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Media Availability with Secretary Carter Enroute to Washington, D.C.

Press Operations

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter
June 5, 2015
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STAFF: Thanks guys. Thanks for doing this one. It may be a little bit bumpy. The secretary's going to walk through his impressions of his meeting this morning and then take some questions. Since this is a small group, we'll probably get around to everybody at least once, so we'll see how our time goes.

Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER: All righty.

Well, first of all, thanks once again for coming. We're getting to be like family here on this airplane with all these stops, and so today was a completely new subject of course, with a different part of the world and a new bunch of topics. Let me first describe, and I know (inaudible) has done a lot of this, just to repeat what the purpose of my convening this meeting was. And it's similar in spirit to what I did in Kuwait from -- (inaudible) -- Middle East. And it was to bring together the diplomatic team and the military team to assess the situation in Europe, the security situation in Europe with some special emphasis on Russia, Ukraine.

With the entire politico-military team in recognition of two things: the first that these issues are in their nature not purely military. And so one has to have a wider perspective of the solution or even to figure out what the military piece is -- (inaudible) -- are. And the second is the vast expertise represented by in this case the ambassadors and our principle deputy assistant secretary of state, (inaudible) and affairs and these people know the situation on the ground in those countries, and well, most of them have been at this for decades. And so there's a stock of knowledge there that is as deep and broad as it is in our COCOMs [combatant commands] who also have a really very experienced people.

And so this was a whole of DOD and whole of government, I call it team USA. And the reason for the timing of it is the recognition that we have a busy month coming up of kind of one thing after another. There's the G7 summit, which is sure to deal with this. There is the -- a NATO defense ministerial (off-mic) my own thinking and my team's thinking in advance of that, and of course there's the E.U. meeting also at the end of the month, a critical one on the renewable sanctions on the one year anniversary of last summer's illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia.

The -- a couple of reflections that I think (inaudible) the meeting, which -- so the first one's sort of ironic if you reflect on the fact that a couple of years ago, we were all and it was much discussed in NATO what was NATO going to do next after Afghanistan and was there a mission for NATO? What would come next? And I think that it certainly comes across very clearly in the assessment of the situation in the European environment that not only is there one, but two clear nations that are preoccupied with NATO and rightly.

And so one is the Russian situation in Ukraine, and more generally, the Putin challenge to Europe and to the post-Soviet structure and order there. And the other is the ISIL phenomenon, foreign fighters in North Africa in proximity to NATO shores. Security problems.

So going from wondering whether we had enough in NATO to do, and now having plenty for NATO to do.

And then if we go back even further in time (inaudible) when I started this, is this -- the form in which NATO conceived of its own territorial defense. Now that was also against -- (inaudible) -- but it was very different, because that was before there were a whole number of aspects of modern conflict that didn't even exist during the Cold War. I'll just name a couple, but cyber is an obvious one, asymmetrical type of conflict of the kind that you saw being fanned in Ukraine. And so it's pretty clear that the -- that the strategic dimensions of this are very different from the way they were back in those days, and that was after the (inaudible) as well.

One last thing. Historical note for me. This is a part of the world that is very familiar. I have been all over the -- the -- well, the former Soviet Union because I was building the defense and intelligence relationships with them in the 1990s. And so our first defense initiatives (inaudible) all of the (inaudible) and the Caucasus. Now, to mention Russia and Ukraine, -- (inaudible) -- of that, I was in Budapest for the signing of the agreement that Vladimir Putin basically defied in Crimea last year, and I was at the Yavoriv training range in Ukraine in the summer of 1996 when the last nuclear weapon crossed the border from Ukraine into Russia -- (inaudible) -- nuclear program -- (inaudible) -- at that time.

So this is pretty much familiar territory. (inaudible) -- except that it makes it easier for me to relate to some of the issues that are there -- there now.

So we're asking ourselves, are we doing the right thing, and are you prepared to make the right decisions in the next month and month and a half?

A few observations I'll make, and then I'll take your questions. The first is that the -- the -- Russia is clearly very challenging and it tends to be challenging. It's by intention challenging the NATO and the United States. But on the other hand we have this great asset, which is the solidarity of the western (inaudible) represented in NATO, and that's just a tremendous strength that shows up in so many of the things we've talked about like exercises, joint training, and the capabilities of NATO, NATO countries collectively. And you know that is something that we have that Russia does not have. And it reflects our -- the -- the values that we bring to the world, and how basically popular they are, how widely shared they are, and how whatever Putin's efforts might be to scroll backward in time the Russia's trajectory, the rest of the world and the rest of Europe are continuing to go forward, and he just gets left further and further behind.

Now, and that includes both NATO and obviously sanctions as well, which are an (inaudible) important factor in Russia's -- (inaudible) – certainly an effect on the Russian economy. And a couple of things that came out of the discussion. First of all, it's really good for all of these people to get to know one another. And I certainly encourage all of our COCOMs to, as I always encourage them, elevate issues directly to me that are concerning to them in this space, that I extend the same invitation to our ambassador colleagues as well.

These are people who are on the front line who are very interested in getting their advice, and if there's something that we can do that we're not doing, I invited them to let me know about it.

Another thing that comes out clearly from the discussion is the fact that the European Reassurance Initiative, which was funded last year, has to be a kind of activity, has to be ongoing activity. And so we're going to need to make that a part of our planning, programming, budgeting system going forward. There's just no question about it.

This is going to be an enduring challenge. At last, among many things we discussed, just one other thing I would note is it was a good thing that we had all of our COCOMs there, if you think about it, if Russia itself extends over I don't know how many time zones, but it touches the Pacific. Our CENTCOM is involved. AFRICOM. Rod was there as well as EUCOM.

And STRATCOM and CYBERCOM and NORTHCOM and so -- and we discussed the (inaudible) that each of those domains or other parts -- other regions of the world had upon Russia, and this situation all to great effect.

And it was a very good conversation. I took away a great deal from it. And I hope the others did as well.

So with that, let me turn things over to Brent -- (inaudible) -- questions.

Q: Thank you sir.

Lita will kick this off.

Q: I have one quick slightly not associated question, and then I want to get a Ukraine assessment. Quickly, my not associated question is there's some question about Guantanamo and whether you or the Pentagon have -- are pulling together more concrete plans for an alternative in the United States. I was wondering if you could just very quickly address that?

But my -- my Ukraine, my question on this is I am wondering if you could give us some sense of the assessment you got, particularly from your COCOMs about what the situation on the ground is in Ukraine? Because obviously with the violence of the last week or so, there's still a regular Russian involvement here. So how can there be an assessment that these sanctions are working when it hasn't changed Russia's behavior and with that in mind, what's your mandate now to them?

SEC. CARTER: First -- first Lita, with respect to GTMO, I'm working with the White House to prepare a plan which we’ll then submit per long-standing request, to Congress to discuss with Congress. My own view is this is a very constructive step. It's important to see if we can find a way forward from this that is widely shared enough that we can actually get it done, and so I think it's a -- a good opportunity, and we’ll certainly follow through on that.
With respect to sanctions working, I would say what's clear is that sanctions are working on the Russian economy. What is not apparent is that that effect on his economy is deterring Putin from following a course that was evidenced in Crimea last year. Now, obviously we don't view him as acting in the best interests of his own people in the long run by allowing their economic future to be compromised as it so clearly is by sanctions.

And by the way, I should say that's not the only factor that's affecting Russia, the oil crisis. Also, with both of these adverse to the Russian economy, I think the international economists are unanimous in their assessments that the Russian economy's in fact been fragmented. But it's a sign of how the Russian government seems to be about the long-term welfare of its own people, that it does not get resulted in the change.

And in a reversal, it had made stuff worse, which is what we want out of Russia.

Q: So just to follow up on that. I know the specific outcomes or recognitions weren't my intent to follow me today, but can you kind of characterize your assessment of the need to expand, enhance, tweak the existing policy beyond sanctions that would help? And to what degree did you guys also talk about Islamic State and where did you -- can you kind of characterize the nature of those conversations as well?

SEC. CARTER: Yeah. Both discussed. With respect to the first, I think the -- we did discuss the -- the number of actions that you can take that strengthen our policy, and they're consistent with the policy we have, obviously, that strengthening reputation, I'll just give you three examples of it. One is our exercise in the training programs, which are tremendously successful. They were popular. We need to do more of that, get more allies involved.

Second is capabilities where we are making investments and a deep debate continues. Many of those are investments that have notable relevance and like the Asia-Pacific, or because of cyber for example, government in a number of different situations. So we've talked about that as well.

We talked about NATO per se, so those are -- that's the very high readiness task force, what the American role in that can be, how we can help that be all that it can be. How NATO makes its plans and makes its decisions and how it would do that in a crisis, make sure that we're -- that is updated, and not only is that -- these NATO ministerials were forward -- (inaudible) -- in advance, moving into a NATO summit next summer, where even bigger steps will be taken along those lines. But all of this adaptation of NATO -- (inaudible) -- and all that was discussed as well.

With respect to ISIL, yes it was discussed. And the way this shows up is in the fact that NATO has to walk and chew gum at the same time. There's Russia and the situation in the East, and then there's ISIL in particular; what goes in NATO parlance is the southern flank. And obviously where you sit is to some extent where you stand in NATO, so countries on the eastern frontier is definitely more preoccupied with the eastern frontier compared to the south where the United States -- (inaudible) -- obviously, and what NATO as a whole was a whole with both.

And with respect to ISIL, I think that NATO has been pretty staunch in its individual members’ policy. The alliances stand on this, on there. In general, we talked about NATO mechanisms for information sharing and intelligence sharing, main strength in terror in Iran, ISIL, something that's been discussed for a long time within NATO, it's really time to make some progress on that both as regards to the eastern challenge and with regards to the southern challenge.

Q: Thanks.

I have a two part question. You mentioned that Russia is -- (inaudible) -- we have a challenge -- (inaudible) -- try to submit the U.S. and its allies -- (inaudible) -- said yesterday that at some point the Russian people will wake up to what Putin's doing. I'm curious how, given all that, you would characterize Russia? And -- (inaudible) -- the United States and NATO? An enemy? How far would you go in that description?

And then second would be the -- (inaudible) -- that you're talking about -- (inaudible) -- to act quickly in a crisis. Are you concerned that what you saw a year ago in Ukraine with Russian actions fall short -- (inaudible) -- threat of a -- (inaudible) -- invasion with people from -- (inaudible) -- then NATO is -- (inaudible) -- to them and the long -- (inaudible) -- you would say the long -- (inaudible) -- than these two, (off-mic)

SEC. CARTER: Both great questions.

I think I'd -- my own characterization would be I think you retain from Russia the hopes that we've had for a quarter century now, which I think is in the best Russian interest. Namely, don't be an adversary of the West. Don't make yourself an adversary of the West. And I think that's been a long-standing, if you are NATO, the United States is certainly -- (inaudible) -- to work with expresses that. But it's not our choice. Russia is positioning itself in its rhetoric, in its actions, and it's not like they're hiding from us to be adversarial.

And so we have to clearly recognize that fact that we did announce one way -- (inaudible) -- when it's in the discussion and is a tactic in today's world and one that Russia used in Ukraine and couldn't use elsewhere -- (inaudible) -- characters. (inaudible) -- as sort of a mixture of subversion and sophisticated threat with the -- (inaudible) -- of information that we apply all this -- (inaudible) -- when we saw Ukraine.

If that's something we're worried about, then we also absolutely want to discuss absolutely it is concerning for NATO countries for sure, and at the various ambassadors there see that playing and I'll see the evidence of that. Russian activities through priority manipulation of information, that's something -- they see that every day.

STAFF: Time for two more questions.

Two.

Q: Thanks. You mentioned the need to walk and chew gum at the same time and the need to increase the intelligence-sharing capabilities as well as asymmetrical warfare capabilities. This is all coming at a time when a lot of partners are drawing their budgets down.

You're just talking about -- (inaudible).

So how much concern is that for you right now? How are you communicating with them to emphasize the U.S. can't necessarily -- (inaudible) -- or is that a message that you're passing on?

SEC. CARTER: It is a concern of the United States, ones that we’ve expressed. I have expressed myself the level of investment Europe is making in its own capabilities, and therefore in its own security, and of course the story is mixed there and have to go through -- (inaudible) -- a new. But in general, our view is that they're not investing enough. We'd like to see more. We understand the economic circumstances in general, but still in all security is a very important thing to be investing in.

And so we will be and I certainly will be continuing to argue that the Europeans should be making bigger investments. And another part of your question raises a very important point, which is where we wanted to make them -- make those investments and that's just as important because it -- we need to be complimentary in our capabilities so that the Europeans are doing the things that they're best at -- best positioned geographically do to strongest at and do things we're best at, and there, that's another reason why their proposition today, nobody has any illusions that the right way to deal with what's happening in Russia is to turn the clock back ourselves 25 years.

The military heart has moved on and in particular for the United States, our -- I think we bring and it will be especially valuable to NATO for example in a very high readiness task -- joint task force is out high end capabilities and our enablers and not just our bulk. In fact, especially our enablers.

And that's a story that has been heard around the world over the last decade and a half in general. It's just as true in this circumstance at it has been in the Middle East or in the Asia-Pacific.

So both how much they spend; we would like to see more. But how they spend, we like to make that a collective project that being in the same military alliance makes that much easier because of NATO force planning is all about.

Q: Thank you. So how concerned are you that's what happening in Ukraine and Russia right now means that -- defensible (off-mic) answer the question for yourself about what (off-mic) are we doing the right things in terms of sanctions and in terms of military exercises?

SEC. CARTER: Well, first of all, we are concerned about things -- further things happening. We watch that every day. And the situation in Ukraine, we watched very closely. This wasn't a tactical discussion of that saying, but and that gets to the second point, are we doing the right things?

The -- and I think that one of the things that I took away from the authorization was that in addition to sanctions, which is having an effect on the Russian economy, is not clearly causing the Russian leadership yet to take the steps that we would like, there are other things we need to be doing in recognition of the fact that the moment at least Vladimir Putin does not seem to be reversing course, nor does he give any sign of what he says of an intention to do so. And therefore, we need to adapt in a long-term sense to that reality.

And that's something the NATO alliance is doing and something we do ourselves individual NATO countries are doing. It's more than just a military thing. It's a political and military thing, and that's why it was completely up to -- (inaudible) -- over there.

STAFF: Good thank you. Thanks.

SEC. CARTER: Just one last word. Good to have your shipmates here, I know it seems like a long time, and you guys are beat, but I'm not going to -- you're not going to let me stop working, so I've got to keep working. But I -- (inaudible) -- rest, and thanks for it, I appreciate it. I always say this, I appreciate you taking an interest in what we do.

Thank you.

I still -- I want to thank our, we have a couple of ambassadors, that we’re giving a ride home also, but this is a great team, and I closed the meeting by saying how proud I was to be a part -- (inaudible). That expertise, and then if I may say so, the American style of servicing problems, solving problems, we don't lie to ourselves. And -- (inaudible) -- I'll talk with (inaudible) it's a very -- (inaudible) -- feature.

So he's going to bring lots of friends and others have a harder time making friends.

STAFF: Thanks everyone.