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Department of Defense Press Briefing by Rear Admiral Kirby in the Pentagon Briefing Room

Presenter: Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby
May 02, 2014

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: All right. Good afternoon everybody. Happy Friday.

Because it's the end of the week, I wanted to talk a little bit about next week, so if you'd just bear with me, I'm going to give you sort of a preview of what we're looking at for the secretary next week. He'll start the week by going on a two-day trip to Illinois. On Monday afternoon, he will participate in the change in command ceremony for the United States Transportation Command out at Scott Air Force Base. I know the secretary is looking forward to thanking the men and women of TRANSCOM for all they do to ensure the agility, flexibility, and global reach of our armed forces, as well as celebrating the accomplishments of the departing commander, General Fraser and welcoming the incoming commander, General Paul Selva.

On Tuesday morning, the secretary will deliver a speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and speak with students from the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics.

The secretary has long wanted to travel to the Midwest to talk about the need for America's continued engagement in the world, and the important role the military has to play in that, so his speech will be -- his speech will talk about that and how he's navigating the strategic and fiscal challenges facing the department.

Tuesday afternoon, Secretary Hagel will visit Naval Training Center Great Lakes. He's looking forward to meeting with and speaking to some of the instructors and their recruits that are currently going through Navy boot camp.

One of the things that Secretary Hagel will do while we're there is observe the sexual assault prevention and training -- sexual assault prevention and response training that recruits are receiving at Great Lakes. This builds on the six new directives that the secretary announced yesterday, to continue strengthening how we prevent and respond to sexual assault in the military, as well as his visit last week to the department's safe help line.

This element of training is something that Secretary Hagel has been concerned about since he first took office. In his first two months as secretary, one of the things he was hearing consistently from the junior enlisted men and women with whom he spoke was that their sexual assault training wasn't being taken seriously enough, and wasn't seen as a priority. They told him that people were laughing it off, sleeping through it, that sort of thing.

And so shortly thereafter, this was last May, coincidentally exactly a year before Tuesday's visit, one of his first directives was -- that he issued on sexual assault was to direct the department to improve the effectiveness of sexual assault prevention and response programs and recruiting organizations, to ensure the awareness and safety of new and aspiring service members.

The implementation of that directive has been ongoing. The services now know that we need to keep monitoring and continuously improving how they do this. So, next Tuesday, he's going to see the results firsthand. He'll be looking at what's changed, and also what the recruits are being taught about our values of dignity and respect, how they need to live, and enforce those values, and most importantly, how they need to look out for one another.

As some of you written and know, NTC Great Lakes has really been on the leading edge of experimenting with new ideas and implementing comprehensive, evidence-based methods of sexual assault training and prevention. They're really a model not just for the Navy, but for the whole military. They've been working with local -- the local community on things like bystander intervention and alcohol policies, and they've been seeing some promising results, to the point that other installations are starting to follow their lead.

And we've been looking at what best practices can be put in place or slightly modified to adjust to other bases so that they can be implemented elsewhere.

The secretary is looking forward to learning more about what they've been doing, and he will also be speaking to recruits, training student instructors before he returns to Washington.

Finally, on next Thursday, Secretary Hagel will co-host with the chairman, Chairman Dempsey, a conference with our combatant commanders over at National Defense University. They will use the day-long conference to discuss regional issues, our global posture, and to talk about ways that we ensure the joint force stays as deployable and as flexible across the globe as possible.

The secretary's looking forward to a rich and timely discussion with them, as he always does. And with that, I'll take some questions.

Lita?

Q: John, there's obviously some increasing concern about Ukraine, particularly in light of the upcoming election. Has Ukraine asked for any additional support from the U.S., particularly surrounding security of the election?

And there's obviously been a lot of talk about potential additional aid to Ukraine. Can you just tell us where that stands?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: There's no new requests for assistance surrounding the elections that I'm aware of, certainly not through military channels. And as for the request -- standing request for military assistance, it is an on-going process. It is being constantly reviewed. I have nothing new to announce today in terms of additional military assistance, but I can assure you that the inter-agency is constantly looking at those needs and reevaluating them. And as we've said before, the focus of that discussion remains on the non-lethal side of things.

Q: But is there any concern within the United States about security during the elections?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I mean, look, we want -- we want the elections to be free, fair, credible, and we want them to be secure, obviously, and I know the State Department is -- is communicating and talking with the government of Ukraine about these upcoming elections.

Our security -- our concerns about security with Ukraine are -- are much bigger than just about the elections. It's about the fact that, you know, Crimea is and remains under the operational control of Russian forces and Russian forces arrayed on the border across from eastern and southern Ukraine continue to have a destabilizing effect inside Ukraine, not to mention the -- the elements, the irregular elements that are in eastern and southern Ukraine fomenting the violence and the -- and the instability that's going on there.

So, our concerns about security in Ukraine are longstanding, very well document -- well documented, and well articulated, and have not changed. Clearly, we're going to be watching and monitoring events as they get closer to the election as well.

Q: Does the Pentagon view Russia as an enemy, as the deputy secretary general of NATO implied this morning, or suggested this morning?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Look, I mean, I think, and the secretary talked about this today, that Russia's actions in Ukraine and across the border should give the alliance pause to reconsider our collective posture and our relationship with Russia. There's no reason for Russia to be an enemy to anybody.

And again, I'd point back to what the secretary said this morning when he was talking about NATO enlargement. It wasn't done -- it wasn't done to compete with Russia or to -- or to put Russia on the outside. It was done in keeping with the common interests that all of us have on the European continent, including Russia. So there's no reason for Russia to be anything other than a full partner in the international community, but it's up to Russia to meet her obligations in order to do that.

Q: So does the Pentagon agree or disagree with the NATO deputy secretary general's...

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think I'm just going to point you back to what the secretary said today. I mean, Russia has an opportunity now to stop isolating itself, rejoin the international community in a responsible way and respect the sovereignty of Ukraine, and quit, you know, quit threatening the stability that we all want to see in Europe. It's up to Russia to determine whether they, you know, continue down this path and could eventually become some kind of enemy. But it's really -- it's Russia's call.

Q: Admiral, one other thing the secretary said this morning was for NATO members to step up their financial commitments in keeping with their agreements under the treaty. But he's only the latest secretary of defense to send that message, including his two predecessors.

The new wrinkle is he'd like budget officials and defense -- or finance ministers to come to (inaudible) summit on this.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: That's right.

Q: Can you go into more detail about why you think that would make a difference? Why having those different officials or other officials at a meeting would finally make the case to the European powers?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Precisely because the secretary believes that -- that military security, national security is tied very much inextricably to economic and fiscal security and fiscal health. And he -- this is a theme he has hit a lot and will continue to talk about. And they go hand in hand.

And in today's interconnected world, particularly from an economic perspective, you really can't have one without the other. And he's very much aware -- I mean, his message to NATO isn't just simply, "Hey, spend more on defense." He knows that those -- that our NATO partners are facing fiscal and economic challenges, as are we.

What he -- what he said was, you know, he said today and he's said it many times is that, you know, that the discussion of defense spending can't just exist inside defense ministries. It can't just exist just here inside the Pentagon. It has to be a whole-of- government discussion because defense, the military instrument of power, is but one instrument of power of a country. There is an economic instrument of power. And that all has to be taken into account.

So I think his -- he's got a fairly sophisticated view here of the linkage between economic security and national security. And that's why he believes that it's key, it's vital that we get budget and/or finance ministers, however they're defined in their individual nations, at the table with -- with those in the defense establishment to have a more rich discussion about this because it has to be done responsibly.

Q: My question is, what's going to be different, though? I presume when Secretary Gates and Secretary Panetta made the same argument, those defense ministers in the European countries read in their defense ministries and other officials about that pitch, and made the decisions they did, which in most cases was not to increase their spending.

So what -- what would be different about having them there to hear the same kind of message from the United States?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think the secretary believes that anytime you can get people at the table, there physically, to talk about issues in real time, it tends to have a little bit -- it tends to have a little bit heavier impact.

And it's not that -- it's not that he believes that treasury ministers around the world are not taking seriously the concerns of defense spending. That's not -- that's not the case at all, but that -- this is a very -- this is a complex set of challenges that -- that all NATO nations are facing.

And I'm not just talking about what's going on in Russia, I'm talking about the security environment around the world, and the linkage to economic security. It's complex, it's difficult. And I think he believes it would be far more fruitful to get everybody at the table together to have these discussions in real time.

And some NATO nations, I mean some -- some NATO nations are -- doing quite well, trying to meet that two percent GDP goal, and some are not, and I think -- I think what the secretary would like is -- is for a uniform approach to having the debate and the discussion about reaching those goals and investing wisely in defense.

I mean, it's not just about pouring more money into defense. As he said when he -- when he went to the Hill and unveiled our budget and -- and our new strategy, the QDR, it isn't just about more money. I mean, he understands there's fiscal pressures here in the United States that -- that we have to contend with. It's about investing smartly with the money that the taxpayers are giving you, and using it in wise, efficient ways.

That means using it -- if you follow the argument that partnerships matter, that means that our partners have to likewise invest wisely, and that we do it with some sort of global perspective, so it's not just -- it's not just the United States making decisions, only just you know because we want to make them. We want to make them in concert with our partners, because some of them have capabilities that frankly, we don't have or that they can develop in ways we can't develop, or shouldn't have to develop. Does that make sense?

Barb?

Q: I want to ask you about North Korea, and then I want to follow up on Jennifer's question, if I might.

On North Korea, first, how concerned are you that they may actually be ready to go at any point with both a nuclear -- a underground nuclear and a missile test?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I've dealt with this question here before. I'm not going to talk about intelligence issues from -- from the podium. We continue to monitor the situation on the Korean peninsula very closely, as we always do. We continue to call on North Korea to cease whatever provocative actions they may do or may plan to do.

None of that's helpful to stability and security on the peninsula, and there's been no change about our position that what we're after there on the peninsula is a credible, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization.

Q: I want to follow up on Jennifer's question.

While I think we understand you may be reluctant to call Russia publicly an enemy for diplomatic reasons, from pure military reasons, the Defense Department, you know who your adversaries are. This is something you deal with every day. So, I think the question's pretty basic.

Does the United States military, does the Defense Department currently consider Russia an adversary?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: There -- the adversaries, enemies that we're facing right now are -- are in Afghanistan. That's who we're in open conflict with. And yeah, we get -- we get -- now wait a minute. Let me -- let me finish.

We -- you know, we have adversaries in the cyber world. We get attacked every day. But relationships with countries like Russia, with China, these are large and sometimes they're complicated relationships. There is no reason for us to consider Russia as an enemy.

There's no reason for Russia to be an enemy. But it's -- it's Russia's decision to make right now. It's Moscow's decision to make, how they're going to interact in and with the international community.

I'm not -- you know, I'm not going to stand up here and just slap labels on different countries around the world. Let's just -- let's just take a look at what's happening here. When we talk about the instability there in Ukraine, we talk about the tension there, it's only being caused by one nation. And that's Russia.

So, Russia has the responsibility to stop behaving the way they are, to ease the tensions, to move their troops back, to give up operational control of Crimea, and restore the -- the natural order of things, which was Ukrainian territorial integrity.

Q: You've said a couple of times that it's Russia's decision to make. I guess the frustration on this or the questioning on this side is -- it may be Russia's decision to make. I guess the frustration on this -- or the questioning on this side is, it may be Russia's decision to make, what they choose to do. But, the U.S. government, the United States military makes decisions all the time about who it considers adversaries in particular circumstances, such as the cyber world. So is Russia an adversary?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think I've answered the question. It -- it -- is it -- to the degree they want to be considered an enemy of any nation, that -- that's solely depends on decisions that they are making. I can tell you they are certainly doing nothing to win support in the international community by what they've done in Ukraine.

But there's -- there's little benefit to -- at least from our perspective here, to slapping bumper sticker slogans and names on different countries around the world. There's no reason for us to consider Russia an enemy, unless Russia wants to declare itself one.

And I can tell you, the path they're taking in Ukraine, is certainly not going in the right direction in that regard.

Q: John, can you comment on the chemical weapons removal process in Syria and the progress or lack of progress that's been made there?

There's been some speculation this week that they're -- that the Assad regime is dragging its feet to retain leverage in the future for the political process or just generally.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah, I've seen the press reporting on that.

Look, I mean, as you know, they've got roughly around 90 percent of the material out of the country. There's somewhere between -- well, a little less than 10 percent, I think, that we're still hoping to, you know, to get out. And we have and will continue to urge them to move with some alacrity to get the rest of the material out so that we can begin the destruction process.

And -- but -- but look, it's an ongoing process. It's something we're in constant discussion with the Syrian regime about. And we look forward to getting the remainder out so we can -- so we can get to the business at hand.

Q: (inaudible) does DOD believe that the Assad government is intentionally delaying or slowing...

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I think it's unclear right now, as to, you know, what the holdup is with this -- this last bit of material. It's unclear. And we're in discussions with them as, of course, the OPCW is to work -- to work through that.

And we all look forward to getting it resolved, to getting the material out of the country so that we can destroy it.

Q: Rear Admiral Kirby, have any decisions been made about beefing up the BALTOPS or Saber Strike exercises next month, with the Baltic states?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I talked about this Tuesday. As you -- these are two exercises coming up here in June, Saber Strike and BALTOPS. They're both pretty sizable exercises all by themselves. And we are -- we are looking at ways and we're working with General Breedlove and his staff to see if they can't be reinforced, bolstered a little bit, perhaps.

On the air side of things would probably be more likely where that would come from, but no final decisions have been made. It's just something that the planners are looking at right now.

Tom?

Q: John, why did the secretary issue the directive to the services to follow the Army's lead on screening recruiters and sexual assault counselors?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I think -- you know, he looked at this hard after -- after he had a chance to look at what the -- what the Army had done, and he also looked hard at what the other services had done.

I think that to the degree possible, he wants as broad and as deep a look at, as possible, on people in positions of trust inside the military. I think he was encouraged by what he saw the Army do.

And I think -- and this is not unlike other policies that he has to deal with every day. You know, he -- there's no premium on good ideas. And so I think he felt that the -- that taking a deeper look by the other services was probably warranted and a good -- and a good idea.

Q: The Army disqualified almost 600 soldiers. Do you anticipate other troops are gonna be disqualified...

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, we'll have to see, Tom. I mean, we just have to take a look at -- at how this thing is implemented.

The goal isn't disqualifying people. The goal isn't, you know, punishments and disciplinary action. The goal is to make sure that those who are in positions of trust, whether they're sexual assault response and prevention counselors or recruiters or recruit division instructors, like the ones he's gonna see at Great Lakes, whoever's in that, that they are operating from a very high standard of conduct and ethics, and that they perform their jobs well. That's what he's after here.

So it's not really -- it's not -- the measure isn't, you know, how many people get fired from their jobs.

Could that be a result of a deeper, a wider review by the other services? Absolutely. But I think we need to let them get to that work and come back to us on it.

Q: And this planned meeting with the combatant commanders, is he going to discuss a review, an examination of the U.S. military presence in Europe, given the events in Ukraine?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, look, each combatant commander is going to get the opportunity to talk and to discuss their concerns. I suspect that General Breedlove with be no different in that regard. I wouldn't pre-judge what he's going to say or not say about the situation there in Europe.

Right now, you know, the -- if I understand your question correctly -- right now, the focus is on rotational -- persistent rotational opportunities for us to demonstrate our commitment to article five and to our NATO allies, using assets that are already in Europe.

So, there's -- there's no serious discussion at this point of more permanently based additionally -- additional permanently based troops in Europe right now. We're talking about conducting these reassurance operations and exercises using troops that are already there.

Did that answer your questions?

Q: Yes. And then are there any plans that were already in place for a drawdown and withdrawals of forces in Europe that have been canceled or put on hold?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: None that I'm aware of. I mean, there were no major plans for a drawdown in Europe. Our -- our presence in Europe has been fairly stable over the last, you know, five to 10 years. There hasn't been a major, you know, a major change there and I don't -- I'm not aware of any -- any forthcoming.

Q: Going back to the speech, has he gotten any indications from any of his European counterparts that they are going to increase defense spending, that there is going to be a change in the approach to military spending on the part of the allies, in his conversations with them?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I wouldn't want to speak for other nations, but, you know, he routinely talks to his counterparts. He had three such meetings this week. And the issue of defense spending comes up each and every time. And each and every minister has a different story to tell about the challenges of defense spending inside their country. Some are -- some are, as I said, some are doing much better at the two percent goal than others.

That's understandable. They all have their own individual parliaments and politics to work through. But it is an issue that is on the minds of all of his counterparts in NATO, and it's something they routinely discuss.

And again, it's -- I want to stress it's not simply just about more dollars or more defense spending. It's not just -- it's not about just the money. It's about how it's being invested and how it's being spent on what capabilities.

Q: Admiral, just a quick follow-up on Missy's question. Do you have any visibility as to the nature of the way the Syrians are releasing the chemical weapons? In other words, are they holding back weapons or material that are most favorable to them because they're readiest to go or most lethal, and letting the other stuff that they want the least, you know, be prepared for the shipment and destruction?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, the short answer is no, not that I have seen. I mean, the -- remember, we have only a very small percentage left to go. I mean, around 90 percent of the material that -- that the international community demanded them -- demanded of them to get rid of and that they've agreed to get rid of, they've gotten rid of. It's out of the country.

So I'm not -- I don't think the issue over this last element is about type. But again, the OPCW and the Assad regime are working that out right now.

Yeah, Louie?

Q: There's an increased offensive by the Ukrainian military forces in eastern Ukraine today against Slovyansk that resulted in two of their helicopters being shot down or going down. There is some indications that it was brought down by anti-aircraft fire. Are you getting any sense that this was Russian forces, you know, these irregulars that you were talking about earlier in the week, because the ministry says that their forces are fighting foreign military men?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: We've seen the reports on the helicopter downings. I can't independently confirm those reports right now. But certainly, we're tracking events there and monitoring it closely. And yes, there has been some, you know, there has -- the Ukrainian security forces have been engaged in operations to try to retake some of these -- these cities and towns.

I think the president said it well just a few minutes ago. The government of Ukraine has shown incredible restraint to date. And we all understand that -- that that notwithstanding, they have an obligation to enforce law and order inside their own -- their own country. Nobody wants to see the violence. And nobody wants to see the use of force, but they do have that responsibility.

Q: Do you see any installation of movement on the part of Russian forces on their side of the border?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, without getting into intelligence assessments here from the podium, I can tell you that the situation on the other side of the border by and large remains the same. In terms of the number of Russian troops that are there, the activity, there's been no major changes, and again, just as Secretary Hagel made clear to his counterpart in their phone call earlier, that -- that it's time for them to move those forces away from the border and quit creating the tension that they are inside.

Q: John.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Sure.

Q: Was it a Russian-made anti-aircraft missile that brought down those Ukrainian helicopters?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I truly don't know, Jen. I mean, we've seen the press reporting. I cannot -- I can't independently confirm the downing of those two helicopters, you know, as of 1:30 this afternoon. I just can't do that. So I don't know.

Tony.

Q: A question about the Russian rocket controversy that's kind of boiling over this week. SpaceX, the company in California, filed a federal lawsuit this week basically trying to -- to stop the United States from buying additional Russian rocket motors -- engines, these RD-180s. And to try to break into the EELV rocket program. A judge last -- and then Tuesday, issued a temporary order saying the United States can't buy anymore of these engines until the State Department and commerce come up with an opinion on whether the purchases impact U.S. security.

My question to you is, will this have any practical impact on the program as it stands now, and possibly effect U.S. satellite launches in the next -- the next few months?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, we're going to follow the judge's injunction. In the near term, we have enough inventory so that there won't be a practical effect on the national launch program. But that's as far as I can go right now.

Q: More broadly, Senator McCain has joined a growing chorus that the Air Force's program, this rocket program, is anti-competitive. It's a monopoly. This -- Mr. Kendall, a couple years ago, asked them to inject competition into the program, asked the Air Force. Is the Pentagon at this point satisfied that this program is on a course to actually inject competition into the program or is McCain possibly right in this case that the Air Force has dropped the ball?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Given that it's currently being litigated, I'm very limited as to what I can say. I would just point you back to what Secretary Kendall said on the Hill earlier this week, that back in July of 2012, he brought it under his control so that as much competition as possible could be installed, and I think that's really where I need to leave it right now, Tony.

Q: Because of this lawsuit?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Yeah. Because this thing is being litigated, I mean, I'm very limited as to what I'm allowed to say right now, so I'm going to have to leave it at that.

Joe.

Q: Admiral Kirby, yesterday, Saudi Arabia has publicly displayed for the first time in its history the new generation of ballistic missiles. I don't know if you were aware of that.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I saw a press reporting of it.

Q: OK. My question is, do you think this is a message to Iran? What's your comment on that?

REAR ADM. KIRBY: I would -- I don't do very well when I try to speak for other countries up here. I'm going to let Saudi Arabia speak for why they decided to -- to parade those -- those missiles. But more broadly, look, missile defense is a capability that we certainly have tried to develop and improve, particularly on the Navy side. We're going to continue those developments and improvements. We're going to continue to have those discussions with our friends and partners in the Middle East, because the ballistic missile threat from Iran shows no sign of -- of slowing down, and it's real and it's credible, and I think, you know, we -- we for our part, certainly take that seriously.

Q: Jay, what is the next missile defense attempt -- intercept attempt? Do you have a feel for that? You haven't had a successful one since 2010, or 2008, excuse me.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Let me get back to you there, Tony. I don't know that off the top of my head.

Q: You can say we're trying to improve it, but it hasn't been very evident.

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, I don't know if I would go that far, Tony, but I mean, we've been working pretty hard on that, and there have been -- there have been -- there's been quite a bit of success in the program.

Success is success. And I mean, there's been quite a bit of success in the program thus far, and we're constantly. This is a -- you know, it's a hard problem to solve, missile defense, and so we're -- we're working at it very, very, very, very diligently.
I'll get you -- I'll get you -- I'll have somebody get back to you on when the next tests are going to be. I don't -- I don't know that.

Q: (inaudible) improved warhead that needs to succeed in order to expand the missile defense shield. That would be a useful...

REAR ADM. KIRBY: Well, that's a more specific question than you first asked, but we'll -- we'll get back to you. Yes, sir. Happy to do that.

Anything else?

All right, everybody. Thanks. Have a good weekend.
 

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