December 1, 2014: Ambassador Lute’s Pre-Foreign Ministerial Briefing

December 1, 2014

Ambassador Lute: Thank you. I think for most of you welcome back to this room and to NATO headquarters for the next in a series of ministerial meetings. This one’s got a particular context, this ministerial meeting tomorrow, and I thought I’d lay that out for you a bit and then we’ll get to your questions.

First of all, this ministerial is distinct because it’s the first one after Wales. A common theme that you’ll see here in my remarks and then in the reporting over the next day or so is that this is really a follow-up meeting 90 days after the Wales summit. Wales, of course, was widely viewed across the alliance as a strategic inflection point, meaning that it was more than just the 65 year anniversary of the alliance, but it really marked 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and it marked at least two decades of non-stop operational experience in NATO which began in the Balkans in the mid ‘90s and as you know, continues to this day in Afghanistan.

In the face of that historical context, Wales concluded that NATO faces new diverse and multiple challenges on its immediate periphery. To the east, to the southeast, to the south. And we can talk about that just in a second.

So 90 days after Wales, tomorrow, is not a bad opportunity for ministers to come together, assess progress on what leaders decided at Wales, and then provide additional guidance where necessary as we move into the new year.

This week also marks really the first stepping stone towards the next NATO summit which, as you know, was announced at Wales in September to be hosted by Poland in Warsaw probably in mid 2016. So we finish one summit and we sort of go through the life cycle of meetings here in NATO. We begin with the ministerial tomorrow as the first stepping stone to the next summit which is at least 18 months off.

So quite logically when I unpack the agenda here for tomorrow, what you’ll see is a good deal of logical overlap in coincidence with the items that were primary on the Wales agenda.

So first, the first meeting tomorrow, sort of mid-morning is of the NATO-Ukraine Commission. So this features the 28 NATO foreign ministers to include in our case Secretary John Kerry coming together with Foreign Minister Klimkin of Ukraine. It’s possible that he will connect by way of video connection into this meeting, into the 28+1 format. That’s simply a question of travel considerations. He’s got important parliamentary business that’s also taking place in Kiev and he’s trying to do two things on the same day.

As you’ll know from past experience, NATO does not consider itself a first responder in the Ukraine crisis, but foreign ministers tomorrow will assess progress across political, economic and security lines. Most important I think they’ll note recent progress like the Ukrainian parliamentary elections, the beginning of the formation of the Ukrainian government. They’ll also note undoubtedly the severe and continuing economic challenges that face Ukraine. They’ll note I think clearly the unsatisfactory implementation of the Minsk Agreement and the ceasefire protocols that followed Minsk. And I think without question they’ll note the continued Russian actions that destabilize the region including most recently another sort of flurry of continued support to the separatists and the in-flow into Southeastern Ukraine of heavy weapons from the Russian Federation.

NATO will report progress on doing what it said it would do at Wales which is to set up four distinct trust funds in support of the government of Ukraine. These trust funds go to functional areas that were specifically requested by the government of Ukraine. They include trust funds to help Ukraine with logistics, with command and control, with cyber defense, and with transitioning the personnel structure of the Ukrainian military. These four trust funds commissioned at Wales are not in place. Leadership is established and we’re moving forward with the tasks prescribed by leaders at Wales.

Meanwhile allies on a national basis are continuing to provide broad support for Ukraine. I’d just not recently, several weeks ago, our Vice President Joe Biden was in Kiev. He announced additional funding support for the government, and U.S. bilateral support now to Ukraine is over $300 million. That’s on top of a $1 billion U.S. loan guarantee. So that’s just one of the 28 nations contributing nationally. The other 27 allied nations are likewise contributing to support Ukraine.

I think most important though is that Ukraine continues to receive political, economic and security support from a broad range in the international community. So not only nationally by way of the 28 allies of NATO, but more broadly at the United Nations, at the OSCE and at the EU, and most prominently at the EU in the form of the sustained sanctions against Russia for its failure to live up to its international commitments.

That in a nutshell will be the first meeting. That’s Ukraine, 28 plus Foreign Minister Plimkin.

The second meeting will focus on internal NATO business. Here again we’ll go back to what leaders directed us to do at Wales and we’ll check in on progress. The first thing I think that we’ll address at that meeting is to assess progress in sustaining the assurance measures — air, sea and ground — along our eastern flank. So you’ll appreciate that over the last six or so months NATO has begun a process of air, land and sea measures, modest in scale and scope, and this is all along the eastern flank running from the Baltic Sea all the way down to the Black Sea. These measures are designed to essentially emphasize and demonstrate that Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty — that is an attack on one is an attack on all — means what it says. And that when necessary NATO Will deploy air, sea and ground forces to assure allies and to present a deterrent posture. Those measures have been going on now for six or eight months.

At Wales leaders directed that the alliance come back from Wales and design a similar program of sustained assurance measures for, as they said, as long as necessary. So tomorrow we’ll take the first bite of as long as necessary, and that will be calendar year 2014.

So foreign ministers will assess whether sufficient resources, whether the programmatics are in place to sustain these reassurance measures through the next calendar year. I think we’ll find that they are in fact in place.

A good example of tehse measures are the U.S. armored troopers from Fort Hood, Texas, who are today on the ground in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland exercising alongside their host nation compatriots and also exercising alongside other NATO allies. So that group of Texans, if you will, will be replaced in 2015 by another U.S. contingent and then another U.S. contingent behind that. So this rotation of U.S. ground forces just exemplifies one of the dimensions of assurance measures that’s in place now, has been in place for six or eight months, and which now, tomorrow, we’ll be able to announce are sustained throughout 2015.

Also at Wales leaders directed, in terms of the second meeting, internal NATO business, leaders directed that we take a hard look at our force posture in the alliance and ask the question, are there adaptations necessary to bring our posture in line with the challenges we face? So work’s been done over the last 90 days to begin to deliver on this. I think foreign ministers will get a status report on the stand-up of what we call the VJTF, not a great acronym, but it’s the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force. This is a brigade-sized element which NATO will stand up we believe early in 2015, and to enable NATO to respond more quickly to the kinds of challenges it faces on its periphery, not only in the east, but also to the southeast and the south.

So foreign ministers tomorrow, late morning, will receive an update on where we stand with establishing the VJTF.

Finally, a third decision taken at Wales, that is to invest in NATO’s partners, will be assessed. The progress here will be assessed tomorrow as well. And most prominent, foreign ministers will receive a report of NATO’s effort over the last 90 days to stand up the first two defense capacity building missions. These are two missions commissioned at Wales, established at Wales, to reach out to two partners in particular who are under stress and who have asked for and have now been granted focused sort of tailored programs to build up their defense capacity. The two in question are Georgia and Jordan.

So in the last 90 days NATO has sent assessment teams to these two partners and have in concert with national, that is host nation authorities, established programs so that over the coming months NATO will reach out to them and specifically address their needs.

There are more such programs available in the future, but we’re beginning with these first two, Georgia and Jordan, and foreign ministers will receive a report on progress there tomorrow.

The third session — so now we’re into tomorrow afternoon — is on Afghanistan. Of course for some ten years we’ve been having ministerial meetings on Afghanistan, but I think this one is different. This will be the last ministerial in the ISAF format, so that is the International Security Assistance Force. Of course ISAF was stood up some 10 years ago. By 2006 ISAF commanded by NATO assumed security responsibility for the entire land force in Afghanistan. And now in just the end of this month we will bring ISAF to a close. So NATO’s largest ever and longest ever combat operations will draw to a close, but in fact foreign ministers will note that NATO’s business doesn’t end there.

Tomorrow NATO headquarters will welcome Afghan President Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah for the first time together here at NATO headquarters. The will address the foreign ministers and they will update us on not only the security situation but also the political situation, that is the formation of the new Afghan government and in particular the naming of their cabinet, and they will address the economic situation which is really a prelude to a meeting later this week in London where both President Ghani and Executive Officer Abdullah will go to London, which is a long-scheduled follow-up to the Tokyo international conference of several years ago.  And the London conference later this week will focus on international economic assistance to Afghanistan.

So in a nutshell on Tuesday Ghani and Abdullah will be here focused on the security situation and support to Afghan Security Forces, funding support for security assistance, and then they’ll go from here to London and they’ll have sort of a counterpart meeting dealing with economic assistance.

The good news is when they arrive tomorrow they’ll be able to report that the Bilateral Security Agreement between the United States and Afghanistan, but now also the SOFA, the Status of Forces Agreement between Afghanistan and NATO, are signed, sealed and delivered. They were ratified over the last several days by the Afghan parliament as the Afghan constitution requires, and those two documents are now in place.

So with the ratification of those two documents NATO has the lats piece of the puzzle required to lanuch the successor mission that will begin on 1 January. This is called Resolute Support. And ministers will determine tomorrow that all the final pieces are in place. So not only the BSA and the SOFA, but also the funding streams required and also the troops required. So everything is in place and we’re prepared to declare on 2 December that on 1 January we’ll be able to launch Resolute Support as we’ve long planned to do.

This is really I think a benchmark for NATO’s relationship with Afghanistan that should’nt be missed. It’s been 13 years since we stood up ISAF. Again, largest ever, longest ever combat mission for NATO and now we’re doing a natural transition to the Resolute Support Mission. You know from past briefings that this mission features two key tasks. For the U.S. it features two key tasks. For NATO, one key mission and that is to train, advise and assist Afghan Security Forces. The U.S. mission beyond contributing to NATO also includes a national counter-terrorism mission. So for the U.S., two missions. For NATO, one key mission — train, advise and assist. And we have tomorrow the authorities, the troops and the funding in place to launch that mission.

Now Resolute Support is designed to be the next chapter in NATO’s partnership with Afghanistan, but not the last chapter. We think there’s a chapter beyond Resolution Support some years from now, and that will feature welcoming Afghanistan into the group of NATO partners. And as you know, there are some 40 NATO partners today. We think there’s work to be done in developing NATO’s long term, that is beyond Resolute Support partnership with Afghanistan. So we’re looking forward to that important I think sort of threshold or benchmark meeting with Afghanistan as well.

Finally, foreign ministers will convene over dinner in a more informal discussion, discuss the full range of challenges along NATO’s periphery. And by the full range of challenges I mean the instability in the east sparked by Russia’s aggression; I mean the challenge in the southeast, to NATO’s southeast with ISIS emerging to threaten security in Iraq and Syria immediately beyond NATO’s border I might mention; and then the continued instability in northern Africa where probably most prominently in Libya which also serves as a challenge for NATO.

On ISIS, I’d just note that recently the North Atlantic Council ambassador’s level welcomed Iraq National Security Advisor Fayyadh for a briefing to the council. And while National Security Advisor Fayyadh did not bring a specific request for some sort of new form of NATO support to Iraq, the council reassured him that NATO stands ready on request to tailor a program to build Iraq’s security capacity as we go down this trail.

Today, however, the international reaction to the growth of ISIS is not NATO based, but is based rather on an international coalition of about 60-some countries. Now it’s no small coincidence that among those 60 countries in the ISIS coalition, the counter-ISIS coaltion, all 28 NATO allies are participating in some way.But not NATO as an institution.  So there is a sort of a logical overlap between the international coalition at 60 and the alliance at 28, but tehre’s not an institutional role today established for NATO.

But because of that connection, the following day, on Wednesday, Secretary John Kerry will chair a meeting convened here at NATO headquarters of the 60 minister representing the counter-ISIS coalition. So this is not NATO business per se, but NATO is facilitating the coalition meeting, the first one by the way at ministers level, it’s facilitating that meeting by way of providing the venue, but it is a U.S.-chaired, U.S.-hosted meeting of some 60 foreign ministers who will convene just down the hall here in NATO headquarters on Wednesday morning.

So if you sum up the ministerial, back to NATO business now, I think the big sort of conclusions are as follows. First of all, NATO is responding to the challenges it faces on its periphery. Second, it is doing what we were directed to do — no big surprise — by the leaders at Wales. We’re engaging Ukraine, we’re ready to assist Iraq, we’re reaching out to Jordan and Georgia, we’re sustaining the assurance measures inside the alliance itself along our eastern flank, and we’re beginning adaptaions to alliance structure which will take a bit more time but that process has begun. Then finally we’re fulfilling our longstanding commitments to Afghanistan which really go back about a decade.

Let me stop there by way of introduction and we’ll get to your questions.

Moderator:  Thank you, sir. We’re happy to take your questions. Please identify yourself and your media affiliation.

Press: Thank you very much, I’m [inaudible] from TOLO News from Afghanistan. I have two questions.

Recently United States decided to extend military [inaudible]. And is there something missing regarding to [inaudible] transition? Or we can say is there something wrong in observation, [inaudible]?

The other question, Afghan Security Forces without heavy weapons and air support, can they [inaudible]?

Ambassador Lute:  Recently the United States reaffirmed several decisions. This was I think somewhat mistakenly reported as brand new news and a big story and in fact it’s rather consistent with where we’ve been in the past.

Let me take you back to four years ago at the Lisbon summit, the NATO summit at Lisbon. It was decided there on the request of Afghan Preisdent Karzai at the time that four years after Lisbon, so now, Afghan Security Forces would be “fully responsible” for the security of Afghanistan. And after a very deliberate, focused effort over those four years, a big effort on the part of the Afghans, but also an effort on behalf of NATO and its international partners, the judgment is that we can go ahead and make that transition at the end of this month.

So at the end of this month NATO will transition from being in the lead to having its Afghan partners fully responsible.

Now that doesn’t mean, the Lisbon agreement didn’t mean that the work would be done with the Afghan Security Forces and there’s still development work to be done. That’s why tomorrow NATO will commission the Resolute Support Mission which essentially says the training, advising and assisting from us to our Afghan partners will continue.

Now how long that mission will continue has not yet been taken up here at NATO. We know that some nations — Germany and the United States and so forth — have made some national announcements about how long they’ll contribute to the NATO mission, but the NATO mission itself has not been determined in terms of how long it will take.

So a lot of progress has been made but the work is not complete with the Afghan Security Forces.

Now recently there was a reaffirmation in the United States, in my government, our government, that over the course of the next year we would continue to target any elements, any enemy elements in Afghanistan that threaten the security and the safety of American forces. So if there is a truck bomb somewhere in Afghanistan and we learn of it by way of intelligence, President Obama reaffirmed that U.S. troops have the authority to act against that threat and don’t have to wait for that threat to arrive on the door step or the front gate, at the front gate of one of our bases in Afghanistan.

So if that’s the essence of the decision reaffirmed recently was simply that when the United States and frankly our NATO allies deploy our forces overseas at the invitation of a sovereign government like the government of Afghanistan, that we retain the authorities required to protect those forces.

So the answer I guess to your question is that if there is a threat discovered against U.S. forces, the President simply reaffirmed that U.S. forces had the authority to act against that threat. That was the essence of the decision.

Press: Jim [inaudible] from Bloomberg. A question about Ukraine.

Last week President Poroshenko announced a future referendum on countries seeking NATO membership. Because Ukraine’s membership is so far out in the future, so iffy, so conditional, requires all 28 to go along, and so on, what purpose is served by keeping this issue on the table now? Do you think that announcement is helpful or not?

Ambassador Lute: As you’ll know, as the alliance has moved from its original 12 members to today’s 28, that increase in NATO membership has had several very consistent procedural policies. One is that every one of those increases in alliance membership has featured a grassroots national movement. It has started with the nations in question. So NATO doesn’t solicit members. NATO receives expressions of interest from nations that wish to join and then it considers those national requests based on progress inside that nation to actually meet the standards to join. So this is sort of a bottoms-up approach to membership. We don’t solicit, but we do receive expressions of interest.

So the first step for every member has been and for every aspirant in the future will continue to be a national step, a sovereign decision.

So when President Poroshenko sets in place as he discussed last week or so the potential national referendum, that’s a sovereign Ukrainian choice to determine its future. We fundamentally support the notion that today nation states, especially those immediately involved here in the European Atlantic space, have the sovereign right to determine their own path. And if Ukraine takes a decision to seek membership that’s a Ukrainian decision. And when NATO is informed of that decision NATO is prepared to set into place as it does with other countries today who aspire to membership, set in place a program that would eventually lead to Ukraine or any other European nation making its way through the standards, through the criteria that would lead to membership.

But that’s a long answer to say that the initial step is essentially a step not unlike what Preisdent Poroshenko suggested and that is a national sovereign decision to join. After that it comes to NATO and NATO then sets in place a program that could lead to membership if criteria are met.

To be fair, NATO’s in that process with four other countries today.  And this is not a process that’s unusual in NATO membership. Sixty-five years ago there were 12 original charger members. Today there are 28. So NATO has a history of enlarging. But each one of those enlargements began with a national decision.

Press: My name is Nawa Han, I’m the correspondent here with Kuwait News Agency.

Sir, can you tell us what are the [inaudible] and goals of [inaudible], and how many add-on countries will you must [inaudible].

Ambassador Lute: As the delegation that’s simply facilitating the meeting, I don’t want to get too far into business that’s not my business. I can tell you how many chairs there are at the table.  I can tell you who’s going to chair, which room it’s going to be in, but I have to leave coalition business to the coalition.

I can tell you that first of all there will be Arab states represented at the minister level but I don’t want to get into individual participation because, again, that’s coalition business.

Second of all, I can tell you that the two key agenda items for the meeting are to review the five lines of effort that make up the coalition campaign against ISIS.  So these range from military support all the way through humanitarian efforts. So they’ll review progress. The second thing they’ll do is discuss how occasionally at ministerial level the coalition should come together for political oversight and political consultations. Because as a coalition these procedures are not established. They have to be established. So they’ll use the meeting on Wednesday to talk about those two key agenda items.

Press: Ambassador, could you give us a sense if there’s any kind of unease among NATO ambassadors that the combat mission in Afghanistan is terminated now, the security situation being what it is in Afghanistan?

Ambassador Lute: I don’t sense unease because all transitions are challenging. And I think for this transition for which we’ve been, as I’ve already outlined, preparing for four years, won’t be without its challenges. But the fact is that given that we’re about to launch the Resolute Support Mission, the sense here in NATO headquarters is that that mission is properly set for the right level of support to sustain progress in the ANSF.

It won’t be without its hiccups. It won’t be without its challenges. But now we’ve made sufficient progress with the Afghan Security Forces so the transition is enabled. I should remind us that it was July of 2012 that the Afghan Security Forces assumed the lead for combat operations.  So this is the, we’re coming to the end of the second year where the ANSF have been already in the lead for combat operations across Afghanistan. We passed the baton for combat ops in the summer of 2012. So they’ve had sort of 18 months now fully in the lead.

So this is not a light switch like transition where suddenly the lights are on and now the lights are off. It’s been a steady program, very deliberate across the country and across the different functions of the security arena to pass the baton.

So I think there’s general confidence in what we’ve done so far and in the measures that we are now ready to launch for next year that should sustain that progress. So no, I don’t sense anxiety on NATO’s part.

Press: Mr. Ambassador, Georgia [inaudible].

You mentioned Georgia and Jordan [inaudible]. We want to find out as more as is possible. We are looking forward to this ministerial to move forward in the process of implementation of the [inaudible] which was [inaudible]. I want to hear from you the assessment of this process [inaudible], for example need to [inaudible] in Georgia was also [inaudible].

My second question, do you think that Georgia is on the path towards NATO membership? Because a few months ago when Barack Obama was in Brussels he said that neither Ukraine or Georgia are currently on the path of NATO membership and we were a bit confused with his statement. Thank you very much.

Ambassador Lute: To take the last part of your question, Georgia is one of the four countries which has made a national decision to move towards membership. So as we say here inside the headquarters, it’s one of the four aspirants. That is one of the four countries which aspires to some day join the alliance. Ukraine today is not, by distinction. So one is, the other is not.

Georgia is one of NATO’s closest partners. If you look at the past operational experience, Georgia has contributed in meaningful ways, especially in Afghanistan, and has sustained that commitment over the years. Over the last year or so, Georgia has been the single largest contributor of troops to the ISAF mission among partners. So beyond the allies, Georgia has been the largest single contributor. So Georgia’s already on its own path.

At Wales leaders decided to respond to Georgian requests for an even more robust package of assistance to try to accelerate them along this path to membership and such a package was approved in concept at Wales. One of the things we’ve done over the last 90 days is begin to sort of [suss] out exactly what the componetns of that package will be. We’ve done this in close coordination with your national authorities, with Georgian national authorities, and I think tomorrow at the session of 28, foreign ministers will receive an update on how this robust package is going.

Now I don’t want to get into individual components of the package. It’s a little too early for that. But what I can tell you is that we got the message coming out of Wales and we’re moving out on it.

Press: Mr. Ambassador, [inaudible] from Russia that [inaudible] propaganda. Are you concerned that NATO will use propaganda [inaudible]?

Ambassador Lute: NATO doesn’t believe it needs to compete in any way with Russia and propaganda.  NATO doesn’t do propaganda. NATO sees itself as sort of the mature, responsible predictable security alliance here in Europe. What do I mean by that? Let me give you two examples.

Russia has security operatives and has for six months or so operating in southeastern Ukraine. In fact before that we saw these same sort of operators in Crimea. When you look at these fellows, they have no national insignia, they wear masks over their face, they claim to be who they are not, and they hide among the civilian population.

When NATO sends NATO forces, NATO troops inside the alliance to assure allies they come at national invitation. Big difference, right? They come under national flag. If you go see U.S. troops operating today in the Baltics, they wear the American flag not only boldly, but proudly on their right shoulder.

Typically heads of state, heads of government welcome them to their country.

I mean look at the contrast here between the way Russia is operating in first Crimea and now southeastern Ukraine and the way NATO is responding inside the alliance proper.

Let me give you another example.

When Russia flies, recently, sort of increased patterns of combat aircraft along the periphery of NATO’s airspace, not in NATO’s airspace but on the periphery, there have been multiple incidents where those aircraft do not file flight plans, do not communicate with civilian air traffic controllers as international regulations require, and instances where these Russian combat aircraft turn off their transponders, making them essentially invisible, unidentifiable to legitimate international air traffic controllers. And when you add this together, these Russian actions are irresponsible, pose a threat to civilian aviation, and demonstrate that Russia is flagrantly violating international norms.

When NATO aircraft fly we turn our transponders on. We talk to civilian air traffic controllers. We file flight plans.

So what I’m painting here in these two examples is a picture of one actor, NATO, which is responding and adhering to international norms, which is predictable in its behavior, and is mature. It’s doing what is expected. You have another player, Russia, both on the ground and in the air and at sea, who is doing just the opposite.

So this is not a propaganda struggle. This is clear for everybody to see the distinction between what’s happening and the facts on the ground and in the air, and I think all of us are free to draw our own conclusions about those distinctions, those sharp contrasts between one player and the other.

Press: Is it also a worry that Russia might [inaudible] and that NATO has to be there [to counter that]?

Second question, how far is NATO planning what to do against hybrid war?

Ambassador Lute: Just to sharpen my previous response. NATO is not in competition for [stories]. NATO lets NATO’s actions speak for themselves and we think Russia’s actions speak for themselves. So what we’re interested in here is actions, not stories, not propaganda.

What we’ve seen employed not for the first time but most recently in first Crimea and then southeastern Ukraine is this hybrid blending, mix of conventional military means, unconventional means, economic coercion, cyber attacks and information attacks. Information measures. Blended in a very sophisticated way to not only create instability but also to create ambiguity to hide behind what’s going on on the ground. There’s an undeniable pattern of this obvious, I think, to those who watch these events carefully and have sort of a discerning eye that began in Crimea and has now played out in a big way in eastern Ukraine.

NATO needs to be prepared and will be prepared to respond if those tactics are brought to alliance territory. So if this approach, this tactic were tested on alliance territory, it is very possible that that alliance member could come to the council room just down the hall and request NATO assistance.

At the Wales summit leaders told us, we want you to come up with a counter to this, and that work is underway. Now at the 90 day mark I can’t tell you that we have the full fledged answer, the full fledged counter to hybrid warfare but the work is well underway so that if some day that sort of approach, that sort of aggression played out on NATO territory, we’ll be ready. So I think I’d call it work in progress.

Press: Steven [inaudible] from the Wall Street Journal.

A question related to the spearhead force. The first one is do you see the United States playing a lead role in the [inaudible] or do you think that is something that European nations should [inaudible]?

Secondly in the 90 days since the summit, what sort of challenges do you see having emerged in setting up such a force?

Ambassador Lute: Which nation will contribute in which way to the, Steven called it the spearhead force. The technical terms is very [inaudible], it’s Joint Task Force, right? I like spearhead actually.

Which nation contributing which way is not yet decided. The early planning has the lead nations for the ground element, the brigade sized element, to be stood up early in 2015, at least on an interim basis. So we won’t have all the work done in 30 days but we think we’re close enough to stand up a test bed, an interim or prototype effort in early 2015. And it looks as though there are sufficient framework for lead nations from among European allies to stand up this force. But we’re still in the early days.

As to a U.S. contribution, it hasn’t been determined yet. I think we’ll have more to say about the U.S. contribution the next time this group meets in front of the defense ministers meeting in early February. The U.S. Defense Secretary, Secretary Hagel or his successor, will I think have something to say about that. But it looks like the basis of the ground force, the brigade element, will likely be led by European allies.

For example in 2015, there’s a multinational European based brigade element which looks to be in the lead. That was the division between the U.S. — Oh and what are the challenges.

This really represents I think, this question represents the heart of this issue. The challenge is that NATO hasn’t done this for two decades. It hasn’t had a force at standing readiness that numbers in a few days, right? As opposed to forces that are ready in months or multi-months. Why? Because what NATO faced in the lats two decades was a different challenge. It faced a challenge on a very sort of deliberate, predictable calendar basis, generate forces for operations well outside NATO itself. So you didn’t go to the Balkans on NATO rotation by surprise. You knew this well in advance. Nationsl could take their time preparing the troops, deploy them, then recover them and replace them. Look at the rotations that take place in Afghanistan. The U.S. Army deploys troops in Afghanistan for nine to twelve month periods. Those are well established in advance, there’s a calendar. So NATO in the last 20 years of operational experience hasn’t been in sort of the crisis response mode, it’s been in the deliberate force generation process to feed these ongoing contingency operations.

What fundamentally leaders at Wales did was to say that time has passed and things are different. And the challenges now on NATO’s periphery require a different force. We’re not going to have, we imagine, months and months to prepare a rotational force. Rather, we need something that’s at the ready and tailored to the needs at hand.

For example, tailored to hybrid warfare. Rapidly respondible in days, not weeks or months.

One of the big challenges, the fundamental challenge is that we’re doing something that NATO hasn’t done in the last 20 years. So that’s not easy. And there are a lot of challenges.

First, you have to generate the forces that are able to do this, right?  Then you have to put the command and control together so that they don’t just go willy-nilly out into an operation but they have a deliberate pattern of command and control. Then you have to set the logistics so that it’s not just a deployment into harm’s way, but this force can be sustained over time.

So all of this requires careful conceptualization, careful planning, careful rehearsal before we can actually claim that we have a capability.

So I think that what we’re going to see in the course of 2015 is a force that’s stood up on an interim basis, used as a test bed to test command and control, to test logistics, to test sustainment, to test connections between this force and SACEUR, the operational strategic commander, and host nations where the force might be deployed inside the alliance. So there’s a lot of work to be done.

But I think tomorrow foreign ministers will note that we’re on the right track. Then I expect by early February when we sit in here just in front of the defense ministers meeting that we’ll be on the edge of some very sort of fundamental decisions taken by defense ministers that actually put this force, at least the prototype or the test bed force into being. So it’s a lot of heavy lifting here before we actually have a capability. But the good news is we’re on the right track.

Press: [Inaudible], but you didn’t really elaborate on how reactive [inaudible] force would be. Is the idea [inaudible] from [inaudible]? Or ideally in 48 hours?

Ambassador Lute: You’re right. The three lead nations for the interim force, next year, are Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, so three allies who will come together to form this brigade-sized force. It will over the course of the year move towards being ready in days. This, again, isn’t something you can just declare and then tomorrow morning we wake up and the readiness is in days not weeks, right? So we’ll move gradually towards being ready in days. But most important in the course of the next 12 months it will serve as the test bed so that we can test command and control, logistics and so forth as I’ve described. We’re grateful, first of all, for these nations to step up and assume this test bed responsibility and we think that’s a very positive sign that European nations will increasingly take the lead on this brigade-sized unit.

Just to come back though, to double emphasize the question from earlier. That doesn’t mean the U.S. doesn’t have a role. There are plenty of things to do in this concept of a very high readiness joint task force that are beyond the three nations stepping up. So tehre’s a special operations capacity, there’s air capacity, there’s a sea-based capacity, there’s command and control, there’s sustainment, there’s the ability to lift this brigade from where it’s assembled to where it needs to be.

So in all these supporting roles or enabling roles, we imagine that the U.S. has the potential to contribute.

Press: James [inaudible] from [inaudible].

Could you give us an idea how the discussions are going to set up this spare force?  There’s some reports that suggested there were disagreements [inaudible].

Ambassador Lute: You’re right to mention those last two challenges. We haven’t decided where the bill’s going to fall here yet and you can imagine that that’s a big deal because forces of that size and that readiness are not inexpensive. So NATO’s got to come to grips with costs as well.

Another associated implication is how is this force next year exercised?  And who pays for the exercise?

Look, a lot of these details like the six or eight that I’ve laid out here, the couple that you’ve suggested, are on the table right now and are not — They’re not the sort of fundamental questions that lead to easy agreement, overnight agreement. So yeah, there’s a lot of debate going on about this.

But one thing that is clear, that is we’re going to have a high readiness brigade that is going to be set up initially next year on an interim basis, and we’re going to move progressively to having what the leaders directed us to have at Wales. So that part’s not under debate. That debate is over. That debate was held at Wales. What we’re into now are the details of exactly how to do it and it’s not easy.

How is this done? Fundamentally, leaders take the decision at Wales. We then pass the details — questions like the ones you offered but the other ones which I’ve suggested to NATO military authorities. So we get the military officers involved with the details.

The military officers after a period of time come back to NATO political authorities — so tomorrow’s ministerial, but more routinely the collection of 28 ambassadors, the council, and report on the military details. They then get additional political guidance.

So it’s a dialogue. The way we get to the answers on these questions is fundamentally a dialogue between political authorities starting with national leaders at Wales, back to military authorities, back to the council, back to military authorities, until the details get worked out.

Every time it comes to political authorities, so the council in the form of ambassadors, there’s a conversation that goes on between my 27 colleagues and me and our capitols. So the other thing that’s happening behind the scenes is that NATO ambassadors are talking to capitols. I’m talking to Washington and trying to get the answers to the question so what exactly is Washington willing to contribute and does Washington support what’s happening in the alliance?  It’s a rather complex day to day exchange between NATO political and military authorities and national capitols.  And we’re in the midst of that.

There’s a robust debate. I’m talking to Washington every week on our potential contributions as are my NATO colleagues.

Press: Can I get your reaction that says that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister [inaudible] has accused NATO of destqabilizing [northern Europe] by holding military exercises there concerning aircraft [inaudible]. And are you concerned that this [inaudible] activity is leading us to perhaps a new Cold War?

Ambassador Lute: I’m not afraid of that, at least not on NATO’s part because the NATO actions that I’ve outlined, this set of assurance measures as we call them, are carefully calibrated to serve as demonstrations among the 28, demonstrations to ourselves, to include those allies who are most concerned about what’s going on in the east, that Article 5 is meaningful, and that Article 5 as President Obama calls it, is the bedrock of alliance security.

So they’re not designed in any way to be threatening. They’re not designed in any way to be provocative or destabilizing. Actually quite the reverse. They’re designed to be stabilizing. They’re designed to be measures of assurance to our eastern allies that they can be sure that Article 5 will be there if they need it.

I would argue that, I outlined U.S. troops from Fort Hood, Texas, right?  Who are exercising today. In each of the four countries I outlined it’s one company. That’s about 120 soldiers in Estonia, 120 in Latvia, 120 in Lithuania, 120 in Poland. 120 soldiers in those countries across that expanse is not threatening to anybody. 120 soldiers in those settings, however, is very reassuring to our NATO allies.

So I think when you look at the scale and scope of these assurance measures, it’s really quite a stretch to consider that they’re provocative in any way.

On the other hand if you look at the scale of Russian activities in Crimea, first in Crimea and now in southeastern Ukraine, it’s quite evident that they’re destabilizing. If you look at the scale of the aviation activities along NATO’s periphery over the last several weeks where you’ve got tens of combat aircraft assembled, and again, assembled in a way which I would label irresponsible because they’re just not following well established international norms for aviation safety. That is rather unsettling. That is rather provocative.

Again, I think actions speak louder than words here. If anyone wants to make the case that 120 soldiers from Fort Hood, Texas is destabilizing in Estonia, I’m happy to have you stand up and make that case but I just don’t see it.

Press: I just wanted to know, can you be a little more specific on the [inaudible]? How [inaudible] it will be and what could be the U.S. [inaudible]?

Ambassador Lute: As I said, there are four trust funds which are functionally focused on the four areas requested by Ukraine, right? I don’t have the details for the funding or the resources assembled for each of the four. I will tell you, as I mentioned, that the U.S. is doing a lot nationally. That is by way of the U.S. directly to Ukraine, that is on top of the four trust funds.  And the U.S. isn’t the only ally that’s contributing to Ukraine on a national basis. So the math here, the funding streams get rather complex because there’s a series of national streams that go from, in the case of the U.S., directly from Washington to Kiev, and then there are these NATO efforts as well.

Now the national U.S. effort is over $300 million of assistance on top of the $1 billion loan guarantee.

Look, quite honestly the most robust support from the international community has been in two forms. One, it has been the international communities assembling and supporting the sustained international sanctions, economic sanctions against Russia. These are having a real effect. I think the economic sanctions are actually being amplified, in effect, by the suppressed oil prices. So when you combine international sanctions with the suppressed oil prices, every macroeconomic indicator available to us says that the Russian economy is in for very tough days. It’s having an effect.

The other major form of international support has been the IMF loan package which is $17 billion of support lined up for Ukraine.

The international community is contributing but it’s in a variety of ways and I don’t actually have in front of me the data in terms of individual funds. But you can see that overall it’s a very robust package.

I think we have to run. Save your questions for next time. We’ll do this before every ministerial. Thanks.

Press: — shortfall in European offers for support.

Ambassador Lute: I wouldn’t call it a shortfall. What I would say is that there are some Europeans who because of political processes in capitols, because of the delay int eh BSA and the SOFA, these are countries, for example, which have to go to their parliaments to justify a troop deployment.

Press: And we knew this was going to happen because —

Ambassador Lute: We suspected it was going to happen because of the late SOFA. So how can you go to your parliament and make a case that X number hundreds of troops should be committed on 1 January when on 1 November we still didn’t have the SOFA ratified.

So there’s been a delay. What the U.S. has said is that we will help the countries get past this transition period and into Resolute Support.

Press: Just by not sending home our troops that were already there as fast?

Ambassador Lute: There’s a number of wyas we can do it. We can assist countries and get their troops there faster, right? We could sustain our presence a little higher. Then we could work with the politics in capitols to get the troops there faster.  So there are a number of techniques that are used. But we’re talking about in a force of 12,000, we’re talking about several hundred. So this is not that —

Press: Okay. How did we manage with our budget?

Ambassador Lute: Remember, for us troop deployments are from the President. It’s an executive decision.  In some European governments, some allied governments they have to go to the parliament so it’s a different political set.

Press: Thank you very much.