Transcript

Remarks by Secretary Esper in a Media Availability, U.S. Strategic Command

Feb. 20, 2020
Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE MARK T. ESPER:  Good afternoon everyone, thanks for joining us.  This is day two for me, of my trip to visit our strategic nuclear forces.  Yesterday I spent in Minot, North Dakota visiting our bomb wing that's located there and our missile wing and having a chance to visit the systems, the platforms that keep our nation safe and to meet with many of the airman based there -- had a very good meeting. 

Today with Strategic Command, meeting with Admiral Richard, this is not my first visit here, was here many years ago.  It's great to see this brand new headquarters, it's quite impressive. 

But we had a good day already, speaking with his team about how we -- well, Strategic Command keeps the world safe -- the United States safe from strategic threats, the importance of the strategic deterrent, how we think through strategic situations, how we prepare.  We talked a good deal as well about the investments that are needed. 

As you know, this administration -- the Trump administration has made significant investments in the modernization of our triad.  And not just the air, missile, and sea leg but also nuclear command and control, and other options. 

So, anyways -- so I had a very good visit today so far, we've got more to go and I'm excited about what we're doing and the direction we're heading, and have a great deal of confidence in Admiral Richard’s capability.  So, Admiral. 

ADMIRAL CHARLES "CHAS" A. RICHARD:  We are just delighted that the Secretary is here, applaud and appreciate his leadership in this mission area, including the Department of Defense more broadly.  And sir, we thank you for spending some time with our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines -- and showing us the leadership that we need to accomplish the mission. 

SEC. ESPER:  Good.  Thank you.  OK, guess we'll take some questions. 

STAFF:  For our first question, Bob, go ahead. 

Q:  Mr. Secretary, this morning the Defense Department, as well as the State Department, put out a rather strong statements about a Russian cyber attack against the country of Georgia.  I'm wondering if you could tell us a little bit about the scope of that?  And also when you said in your statement -- the Department said in its statement -- that it would hold Russia accountable for that.  What do you mean by that? 

SEC. ESPER:  Look, I haven't had a chance to review all that in detail, I've been in the SCIF most of the morning with the Admiral and his team.  I will say this much, Russia has very robust cyber capabilities.  They are either trying to influence or interfere in many countries.  We have seen that in our own and its something that we take very seriously. 

At DOD, as a key player, working with DHS in the lead and we will continue to help partners and allies deal with the threats from Russian interference, cyber interference -- whatever the case, whatever manner it would take. 

STAFF:  Aaron? 

Q:  Thanks.  Just to follow-up on that, sir.  A couple of people were talking about the fact that this kind of a name and shame effort, including this statement, hasn't been quite robust in the past, is this the new normal that we should expect if a foreign country does something like this to another nation -- U.S. is aware, the U.S. will call them out on it? 

SEC. ESPER:  I think, you know, each on a case-by-case situation, but clearly we have to do more than just play defense and we have to play more of an offensive game.  I think under this administration we have. 

The president has signed national security memorandums to give us the authority to do certain things.  So I think the degree, when it might make sense, to name and shame, to call groups out -- either groups or governments -- we should do that. 

Again, this is -- we can't be -- the new normal can't be that we continue to suffer from some type of influence in our -- in our country, in our political system -- whatever the case may be.  Nor with our allies and partners, so I think it's -- we need to continue to work along those lines and make sure we push back hard. 

Q:  What are we doing to beef up our cyber security defenses here? 

SEC. ESPER:  Well we've made a lot of investments, obviously the -- what DOD brings to it is both Cyber Command and the National Security Agency.  We have built a quite capable force all the way from the tactical edge to the strategic.  We've worked very closely with our interagency partners, again, DHS in the lead -- but it involves others, it involves FBI, and other parts of the interagency, the intelligence community, clearly. 

The president has been -- has given us additional authorities to both defend and respond, that's important.  I think there's much greater awareness, it's appreciated by members of Congress on Capitol Hill.  We endeavor to brief them frequently on what we're doing, and again, I think we've become much more aware in the past few years about information influence by not just Russia, but China, Iran and others -- and it's something we're going to be dealing with for quite some time. 

STAFF:  We'll take one more question. 

Q:  Yeah, sir, I had a question about another mission of this base.  And it regards the open skies aircraft, last fall there was some discussion at the Pentagon about withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty and there was some language in the NDAA about consulting with Congress. 

And I wanted to find out what your thinking is on that now?  Whether -- does the Trump administration still intend to withdraw from the treaty? 

SEC. ESPER:  Well, no formal, final decision has been made.  You know, in due course we will be getting together to do that, decide the best path forward for our nation.  I will tell you that I've spoken recently to our NATO allies in Brussels.  I was with the Defense Minister, with NATO and I said to him very clearly on this topic, we all need to start calling out the Russians for their noncompliance. 

The Russians have been noncompliant with the treaty for years, specifically when it comes to their allowance of over flights, or near-flights, if you will, of Kaliningrad and Georgia, and we can't continue to tolerate their noncompliance with the treaty when its allowed for in that agreement. 

So, we need to start once again with Russian noncompliance, and make sure they get back in to the treaty.  I take no view one way or the other with regard to arms control in general, but it -- but they should be in our national interests if we're going to enter an agreement or continue an agreement.  And one -- the place where we begin is compliance with what's outlined in those agreements. 

STAFF:  Thank you all, appreciate it. 

SEC. ESPER:  OK, thank you all very much. 

STAFF:  Thank you.