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Media Availability with Secretary Gates en route Brussels, Belgium

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
October 13, 2010

                   SEC. GATES:  I’ll just say a word about the NATO meeting tomorrow.  Obviously Afghanistan will figure prominently in Lisbon, but not tomorrow.  The work that we have cut out for us in Brussels tomorrow really is about trying to move forward and reach final agreement on a lot of the other aspects of the summit that are important in terms of the future of the alliance. 

                   First and foremost, moving forward on the agreement with the strategic concept.  Another will be common or critical capabilities, committing to those capabilities, prominently among those obviously missile defense but also things like counter-IED capability, aircraft command and control systems. There are about ten of these capabilities that we believe we need to commit to as guidance for the defense planning process.  They wouldn’t all be locked in stone, but they certainly would be things that the alliance should focus on. 

                   We will also be talking about reform of the command structure.  There are some proposals on the table there to make that more -- to slim that down and realize some significant efficiencies.  We’ll talk about reform of the NATO agencies.  There are fourteen agencies.  There’s a proposal to slim that down to three.  With all these reform efforts and efforts to bring efficiencies, our position of course will be, just like we’re trying to do in Washington, that any savings realized as a result of these efficiencies should be plowed back into these critical capabilities that I talked about. 

                   So those are the main issues we will be focused on mainly during the course of the day.  There will be a defense ministers meeting in the morning, then a joint meeting in the afternoon with foreign and defense ministers and then the foreign ministers will meet on their own subsequent to that.

                   Q   Can I ask you about the injunction of don’t ask don’t tell?  Do you think the courts are the right place to settle this issue or would you like to see the ruling appealed?

                   SEC. GATES:  Well all I can say is what I’ve said from the very beginning.  I feel very strongly that this is an action that needs to be taken by the Congress and that it is an action that requires careful preparation and a lot of training, a lot of revision of regulations that have to be done in addition to the training.  One of the results of the review will be what kind of other changes we need to make whether it’s in terms of benefits or physical plant and so on.  So this is a very complex business.  It has enormous consequences for our troops, and as I have said from the very beginning I think there should be legislation and the legislation should be informed from the review under way.

                   Q   Do you think it should be appealed?

                   SEC. GATES:  I’ll just leave it there.

                   Q   On missile defense and this meeting, is there much common ground now among NATO partners about what kind of missile defense system should be (inaudible)?

                   SEC. GATES:  I think there’s really pretty broad agreement.  I’m not sure this is one of these situations where you have to have 28 countries on board.  There is broad support I think for the European phased adaptive approach and so the linkage with national missile defense so that both territories and populations are covered is really more a matter of software of connecting the command and control of the different national capabilities and so the overall cost is somewhere between, I think in the ballpark of 85-150 million Euros spread over about a 10 year period, so the cost of going forward with this over and above what’s already been approved by the alliance is really very modest.  But you never know whether you have 28 votes until you vote. 

                   Q   Where do we stand with Turkey? The United States has been in negotiations with them about hosting a radar station there.  Are they on board with the overall concept of a phased adaptive approach and separately where do things stand on them hosting a radar?

                   SEC. GATES:  We’ll see on all of that tomorrow.

                   Q   A question of cyber, are you concerned?

                   SEC. GATES:  By the way, that’s one of the critical capabilities on that list.  Doing more on cyber in NATO.

                   Q   That’s why I wanted to ask.  Are you concerned that the alliance members do not have the same threat of cyber security and cyber defenses the US does and is sharing valuable information with allies makes us vulnerable to attack since it would be coming through an alliance system into NATO?

                   SEC. GATES: I’m not.  When things are put into the intelligence channel I don’t have a real concern along those lines.  But I would say that there are probably varying degrees of vulnerability among our allies, but what we are really talking about here is the alliance itself and the protections against cyber intrusion at NATO headquarters and in the NATO command structure and so on, and those are the defenses that we think there need to be investments to strengthen.

                    Q   Mr. Secretary, the killing of, the death of an aid worker in what appears to be a failed rescue.  What have we learned from this investigation?  Was this an accident by a grenade that shouldn’t have been thrown?

                    SEC. GATES:  I don’t know.  My impression is the investigation is still under way.  It’s a tragedy under any circumstances.  But also I think it’s important to remember who put her in harm’s way in the first place.  Nobody should lose sight that it was the Taliban who kidnapped this woman and put her at risk.

                    Q   We’ve had a lot of tension in recent weeks with Pakistan.  About some of these incursions and some stepped up strikes in Pakistan.  Do you think Pakistan needs to take more forceful action in North Waziristan and is that key to success in Afghanistan?

                    SEC. GATES:  Well they’ve talked about taking action in North Waziristan and our hopes are that they will.  And it’s also just a fact of life that significant military resources have been drawn away to help deal with this terrible flooding situation they have.  So the question is, at what point do they return to the offensive in the FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas].

                    Q   When would the US like to see action from them in that area?

                    SEC. GATES:  Well, obviously the sooner the better, but I also completely understand the need to take care of their own people first because of the flooding.

                    Q   Do you think action there is critical to success in Afghanistan?

                    SEC. GATES:  Well, I think it’s important.  It’s clear that North Waziristan is an important safe haven not just for al-Qaeda but for the Haqqani network and for others.

                    Q   The United Kingdom is doing a big strategic review that is expected to lead to defense cuts, the Germans are doing defense cuts.  There seems to be a reaction to the fiscal crisis of cutting defense.  How concerned are you about that and what can you do to keep that to a minimum?

                    SEC. GATES:  Well it is a concern.  And each country has to deal with these issues based on their own internal dynamics and so on.  My worry is that the more our allies cut their capabilities, the more people will look to the United States to cover whatever gaps are created.  At a time when we are facing stringencies of our own, that’s a concern for me.

                    Q   Coming back to missile defense, how important is it for Japan to modify its export restriction principles for the missile defense strategies in Europe?  As our minister told you in the talks about the export?

                    SEC. GATES:  I know that is under consideration in Japan.  It’s also a very sensitive issue.  Obviously the more flexible Japan is in this area, I think the more opportunities it creates for all of us in terms of helping other friends and allies.  The issue itself as far as I’m concerned is strictly an internal Japanese matter.

                    Q   Another question on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.  As you know, General Hamm and Mr. Johnson are supposed to be finishing their review by December 1st.  Given the legal and political pressures going on, have you considered asking them to move up the deadline to speed it up?

                    SEC. GATES:  Well the key is we’ve just now got the final responses from the spouses, family members.  I think we had a very strong return on those.  My recollection is that we sent out 150 thousand surveys and got back somewhere between 40 and 50 thousand.  Those all still have to be collated and analyzed -- and put back together. 

                    The surveys are an important piece to this, but we’ve also got several tens of thousands comments in on email.  We’ve had in the hundreds of people who have used the anonymous network to express their views on it who are gay and lesbian. 

                   And then we’ve had all these in-person sessions, town halls that both Johnson and Carter Hamm have held.  So we’ve got to put all that together and they have to put together their recommendation.  Then we’ve got to get all this stuff including the raw data to the services so each of the services can analyze on their own.  We expect to do that within about a week. 

                  So I think there’s a lot going on here.  Frankly to try to accelerate it would be very difficult.  There are a lot of moving parts and we are trying to get as clear a view of this as possible. 

                 Q   Mr. Secretary, very quickly on Afghanistan.  During the last NATO meeting you said it was your hope that at least some districts or areas might be turned over to Afghan control by the end of this year.  Do you still think that’s possible and do you have any places in mind?

                SEC. GATES:  I think that there are probably some that could be turned over probably even as we speak.  I think what’s needed is a more strategic approach.  Because the worst thing that could happen is to turn one of these over in an area that the broader area isn’t secure yet and then the progress is reversed.  So I think the process of transition and the timing of when it will begin will also be issues for NATO to consider at Lisbon.

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