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Department of Defense Press Conference with Secretary Carter at NATO Headquarters, Brussels, Belgium

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER: Good morning, everyone. Thank you for coming this morning, appreciate it. And for me, it's very good to be back in Brussels, this -- my third ministerial as secretary of defense.

Over the last day and a half, I have had several productive discussions with all of my NATO counterparts on, first, how we as an alliance can better deter and defense against high-end threats from the east.

Second, how our nations can better address challenges emanating from NATO's south, like ISIL. And how we must continue to uphold the commitments we have made elsewhere, such as in Afghanistan.

First, I want to mention the German-Turkish-Greek proposal to expand NATO's maritime mission in the Mediterranean, to address the ongoing migration crisis.

Today, I commended Germany, Turkey and Greece for coming together on this proposal.

And we recommended that the North Atlantic Council task the NATO military authorities to provide its advice on options for implementing it, which will be reviewed by the military committee and then brought to the council

Now, another topic I addressed in our meetings was how America is doing more to strengthen deterrence here in Europe, including through our budget for fiscal year 2017 that President Obama submitted earlier this week.

Among other things, it invests in forces and capabilities to operationalize our strong and balanced strategic approach to Russia. In particular, the budget quadruples funding for the European's Reassurance Initiative to a total of $3.4 billion, and broadens its focus to include deterring Russian aggression against NATO allies.

As I told my NATO counterparts, this will support more rotational U.S. forces in Europe, including heel-to-toe rotations that maintain the persistent presence of an armored brigade combat team throughout the year. It will fund more training and exercises with allies; it will provide more prepositioned in Europe, including war fighting gear and supplies to support and additional armored brigade combat team, a division headquarters, as well as brigades for air defense, fires and sustainment.

It will also fund infrastructure improvements to air fields, training centers and ranges throughout Europe that will expand military capability and allow for the quick deployment of forces to the region.

When combined with U.S. forces already in and assigned to Europe, all of this together by the end of 2017 will let us rapidly form a highly capable, combined arms air, maritime and ground force that can respond theater-wide, if necessary.

I also noted in our meetings that the U.S. defense budget makes important investments in vital advanced capabilities to bolster deterrence against high-end potential adversaries.

I saw some of this last week at our China Lake weapons facility in Southern California. And while I can't talk about everything I saw there, I can say we're way ahead of any potential competitors.

Now, as the United States increases its focus and investments to deter Russian aggression, we're also expecting NATO allies to do the same. For this reason, I'm pleased to see progress in implementing our readiness action plan.

With countries like Turkey and Denmark stepping up since our last defense ministerial in October to provide forces that will help make our alliance’s very high readiness joint task force operationally capable.

Now, all of this work is important, but as Secretary General Stoltenberg and I stressed, as well as many other defense ministers agreed, we must do more.

While the RAP was a good first step, we can be doing more as an alliance to set the conditions for credible deterrence. That is why NATO must further strengthen its posture to deter, and if necessary defeat any aggressor across the full spectrum of threats.

And whether it comes to hybrid, cyber or information operations, Russia's actions speak volumes. They make clear why all allies must continue to invest in and modernize their capabilities, not only to respond to current challenges, but to stay ahead of potential, future threats.

We, in the United States, have thought through the details of what we might have to do. And I've asked our allies here in Europe to do the same.

For this reason, I'm pleased that this ministerial incorporated an informal, collective defense scenario-based discussion yesterday afternoon. This was something I had proposed at one of our defense ministerials earlier -- early last year, and it gave all of us the opportunity to consider our responses to hybrid warfare, as well as innovative operational concepts that might be required to respond to aggression against any ally.

Indeed, this is essential to NATO's adaptation to a new playbook. In our defense budgets, in our planning, in our capabilities and in our actions, we must demonstrate to potential foes that if they start a war, we have the capability to win on our terms. Because for a force to deter a conflict, it must show that it can dominate a conflict.

As I made clear to my NATO counterparts, and as I was pleased to hear they agreed, this is a responsibility we all share.

Finally, we also had conversations about the ways that NATO could take on a stronger, positive role in our global coalition to defeat ISIL. While all NATO members are already part of the counter-ISIL coalition, it's worth exploring how NATO as NATO could make an appropriate contribution to the coalition, leveraging, for example, its unique capabilities such as force generation that individual countries may not necessarily have, but the collective alliance does.

As you know, this afternoon, I'll be convening my defense counterparts from nations contributing militarily to the counter-ISIL campaign. I look forward to that meeting and I'll have more to say about that this afternoon.

Thank you. And now I'll take some questions.

STAFF: We'll start first, Associated Press, Bob Burns.

Q: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Question on the last topic you mentioned, which is your discussions this afternoon on the counter-ISIL question.

As you yourself have mentioned, those countries that may be agreeable to contributing more militarily to the campaign would need to have, in many cases, parliamentary approval or go through other national processes to get the authority to actually act.

Why should we think that these pledges that might come today and in coming days would make a real difference on the ground in achieving the goal of recapturing, for example, Raqqah and Mosul this year?

SEC. CARTER: Well, the capabilities that will be required to carry out the campaign plan, which we're going to discuss this afternoon, will be clearly delineated. Many of the participants, but not all the participants, at the meeting have had the opportunity to review them before, but this is the first time. And I think -- I'd just remind you this is the first time that the defense ministers of the counter-ISIL coalition, the defense ministers themselves, have come together. That's very important, and I'm very pleased at the attendance here today. And that's very significant.

Second, they will -- and to your question -- we will be sharing with them the operational campaign plan for the defeat of ISIL, which as you say, as you indicated yourself, we need to get done as soon as possible. In that connection, the campaign plan calls first and foremost for the defeat of ISIL in Syria and Iraq, because that's the place from which this cancer arose. And it needs to be defeated there, and significantly, the cities of Mosul and Raqqah need to be recaptured. And our operational plan focuses on that.

Additionally, of course, there are metastasizes of that cancer elsewhere around the world, and then we all work on defending our own homeland. Across that whole spectrum of the campaign -- military campaign plan, we'll have an opportunity to discuss that plan and to agree on that plan. That will be new for there to be a plan that everyone sees, which is a concrete military campaign plan. This, and an opportunity to do what the United States has been doing for some months now, which is accelerating its own contributions.

And that gets to the last part, Bob, which is in -- in addition to reviewing the campaign plan, we will array all of the capabilities that will be required to carry out this plan. Now, some of those capabilities, countries and their parliaments may already be familiar with. Everybody's familiar with air power, for example, and a number are already participating in the air campaign and have indicated they'll join the air campaign.

But there's much more than that. There is, for example, trainings -- the training of Iraqi security forces, more security forces of the kind that were successful in taking Ramadi and will be required for the taking of Mosul. There are logistics, sustainment, intelligence surveillance and requirements -- reconnaissance capabilities, a number of kinds of capabilities that the countries that are part of the coalition may not yet have realized they could make. And they're going to be necessary, and can make a major contribution to the defeat.

So if we can lay all that out for their defense leaders, and then, as you indicate, in many cases for their parliaments as well, which we understand will be required in some cases, then they can begin to amass those capabilities this year in the same way that the United States is accelerating its own campaign.

The last thing I'll say that we'll do this afternoon is we also cannot forget, and we will not forget this afternoon that that there are nonmilitary capabilities that will -- while we'll be discussing the military campaign plan with the defense ministers, there are a lot of nonmilitary aspects to this campaign as well, having to do with foreign fighter interdiction, countering ISIL's financing, its evil messaging and Internet activity, and so forth.

And so all those capabilities that will be required to defeat ISIL for the totality of the campaign, that will all be in front of them and they'll have the opportunity then to go home and, in addition to the things they've thought of so far and the pledges they've already made so far, and the great capabilities already at work today, can join us in accelerating their effort.

So, this is a terrific opportunity to have the acceleration that the United States and President Obama is committed to reinforced by all of the military members of the coalition. Obviously, I'll have more specifics to say about that this afternoon, but that's basically the content of the meeting. And it's very important that the defense leaders get together for the first time, really, to discuss those capabilities and the need to hasten the defeat of ISIL.

STAFF: Next question, Phil Stewart of Reuters.

Q: Mr. Secretary, Secretary Carter has cautioned that if his peace efforts fail, a plan B will be needed that presumably would involve military action.

SEC. CARTER: You mean Secretary Kerry.

Q: Secretary Kerry, yeah.

Are you going to brief your allies gathered here on a plan B that diverges from the campaign plan that you've kind of outlined? And how would you respond to France's foreign minister who has called U.S. policy in Syria "ambiguous"?

SEC. CARTER: Well, Secretary Kerry is right now as we speak in Munich working on the very important issue of trying to find a political end to the Syrian civil war. That is a tragic series of events that has unfolded over a number of years. It's a complicated situation. But it has to end with a political solution that is acceptable to a wide enough array of Syrian people, that they can once again restore decency and decent living to a country that has been sadly torn.

I don't want to get out in front of what Secretary Kerry is doing; he is hard at work on that prospect right now. If it were easy, I'm sure it would have been done a long time ago. But it is actually very complicated, he is working very hard on it.

Our focus here is going to be on counter-ISIL. And that campaign will go on, because ISIL must be defeated, will be defeated. But whatever happens with the Syrian civil war, but it certainly would help to de-fuel extremism if the Syrian civil war came to an end.

STAFF: Over here. Question from Dragos Favara of Romanian TV.

Q: So, secretary, I would like to ask you, what is your assessment about the eastern countries' air force, eastern part of the alliance air force to strengthen their own self defense?

They must do more, and what they can do? And what is the importance of this self-defense in your U.S. program in Europe?

SEC. CARTER: Yes. We talked about a number of steps that all of the allies can take. Your question is specifically about those -- or that lie geographically to the east.

And there are a number of answers to your questions. One of them that was discussed quite a bit at the ministerial was increasing the resilience of those states to the kind of hybrid warfare, the little green men kind of phenomenon that we saw play out elsewhere in the east, particularly in Ukraine.

So, it's important to harden those states to that kind of activity -- and there are ways that they can do that individually, your question. But there are ways that NATO can assist in that regard.

Then another one is a border surveillance, and the broader question -- excuse me -- of intelligence and indications of warning. Because it is very important if we're going to head off a crisis in Europe, that we understand very clearly, early on, what is going on.

And so, the alliance is able to react, and rapidity of action was another theme of the discussion.

And then third was the strength of the response -- air forces, ground forces, naval forces. And the point there is, not only that which already exists in Eastern Europe, whether it be Eastern European forces themselves, or NATO forces like U.S. forces there. But also, the forces that could rapidly flow.

So, we talked about the very high readiness joint task force, and the United States in particular about a number of its initiatives aimed at prepositioning equipment, which will, of course, help forces arrive quickly, because they don't have to bring all of their equipment with them. As well as things that you may consider more mundane, but that are critically important.

Like, the secretary general has urged all NATO members to get their border authorities to coordinate in advance how forces would move across borders. Now, this may seem like a small thing, but as we exercise the very high readiness joint task force, it proved to be a barrier to action, outside of the purview of defense ministers.

Secretary general, to his great credit, called attention to it. Almost all of the NATO partner governments have since then improved the speed at which their border authorities would be able to facilitate the passage of forces. So, there are lots of ways that forces could be quickly built up to fortify and strengthen the defense of NATO territory from the east.

STAFF: All right, final question, Anna Piesenaro from Europa.

Q: Thank you sir. So, it's going back to the Turkey, Greek and German proposal.

Do you see U.S. assets contributing to this mission? What would happen with the smugglers? Would they be taken also by Turkey? Because I understand that migrants that would be rescued would be taken back to Turkey. Or would each of the countries deal with the traffickers that they detain?

And if I may, on the AWACS, sir. Did you get a positive response from the rest of the allies to use AWACS? And the fact that these AWACS might not be deployed in the region straight away in Syria and Iraq, but more for U.S. missions in U.S. territory.

Is that a sufficient commitment from NATO as an organization in the fight against ISIL, or would you like more from NATO?

Thank you.

SEC. CARTER: Okay. First, with respect to the agreement among Germany, Turkey and Greece.

I would really prefer to let them speak for themselves about the details of its implementation. NATO and all of the parties at the table this morning, indicated a willingness for NATO to support and be a part of that operation. I described the process by which that would occur, ultimately the approval of the North Atlantic Council.

All three of those countries emphasize the need to -- for NATO to act quickly, with which the United States strongly agrees, because this is -- these are people's lives and destinies at stake here. It's important to act quickly.

One should remember here, and this is an important point, that Germany, Turkey and Greece made, but others have made as well. There is now a criminal syndicate which is exploiting these poor people. And so, this is an organized smuggling operation.

And targeting that is, I think, the way that the greatest effect can be had in the humanitarian dimension, and I think that's principle intent of this.

With respect to NATO and counter-ISIL, yes, AWACS was discussed. And it is a mechanism to make AWACS -- more AWACS capable available to the coalition effort in the counter-ISIL campaign, while NATO AWACS can be employed to take the place of some of those assets, divert it from where they now are.

That is an important contribution, it's a positive contribution. To your question, is that all? No.

I think -- the ministers today were discussing other ways that NATO can make a contribution. And you might say, well, how could NATO make a contribution that the individual country -- because NATO is made up of the individual countries, right?

And the point I was trying to make in my opening statement is this: NATO does have some collective capabilities that individual countries, if they have to do it by themselves, it's more difficult. For example, status of forces agreements, force generation.

So, there are ways that, by having NATO involved, the contributions of individual countries, such as I'll be meeting with this afternoon, can be facilitated. And since we're in a hurry, we want to accelerate and strengthen the campaign to defeat ISIL immediately.

NATO can make that kind of contribution. So, it doesn't end with AWACS.

STAFF: Thanks, everyone. And the secretary will be back this afternoon, after the counter-ISIL meeting.

SEC. CARTER: Thank you. Look forward to seeing you then.