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Press Availability with Secretary Carter at NATO Headquarters, Brussels, Belgium

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Ash Carter
June 25, 2015

STAFF: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us today. I appreciate it.

I would like to introduce Ashton Carter, the secretary of defense of the United States, who will give a couple of remarks, then we'll take a few questions.

With that, Secretary Carter.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER: Thanks very much Brent.

And thank you all for being here today.

Having been in this building myself many times over the years, including way back when I chaired NATO's High-Level Group nearly two decades ago, it's been a privilege to be here for my first ministerial as the United States secretary of defense. And I want to thank Secretary-General Stoltenberg and General Breedlove for their leadership.

Like my visits to Berlin, Munster and Tallinn, my meetings here with my NATO counterparts in Brussels affirmed that while some in Europe are trying to create division and take us backward in time, NATO allies are only growing more united in their resolve to move forward together. And to meet new security challenges in both the south and the east, we're adapting, using a new playbook, leveraging the lessons of history, and our unique strengths.

With respect to the east, I described the new U.S. strategic approach to aggressive and threatening behavior by Russia, an approach that is both strong and balanced, and in which commitment to the NATO alliance is a critical part.

One part of our new playbook is NATO's very high Readiness Joint Task Force, of VJTF. When I visited members on the VJTF on Monday, I announced that the United States would provide many unique enabling capabilities to strengthen its effectiveness. Here in Brussels this morning and yesterday both, I informed our allies that these enablers would encompass 10 specific categories, namely intra-theater and strategic lift; airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; combat sustainment support; mid-air refueling; an air and space expeditionary wing; naval support assets; precision joint-fires; combat helicopters; a deployable command post; and special operations air and maritime capabilities.

Another part of our new playbook is how we're adjusting our posture and presence to help facilitate training and exercises, and make our forces more agile, mobile and responsive. As I announced in Estonia, the United States will temporarily stage in Central and Eastern Europe a pre-positioned European activity set of the tanks, infantry-fighting vehicles, artillery and associated equipment needed for one armored brigade combat team. Two of the battalion sets are already in Europe and a third will be here shortly.

We're also adapting to counter newer challenges like cyber and hybrid warfare. In cyberspace, we're building on our commitment to strengthen NATO's Cyber Defense Center of Excellence so it can help nations develop cyber strategies, critical infrastructure protection plans, and cyber defense posture assessments. I also asked allies to participate more in cyber exercises, and I encouraged them to work toward meeting NATO's cyber defense targets so that, similar to NATO's common standards for ammunition, we can all meet the highest standards for cybersecurity.

To make sure allied nations are prepared to counter hybrid warfare, we need to understand the tactics, techniques, procedures and resource implications that are required to do so. I've asked Secretary-General Stoltenberg to make this a priority at our next defense ministerial. Also because hybrid tactics are not exclusively military, countering them here in Europe will require working with non-NATO partners like the European Union.

Also in today's meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission, as well as my bilateral meeting with my Ukrainian counterpart, I reaffirmed the United States' commitment to standing with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. Political and economic pressure is key to countering Russia's ongoing aggression in eastern Ukraine and so I thanked our European allies and partners for making the vitally important decision earlier this week to extend the EU sanctions.

And America's support for Ukraine is ongoing and robust, totaling $238 million so far in security assistance. Right now, for example, 300 U.S. paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade are in Yavoriv training the Ukrainian National Guard.

I also met today with Afghanistan's minister of defense-designate, Acting Minister Stanikzai. And in NATO's meeting of our alliance's Resolute Support mission, I reiterated our shared commitment to helping Afghanistan ensure that the gains made over a decade of war stick.

One final topic we discussed over the last two days was the importance of meeting the defense investment pledge that all NATO heads of state committed to in Wales last year. This is an issue that President Obama had raised earlier this month when he met with leaders of the G-7, most of whom are also NATO allies. And I appreciate the secretary-general's commitment this week to confronting it head-on because every ally has a responsibility to make sure that that pledge means something.

Before returning to Washington, I'll be stopping tomorrow in Grafenwoehr, Germany, where nearly 5,000 American, NATO and partner forces from 14 nations have been training and building interoperability under exercise Combined Resolve IV. I'm looking forward to thanking these troops, as I thanked sailors and Marines aboard the USS San Antonio in Tallinn harbor the day before yesterday, for what they're doing for European security. Those magnificent troops are proof of our alliance's deep commitment and America's deep resolve to stand up for our shared security and the shared principles that make the members of our alliance the envy of so many.

That commitment is and will remain unshakable.

Thank you. And I'd be happy to take your questions.

STAFF: Great. Thank you. We'll take a few questions from the press now.

Q: (inaudible), Foreign Policy-Romania.

(CROSSTALK)

Q: (inaudible) -- Romania. I'm wondering, Mr. Secretary, how does the United States plan to counterbalance the current Russian military buildup in Crimea and Kaliningrad? And specifically the -- (inaudible) -- anti-access A2/AD -- (inaudible) -- capabilities? And at the same time, I'm wondering how has NATO factored in this new structural variable that seems to concern General Ben Hodges a few weeks ago in Breslau in the planning of the VJTF? Thank you.

SEC. CARTER: Yes. The -- the United States, and I'll come to NATO in just a moment, but just speaking for the United States first, I described a strategic approach of strong and balanced. And in "strong" includes our work with the alliance, which I can come back to, but also includes specific investments that the United States is making and will be making, that have in part, at least, the objective of countering A2/AD threats in the European area. I say only partly because there are other A2/AD threats elsewhere in the world. So that is a major part of U.S. military strategy generally.

With respect to NATO, the same intention holds of NATO. We talked here about NATO's adaptation. And this is -- to the future -- and the future looks different than it did just last summer in that both on the eastern flank of NATO and on the southern flank of NATO, new situations have developed which it's the responsibility of the alliance to provide collective security of its members of.

And that explains why this NATO moment today and yesterday is so important. Because it represents the pivot to the future, if you like, of the NATO alliance in several respects. First, in the way that we deploy and operate and rotate and keep present in Europe forces, which is where the VJTF comes in and the European activity sets; second, in regard to new forms of warfare that in years past weren't present, like cyber; the phenomenon of hybrid warfare, which we saw unfold in Ukraine, to get to your reference to -- to Crimea and Ukraine.

And these are all examples of NATO now understanding its need to change, change the way it operates, change the way it invests, change the way it plans, change the way it makes decisions to deal with these new circumstances. And I won't go into the southern flank, but that has to do with both the terrorism threat associated with extremism in the Middle East and North Africa, and also the sad issue of refugees fleeing from poorly governed or ungoverned areas there.

Since you mentioned Crimea, it's worth saying once again that the annexation of Crimea last summer by Russia violated international law and that its behavior with respect to Ukraine in general is a violation of several documents, one of which I witnessed the signing of in 1994 in Budapest -- that's just one of them -- and hence the reason for us all to remain strong and balanced with respect to Russia.

STAFF: The first question from the U.S. delegation is from Gordon Lubold with the Wall Street Journal.

Q: Mr. Secretary, I want to draw your attention to the southern flank that you've been talking about and mentioned today.

You know, as you know, in 2011, NATO led the mission to oust Moammar Gadhafi. Now the country's in -- I think it could be described as a chaotic environment.

I know that you've all been talking about a role for capacity building in Iraq, but I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about the proper role, if there is one, for NATO in Libya and also how you see this getting paid for, because I think that's probably a primary concern.

SEC. CARTER: The -- well, I -- I think we all do see a role for NATO in general in hardening states, that is, helping them have the capacity themselves to resist threats, be they non-state threats, which is what's prevalent in North Africa and the Middle East, or state threats, which is the concern in the eastern flank.

With -- and so that is part of NATO's adaptation and NATO's dealing with these two problems, is not to do everything itself but to enable others. And that's a philosophy that the United States shares in its security thinking as well wherever that's possible, and we've obviously seen that in places like Afghanistan, which we discussed today.

The situation in Libya is one of an unresolved political dispute giving space to terrorism, which is why it's so important to have that resolved politically, and that is being worked on as well.

With respect to who pays for partnership capacity, in this respect, as in so many other respects, NATO is a collective security organization, and we count everybody to make their contributions and to keep their pledges once they have made a contribution.

That's why the satisfaction of the Wales pledge is -- which has to do with their overall aggregate defense spending and also their -- take another example, their keeping to their pledges for the Afghan security forces after 2017, which was discussed today. It is a collective organization, and so it's funded by the collective contributions of the individual NATO members, so that issue always comes up.

But I think in this theme of building partner capacity, the alliance is pretty unified that that is a high-leverage way of spending money when you can do it.

Q: Can I just follow up real quick? Do you see a proper role for NATO in Libya, though, in particular? Can you address that --

SEC. CARTER: I think the NATO nations do, yes, and including the -- the U.S., which is willing to do that.

Of course, we have to see a political settlement and a foundation and a -- a government that we can support, which there's -- there are U.N.-sponsored negotiations going on there that we wish every success.

And then I think, just speaking for the United States and not for the alliance, we'd be willing to -- to do that. It makes good sense.

STAFF: Farid Ahmad, TOLO News?

Q: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. My name is Farid Ahmad, TOLO News.

As the activity of ISIS and DAESH is increasing in Afghanistan -- especially, it's a big threat, like, for woman, and it has -- brings some concern for the neighboring countries -- do you think it is a big challenge or a big problem it will -- ISIS will create a problem for the future of Afghanistan and the region?

And also, I would like to know your commitment to Afghanistan beyond 2016, especially on the Air Force.

Thank you very much.

SEC. CARTER: Okay. With respect to the first question, what we see very frequently in Afghanistan is -- with respect to ISIL, is a rebranding of people who are already in the battlefield, who are now adopting this new name, which they regard as a better replacement for names they've had in the past.

So one needs to distinguish that from the creation of brand new fighters, the relabeling. And what we see mostly is that relabeling.

Now, there're other things going on to our -- after considerable encouragement, both by -- from us and from Afghanistan, the Pakistani security forces are more active on their side of the border, and we're informed that that also is a dynamic which has fighters essentially fleeing into Afghanistan.

So there're several things going on with respect to the -- the threat, and that's connected to your second part because the United States does intend and NATO has pledged to both complete the Resolute Support operation and to have a continuing commitment to the support of the Afghan security forces after December 2016.

And I'll just tell you, because I told the defense ministers in there today, that it is certainly my intention and my direction to put in the U.S. defense budget for 2017, which I'm preparing, that funding for 2017 for Afghanistan.

I say that because it is not the case that the United States or NATO is leaving Afghanistan; we intend to remain in the role of advice and assistance and in support to the Afghan security forces, which have shown themselves to be so brave and so courageous and -- and capable over this last fighting season.

STAFF: Our final question will come from T.M. Gibbons-Neff from the Washington Post.

Q: Afternoon.

Mr. Secretary, there're 65,000 U.S. forces in Europe now. In lieu of the current security climate, have you ruled out increasing that number?

And if you're going to rely mainly on rotational forces to accomplish the missions you've announced this week and others, what will the average force level be? Going forward, will it, in fact, be higher?

SEC. CARTER: We're not looking at increasing the number of forces permanently based in Europe at this time. We are instead looking for persistent presence based upon rotational forces. That is a -- a more efficient way from a readiness point of view and intensity of the engagement in terms of training and so forth to provide persistent presence here in Europe.

So that, in fact, is the entire purpose of the European activity sets, is to support that kind of rotational presence, which, by the way, we do in the Pacific as well.

So that's the way we're approaching presence in the future.

STAFF: Great. Do one quick.

Q: Just quickly, so if it's a rotational presence, is that number only going to come within the allotted 65,000, or is there going to be more coming from outside the region during that rotation?

SEC. CARTER: Well, that'll vary from time to time depending upon what exercises are being held, what the situation is in the theater and so forth.

So the number -- I think the point is that the number of people who are permanently stationed in Europe is going to be as -- never was actually the sole measure of either day-to-day presence and certainly not of commitment, because in a crisis, more than the day-to-day presence levels of forces would obviously be introduced to reinforce deterrents.

STAFF: Thank you very much. I appreciate your time. Have a good rest of the day.

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