February 9, 2016: Ambassador Lute’s Pre-Ministerial Press Briefing

February 9, 2016

Ambassador Lute:  For those of you who are NATO veterans, you’ll appreciate this as sort of our pattern.  The day before either a defense ministers’ meeting or foreign ministers’ meeting, we tend to gather and I try to give you a preview as to what will happen in an unscripted two days of NATO activity.  So this is always a bit of crystal ball gazing in terms of trying to guess exactly what’s going to come out of this.

Increasingly, especially I think with Secretary General Soltenberg, these sessions are pretty interactive; and they’re not simply a set of canned national statements stacked up one after the other before going to dinner. So it’s a little hard sometimes to predict.  But I think some things are clear and I’ll try to outline that for you.

First of all, I think it’s important to recognize we’re almost exactly five months before the Warsaw Summit, so we have three ministerial sessions keyed up between now and Warsaw. [One] in July.  Obviously, the next two days, Secretary of Defense Carter will be here with his 27 NATO colleagues.  Then in May John Kerry will be back to NATO for a foreign ministers’ meeting.  And then Carter again in June.  And we use these ministerials here at NATO headquarters to tee up decisions for the Summit and also to shape the outcomes of the Summit.  So these are really sort of mile markers en-route to Warsaw.

Let me unpack the agenda a little bit for the next two days and that outline will probably lead to your questions.

The first meeting tomorrow, just after lunch, is on deterrence and defense.  That is really the essence of the whole Alliance, so this will be a very “back to basics” conversation about deterrence and defense.  Obviously, this is why NATO was created in 1949, so it’s back to our roots, if you will.

I think ministers will likely approve a new framework for deterrence and defense for the Alliance, and the framework could be called modern deterrence or even 21st century deterrence.  I say that because it is the bringing into the modern times, it’s the modernizing or refreshing of deterrence that really characterizes this framework.  The framework can be thought of as a spectrum of NATO capabilities that starts on one end of the spectrum with sort of resilient capabilities that are the responsibility of each of the 28 allies.  These are national responsibilities for self-defense, national responsibilities for national cyber defense, national responsibilities to be resilient against what we now call hybrid warfare.  As you move along that spectrum, though, into the central part of the spectrum you can imagine a realm, a portion of the spectrum that deals with conventional capabilities.  These are the collective defense responsibilities of the Alliance.  They include things like the Readiness Action Plan.  They include things in a modern sense of a modest forward presence, backed up by rapid response.  And that’s one of the things that distinguishes today’s deterrence spectrum from perhaps the Cold War, where we were so heavily deployed in six large fixed forward forces based largely here, in Central Europe itself.  The modern approach to deterrence is a much more modest forward presence backed up by much more responsive rapid reaction forces.  So that’s an important part of this central part of the spectrum.

But the central part also brings into play modern capabilities.  So ballistic missile defense wasn’t here in the Cold War.  It’s here now.  High altitude, long endurance unmanned aircraft, surveillance aircraft.  What the Alliance calls AGS, the Alliance Ground Surveillance system, will be here.  We hope the first plane will actually land in Sigonella, its home base, by the Summit.

So there’s a modernizing of capabilities along this sort of central part of the deterrence spectrum that will be very much a point of conversation in the next two days.

Then finally, at the extreme end of the deterrence spectrum, NATO remains a nuclear alliance and NATO’s nuclear capabilities still anchor that one extreme of the deterrence spectrum.  So all of that is up for discussion in the course of the next couple of days.

I think Secretary Carter will bring to that discussion increased details on the U.S. announcement that was made last week, and this is of course the $3.4 billion investment in what the U.S. calls the European Reassurance Initiative, so you may see this referred to as ERI.  But this is $3.4 billion in next year’s U.S. budget which is committed to essentially bolstering that middle part of the deterrence spectrum, the conventional part of the deterrence spectrum that I just described.  And you will have seen the press reports and Secretary Carter’s speech in Washington last week that describes all this.

What’s new for NATO?  I think really this ERI brings three important parts to reinforcing deterrence for NATO.  First of all, it means that we will have more frequent U.S. troops training in Europe. In fact, so frequent now that we will always have one armored brigade rotating from the States over here in Europe for training purposes.

Today, this year, for example, that’s only true for about half of the year.  Beginning with this new funding, we’ll be able to fund a brigade over here on a rotational basis all year, beginning next year.  So in a sense it’s double the reinforcement from the States on an annual basis.

The second thing is that about half of the $3.4 billion has to do with prepositioning heavy equipment in Europe.  Of course, this is a page out of the old deterrence handbook because during the Cold War we had many such prepositioned sites where we stored American equipment ready to go to combat, but the troops actually lived in the United States.  We’re updating that and bringing that page into the modern playbook by way of a set of combat equipment, not designed for training purposes but designed to fight, that will be prepositioned in a number of Western European allied sites and configured in unit sets.

Now why is this important?  Because the unit set configuration facilitates flying a unit from its home base in the United States to one site to link up with that prepositioned set of equipment, configured equipment, and then move off into the crisis space.

So exactly what equipment is being purchased?  So we will bring a division headquarters – an American division is 15 to 20,000 strong – so we’ll bring the headquarters and the command and control equipment for a division here and preposition it.  We will bring an armored brigade set, so tanks, Bradleys, motorized artillery, mechanized artillery and so forth, we will bring that over here and configure it.  We will bring a separate artillery brigade which involves both cannon artillery, conventional artillery, but also longer range rocket artillery to Europe and preposition it.  That is a heavy brigade of fire power which will be very much welcome here by NATO allies.  Then we’re going to bring sustainment assets as well and other enablers.

So what you essentially have by way of the announcement last week is the foundation of an American army division prepositioned over here in Europe.

Now there will be a question which I’ll just cover right now.  How does this set of equipment relate to the equipment that’s already being prepositioned?  They’re really two different things.

About six months ago, we announced that we were going to put another brigade of American army equipment in small unit sets along the eastern flank of the Alliance to facilitate our training rotation.  So these are company or less than battalion sets — 10 tanks one place, 15 Bradleys in another place — where troops who are committed to the forward presence mission can simply and more efficiently fall in on this equipment, do their training, bring it back to warehouse and so forth.  So that’s ongoing.  And there’s a brigade set of equipment in the east now that’s used for training purposes that’s not the same as what was announced last week.  Last week is additive, in addition to that previous brigade set.

Some are already claiming in the press that such a move by the United States is provocative, that perhaps it violates the NATO-Russia Founding Act. We don’t see it that way at all.  In fact, the NATO-Russia Founding Act allows for improvements in that infrastructure.  And after all, these are not substantial combat forces until they’re married up with the troops that would have to come from the United States.  And finally, I don’t think the majority of this equipment will be in eastern allies.  Most of it will be in the western allies.  So whether it’s because it’s not actually a force or it’s not geographically in the east, or frankly, that in some other way it might violate the NATO-Russia Founding Act – we simply don’t see it that way.  In fact, we think the NATO-Russia Founding Act allows for this kind of infrastructure improvement.

Finally, to the claim that this might be provocative – look, NATO hasn’t invaded anyone lately.  This is a defensive alliance, it has always been a defensive alliance.  I think the historical pattern here is that nobody has to worry about NATO taking offensive action, but rather what we should have complete confidence in is that NATO will do what it’s done for 66 years, nearly 66 years, and that is abide by its commitments, meet its commitments for collective defense, and that’s what this equipment set is about.

So that’s all by way of describing the framework that ministers will talk about in the first session tomorrow.  It is the deterrence framework, it’s modernized, it’s 21st century, and they’ll lay that framework out and I think they’ll probably approve it.  A lot of staff work has gone into it so far.

The second session spins immediately off from the first.  The second session tomorrow afternoon is a scenario-based conversation among ministers where they will, by way of a scenario, a fictitious scenario, discuss among themselves NATO political decision-making processes.  So in the face of a crisis, what are the decisions that NATO faces here at NATO headquarters?  And equally important, perhaps more important to the ministers, what decisions will they face nationally back in the 28 national capitals? So that collectively here at NATO headquarters, but individually as the treaty calls for, the 28 allies themselves are on parallel decision tracks in the face of a crisis. So this is very much a decision-making exercise.

The idea here is to assess whether the steps we’ve taken so far to streamline NATO decision-making and to delegate some decisions to NATO military authorities like General Phil Breedlove here, whether those are sufficient in the face of a crisis or whether we still have some rough spots that we need to smooth over and streamline.

So this decision-making exercise I think will be very important.  And one of the things I expect this will highlight is that the position that the Alliance is in in peacetime, in non-crisis time, will very much be the important prelude or the initial phase of how we respond in crisis.  I think it will put a spotlight on pre-crisis preparations for how NATO is ready to respond and that’s exactly where we want to shine the spotlight.  Why is that so important?  Because when we rely on modest forward presence and rapid reaction, then you begin the crisis at the initial phase, obviously.  And doing as much as you can in that early phase, that preparatory phase, actually allows you to respond faster and arguably serves as an element of deterrence because any potential opponent would also see that you’re able to respond faster.

So this decision-making exercise in session number two, that takes us to dinner tomorrow night.

Dinner takes us out to the periphery of the Alliance.  Obviously, if you look at least to the east and the south, you have a periphery that’s characterized by weak or failing states, that’s characterized by instability from that state weakness, and most prominently characterized by the presence of ISIS to the southeast and the south.  At the dinner conversation the NATO ministers will invite five NATO partner ministers to join them.  These are what we call the Enhanced Opportunity Partners (EOP).  So Sweden, Finland, Georgia, Jordan and Australia will join the 28 ministers at the dinner.

Now why would we invite five partners?  First of all, because it’s important for NATO to understand what partnership looks like from the other side of the glass.  So from a partners’ perspective, how is it that NATO partnerships are beneficial to the partners?  And from NATO’s perspective, what more can partnership partners do for NATO?  So we want to try to explore this two-way street, which is NATO partnerships.  So we’ve selected these five partners to come in and sort of give us a perspective from outside the Alliance looking in.

That’s really important because along NATO’s periphery where there’s persistent crisis, where there’s persistent instability, our partners are the front line states.  This is true in the east and this is true in the southeast and this is clearly true across the Mediterranean to the south as well.

So the working dinner tomorrow night very much has to do with partnerships and how to address crisis or instability on NATO’s flanks, especially to the east and the south.

Thursday morning dawns and now, armed with the deterrence framework from the first session and armed with the conversation on crisis decision-making in the second session, leaders will take on, ministers will take on the question of what concrete, discreet meaningful steps should they aim to complete by Warsaw in order to bolster the deterrent spectrum.  So what steps can be taken on the resilience part of the spectrum?  What steps are national responsibilities? How can NATO backstop some of those national responsibilities?  Cyber is a good example.  Where in the resilience end of the spectrum does a NATO-EU partnership play a very important role because the EU has certain backstop responsibilities there?  Where in the conventional side of the spectrum, the sort of the central realm of the centrum, what other discreet steps maybe having to do with forward presence, maybe having to do with fine tuning the Readiness Action Plan, maybe having to do with decision-making, what steps can be taken to bolster the spectrum so that by Warsaw we deliver a coherent spectrum from resilience to nuclear capability that presents to any potential opponent no gaps, no seams, but a continuous spectrum that essentially says NATO means what it says about defending itself, and if you’re considering opposing NATO you should consider the costs and the risks?  That’s what modern deterrence is all about.

So the first session on Thursday will actually get into the nitty gritty, the discreet concrete things that can be delivered.  And here I think the conversation will take us to some new capabilities like BMD and the Alliance Ground Surveillance system, the Global Hawk system, the surveillance system that I mentioned.  I think it will very much focus on that sort of, if you will, if you’re following me, the resilience side of the spectrum, and it will remind all 28 
ministers of the national responsibilities for self-help that are embedded in Article 3 of the NATO Treaty.

You know, Article 5 of the Washington Treaty, the NATO Treaty, gets all the attention, and it’s collective defense – an attack on one is to be considered an attack on all.  But preceding Article 5 is Article 3, which says that all NATO allies begin with the responsibility to do all they can for themselves and to make themselves – it doesn’t say resilient, but if it were written today it probably would – make themselves a resilient or as resistant to outside intimidation as possible.  And those national responsibilities with NATO and EU backup will very much be a part of the conversation on Thursday morning.

Now look, none of what I described is cheap.  None of this comes free.  The U.S. in a national move last week demonstrated that with a $3.4 billion investment.  But all 28 allies need to take defense investment seriously.  Obviously this goes back to the Wales pledge on defense investment.  On Thursday morning at the session, we will actually have a show and tell chart that depicts progress against the Wales defense investment pledge which was made, obviously, in September of 2014. Here we are almost 18 months later.  By Warsaw we’ll be two years later and we’re very interested nationally, and as an Alliance, in being transparent and in being honest with ourselves in terms of which allies have performed in accordance with the pledge and have turned the corner and turned defense cuts into defense investments, and which have not.  So we’ve been a strong voice here in the NATO headquarters that this Alliance is mature enough to face the facts.  We’re going to show the facts on Thursday morning and that will be a prelude for showing the facts again at Warsaw for leaders.  And from the U.S. perspective, President Obama has been quite clear with guidance to me that that is what he expects at Warsaw.  He expects transparent data revealing who has fulfilled the Wales pledge and who is not yet in compliance.

Now the good news is, frankly, and maybe for some in this group today somewhat surprising, has been that about two-thirds of allies today are in compliance with the pledge, which means they stopped the cuts and they’ve begun to make the move towards two percent.  It does not mean that two-third are at two percent.  But the Wales pledge is a ten-year pledge. It’s to get there in ten years.  So two years into ten years, we believe we’re seeing the beginning of a new pattern.  After about 20 years of steady defense cuts, and of course this is largely the post-Cold War peace dividend, we are beginning to see that the curve is turning upward.  So that will be discussed on Thursday morning and it will essentially be a reminder to defense ministers, this won’t be a surprise to them.  After all, we’re reviewing their budgets, right?  So this is not a big surprise to defense ministers.  But we want to make sure the defense ministers take home to capitals the message that this data will be refreshed and reviewed again at the Warsaw Summit.

That takes us, I think, to the last session.  This is a rather routine meeting of the NATO-Georgia Commission.  The Georgian Defense Minister, Minister Khadisheli, will join the 28 NATO ministers.  We’ll assess progress since Wales, so how have we done with this package which we consider substantial?  In fact, we even call it the substantial package for Georgia, where we invest in one of our closest partners.  And I think we’ll hear from the Georgian Minister what more might be done by Warsaw.

So it’s one of these routine exchanges at the 28 plus one format that dives into one of our closest partnerships.

Now that ends the NATO Ministerial.  As another event tomorrow, Thursday afternoon, Secretary Carter will host here in NATO headquarters not a NATO event but an event of the counter-Da’esh coalition where he brings together several tens of defense ministers, reviews the bidding in the military campaign against Da’esh in Syria and Iraq in particular, and then reviews capability gaps and makes a bid to individual ministers what it is they might do more in support of the coalition.  So I just want to emphasize that NATO is providing the venue, but it shouldn’t be confused with the fact that this is a coalition meeting, not a NATO meeting.

Now a footnote.  All 28 NATO allies are part of that coalition.  Twenty-six additional NATO partners with whom we’ve worked hard in first the Balkans and then Afghanistan to develop joint military capabilities are also part of that coalition.  So I think the coalition today makes up, is comprised of 65 nations.  Well, 54 of them — 28 plus 26 — are either NATO members or NATO affiliates and therefore able to bring meaningful military capability to bear in a coalition like the one against Da’esh.  So it’s not a NATO coalition, but NATO’s very much at the core, if you will, in my view provides the backbone of the coalition because of those national troop contributions.

So that meeting is on Thursday afternoon.  It’s down the hall here in NATO headquarters hosted and chaired by the Secretary of Defense.

I think I’ll stop there.  That’s essentially the meeting.  I think the headline of this meeting from the U.S. perspective is modernized deterrence, the framework for modernized or 21st century deterrence. While deterrence itself is not new, many of the capabilities described along this spectrum are new and if brought together coherently can really provide a powerful deliverable for the Warsaw Summit.

That’s where we are.  Who’s first?

Press:  Julian Barnes, Wall Street Journal.

You talked about the European Reassurance Initiative, you talked about the forces in the east.  Of those rotational forces that you outlined, an additional heavy brigade that will be coming in, what portion of it would you see that would be dedicated to reinforcing the east – the Baltics and Poland – and notionally what sort of size do you want to see the overall effort, I know there are no final numbers, but are we talking a battalion, a brigade, a division for the east?  And finally, why do the prepositioning in Western Europe, when you talk about the need to move quickly to the east and not being in violation of the [NATO-Russia] Founding Act?  Why not preposition this stuff where you’re doing the activity sets?

Ambassador Lute:  Let’s take those in reverse order.  So why would we preposition equipment in unit sets in the western part of the Alliance and not the east?  Part of it has to do with where the transportation infrastructure is, where it exists.  The transportation infrastructure — road, rail canal, air, land and sea — is much more robust and developed in the western part of the Alliance than in the eastern part.  So if you’re not sure where you’re going to use this equipment, where it’s going to be needed on the day, you want to retain flexibility in terms of where you locate it so that it can be moved agilely in multiple directions.  So we’re not committing this to the east, for example, because we’re not sure it’s going to be needed in the east.  We want the flexibility to move it as we say in the council room, 360 degrees.  So that’s part of it.

Another part of why position in the west is that the facilities needed to house this equipment are already existent in the west.  Why?  Because they were there from the Cold War.  So we can get an earlier start on this if we move into existing infrastructure than if we have to start from scratch and build new infrastructure.  And moving it in the west doesn’t prejudge later moves.  So it gives us an opportunity to make the move next year in a big way, contribute to the deterrence spectrum along reliable transportation infrastructure and in existing facilities.  So that’s in large part why the equipment is going initially where it’s going.

Now your question having to do with forward presence.  So I mentioned that one of the things that this $3.4 billion is going to buy next year is a full year of the presence of an armored brigade from the States, which is kind of twice the presence of that type that we have this year.  Most of that presence will rotate, that brigade presence, will rotate to the eastern flank on training and so forth.  Most of that training is done at sub-battalion level.  So you have a U.S. company training with an Estonian battalion; or two U.S. companies training with Romania in the training ranges, very capable training ranges down in Romania or Bulgaria.

A question that will not be resolved this week but that still lays in front of us by Warsaw is how much forward presence is enough?  And that question, I think, really speaks to your comment, Julian.  We won’t decide that this week, but ministers, I believe, will take a decision to go back to Phil Breedlove this week and say, we want you to assess how much is enough on forward presence.  We know what’s there now, and we now have to imagine along this deterrence spectrum whether we’re satisfied with what we have committed so far.  I won’t prejudge the answer to that question.  But this is going to be a big policy question and a resource question as we move towards Warsaw, how much is enough on the eastern flank?

Press:  Alex from AFP.  From the U.S. perspective, the decision on the framework on deterrence is the headline.  But there are recent remarks yesterday night by Chancellor Merkel on a request to NATO for help and support to deal with the migrant flows off the Turkish coast. It’s going to be the headlines in Europe. So I was wondering, what is the U.S. position on such a request?  What could we imagine – would it be a naval operation, a full naval operation, given how short the distances are between the Turkish and the Greek coasts?  Or what is the U.S. view on this?  Would it be helicopters, would it be… What is possible also within the mandate of the organization, given that these are mainly civilian tasks, from what I understand? How could a military mission fit in there?

Ambassador Lute:  There’s a lot to this answer so I’ll try to be concise.

First of all, NATO has procedures for those occasions when any ally comes to the Alliance and requests assistance.  That’s the standard, there’s a bit of a drill here.  We know how to do this.  Recently Turkey, for example, asked for measures to bolster Turkey’s assurance that it could secure its own airspace. So NATO has taken some steps and committed those capabilities to Turkey.  The United States, for example, has recently come to NATO and said hey, could you help us with some AWACS capability?  And we’re assessing that request.  Eastern allies two years ago, in the face of Crimea and the Donbas, came to the Alliance and said we need to see NATO, in Estonia through Bulgaria, and we’ve responded to that.

So if there’s a request that’s made by the German and/or Turkish minister in the next couple of days, we’ll have to assess what exactly the request is.  I’ve seen the press reports but there hasn’t been a formal request.  We’ll have to see what form that request takes.

NATO has a lot of capabilities it might bring to bear on this.  Everything from intelligence sharing, information sharing, you mentioned hypothetically maritime or air capabilities.  We’ll have to wait and see what the request is. However, you also mentioned in your question, or you commented that the primary responsibility falls not to NATO but to the European Union, which itself accepts that it has primary responsibility to back up its member states in these sorts of crises.  So border control, migration and so forth.  This is fundamentally an issue that should be addressed a couple of miles from here, in EU headquarters.  But that doesn’t mean that NATO can’t assist.

So we’re just going to have to wait and see if the press reports play out in the Ministerial itself; to see what the form of such a request might be; and then NATO knows how to do this.  We’ll take this into the staff process, we’ll go into the military authorities, we’ll ask what capabilities might be useful here, and we’ll move forward.

So it’s a little too soon to tell.  We’ll have to just see. I’ll be listening carefully when the Germany minister intervenes tomorrow, and we’ll see if there is such a formal request.

Press:  My name is [inaudible], I’m from Digi 24 news television from Romania. We have some U.S. equipment prepositioned in Romania and also in Bulgaria, our neighbor. I would like to ask you something more about how the work will go on. You said that we will see two brigades, one with heavy equipment and one brigade with artillery and rockets, and also a command division in Europe. How this will work?  Will we see some unites also in Romania, in addition to what we have now?

Ambassador Lute:  This is the question I anticipated because there’s a lot of brigades and equipment flowing around this conversation.  So let me try to be more clear.

The equipment that’s prepositioned across NATO’s eastern flank now, to include Romania, are these small sets of training equipment so that as we rotate troops forward to train alongside your troops, we don’t every time have to bring a new set of tanks.  So we preposition the tanks, we park them there, and then as the troops rotate forward into your country, it’s just more efficient and cost effective to have the equipment there and it’s used repeatedly.

That set of equipment is prepositioned now in the east, from Estonia through Bulgaria, and it will stay there because the persistent training rotations will continue.  The announcement last week connects to that equipment because now, rather than using the heavy equipment only six months a year, because we have only one brigade rotating from the States, we’ll add a second brigade, which means that for the whole year next year we will have a brigade eligible to fall in on those training sets and be present in the east. So that’s forward presence.

That’s not to be confused with what I would call the crisis equipment or the combat equipment which includes the division headquarters, another brigade of heavy equipment, the artillery brigade and so forth.  That will be deeper into the depth of the Alliance, I say among the western European allies, not the central and eastern, and it will be preserved and carefully maintained for crisis.  So it’s two different sets of equipment.

Press:  Good afternoon, Ambassador. I’m [inaudible] from [inaudible] news channel. You spoke regarding the meeting Thursday afternoon, you spoke about the capability gaps. Could you please explain what are the capability gaps in the war against Da’esh? One year and a half of bombardment, and the organization is still effective.  And what is the United States’ assessment of the possibility that regional actors can send ground troops? Will the Unites States coordinate that and send troops? There are talks about military experts in the region.

Ambassador Lute:  Your question actually highlights what I think is probably the most significant gap, and that is ground troops.  And I’ve seen reports from coalition members, in particular Arabian Gulf coalition members, who suggest they might send ground troops.  We’ll have to see how that plays out.  But the ability to put meaningful ground troops connected to the coalition air power is really the key capability we’re trying to forge, and I think Secretary Carter in this last session on Thursday, the coalition session, will really highlight that.  But there are other capabilities as well.  There are capabilities required to train, in particular, Iraqi police forces and Iraqi security forces so that when Iraqi population centers like Ramadi are freed of Da’esh then the Iraqi army can take on the next task.  But it can leave behind sufficient local security forces so that Da’esh doesn’t return.  So these are either police forces, high end police forces, sort of gendarmerie or militia forces that are loyal to the government and able to secure areas that have been freed from Da’esh, so that’s a training gap that needs to be filled here.

There are gaps in terms of financial resources for the reconstruction of places like Ramadi, which will stretch into the billions of dollars.  And also to address in a very immediate sense, a very urgent sense, the humanitarian crisis for displaced persons and refugees.

So from sort of hard military capabilities through humanitarian capabilities and civilian capabilities, there’s a wide range of things it can be.  Not all of this will fall to the Carter meeting on Thursday.  The international leaders of the coalition met in London – was it earlier this week?  — I think last week.  Generated a substantial amount, I think something like $9 billion towards sustainment and stabilization money needed in Iraq.  But quite frankly, gaps remain.

So it’s both military and funding gaps, funding for reconstruction and funding for stabilization that are I think the big gaps.

Moderator:  Guram Rugava, from TV Imedi in Georgia.

Press:  Thank you very much.  My question is about Warsaw Summit, but also we have a lot of discussions in Georgia about MAP. Our defense minister says that it is possible to become a member of NATO without MAP. How it can be real? I need answer from you.  And today, the Secretary General said that there is no consensus about Georgia about MAP.  What should we expect from Warsaw Summit? That’s my questions. Thank you very much.

Ambassador Lute:  I think for those who are looking not only to Georgia but to the set of aspirants, those who have taken national decisions that they wish to join the Alliance, the best possible summary statement is the statement coming out of the foreign ministers’ meeting in early December.  This is a statement which acknowledged that the Alliance was going to move forward with a decision to invite Montenegro, and then it addressed the other aspirants as well, to include Georgia.

Look, with regard to MAP or the Membership Action Plan, it’s current NATO practice that an aspirant receives a membership invitation by way of MAP.  So the current practice is MAP.  The Secretary General is absolutely right, as I would expect him to be, there’s no consensus today on opening a Membership Action Plan for Georgia, but I know that Georgia and in particular your defense minister’s a very outspoken advocate for that move in the future and we’re just going to have to see how it goes.

In the meantime, MAP or no MAP, NATO remains committed to its partnership with Georgia.  Why?  Because we believe it’s a good thing for Georgia, with NATO presence in Georgia, NATO working with Georgia to build up your defense capabilities, your national resilience. You live in a tough neighborhood.  But it’s also good for the Alliance.  Quite frankly, it’s selfish for the Alliance.  A stable Georgia represents stability on NATO’s flank.  Georgian military capabilities have been right alongside NATO in the Balkans and, much more recently and for a long time, in Afghanistan.  I think it remains the largest contributor of troops in Afghanistan that are not, from other than an ally, from a partner.

So this is a two-way street.  I think that by Warsaw we will arrive at additional measures we can take in partnership with Georgia to secure that relationship even more.  But exactly what those are, I don’t have a list today. I’m sure this will be a good conversation with your minister.  It always is.

Press: You were mentioning the deployment of further equipment and troops in western Europe.  Will that be decided on a bilateral level?  Are you going to be invited?  And what is, so to speak, the chain of decision here?

Ambassador Lute:  All these decisions – and this is true no matter if we’re talking about the small sets of equipment or the big sets of equipment – they all start with a national invitation for the U.S. to do this.  In no country do you just wake up some morning and find that there are American tanks in the square.  That’s history.  Not our history.  And so they all start with a national invitation.

So before the equipment can be committed, there are bilateral agreements reached with Romania for training equipment or with Germany, say for example, with regards to these larger sets, that deal with locations, maintenance arrangements, access to facilities, security arrangements for the equipment and so forth, and that’s all done on a bilateral basis.

So the announcements that were made last week are assuming that we conclude bilateral national to national agreements. But when we made the announcement last week we were well down the way in terms of securing those agreements.  So we made the announcement with confidence that we would secure these bilateral agreements.

Press: [Inaudible] from the Kuwait News Agency, KUNA. Sir, last year also there was a similar coalition meeting held in NATO, and we are having this one also on Thursday. What do you think are the main differences this time? Will the U.S. propose concrete plans to defeat ISIL?

Ambassador Lute:  I think you’re referring to the first – let’s see, this was December of 2014 – we were in a meeting just about like this.  Foreign ministers were meeting, and the coalition met on the margins of that NATO meeting as well. So you’re right, this has happened before. We’re going to sort of replay that venue on Thursday when Secretary Carter convenes.  Look, I’m not a coalition official, so I’m really not in a position to assess the progress from December 2014 to February of 2016. I think one thing that’s proven true is that if you look at the coalition, the coalition itself has matured, it has solidified. It has matured in the sense that there are more coalition members today than there were. I think the diversity of contributions has also increased. You’ve got different countries providing trainers now. The funding base for the coalition is more secure – witness the event last week in London. So I think the coalition can look back over last 12 or 15 months and see that it’s made a difference.

Now, if you were to ask – I suspect – anyone of the 65 coalition members, has progress against Da’esh been sufficient? I think they’d be unanimous that it has not and that there’s more work to be done. That’s why Secretary Carter will convene this session on Thursday – because there is a sense that now is the time to fill the capability gaps and try to make as much progress in 2016 as possible. There’s a lot of work to be done.

Press:  My name is [inaudible] from [inaudible], a Lebanese newspaper. I would like to ask a question, it’s linked to my colleague’s question. When some regional actors, mainly Saudi Arabia, are mentioning that we are ready to fill this biggest gap that you mentioned – do you think in this context, strong coordination with Russia is needed? If we have, concerning the air strikes, a technical safety agreement, when it comes to more sophisticated issues, like entering troops from Turkey, which has high tensions and a difficult relationship with Russia, more or stronger coordination could be needed? Are you going to do this? Are you afraid that at one point, because they are not welcoming this step, the Russians, maybe we will have clashes?

Ambassador Lute: First of all, we should set the record straight here, and I think most understand, that the degree of coordination with Russia today has been confined to, as you said, technical safety sort of arrangements, because we have airplanes, the coalition has airplanes flying in close proximity to the Russian aircraft. So we have taken the very first prudent step to try to make for pilots on both sides – to try to make those operations safe. But this is very sort of rudimentary and basic. It’s just safety. We have not gone further than that in terms of military campaign coordination. So you have these two military campaigns playing out adjacent to one another in Syria.

We have not gone further in terms of coordination because we haven’t accomplished the first step of coordination, and that is agreement on objectives. So the basic problem we have is that the coalition is focused on Da’esh, and the Russian military campaign is focused on preserving Basher al-Assad and is attacking not Da’esh but Assad’s opponents. So there won’t be, in my view, any closer coordination of the two campaigns until we can start at the top of the logic chain and agree on objectives. And it will take more than Russia claiming that its activities are targeting Da’esh. It’ll take our seeing the evidence that they’re targeting Da’esh and the evidence today clearly is that they are not. So Da’esh is not around Aleppo, Da’esh is not focused in the northwest corner of Syria. And yet, that is where all the artillery and air strikes from Russia are taking place. So we don’t have the first step in place yet, which is to agree on objectives.

Any time you have two military forces like this in close proximity, you want to take steps to try to reduce the risk. This is why, on the air-to-air side, we’ve taken these safety measures. I think the other major concern about risk is the risky behavior of Russian pilots along the border with Turkey. And again, this isn’t just a daydream. This is a reflection on a pattern of Russian flying right up along the border, the southern border of Turkey with Syria. In a number of incidents, most recently a couple weeks ago, again, a Russian violation of Turkish airspace, which is a Russian violation of NATO airspace. So when you get combat loaded aircraft in a combat zone, flying right up against NATO’s boundary, or obviously the boundary of an ally like Turkey – yes, we’re concerned about that risk. We consider that risky, irresponsible behavior. Turkey has been clear on a bilateral basis with Russia that that’s how it views those flights. In fact, it got obviously so bad that at one point in November, Turkey downed a Russian combat aircraft. I think there is risk along that border. I applaud the bilateral approach between Turkey and Russia to try to reduce that risk.

But fundamentally, what has to happen is that Russia must abide by the most fundamental rules, which are national boundaries. Now, I would argue that if you look over the last couple years, Russia hasn’t exactly had a good record with regard to abiding by international boundaries. And you can start with Crimea, which was two years ago almost exactly this month, and not long after that, in the Donbas. So there’s a pattern here, whether it’s Russian combat aircraft along the Turkish border, or it’s Crimea, or it’s Donbas, or 2008 it’s Georgia. What you see here is a pattern of disregard for most fundamental international norm, which is territorial sovereignty and the respect of borders. Does that present a risk? Yes, it does. And it’s a risk that has caused NATO to say, in order to deal with this risk on NATO territory, we’re doing all that I just described earlier, which is we’re refreshing deterrence, we’re modernizing deterrence. We intend to send very clearly the message that we don’t wish a fight, but nobody should doubt our resolve if the fight comes to us. And that fundamentally is the message of deterrence.

I might have got off on my own message.

Press: Clearly, if Saudi Arabia sends their troops to fill this gap, are you worried that Russia might target these troops? In this situation of coordinated actions between the two camps, not agreeing on one objective?

Ambassador Lute: We are now at the end of your questions because I can’t judge the hypothetical. I mean, there are so many preliminary questions that would have to be answered. We’ll have to just see how that plays out. Now, the Saudis will be represented at a very senior level on Thursday, so we’ll see what they have to say when they come to the meeting.

Press: Ilze Nagla, Latvian television. What would deployment of more troops and equipment in Europe mean for Baltic states? We would not get more equipment in, but that would mean only more soldiers present for training purposes, or something else as well?

Ambassador Lute: So this has to do with – because the Baltic states are frontline states – this fundamentally has to do with the answer I gave a little earlier about forward presence, which is not yet where we will end up in Warsaw on forward presence. The answer to your question is not yet defined. It’ll be part of the discussion in the next two days, but it won’t be answered by Thursday. It’ll be answered at Warsaw. And this fundamentally goes to the question of – we’ve established a two-year pattern of presence across the Baltics, from the Baltic Sea to include our naval presence all the way down to the Black Sea. Air, sea, and land. So we have that two-year pattern. The question is, is that enough to deter? And if it’s not enough, how much more is required? And that’s the question that won’t get answered this week, but I think it will be one of the fundamental things we have to address by Warsaw.

But this week, by setting the framework, we begin to get at the answer to the question. And that’s why, step by step, ministerial by ministerial, we move towards the Summit.

Press: Petar Nanev, bTV Bulgaria. I would like to talk a little bit about hybrid warfare, cyber defense, propaganda. So my question is, how is the U.S. planning to support those allied countries which have low level of freedom of speech?

Ambassador Lute: I would start by answering that all 28 members of the Alliance, when they signed up for NATO, when they joined the Alliance, agreed on a foundation of common values that include basic democratic principles, like freedom of speech, like protection of all the citizens, rule of law, and so forth. In fact, many of these values are laid out in the preamble to the Washington Treaty. So when Bulgaria joined the Alliance, Bulgaria signed up for those fundamental values.

So it’s not NATO’s place to doubt or judge the democracy of any one of its 28 members. It is NATO’s expectation that all 28 members will abide by those values because those values underpin the sort of sacred commitment of the Alliance to go fight for that democracy. And the return on that investment is that democracy’s commitment to the values. We don’t sit here in Brussels and judge democracies. We judge defense spending, we judge military capabilities, but we don’t get into assessing values. But we expect that the 28 will abide by the founding values of the Alliance.

As you look across the Alliance, to include my country, there are 28 versions of democracy. There aren’t two of the 28 that have exactly the same model of democracy. But the one thing they have in common are the founding values. So I don’t think anything in particular with regard to your country, but I think more broadly, among the 28, one of the things that keeps bringing ministers back, and keeps the United States, for example, making investments like it made last week — $3.4 billion in one year, that’s a one-year investment – are the founding values. Why would the United States make such a significant investment? It’s because fundamentally, we believe in the values that underwrite the Alliance. So not so much a judging contest as a matter of expectations.

Moderator: Thank you, Ambassador Lute, and that will conclude the press conference.