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Press Conference by Secretary Hagel at NATO Headquarters, Brussels, Belgium

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel
June 04, 2014

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. I'm Rear Admiral John Kirby, Pentagon press secretary. Secretary Hagel will open up with a couple of comments at the top, and then we'll have time for four questions, and I'll be moderating the questions and calling on the reporters.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: John, thank you. Good afternoon. NATO's defense ministers have, as you know, just completed another NATO ministerial at a critical moment. And I think the two days that we had during this ministerial were particularly productive days.

I'd like to address why I think these two days were particularly important and productive. First, in a session of the North Atlantic Council, we discussed Russia's recent actions in Ukraine, actions that constitute the most significant and direct challenge to European security since the end of the Cold War. Days before the 70th anniversary of allied landings at Normandy, an anniversary I will mark by joining President Obama later this week, we all agreed the last two days here at NATO headquarters that we must continue to uphold the credibility of this alliance and the credibility of the international order that European security has anchored for seven decades.

To date, NATO has acted with strength and resolve. All 28 NATO allies have contributed to NATO's reassurance measures in Central and Eastern Europe, ranging from new joint exercises to an enhanced air, ground and sea presence. And we are exploring ways to do more.

The United States will continue to do our part as President Obama demonstrated and announced yesterday, with that announcement of a $1 billion European reassurance initiative. This initiative will enable the United States to help maintain the readiness of allied forces and expand our reassurance measures throughout Central and Eastern Europe.

The United States will also be reviewing its force presence in Europe. In light of the new regional security environment, it would be irresponsible for us not to.

We need to contend with fiscal realities, as well. Each of the NATO countries is faced with this reality. Over the last two days, all of us spoke candidly about the challenges posed by Europe's declining defense budgets, challenges that force the United States to carry a more and more disproportionate share of the alliance's burden.

Over the long term, current spending trends threaten NATO's integrity and NATO's capabilities, if we don't reverse that trend. America's sustained commitment, as demonstrated by the president's new European reassurance initiative, should be met with renewed European resolve to invest in its own defenses.

The upcoming summit in Wales is an opportunity for allies to issue a definitive clarification that reverses the current trends and rebalance the alliance's burden-sharing. And members should arrive at the summit already taken steps in the right direction. Some already have; some announced the last two days that they were doing that. Latvia, Lithuania and Romania recently made commitments to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense, and yesterday, here at NATO, Poland and the Czech Republic announced new commitments to increase their defense spending.

Turning to Afghanistan, this ministerial provided an opportunity to discuss the details of President Obama's decision last week to maintain a limited military presence in Afghanistan and also to provide the bulk of the forces for a NATO follow-on mission after 2014, subject to a signed bilateral security agreement, a SOFA agreement.

My discussions today with ISAF defense ministers underscore that our allies in partners remain committed to Afghan's long-term security and to the pledges made at the Chicago summit two years ago. With both Afghanistan presidential candidates having already pledged to sign the bilateral security agreement and NATO's status-of-forces agreement, we should now move to finalize the operations plan for resolute support and secure firm commitments on troop contributions.

The force generation conference later this month will provided that opportunity. And the Wales summit will allow us to reaffirm our continued commitment to a more hopeful future for Afghanistan and the region. Together with the Afghan people, coalition nations have worked too hard and sacrificed too much not to carry out efforts to the next stage to be successful.

We also discussed the concrete capabilities NATO must invest -- invest as we transition out of more than a decade of war, because NATO must be prepared for the full spectrum of missions, including those against sophisticated adversaries with advanced technologies and against new asymmetric threats. We need capabilities that balance NATO's three core tasks -- collective defense; crisis management; and cooperative security.

Finally, we held sessions of the NATO-Ukraine and NATO-Georgia Commissions. We welcomed Russia's recognition of Ukraine's recent election results as a step in the right direction, but we will continue to stand united against Russia's aggression in Crimea and its destabilizing actions in eastern Ukraine and we are still carefully monitoring Russia's military presence along the Ukrainian border.

I outlined American assistance for political and economic reform and our non-lethal assistance to Ukraine's armed forces and border guard. The United States has already offered $18 million in non-lethal security assistance to Ukraine, and today, as you all know, President Obama announced another $5 million for the purchase of body armor and other equipment, bringing our total security assistance of non-lethal aid to $23 million.

In our meeting with Georgia, the defense ministers affirmed our close partnership and recognize Georgia's distinction as the largest non-NATO contributor to the ISAF mission in Afghanistan, a role that has come at considerable sacrifice for the people of Georgia. We thank Georgia for its pledge to maintain a battalion in Afghanistan post-2014 and to offer substantial resources to the Afghan national security forces.

And all aspiring NATO members, their achievements and contributions deserve to be recognized when alliance foreign ministers review their progress later this month. In short, we got a lot of work done, didn't get it all done, got a lot of work done.

Each of our nations face serious fiscal and political challenge. We recognize that. But it's been clear over the last two days that all of us are as committed as ever to the future of this alliance. There is much more work to be done, and we need to stay committed. We will. We need to press for new and sustained defense spending. We need to ensure allied capabilities can help deter any nation from threatening its neighbors here in this area.

I leave this ministerial today assured that my fellow defense ministers grasp the enormity of NATO's challenges. They are sobering. But I also am confident that together we will ensure NATO remains an anchor for security, freedom, and prosperity here in Europe and around the world for many decades to come.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, one, could you -- what do you envision the counterterrorism force in Afghanistan post-2014 doing? And what kind of allied help do you hope for with that mission? And on Sergeant Bergdahl, can you say that no U.S. soldiers died in the hunt for Sergeant Bergdahl in 2009?

SEC. HAGEL: On Sergeant Bergdahl, I do not know of specific circumstances or details of U.S. soldiers dying as a result of efforts to find and rescue Sergeant Bergdahl. I am not aware of those specific details or any -- any facts regarding that -- that issue.

As you all know, Secretary of the Army McHugh put out a statement yesterday. He, the Army will conduct a comprehensive review of all the circumstances regarding Sergeant Bergdahl's disappearance. And I think I would leave it there. Let's get the facts, but let's first focus on getting Sergeant Bergdahl well, getting his health back, getting him reunified with his family.

Let's not forget, Sergeant Bergdahl is a member of the United States armed forces. He is a sergeant in the United States Army. The United States of America has and always will have a responsibility for getting its soldiers back. Other questions and facts regarding Sergeant Bergdahl will be dealt with at a later time.

As to the counterterrorism question in Afghanistan post-2014, this will be an area that gets some specific focus, considerable focus in the force generation conference later this month. As we sort out roles, we are sorting out our specific numbers of our forces that will be devoted to that effort. But it's clear, as the president said, that is one of two missions that we have post-2014 in Afghanistan, first, train, assist, advise, second is counterterrorism.

QUESTION: Thanks. The first thing is, the good news about the war that we're facing in Ukraine is that we have started finally realize the aggressor and that -- and that it follows the lines adjusted, you know, by Adolf Hitler almost 100 years ago by now. So the question is -- you know, the Ukrainian society starts to realize that, and that's one of the good news. The bad news is this is a very slow war prepared with the huge propaganda with the very, very well-prepared forces that start, you know, conducting what they do.

The question is, do you plan some sort of, you know, lend-lease program or something like that, that would support states that are not yet members of the NATO, but -- but are loyal to democratic alliances and priorities? Are you going to -- how do you plan to support states like Ukraine, like Georgia, financially speaking? That's it. Thank you.

SEC. HAGEL: Well, I think to start with, we have a continued -- will continue, and part of what we did here at NATO in the last two days, was specific areas of focus of continued support for Ukraine, to people of Ukraine and Georgia. To give you some examples, particularly Ukraine, we just had our assistant secretary of defense and our deputy assistant secretary of defense in Ukraine the last few days working with the Ukrainian government on focusing on capacity-building and their institutions, their Defense Department reform. We'll continue to do that. We'll have another team going in shortly. We have NATO partners who are also involved in that. The economic development assistance will continue in different -- different forms.

So we're well underway in helping the government of Ukraine, helping them build their institutions, develop their capacities, Defense Department reform, other reforms. That's in addition to the [INAUDIBLE] things that I have already noted. And that'll be important as countries develop and shape.

So there are many fronts that we'll continue to work on. Georgia, it's the same. We do a lot of training with the Georgians. We'll continue to do that, not just in Afghanistan, capacity-building for their institutions, reform, where we can do joint exercises, which we do a lot of that.

So there are many, many different avenues and approaches that we take to help countries like Ukraine and Georgia and will continue to do that, because in the end, that's critically important, as nations build their own capacities, their own abilities to defend themselves, their own abilities to support themselves and govern. And in the end, that's what makes the difference.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Back to Bergdahl, if I could ask you a little more personally, since you last spoke with us, he's received lots of criticism from his platoon mates, from the public, and now members of Congress, including Senator Feinstein. Do you think that criticism is warranted? Does he deserve it? And he's a sergeant now. You were a sergeant. Does he still deserve to be a sergeant?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, I'm going to answer it this way, not dissimilar from what I said before. Sergeant Bergdahl is a member of the armed forces of the United States of America. That is a fact. And I think Chairman Dempsey's statement yesterday and comments say it all.

Until we get facts, until we have, as Secretary of the Army McHugh noted, a review of all the circumstances, it's not in the interest of anyone, and certainly I think a bit unfair to Sergeant Bergdahl's family and to him to presume anything. We don't do that in the United States. We rely on facts.

And you mentioned me being a sergeant, as well. It's not my place as a former sergeant in the United States Army, which I am very proud of, to decide who's worthy of being a sergeant and who isn't. And I think any further talk of that is irresponsible.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Would U.S. have relation -- military relation with Afghanistan after 2016?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, I would go back to what President Obama announced, that as we transition from our combat role in Afghanistan over the last 11, 12 years, into a new role post-2014 -- and, by the way, this isn't a new dimension or dynamic or it isn't a recent decision. The transition of United States forces and involvement, as well as our partners, that was established at the Lisbon conference in 2010, so everybody's been much aware of that process and the transition.

So we transition through 2015, through 2016, to your question, and as we get into 2017, President Obama has said clearly then our military role would be to, of course, support, as we do all of our embassies, we would have a normal regular military-to-military relationship. Now, that's in addition to, by the way, the commitments that all the NATO partners made in Chicago in 2012, continued economic assistance, continued assistance in development.

So we fully intend to continue to commit, as well as our NATO partners, assisting Afghanistan as it further develops and builds its -- its capacity, which they've made pretty remarkable progress on. I think, again, when you just look at what's happened the last few weeks, the presidential election they have coming up, the final election, presidential election, the run-off election in about 10 days, peaceful transition of governments, that's pretty remarkable.

And I think it is some indication of the progress that has been made and it's been made, first, by the commitment of the Afghan people and their willingness to make the sacrifices it takes to build a country, a free country of rights, a democratic country, the sacrifices made by NATO and ISAF countries, not just the blood sacrifice, but the treasure and the commitment to help the people of Afghanistan be free and build their own country and make their own choices. Thank you.

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