November 30, 2015: Ambassador Lute’s Pre-Foreign Ministerial Press Briefing

November 30, 2015

Ambassador Lute: — of the Warsaw Summit, so it’s four Ministerials until Warsaw as we sort of take the stepping stones towards the Summit in July.

The themes that will organize the agenda over the next two days will also trail all the way to Warsaw.

The first theme is that we will check in on progress on delivering what leaders agreed at the Wales Summit, and I’ll outline in which areas. So it’s sort of implement Wales. And the second theme is to continue to adapt to what’s changing around us, and in particular on NATO’s periphery. And by this, I mean most important the periphery on the east and the periphery in the south. So those will be the major themes over five sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday.

For Secretary Kerry, this is part of a longer European trip. He will come from the Climate Summit in Paris. From here he’ll go to the OSCE Ministerial and as he is always likely to do there will be numerous stops in between Paris, Brussels and the OSCE.

So let me go through the agenda for the next couple of days and then get your questions.

The first meeting is in Resolute Support format. This is therefore obviously a meeting on Afghanistan. Here the 42 countries of the NATO-led coalition will join Foreign Minister Rabbani who will give us an update on political progress after what has been admittedly a tough year on the security front.

We expect two key decisions coming out of the first meeting tomorrow afternoon. The first is that we expect NATO will parallel the U.S. decision to sustain its current mission and its current force posture through 2016. This is, of course, the decision that President Obama announced, the national decision, the national U.S. decision that President Obama announced some weeks ago, and in the intervening weeks NATO has gone through its own decision process and now I think will join the U.S. in sustaining Resolute Support next year. And just last week NATO successfully generated the forces it needs to continue that mission in Afghanistan.

The second decision has to do with the longer term and this has to do with beginning a process which will culminate at Warsaw where allies and others will make political commitments to sustain the substantial international funding which essentially sponsors, makes possible the Afghan Army and Police. If you follow Afghanistan carefully you’ll appreciate that the last time we did this was at the Chicago Summit in 2012 when internationally we committed to $4 billion a year for years ’15, 2016 and 2017. So we’re really at the first year of that three-year commitment, and so by Warsaw we want to add an additional three years onto that international commitment. So that will be $4 billion for 2018, 2019 and 2020.

Now look, this is going to be a lot different than Chicago because if you imagine the political setting there are a lot more competing priorities today, much closer to Europe’s home than there were in 2012. But nonetheless, the long term key to success in Afghanistan is sustaining international support for the Afghan Security Forces. So that process we think will begin on tomorrow’s meeting.

The bottom line I think is that for NATO, Afghanistan remains unfinished business. And despite these competing challenges closer to home we have to follow through on those commitments. It’s going to require a long-term effort, but the good news is today we have a much more willing and a much more capable Afghan partner than we had in the past. That’s session number one.

A second session, now this is sort of mid to late afternoon tomorrow, will be on challenges to NATO’s south. And obviously here the conversation will focus on the international campaign to defeat Da’esh. For this session the 28 allies will be joined by Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative, and that’s important because what’s happening to NATO’s south is happening to the EU’s south as well. We have common geographic terms here.

I think the discussion will center around how NATO is today contributing to the international coalition. It will feature, I think, strong support from all 28 allies who are contributing today to the military campaign against Da’esh that will sustain and maybe even expand those military efforts in support of the coalition. It’s almost certain to come up that beyond the 28 allies, 26 NATO partners are also contributing to the coalition. So if you do the math here it’s 28 allies, 26 partners, out of 65 total. So 54 of the 65 coalition members are already contributing in some fashion to the military campaign. I think you’ll get strong support out of tomorrow’s meeting to continue that kind of contribution.

I think you’ll also get strong support for the emerging political track. And here I’m talking about the Vienna process where Secretary Kerry, Minister Lavrov, Senior Representative Steffan de Mistura, and others have brought together a group that support the notion that the political campaign has to proceed parallel to the military campaign, and that the military campaign by itself isn’t going to take us that far. So this effort, I think, will be foremost on Minister’s minds when they talk about challenges to the south tomorrow.

I think the key way to look at NATO’s contribution here is that NATO really is the backbone or the force provider for the military coalition. I’ve already given you the numbers there. NATO is further contributing by way of building capacity, military capacity, in two front-line states:  In Iraq and in Jordan. And this is by way of the Wales-approved program agreed at the Wales Summit where we have a defense capacity-building effort in both of those partner countries. So we’re trying to do what we can there.

NATO has a similar program on the books ready to go if we were to have a political settlement in Libya. So, one of NATO’s major contributing roles, aside from providing forces and capacity to the coalition is to help these partners who are under stress as a result of Da’esh.

I think beyond the south in this session, when Mogherini joins the Ministers, they will also talk about NATO’s new framework for dealing with hybrid warfare, and it’s appropriate that Madame Mogherini should be in the room when NATO talks about hybrid warfare because the nature of that threat, that challenge, is such that responsibility is shared among the member states. So the first line of defense is the state itself. But beyond that, by way of backup responsibilities, some of those backup responsibilities fall to NATO and others fall to the EU.

So this is really a triangle of responsibility in terms of getting in front of hybrid warfare or responding to hybrid warfare were it to happen, between the member states, NATO, and the EU. So it’s very appropriate that we come to terms, we come to agreement on the preventive steps we can take, and then if this were to happen in one of the common member states, how we would respond. So that hybrid warfare discussion will also take place in this second session.

That takes us to the working dinner, and here the topic is Russia and characterizing NATO’s relationship with Russia. This is clearly a lot different than where it’s been for about 20 years, so for about the past 20 years, setting aside the last two, before Crimea there was every intent on NATO’s part, and we thought an honest effort on Russia’s part, to form what we came to call a strategic partnership. But with the illegal annexation of Crimea, with the destabilizing activities in the Donbas, it’s pretty clear that we don’t have the strategic partner that we would like to have in Russia. But that doesn’t say what kind of relationship we have today.

So what does strategic partnership, what replaces strategic partnership by way of characterizing NATO’s relationship with Russia?

I don’t know where that conversation will end up, but I think one thing is clear, just by the geostrategic positioning of NATO and Russia, and that is that the two will remain strong, even powerful neighbors. So how do you move from sort of the strategic reality of neighbors, how can you then characterize the emerging new relationship between these two parties? And I think this is a conversation that will continue. It will start tomorrow night, but it will continue all the way to the Warsaw Summit next July.

That takes us to Wednesday morning. The first session Wednesday morning is on NATO’s enlargement policy or as we call it here the open door policy. Of course this policy traces all the way back to the origins of the alliance because it’s Article 10 in the Washington Treaty that lays out how NATO can add to the original 12 members of the alliance, and of course that’s been done 16 times since 1949. And following up on the decision taken at the Wales Summit, on Wednesday morning Ministers will decide whether or not to invite a 29th member, Montenegro. And so we’ll have to see where that goes.

The Washington Treaty itself essentially sets out the standards for such an invitation and it says that an aspiring member must adhere to the principles of the alliance, so these are the basic principles of rule of law, democratic principles and so forth. Must contribute to the collective defense. Must be able to make some contribution to collective defense. And then the third criteria is the invitation must be issued on a consensus basis.

So on Wednesday morning the vote has to be 28 to 0 if Montenegro is to be invited.

I can’t forecast how that’s going to come out. I’m sure some question here will be how’s it going to go? I don’t know. You’ll have to wait until — Did I rob someone of a question? Sorry. You have a few minutes here to think of another question. We’ll have to see how that goes, but that will be decided on Wednesday morning.

Now, whatever the decision on Montenegro, there are three other countries that are in the aspirant pipeline, if you will, or who have declared an intent to join. And I think the Ministers will also discuss progress with those other three aspirants, so here this is Georgia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia. So that first session is on open door.

And then the final session of the two-day Ministerial is with Ukraine. So here the 28 NATO Ministers will join the Foreign Minister from Ukraine in what’s called the NATO-Ukraine Commission. This is important because as much as the conversations over the last weeks have been of what’s going on in the south of NATO, NATO must look in more than one direction at a time. It must be able to look to the south, but it must also be able to look to the east and continue to assess what’s going on in Ukraine. So it will be important to get a political update from the Foreign Minister. We know on the security front that that the ceasefire has been imperfect and of late there have actually been a couple of spikes in violence along the line of contact in Ukraine. We know that some heavy weapons have been withdrawn, but not all. And on the political front we’ve had some local elections in Ukraine. Just yesterday we had the local election in Mariupol, but not yet in the separatist territories. And of course on Kyiv’s part the constitutional reforms and so forth are not yet complete either. So it will be interesting to see where that goes.

I note with interest that coming out of the G20 meeting about a week ago, the G20 leaders agreed to sustain international sanctions against Russia until all of the provisions of the Minsk Agreement are in place.  And of course that EU decision for sustaining the sanctions comes up near the end of this year.

So there’s a lot to discuss on Ukraine, and it’s important to keep a NATO spotlight on Ukraine, to keep it in our attention.

So look, those are the two big themes over the next couple of days.  Just to follow up, initially implementation on things that were decided at Wales; and then second of all, to continue to assess what’s going on on NATO’s periphery, in particular to the south, a special emphasis I think to the south.  But also, as I jut mentioned with Ukraine, to NATO’s east.

And I think I’ll stop there and get your questions.

Moderator:  I’d like to start with a question on the first meeting, Afghanistan, the Dari version of Deutsche Welle, Ari Faraman.

Media:  Thank you, Mr. Ambassador I have two questions.  The first is that the Afghans [believe] that they don’t have enough [inaudible] equipment and there are some [inaudible] in Afghanistan that the United States of America, the partner, doesn’t provide necessary [equipment].

Second, there are many reports from, about the rise of Da’esh in Afghanistan.  We are seeing a series of kidnappings in Afghanistan, allegedly by the Da’esh.  Do you think Da’esh could be a serious threat for Afghanistan?  And do you see any connection between these fighters and the leadership in [inaudible] local militia?  Thank you.

Ambassador Lute:  Let me take those in reverse order.  There have been some reports that there are some small elements of Da’esh that may be emerging not only in Afghanistan but in South and Central Asia.  These are not yet viewed — This is not yet viewed as a serious challenge to the Afghan authorities, but any place that Da’esh raises its flag has international attention.  So I think General Campbell and the NATO forces there alongside our Afghan partners will be watching this very carefully.

Look, there are a lot of, in my view, of many antibodies between Da’esh and the Afghan culture, the Afghan people.  But we’ve seen before where Da’esh can impose itself on a population.  So we’ll have to watch this very carefully.

As for close air support, Afghan Air Force and so forth, look, you can’t create an air force, at least a modern, capable air force, in just several years.  We’ve been at this for some time with the Afghan Air Force.  It’s going to take a while.  They have only an emerging capability, mostly helicopter based today and they don’t have enough close air support.  The coalition has done things over the years to mitigate the fact that the Air Force has been slow in coming on-line.  So for example, providing artillery indirect fire support, armored vehicles that have direct fire support and so forth.  But there’s no debating the fact that the Afghan Air Force is needed and there’s a program in place to get it delivered, but it is slow.  I think the United States admits that and I think certainly the Afghans admit that.

You’ll know that when the Afghans have been most severely stressed that the U.S. forces, not NATO, but the U.S. forces have some authorities that General Campbell can use to provide in extremis close air support to the Afghans, and that has happened on occasion.  So for example it did happen in Kunduz.  So it’s a problem we’re working on together.

There’s a big Afghan responsibility here too, because the pilots have to be Afghan.  So, Afghan pilots have to be trained.  They have to be retained in the air force, and that’s a challenge.

So there’s work to be done, and this is a good example of why the job is unfinished and why I think tomorrow NATO will take the decision that we have to continue the work.

Moderator:  I’d like to go with a Montenegrin journalist who I hope has a second question.  Antenna M Radio, Latina Yavanovic.

Media:  Thank you.  You said that you don’t want to predict the decision, okay.  But do you believe that it would be good, the decision for NATO to call Montenegro in this moment?   And do you think that any third side may have input on the decision right now in NATO on the member states? Because we’ve heard from [the Kremlin] last month a couple of statements, even their parliament adopted a document which they invite NATO not to press their power.  Thank you.

Ambassador Lute:  So NATO’s been very consistent over the years in terms of how a new member is invited in and there are a couple of principles here.

One is that the decision begins with the people of that country.  So in all, in fact all the way back to the original 12 members, it began with sovereign decisions among those 12 countries to join.  And we’ve held by that principle ever since.

So the first order of business here is what do the Montenegrin people want?  And they have in our view taken a sovereign decision to join, and therefore they’re eligible to be considered.

The second decision, though, of course comes on behalf of the current members, so this is the 28-0, right?  I note that among those 28 Russia is not a member.  So Russia will not be in the room voting on Wednesday morning.  It will be between the 28 current allies.  And there’s no other country that’s in the room either.  So this is a decision that begins with the sovereign choice of the country, and culminates with the vote among the current members.

Moderator:  We’ll start with a question from Ukraine.

Media:  Thank you, One-plus-One Media, Ukraine, Alex [inaudible].

Well, Ambassador, the Minsk doesn’t seem to be working.

Ambassador Lute:  The what?  Sorry?  Minsk?