REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody. I'm Admiral John Kirby, press secretary for Secretary Hagel. The secretary will open with a few remarks and then we'll have time for just -- for just a few questions after that. And I'll be moderating the questions.
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE CHUCK HAGEL: John, thank you.
Over the last two days, my fellow ministers and I have had important discussions about the future of our alliance and the capabilities that will be required to strengthen this alliance in the future.
We also talked about the ISAF mission in Afghanistan and about NATO's defense relationship with Ukraine -- a relationship that is particularly important, given the political change that's now unfolding. Let me address each of these.
First - our NATO capabilities. I reassured allies of America, that America continues to stay committed, will be committed to NATO, to this very critically important alliance, and committed to our global responsibilities around the world.
I noted the president's budget that I will present to Congress next week preserves and protects key capabilities such as missile defense and other capabilities that we discussed today and yesterday in our sessions. These capabilities underpin our commitment to European security.
I also pointed out that as we go forward, U.S. defense strategy demands even closer partnership with our European allies. As allied nations confront fiscal pressure on both sides of the Atlantic and as NATO transitions out of its combat mission in Afghanistan, many of us plan to field smaller military forces in the years ahead. That is understandable. It's realistic.
But I made clear my conviction to buy readiness and to buy capability and combat power with the savings the United States military achieves through a smaller force. We expect NATO allies to do the same. The United States will continue encouraging its allies to make some of the same tough strategic decisions that we are having to make in the United States when protecting readiness and modernization.
This is a time to set priorities, to make difficult choices, and to reinvest in the key capabilities we will all need for the future, including those that have been neglected over the last decade of war.
Ahead of this year's Wales Summit, the secretary general is putting a focus on improving NATO's military capabilities so that we can make a down payment on meeting shortfalls.
As an alliance, we must invest in global reach, technological superiority and leading-edge capabilities like cyber and special operations. In our discussions on capabilities, I emphasize that we must focus not only on how much we spend, but how we spend it strategically and is it effective, and are we together.
On Afghanistan, this ministerial was an opportunity to take stock on what we have accomplished together over the last 13 years. There is much to be proud of. The progress we have made is reflected in the growing confidence of Afghans and their national institutions and the leading role the Afghan national security forces are now taking and playing in securing their country.
As we look beyond the end of our combat mission this year, I told ISAF ministers that the United States continues to support planning for a non-combat NATO-led mission that would train, advise and assist Afghan forces after 2014. But the longer we go without a bilateral security agreement and a NATO status of forces agreement, the more challenging it will be for the United States and other ISAF nations to support, plan and execute this post-2014 mission.
That's why earlier this week, President Obama directed the U.S. military to begin additional contingency planning. We will ensure that adequate plans are in place to accomplish an orderly withdrawal by the end of the year should the United States not keep any troops in Afghanistan after 2014.
Today in our ISAF session, we agreed that the alliance should also begin planning for various contingencies in Afghanistan while still supporting continued planning for the Resolute Support mission. I welcome the secretary general's leadership in this regard.
And I want to commend General Breedlove and General Joe Dunford for their effective and critically important leadership of this campaign, and particularly General Dunford's consistent, wise, and steady leadership. This leadership is particularly important as Afghanistan heads into election season and the Afghan national security forces assume full responsibility for security in Afghanistan.
The final session held today was on NATO-Ukraine relations. It was the NATO-Ukraine Commission meeting. In light of the rapidly evolving political situation in Ukraine, I was pleased to welcome Ukraine's participation in the ministerial. And today I affirm America's strong support for Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty. And NATO defense ministers made the same declaration in a joint statement.
We expect other nations to respect Ukraine's sovereignty and avoid provocative actions. That's why I'm closely watching Russia's military exercises along the Ukrainian border, which they announced, as you know, yesterday. I expect Russia to be transparent about these activities. And I urge them not to take any steps that could be misinterpreted or lead to miscalculation during a very delicate time, a time of great tension.
It's important for all nations with an interest in a peaceful future for Ukraine to work together transparently to support a Ukrainian government that fulfills the aspirations of its people.
Our session today also focused on Ukraine's opportunities for defense reform and our ongoing military-to-military cooperation, including Ukraine's participation in NATO operations. And we welcomed the Ukrainian armed forces' responsible decision to exercise restraint amidst the nation's political turmoil.
From Kandahar to Kiev, 20 years ago, none of us could have foreseen the ways in which NATO now contributes to global security. With the strong support of the United States, NATO has been and must continue to be a force for peace, prosperity, and freedom not only in Europe, but around the world. That is our responsibility in the 21st century.
Thank you. I'm glad to respond to questions.
ADM. KIRBY: Thank you, sir. Our first question came -- comes from (inaudible). Yep, right there.
Q: (inaudible) -- from -- (inaudible).
I ask about the -- the defense capabilities of NATO. You said that it's not important how much we spend, but how we spend. But NATO has released its defense spending figures for last year, just a few days ago, and the fact is that the European defense spending is falling rapidly and only few countries actually meet the target.
With a view of the end of the ISAF mission to end of this year and with it additional pressure on defense spending in -- in Europe, aren't you afraid that we'll end up with -- in couple of years with in some countries, some parts of Europe, really?
SEC. HAGEL: We talked about those general areas of commitment. I mentioned here in my remarks resources are -- are important. Commitments, capabilities are important. The secretary general has put a focus on this as he has probably noted, as I mentioned in my remarks.
As I have mentioned in my remarks, as I did in the sessions, we all need to do more. Our European allies need to do more.
I also noted, as I did here this afternoon, that all of us on both sides of the Atlantic have budget restraints. These are -- these are tough budget issues we're all having to face. But when you are in those kinds of environments, you need to prioritize. You need to focus on capabilities that have an overall connection to strategic interest for all of us, all 28 nations.
We're doing that. I think Secretary General Rasmussen's focus on this, his leadership on this particular area the last two years has been critically important. But all nations in NATO need to understand and appreciate that they each have a responsibility. Resources have to match the mission and capabilities are critically important. And it's critically important that this institution, this organization continue to keep the edge that we've had over the years since it was established -- that technological edge.
And we can do more. We are doing more -- more joint exercises, more ways where we can find joint ways to participate.
So yes, I recognize restraints for our European allies. We have restraints. I'll be involved in presenting those specifics at a budget hearing -- two budget hearings next week along with Chairman Dempsey.
But this is a time, just as General Dempsey on our side, as well as Secretary General Rasmussen here have emphasized, to prioritize, strategically think through what your requirements are, what your capabilities will be and then match those.
And I have great confidence that we will.
ADM. KIRBY: Bob?
Q: Mr. Secretary, Bob Burns from the Associated Press.
A question for you about Afghanistan. A number of senior American military officers have said that in the absence of a follow-on U.S. military advisory mission in Afghanistan after this year, that the capabilities of Afghan security forces would deteriorate, and with it, security in general would deteriorate in Afghanistan.
Do you have reason to believe that that's not the case? And do you have some concerns that, in fact, the gains over the past 13 years could be -- could be unraveled if -- if that were the case?
SEC. HAGEL: Bob, I think that's much the essence of the point about no BSA and why the BSA is important -- why it's important to have it signed mow, which that bilateral security agreement that would give us, the United States, the assurance we need to make the kind of commitments that we want to continue to make if the Afghan people want us there to help them in post-2014.
Then the status-of-forces agreement that NATO is going to require, and the ISAF partners, no nation can commit troops or resources or its people to a sovereign nation if, first, you have to be invited; and second, you have to have the rights and the immunities and the ground rules and the authorities to have your people there.
That takes planning. That takes budgets. That takes -- we're all democracies. You've got to go to your parliaments. We have to go to our Congress.
So the longer that goes, yes, I think one of the consequences could very well be an erosion of confidence. I hope that doesn't happen. This is a point that President Obama made with President Karzai, and why it is so important to have a bilateral security agreement that we all can work from to make the kind of commitments that we want to make, that NATO has planned for, we've been planning for.
But we live in a real world. I deal with reality. Any leader deals with reality. So, yes, there are always risks and there are always uncertainties.
ADM. KIRBY: Our next question will come from Brooks Tigner, Jane's Defense.
Q: Yes, I want to deal with my colleague's question, our capabilities.
Mr. Hagel, every one of your predecessors and all NATO secretary generals since the fall of the Berlin wall have badgered the European allies to develop their share of capabilities, and yet very little of sizable substance has come from that. We all know what needs to be done. But do you really expect this to change anytime soon? And if so, why do you think that?
SEC. HAGEL: I think, first, the time in which we live -- let's step back for a moment and look at the environment. In my lifetime, post-World War II, I don't know of a more uncertain, tenuous, complicated, dangerous time in the world in most regions of the world than today.
Technology has driven new threats and new technology and new dynamics that we didn't have 10 years ago. We didn't have, certainly after World War II, certainly not in the Cold War. Yes, we had the nuclear threat. That was real, but you had some certainty and it was a bipolar world. And you had some accountability and responsibility of governments at that time.
Was it dangerous? Of course it was dangerous. Weapons are dangerous. But today, terrorism, the advent of these technologies, these emerging threats, presents new kinds of threats and challenges in the world. And I say that because that's the world that we live in today. That's the world that NATO deals with and is going to continue to deal with in the future.
You talk about capabilities. Well, some of the most important capabilities where -- European allies understand this, we all understand it -- where we're going to have to find the resources to finance those, that in particular, the secretary general mentioned. He talked about seven that we want to focus on as we go into the summit in September.
Cyber, which we're -- which we're doing, that affects everybody, cyber warfare, the potential of destruction to a country via a cyber attack without anyone firing a shot, with an uncertainty of where it's coming from; the paralysis that it could bring to a nation, essentially decimating an economy. That's just but one example.
I think precision strike pieces of the sophisticated technology that we are going to be required to use more and more; command and control, hugely essential to the 28 members of NATO and how we command and control the assets we have, how do we use those in a smart, wise, responsible way.
I think those are just some examples of why I think we live at a different time, why I think our leaders on this side of the Atlantic -- and I have to, as do other leaders in Washington, I have got to continue to convince my Congress. The president of the United States has to continue to convince our leaders.
And we should -- we should be held to the accountability of making the case as to why we need the kind of resources we need.
So I think if, for no other reason, that new environment, the new realities that face us all, present a new kind of challenge -- and it's not a challenge that can be deferred. This is a challenge that's right now, that is absolutely right now.
So, we're going to continue to work with our partners. I committed to them today and yesterday that we would do that. I'm committed as President Obama is, I think our Congress is, to protect our interests, our obligations and responsibilities around the world, our treaty obligations with NATO and other parts of the world.
We'll do that. It’s clearly in our interest. That's the bottom line. Why would countries find the resources? It's -- it's in their interest. It's clearly in their interest, as it is ours.
ADM. KIRBY: We have time for just one more. Gopal?
Q: Gopal Ratnam with Bloomberg News.
Mr. Secretary, you said in your remarks that you were closely watching the Russian exercises, you know, near Ukraine. A couple of questions from that. One, do you believe these exercises have led to an increase in violence in Crimea?
And second, what actions have you taken? Have you spoken with your Russian counterpart to seek any clarification on what are Russia's intentions with these exercises?
And number three, if I could also ask you, would the United States consider taking any action in terms of sending naval vessels or military assets to the region?
SEC. HAGEL: My staff and Minister Shoigu's staff are arranging a call now. I would look forward to talking with Minister Shoigu sometime here in the next day or two, so that's in process.
I know, as I think most of you do, that Secretary Kerry is going to be speaking with Minister Lavrov. We have other connecting points here and we are talking with the Russians through other channels who are government-to-government channels.
On the situation in Crimea, I know some of the details from reports, I haven't seen them all. Secretary General Rasmussen gave a readout here about an hour-and-a-half ago or two hours ago in our latest session. We're following this very closely. Obviously, we all are.
The United States surely is. Until we know more details of what's really happened there, who's in charge, I think the focus should be on, as I said in my remarks, let's -- let's keep the tensions down; let's see no provocative actions by anyone, any military.
These are difficult times. We all understand that. But this is a time for very cool, wise leadership on the Russian side, on everybody's side here.
So, yes, we're concerned. We're closely monitoring it and we are continuing to talk with our Russian counterparts about what their intentions are; what -- what the motives are behind some of this.
ADM. KIRBY: Thanks very much, everybody.
SEC. HAGEL: Thank you.