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Senior Defense Official Backgrounder from Prague

Presenter: Senior Defense Official
November 20, 2002

(Backgrounder from Prague, Czech Republic)

Staff: (inaudible) I know that everybody's tired, we're tired too, so we're going to try to keep this to 30 minutes at the most, or we can end this as soon as you think you're ready for tomorrow's activities and have a feel for what's going on.

Senior Defense Official: OK. And I'm going to keep this relatively informal and get to the questions pretty fast, because I know that most of you probably were at the backgrounder - some of you, anyway, were at the backgrounder at the Pentagon. What I thought I'd do is talk a little bit about the Secretary's schedule and how that's firming up, and then a little bit about what we think is going to happen here over the next day or so, and then we can get to the questions quickly. As you know, the Secretary arrived today, he was involved in the bilateral meetings with President Bush and the President of Turkey, and we anticipate that he'll also have bilaterals with his UK and Italian counterparts over the next 2 days, Minister Hoon and Minister Martino. We're also expecting to be involved in the bilateral between the President and Secretary General Robertson. In addition to that, obviously there's a full day of meetings tomorrow, both the NATO meetings, in which we'll be bringing in the new aspirants, as well as the meetings surrounding the capabilities initiatives. On Friday, we'll be headed - after the EAPC meetings, we'll be headed to Slovakia, and in fact we'll be transporting the Slovak Defense Minister and the Prime Minister as well on our flight, and we'll be having meetings there with the President, the Minister of Defense, the Prime Minister, and we'll be over-nighting in Bratislava, and the morning, heading to Slovenia, where we'll have similar meetings with the key leadership.

This Prague summit is a very historic event. There's been an enormous amount of work that's gone into its preparation, and obviously the headline out of this is the likely entrance of a large number of new members in the alliance. That's going to be dealt with tomorrow. It's really an opportunity to, as the President said, expand the frontiers of democracy, and I think it's also historic that many of these countries that were not only behind the Iron Curtain, but were in some cases former members of the Soviet Union itself, will now potentially be welcomed into NATO. We believe that these new members will strengthen the alliance, and that they will do so in a number of ways: obviously politically, but also militarily, in terms of - in some cases - the geography that they bring to the alliance, but more importantly in terms of some of the military contributions they can bring to the alliance. Obviously, many of these countries are not going to have 360-degree militaries, and I don't think the alliance is looking in this day and age to be adding large numbers of brigades and divisions and the like. What in fact they do bring is in some cases some niche capabilities that would be potentially very valuable for the kinds of operations - full spectrum, from peacekeeping operations all the way up to large-scale military operations - that would be very useful for the alliance to have. This, I think, is not the end of enlargement for the alliance; I think the door will remain open to NATO membership after Prague. Undoubtedly not all the aspirants will receive invitations, and in the future, there may be other countries that wish to join the process to join NATO.

On the capabilities side, heads of state and government will launch a major transformation of military capabilities in NATO that we hope will be able to bring to bear new kinds of capabilities that are more appropriate to dealing with the kinds of threats in the 21st century. This initiative is really organized around three main themes: one is Prague capabilities commitments, the desire to add a select group of capabilities to the alliance, including defenses against chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear attacks, secure (inaudible) - Secure Command Control and Communications and Intelligence Capabilities, sorry if I use acronyms, it's a Pentagon habit, and improving our combat effectiveness by adding specific capabilities, like precision-guided munitions and anti-air defense capabilities, and improving our deployability and sustainability. As you know, coming out of the foreign ministerial this spring, NATO is now seeing that threats - and particularly post-9/11 - to NATO security can emanate not only from within the European area, but from outside the European area. The second element of this, and the one that I've been personally very heavily involved in is command structure reform. Command structure reform is not just about streamlining the command structure, though that's an important element of it. It's also about getting our command arrangements set up where we can deploy - in the case of military operations or peacekeeping operations - the ability to deploy out of area, to sustain that deployment out of area. I think a very interesting feature of this is to try to re-conceptualize the strategic commands. One will be focused on the operations, and in fact, now SACLANT will go away, or ACLANT as we call it, Allied Command Atlantic, and a completely re-conceptualized operational command which will have the entire AOR, from Europe all the way to off the shores of the United States and Canada, and the addition, or the replacement if you will, of ACLANT with a new strategic command whose focus is on transformation. That command will be heavily involved in the defense planning process. It will be heavily involved in the education, training, integration, and its pertinence is as all the NATO nations' militaries transform themselves, that we try to synchronize that effect, and that we try to maintain as much commonality, inter-operability, in the way that we do that. That second strategic command, by the way, will continue to be located, headquartered in the United States, in Norfolk, and will be associated in a sense with the US Joint Forces Command, in the sense that the commander of that will be dual-hatted.

Q: So an Admiral will be the commander of this new command?

Senior Defense Official: All of that's down the line in terms of when that would actually happen and when the command will actually stand up, but there will be a dual-hatted relationship between the Supreme Allied Commander transformation and the Joint Forces.

Q: But it will remain with two commands, except one would be different from the current one?

Senior Defense Official: There will be two strategic-level commands, yes. One will be the operational strategic command.

(inaudible)

It may well have a new name. I don't know that we've actually decided on that yet, on what it will be. But it certainly has to re-conceptualize itself, because it now picks up the entire geographic area of responsibility that was once ACLANT's, so it has that responsibility. At the same time, some of the things that it has been doing in terms of the defense planning process - it'll still be involved in defense planning; major weight of that defense planning process will now shift over to the new Allied command transformation.

The third element of this is the NATO response force, and I know many of you probably follow this even closer. We expect heads of state and government to approve creation of the NATO response force, which is designed to be a technologically advanced, interoperable, and sustainable fighting force, that would include land, sea, and air elements, that could be ready to deploy wherever needed on fairly short notice. Obviously, there's a relationship between these things. We need agile command structure to be able to deploy, we need new capabilities to be able to deploy, so all these three elements are really quite integrated. Additionally, I think it's important to note that NATO leaders are expected to initiate a new study on missile defense feasibility, that will for the first time examine options for using missile defense capabilities to defend not just deployed forces - that's been done before - but to defend alliance territory and occupations against the full range of missile threats.

The last thing I would mention is that we're also planning to have a NATO-Russia Council meeting of foreign ministers this week. The main objective of that - and I believe Foreign Minister Ivanov will be here from the Russian Federation - will be to assess the progress to date and discuss future cooperation in a broad range of areas, including missile defense, search and rescue, and a number of other areas, obviously, dealing with the terrorist threat. And I believe we'll also be having a NATO-Ukraine Council meeting, which will be again at the foreign minister level, and the primary objective there will be to agree on a substantive action plan for the NATO-Ukraine relationship.

So with that as general background, I'll just open it up to questions.

Q: Can I ask on the NATO response force: I understand the United States would like to have some new, very formal, concept of operations, to be used to combat terrorism, and perhaps even have the term "legitimate pre-emption" used - you know that's the term that the Secretary uses when he speaks of the Cuban Missile Crisis and that kind of thing - but it is legitimate to use pre-emption if it's a defense against attack. In other words, would the United States try to set up some formal concept of operations for this new strike force, and use, perhaps, the term "pre-emptive defense" or "defense pre-emption?"

Senior Defense Official: I'm not aware of any discussions about terminology that would use this term or any other term. But I do know that the idea - and this is following on something I know you've heard the Secretary say - is that things that you can do in hours and days are interesting, and things that you can do in weeks and months are not interesting. If you need to be able to respond to someone, and you need to be able to get in somewhere quickly, maybe to avoid the use of force, to preclude the use of force, to be there ahead of time before something gets so out of control that you would then later have to use force, you need to have structures and standing capabilities that can move quickly. And when you're talking about moving in days or a couple of weeks any size of military force, as you know from Afghanistan, you have to be on the dot. And that's the kind of capability that I think - Now, it doesn't have to be a huge percentage of your overall military alliance capability, but it has got to be the kind of capability that can move very fast, and I think that's what we're trying to fashion.

Q: But, having said that, if you don't have some kind of fairly firm concept of operations on paper (inaudible) having a fairly firm concept of operations on paper precludes somebody like France saying at the last minute or Germany saying at the last minute, "Nope, we're not going to do it," and you would be able, in turn, to point to, "Oh, yes we are, look at this." That's what I mean. Some fairly formal concept of operations for this.

Senior Defense Official: I think the use of any kind of military capability that the alliance has will still, and will always, be subject to the consensus principle, that the allies have to be willing to go along with this at the political level. I think that will stand in how we work it out. But assuming there is a political level, assuming there is a political consensus, you then face the fact that you might not be able to respond in time, if the quickest you can get there is 90 days or 120 days or 180 days.

Q: There won't be any attempt to do an end-around to that kind of thing?

Senior Defense Official: I don't see how that could be done. I think each individual situation is unique, and I think the alliance has the political decision-making structure in place to make decisions quickly. That's not the problem. This alliance was in a position during the Cold War where it had to make decisions very quickly. That doesn't mean that every political decision will be quick, obviously, because things are contentious or controversial. But I think that the principle of consensus will remain, whatever we do in the NATO response (inaudible).

Q: You mentioned this (inaudible) could you specifically give me an example for each of the aspirants, what each is capable of? Because no one's really --

Senior Defense Official: What I'd like to do is give you some examples of some of the aspirants, but I'd rather not label the countries; I'll let the countries speak for themselves. There are some countries, for example, that have got very advanced NBC capabilities - Nuclear, Biological, Chemical defense. There are some countries that have got some good EOD capabilities, which is Explosive Ordinance Disposal. The US ran an operation in Africa recently, and I believe there may have been some Europeans involved in that operation. This is an area that's one of those high-demand, low-density assets that we like to talk about in the Pentagon - stuff that you should have brought more of but didn't. A lot of times when you've had a low-intensity conflict in a region, there's a lot of unexploded ordinance that's left over. This is a very important issue. Afghanistan is another area where there's an enormous amount of EOD - demining, that sort of thing. Some - many - of these countries have good special forces capabilities. Again, they're small, and they need development.

Q: You're not equating the special forces of whichever these unnamed countries are with, say, the SAS or the US or the French, are you? They're not at that level.

Senior Defense Official: The SAS, the US special forces have a much broader set of capabilities, there's no question about that. But in their professionalism and in the particular kinds of specialties they have - some of them may be language specialties, some of them might be certain training areas - yes, they're very good, they're very professional. Now, I think the flip side of this is that NATO also needs to - both current NATO members and the ones that are coming in continue to need to invest in their militaries and continue to need to develop those niche capabilities. I think one of the really strong messages that came out of the defense ministerial in June was that moving in that direction, developing niche capabilities alliance-wide, was a positive thing, because frankly, in years gone by, there had been some hesitation about this, that somehow specialization, real specialization was something you shouldn't do in the alliance. I think we've turned the corner on that, and I think some of the new countries that are coming in as well as some of the newer members of the alliance helped us turn the corner.

Q: Let me just follow that up, if I may. I'm just a little puzzled. Today we went to a briefing talking about bio-chem stuff, and on the plane here and elsewhere, we're told that the Czechs are very good at this -- I know this (inaudible) I'm just at a loss when a fellow comes in and says, I want to be a member of NATO, here's why I should be. And you know, say, I'm good at mountain squads, and I'm good at ordinance disposal. I just don't know why you can't share with us (inaudible) which of these countries are bringing (inaudible) to make your lives better, other than the broad thing that these three areas that some of them have.

Senior Defense Official: Well, I'll give you one, for example. The Romanians have got a lot of expertise in mountain (inaudible) I think it's really up to those individual countries to characterize what they want their niches to be. It's not up to a defense official from the United States of America to pigeonhole them in that particular area. I don't want to give you the impression that a lot of work doesn't have to be done. Every one of these aspirants continues to have work to do in reforming their militaries, and we will continue to oversee that. They continue to have work to do in reforming their intelligence services and the like. Those are all important things, and I think, frankly, they're more effectively done from within NATO than from without.

Q: Can you speak to the concept of borders this response force would have? In other words, how you'll get around some of the political sensitivities - for instance, let's say there'd be something going on in Indonesia. Do you envision that this force would be deployed without a regard to border as a truly global entity that would go well beyond the borders of traditional NATO?

Senior Defense Official: Obviously, when you start getting into specifics and pick specific countries, that's a place that I don't want to go. But I think that yes, I think that NATO has recognized already that threats to NATO are no longer confined to the European area. As a result of that, dealing with those threats may well require NATO to go outside that European area. Now, as I also said, in every case, that does not mean the use of high-end military capabilities. It may be dealing with a peacekeeping operation somewhere. It may be an explosive ordinance disposal type of operation. It may be in support of operations that are being conducted by the United States and other countries somewhere. It may be in support of other countries' operations. But the key issue is, if NATO wants to remain relevant in this age, it's got to have structures that allow it to move more quickly, so what the NATO response force is the key - the key word there is response, the ability to respond quickly.

Q: Are you satisfied that all the Europeans agree with (inaudible) I know the (inaudible) had reservations about a specific NATO force going outside areas --

Senior Defense Official: Well, like I said, any individual issue, or any individual use of any NATO capability is something that will be subject to the consensus of the members of NATO. As far as I know, all the countries in the alliance have signed up to the idea of this NATO response force, and as far as I know, all the countries agreed to the wording last May in the NATO Communiqué, that said that they needed the ability to respond to threats wherever they came from.

Q: And how (inaudible) a possible, probable European rapid reaction force will be around the same nucleus? Could it be two distinct forces?

Senior Defense Official: I'm not sure whether the European rapid reaction force is a standing force or not, and I guess that will -- so I'm not really clear on that point. I think the NATO force has to have a standing capability. It has to have a set of forces that for whatever period of time, let's say on a six-month rotation, are ready to go. It can't be something that is brought together piecemeal, or ad hoc, when the crisis emerges or the need arises, because there isn't enough time, if you're going to be responding in that kind of a quick time frame, to do that. They have to be people that have already trained with one another. So what we imagine is a group of forces that will train together on a six-month basis, stand a six-month watch, effectively, after that, and then have a de-tuning period of about six months after that, so you have what we call an A-B-C rotation for the force. But the details of that will continue to be worked out in the military committee and by the major strategic commands over the next few months.

Q: On the command structure reform: When do you expect to have it actually go into effect?

Senior Defense Official: What I expect heads of state to approve here is a basic structure, an outline if you will, of what that command structure will look like. Then the details of where commands will be placed and the fleshing out of, for example, the European footprint of the transformation command, will develop over the next few months, and all of this would then be finalized at the June ministerial in 2003.

Q: Is there going to be one overall operational command? Do you envisage that commander might at some point not be an American, or would be an American in charge of (inaudible)?

Senior Defense Official: I don't think there's been any discussion of it not being an American. What we've mostly heard from our allies, in fact, is the exact opposite, that they wanted to have an American commander in Europe and one on American soil, as part of the Allied command. One of the things I think, though, that we would very much like to encourage is the ability of all allies to have senior positions in the transformation command, and to develop officers who would be suitable for taking over senior positions in those commands. I think that's something we'll work on over the weeks and months ahead.

Q: It seems to me that President Putin had made certain calculations and statements in order to (inaudible) for political reasons. It also seems to me that since he hasn't made those calculations and statements, the political issue maybe is not a major one anymore. But, I would like to ask you what the three Baltic states, tiny as they are, contribute to NATO militarily. Does NATO contemplate having any exercises or troops based on their territory? What forces do they have? Clearly, they're up there, geographically perfect, but it's quite a big undertaking.(inaudible)?

Senior Defense Official: First of all, I think the circumstances are dramatically different, because of the historic developments - Russia, President Putin's positions on this, President Bush's efforts to - and NATO's efforts to bring Russia into the Western security system. The NATO-Russia Council is a part of that. So I think these things can't be seen in a separate way. They have to be looked at together. NATO is many things. NATO is an alliance of democracies, first and foremost, and I think the peoples in the Baltics, if invitations are extended to them, bring a long tradition of political democracy at the same time that they suffered under the Soviet Union. So I think that it's a very positive step politically, both for them, but also for NATO, that they would want to be in NATO, that they would see NATO as an important part of their future. NATO also, I think, provides a backdrop of stability in Europe, which encourages the continuation of democratic traditions, and a stable basis for economic development and economic expansion, and therefore makes it much less likely that any of these places in Eastern Europe would return to conditions that would resemble those conditions they suffered under during the Cold War. Militarily, the three countries that you mentioned have been working very hard within their resources to develop capabilities. When I talk about countries that really are not going to develop 360-degree militaries, maybe those are foremost among them. Given their size and population, they're not in a position to do it yet; they do have, and are working on, specific capabilities which we think will enable them to make valuable contributions to the alliance. Explosive ordinance is one. In some cases, countries have intelligence capabilities that would be useful for the alliance.

(inaudible)

They can provide peacekeeping capabilities, that's right, which might be able to backfill NATO operations for forces that might have to go somewhere else. So I think, again, you have to look at it -- you can't look at it separately, and that's certainly the way we looked at it. It isn't just simply, What do they bring militarily?, it's also, What do they bring politically to the alliance?

Q: Do you have any understandings with the Russians to the effect that you will not be involved in exercises for (inaudible)?

Senior Defense Official: I'm not aware of any understandings about this, but obviously at this point NATO has made no decisions - as far as I know, the question has not even been raised about putting any kind of permanent military combat forces, something like that, in any of the aspirant countries, for that matter, not just the three you're talking about.

Q: Just a couple more details about the rapid response force. Any idea about numbers, and how rapidly, and when you can give us further details? And then I just wanted to ask you about the missile defense, whether this is envisioned at all as being tandem with the US missile defense plans or technology?

Senior Defense Official: What we have said, on the first question, is that we're looking for something that would be able to put a brigade-sized element, including an air component that would support it, and a naval component if necessary, somewhere in the world in a 30-day timeframe. Now, NATO still has to work out the details of this. That was the proposal that we've made. The actual size of the unit and its response times will end up being determined by the military committee and ultimately by the NATO political authorities, but I think it's going to be in that ballpark, because if you want to have a military capability that can fight on its own, you really are looking at something like a brigade-sized element to do that.

Q: (inaudible)?

Senior Defense Official: Yes. It ought to be able to sustain itself, it ought to be deployed and positioned from days, up to 30 days, and ought to be able to sustain itself for a number of weeks, at least, up to maybe 90 days. Again, you have to be careful when you use these terms, because every operation is different, and what it might be able to do in one operation would be different from what it might be able to do in another operation. On your second question: We (the United States) have been working very closely with our allies, briefing them on not only what we're doing in our missile defense program, but also showing them ways in which we can work with them - bilaterally and through the alliance - to develop and have them get involved in the developmental aspects of our missile defense program. We have a national team in the United States that oversees the missile defense program. We're also looking to develop an international team that NATO partners as well as others might be able to join. We very much think that an approach akin to the approach we've taken with the joint strike fighter - with some changes, given the fact that missile defense is a different animal than a fighter aircraft, but something akin to that - would be a model for cooperation. So we fully expect that we should be able to have both multilateral, bilateral, and industry-to-industry cooperation in the missile defense area.

Q: Since there is unlikely - in fact, I understand there will not be a meeting of defense ministers in Brussels next month, because this, in effect, will serve as that - am I correct? Yes? So you'll have what you call a NAC-D, I guess, you'll have the defense ministers get together here, will you not?

Senior Defense Official: Yes. The defense ministers have a meeting tomorrow, that's right.

Q: Is Iraq - the concept, perhaps not even at the behest of the United States, perhaps at your request - is there going to be a discussion on perhaps using NATO as an entity in any attack, in any possible attack on Iraq? Will that be discussed? Is it going to be brought up on the agenda? Since Iraq is beginning to look larger as time goes by, and there will not to be a meeting of defense ministers next month, is it going to be discussed here?

Senior Defense Official: Let me say two things on that. As you know, and you've heard many times before, no decisions have been made on the use of force, by the President or by the UN. And so I don't think it's likely that there will be a discussion of that here, but I do think the topic of Iraq will be discussed. I expect that it will be a discussion in the bilateral meetings, between both the President and the Secretary, with their counterparts. So yes, I think it will be a general topic of discussion. I'm sure that there will be some discussion about the UN Security Council resolution, and the efforts being made now to carry it out. Given the fact that the ink is not quite dry yet on that, that'll probably be the greater focus in terms of the Iraqi discussions. So yes, it'll be discussed.

Q: But not the idea of NATO as an entity becoming involved?

Senior Defense Official: I think it's very premature to discuss that.

Q: The German Defense Minister has said there's a possibility of a meeting with the Secretary. Do you have anything about that?

Senior Defense Official: I don't know. They just met and had a longer-than-expected session, a good session. We don't have anything planned. Right now we've got Minister Hoon and Minister Martino scheduled. Obviously they will see one another in the context of their meeting and luncheon, but there's no formal bilateral meeting. Whether they have a conversation or not, there's plenty of opportunities for that.

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