Remarks at a Bilateral Between Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper and Norwegian Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen

Sept. 27, 2019
Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper; Norwegian Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE MARK T. ESPER:  Well, since our press friends are here, let me -- let me begin by saying, Mr. Minister, it is a great pleasure to welcome you to the Pentagon today, and meet you in person after our phone call in June.

I understand you visited our naval bases at Norfolk and Jacksonville, as well as Camp Lejeune this week, to discuss maritime cooperation and meet with Marines who rotated through Norway as part of the U.S. Marine Rotational Force Europe.

And as you know, I recently returned from a similar trip, and I know our troops were thrilled to welcome you and the prime minister to their bases.  The security and defense relationship between the United States and Norway is robust and only continues to grow.

As cofounders of NATO, we share similar priorities, similar values of democracy and human rights, and a desire to invest in a stronger alliance.  Norway has made important contributions to international military missions, including NATO's Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan and the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.

In addition to your strong and ongoing support, Norway plays a leading role in the stability of the North Atlantic and Arctic regions.  Among all of your efforts, I appreciate Norway's steady increase in defense spending over the past several years.

As I have emphasized to all NATO members and other allies, the strength of our alliance rests upon our shared contributions to defense spending.  Every member nation must live up to the commitment made in the 2014 Welles Declaration to ensure NATO forces have the military might needed to deter adversary aggression.

Your leadership will be critical to Norway achieving the 2 percent spending goal by 2024, which I understand will be reflected in your upcoming long-term plan for the Norwegian Armed Forces, so thank you.  

I look forward to our conversation today as we discuss opportunities to enhance our interoperability and to deepen our partnership.

Mr. Minister, thank you again for being here, and I invite you to make any opening comments as well to the press.

DEFENSE MINISTER FRANK BAKKE-JENSEN:  Thank you -- thank you, Mr. Secretary.  The United States is our closest and most important ally.  Our bilateral relationship is, as you mentioned, strong and enduring.  We operate together in Afghanistan and Iraq.  We cooperate to meet the renewed security challenges in the north.  We work together to – adapt NATO to the real challenges of today and tomorrow.

As you have discovered, I had the pleasure to visit some of your troops for two days now.  It's been a really, really good -- good travel.  The re-established Second Fleet was an important visit for us.  It's almost like someone had asked Norway, what could we do for you, and then you start doing it.

The focus of the North Atlantic again is really important for us and (inaudible) really good show, down there.  And we have also visited the Marines -- the Marines.  We brought the prime minister.  She served lunch to soldiers, and some have been to Norway and some will go to Norway.  The -- the ability to show the prime minister in -- in -- in person what this is all about.  It's extremely important for us to know when we're working with a long-term plan and everything, so thank you for all you have put up with.  

As I said, the -- the -- yesterday was one of my best days at work as the minister of defense, actually because you just delivered what we needed to -- and -- to create our picture and our story telling about where we are and where we need to go, so thank you.

SEC. ESPER:  Very good.  Well, thank you, Mr. Minister.

STAFF:  Lita.

Q:  Mr. Secretary, are you concerned that military aid to Ukraine is sort of ended up being some political football, and do you have to reassure allies that future U.S. assistance isn't going to come with political strings attached?

SEC. ESPER:  Yeah, I'll just say this much.  Since my confirmation in late July, the department has been focused on a few things, and these things largely apply to -- apply to any country for which we provide security assistance.

First and foremost, what is the value of that to a nation's defense and deterrence?  

Secondly, is there any corruption associated that we may be -- take into account?  And in this case, it was also a matter of concern for the Congress.

And thirdly, to what degree could we have other allies share in providing security assistance to these countries?  

So that was the focus of the Department of Defense.  I'm pleased to say that we were obligated to have that money out the door by the end of the fiscal year.

At this point, most of the money has -- is out the door.  And at no time, or at any time, has any delay in this money, this funding, affected U.S. national security.

STAFF:  A question for the minister? Barbara?

Q:  I would like to ask the Minister a question if I may, sir.  

But, Mr. Secretary, can I just clarify one thing that you just said before I ask him?  Are you able to say at this point now that there's both congressional interest in a request for a DOD I.G. investigation, what you are doing within the department to ensure that information is preserved, that you can deliver all information to Congress and the I.G. about this?

But also for the minister, sir, can you give us your assessment, or Norway's assessment, on how you view Russia at the moment, Vladimir Putin and Russian military intentions and capabilities towards your region?  Whichever one of you gentlemen wishes to go first, obviously.

SEC. ESPER:  I'll go first, if you don't mind.  

We will make -- we will provide to Congress and whomever whatever information we can provide with regard to this incident just as -- with regard to this matter, just as we would with any other matter.

Q:  Thank you.  

Mr. Minister, sir?

MIN. BAKKE-JENSEN:  We see a more (inaudible) Russia, we see a more active Russia, who will exercise more, bigger, closer to our borders and areas.  

At the same time, we have been the neighbor of Russia for hundreds of years.  We know we have a big neighbor.  We know how to balance it.

Our -- our way to -- to balance this -- this friendship with Russia is to be part of a defense alliance called NATO.  So it will be good, too.  It makes us -- it gives us the opportunity to be transparent, outspoken and predictable as a neighbor for -- for Russia.

So indeed, we have a really good relationship with Russia, but they are a big military power, building more capacities, and we need to take that in -- in consideration when we -- when we (inaudible).