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Media Availability with Secretary Hagel Enroute to South Korea

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Press Secretary George Little
September 29, 2013


Good afternoon, everybody had lunch I hope, maybe even a nap.

I think most of you got some kind of a brief yesterday on what we're doing -- the agenda for the next few days, so I -- I won't cover that same ground but let me just make a couple of general opening comments about what we're doing over here and what we are going to be involved with over the next five, six days and then we'll go to questions.

This is my third trip to this part of the world since I've been secretary of defense. The President's rebalance and focus on the Asia Pacific is a policy that's clearly in the interest of the United States and I -- I think the Asia Pacific region, we have always been a Pacific power. As you look at the demographics and you look at where the world is trending, the strength of the developing economies in this part of the world, it's clear that it -- it will become an even more important and shaping and defining region of the world. So it's important that the United States pay attention and continue to strengthen and enhance our relationships here.

The two countries I'll be visiting will include some specific areas and reasons that I'm going to be in South Korea and Japan. As you know we'll be in Seoul first, South Korea. The first event that we will be engaged in is noting the 60th anniversary of the U.S./Korea Mutual Defense Treaty. That's a treaty that has served the interests of both our nations very well the last 60 years as well as the Asia Pacific.

We will also be involved in a number of conversations with senior leaders including the president of the Republic of Korea. We will spend a day at the 45th Security Consecutive Meeting working through some of the new issues, some of the challenges that confront our countries in the region and the 21st century.

Then we'll go to Japan after change of command ceremonies in South Korea where the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Dempsey will be with me, as well as Admiral Locklear, the PACOM [U.S. Pacific Command] commander. Then we'll go to Tokyo where I'll meet Secretary Kerry for the first 2+2 meetings held in Tokyo. We'll spend the day there, Secretary Kerry and I with our counterparts, the Japanese Foreign Minister and Defense Minister. We'll see Prime Minister Abe and included in all the stops will be meetings with our senior military officials in both countries and meetings that I'll have with our troops at different bases in different locations in Japan and South Korea.

I think that kind of sets the stage on what we're going to do and why and again, I say especially at a time when the United States in particular is focused on internal domestic issues beginning with the budget, whether we're going to have a budget, whether there will be shutdown. I think it's -- it's very, very important that we continue to assure our allies in this region of the world that we are committed to these alliances and yes, we have the ups and downs like all democracies do and we'll work our through these domestic challenges that we are currently engaged in, in the United States.

Also, because of what happened this week at the United Nations regarding Syria and Iran, both very important. And I think both positive, the events that we saw occur. But that does not take away from the importance and the continued commitment of the United States’ involvement in this part of the world. So I think aside from all of the -- the events that are coinciding during this period of time, because of what else is going on in the United States and the world, it's important that we spend some time out here. And as you know, the President will be out here, I think the week after next visiting four countries. Secretary Kerry will meet the President as well as he's got some of his own agenda after we finish up on Tokyo later this week.

So with that, we'll go to questions.


Q: Mr. Secretary, on Korea, there's been a lot of discussion about the South Koreans suggesting they may want to delay the turnover of wartime control. What do you think of that? Do you think that's a good idea and what sort of opportunities does that give the United States to assist South Korea?

And then a quick little question on Syria. Do you expect now with these recent developments to maintain the current military posture in the Mediterranean or do you think with what's happened now you'll be able to free up some of the military ships and all that are there?

SEC. HAGEL: Thank you.

On your first question regarding the issues we'll discuss in South Korea, always there -- there are realignments of responsibilities that are constantly being evaluated. That was the whole point 45 years ago of the security consolitive [sic: consultative] meetings and why we have them every year.

As we see new challenges and new threats, new sophisticated missile threats, certainly cyber, different capabilities, command and control, those are all important issues that we have always worked through with our ROK [Republic of Korea] partners. As we evolve and the sophistication and the strength of their force structures evolve, we're constantly reevaluating each of our roles. That does not at all subtract from or in any way weaken our commitment, the United States’ commitment to the treaty obligations we have and will continue to have with -- with the South Koreans. So we will discuss all of those issues. I don't believe we'll be in a position to make any final decisions but with Admiral Locklear there, with General Dempsey there with the new commander, General Scaparrotti, we'll have some very, very good conversations about this, this week.

As you may know I spoke at some length with my counterpart, the South Korean Defense Minister as well as the South Korean National Security Advisor about some of these issues and as I think you know, I have had fairly regular conversations with the South Korean Defense Minister about all these different issues as well as General Dempsey.

Regarding your question concerning our force posture in the Mediterranean and in the Middle East, there is no change in our force posture. I think the President made that very clear. We are looking forward to the next steps as a result of the U.N. Security Council unanimous resolutions. We've had a team back in the Hague, the Defense Department working with the -- the chemical weapons group there and our allies there and the OPCW [Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] and the Russians and we'll -- we'll continue to work with them and -- and work through some of the specifics and the details of what needs to be done next, the next steps of making these agreements operational, to make sure we can take the next steps that will assure the -- the dismantling and the removal of chemical weapons in -- in Syria. But as I think the President has made very clear, our force posture remains the same.


Q: Mr. Secretary, if I could ask you a big picture question on Korea. You know, this is 60 years after all since the alliance began. By all appearances this base realignment that's going on with the United States moving its -- its very bases to two more enduring locations, operational control question. How much longer can we safely assume that we'll be there decades longer with this kind of footprint? Or is it conceivable do you see in the next several years that there could be realignment with our forces on the Korea Peninsula as we're seeing elsewhere in Asia? In Japan, we're moving things around, South East Asia, we're increasing our presence. Do you -- do you think this is going to be fixed for the foreseeable future on the Korean Peninsula or could that conceivably change in the next decade or two?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, I don't think anything is fixed for decades at a time. That's the point I addressed here a few minutes ago about there's always a review and a realignment of responsibilities and forces and these are always and must be relevant to the challenges and to the threats. And that's why we have these very, not just annual, but -- but regular consultative meetings for all of our senior leaders, but all of our leaders here with General Thurman in Seoul, what he's been doing.

All the of the commanders that we've had, when they work with our South Korean, their counterparts, our allies, is -- is a constant reevaluation and where things would stand in a decade or two as to what would be our role, what would be our particular force structure commitments, I can't answer that. The fact is the -- the South Koreans have become much more sophisticated, much more capable, much more qualified over the last ten years in particular. And we've had a tremendous working relationship with our -- our forces and that will continue. And obviously, what treaties are about and alliances are about is to support each other and they have to always be balanced as to each partner's contributions and each partner continues to get stronger and better.

So I know that's not a definitive answer but I don't think anybody could predict what kind of a -- of a commitment we would have in particular in that -- in that situation.


Q: Hi, sir. I wanted to ask you about what capabilities the South Koreans need to field or at least have in the pipeline over the next two or three years as they take over operational -- operational command? Yeah, a better ISR [Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance], improved missile defense, more standoff weapons, I mean the capabilities you'd like to see in the pipeline or at least fielded in the next couple of year?

SEC. HAGEL: Well I think -- I think the big ones are what we've identified already and what we're working with. Obviously missile defense is a -- is a huge part of this. ISR, intelligence surveillance reconnaissance, command and control is a very big part of all this, different munitions. Those would be four I -- I would think are the biggest ones that we have been working with the South Koreans on. We are -- are talking with them now, we have been, we will be discussing these issues over the next few days.

Q: Thanks, budget question.

We're facing another possible government shutdown, may cause more furloughs for civilians at the DOD, some for the second time and, you know, in as many months. What's the message for them at this point -- the civilians at this point? And also, I believe you were due some sort of report on reduction in -- in the headquarters commands. Anything you can tell us about that?

SEC. HAGEL: The first question regarding civilians and what's going on now, I assume you all are up to date on what the House, my understanding is supposed to vote on this afternoon.

We're obviously looking at the language. This is all fairly new in the -- the different variations of what we understand, what we are just being told that came out of the Republican Caucus, what the Speaker probably is going to put on the floor this afternoon. So we haven't seen everything so I can't get into -- to the specifics of what this -- what would this exactly would mean on exempting civilians or one part of the bill I understand would -- or maybe a different vote on a separate bill would be to fund just the military not civilians, maybe civilians, I -- I don't know.

But -- but -- but just my general thought on this, this is an astoundingly irresponsible way to govern. And when you look at the greatest democracy in the world, the largest economy in the world and we're putting our people through this, that's not leadership, that's -- that's abdication of responsibilities. And -- and I would hope that we would have enough members of Congress find some common ground to govern and at least make the big decisions in the larger interest of this country.

You know, when you look at the defense of America, it isn't just the -- the military, our civilian employees -- our civilian components are integral parts of the defense and security of the United States of America. The entire support base for our military, the fighters, comes from the civilian community.

And by the way, it's not just civilian employees in the Department of Defense. What about transportation? What about border security? What about our economy? What about ensuring that our people get paid? And that all the support that is required to field a quality military, the best military in the world is not just about the military, it -- it's government wide. It's in the private sector.

And so to try to make decisions on whether you're going to keep our government open or not and then maybe exempt the military, is -- is -- is really dangerously shortsighted and irresponsible because what this will lead to -- what this will lead to in the United States of America, if this continues, is we will have a country that's ungovernable because whatever political party or coalition of votes that wants to hold a nation hostage to whatever political whim they have or what political price they want the other people to pay, and if you don't do it, we'll shut down the government and that affects our economy. That's amazing to me.

So this is complicated. This isn't just about one department. And obviously, as Secretary of Defense, I will do everything I can to support our people, the military, our civilian employees, but I -- I look at the civilian employees in the -- in our -- in our Department of Defense who've had to undergo this year, administrative furloughs and by -- my heart breaks, everybody’s heart breaks, for these families. And then maybe by law they would be furloughed and maybe get -- maybe get paid and maybe not.

And then if you just look at the military, for example, if you want to start breaking that down into some of the defining dimensions of the bill, you take an E4 in Afghanistan fighting a war, the E4 probably is married, may have a child or two and he -- he or she would have to worry about the uncertainty of getting paid, and by the way, the way some of this is written, this legislation, is that well, the military will eventually get paid but maybe, depending on how long a shutdown would go, they may not -- they may miss a paycheck. Well an E4 over in Afghanistan probably doesn't have a lot of excess money, especially if they're married and have a couple of kids. I hope someone in Congress is starting to think a little bit about that, about what they're putting our people through.

Now your other point, I've been meeting all week long with Former Air Force Secretary, Mike Donnelly, who I've asked to take one piece of this, the Office of Secretary of Defense, as well as -- as you know, Ash Carter has got the overall responsibility, meeting with Ash, meeting with our people. Between the comptrollers back and forth on trying to keep our part of the government open, and looking at the longer range plans for how -- how we do this, I'm spending a lot of time on this.

We're close to finalizing some of the recommendations that are coming my way but nothing final has been decided but -- but we're close.

Q: Thank you, sir.

MR. LITTLE: We'll turn to Gordon Lubold next.

Q: Hi Mr. Secretary. Just back on the shutdown, I'm curious, have you lobbied personally any of the members of Congress given the kind of unique situation the Pentagon finds itself in confronting a shutdown? Is there a need for that? Would that be useful? Have you done that?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, I don't lobby but I do respond and when I am asked questions by members of Congress, I will give a forthright and honest answer and I have been talking with members of Congress from both parties, both House members and Senators as -- as all of our leaders have. Our chiefs were just up -- our chiefs of the services were up last week as you know in the Senate and they were asked a number of rather direct questions about some of these -- these -- these issues and as I have told all our leaders from the -- from the first day I came on the job, always be honest and direct. Don't overstate but don't understate it. Give them -- give -- give our -- our leaders, our Congress, our President, the media, the press your most honest direct opinions and that's what they've done and that's -- that's what I've done.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

I'm from Japan and Japanese journalist. The Japanese government has started the process of revising the Constitution as you know and if you are told by Japanese counterparts in the near future meeting in Tokyo that they are moving ahead with revising the Article 9 of the Constitution and having -- and enabling the safe defense forces to operate abroad, and what would you react?

SEC. HAGEL: Excuse me, did you say how would I react to what?

Q: Yes, how do you react to when the Japanese counterpart will told you that they are doing a revising the Constitution of the Article 9 of the Constitution?

SEC. HAGEL: Oh -- oh thank you.

Well, I don't advise other countries on what they should say or how they should revise their Constitutions. What I do do, however, is in consultation and coordination with a treaty partner, one of our strongest allies in the world, when they ask for thoughts on national security, not just the relationship between Japan and the United States but other dimensions of -- as they look at possibly reshaping and rewording and redefining their national security apparatus and there's where we can help and play a role.

Every country must make its own decisions for their own reasons. That's up to the people of Japan to make those decisions.

MR. LITTLE: All right, looks like that's a wrap. Thank you everyone.


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