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Defense Department Background Briefing on Upcoming NATO Defense Ministers Meeting

Presenter: Two Senior Defense Officials
June 12, 2007
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: (Inaudible) -- likely come up, the need to make sure that those are staffed, performing in a way that's conducive to our goals in Afghanistan. Enablers are always an issue, as you're well aware. Shortages of mobility, police and Afghan National Army training. We're always looking for NATO to provide additional training mechanisms for the ANA OMLTs -- for those of you who are familiar with the term -- looking for additional OMLTs perhaps from NATO partners. There'll be a readout of where we're going for the next year in terms of whether NATO successfully undertook the spring offensive, to counter the spring offensive that we were concerned about that the Taliban was going to mount this year.
            So a lot of the conversation I think will focus on how we're doing in Afghanistan and where we're moving to in Afghanistan.
            I think some of the other more NATO-centric issues that will come up are the NRF, the NATO Reserve Force, and what NATO is going to do as an entity to move forward with that initiative. As you know, it's been a matter of discussion. There are lots of different opinions about what kind of mission the NRF should have, what kind of staffing it would have, what would be the mechanisms, the types of deployments it would undertake. We anticipate that that will probably be an issue where there are a number of different views being expressed among the NATO countries.
            NATO command structure will be another interesting topic. Some of it will be in terms of NATO ongoing operations, particularly Afghanistan now, but there's, of course, the larger picture, which is what should the NATO command structure look like. And actually, (identification omitted) can provide you a lot more chapter and verse on this.
            For the technophobes or the techno guys, Estonia is going to be raising a really interesting issue, I think, which I think is a hint at some of the NATO threats of the future, and that's a cyber threat that they're experiencing from Russia. And I think one of the interesting things is while this threat was unique to Estonia and it perhaps is, it's gotten a lot of interest, particularly of the former Soviet or the East European countries about whether this is an opportunity for NATO to really learn about what are the potential cyber threats in the future and how is the alliance going to approach that.
            Missile defense being certainly on everybody's mind, particularly as a result of Putin's conversations last week and some of the responses we've gotten to the initial indications that the U.S. was looking forward to and hoping to cooperate with Russia on the missile defense proposal for European countries. That will certainly be a topic, maybe not explicit but certainly woven into a lot of the other NATO conversations.
            I'm sure that the secretary will take the opportunity to engage the Russians on it, maybe flesh out what Putin had in mind when he brought up the Azerbaijani option. 
            That's certainly not a NATO question per se. But as you know, this is infrastructure that the U.S. is working with the European countries that the NATO -- complements what NATO has along its missile defense. So that will certainly come up, particularly, I think, in sidebar conversations. 
            I don't know, some of the more boring topics. I consider them boring; I hope you guys don't mind my saying. There will be a pro forma response by some of the nuclear groups reporting back. I know, I probably shouldn't say it's boring, but it's a little more stylized than some of us would like. For example, I'm actually even the chair of the high-level group that will be reporting back to NATO's nuclear group about the state of NATO's Russian and other nuclear threat deterrence, primarily focusing hopefully in the future on non-state hatchers that might use nuclear weapons or nuclear capability to develop them. 
            Beyond that, it's pretty much a stylized -- there are a lot of different reports that I'm not familiar with, and I'm going to let -- (identification omitted) -- sort of go into those. 
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: Okay, in terms of sort of the overarching framework, this is the first NATO ministerial since -- (laughter). I thought it was just me. 
            It's the first NATO ministerial since February, when Secretary Gates made his first appearance in Seville. The way it works is, each year, there are three ministerials. There are two informal, where decisions are not taken, and one formal. 
            This is the formal ministerial, where allies make decisions. They issue communiques; they approve reports that the international staff and the military committee have worked on. There will be eight sessions at this year's ministerial. In order, they -- it is a leader of the North Atlantic Council meeting on transformation and capabilities. Topics, as -- (identification omitted) -- said, will focus on where we are with the Riga initiatives, what was tasked there, missile defense, the cyber issue and some other stuff. 
            We will then go to the NATO-Ukraine Commission. It's the 10th anniversary of the founding of the NATO-Ukraine Commission. The Ukrainian MOD will be here. So focus will be on a decade-long partnership, focusing -- another topic will be what the way ahead is, Ukraine's aspirations for NATO, and then likely a discussion on Ukraine's internal political process.
            That will then be followed by the NATO-Russia Council. Five-year anniversary of the NATO-Russia Council, 10-year anniversary of the NATO-Russia Founding Act. The Russian Duma lower house has passed the Status of Forces Agreement with NATO, which allows, as soon as President Putin signs it, exercises between NATO and Russian forces to take place on Russian territory. It's taken a few years to get there. This is a good-news story. 
            We'll also focus, as with the Ukraine commission meeting -- five years of partnership, how we've done, and then what the future holds. CFE may be brought into that. Missile defense will likely be a discussion.
            From there we will go into what's called the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. This is the one -- a once-a-year --
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: It's a barn-burner. Pay attention. 
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: This is the once-a-year meeting where all NATO allies and all Partnership for Peace allies get together. So it's 49 ministers of defense coming together to discuss the range of activities that each of the partners have had with the alliance, as well as a planning and review document for the way forward for the next year.
            Really, this is a opportunity for the non-NATO MODs to speak to the NATO allies about what they think the future of their relationship with NATO should be, what the overall partnership relationship should be, and how partners can play a role in Kosovo and Afghanistan.
            The day will end with a dinner. It'll be the second North Atlantic Council meeting. And this will focus on operations, which would be Afghanistan and Kosovo. 
            We'll resume in the morning for NATO session number 6, which will be the Nuclear Planning Group, which is an at-25 meeting. France is not involved in the Nuclear Planning Group.
            Then we will go into the Defense Planning Committee.
            Is that at 25 or at 26?
            STAFF: Twenty-five.
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: Twenty-five.
            The Defense Planning Committee is also an at-25. In the Defense Planning Committee, that's where the allies talk about what they have done since a year ago in terms of improving defense budgets, force modernization, filling --
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: (Off mike.)
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: What's that?
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: (Off mike.)
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: Okay. Force modernization, addressing transformation.
            And then finally we'll end the ministerial with a meeting on ISAF with the troop-contributing nations. So it's all 26, plus the troop contributors, plus Afghan MOD Wardak, talking about the -- obviously the ISAF operations, and Wardak will actually in addition give the brief on how -- from the Afghan military side and the Defense Ministry side, how things are going.
            There will be some opportunity for bilats. The secretary will also be meeting with MODs in and -- throughout the two days, through different functions at the table, and then there will be an RC South MODs meeting, as has been standard practice for the past few meetings.
            Q     An RC South what meeting?
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: MODs. The ministers of defense from the RC South will get together.
            Q     Oh.
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: Questions?
            Q     Can you give us some idea of the gap between -- basically in terms of the kinetic forces, combat forces and reconstruction forces, how many more, you know, have stayed in for ISAF or how many more, you know, SHAPE is asking for the ISAF mission?
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: (Off mike) -- two-battalion -- or actually three and a half, depending on how you count --
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: There's still a need for maneuver forces and (inaudible) battalions.
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: Depending on how you count, the document that covers the -- what the command is looking for -- (inaudible) -- still shows a gap in combat forces. So we're still looking for several brigades to go into -- combat brigades to go into Afghanistan.
            Q     (Off mike) -- battalions?
            (Cross talk.)
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: Well, 50 battalions -- you have two battalions. I'm sorry. Did I say brigades? I apologize. Yeah, I was thinking the --
            Q     (Off mike.)
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: -- going back to the -- (off mike).
            So that's one of the things the secretary will definitely ask for -- (inaudible) -- is not really divided up into the combat versus enablers versus other things. I think what you'll hear in conversations and what you'll hear in the meetings is there's certainly a need for more combat forces. There's also a need for more enablers. And helicopters is one of them; equipment is another. 
            As much as we need combat, we also need trainers. I mean, one of the big shortages right now -- and you'll hear -- this is OMLT that I mentioned -- is for trainers for the Afghan National Army. Although not a NATO mission, you'll probably hear a lot of conversation about the training that needs to be done for the Afghan National Police, because those are complementary efforts, and what role the EU is playing.
            I think one of the things that the alliance will be talking about is a comprehensive approach and the need for the elements that I alluded to and indeed just talked about, not only the kinetic -- the combat element, but the stabilizing/development element to be fully integrated.
            And I think NATO will be talking seriously about how they do that better.   And who are their partners that they need to lash-up with, and what would the lash-up look like on the ground with NGOs, for example, or United Nations or the various other bilateral developmental activities that are ongoing.
            So I don't think it's clearly defined, but there'll be a lot of conversations, particularly about the need for a better lash-up in integration but also strategic communications. Are we all particularly speaking with one voice, including the Afghans? How do we get our messages to the Afghans as well as to our European NATO allies and to their populations in addition to the U.S. public? So you'll hear all of those elements, I think, come up in the discussions.
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: Let me just add one more point to that, and that is today -- and I believe it ends tomorrow -- NATO has its twice-a-year force generation conference, where allies come to the table and say what they're going to be offering for operations. So it'll be a NATO Response Force, Afghanistan, Kosovo. Initial indications are that some of the CJSOR shortfalls have been offered -- have been filled because of offers. I think there's going to be a positive news story coming out of the force generation conference. Still too early to know all the final details, but hopefully within a few days we'll be able to provide that to you all.
            Q     (Off mike) -- gaps fulfillment?
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: Initial indication -- it's still ongoing. Initial indications are that people are making contributions matched against the CJSOR shortfalls.
            Q     (Off mike) -- on that while we're in Brussels, could you give us some details on that?
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, I'm not sure that the gaps will be filled. I think what we're anticipating is progress will be made towards filling the gaps, and maybe a couple brigades or battalions, whatever that "b" word is.
            Q     I think General McNeill last weekend, I think he mentioned three and a half to four battalions. I mean, is that what we're looking at -- three and a half to four battalions, maneuver forces? Is that what you -- that's what you said he needs -- General McNeill.
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: I wasn't there. I don't know what General McNeill said. But that was what -- (name inaudible) -- and I are kicking around, whether he was at three and a half or four. Whatever General McNeill said I'm sure is right.
            Q     On the three and a half to four battalions, are the trainers on top of that?
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: I honestly don't know. I wasn't where McNeill was talking. I'm assuming he's talking about maneuver battalions, so, yes.
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: Right. Normally when we talk about that number, three and a half or four, it's for maneuver forces, it's not for trainers. That's a separate number.
            Q     How many trainers you're looking for Iraqis?
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: We usually talk about OMLTs. Right now we would hope to have some 20 to 30 OMLTs that would be filled. The requirement originally was some 70-some OMLTs. Some of those are filled by U.S. forces. There's still a significant gap in training right now.
            Q     How many on a team?
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: It depends. Some countries when they field an OMLT field it with a very large medical team and a lot of support so their OMLTs are big. Our OMLTs tend to be a little smaller because we have dual-hatted people within our OMLTs. So they can be anywhere -- there's a really, really wide divergence.
            Q     Aren't ours 16 or 20 or something?
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: Ours go between -- anywhere from 12 to 20.
            Q     A couple of questions on Russia. Do you have any indications that the new Russian defense minister is coming with enough information to actually clarify the Putin offer? In other words, will the secretary be able to go back to Washington and say: This is the radar, this is the deal with the Azeris, what's possible.
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: I don't think there's any expectation that this would be an opportunity to follow up in detail. This is a NATO meeting. Of course we would be very receptive to any clarifications that the Russians would have. But I think at this point we're just very happy to have had -- received positive indications that the Russians recognize the threat from Iran and are willing and have some good ideas about how we can cooperate.
            Q     And on the SOFA, there's now a SOFA between Russia and NATO?
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: The lower house of the Duma has passed it. Now we just need Putin's signature.
            Q     Is there a timetable for the first joint exercise yet, or is that still to be determined?
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: That's still to be determined, pending signature.
            Q     How does Kosovo -- the discussions about Kosovo independence play into these discussions, and what NATO's role might be?
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: What I think would be discussed is -- I think the secretary will be looking, as has our president, for European unanimity on the need for an additional UNSCR and --
            Q     The need for additional -- ?
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: UNSCR -- a U.N. Security Council resolution. But that there'll be some discussions about where we and how we move toward that; the idea that, you know, the current path is taking a little longer perhaps than some countries believe it should. And I think there'll be a lot of discussion and suggestions about where the European countries -- (off mike) -- toward resolving -- (off mike).
            Q     Any discussion about changing the force mix -- KFOR -- either increasing, decreasing --
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: I'm sure it will come up in conversation, but I'm not aware of any concrete proposals.
            Q     Does it strike you that a lot of the stuff you're mentioning about Afghanistan to be discussed this time is the same as what was discussed a year ago: Getting the force up and improving the training. You didn't mention caveats, but General McNeill did. Why are we talking about the same things a year later?
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: I think that one of the things you will know is that some of the issues that we had in Riga and some of the issues that we had last year continue to be issues, you're exactly right: caveats, some of the force demand problems that we had, some of the enabler problems.
            Progress has been made on some. In some areas progress hasn't been made, and we're very much disappointed. So I think what it would be is a good opportunity for NATO and other coalition partners that are contributing to sort of gauge where we are and figure out how we move forward in filling some of these gaps. Or do we need to re-examine our approach to what we identified a year ago and are still identifying to be continuing issues in the deployment? 
            Q     Does it raise the question of whether NATO, operating with 26 countries, can actually get something like this done? 
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: I think it's important to point out that NATO, since its deployment to Afghanistan, actually has made some significant contributions. I mean, let's remind ourselves that this is probably the first time that NATO has been expeditionary in its entire history. So the fact that it is performing well, manning PRTs, engaging in combat, winning in combat, has turned back the Taliban offensive this spring, is a significant accomplishment. 
            You know, I think we need to moderate our expectations and gauge what NATO is willing and capable of doing, and more importantly within the context of what the Afghans are willing and capable of doing. Are there going to be frustrations? Sure, there are frustrations in any military/stability/development deployment. And this is very much a learning process, not only for NATO forces but for our own as well. 
            Q     The last time, the secretary came with a message that he wanted the spring offensive to be NATO's offensive. Is he bringing any sort of message? Is he coming with a particular goal to this meeting that he's hoping to take away? 
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: Not particularly on the spring offensive. I think --
            Q     No, I just mean, is there -- (off mike) -- is there something, a major goal? 
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: I don't think there's a major goal this time. I think there are several things he'd like to see accomplished and progress he'd like to see made in several areas that -- I mean -- (identification omitted) -- I would refer to you on that, because I can't really gauge from the last time. 
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: I would just say, as we've heard the secretary say in a few of the recent engagements, and as he said in Seville, allies need to make sure we honor and fulfill the commitments heads of state made in Riga, that if the heads made the commitment to be able to do X, Y and Z, we need to be able to fulfill that, whether it be Afghanistan, the C-17 initiative or a variety of other things. 
            And the second big point, I think, is, you will hear him make this pitch on trainers, trainers and OMLT teams for the Afghan national security forces, that that is a very important piece that needs to be completed. We all have the capacity. We all should be helping the government of Afghanistan get their forces trained up for the goals that have been established. 
            I think those are two issues.
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah. And actually, I'll add one more. For those of you who are sort of accustomed to the NATO dialogue, there's a C-17 issue, the consortium. And I do think one of the things that the secretary would like to see is some progress made on the consortium. If NATO desperately needs this lift, there needs to be a way ahead. There aren't a lot of alternatives out there, yet there are obstacles that remain. And I think what he would really like to see is either a removal of those obstacles or a clearer understanding about what exactly the issues are as to fulfilling this very important requirement for NATO ability.
            Q     Can I just slip in one more? You said one --
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: He's the boss! (Laughs.)
            Q     You said one subject would be --
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: Only if it's a good question. Is it a good question?
            Q     It is. A very -- I only ask good questions. (Laughter.)
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: All right.
            Q     You said now that you have the Rapid Reaction Force, they need to figure out what to do with it. What does the United States think ought to be done with it?
            Is that --
            Q     That's not bad.
            Q     Okay.
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: I'm going to let (identification omitted) answer that one because I'm not sure I understand the, now that we have a Rapid Reaction Force.
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: The NATO Response Force is what you're talking about.
            Q     Yeah, sorry.
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: The NATO Response Force, the issue on the table is now that we have it -- and it's been on the table for a few months -- is what -- is it the right size? We believe they have the right missions, but what is the right size for this? When do we use it? It doesn't make sense to have 25,000 folks with enablers sitting on the shelf at the beck and call waiting to be used when we know there are operational needs in Afghanistan, and where we've had a little bit of a problem force-generating for that. It was a question the secretary put on the table back in Seville. I think the question is still out there. NATO has made little progress in addressing the right-sizing, re-sizing, and how to make the NRF itself or elements of the NRF more available, more flexible for other operations.
            Q     That's a significant change because the NRF was specifically not for ongoing confrontations. 
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: That's correct.
            Q     They were going to be able to do other things. Why --
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: The SECDEF has posed the question, isn't this something we should be considering? There hasn't been a tremendous amount of energy put into answering the question, would be one way to put it. The other way to say it is the results -- there have been not a lot of results churned out that shows what the way forward is.  
            And so this will be a topic that will be raised not only by him but by other allies. When he raised it in Seville, there were other allies that said these are good questions that should be asked.
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: And not to put too fine a point on it, particularly now that he's just come from Afghanistan -- I know a lot of you guys were there -- in his mind it's the juxtaposition of the two questions. I mean, having force generation problems for an ongoing conflict where I have NATO forces engaged, where arguably, my current engagement is suffering from the fact I can't generate the kind and number of forces that I need. How much sense does this NRF discussion have at this particular point in time; I'm talking about something that's on the shelf, something that we haven't really quite worked out when and how it'll be used, while I've got a little bit more of a tactical need. And I think it's a good question.
            Q     But the NATO forces are not as fungible as U.S. forces. I mean --
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: Absolutely.
            Q     -- the U.S. command authority can do whatever they want to do with forces. But if NATO countries say, okay, we'll send these troops to the NRF, knowing they'll be used only in a certain way, they have specifically not volunteered those same forces for Afghanistan.
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: And I think that's his point. I mean, the force generation gap in Afghanistan are not U.S., that's a NATO gap. So --
            Q     I'm sorry. The NRF right now, where does that stand right now?
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL ONE: It's a 25,000-man force.
            Q     But are they all (inaudible)?
            SR. DEFENSE OFFICIAL TWO: For the current rotation, yes.  We're in what's called Rotation 8, and it's a full-up -- (inaudible) full operation capability, so it's fully manned.
            Q     Okee-dokee.
            Q     Thank you.