Press Gaggle by Secretary Mattis En Route to Washington, D.C.

Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis


SECRETARY OF DEFENSE JAMES N. MATTIS: So I don't think I've talked to you much after Stuttgart, if at all, the 30 minute flight.  So there I talked to AFRICOM, headquarters.  The night before I talked to EUCOM.  It's folks -- the commanders, obviously, their key staff, but also with them.   
 
You know the way we have lines of effort about, you know, obviously, making a more lethal-ready force, but also creating stronger alliances, and that's what they're doing, partners working by, with and through our partners.   
 
NATO remains our number-one alliance.  So I spent a fair amount of time on that effort at EUCOM.  Obviously heartened coming out of the NATO ministerial would be an understatement, but the continued climbing of the defense budgets.  When you see Turkey in a position that, as we work through some very strong issues right now, strong in the sense they're elementary to our relationships, you also see Italy and Spain keeping their anti-air systems in Turkey as the alliance stands together, you know, as we work through issues. 
 
Having an alliance doesn't mean you don't have issues between allies.  Of course you do.  Every nation has its own interests.  But just to look around that room, again, and see 29 nations all working together to work those issues, you have to remember the fundamental strength of that alliance. 
 
And in EUCOM, the American element, military element of NATO, clearly a very, very focused outfit.   
 
And it was interesting, too, that in U.S. European Command, there were representatives of at least I think probably two dozen nations sitting in the room, military officers from other nations, sitting in the U.S.-EUCOM rooms, which, again, shows the candor with which we can speak with one another, as they're sitting right there.  That goes to a townhall. 
 
 I have no idea what sergeant so and so, and petty officer so and so are going to ask me, and I -- they hear it straight up between the Americans.  But it just shows the degree of rapport we maintain through thick and thin. 
 
  
 
At AFRICOM, we discussed the elements that they're supporting across at mostly Northern and SubSaharan Africa, and the Horn of Africa, to stop the violent extremists.  The efforts were heavily focuses there of course on the Trans-Sahel, the way ahead in Libya, and what we're doing in Somalia.  But also more broadly, as other nations see in this problem coming, work to prepare their forces and their internal processes to make sure that they're resilient in the face of what they're seeing their neighbors put up with. 
 
 Again, it's by and through allies there and partners there as well.  So the same thing. 
 
 Then came over to the Munich Security Conference, the biggest European Security Conference, draws the most people, and not just from Europe; they're from obviously around the world, as you saw the various folks there.  Obviously the U.S. and the NATO commitment is very, very good. Minister von der 
Leyen and Parly, Germany and France, kicked off the conference.  We talked about development and defense, deterrents, defense deterrents, and cooperation various operations.   You see a much more engaged Germany today than youand I could've guessed, even five years ago.   
 
 You see the French leading still the same campaign that initially saved Mali from what looked like and unfolding disaster.  Go back to those days -- had the French not moved when they did, it may have taken a political decision very swiftly -- their forces were in the field -- I'm talking within hours -- turning things around. 
 
 And today with more support coming in now from U.K., from Germany, from the United States, they have sustained this.  They're building the G-5 -- I think it's called G-5 Sahel. 
 
And at the same time, the development funds from the United States are reaching tens of millions of dollars to those countries bilaterally to us.  But basically putting more strength to those individual countries, as France is pulling them together. 
 
 So basically you see a much stronger European focus on defense.  You know, the -- for these democracies, and you know that some of them have been through economically very challenging times, going back now 10 years, and they're coming out of it.  But you see the defense portfolios being raised everywhere.   
 
As you recall, the dollars and euros, whatever is spent on defense across European are going down every year, until about three, four years ago.  And they have gone up every year since this year -- or, excuse me, 2017 obviously was the biggest growth in NATO defense spending since the turnaround, but it continues to go in that direction. 
 
So there will be some who focus on, while not everybody is committed yet to 2.0, and not everybody has submitted their national plans either, so, yes, welcome to reality.  In some nations it takes parliamentary work.  In some nations it takes different commitments that they'd rather put together, but those are all going in the right direction, especially when you look at it in aggregate, when you look at it in terms of the larger countries, when you look at the fact the Germans have been without a government for some months now, and they're still putting it together.  It looks very good.   
 

 And to hear minister von der Leyen in very pointed comments about Germany moving into more of a projecting security, than simply, you know, providing development funds only.  They do keep a very strong balance in their form of government between development and defense.  I see no problem with that.  I endorse it and support it.  And you're aware that the Americans continue to put out hundreds of millions of dollars a year, billions total, in development funding. 

 
So, you know, we all do it our own way, but what you see, again, are democracies working together.   
 
I also want to mention -- let me see if anything else on that-- certainly the growing economic output of the various countries' economies as they gather strength.  They're able to do more as well.  I also did a lot of bilateral meetings.  Two that I did today were with Georgia and Ukraine.  We stand with them on their territorial integrity.  Both those countries have territory, as you know, occupied by illegal Russian forces, or Russian -- Russian-supported forces.  So in both those cases, we stand with them in term of international law, in terms of strengthening their government-reform efforts, especially, obviously, in my case I work with their ministries of defense.  Appreciate their full-fledged efforts. 

 As you know, they came out from underneath Soviet domination.  They went through the gathering of freedom without many of the internal controls that we in the West enjoy, and they're now having to go through the reform effort to try to put in place the kind of things that you and I take for granted.  So we talked at some length about the reform efforts, and what we can do to assist them.  We are very responsive to their needs.  That's the way we do it.  And I've got, for example, with Ukraine, both from Department of State and from Department of Defense, we have key planners who help them with these efforts.  
 
Dropping back to the U.S. forces, because I'm on my way home now, we do have a higher expectation of deployability by our forces.  When I came in, I made it clear that I wasn't coming in -- just coming in to make change for change's sake; I wanted to take any problems onboard.   We would define the problems, and then we would solve them. 
 
The Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness about a week ago came out, having defined the problem that initially was brought to his attention by the U.S. Army, where they had many nondeployables on their rolls.  You may say, what's this?  People who've been injured and not returned to duty.  People who have -- and I'm not talking about combat injured now.  That's a separate category.  But people who are, just for one reason or another, are not able to deploy with their units.  It was a significant number, and the Army brought their concerns forward.  The other services also highlighted the concerns.   
 
They've come out with a policy that if you're not deployable for a year or more, you're going to have to go somewhere else. 
 
And let me explain what happens.  If you have 100,000 troops -- let's just pick a number, just for the sake of giving you mental model of this -- if 10,000 of them are not deployable, then 90,000 deploy more often, obviously to meet the same deployment standard.  So that's unfair. 
 
I had a lady here a couple of months ago tell me her husband was on -- who is preparing -- no, is on his sixth deployment, completing his fifth, and is now on his sixth combat deployment.  This lady had been married to the soldier for 11 years, OK.  When that sort of thing happens, that brings sharply into focus that some people are carrying more than the share of the load that I want them to carry.   
 
They need time at home.  They need time with their families.  We may enlist solders, we re-enlist families.  OK, that's the way it is.  If you can't keep the family together, then you're either going to lose the family or you're going to lose the solders, and that's a net loss for our society and for our military; that we put a lot of training into people nowadays.  So that policy is now out.   
 
  
 
Generally speaking it seems to me, as I reviewed the service policies, the policies were already strong enough, so some of this may simply be more adherence to the current policy that we have; some of it may require an effort within the DOD, the Office of Secretary of Defense policy, that we put out for the department now. 
 
But the bottom line is, we expect everyone to carry their share of the load, and you know, sometimes things happen, people bust their legs in training or they're in a car accident, we understand that, and if they -- sometimes that even takes a months of recovery.  We understand that.  But this is a deployable military.  It's a lethal military that aligns with our allies and partners.   
 
If you can't go overseas in your combat load -- carry a combat load, then obviously someone else has got to go. I want this spread fairly and equitably across the force. 
 
Let me think of anything else that's popped up lately.  Oh, on this Deir al-Zour situation, the -- I understand that the Russian government now is saying some of their not military forces, but contractors, were involved in that still unexplained attack on the SDF forces to east of the river.  In other words, to east of the deconfliction line, and again, apparently, to the apparent unawareness of the Russian officers that we coordinate with on the deconfliction communication line. 
 
So it is what it is.  I still cannot give you any more information on why they would do this.  The -- but they took direction from someone.  Was it local direction?  Was it from external sources?  Don't ask me.  I don't know.  But I doubt that 257 people all just decided on their individual own selves to suddenly cross the river into enemy territory and start shelling a location and maneuvering tanks against it. 
 
So whatever happened, we'll try to figure it out.  We'll work with, obviously, anyone who can answer that question, but I cannot, at this time. 
 
The Secretary of State met in Ankara -- a separate issue now.  He had -- he had a talk -- on all the issues that right now are causing friction, loss of rapport between us and our NATO ally Turkey.  
 
And while we understand their legitimate security concerns, as I've mentioned several times, that does not align with us concurring with attacks into areas that were not sources of violence before the attack into Afrin, for example. 
 
We concur with Turkey on the need for locals taking control of the liberated areas, and we're going to work with Turkey on the locals taking control, and with Turkey on every other irritant, or diversion or distraction, or every area.  We have many areas of absolute concurrence, too.  Remember that, they are an ally.  We work with them.  You see France -- you see Spain.  You see Italy working with them.  So this is not an all-one-way issue, but there are significant issues that the Secretary of State and his foreign minister counterpart agreed that we would work through. 
 
I can't tell you that we've resolved them all. That means we're going to work through them.  We're committed to them.  That's where we're going. 
 
So let me -- I've got a few more minutes here.  Let me take your questions. 
 
Sylvie, we'll start with you. 
 
Q:  You said that…Turkey…spoke about mechanisms.  How would these mechanism work in Afrin and Manbij?  
 
SEC. MATTIS:  Yes, how would the mechanisms work, for example, in Afrin.  That's exactly what we have to work out.  That's -- as you said, we're going to put them in place. 
  
So there's a commitment now to work them out.  We have to put them -- we have to draw them up together, and then we have to employ them. 
 
Q:  (off mic) 
 
SEC. MATTIS:  Pardon? 
 
Q:  (off mic) 
 
Q: Did you learn anything new from General Waldhauser on the Niger report? 
 
SEC. MATTIS:  Yes, on the Niger -- thank you for bringing that up.  On the Niger investigation, we will -- he gave me the timeline when he expects to be done with it, and when he expects to forward it to me, and the timeline will include the briefings to the families, the briefings to Capitol Hill, and the briefings, then, to everyone else.   
 
But the families need to know what we found first, and the Congress will be informed, and then we'll bring it out.  And sothat's what we discussed, the rollout. 
 
Q:  Has he started making his way through it?  I know you said it was thousands of pages. 
 
SEC. MATTIS:  No, we did not go into the -- I want to see his endorsement on it.  I want to see where he stands.  I want to read that.  That's not -- that would have -- that would have -- I -- we would still be parked in Stuttgart if we'd have gone into that.  This is a very extensive -- and rightly extensive -- investigation. 
 
Q:  Mr. Secretary, you mentioned Russian security contractors that the Russian government is saying were killed in Deir al-Zour.  Do you see those contractors, these groups -- does the Russian government have responsibility for their action in places like Ukraine and Syria?  
 
SEC. MATTIS:  I'd prefer not to answer that right now.  I need more information to understand --  understand and answer that authoritatively. 
 
  
 
Q:  And then if I may just follow-up. 
 
SEC. MATTIS:  Yes. 
 
Q:  Secretary Tillerson also on Syria said that chlorine use by the regime could bring a U.S. military retaliatory response. 
 
SEC. MATTIS:  What kind of use? 
 
Q:  Chlorine gas use. 
 
  

 Is that the policy right now. Would chlorine use... 
 
SEC. MATTIS:  No. 
 
Q:  ... risk a U.S. military retaliation. 
 
SEC. MATTIS:  I would stand with the Secretary of State. 
 
Q:  Sir, on the personnel issues... 
 
SEC. MATTIS:  Yes? 
 
Q:  ... we've heard from some folks in the military to say, look, I'm not deployable because of things like, I couldn't get my dentist appointment scheduled in time, issues that are related to bureaucracy.  So how do you handle that?  Do you have folks who... 
 
SEC. MATTIS:  Very simply by -- it's not just the troops have to do so, like I said, in some cases, it's the military services. It looks like their policies are fine, and they've got the problem, not the troop at all.  I mean, that means they're going to have to -- if I have -- for example, a place where everybody is dentally fully qualified and they've got a fort 200 miles with that, then bring down the dentists and get them qualified. 
 
I mean, this is a -- this isn't all just something stood up; this is also the services have got to make certain they're working on deployability.  I mean, some of it could probably be solved as easily as giving everybody their shots. 
 
But I'm not interested in the excuse; I want the solution.  You know, so that's where we're going to go -- yes? 
 
Q:  So what do you say to folks who would say, oh, he was trying to plus-up the military?  There's concerns about the sheer numbers; here if these guys aren't deployed, well, we can at least have them at headquarters staff doing these jobs, so other people don't have to do those jobs? 
 
SEC. MATTIS:  Yes, that means some are going to say, well, I -- I -- you know, I have a good health care system, I get 30 days vacation a year, but I don't deploy.  There's only one category of person we make that exemption for, and that's combat wounded.  If they were wounded in combat, and they want to stay in and they've lost their leg or something like this, and they can't be a paratrooper anymore, then we'll find a place to use them.  That's a special category.  They've earned that special status. 
 
Otherwise, you're either deployable, or you need to find something else to do.  I'm not going to have some people deploying, you know, constantly, and then other people who seem to not pay that price to be in the U.S. military. 
 
Yes. 
 
Q:  Thank you. A couple of questions.  
I wondered if you could talk through your thinking behind making so much for exclusive the competition with Russia... 
 
SEC. MATTIS:  What again? 
 
Q:  The -- making so much more explicit the competition with Russia and China, and how you have calibrated the risks and anything to with an arms race? 
 
And then a second question, if I can... 
 
SEC. MATTIS:  Yes, let me -- I'll hit you again, OK? 
 
On making explicit the competition, what made the competition explicit was the turning of atolls and features in the South China Sea in the military outposts.  What made the competition explicit in Europe is the invasion across the European border by Russians, and the taking of Crimea and the separatists that the Russians support in eastern Ukraine.  What'smade it explicit is the Russians monkeying around in our election, or the French election, or something like this. 
 
All we did was account for it in writing.  The explicit nature of it, the essence of it, is where the competition came into play. 
 
And you had another question?  
 
Q:  Yes.  When -- when you have considered to be the essential nature of war, I think my question is to explain that war is essentially human in its nature, and its aims -- and the character, of course, changes... 
 
SEC. MATTIS:  Yes. 
 
Q: And I wanted to ask, when you consider technological developments, when you look at the -- or see the future impact of A.I., in your calculations do you consider they're already made less human or nonhuman in essential character and nature of war? 
 
SEC. MATTIS:  That's a great question. 
 
Here's the -- let me explain what I see as the fundamental nature and the character, of you know war. 
 
The fundamental nature of war is almost like H20, OK, and you know what it is.  It's equipment, technology, courage competence, integration of capabilities, fear, cowardice, all these things mixed together into a very fundamentally unpredictable fundamental nature of war. 
 
The character of war changes all the time.  An old dead German called it a chameleon, OK.  He said it changes to adapt to its time, to the technology, to terrain, all these questions. 
 
So the question I just heard specifically about artificial intelligence.  In other words, where machines learn and adapt quickly, where they're somewhat just released. 
 
 For example, one of the most misnamed weapons in our system is the unmanned aerial vehicle. It may not have a person in the cockpit, but there's someone flying it.  There's someone over their shoulder.  
There's actually more people probably flying it than a manned airplane. There's all these people taking the downloads from it.  There's people deciding to load bombs on it or not, or ISR cameras, surveillance cameras on it.  It's not unmanned. 
 
 A.I. is fundamentally different.  Go back to the fundamental nature.  It's fundamentally different.  So will that remove some of the fundamental nature of war issues? 
 
I don't know right now, because at some point there's going to be a human who does something.  Even if it's nothing more than open the garage door and let them out.   
 
If we ever get to the point where it's completely on automatic pilot and we're all spectators, then it's not longer serving a political purpose.  And conflict is a social problem that needs social solutions, people, human solutions, OK. 
 
So it's still early.  In order to answer that question, we have got some initiatives going on in the Pentagon.  We have an innovation board, I mentioned the other day, of people who actually deal with this, and have been thinking about it for 20 years, rather than bringing, you know, us in with our legacy mindset that are going to impart to us where they see this going. 
 
But I think this -- this is, again, part of a human problem, a social problem of conflict.   
 
So I can't answer your question, but I'm certainly questioning my original premise that the fundamental nature of war will not change.  I -- you've to question that now.  I just don't have the answers yet. 
 
Q:  Can I have a quick follow-up on Libya? 
 
(CROSSTALK) 
 
SEC. MATTIS:  Libya? 
 
Q:  Libya and the way ahead. 
 
SEC. MATTIS:  Yes. 
 
Q:  Have there been discussions on, is there for planned U.S. involvement. Can you tell us anything? 
 
SEC. MATTIS:  I don't know if there's more U.S. involvement.  We've been quietly, in the diplomatic realm, working with a number of counties, obviously European Middle Eastern, North Africa.  We've been doing a lot in the diplomatic arena.  We've been doing some in the military, although that's been more heavily carried by other counties, and you know, France, for example, Italy. 
 
 I -- you know, right now, we've got to find a way forward, again, for some kind of diplomatic, brokered solution that starts with the different groups inside the country.   
 
Its -- it needs more attention.  We've been giving, from the U.S. point of view, more attention, but we need to come up with some clearly demarcated ways ahead, rather than just every time we seem to get together it seems to go nowhere.  You know, it just -- it just wanders on. 
 
And I know Secretary Tillerson got together with a number of countries to talk about this weeks back.  And I'm now fully up on what they're going, but I know they are working on it.