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Media Availability With Secretary Carter en route to Brussels, Belgium

Feb. 9, 2016
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter

STAFF:  Okay.  One second, sir, we'll make sure we're recording everything.


STAFF:  So we're -- we're on the record, everyone.

SEC. CARTER:  Okay.  Thanks for being here.  You want to -- why don't you close the door.  There we go.

First of all, as I said, thank you for coming.  The budget for FY17 [fiscal year 2017] is released today and as I was emphasizing last week, it makes important investments across the strategic board, all the way from counter-ISIL and counter-terrorism, which will be one of the subjects discussed in the next few days; enduring needs for strong deterrents, for example, in Korean Peninsula, as was illustrated by the North Korean action this week; our determination to continue to check Iranian malign influence in  the Gulf, which we discussed a lot over the course of the year; deterrence of Russian aggression of the kind that we saw in Ukraine, elsewhere in Europe, that'll also be discussed in this meeting, and then course, our continuing determination through the Asia-Pacific rebalance to be the pivotal military power in the Asia-Pacific that guarantee security there.

We don't have a -- we don't have the luxury of choice among all of those, so we're doing all of those from the lower end right up to very high-end capabilities and making new investments.  I'm happy to answer any of your questions about that.

But to get to this trip, this has two parts to it, both important.  One is a NATO ministerial, which is an important milestone on the way to the NATO summit that will be held this summer.  And we'll be discussing a number of things, but a central one will be moving from -- NATO in its posture moving from reassurance, which is where we started two years ago, to a full deterrence posture in Europe of aggression, whether it be outright aggression or so-called hybrid warfare, and basically putting resources behind what I call NATO before -- a new playbook for NATO.  It's not going to look like it did back in Cold War days, but it will constitute in today's terms a strong deterrent.

And the United States, in today's budget, makes an important move itself, which I'll be looking for others at NATO to echo, in our investment that -- in our quadrupling of the European Reassurance Initiative.  That's a lot of money, more than three million -- three -- sorry, $3 billion and that is -- has a number of major chunks in them. 

I'll be describing them to our NATO partners, but just so you know, one is increased presence of U.S. forces, rotational presence and funds that presence.  A second is the positioning -- the purchase, upgrading and positioning of equipment in European countries.  This goes beyond the European activity sets that we announced and they're  also important six months ago, which are principally for training and -- and moved around with training units.

This is another step.  This permanently pre-positioned heavy equipment of the kind that U.S. forces could fall in on in an emergency.

With that goes that rotational presence, and that equipment goes some upgraded facilities, air fields, places where the pre-positioned equipment goes, and then very vitally, the funding of exercises with NATO and NATO partners.

So that's where all that money goes.  It's a substantial addition, necessary one relative to last year.  And as I said, as it moves from a reassurance phase to a more robust deterrence phase, and that's where the alliance is going to be going in general, and that will be the principal topic discussed by the NATO ministerials in the -- the NATO ministers in the first part of the trip. 

And of course, there will be other matters discussed by NATO, ranging from Afghanistan to the Southern Flank, as it's called in NATO and the -- up north, activities in the Arctic.  NATO's got a lot to do.  We'll be discussing all of that, but I think the heart of it is going to be the deterrence posture of NATO in Europe and moving from reassurance to a deterrence posture and the United States' substantial investment in this budget today in that very matter.

New subject, second subject in the trip, which is to -- I’m going to  convene also in Brussels because it's convenient and I'm grateful to NATO for allowing me to use their facilities to do so, the first ever, as it turns out, gathering of the defense ministers of the coalition against ISIL.  And I will be there, describing to them the coalition military campaign plan that I've discussed with you, and obviously, the president asked for and approved himself. 

That is a coalition military campaign plan.  Those first two words are important; coalition, hence this meeting, and it's the military campaign plan.  And of course, we all know that the -- a military campaign plan is necessary, but not sufficient to defeat ISIL.  There are lots of other activities having to do with -- messag -- countering ISIL's messaging, its finances, foreign fighters, homeland protection.  There are lots of aspects of it that are not purely military.

In that connection, the purpose of my gathering them was to share that campaign plan, which remember, in terms of effects, has first of all, the defeat -- the lasting defeat of ISIL in Syria and Iraq.  Necessary, not sufficient, must be done.  Second, addressing the metastises of the parent tumor in Iraq and Syria.  And third, each of us defending our own homeland.  We'll be discussing all aspects of those. 

A lot of the focus will be on the first -- particularly what I've called the two big arrows:  the necessity to recapture from ISIL both Mosul and -- and Raqqa, and to do that as soon as possible, in league and in concert with capable local forces that can hold ground and hold those cities, and govern them once they've been retaken from ISIL and ISIL's been destroyed, and the Islamic State idea has been destroyed there. 

If you want a mental picture of the meeting -- and I actually will have, literally, this picture -- you think of the coalition members, all of them -- including, by the way, a number of observers, which are -- which we call observers because they're not, now, making major military contributions. 

They're invited because I'd like them to -- and then the ones that are already making contributions, where we'd like them to make more, even as we have indicated that we are making more -- that's reflected in our budget as well -- in the budget released today, and in a statement that I and the president have made many times, going back, now, way -- to October, that we're willing to do more. 

We're looking for opportunities to do more, because we want to hasten and accelerate the defeat of ISIL.  I'll be asking others at this meeting, also, to accelerate their efforts, and we'll be discussing the campaign plan; therefore, how their efforts can reinforce that campaign plan. 

And so I -- if I'm describing this chart, it's got the countries down the side, and across are all the capabilities that we need to carry out not just the military campaign plan, but the entire campaign. 

So there's the air war, which everybody's -- which is important.  Everybody's focused on it.  But that involves strike, it involved ISR [Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance], it involves tanking, transport -- there are lots of dimensions even to the air war. 

When you get to ground operations, you have training of both military forces and police -- I emphasize the police, and I will be doing that, because, for example, in Ramadi, and as we move in Iraq up to Hit and, eventually, Mosul, it'll be important that there be police.  They need to be trained as well.  Many of these countries have -- have expertise in that -- resources in doing that. 

Special forces, which are very important – we don’t talk about a lot, but are very important -- and a lot of countries are very capable in that area -- to things that you -- I -- you all know, but most people don't pay attention to, of logistics, sustainment and so forth, advising, assisting operations, helping friendly forces to be successful.

Then there's all the non-military stuff, where, also, we want countries to be making contributions.  And then finally -- you know, if you don't have a lot of capability, but you want to make a contribution, you can literally do that -- make a contribution. 

Because -- for example, Ramadi reconstruction is going to be a big burden for the government of Iraq.  They're going to need some help doing that.  So there are lots of different ways that -- there are lots of capabilities and resources that are going to be needed. 

And of course, America's willing and determined to lead, to devise the campaign plan and to add its own major contributions.  But we're looking for others to make a contribution as well, and their attendance at this meeting suggests a willingness on the part of almost all of them to do more. 

Some of them even indicated that in the days leading up to this, and I expect more will share with me, both public -- maybe publicly, but certainly privately -- what their intentions and plans are to do more. 

The Dutch have indicated doing more -- just to pick a few -- more in the air war.  The Canadians, notwithstanding pulling back a little bit from the air war, are stepping up in other ways -- training and so forth.  Very grateful for that. 

I'll have a very important meeting with the -- meetings with a number of the leaders of the Gulf states, including the defense minister of Saudi Arabia, about contributions that those important countries can make, as well, as Saudi Arabia's indicated, in the last weeks and months, a willingness to do. 

So that's what the second part of the meeting is -- the second part of this trip is about.  So we'll start with the NATO one tomorrow, and then move on to counter-ISIL. 

I think that pretty much is the overview of the trip.  Let me just go right to your questions.  I didn't leave anything out, I don't think. 

STAFF:  Pretty much --

SEC. CARTER:  That's going to be a busy couple days. 


Q:  Mr. Secretary, on the counter-ISIL meeting on Thursday, you described in general terms what you're -- what you're expecting.  Wondering if you can  give us a -- is that going to work? 

STAFF:  Try now. 

Q:  In a little more concrete terms, your expectations.  Are -- are you expecting countries who are going to participate and be at the meeting to literally sign up for specific things that commit their governments to specific things?  Or is this more like a -- kind of a pledging conference, where people talk about things and -- and that sort of things? 

SEC. CARTER:  There are two parts -- there are two parts to it, Bob.  I'd like them, obviously, to be as specific as they can.  But many countries have -- require parliamentary procedures, and so we have to respect all of that. 

I think what this does, first and foremost, is put us all in a common operational picture of what is needed.  That's what I'm -- I'm going to be sharing the operational plan that goes with the campaign plan, so that they can see what contributions it makes -- so I hope that they both are able to share, at this meeting, contributions they've already decided they're prepared to make -- for example, an answer to some letters I sent them late last year, asking them to accelerate at the same time we're accelerating, but also they'll -- they'll get some ideas that they might not have had yet about where capability is needed that might match their own resources, and also their own -- the own -- their own authorities. 

Different countries will have different outlooks on what kinds of contributions they want to make.  There's plenty of variety here, and so -- you know, a country that doesn't feel that its air force is either large enough or capable enough, or could make a contribution, has plenty of other things to do. 

So I hope we'll get some word now.  I -- we have some indication of that, right, from the ones I've said.  And -- but also that when they leave the meeting, they have a clear operational picture and a clear picture of the resources that go with the operational plan and can find a way to do more within that.

So I'd like to get their acceptance of the campaign plan.  That's thing one.  And number two, whatever resources they're willing to share at this meeting -- additional resources.  But I think that down the road, I'd like them to see things here that they haven't thought of yet, or hasn't really fit their puzzle yet, that in the coming weeks they can go home and secure the resources and the authority to contribute.

Q:  Budget question, actually, to switch topics on you.  Looking at the budget, FY17 has $35 million marked specifically for the third offset, technology development, and almost $1 billion for the Strategic Capabilities Office, which you talked about last Tuesday.

How are you differentiating the missions of those two kind of pots of money?  And how does that fit into the overall focus you have on the technology development budget?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, they're both trying to do related things.  Obviously, they have different projects, but they're all contributing to the high end, high technology.  And I should say you've named a few parts of what is a $72 billion R&D [Research and Development] budget, so larger by a huge amount than any other institution in American society or in the world. 

Even in America, the most innovative country in the world, and that's reflected -- but we're adding to that in a way -- two ways that you describe, basically trying to do the same thing, namely make sure that we retain the qualitative edge in capabilities -- advanced capabilities.  And you know some of the ones that I talked about last week -- undersea capabilities, electronic warfare, space, cyber, new kinds of strike systems, increasing the lethality of our fleet of aircraft and -- and ships, and so forth.

And I just want to say that those are two very important especially innovative parts of our enterprise.  Remember, we have others, too.  We have DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency].  We're trying to and succeeding in creating new linkages between us and the innovative world outside of us. 

Because one of the ways we're going to get technology into the Department of Defense isn't by developing it ourselves.  It's by working with those who are developing it outside and adapting it to what we're doing, which both of those offices do in part, but that's a big -- that's why the defense innovation unit experimental in Silicon Valley is so important.  That's why getting people to come in -- what I call building bridges with the technology sector. 

All these things are important parts.  And you see that push reflected in the budget in the two items you named, but I'd also – I could  go on -- unmanned undersea vehicles, Virginia payload module, -- (inaudible) -- upgrades, and new versions of a bunch of missiles, torpedoes, air-delivered weapons, and so forth.

And it's necessary because, as I said, we have a wide spectrum of challenges that we need to invest in.  And one of them is to make sure that the American military remains the first with the most when it comes to capabilities. 

Q:  Good afternoon, I guess.  So, going back to the counter-ISIL meeting coming up on Thursday, I kind of wanted to talk about Libya.  You talked about two metastasizes -- obviously, Iraq and Syria, and you're kind of presenting this operational plan.  It seems like a pretty good time to talk about what's going on in Libya.

Obviously, the Islamic state has a bit of a stronghold.  Are you going to be presenting any deliverables for -- for our allies to kind of bite off on?  Or is that going to be pushed down the road a little bit?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, it will certainly be discussed.  And I know one of the leaders of that enterprise, namely the Italians -- the Italian defense minister will be there and speaking about that.  So it is on the agenda of the meeting.

The -- and we are, and like everyone else, I think, in NATO, concerned about ISIL gaining a foothold in Libya.  And now the one important factor is Libyans themselves don't want foreigners on their territory.  And so the approach to Libya will be to help the Libyans to expel ISIL, which is basically our strategic approach everywhere else also.

But the Libyans understand now that this is a foreign presence on their territory.  Now, of course, Libyans have a lot of other disagreements among themselves.  And so action there, as we all understand, has to go hand in hand with the pursuit of a end to the internecine fighting there. 

That is what the diplomatic effort there is trying to do.  And then the Italians have indicated that as that happens, they're willing to take the lead in the counter-ISIL effort there.  We are strongly in support of that, as are a number of other partners and allies here.  And we will be -- we will -- it will be discussed at this ministerial, I'm sure.

Q:  That sounds like kind of a train-and-equip approach, kind of what we've done in the past. 

SEC. CARTER:  No, I think it would -- it could -- it could involve a whole -- the whole range of counterterrorism tools that we use elsewhere.  But again, I think the key here is that the Libyans are I hope going to come together.  And one thing that they will agree on, those who know Libya, is that they don't want foreigners marauding over their territory, using it as a base to start fights with other people, stealing their energy resources and doing other things.

Q:  Thanks, Mr. Secretary.

So, just to draw you out a little bit.  You talked about your meeting that you hope to have with Saudi Arabia; the contributions from Sunni Arab allies.  This is something that folks have been talking about for a long time.  With the announcement of Bahrain, the UAE, Saudi Arabia -- do you think there's actually something that's going to happen soon?  Is this just more talk?  And what are the conditions, as you understand them, of a U.S. role on the ground inside Syria in order for them to, you know, make corresponding contributions?  Or is this really unclear still?

SEC. CARTER:  Well, I can't speak for them, but speaking for us, we've long wanted those Gulf states to play a stronger role in regional affairs generally, but very specifically in the counter-ISIL campaign.  So we very much welcome the willingness.

And the point of this meeting is to show all the ways that those contributions could be made, from air to ground to reconstruction to training to the non-military lines of effort, where countries of the Gulf may have a particular ability to influence events, because of their ability to -- to stand against the ideology of ISIL. 

So across that whole spectrum -- and I'm hoping that -- that their leaders will get a clear view of what the operational plan is, all the capabilities needed, and -- I hope -- find many different ways to contribute. 

You specifically asked about contributing on the ground in Syria, and the United States, as you know, is working with ground forces in Syria to fight ISIL and, in particular, to try to move on Raqqa and separate Raqqa from Mosul -- basically cleave ISIL in half. 

And where the -- others can help us -- understand the human terrain, link up with forces that we can enable, be part of that enablement  -- to include the Gulf forces -- I -- I -- I think that's a good thing.

So I will be discussing that, but I just want to emphasize there are lots of different ways that Saudi Arabia and Bahrain -- (inaudible) -- can contribute.  One of them is on the ground -- and we'll definitely be discussing that -- but there -- there are lots of other ways as well. 

And I really hope they make a strong contribution, because I think they have a strong stake in making sure that extremism doesn't run rampant over their own region, and that they are clearly -- a clear participant in and beneficiary of what is for -- surely going to occur, which is victory over ISIL. 

We will defeat ISIL, and it would be -- and -- and it'll good for their futures to be on the winning side, and having made strong contributions.  And I'm sure they're -- they -- they will be. 

And this'll be -- this is an opportunity to discuss with them how to strengthen that contribution.  I think it's very welcome, and I -- I'm very pleased that the Saudi defense minister's attending. 

STAFF:  Michael? 

Q:  Two questions.  One, did the president give you a level, or a threshold, of contributions you needed to get from other countries?  And secondly, do you feel any pressure to come back with some type of thing, either to show the American public that there's larger buy-in? 

SEC. CARTER:  No, the president didn't give any targets.  I don't -- I wouldn't expect him to, because, as I said, all of these countries are different.  They're going to have to find their own way, see what their own authorities are. 

But, do we expect others to make stronger contributions?  Do we expect others to accelerate their effort as we accelerate ours?  Do we expect others to do more as we look for opportunities to do more?  You bet, and that's the whole theme of the meeting. 

Q:  Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  I was -- the -- the language you've used recently to describe the coalition -- I was wondering if it reflects a personal frustration with the pace of it -- the counter-ISIL campaign.  And also, why has it taken so long to -- to gather the defense ministers for -- for a summit to give them a clear operational picture? 

You would think that there'd be kind of these meetings along the way.  It's been going on for 18 months, and it's only now that you're talking about delivering this clear operational picture. 

SEC. CARTER:  Well, I think the coalition has been growing in the -- not just the number of members, which happened early on, but in the -- their capabilities -- what they're actually willing to do. 

But I think an important step here is the -- putting in front of them, and having them -- an opportunity to make an input and agree to an -- a military plan, and its accompanying non-military part of the plan, that -- where they can actually see a practical role for themselves and how they can accentuate their -- their contributions. 

So I -- I think the willingness of countries, early on, to join the coalition -- and I -- I -- the coalition is an excellent representation of universal condemnation of ISIL and what it stands for, and the civilized world standing up against barbarians, so it has tremendous importance in that regard.  This is just a step in trying to operationalize that -- that -- that unity and determination of purpose. 

And there have been lots of meetings of the coalition in the past.  I thought it was important to have defense ministers, because defense contributions are one part of -- and don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that's the major contribution that each country can make.  But each country can make a contribution to the military campaign. 

And so I think that's -- it's a -- it's an important group to convene, and it's an important moment to do that, because we do need to accelerate the campaign, and we have a very clear operational picture of how to do it.  Now, we just need the resources and the forces to fall in behind it. 

Q:  Are you personally -- are you personally satisfied or frustrated with the pace? 

SEC. CARTER:  I don't see -- I don't think anybody's satisfied with the pace of the -- that's why we're all looking to accelerate it.  Certainly, the president isn't. 

That's why -- you know, going back to -- you know, this fall, he's been using the word "accelerate."  And so my instructions are very clear, from my president -- he wants to get this done, and I think that that is widely shared. 

Now they need, with the will, the way.  And we want to show the way. 

STAFF:  All right.  Thanks, everyone.

Q:  Thank you. 

Q:  Thanks, gang.