Iraqi troops in Baghdad and Irbil, and we continue our contribution of the F-16s to the air campaigns for coalition, and the same goes to our contributions to the -- (inaudible) mission in Mali, and Western support in Afghanistan.

So -- and again, Ursula, I would -- in particular, with regard to your initiative, I'm happy to support that. We can, because you know the Dutch love to work together with the Germans.

Thank you very much.

MODERATOR: Thank you.

Madam Minister Erisksen Soreide?

DEFENSE MINISTER OF NORWAY INE MARIE ERIKSEN SOREIDE: Thank you, and first of all, I would like to intend my warm thanks to Ursula for inviting us. It's a very nice follow-up after we joined forces at Nobel Jump last week. You know, it was very good to see that our forces and our armies and air forces were able to actually conduct that big exercise in a very good way.

And we have to realize that the security landscape and situation in Europe has changed, and that also means that NATO has to adapt and to also improve our capabilities. In that regard, the VJTF is a very good example. It provides, in our opinion, real and tangible NATO capabilities that we can draw lessons from and also use if needed. And we are from these country sides stepping up to the plate and also taking lead in developing these new capabilities, and we are proud to announce that we will continue that good cooperation also in the future.

And I also have to say, I'm delighted that Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has taken the time and the trip to -- to come here. And we know that in addressing both current and future security challenges in Europe, we both need and want American leadership in Europe.

And we must -- (inaudible) -- on a solid trans-Atlantic relationship, and the way to achieve that also in the future is, of course, both continued U.S. leadership and engagement in Europe, but it's also the fact that European countries needs to do more investment in their own security to spend more and more represent governments and countries that has increased budget and will continue to do so.

I also think we need to see that the VJTF is a way of European allies to actually take the lead in developing new capabilities. We are now entering, as Ursula said, into a phase of evaluating the big diplomatic exercise that we had last week, and we will draw on the lessons that we've learned. Part of the point of doing an exercise is to learn something from it, and I'm very sure that we will have good results and also something to learn from that.

I would also lastly like to extend, once again, a special thanks to Ursula, both for that German leadership that has been so crucial in establishing this and also the fact that your personal engagement is something that drives us all forward in this.

Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much.

Now, we have approximately 20 to 25 minutes for question and answer. I see the first question.

Q: (SPEAKING IN GERMAN)

HENNIS-PLASSCHAERT: (SPEAKING IN GERMAN).

SEC. CARTER: With respect to the second of your questions, the United States is providing training and military equipment to Ukraine. We have not taken a decision and haven't changed our policy with respect to weaponry in Ukraine.

And the other thing I'd say, just to repeat what I said this morning, is that, important as that training is, that provision of military equipment -- and the United States isn't the only one doing that, obviously, for Ukraine -- the principle source of leverage remains the political and the economic, which is why this week's decisions about sanctions in the EU are so important.

And they are obviously not -- that decision isn't going to be taken by the United States -- involved by -- the United States won't be involved in it. But we do note the tremendous importance of sanctions and also the political isolation that has followed Russian activities in Crimea.

MODERATOR: Great. My next question will come from David Lynch from Bloomberg.

Q: Thank you. Okay, sorry.

Mr. Secretary, as I understand the concept, the ideal of the -- the VJTF is rapid response, that the first armies would get to a trouble spot within 48 hours after the North Atlantic Council meets, debates and votes unanimously to deploy them.

But couldn't Russia take the Baltics, for example, in that amount of time, in 48 hours? And if so, would NATO really be prepared to retake such occupied territory as opposed to forestalling an invasion in the first place?

SEC. CARTER: Well, the reason that the Very High Readiness Task Force is created is because of the speed with which crises can evolve and unfold in Europe. It's part of a -- I think the -- the phrase my colleague used was an example of NATO adaptation to the kinds of crises that might occur in the future.

I spoke this morning also of hybrid warfare. Space, cyber -- these are all dimensions of the adaptation of NATO and the new playbook to NATO to deal with what is a new set of contingencies.

Q: Even just one example of contingency (off-mic) fast enough?

SEC. CARTER: Well, the fast is much faster than has been the case in the past. That's critical that that speed be real and be practiced, and that's why the Exercise Noble Jump was conducted.

And you mentioned the decision making processes of NATO also while you're on the question of speed. Another thing that the four of us will be discussing with our colleagues later this week in Brussels is the speed of decision making and when Secretary General (Jens) Stoltenberg and, importantly, General (Phillip) Breedlove can have assurances that decisions will be taken and that the political decisions will be on a timetable commensurate with the military capabilities, like the VJTF.

Q: (SPEAKING IN GERMAN) -- is it okay that I speak German? Yeah.

(SPEAKING IN GERMAN)

Q: (Denise Reese from the news agency Ruptley. I have two questions. One is open for anyone and the second would be for Mr. Carter.

My first question is, do you already have an idea where the first VJTF troops will be deployed to?

And the second one is for Mr. Carter. He spoke earlier about in times where people try to divide us. Could you specify who or where do you see a threat of the divisions between Europe and the United States?

Thank you.

SEC. CARTER: Do you want to take the first one?

(UNKNOWN): Of course we do not have an idea where the VJTF could be deployed first because it depends on the crisis. But the reaction capability should be everywhere. We have established structure in NATO in the south, in the west, in the north, and we started now to build up direction structure that are necessary in the east, too, with the Multi National Corps Northeast or the so-called (inaudible) the logistic points where we can deploy to the rapid spearhead, if it's necessary.

So it's a matter of speed and capability to react, but not a question where it should be deployed.

SEC. CARTER: And, with respect to your question about NATO and unity, I don't think there's any doubt about NATO's unity today. And we need to keep it that way going forward. And that requires us to be attentive to the problems and challenges that affect all of the members.

So, for example, we talked earlier today about the East and Russia. I spoke about that in Berlin. I also talked about in the south, the problems of refugees, instability in Northern Africa and the Middle East, which is affecting the so-called southern tier of Europe.

And so, there are more than one challenge for Europe, and the point I was making this morning is that a unified Europe can do more than one thing at one time. That's required now. And it's showing all those all the resolve and unity that it always has, over, now, many decades.

Q: So, do I understand you right, that the VJTF will only be deployed into NATO countries and not to any nonmembers countries?

(UNKNOWN): Can I? I mean, collective defense of (inaudable) is a priority as we speak, but we're facing several threats on the eastern flank, on the southern flank. There is no such thing as setting priorities in these threats.

And I also think that we have three core tasks, which is collective defense for support, but also crisis management and cooperative security. So the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force was established within the framework of the reassurance measures and the readiness action plan, but it's not limited in the future to just, you know, being deployed on NATO soil.

MODERATOR: Our last question will come from George Dyer of Financial Times.

Q: Thank you very much.

Question for Secretary Carter and for Minister von der Leyen. You've talked about the exercise you must held for the VJTF and for the U.S. capabilities you're now going to make available to the force.

I wonder if you could put that in a bit of broader context, first. If Russia was to try and launch a sort of Crimea-style hybrid warfare type operation to take control of a slice of territory, for instance in a Baltic state, would this force now be able to respond in an effective and timely manner to such an operation?

And, if not, what other capabilities and resources would you need to be able to respond in that way?

CARTER: Well, whether -- there are actually lots of different kinds of capabilities, of which the VJTF is one. I gave you an indication of some of them earlier.

With respect to the problem of so-called hybrid warfare, destabilization, the kind of thing that we've seen in Ukraine, it's very important, and NATO does participate in this, to increase the resilience of NATO members to exactly that kind of a malign influence.

In new domains, like cyber, I'll be in Estonia tomorrow, where the Cyber Center of Excellence is located. So, speed and agility of forces is an important ingredient. It's one of the ones that was illustrated by the very successful activities of the VJTF here, but it's one in a portfolio of steps that NATO's taking, that make up the so-called new playbook to ensure the security of all of its partners.

And, while I'm at it, I'll say that there's an important nondefense dimension to security today, both in respect of so-called hybrid warfare, but also in respect of the -- of the challenge I was describing in the southern tier not long ago, I mean just a few moments ago.

That's something which is a whole-of-government, as the expression goes, kind of difficulty. And where the habits of cooperation among the militaries, illustrated by NATO, can be and actually is matched with other agencies of government that are necessary to deal with those other challenges.

So it's a new playbook that has a number of different dimensions to it.

MODERATOR: So I don't see any further questions. Thank you very much.

SEC. CARTER: Thank you.

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