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Media Availability with Secretary Hagel enroute to Singapore

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel
May 30, 2013

            SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL:  I wore my best red socks for Joe Morton. 

            But I know that it might be interpreted, Joe, as a little Texas orange.  But I did the best I could.  Damn dog ate my real red socks, so don't tell Ms. Hagel I said that as she's very fond of that dog. 

            Let me start this way.  I'll give you a little framework of my involvement with Shangri-La Dialogue.  I know you've gotten some background on that.  But let me cover some of that.  And then address the next couple of days, reference my speech tomorrow.  And then we'll open it up and talk about whatever you want to talk about. 

            I think it was about 2000 when John Chipman, who was the real energy and intellect and force behind the idea of this Shangri-La Dialogue came to me -- I think it was about 2000 -- in the Senate and told me what he was thinking about doing. 

            And he, as you may know, had the concept of Verkunde, the Munich Security Conference, which many of you have been to that is 50 years old.  And it was put together, as you know, Verkunde, to bring the NATO Western Alliance defense ministers together once a year outside of NATO to address these big security issues.

            Chipman's point was I think we need that for Asia, that Asia is emerging into this incredible power with the growth and emergence of China, India, Vietnam, other countries.  And I was very enthusiastic about the concept and told him that I thought he was exactly right, that I would help him any way I could. 

            And I was on the Foreign Relations Committee at the time.  So we had a couple of more conversations about that.  And at the time, my foreign relations counsel was Dr. Andrew Parasiliti, who later became affiliated with the IISS [International Institute for Strategic Studies].  In fact, he ran the IISS office in Washington for a few years, up until just recently and was a national -- international director.  And he's very close to John Chipman. 

            Well, Andrew was my foreign relations counsel at the time.  So I went to the leadership in the Senate at the time and the House and I went to Lugar and Biden and the leadership on the Foreign Relations Committee and told them that I thought this was really an important concept and we should get behind it. 

            And they all agreed.  And that resulted, I think, in the first Shangri-La Dialogue 2002, I think, of me leading the congressional delegation, along with Jack Reed, Senator Jack Reed.  And I thought that was important because Jack Reed was on the Armed Services Committee, as he still is. 

            And Jack and I had gotten to the Senate the same year and actually he and traveled around the world a lot in the 12 years I was in the Senate. 

            And so we took a delegation to Shangri-La.  And I spoke at the first Shangri-La Dialogue.  I led the next two.  I guess we alternated, Jack and I, because there was a party change, if you remember in there.  So Jack led one and I think I led two.  But the first three Shangri-La Dialogues I attended.  I either co-chaired the delegation or chaired it.  And I spoke at all three.

            I have not been back since.  I give you that as a little setup to at least my initial involvement and understanding.  And it is, as you know, developed into a premier and very relevant not just concept, but institution now, and it become more and more important every year. 

            And there's no other event, no other venue like it.  It is that important.  And when we started, I don't believe the first two years there was Chinese representation.  There may have been, but it was very, very low, if at all.  I don't think there was any Russian involvement. 

            Now you've got Europeans; you've got -- you got most of the world powers are represented. 

            My speech:  you heard some of the references I made this morning in answer to some of the questions and then some of the comments I made at the hangar on some of the big issues. 

            We put a lot of time -- I personally put a lot of time into this speech.  I think at this time, at this moment, in world affairs, Asia Pacific/America's rebalancing to the Asia Pacific/resetting-repositioning of American assets/economic interests, all really do converge as clearly at this intersection at this time as we've seen.

            I assume next year we'll even be more pronounced, the importance.  This is an important time.  So I've paid a lot of attention in putting this speech together.  All these guys, these smart people around me, were very much a part of that.  

            I reached out to a lot of people helping me put this speech together, people in the government, State Department, White House, Trade Department, certainly our people, Admiral Locklear's people and NATO people, and then a lot of smart people who are out of government right now. 

            And I wanted to get everybody's input into this, what they thought. 

            So that's a -- that's a bit of the background on the speech tomorrow. 

            Then, as you know, I'll have an opportunity to do a number of bilaterals, which are never in-depth because you don't have enough time. 

            But they're important for reasons and always have been.  One is the optic.  I mean -- I mean just having an optic of some of the trilaterals we're going to have, Japan, South Korea, the United States.  That in itself sends a message.  That doesn't fix the problems and the issues and the concerns.  But it's a beginning. 

            Then the substance of those meetings; you never have time to get into all of it, but what you can do is you can take that time to really focus on the big issues.  And then you can usually set something in motion as a follow-up to those big issues. 

            And it also gives the leaders -- in this case, most of the ministers of defense; in some cases they'll be prime ministers in some of this, as you know -- an opportunity to kind of look at each other on this versus sending memos back and forth or getting reports but to sit down face to face and engage on some of these issues.

            And there's no substitute for that.  So I have always believed -- my time in the Senate, before I was in the Senate, after I was in the Senate, that these kind of dialogues, these kind of venues are critically important, especially at a time when the world is so closely connected.  We are all crowding together, seven billion people, putting two billion more people on the face of the Earth.  

            The world's not going to get any less complicated.  

            We better take these moments to start some of this out now because what you try to do, more than anything else -- and these are important parts of that -- avoid crises, avoid crises that you don't find countries and situations that evolve and develop because of technology and the astounding rapidity and pace of world affairs and resulting in very limited, if any, margin of error on mistakes. 

            There have -- there's very little margin of error that you've got now in -- on big issues.  So let's get to your questions. 

            GEORGE LITTLE:  All right, Lita ? 

            Q:  Mr. Secretary, just following up on what you said about the speech and about some of your meetings, considering sequestration and considering the budget cuts, what can you say to some of your allies who have already seen reports of the U.S. canceling or delaying ship deployments, canceling pilot training and other key critical defense training and issues? 

            What can you say to them that will relieve their worries that perhaps this pivot to Asia may not happen as quickly or as broadly as they may have thought before? 

            And will this affect how quickly you can get 60 percent of the Naval assets onto the Pacific? 

            And will if affect deployments down the road? 

            SEC. HAGEL:  I'm going to address that question very clearly, very directly tomorrow because it's a very legitimate question that all of our allies and our partners have and should have. 

            Let me begin this way:  as you all know, soon after I got to the Pentagon, I directed a strategic choice management review.  And I did that for many reasons.  But one of the most essential reasons I asked for that review, exploring everything, was recognizing that we are going to be limited in our budgets and we know what the law is now. 

            And we know that that is going to be and mean and drive a further prioritization of where we deploy our assets, based on our strategic interests. 

            Now that said, to get to more of the specific questions, if you look at our repositioning, resetting, rebalancing of our assets so far to fulfill the president's strategic defense guidance on the rebalance toward Asia Pacific. 

            We're on track.  I'll give you some examples, which I will give a number of examples tomorrow in my speech.  We have been undertaking more new bilateral initiatives with partners than we ever have.  At the same time, we're fulfilling all of the larger alliance responsibilities we have on all of our exercises. 

            We move the first literal combat ship, the USS Freedom, to Singapore.  So every measurement of our commitment to that rebalance we're carrying forward. 

            You have to assess what are the priorities of your nation, what are the strategic interests of your nation.  

            Now I'm going to also say in that speech tomorrow, as we carry forward and carry out this new rebalance, and implement the president's strategic guidance, that doesn't mean we're retreating from the rest of the world.  We're not. 

            But the adaptability and the adjustments and the flexibility that are in constant orbit in a very dynamic shifting world will continually demand the prioritization of our resources and our assets. 

            For example, we have unwound over one long war, an eight-year war in Iraq; we are unwinding out of the longest war in our nation's history.  As we redeploy and reset assets to focus on priorities, strategic interests we have elsewhere, there will be some natural movement.  And that would occur whether there was a rebalancing or not.

             So the review that I asked for was intended very much to focus on that, how are the -- are we then going to provide the kind of asset capability that we have committed to those strategic interests reflected in the rebalance and, at the same time, as we bring down our force structure, which we've already committed to -- it's in the budgets; that's not new -- Marines, Army, everyone -- as we have to make other choices on our strategic acquisitions and investment accounts on weapons systems and so on, all this has to be balanced.  

            But I'll get into this tomorrow in some detail.  But I hope that answers enough.

            MR. LITTLE:  David? 

            Q:  Thank you. 

            I wonder if you could update us a little bit on the U.S. assessment of Syrian chemical weapons use.  There have been a number of new reports recently about that has the Pentagon been able to corroborate those reports? 

            And does it change the view of how pervasive those have been, how pervasive the use of chemical weapons has been? 

            SEC. HAGEL:  You all know that we continue, this government, to work with our allies on the -- on this issue.  We continue to find ways working with those allies to get the higher ground of reconciliation to stop the violence and the killing.  And that's, of course, a major part of what Secretary Kerry is doing, has been doing, with the Russians and others. 

            And so that still is ongoing.  We remain committed and even putting more resources into nonlethal assistance for opposition forces.  We stay very close to monitoring the chemical weapons part of this.  

            As you know, the French and the British have requested the United Nations -- more activity in trying to find ways to get into Syria, to actively investigate.  But I think I would suffice my answer to probably stop there.  

            It doesn't change anything.  We're continuing to do what we're doing with our partners and making adjustments in every way to provide the president with every option that he may -- he may require.  But I think most countries believe -- and certainly we do -- that what is most immediately essential is to stop the killing and stop the violence, stop the deterioration.  And that's not easy. 

            And if we can find the higher ground of cooperation with Russia and other nations, then we can take it to next steps and how do -- how does this get resolved.  And we'll continue to be very involved in that. 

            MR. LITTLE:  Anybody else? 

            Ken? 

            Q:  Thanks, Mr. Secretary, Ken Dilanian from the L.A. Times. 

            Question on cyber:  the breaches of weapons systems data by China that was discussed in that Defense Science Board report and other breaches maybe that haven't been publicized, do you believe those have damaged U.S. national security? 

            Do you think the strategy of calling out China publicly has borne fruit? 

            And then lastly, will this topic be discussed in Singapore?  Do you think anything concrete can come out of your discussions? 

            SEC. HAGEL:  This topic will be discussed during my two days in Singapore.  I will address this issue in my speech tomorrow.  

            As to your questions about strategies and how to deal with this, I do think it's always important when dealing with other nations that you use a very significant range of options.  That means public diplomacy and always private engagement. 

            I've rarely seen that public engagement resolves a problem.  But it's important, public engagement, that countries, people understand -- and I think governments have some responsibility to their people, whether it's the U.S. government or the Chinese government or any government -- to state where they are on these issues. 

            Cyber threats are real.  They're terribly dangerous.  They're probably as insidious and real a threat to the United States -- as well as China, by the way -- and every nation.  This is not a threat just unique to America.  It's unique to no one.  It crosses all borders. 

            And when you look at the quiet, stealthy, insidious, dangerous outcomes that occur and can occur by taking down power grids and wiping out energy computers and financial systems, and neutralizing defense capability computers and space, that's not, again, a unique threat to the United States; everybody.  

            So we've got to find ways here -- goes back to my earlier points -- working with the Chinese, working with everybody, a rules of the road, some international understandings, some responsibility that governments have to take.  I mean, we know, the United States knows, most countries that have any kind of saber -- cyber capacity know where many of these incursions come from. 

            It's pretty hard to prove that they are directed by any specific entity.  But we can tell where they come from.  And I think we've got to be honest with that -- about that.  I think we've got to let people know that. 

            But you solve these problems and you get to an understanding by using the other range of your -- of your capacities and that's more private.  But it has to be public as well.  And we'll deal with this.  We must deal with this.  This is a very dangerous threat to all of us. 

            MR. LITTLE: Mathieu? 

            Q:  Thank you. 

            Just to follow up on cyber, you said this morning that the answer to face a cyber threat, you -- no country could do it alone.  And there was a need to work with allies and partners to counter that. 

            Next week at NATO, there will be the first dedicated ministerial session on cyber defense.  So do you have a message as well as your will -- you might convey in Shangri-La or in NATO next week to allies and partners to what you should do together to try to face this threat? 

            SEC. HAGEL:  You're correct that cyber will be a centerpiece of the NATO ministerial meeting next week in Brussels, which as you know, I will attend.  I know most of you will be there. 

            And the intent of that meeting is to engage, just as you noted, how we all need to find ways, international standards agreements, commit to responsible use of cyber and deal with these real threats. 

            These threats are not getting any -- not only less complicated, but they're not occurring less  frequently.  And this is going to be a big part of the discussions. 

            You know, one of the hopeful parts of the Chinese-U.S. issue here, as it is with all the different issues, is the military-to-military relationship that is evolving and building.  General Dempsey, in his trip to China in April, built on what's already been done.  The president's bilateral meeting next week in California with President Xi will build on that. 

            Donilon's meeting over in China framed up much of that meeting.  I've invited the Chinese minister of defense to Washington in August.  I'll be meeting with the Chinese delegation in Singapore.  These are issues that we're going to continue to deal with, frame up, put right at the top of the agenda.  

            And again, there's only way to deal with these issues, that's straight up.  And we'll -- we intend to use all these venues and that closer cooperation and closer venue building to hopefully get us in a position where we can get some better understanding, clearer understanding, of what these rules of the road are, what governments' responsibilities are here, too, on all this. 

            MR. LITTLE:  Got time for one or two. 

            Ernesto? 

            Q:  Mr. Secretary, I'd like to ask you about Afghanistan.  As you well know, this has been a very intense fighting season.  We've seen quite a bit of bloodshed so far across the country.  We've particularly seen a lot of violence in Kabul and violence targeted toward NGO groups. 

            I'd like to get your assessment of how the war effort is going, as you have a number of challenging crossroads on the horizon.  You have the election; you have the strategic framework agreement.  How worried are you about the amount of violence we've been seeing and how that might affect your broader goals? 

            SEC. HAGEL:  I'm the secretary of defense, so I'm always worried.  That's a part of the contract, to be worried every minute of every day about everything. 

            On Afghanistan, you're right; you've framed some of the big issues up on what has to be done this year in going forward. 

            A lot going on:  let's start with the violence that you mentioned and the uptick in the violence. 

            That's not anything that anyone did not expect.  The Taliban was quite clear about that.  So that isn't anything that is particularly new. 

            What I think is particularly new and is going to much determine the future of Afghanistan is how well the Afghan forces respond and continue to respond and strengthen and build in taking the load and responsibility for the combat leadership for their country.  That was always intended.  They agree with that.  That's what they should do.  That's what they want to do. 

            So I think that's the real test here.  And when you've got suicide bombers and when you've got the kind of weaponry that's being used out there to maim and kill innocent people especially, that's always a dynamic that you deal with, you plan for. 

            But to a certain extent, there's always an element of that you can't control.  And the way you do get a hold of that is you've got to have the people of a country supporting the efforts of a government and the efforts of the larger purpose as to what's trying to be done, what is the objective, what's attempting to be done here, a better, freer, open country that gives Afghanistan and its people some new hope. 

            The framework issue, the bilateral security agreement issue, all of those issues are being worked on.  They are being worked on every day.  We're getting closer to those kind of agreements.  We have ISAF partners, as you know, that still want to be part of this, have committed to be part of it.  

            And so all this is now shifting, not unplanned, not unforeseen, in a very important way at a very important time.  And this transition has to be done right, because these next two years, this transition are really key to the success of Afghanistan and how this comes out. 

            Then you get beyond the borders of Afghanistan, what you have to factor that in, any country that has been undergoing the tremendous challenges and violence that Afghanistan has been enduring over the years, that doesn't happen in a vacuum.  What's going on in Pakistan has and continues to have -- and will continue to have -- an effect on the future of Afghanistan. 

            There's a hopeful new sign in Pakistan, starting with the fact, for the first time, you had one elected government transition to another elected government that's in formation.  We're helping support that in every way we can. 

            Now it's imperfect; there are issues.  There are problems, but we shouldn't dismiss some pretty important things have happened here.  Now, long way to go, of course.  But let's build on the foundation of the positive things that are allowing Pakistan here to move forward, which affects Afghanistan to move forward.  These are regional partnerships that we also have to think about and work with. 

            So all those things will be especially, I think, part of the agenda in Brussels next week, along with cyber and some of the other issues.  And I'll be very engaged in those specific issues as well. 

            MR. LITTLE:  All right.  Maybe one final question? 

            From VOA,  Luiz? 

            SEC. HAGEL:  You may have to handle that microphone (inaudible) deserve. 

            Q:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary. 

            On Guantanamo, where -- can you update us where you are on the -- in the process of beginning to close down the detention facility?  Have you appointed anyone to head up that effort?  And do you have a timeline in mind for the release of those detainees who have been cleared of charges, for the transfer of those detainees? 

            SEC. HAGEL:  Well, you all are familiar with the president's speech on this, when he laid out what he intends to do, which I strongly support.  It's the right thing to do it.  All the implementation of the president's plans and policy to go forward are being worked right now.  And at the appropriate time, we'll be able to give you specific answers to those specific questions. 

            STAFF:  All right.  Thanks, everyone.

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