Carter Sees DOD Strategy at Work on Europe, Middle East Trip
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 7, 2013 Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter saw critical elements of the new defense strategy at work in European and Middle East nations and in a bilateral meeting with Indian defense officials during a six-day international trip that ended last night.
Carter met with defense leaders in Paris, at the 49th Munich Security Conference in Germany, and in Turkey and Jordan.
“I had the opportunity to congratulate the French on what is so far a very successful mission in Mali, and also to discuss with them where they go from here,” Carter told American Forces Press Service aboard his aircraft during his return flight.
“I was pleased to learn that they have a clear strategy for making the effort there -- one that includes a political settlement in Mali between the government in Bamako and a longstanding separatist group … that contributes to making the [northern part of the country] a place where radicals can take hold,” the deputy secretary added.
Carter said such a settlement has to be part of the future in Mali, as does helping the Malian forces bolster their capabilities until they can assume full responsibility for their own national security.
In remarks at the 49th Munich Security Conference, Carter said European defense spending is “falling to a level below which they will be incapable of independent action, and that’s inconsistent with the historic role of Europe in security affairs.”
France was able to carry out an independent operation in Mali, he added, but “few other European nations could do that, and if French defense spending is cut further, France won’t be capable of doing it, either.”
Such declining defense budgets worry the United States, which has counted on European partners, Carter said. And for the first time at a Munich conference, he sounded the alarm about the United States’ own unstable defense budget.
“This time, an American defense official is not only castigating Europeans but castigating our own political gridlock -- which, if it isn’t resolved, will lead us, as [Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta] and I have been saying for a year now, to devastating consequences for our military.”
On the sidelines at Munich, Carter held several bilateral meetings, including one with Shivshankar Menon, an Indian diplomat serving as national security advisor to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Carter and Menon discussed progress to date on an effort that Panetta launched and Carter has managed -- a joint U.S.-India initiative to boost defense cooperation and trade and streamline the nations’ export-control processes.
As Carter said during a visit to India in July, the United States and India have built a military-to-military engagement steadily through dialogues, exercises, defense trade and research cooperation, and U.S. defense leaders want to expand that linkage.
In Munich, the deputy secretary said he and Menon discussed the identification of co-development and co-production projects.
“The Indians don’t want to just buy weapons systems from us, they want to co-develop and co-produce systems of mutual value … that we can jointly export,” Carter said. “We support that aspiration in India. That’s the way we want to do things, too.”
During his July visit to India, Carter visited the facilities in Hyderabad where India’s Tata Advanced Systems Limited and U.S.-based Lockheed Martin produce parts for the C-130J, the “Super Hercules” four-engine military transport aircraft that Lockheed produces.
“The Indians are buying the C-130J, but they’re also building the C-130J, … and that’s a perfect example of the kind of project we want to do with India,” Carter said.
Carter’s next stop was Turkey, where he met with defense officials in Ankara and with about 80 U.S. Army soldiers who set up and are manning the first of two NATO-authorized Patriot missile batteries in Gaziantep, near the Syrian border.
“The reason I went to Turkey was to be there at the very time our Patriots arrived,” just 48 hours earlier, the deputy secretary said. The soldiers already had set up the missile batteries, radar and communications vans “and were justifiably proud of what they’d done,” he added.
Carter expressed the pride of the United States in the soldiers’ important work for a valuable NATO ally.
“Turkey is certainly in need of help, because the situation in Syria is chaotic,” the deputy secretary noted. “Missiles are being used within Syria, and there’s every possibility that missiles could threaten the Turkish population.”
Just before Carter’s arrival in Turkey, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Frank Ricciardone called to tell the deputy secretary that a terrorist had detonated a bomb outside the gates of the embassy in Ankara, killing embassy guard Mustafa Akarsu. The ambassador asked Carter if he still wanted to come to Ankara. Carter responded that he wanted to press on with the visit more than ever, to stress to embassy personnel and to Turkish local officials the importance of the relationship to the United States.
In Ankara, Carter met with Turkish Defense Minister Ahmet Yilmaz, who, in comments before the meeting, acknowledged for the first time the importance to his government of the placement of Patriot batteries on Turkey’s border with Syria.
“I would like to thank you for your support with Germany and the Netherlands [in augmenting] our existing air defense system,” Yilmaz told Carter in brief comments to reporters. “Such air systems, which our country will use for defense purposes, is the fullest indicator of the solidarity of the [NATO] alliance and the cooperation between Turkey and the USA.”
Carter’s final stop was in Amman, Jordan, another important U.S. ally whose location on the Syrian border opens the small nation to the possibility of collateral violence and the certainty of a growing refugee population.
“In Jordan it was encouraging and satisfying to see our assistance at work on the border, particularly persistent surveillance cameras all along the border” that show refugees struggling from Syria into Jordan, Carter noted, where the Jordanians give them food, water, blankets and medical assistance and get them to United Nations refugee camps there.
Carter said other highlights of the Jordan trip included talking with U.S. troops stationed there to support joint planning with the Jordanian armed forces in anticipation of scenarios related to the Syria crisis, and a meeting with King Abdullah II.
“Some of these kids just arrived a few days ago,” the deputy secretary said of the U.S. troops there. ”Some have never been deployed before, some have never been outside the United States, some just recently joined the Army or Air Force, [but] they are well trained and motivated, and for them to shoulder all that responsibility is just incredibly impressive.”
Of his visit with the king, Carter said he was impressed with the Jordanian leader’s strategic perspectives about his own region and the rest of the world, and his knowledge of all the activities the United States and Jordan engage in jointly.
The deputy secretary said he would pass the king’s insights on to President Barack Obama, who will host the king during an upcoming visit to the United States.
“Everything we’re doing, everything we discussed with allies and partners at the Munich Security Conference, everything [occurring] in our activities throughout the Middle East, is reflective of our strategy to address issues of the post-Iraq and Afghanistan era,” the deputy secretary said.
“All of that requires a stable budget environment,” he added, “and while I was there, watching all these wonderful things unfold that our military brings to the nation’s future, … I was very mindful of the fact that if Congress doesn’t act to stabilize our budget situation, all of these things will become much more difficult -- even impossible.”
Carter will testify next week on sequestration issues before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the House Armed Services Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on defense.
“I’ll have the opportunity to make that very point on the heels of this trip,” he added, “which illustrates everything that we can do and have to do with our new strategy, and why that is in jeopardy if the Congress doesn’t act.”